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Accepting payments online is a big step for creators.
People appreciate my goods and services and are willing to pay real money for them?
It's wild to think about.
And when someone actually completes that first purchase on your site, it feels pretty incredible (I think I was grinning for about a week).
WordPress has a variety of solutions to handle payment processing, the most well-known being WooCommerce.
The problem WooCommerce is that it's a really bloated service and most people don't even use half of its features. It was designed for fully-fledged web shops that need to do lots of business-y things like process tax info, keep track of inventory, manage customer accounts, and so on.
But, what if you just want to accept payments, maybe to sell access to a newsletter or digital download?
There are better options out there than WooCommerce.
Why WooCommerce Isn't Ideal
First, let's talk a tiny bit more about the elephant in the room: WooCommerce.
This is WordPress's pride and joy for e-commerce and for a lot of use cases, it's a great thing to have.
WooCommerce takes care of a lot of inconvenient details that most web shops don't want to deal with: processing payments, applying taxes correctly (especially when purchases are made internationally), handling refunds, and so on.
Where WooCommerce falls short is in performance. If you don't intend on re-optimizing your site for speed after integrating WooCommerce, you'll most likely see significant speed reductions.
When you download WooCommerce it will load all of its supported features into your WordPress admin, regardless of how many you actually want to use.
This all-or-none design means that most people will be loading unnecessary plugin bloat onto their site just to be access one or several of WooCommerce's features. (Unless, of course, you're developing a fully-fledged e-com store. In that case, WooCommerce is pretty handy.)
So, what's the alternative?
3 Better Ways To Accept Payments
The crux of this whole accepting payments issue is finding a way to responsibly handle sensitive data from your customers. It's tricky, and if you're not careful, you can actually run into a lot of trouble.
You need to both reassure your customers that your payment processing is safe (to earn their trust and convince them to click “Buy”) and also reassure yourself that you won't be the cause of someone's credit card info being stolen.
A lot of pressure, I know.
But there are plenty of services and/or plugins out there that have taken care of all of those concerns and are specifically designed to do just one thing: accept payments.
Let's start by looking at my favorite method: payment gateway services.
1) Use A Payment Gateway Service
Payment gateway services are a type of software that are designed to securely accept credit card information and process payments. Their main function is to allow online creators or businesses to sell products, services, or subscriptions.
In most cases, these kinds of software work behind the scenes. The biggest of them all (at least at the time of writing this) is Stripe:
Most businesses enlist Stripe's help to do several payment-related things, but we only care about one thing. You see it on the iPhone in the image above: a hosted checkout page.
Hosted checkout pages are a type of super-secure webpage that only do one thing: accept and process credit card info. Once you sign up for a payment processing service, you'll be able to create product listings, each of which will have its own designated checkout page (that you can link to).
This sounds pretty perfect, right? Your product's hosted checkout page is secured by a third party (no liability for you), it's not inserted into your site (no speed decreases, hooray), and it's usually well-optimized for both mobile and desktop screens.
To actually accept payments with hosted checkout pages, all you'd need to do is link to the checkout page on your site and visitors will be directed there to complete their purchase.
Not to mention, there are tons of companies out there that use Stripe's infrastructure to create really nice hosted checkout pages, so you have plenty of options to choose from.
When I was first creating digital products for this site, I went digging around the internet to find the best payment processor out there. Turns out, there's a lot of them.
I've taken the liberty of compiling a handy little list of the most popular ones available now:
This is just the short list of services that are well-known, but trust me, there are a ton more out there.
Here's the problem with most payment processing services, though. Either their checkout pages aren't really aesthetically pleasing (this actually makes a big difference in conversions, so it's ok to be shallow here) or they don't support a lot of key features that most online creators want.
Ideally, you wouldn't have to sacrifice aesthetics to get the features you need in a payment processor, specifically the ability to sell digital products (which most online creators will eventually do at some point).
Luckily, I found a payments service that looks great and has all the features you need to sell digital products and recurring subscriptions.
