Today I received a question from a client I’ve answered quite a bit in the past and realized that it is time to put the answer down in writing. While most agree that a blog can help your store’s SEO, should you write that blog on your Shopify or BigCommerce website, or on a blogging CMS like WordPress? Like most technology questions, the answer is, it depends. Here are some questions to answer to help you decide what is best for you.
How serious are you about blogging?
In general, the more often you publish, the more likely Google will see your blog as a news site and get your articles listed faster. This may also help Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rankings. This means you should have a goal of publishing at least once a week. If that’s a bit much, you should still plan for no less than once a month.
How good will your content be?
Quality is #1. If you’re not planning to invest the time to research what topics are interesting to your audience, and plan for high-quality writing, my best recommendation is not to bother. Low-quality content will not earn you high ranks.
The goal needs to be the best article on the topic. Plan on using SEO tools to determine the best keywords for your topic, or even research whether or not the topic has broad enough interest to generate traffic. If you want buying traffic, you also need to plan your content for all levels of the customer journey. The easiest topics to rank for are higher on the funnel. Great for brand awareness but not as great for driving immediate sales.
Recommendation: If you aren’t serious about producing top-notch content on a regular basis, use your store’s native blog as there is little benefit to the extra work and costs of maintaining a separate blog.
WordPress vs Shopify; WordPress vs BigCommerce: Technical differences for your blog.
Here are the technical differences between your shopping cart’s blog and WordPress as a blogging platform.
Effort & Maintenance
Both Shopify and BigCommerce have basic built-in blogs. One big advantage is that it is included. This means no added cost, no security issues, and core software updates are all automatic. You don’t need a separate hosting account or CDN. You also don’t need to learn another CMS (content management system).
By contrast, WordPress requires a hosting account. It must be installed, a theme built or added, assorted plug-ins to create your desired feature set, and frequently updated to remain secure and functional. It also needs to be well-secured via firewall and CDN. You need to plan for a backup in addition to what the hosting company gives you. Your backup should be on a different server. You must pay attention to traffic or risk overwhelming your hosting account and having your site go down. You may need to periodically upgrade your hosting account.
Additionally, WordPress alone isn’t enough to build a rich site, and you’ll want to add a few plug-ins to enhance the website’s SEO capabilities and to add other features. While nominal in cost, most plug-ins have an annual fee. Plug-ins also need regular updating and, once in a while, WordPress and plug-ins don’t upgrade neatly and create a problem that requires a developer.
WordPress is not set it and forget it.
Recommendation: It is likely that you’ll need a maintenance contract with a developer to keep your WordPress running smoothly.
One of the primary reasons to blog is to create more search engine friendly content to build your store’s visibility. There are significant differences in SEO capabilities between your SAAS store and WordPress. To be blunt, the SEO features on WordPress are dramatically better than those on any shopping cart. However, we have seen many sites that have integrated blogs on common shopping carts do quite well. Ultimately the quality of your content is the key to ranking success.
The most notable differences:
BigCommerce does not offer any native way to create categorical navigation within the blog. It can be simulated via tags but tag pages offer no SEO customization or design control. One great workaround for evergreen content is to use pages, where custom navigation can be created with pages that are easier to optimize for SEO.
Shopify doesn’t have it “out of the box” either but a custom menu can be coded. It’s also possible to build more than one “blog” area for distinctly different content.
WordPress lets you create archives that effectively categorize your content.
I’m not a huge fan of tags as they can create a ton of pages and most blogs don’t optimize them. On both shopping carts, tag pages offer no real optimization options. On WordPress, you can optimize like a category page. Our recommendation is that you have a clearly defined plan for tags so these pages build enough content to be useful destinations.
Tags should not replace categories where categories are possible but really focus on secondary topics. For example, you may have a category that’s all about how to use widgets, then tag pages for specific brands or models of widgets (again- only if you can provide enough content for this page to be worthwhile).
