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Lesson 2 – Part 3 – Using WordPress to Organize Product Display

Now that we’ve chosen our shopping cart plugin, WP eStore, for our online store selling digital and intangible products, we need to talk about how we’re going to organize our site for an online store.

Role of the Types of Catalog Pages

This is another very substantial topic because once we decide that we’re going to display things like department pages and product category pages, we have to decide what mechanisms we’re using to do that. You may be surprised to learn that we’re going to use a different system in Genesis than we are in Thesis but this whole conversation begins with the role of the types of catalog pages.

Again, as I said in our case, we’re going to have department pages and the departments are those 3 big categories so that’s Instruction, Plugins and Consulting. Those are our 3 departments and so each of those is going to have its own department page.

Then we’re going to have a whole bunch of product categories so under our Instruction department, we’ll have a category of WordPress Instruction, Thesis Instruction, Genesis Instruction so on and so forth. Those will be our product category pages and then the individual product pages are fairly self explanatory I believe.

WordPress Can Create and Organize Lists of Products

Something that people wrestle with, and probably they wrestle with it because I don’t explain it well enough, is that WordPress has the built-in ability to create and organize list of products. WordPress, without any plugin whatsoever, comes with all of the tools necessary to create and organize lists of products.

This means that if you want to see all your products in a department, WordPress can handle that automatically. If you want to see all of your products in a category, WordPress can handle that automatically, if you want to see all of your categories in a department, WordPress can handle that automatically.

WordPress Groups and Displays Posts by Category

WordPress has the built-in ability to create and organize list of products and that built-in ability emerges from this one concept that I don’t think people have any difficulty with that is, WordPress groups and displays posts by category. So if you create a post in a regular old WordPress blog and you assign a specific category and then you click on that category link, WordPress will show you all of the posts in that category, that’s its automatic behavior.

WordPress Can Group and Display Products by Product Category

In our context, outside of the context of a blog, WordPress can group and display products by product category. This is the analogy, posts by category, products by product category. It’s the same concept and so if you can understand that concept and apply it anytime you’re creating a site then you’ll be able to weild the power of WordPress on that site.

I’ve observed people routinely understanding the idea of having posts and categorizing posts but then stumbling on the idea of having products and categorizing products and so, I want you to as clearly as possible draw the connection between the two because the behavior in WordPress can be exactly the same.

Choices for Using WordPress to Organize Product Display

So if you’re going to use WordPress to organize your product display, you have 2 sets of choices. The first set of choices is, what post type are you going to use and the second set of choices is what taxonomy are you going to use.

If you’ve been through the introductory class in Start Building Your Website Here, you’ve heard me talk about content types and taxonomies before and so I’m not going to repeat very much of that here. A taxonomy is simply a way of organizing something and so a category is a taxonomy and a post tag is a taxonomy. It’s just an organizational structure that’s applied to some kind of a post type.

Post Type Choices

The types of posts that you can choose from are pages, regular old posts or you could create a custom post type for your products. In the last lesson, we used pages for our products. We only had two products, we created both products and we stuck the “Buy Now” button on those pages that had the product information on them.

You can continue to use pages as the post type that you use to display your products. You could also use posts which is what I taught the first time I taught how to use WP eStore. I taught a system of using posts for your products so that you could use WordPress’ built-in system of categories and tags to organize their display.

You can also, however, use custom post types and custom post types have become quite a bit more thoroughly supported both by Thesis, Genesis and WordPress now than they were a year and a half or two years ago. Now, creating a custom post type for products is a legitimate option.

Taxonomy Choices

The same kind of thing happens in taxonomy choices. From the second set of choices you have your taxonomy choices and you can choose to use categories, that is, post categories, right? If you’re using post, you can use categories to categorize your products. You can use tags to organize your products or you can create a custom taxonomy. You create a custom taxonomy that is something other than a category or a tag to organize your products.

Three Different Schemes

Now, if this wasn’t obvious to you, this ends up with 3 different schemes. One scheme is using pages, one scheme is using posts and the last scheme is using custom post types. So we’re going to talk about those 3 different schemes here.

1st Scheme – Using Pages

Let’s begin with the scheme using pages for everything. In this case you would create a department page and then you would have product category pages which would be subpages or child pages of the department page. Then you would create individual product pages which would be child pages of the product category pages.

