WordPress Subdomain vs Shopify Blog: Which is Better?
In the wide world of e-commerce, it's generally accepted wisdom that you need to keep and maintain an active blog if you want to succeed. Blogging is the key to getting organic search traffic, which accounts for over half of all web traffic. The only question is, how are you going to do it?
Shopify is one of the biggest and most popular e-commerce platforms out there, so it stands to reason that a huge proportion of the people reading this are using Shopify, or are at least considering it. The question becomes, how do you run a blog off a Shopify platform-based website?
There are two options I would consider the most intelligent choices. One of them is to use the built-in Shopify blogging platform. The other is to use a WordPress blog, hosted on a subdomain of your primary hosting. So, which is better?
Factor 1: Setup
The first factor to consider is setup. How easy is it to get a blog up and running with either of these options?
Setting up the built-in Shopify blog is so easy it's almost trivial. All you need to do is log into your Shopify admin console. Click on the online store section, and then blog posts. From there, click manage blogs, and then click add blog.
This gives you the basic window to add information about your blog. You set up the title of the blog, and how you manage comments for the blog posts you publish in terms of moderation. Save the blog, and you're good to go. All you need to do is start writing new blog posts.
You can read more about setting up this kind of blog, the details of how to edit it, and how to use templates for blog posts, in the Shopify help center here.
So what about WordPress? It's a little bit more complicated.
To set up a WordPress blog on a Shopify site, you will need that WordPress blog hosted somewhere with its own IP address. You can then talk to your domain registrar and get the subdomain of your main domain changed to point at the WordPress hosting.
So you might have:
- www.myshopifystore.com pointing to 127.0.0.1, which holds your Shopify store.
- www.blog.myshopifystore.com pointing to 192.168.1.1, which holds your WordPress blog.
You will then need to go into your Shopify settings and add a new menu item to your navigation bar, which will be a link to your blog.
Winner: Shopify. Using a blog on the Shopify platform is incredibly easy to get up and running, and even if you factor in using templates, which adds to the complexity, it's still easier to do than setting up an external WordPress blog for an internal link.
Factor 2: SEO
There are a lot of different SEO factors that come into play here. I'll go through a rundown of different factors, and how each blog option handles them.
Domain. The difference between a subdomain and a subfolder has an impact on SEO. Generally, the subfolder option is better. Subdomains work in circumstances where you want to run multiple concurrent blogs, and they work for international sites and other partitioned sites, but generally Shopify is going to be the better option here.
Speed. Site speed is a huge factor for modern SEO, particularly for mobile web users. While it's perfectly possible to have a very fast blog hosted on a WordPress-based subdomain, it may be slower than using the native Shopify blogging platform, integrated and ready for whenever anyone clicks that link. Just having to resolve the subdomain and all of those new files at a new host IP is going to delay things a bit.
Technical SEO control. WordPress has a ton of different advanced SEO options, but only if you're using the right plugins. Installing something like Yoast is easy for WordPress and gives you a ton of control. Conversely, Shopify doesn't have nearly so robust a set of control, and the plugins available aren't quite as good. I would have to give WordPress the advantage here.
Content. A huge part of SEO is the content you produce, with elements like metadata, keyword usage, and content quality driving your search ranking. Fortunately, both Shopify and WordPress allow you to edit metadata easily. The actual content of your blog posts does not have any reliance on your blogging platform, so there's no winner or loser here.
Verdict: Shopify comes out on top, if only because subdomains are not the best option for SEO. Google claims they treat subdomains and subfolders the same for SEO, but evidence gathered by webmasters in experiments performed repeatedly over the years would suggest that this may not be the case. Also, site speed is an issue, though oftentimes the difference between a good hosted WordPress and a good Shopify blog is negligible.
Factor 3: Versatility
Running a blog means adapting as times change. When Google makes a change to their algorithm, you need to be able to adapt your site to match. For example, if Google were to decide tomorrow that blog posts with blue images in them were going to rank better, you'd want to be able to adjust your blog to add blue images to every post, quickly and easily.
Versatility generally means being able to adapt the platform to suit your needs. While the "blue images" example is nonsense, it's not far from the truth. Google likes things like rich snippets, and getting rich snippets means having structured data throughout your site. Shopify does some of that, but within the blog, you only have so much control.
Versatility is where WordPress truly shines, and I have one set of numbers that can tell you what I mean.
WordPress has a free plugin directory here which (as of the time of this writing) has 55,922 plugins in it. This doesn't count all the myriad developers out there who sell their plugins through sites like CodeCanyon, or on their own site. I would venture that it's easily double or triple that number, all told.
The Shopify app store – their plugin directory equivalent – is much more limited. They don't have an easy number to pull from but searching the keyword "blog" to find just blog-relevant apps has a mere 238 results. A Shopify blog post from 2018 says they had 2,000 apps in the directory, and even doubling that year over year puts them well under half the number of plugins that WordPress has just in their free directory alone.
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Keep in mind, too, that most of the apps in the Shopify app store are focused on the store, not the blog. Expanding the functionality of a blog on Shopify might not be easy.
