A WooCommerce shop with a huge number of images? Moving to a new WordPress host? No easy task. We'll show you how it can be mastered in our interview with designer Justyna and photographer Andreas Schmidt from the online shop michel and elbe. They'll also recommend their favourite plugins for a successful implementation.
You both have a wonderful WordPress shop with photographs all about Hamburg. How did you create the design and which tools do you use?
Andreas: We used to have a complex Magento shop and relied on a digital agency. This was rather expensive and we weren't always satisfied with the response times. So, at the start of 2020, we decided to take the reins into our own hands. As we saw it, two systems were worth considering: Shopify and WordPress , WooCommerce. After a test phase with Shopify, we decided to go for WordPress. While Shopify was easy to use, it wasn't flexible enough in its design.
The right WooCommerce theme as a basis
Justyna:I take care of the graphics at michel and Elbe. As I also work a lot as a web designer, I'm very comfortable with the world of WordPress. We really enjoyed creating our new website and shop with the images from michel und elbe.
I chose Shopkeeper as our WordPress theme; it was a really good basis for the WooCommerce shop and for the design. Of course, I needed to make a lot of CSS modifications but personalizing the theme was also great fun.
I spent a long time looking for a fast and simple slider for the homepage. I wanted to move away from LayerSlider and Smart Slider. With the Gutenslider from the developer Niklas Plessing, I finally found a slider that can be edited in the WordPress editor directly without having to switch to the slider's own, often complicated settings. I find this much more efficient.
Image management in WordPress
WooCommerce and hundreds of images - not the easiest pairing. How did you manage to solve that challenge?
Andreas: Well, it's nearly thousands of images now as we show mock-ups of how each image would look in a living space. That's where you can quickly lose the overview in the standard WordPress media library. We wouldn't have been able to do it without a decent premium plugin. We organize the images in folders and subfolders with the plugin Real Media Library, making our work much easier.
Gutenberg is controversial but you like to use it. Why and which blocks do you use?
Justyna: I've been working with Gutenberg since the release in 2018 and I don't want to miss the blocks. When I first saw the new Gutenberg editor, it was love at first sight. It was like Christmas for me, like I'd been given a new LEGO building set that was infinitely expandable. No more complicated backend, it's basically "what you see is what you get".
Being able to copy groups and use them somewhere else makes our work much easier. A simple theme for WordPress or WooCommerce, a few good blocks of your choice, and the website is ready. It used to be that you'd customize a theme and it had its own design elements available. Depending on the theme, it sometimes meant learning the backend afresh. Now I don't need a "heavy" theme anymore, I can keep the website lean.
Depending on my needs, I select certain blocks and can do without the rest of the ballast. This is one way to improve website performance significantly. Besides the standard Gutenberg blocks, I particularly enjoy working with Ghost Kit and Kadance Blocks. I've tried many block collections but these two are always reliable.
I also think Gutenberg is getting better with every release. Even more has changed since WordPress 5.5. I think it's a great development and I don't regret getting involved with Gutenberg when I did.
The right WooCommerce hosting
You recently switched your hosting to RAIDBOXES. What prompted the move?
Andreas: We initially built the michel and elbe shop on a mass server (Strato). When we designed it, the performance was fine. But when we added and managed products in the WooCommerce backend, we realized we needed more computing power urgently. We were looking for a European hosting company that specializes in WordPress. That's how we ended up choosing RAIDBOXES as our hosting provider.
How did testing the performance of our BOXES go? Did our support team help you with the setup?
Justyna: Creating the BOX itself with the RAIDBOXES Migrator was so simple that didn't we need any help with it. We just needed to wait until the website had been copied and the BOX was ready. At least that's how I remember it.
Andreas: To start with, the support team recommended we choose a STARTER BOX to test. We thought that was great because they weren't just trying to sell us a PRO plan straight away. The performance of the STARTER BOX was good but it wasn't fast enough for our complex shop with hundreds of variable products in the backend.
We wanted it to be fun. And that's what we got with the next test, the PRO plan for WooCommerce. It hit the spot exactly. After just 10 minutes of testing we were convinced and activated the BOX right away. We redirected our domain to the BOX. When we set up the redirection, the Chat support were able to help us quickly and efficiently.
Stress-free WordPress migrations
How did the migration itself work? As a shop owner it must've been quite daunting...
Justyna: That's what surprised me the most. In the past, a digital agency had always taken care of the domain migration and I was afraid that something would go wrong like settings or links wouldn't be carried over. After the successful migration, Christian from support helped with the DNS management because I hardly knew anything about it. That was the moment when I needed active help from you. Christian "took me by the hand" in chat and guided me through the settings.
By the way, I love your chat function - it's modern and saves time. Very cool for people like me who don't like to talk on the phone. The help offered via chat is of such high quality and targeted so well that you don't need to call anymore. It's better even because you can exchange links and screenshots in the chat. So a shout-at at this point to the smart and patient team members in chat!
Andreas: We got the authcode from our old provider, entered it at RAIDBOXES and 10 minutes later we were live. I can still remember the excitement of when we went live. It was like... huh? already?
You're still using WP Rocket for performance at the moment, in combination with other tools. What are they and why do you want to change?
Justyna: When we hosted michelundelbe.de on a mass server, I painstakingly set up WP Rocket in conjunction with Asset CleanUp Page Speed Booster to increase performance. By combining these two premium plugins, I did manage to achieve good results in the frontend.
But it's something we no longer need. Thanks to the built-in RAIDBOXES caching we won't be needing WP Rocket in the future, we're just letting the subscription run its course. I've already deactivated the caching function of WP Rocket to avoid conflicts with the server's own caching.
For data optimization, a free plugin such as Swift Performance lite will probably be enough. I'll keep the free version of Asset CleanUp Page Speed Booster.
Online shop to retail store
What are the future plans for the michel und elbe shop?
Andreas: At the moment, we're pleased the new online shop has more than compensated for the drop in sales we experienced in the stationary business due to the corona pandemic. The shop will, of course, continue to grow and we're constantly adding new products and product categories. We analyze the purchasing behavior of our customers and also adapt our products.
In the future, we want to improve our SEO even more with Yoast SEO and make it an ongoing process. That's a lot of work with so many products. To increase the shop's visibility, we're planning landing pages in connection with a Google Ads campaign.
A few final words about you and michelundelbe.de?
Andreas: The gallery michel und elbe has been around since 2005. Back then, we were the first here to only offer pictures of Hamburg. The idea was born out of our great loves for photography and our port city in all its glory. In the beginning, we only offered the photographs in our gallery. We opened the online shop in 2010.
According to the motto "Hamburg for the wall", our photographic works are available in our online shop on canvas, aluminum print, or behind acrylic glass. You can see the pictures live in our gallery in Hamburg and get a real feel for them. We also advise our customers on all aspects of processing and give tips on interior design at our gallery.
Justyna: Besides working for michel und elbe, I've been working as a graphic and web designer for various clients for 20 years. If you'd like to learn more about my work, please feel free to have a look on my site.