So you develop your hierarchy from department to category to product inside of the page where each is a child of the other. You could have, for example, a store page and inside that store page you would have a department page which would be Instruction and another department page which would be Plugins and then the last one will be Consulting. Then inside of each of those, you would have your product category pages and then individual pages inside of that. This is one way of doing it.

The Advantages of Using Pages

Now, the advantage of doing it this way is it has a very clean URL structure. Your pages and subpages just link very nicely into a clean URL. Conceptually it’s very simple. You don’t have to think about archives and taxonomies, you don’t have to wrap your mind around anything complex or anything that might be confusing.

You understand fairly easily that you’ve got a parent page and then you’ve got a child page and a grandchild page. All you do is create the pages, assign them a relationship to another page and you have it all taken cared of.

If you do it this way, there’s also no additional plugins required so you don’t need a plugin to create a custom post type or a custom taxonomy for example. There is no special programming required so you don’t need anything special to display categories of products. You’re not going to need anything special to display the product itself and it integrates cleanly with WP eStore. In fact, WP eStore imagines itself being used with pages.

WP eStore was originally written back in the time when there weren’t any custom post types so you had posts and you had pages and nothing else and since they assumed you wanted to use your posts for your blog, they designed WP eStore to provide functionality for pages and it maintains that history.

The Disadvantages of Using Pages

The disadvantage of using pages is that, all catalog pages must be created manually. So every time you want a new category, you have to go create a category page and then you create product pages and you have to create the department page.

Every page that exists has to be created manually which means that you’re not using the WordPress ability to group and display posts by category, you’re not using any of that built-in functionality. Whatever functionality exists, exists because you’re arranging pages in parent-child relationships and WordPress does not automatically have the ability to group pages by category. For example, categories can’t be applied to pages.

So this means that you have no archive pages, right? That’s what a category page is, it’s WordPress speak for a category archive page. And this means that you have no automatic product category pages.

This all comes down to this question of the two-sided coin. Side one of the coin is that you are not using any of WordPress’ ability to automatically group and display content and side two of the coin is that you have to manually create evey thing yourself.

If you were using WordPress’ ability, you wouldn’t have to create archive pages or product category pages because those are automatically done for you by WordPress. So that’s the disadvantage of using pages.

The other disadvantage of using pages is you don’t really have any opportunity to organize display by date. For example, because you will be relying on WP eStore’s display styles, you will have a fairly limited control over product display. If you’re not happy with their display styles and you’re using pages, you don’t really have many other options.

2nd Scheme – Using Posts

Now, the second scheme is to use posts and if you’re using post then you’re using posts as products. In this case you would use categories, for example, for product categories and then your product category pages will be automatically created by WordPress for you as category archive pages.

The Advantages of Using Posts

So now all of your department pages and product category pages are being automatically created rather than being created manually and that’s the advantage, right? The advantage is that most of your catalog pages are going to be automatically created for you by WordPress and it uses the WordPress’ built-in systems for doing that.

One advantage of that is that long archives can be paginated. So if you’ve got a hundred products in a product category, you don’t have to display all 100 products on a single page, you could display 20 and then use WordPress’ ability to go to previous products or other products and click through to the next 20 and then click through to the next 20. That does not exist anywhere if you’re using pages, there’s no such thing as pagination inside of the concept of pages.

Also, products can be organized by any taxonomies. So you could actually choose not to use categories as your taxonomy, you could come up with a whole new custom taxonomy. For example or you could use tags to organize your products instead. So the nice thing is that posts automatically use categories and tags and then are automatically available for use with custom taxonomies.

Using Posts – Disadvantages

There are disadvantages of using posts and I found this out the last time I taught this method for WP eStore. And one disadvantage was that blog posts can get confused. That is, the product post can get confused in there with blog post.

So if you use your site as a blog and also as a store and you have both blog posts and product posts as regular posts, then either your blog page shows both your products and blog post together or you have to use a plugin or box of mine or use Genesis’ built-in feature of excluding some categories of posts from the posts page. As you can see it can get a little confusing there with blog posts.