"But Shopify has everything I'd need to run a good blog!" you may say. And, sure, Shopify does. Much like how WordPress.com has everything you need to run a good blog, and you can run a good blog on Tumblr or Medium as a platform as well.
Scroll up to the top of this post for a moment, and tell me what you see. Go ahead, I'll wait.
What was it? You might not have even thought about what I'm thinking about, because it's fairly common and a lot of people take it for granted. I'm specifically talking about the table of contents. On WordPress, installing a table of contents like that is as simple as adding a plugin to the platform and maybe configuring a couple of options. It took me no more than five minutes when I installed it originally.
If you want a table of contents on your Shopify blog posts, you're looking at a much more difficult process. There may be a plugin that can do it, but I haven't found it in the searching I've done. You can make one manually, but that's a lot of tedious interlinking and manual code tweaking for every post you want to publish. Or you can pay a developer who is familiar with the Shopify architecture to make one for you. It's an added expense, but at least it's easy, once it's done.
The same goes for just about everything. Custom comments sections and formatting? WordPress has a hundred options, and Shopify only has a couple, aimed more at product pages than blog posts. Want to integrate rich snippets? Same story.
Verdict: WordPress. The number one selling point for WordPress is its versatility as a platform. Shopify simply can't stand up to the juggernaut of open-source blogging.
Factor 4: Design and Ease of Use
Another huge part of running a successful blog is the ease of use. Regardless of whether you have a Shopify blog or a WordPress blog, getting TO that blog is going to be the same process; either the user lands on your Shopify store and clicks the blog button, or they perform a web search and click through directly to the blog post. So that part is the same.
What about familiarity? Web users like to be able to intuit their way around a website. We take a lot of little things for granted, like the fact that the logo for the site should be in the upper left and should link to the homepage, or that there should be breadcrumbs at the top that lead to category pages and homepages.
A large part of this comes down to the blog theme and design you've chosen to go with. There are certainly a lot of exotic-looking WordPress sites out there because you can use the modules they code to wrap in a wide variety of ways. There's a ton of flexibility out there. At the same time, there are millions of themes for WordPress, and most of them follow the same general set of best practices. Very few of them are seriously warping the way the site works at a fundamental level, and those aren't very popular when they do show up.
Shopify is a lot more restrictive with their blog themes – their theme store has a ton of themes that look more or less identical – but they can still be kind of out there in some cases. And, of course, you're always able to pay for a developer to make you a theme for either platform; both have plenty of devs available.
So which platform gets the edge here? I would tentatively say Shopify, actually, and for one reason. On Shopify, the blog that's built into the store shares the theme with the store. If you change themes for one, it changes across both. That can be anything from a background color to formatting in the header or footer to anything else.
If you're using a Shopify store with a WordPress blog, you have to jump through a lot more hoops to make the two look similar enough that there's congruence between them. You either have to find themes that look and feel very similar, or you have to use a theme for one and customize the other more manually. And, of course, you can pay for a developer to make you a consistent theme across both, but that is, again, an added expense.
Congruence is important. If a user is on your blog and clicks through to your store, and the store feels completely different, they aren't going to trust it. If they're on your store and click through to your blog, and the blog feels completely different, they'll wonder if they somehow left your site and if this blog is legitimate or not. Keeping congruence between them increases trust.
Verdict: Shopify gets the win here, simply through the ease of congruence. You can jump through hoops to get WordPress to look and feel the same, but it's just that: hoops you need to jump through.
If you're running a store on Shopify, and you're given the choice between the built-in Shopify blog or running a WordPress blog on a subdomain, I would personally recommend that you go with the Shopify blog.
Long-time readers of mine might be a little surprised about that. I'm generally a huge proponent of WordPress in pretty much all scenarios. And, indeed, if you value customization and flexibility over ease of use, WordPress is the way to go here. It's just not on a subdomain.
The option I would actually recommend is to go about things in the other direction. Set up a WordPress site as your main site, and then use the WordPress Shopify plugin to integrate your store into your blog. You have a lot of flexibility there as well, of course, and a bunch of different plugins that integrate a storefront in different ways.
From my experience, and the research performed by marketers into the benefits of subdomains versus subfolders for running a blog, I would be very skeptical about running a blog on a subdomain. Yeah, I know, Google claims they're treated the same, but it never really adds up that way. People who have taken a site on a subfolder and moved it to a subdomain have seen their traffic tank.
Sure, the change in URLs always makes traffic dip for a while. Changing URL structure or rebranding to a different domain will do that too. The study linked above suggests that, if you start with a blog on a subdomain and move it to a subfolder-based blog structure, most sites will end up seeing an improvement to their ranking and their traffic once search engine algorithms catch up.
It's almost like using a subdomain is trying to go for a jog with weights tied to your ankles. You can do it if you're strong enough, but it'll be more difficult and you might not see as much in the way of improvements over time.
Go with the Shopify blog, my friends. At least, that's my opinion.
Let me ask you, though: what's your thinking on the subject? Have you faced this choice before? If you have, which option did you end up trying, and how did it work out? Tell me your story, I'd love to hear it.