To successfully sell courses on WordPress, this article delves into two distinct approaches: a hands-on WooCommerce method and the integrated solution offered by Firmwater LMS with Shopify, and highlights the advantages and challenges of each, providing you with insights to help you make an informed choice for your eLearning business.
You’d like to sell courses on wordpress. That means adding eCommerce capabilities to your website. Since you built your site using WordPress, you decide to start there and keep it all in the family, so to speak. Makes sense.
After all, WordPress is the world’s most popular website builder, accounting for over 43% of all websites. They gave you infinite choices for online store design, themes, and branding using a simple drag-and-drop website builder tool. You worked with a web developer and built your site, or maybe even did it yourself. So now you want to start selling courses with eCommerce on your WordPress website. How hard can it be?
Well, that depends. There are basically two ways to go about adding eCommerce to a WordPress website. But there’s a lot more to selling courseware online than hardware or consumer products, for example. This article offers some advice on selecting the best solution for your eLearning business and identifies some pitfalls to avoid along the journey.
Option 1: WordPress + WooCommerce Setup, a.k.a. Paging Dr. Frankenstein
Tackle it yourself. You’re just extending the functionality of your existing website with some tools and plug-ins recommended by WordPress, so it sounds simple.
Let’s get going. You’ll need all these things:
- WordPress website and hosting subscription. Check. That’s why you’re here; you’ve already got a functional WordPress site up and running.
- Learning Management System (LMS) plugin. WordPress is a simple content management system (CMS) to manage websites, not a courseware authoring tool. WordPress recommends the LearnDash LMS which offers its own native courseware authoring tools and course creation wizard to build and host your courses online. It provides many advanced capabilities, but the resulting content is published in LearnDash’s proprietary format. Note that you’ll be locked into using LearnDash long term, since your courseware can only be taken by users on the LearnDash platform. For true portability, your content should be published to SCORM standards, and you’ll need to install another LearnDash plugin to enable that. Another LMS WordPress plugin option for eLearning is Sensei Pro. It provides a comprehensive suite of tools for creating engaging course content, tracking student progress, testing and assessing their performance, and reporting (just a few of the things that make selling courseware online different than selling a piece of hardware). Sensei itself has even more plugins to enhance its functionality, some free, some paid. Yet here again, if you create your courses using Sense iPro it will also be published in a proprietary format that will not be accessible on other LMSs. Bottom line: You should be using a LMS that subscribes to eLearning industry standards like SCORM.
- eCommerce plugin. WordPress recommends the WooCommerce Plugin, one of the world’s leading free open-source eCommerce platforms. WooCommerce makes it easy to monetize your courseware with flexible options for pricing and discounting your products, support for multiple payment gateways, and a streamlined checkout process. Extensions are available to enable all kinds of added functionality such as subscriptions, abandoned carts, Google analytics, product bundling, and more. WooCommerce also supports integration with marketing and CRM plugins.
- Payment plugin. How do you want to get paid? You need to open multiple payment channels to allow your customers to purchase your courses using a method convenient to them. WordPress endorses Stripe integration to accept a wide range of debit and credit cards plus support for Square, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Microsoft Pay. But for a true online shopping experience you need access to the full line of WooCommerce tools to even approach what Shopify offers (more on that later). That’s more plugins.
- Notifications plugin. You’d like to let customers know about upcoming releases, and of course you need to be alerted to problems like a bug in your code or if your checkout app stops working. The WordPress ecosystem offers countless plugins to enable push notifications and emails to customers, alert developers and admins to problems, track orders, monitor for software updates, and more. There are plugins for plugins.
- Marketing plugins. You’ll want to integrate your store with social media channels and email marketing tools to expand your audience. WordPress offers integrations for Mailchimp, Facebook, Google Ads, HubSpot, and multiple CRM tools. Embed custom response forms, start a newsletter, or enable reviews and customer feedback. However you choose to engage your target, there is probably a plugin for it in the WordPress ecosystem.
You surfed the WordPress site and downloaded all the plugins and extensions you’d like to incorporate into your new eCommerce store. Some are free, some are one-time purchases, others are monthly subscriptions. For the latter, you’ll have to manage monthly payments to several third parties.
Keeping all the plugins updated is also up to you, so you’d better get a few of those notification plugins that alert you if the site goes down, if software goes out of date, or other maintenance issues arise. Want more functionality? Add more plugins and add-ons. And more expenses. But you’re doing this on your own, so you’re still saving money, you think…but isn’t your time better spent focusing on your core competencies and other aspects of your business?