Another disadvantage is that you either need to use Thesis 2 or you need some programming skills in order to create good catalog pages. The pages themselves will be created automatically but one of the things that won’t happen automatically is adding a “Buy Now” or an “Add to Cart” button to those pages. So you’re going to need to use Thesis 2 which will give you that ability or if you’re going to try to do this in Genesis then you’re going to have to develop some programming skills in order to make the same concept work inside of Genesis.

Now, this system using posts generally doesn’t rely on WP eStore Display Styles so that’s a disadvantage in that it’s not fast and easy because now, you actually have to think about what you want stuff to look like and make some decisions about what your product display should look like. So, the advantage of that is that of course, you have complete control over, the disadvantage of it is you have to think about it and figure it out then do it.

3rd Scheme – Using Custom Post Types

Now, your third option is using a custom post type for your products. This is, for example, what MarketPress and WooCommerce do and in fact, what Shopp does as well. If you install those plugins, they create a custom post type. Well, WP eStore does not create a custom post type, it doesn’t have the ability to do that but you can still create your own custom post types using a plugin and use them for products. You can create custom taxonomies for product categories and then you would be using taxonomy archives for your product category pages and this is very modern application of WordPress to product display and product catalogs.

Advantages of Using Custom Post Types

The advantage again, is that most of your catalog pages are automatically created and just like before, it uses those built-in systems of WordPress to do so. Long archives can be paginated, your products can be organized by any taxonomy and the one benefit of this over using post is that, it never gets confused with your blog. Your blog can sit there separately as a blog and it’ll never be mixed in with your products. I believe that that actually is a very big advantage to using custom post types.

Disadvantages of Using Custom Post Types

It does have a handful of disadvantages. First off, it does need an additional plugin. I don’t really think this is a particularly big disadvantage but there are a lot of people out there who for whatever reason say to themselves, plugins will slow my site down. And sure, there are plenty of plugins that will but plugins that create custom post types don’t necessarily slow a site down but nevertheless, it’s got an additional plugin.

You do need either Thesis 2 or you need programming skills still for developing a good catalog page. Page is still automatically generated but in order to get some of the stuff on that you want, you’re going to need to have some programming skills or use Thesis 2.

Again, it doesn’t need WP eStore Display Styles and it has one further disadvantage which is that, it’s a conceptual stretch for some people. Some people just stumble over the phrase custom taxonomy and custom post type and they feel like those two things are very complicated and so they get confused by it.

Now, this isn’t helped by the fact that the people at WordPress who originally explained custom post types and custom taxonomies were engineers and not teachers. And so, for the life of them they couldn’t get out explanations that made sense to regular people.

I remember just wrestling like heck with this concept when I was trying to figure out from them what a custom post type and what a custom taxonomy was but once I figured it out, I realized that there were much easier ways of explaining it than what they did.

Hopefully I’ve done a better job of it but whether I have or not, it can be a conceptual stretch for some people. The names post and categories are nice short words with easily understood meanings whereas custom post type and custom taxonomy sound like big words and that makes it sound more complicated.

2 Different Solutions Based on the Theme

We are going to use two solutions. For Genesis, we’re going to use the page system because we want to do this in Genesis with the minimum amount of programming necessary. So we’re going to use all the display style systems that WP eStore includes and we’re going to just use pages.

However, in Thesis we’re going to use custom post types and the reason we’re doing that is because Thesis does provide us the opportunity of customizing product templates and product archive templates and the like pretty easily, something that Genesis does not do for us. Plus we’ll be able to control the appearance of the output of our product catalog in Thesis with essentially no programming, whereas we just don’t have that opportunity inside of Genesis.

A thing to say about that though is, one of the reasons why we’re doing it in pages as well as in custom post types is because I want you to see two different systems for accomplishing roughly the same thing. So just because you’re a Thesis guru or a Thesis developer it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to what we’re doing in Genesis because fundamentally, much of this is the same whether it’s Thesis or Genesis.

What we’re doing is simply choosing a different WordPress tool set. If you’re a Thesis guy, stick with me with the Genesis stuff and if you’re a Genesis person and you’re willing to consider diving into somewhat a little bit programming then the custom post type custom taxonomy thing maybe a viable option for you as well. Anyway, that’s our solution.

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