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Combining Craft CMS & Shopify

Posted on June 01, 2021

At Mostly Serious, our objective for every engagement with a potential client is to identify solutions for them that meet the specific goals of their project, maximize return on investment, and keep things easy for the folks who will be managing the website day to day. Over the past decade, we've used many platforms to meet our client's needs, and the two that keep us coming back are Craft CMS and Shopify.

These two platforms are best in class at what they provide for our clients. Craft CMS is a powerful content management system that allows our team to build custom websites and provides our clients with easy-to-use, flexible management tools on the back-end. Similarly, Shopify is one of the most robust out-of-the-box ecommerce solutions that takes the pain out of managing an online store.

But what happens when our clients need the ecommerce features provided through Shopify and the flexibility of Craft CMS to manage the content on their site? Well, that's when we get creative and use a blended approach.

The Pros and Cons of Connecting Craft CMS, Shopify

Before jumping into how we connect Craft CMS and Shopify, it's important to first understand if a blended approach is right for your needs. As part of our strategic approach to new client engagements, one of our primary objectives is to deeply understand the specific goals and requirements for every individual project, then identify the best solution based on that knowledge. For many clients, the benefits of a blended approach may not outweigh the associated costs, so we move forward with the solution that best matches their needs.

Most often, we see the pros and cons breaking down into the following buckets.

✅ Pro: Custom, Unique Design & Experience

One of the superpowers Craft CMS boasts is that it "empowers the entire creative process." That's a fancy way of saying that Craft CMS is built for creative projects that need to reach further than an off-the-shelf solution or just another template. Craft CMS is built to support innovative, engaging experiences that put brands ahead of the competition through a completely customizable back-end, a content-first philosophy, and the power to work with any design. By leveraging Shopify within Craft CMS, we unlock this superpower while leveraging the equally powerful ecommerce features of Shopify.

✅ Pro: Cost Savings

While combining Shopify and Craft CMS can become costly—especially if Shopify Plus (enterprise ecommerce solution) is folded into the site—there are also low cost solutions that bring ecommerce functionality into Craft CMS without the heavy price tag. The Shopify Buy Button lets merchants generate an embeddable product card and checkout on any website, making the integration with Craft CMS fast and affordable to build. Best of all, this service starts at just $9/mo.

✅ Pro: Faster Site Speeds

The freedom Craft CMS brings to the design and development process means that each project can prioritize specific objectives. In ecommerce, one of those objectives is often website speed, where a slight decrease in load time can mean the difference between a conversion or a lost sale. Just as Craft CMS websites are capable of delivering engaging, robust designs, they also unlock the power to focus on simplicity, speed, and user experience above all else. By leveraging Shopify Plus, even the checkout process can be refined to accelerate response times and increase conversion rates.

✅ Pro: Better Tools for SEO & Content Marketing

Shopify has come a long way over the past few years in building native features that support content marketing, and the robust Shopify App ecosystem houses many more. However, Craft CMS still carries an advantage in both the ability to structure and create content as well as access to industry-leading SEO tools. The gap between the two platforms is shrinking, but when SEO and content marketing is core to your success, Craft CMS maintains an edge.

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❌ Con: Managing Two Separate Platforms

One of our primary concerns when planning a digital strategy with our clients is to ensure that whichever solution we choose is easy for their internal team to manage. A website is not nearly as effective if it cannot be properly managed and updated. Luckily, both Craft CMS and Shopify are user-centric tools that prioritize usability for content and product managers on the back-end. That said, it cannot be denied that managing products on one platform and website content on another increases the total time commitment of managing a website.

❌ Con: Longer Development Timeline & Increased Budget

Depending on the which path is taken to combine Craft CMS and Shopify, varying degrees of increased development time will be required. With either direction, each platform must be set up and integrated in some way, which means, rather than developing for a single platform, we're developing for two. Our process and experience ensures that timeline increases are reasonable for most clients, however, when speed is a priority, we often recommend selecting Shopify and building within one platform. Similarly, project budgets may increase as unique designs, website speed, and custom checkout flows are leading factors to increasing return on investment.

How to use Craft CMS & Shopify Together

Okay, now we've landed on moving forward with Craft CMS and Shopify. There are two methods of varying complexity and cost to consider. The first is to utilize the Shopify Buy Button and the second is to create a Shopify store that harnesses the full ecommerce capabilities while utilizing Craft CMS to manage all other aspects of your website. We'll walk through each.

Shopify Buy Button

The Shopify Buy Button boasts that users can "build a custom shopping experience anywhere." This solution is an answer to merchants who need a much more limited set of features than the robust Shopify Headless solution that can truly be used anywhere (from websites to inside video games).

The Buy Button is a low cost and low entry method of selling products on a content-driven website. The service supports embedding both products or collections, customization of how products appear on the website, and is priced at only $9/month.

A key benefit of this approach is to connect products with content. For example, a detailed how-to article can be paired with products specific to the content, creating a more engaging and relatable experience for users.

The drawback of the Shopify Buy Button is in its limitations. You won't have access to the full spectrum of ecommerce tools Shopify provides and your website won't have a true online shopping experience, as customers have come to expect. However, at the low price point and relatively quick integration timeline, this option is the perfect fit for content-focused websites selling supplementary products.

Combining Craft CMS With a Full Shopify Store

The true power of combining Craft CMS and Shopify comes when integrating a full Shopify store within a Craft CMS website. The result is a flexible, content-focused website management platform primed for content marketing success along with a robust ecommerce platformed that can increase conversions and manage your digital store.

In this approach, we are essentially creating two distinct websites with a matching look and feel. For the store, we leverage Shopify's built-in features while integrating our custom design. Every other area of the website is managed by Craft CMS, leveraging the content tools and page builder that allows your team to rapidly create and manage content on your website.

This approach unlocks the power of Shopify's long list of native features along with the massive Shopify App Store ecosystem, making managing your online business much easier and more complete.

On the flip side, Craft CMS will be capable of leveraging industry-leading SEO tools, enable a content structure that is easy for your website visitors, afford a unique and custom design that may not be possible within Shopify's structure. Because Craft CMS is completely customizable, any specific project objective, feature, or integration can be support outside of the limitations of Shopify's system.

The result is a website that delivers the best of Craft CMS along with the best of Shopify.

Why not use Craft Commerce?

Just as Craft CMS delivers strength in its focus on flexibility and customization, Craft Commerce delivers on the same principle, and we've built successful Craft Commerce projects in the past. However, in the ecommerce space, there are so many daily business concerns that Shopify is several steps ahead on, such as inventory management, shipping, and taxes. When budgets allow, Craft Commerce can be a wonderful solution that checks all the boxes for clients. For many, though, Shopify is simply more complete and, thus, the best solution to maximize return on investment.

Our Recommendation

The strategy used for any digital product should be led by a deep understanding of the goals that need to be met and the requirements of the project. That's why we start with why and ask questions that lead to better outcomes. To get our recommendation for your specific project, reach out and we'd love to provide our insight.

If you need to make a decision without talking with us first, we recommend using Shopify and the features they provide for blogging and content management. As your company grows and you discover pain points that prevent you from reaching the best version of your digital brand, then consider a blended approach. Until then, Shopify is the most complete solution available to meet most of the needs our clients typically face.

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