Now it’s time to install and configure. It’s probably just a few mouse clicks for each plugin, because they’ve all been tested and certified for use with WordPress, right? So, you install everything and hope it works. There’s no onboarding, nobody to talk you through it.
That’s when you realize there’s more to this than meets the eye. There are version issues and conflicts using all those plugins and extensions from different developers.
Now you reach out LearnDash, WooCommerce, or the third-party plugin developer(s) to help figure it out. There’s no phone support, so you submit a ticket. And wait for a response. And wait. And wait. Because you’re just a ticket number to an IT helpdesk team; another faceless customer who bought a plugin online. How many conflicts do you have? How many tickets must you submit? If you solve one conflict, will you create another? In the meantime, your store is idle.
Frustrated, you finally make the call to a web developer with the integration expertise to figure it all out from your end, frankensteining a solution that works. Oh, and there goes the savings in time and money you thought you’d see from doing this on your own. But at least you’re up and running.
Okay, this might be an extreme example of things going sideways when trying to implement technology that’s over your pay grade, but the impact on your time and patience is real. Fortunately, there is another option.
Option 2: WordPress + Firmwater LMS with Shopify
Integrate your WordPress website with the Firmwater LMS to deliver and sell courses online using Shopify integration for eCommerce.
For this you’ll need two subscriptions: one to Firmwater LMS and one to Shopify. Firmwater’s Shopify integration is compatible with all Shopify pricing plans including the Starter and Basic Plans. Once registered you’ll have unfettered access to all the tools required to host your training content and set up your eCommerce store.
While your eCommerce business can thrive with Shopify’s standard tools, you can consider adding additional functionality from the Shopify App Store as your site grows. This includes access to an entire ecosystem of Shopify-certified payment, marketing, and bundling apps, many of which are used by Firmwater clients. Shopify is the world’s largest eCommerce service provider and offers hosting and support services that eclipse that of WooCommerce and many others.
See how Shopify compares to WooCommerce here, and scroll down to the bottom of that webpage to see how Shopify stacks up against a dozen other eCommerce platforms as well.
The entire platform is set up and ready to go. Once your store is connected to the LMS with the Firmwater Shopify App, you simply need to link your courses to a corresponding product in Shopify. The Firmwater Shopify App is the bridge to eCommerce. When linked products are purchased, the LMS will know which courses to make available.
To make the purchase process easy and seamless, create a Buy Button for each product or collection (standard functionality of the Shopify Starter and Basic Plans) and simply copy and paste the code to a WordPress page.
When a user clicks the Buy Button, they are taken to a checkout page to complete the transaction, the course is automatically delivered, and the user is then seamlessly redirected to the LMS to begin the course. Buy Buttons appear as a part of your WordPress site on the front end, but it’s actually connected to your secure Shopify platform in the back end — so you get to take advantage of Shopify’s other eCommerce features as well.
Setting up and linking Buy Buttons to products is simple, and with a little bit of practice and experience you can probably handle it on your own. There are all kinds of settings for button style, shopping cart headings, page layout style, text alignment, fonts, colors, and product descriptions. You can make a Buy Button for a single product or collection of products.
Further, the Firmwater LMS offers its own drag-and-drop open-standards course builder tool that supports content created with all the popular eLearning authoring tools, such as Articulate 360, iSpring, Adobe Captivate and more. With the LMS course builder tool, you can build custom courses consisting of multiple modules and quizzes in the LMS.
For example, you can create variations of the same course (e.g. Level 1, Level 2, etc.) and sell them through your WordPress website using Shopify’s product variant functionality.
But perhaps most importantly, going this route offers highly available centralized support from a dedicated LMS customer success manager who genuinely cares about your business. One call or email to Firmwater will solve any problem related to your LMS and eCommerce platform. You’ll get the support you need from an experienced partner that has seen it all. No endless waiting for a response, and no Frankenstein monsters!
Why Firmwater LMS with Shopify Integration is the Best Soluiton to Sell Courses on WordPress
Spend your time building your business, not fumbling through eCommerce development and managing plugin updates. We’ll reduce your maintenance burden and ensure your eLearning business is always operational and up to date with the latest technologies.
When it comes to selling eLearning on your WordPress website, there’s really only one choice: the Firmwater LMS with Shopify integration. We offer an affordable pricing model that scales as your business grows. Let us set you up for eCommerce success. Contact us to schedule a demo today.