This is a guide on how to make an online bookings & appointments website with WordPress – especially for service professionals who want to be able to book their clients on their website…without committing to specific software vendor beyond WordPress (which is open-source, and extensible to build whatever type of website you need). Here’s how…
1. Install WordPress
WordPress is software that “powers” your website. It’s free; it’s open-source (ie, it’s maintained by the community, and not a company); and even though it is a blog platform at it’s core – it is a very easy to use “content management system” (ie, allows you to build & edit webpages, etc).
It is a platform that uses “plugins” to create whatever additional functionality you need – whether it’s ecommerce, etc – or in this case – online bookings and appointments.
2. Be Wary of “Free” Plugin Options
One of the big advantages of using WordPress to build websites is the huge, free WordPress plugin library. There are over 25,000+ plugins offering every bit of functionality you could want – including plugins to help you build an online bookings and appointments website.
For most broad based purposes, such as caching, SEO, etc – there are high-quality free plugins that do the job. But for many specific purposes, there isn’t the community to support a free option, so premium providers step up with a solution.
I tried several free bookings plugins out, and found all the options I tried returned to the theme that you tend to get what you pay for. For example, Appointy had produced a plugin that boasted tons of functionality and ease of install (see the plugin here). Here’s what it looks like after the install:
Notice the iFrame & Account Requirement. It wasn’t at all what it was cracked up to be. Their plugin is not so much a plugin at all as it is a play to get you to sign up for Appointy. If you’re a customer of Appointy – by all means, check it out. But if you are looking to build an online bookings and appointments website with a plugin that doesn’t lock you into a specific vendor, then I’d steer clear.
I also looked at CodePeople’s Appointment Booking Calendar (see it here). It showed more promise. See what it looks like below…
It was quite clunky, not easy to use…and showed that they make their money by customizing the plugin for your business’ use, which can be good or bad depending on whether you give them the benefit of the doubt.
Either way, the best functionality was hidden away in the pro version, so I steered clear of that one as well.
That said – if you want to work with a free version, it showed more promise than any other I tried. If you notice an amazing free plugin that has good functionality – be sure to let me know in the comments.
If you are looking for what I recommend as a solution (and how to use it) for most people – let’s move to step 3.
EDIT 5/27/2014 – WPMU has released a free version of the plugin I’m about to discuss in step 3. The premium version does have some great features, but if you’re looking to try a solid free plugin – you should check out Appointments by WPMU Dev.
3. Just Go Get Appointments+
Disclosure – I have a membership at WPMU, and they pay me referral fees.
Here’s WPMU’s marketing pitch for Appointments+ (which glosses over several issues that I’ll cover in a moment, but just for an overview).
Here’s the reasons I recommend WPMU for almost anyone trying to figure out how to make an online bookings & appointments website –
- Usually if you’re building a site like this you’re going to be making at least some money, which makes it worthwhile to invest some money in a quality solution
- Even though it’s paid – it’s only $19 – which still keeps almost anyone’s DIY website within some sort of budget
- You get professional support during the period when it most matters – the first month – and after that you can always re-subscribe for $19 to get quick, professional support
- Lots of tutorials around the Internet on how to use it and get going (which I’ve included below)
- Since it’s paid – it’s actually commercial grade with a great interface, quality code, and regular updates
- It’s GPL licensed – which is technically important because you’re website will not have any proprietary code that can only be changed by a company – which maintains all the flexibility that comes from using WordPress in the first place
There are a few downsides to using Appointments+ though that you should be aware of…
- WPMU does try to upsell you to get a month to month subscription. It makes sense if you regularly use support, want their other plugins, or need regular updates for Appointments+
- It uses a good bit of jargon, which can take some time readings guides or watching tutorials to figure out up front
- It only integrates with PayPal right now. If you use another processor like Google Wallet, Square, etc then you’re out of luck for now
Anyway, you can head here to buy it. You buy it with a 1 month subscription that you can cancel after download.
I recommend downloading the plugin directly, unless you plan on purchasing other plugins – then I’d use the WPMU Dev Dashboard which they will walk you through if you choose “Install Appointments+”.
4. Install Appointments+
After you download the plugin to your computer, you’ll then navigate to your website’s WordPress Dashboard, and install it like a normal plugin.
Then you’ll activate the plugin.
And you’ll get pitched to install WPMU’s Dashboard plugin.
Again, if you plan on using other plugins from WPMU or are a regular subscriber, then I’d install it. But it’s not necessary to install – it’s just annoying really. It doesn’t hurt your site or performance if you do go ahead and install the Dashboard.
Then just navigate to the Appointments tab on the Dashboard.
It has a built-in walk through which is useful.
Now at this point – it sort of depends on your personality how to continue setting up your online appointments or bookings site.
For those you like to hack around and figure things out – the short version is that you:
- Setup your settings
- Sync up your calendar (optional – I avoid the API until Google officially supports it)
- Set up your PayPal
- Add a New Page with Pages –> Add New on the Dashboard that will serve as your bookings page
- Get the appropriate Shortcode from Appointments –> Shortcodes and paste it on your new Appointments page
Check Out The Appointments+ Tutorials
For those who like to walk through and learn everything via tutorial – I won’t confuse you with a hundred screenshots. Instead, here’s the complete video tutorial set for the Appointments+ plugin for reference.
Don’t be daunted by all the videos. It’s a straightforward plugin – but has a lot of options for you to customize for your business, so you can browse and skip around as needed.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 1: Introduction
This video just covers the basics.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 2: The Front-end
This video is an overview of what the end product on your site will look like.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 3: General Settings
This video runs through the basic settings. Most are self-explanatory, though the video is useful if you aren’t familiar with the jargon.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 4: Managing Services
This video covers an essential part of the plugin – defining the services available for booking.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 5: Introduction Service Providers
This one is great if you are running a multi-person service business.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 6: Working Hours
This video starts to cover the limitations of bookings and setting parameters (so you don’t get booked when you don’t want to).
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 7: Scheduling Exceptions
This video is a continuation of setting parameters and limits to when people can set bookings.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 8: Google Calendar Integration
This video gets a bit technical, but highlights a great feature – Google Calendar integration.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 9: Managing Appointments Manually
This video covers how to work with the plugin manually – especially useful for syncing any offline bookings.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 10: Shortcodes, Logs and Extras
This video goes over all the technical nuts and bolts of getting the bookings to actually display on your website. Technical, but very useful.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 11: Expanding Appointments+
This video is a bit of an upsell…but one that I endorse since all their other plugins play so nicely together. If you also want to sell products on your site, or do a newsletter – this video will show you how you can do those things with WPMU add-on plugins.
There are plenty of other options out there for ecommerce, etc – but sometimes it can be easier to just have that functionality provided by WPMU supported plugins.
Appointments+ Tutorial Part 12: Conclusion & Thank you
This video is very skippable – but a good reminder that the plugin comes with professional support. Be sure to take advantage of it.
And that is how to make an online bookings & appointments website with WordPress. Good luck with your project!
If you come across any good looking free options – let me know in the comments.