Schema is code snippets that identify content on the page in a fashion that makes it easier for Google to understand and present the information. Examples of blog schema might be a How-to article with steps or a “Best” list that is enumerated. Schema can absolutely help your articles rank higher or even earn a knowledge panel. Here are two types of knowledge panels. Out of 51 million results for are green apples good for pie, these pages came up on top! That’s why this space is so valuable.
Natively none provide more than basic – name, date created, author for schema for articles. On WordPress, this can be built into the theme for each post type or you can add a plug-in.
On BigCommerce there is now an app that supplies code snippets for specific types of content. I know of no such plug-in for Shopify.
Open graph is also part of your schema. It determines what your post looks like when you share it on social media. Both BigCommerce and Shopify default to showing your main blog image when you post the link, but offer up no alt-description. This may be able to be coded in if you’d like some description to show. But it will not be easy to create custom meta for either.
WordPress has many tools that include the ability to customize your open graph sharing settings. Yoast SEO – an app with many good purposes, will offer you this flexibility.
Article layout design
What can we say here except that WordPress wins this battle hands down. That said, new drag and drop tools, like Shogun page builder, or the new, native, and free to use BigCommerce page builder, offer greatly improved options for page layout and design.
Which will help me rank higher in search?
There is no question that when it comes to checking all the marks for “best odds for SEO success” that WordPress wins. There are just far too many options and controls that impact SEO that the shopping carts cannot compete with. That said, these questions do come up. Ultimately, and I can’t say this enough, the quality of your content and how people engage with it are the most important factors that determine whether or not your page will do well. A plan for social sharing and backlinks can help build rank as well.
Will I have to put my blog on a subdomain or separate domain?
If on WordPress. Yes. You cannot build WordPress into your SAAS store. However, there are ways to make it look like you have. These days you can also build your BigCommerce store fully into WordPress and have a single domain. We do not recommend trying this build without a developer.
Does a subdomain hurt SEO?
This is a longstanding argument in the SEO world – subfolder or subdomain? If you’re mixing SAAS with WordPress you don’t have a choice but keeping the blog on your cart uses a folder instead. Google’s own expert, Matt Cutts, says it makes no difference. They realize that a subdomain is part of the parent. Many SEOs say it does matter.
Our opinion? Like most SEO questions, quality, and user experience trump all. This becomes a really small issue if you have outstanding content. Just be sure it’s easy to identify that both the store and the blog are related and be sure to provide a clear path back to your store. So, we don’t consider this to be a deciding factor.
Even with some custom design and codework, there is no question that keeping your blog on your store will represent significant cost savings. Designing a blog on WordPress can run anywhere from $2000-$10000 depending on your needs and desires. You’ll also have hosting and backup costs – $15-$100 mo, and most business owners keep a maintenance contract with a WordPress firm to manage updates, caching, and other performance issues.
Plug-ins can run zero to several hundred dollars per year. Most themes or page builders also have an annual subscription cost.
Comparing costs to benefits
It’s important to note that investing in a blog is not a short-term win. In fact, it can be quite a bit of time, months or more before you begin to draw buying traffic. Improving your site authority and pulling in shoppers at all steps in their buying journey is how you increase your SEO ranks and bring in new customers.
How do I decide?
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both approaches. As you look to make a decision for your blog, remember the main focus must be on the quality of your content. If you’re not investing there, the technology point becomes moot. I have absolutely seen great content rank quite well on the shopping carts. Most stores don’t rank because the content isn’t amazing and there is little effort being made to share that content for backlinks.
If you plan to produce a lot of content, a good portion of which may be evergreen, the ability to create functional navigation may be a key factor. Good blogs have a mix of timely – what’s happening now like trends and news, and evergreen (long or indefinite time span for content value) content.
Lastly, you need to consider all costs and maintenance requirements. While the SEO value of WordPress is better, a blog can rank well on a shopping cart system when the quality is high, and promotion is done.
So..what will you use?