The Best Payment Processing Service
The best option out of all of the payment processors I researched is, hands down, SecuraCart.
The payment forms are beautiful. You can sell digital products. You can sell subscriptions (and set up a free trial for a given amount of days). It's fast and easy to use, plus their dashboard is intuitive and organized.
Oh yeah, and did I mention it's free?
SecuraCart is so simple and streamlined I almost couldn't believe it (especially after trying all the other competitors out there).
Check out a payment form I created as a demo: here.
Not only are the forms beautiful and the options nearly endless, SecuraCart also supports digital wallets (Apple and Google Pay) making it that much easier for your customers to quickly purchase your products.
When you sign up for a free account, you'll gain immediate access to your payments dashboard:
This is your main command center where you can create a new product or recurring subscription, track purchases and refunds, and set up your account preferences (custom colors, fonts, even a logo):
I can't rave enough about this nifty little service, it's truly awesome. The only gripe I have is that it doesn't (yet) support coupons, but SecuraCart's tech support assured me that the feature is in the works and should released sometime in mid-to-late 2021.
2) Set Up A Buy Now Plugin
If you don't want to go through the hassle of setting up a payment gateway processor, you can always opt for a Buy Now plugin.
I'm partial to the Stripe Buy Now button because it's a bit more feature rich (and not as restrictive as PayPal), so I'll give you a quick overview of the basics.
Stripe Payment plugin homepage
To start selling through the Stripe Payment gateway, you just need to create and configure your product:
From the main product page (shown above) you can create or modify any of your existing products, as well as apply any coupons to your listings.
Once your product is actually set up, you just need to insert the button:
An example of a Buy Now button from the documentation
Luckily, the plugin's website has extensive documentation, too – there are plenty of detailed tutorials on how to get everything set up.
Here's the only downside to using a Stripe payment plugin over a 3rd party payment processor service: while the bare-bones payment plugin is free, most advanced functionalities are locked behind a paywall.
To access features such as selling digital products or integrating digital wallets (Apple and Google Pay), you'll need to pay a one-time add-on fee of $40 per feature.
These add-ons are free in most payment processing services, so it doesn't really make any sense (from my view) to use this plugin over those services.
3) Insert An Inline Payment Form
Inline payment forms are another popular way to accept purchases in WordPress, but usually take a little bit more time to set up.
Since you're placing a form directly on your site, you'd need to first install a Form Builder plugin (WPForms, Gravity Forms, or similar) and then integrate a payment processing gateway through that form.
Themeisle has a great tutorial on how to get this all set-up with Gravity Forms:
In general, though, I don't think most online creators would get much benefit to using an integrated payment form over a 3rd party processor.
Sorry to sound like a broken record, but hosted checkout pages are really the way to go in most cases – it simply provides the cleanest, fastest, and most streamlined checkout experience for your customers.
Inline payment forms are good for accepting donations or for integrating into WooCommerce checkout flows, but they don't have any additional features over Buy Now buttons or 3rd party checkout services.
The Bottom Line
Accepting online payments is a huge step for any online creator – you're literally opening up for business.
There are tons of options out there that WordPress supports, but most of them are either expensive, not optimized for performance, or leave a lot to be desired in the aesthetics department.
My go-to method of accepting payments through my site is by using a 3rd party payment processing service. They take care of hosting a secure, easy-to-use checkout page that won't slow your site down.
My personal favorite of all the hosted checkout services is SecuraCart:
SecuraCart is free, supports digital downloads out of the box, has insanely good customization features (fonts, colors, brand logos, and so on), and doesn't cost a dime. They charge a processing fee for any order that goes through them, but it's only around 4% and is well worth it for how many features they give you for free.
If you're just getting started with accepting online payments, I think you'll see that hosted checkout pages are really the best way to go.
They're easy to set up, won't slow down your site (like some payment plugins or WooCommerce would), and they give your customers a clean checkout experience – sounds like more conversions to me!
How do you accept online payments in WordPress? If I convinced you to give 3rd party payment processing services a try, let me know how it goes in the comments below!