People who call themselves ‘WordPress developers’ offer a very wide range of services at very different levels of expertise. Without technical knowledge most people looking for a developer are left with a roll of the dice. So here are some tips on how to find a capable developer who specializes in WordPress development.
Developers Aren’t Designers
Many people use the term ‘web designer’ as a catch-all that means someone who builds websites. It’s important to understand that web design and web development are two very different skill set. There is a good deal of overlap, and any experienced web professional will know something of each. However, it is very rare that someone is highly skilled at both.
More often it’s the case that web professionals will be more experienced at one than the other. For that reason people looking for original web designs should consider hiring both a designer and a developer separately. One exception would be anyone who simply needs a template based site where design skill wouldn’t come into play as much.
Whatever your needs, be skeptical of anyone claiming to be experts at both design and coding.
Many WordPress Developers Aren’t Developers
In recent years Wordress has become popular for one primary reason. As the software has matured it has become clear that no other content management system is as easy to build and manage. This speed of development and ease of use cuts development and maintenance costs.
Unfortunately, due to it’s ease of set-up and use, many people have set up web development businesses around the software who otherwise would not be qualified as a web professional. And that has lead to a lot of bad WordPress development.
What Is Bad WordPress Development?
Building websites involves a number of inter-related skills and concerns. Websites can’t just look pretty. They also have to run fast, be stable, be SEO friendly, and be easy to modify. WordPress may be relatively easy to implement compared to building custom content management, but there is a huge difference between doing it and doing it well.
Early on, WordPress developed a reputation for running slow. And that’s a huge problem. Every second of load time is many fewer eyes on your site. But the problem isn’t actually WordPress itself. The issue is an overuse of site templates and plugins.
Capable WordPress developers know enough about WordPress and development to build custom themes that aren’t code heavy and don’t rely on many plugins. Very often ten lines of code will do the same thing a three hundred line plugin is meant to accomplish. Knowing when and how to use plugins is a key skill for a WordPress developer.
In addition, it’s critical that a WordPress developer only use code and plugins which are currently supported with updates. Plugins that won’t be updated may eventually break. Website stability is essential, and experienced WordPress developers are ensuring that your site will continue to function properly long after launch.
Also, WordPress is a content management system and that means it should be easy to manage content. Inexperienced WordPress developers may set up your site in a manner that isn’t intuitive. In many cases that leaves you wanting to have that developer make changes to the site, which entirely misses the point of having a CMS.
Three Tiers Of WordPress Development
If you don’t need a custom design and build for your site you can find developers or online services like Squarespace that will have you set up with a WordPress site for $300 – $600. This kind of site won’t look unique, may run slow, and generally should not be a solution considered by any business that will be relying on their website to establish their brand or provide a service to many people.
On the other hand, if you want a custom website that isn’t very elaborate the going low-end hourly rate right now is about $30/hr for anyone with adequate experience. For those with more experience $50/hr is common. You can expect a basic custom WordPress site to take at least 40 hours to build. 60 hours is likely. At this level $1500 – $3000 is a reasonable expectation for development alone, not including design.
Keep in mind that people charging less that $30/hr may not be experienced enough to ensure a high quality build.
If your site has e-commerce functionality or other complex features like a forum or social media interaction, the hours required can go way up. A large enterprise-level e-commerce site may take 200 or more hours to develop. At this level, developers may be charging $50/hr – $75/hr. So anyone needing a more complex site should expect to pay anywhere from $6K – $15K for development.
How To Interview A WordPress Developer
While it may be difficult for someone without technical knowledge to interview a developer, there are some questions you can ask that may reveal whether a developer has adequate experience working with WordPress.
Questions To Ask A Prospective Developer
And now for the answers to those questions..
1) Experienced WordPress developers don’t use a code-heavy template to build websites. They may start (as I do) from a custom base theme that is basically a stripped down WordPress theme. If a WordPress developer isn’t doing custom development, they should not be charging you a lot and your expectations should be lower.
2) You may not entirely understand their answer here, but they should have an answer and it should have something to do with not overusing plugins, taking advantage of a cache plugin, and keeping code slim.
3) Experienced WordPress developers using about five plugins per site, not counting plugins that handle large tasks like e-commerce or forums. Common default plugins include a cache plugin, a contact form plugin, and an SEO plugin.
4) You don’t need to know what all of these are. But any experienced custom WordPress developer will know and should be using all of them on a regular basis, with some room for preference.
Where To Hire A WordPress Developer
More than half of my clients have been left hanging mid-project, given bad advice, or were delivered a dysfunctional website. Good developers are always picking up these pieces and are used to clients who are feeling a bit hesitant to trust them.
So then how to you find a trustworthy developer? Well, that depends on how complex your site needs to be.
At less expensive levels, the best way to proceed is to look at websites like LinkedIn or Indeed that allow you to search for web professionals, review their resume, look at testimonials and recommendations, and get some sense of the developers experience and reputation.
Some people turn to Craigslist hoping to find an inexpensive developer. While that can work (I advertise on Craigslist), do not for any reason rely solely upon a Craigslist post to make a decision about hiring someone. Professional developers should include a link to their website or social media presence that will allow you to better review their qualifications.
At a higher level of development a good bet is hiring a talent agency. They will present you with the resume of several developers who they have qualified for you based on experience. There should be many agencies in your area. In order to decide which one to use, check their website and make sure it looks current and well organized. If they have a dated or broken website, they probably don’t specialize in tech recruiting. Next call them and ask whether they specialize in tech recruiting. In addition you should ask whether they give their recruits a technical interview. Serious tech recruiters will have someone on staff who determines the qualifications of every recruit.
Take Your Time
Hiring a WordPress developer is a bit of a process. You may need to learn a few things in order to make an educated choice. Be ready to talk to many people and ask lots of questions. Look for a developer who speaks clearly and seems more or less friendly. Good developers are honest about what they know and have no reason for arrogance. And good developers help their clients learn about how websites are built.
Do not for any reason hire the first person you find because you are in a hurry. With some focus and legwork you should be able to find someone who knows what they are doing and is easy to work with. Given the stakes for your business or brand, patience is critical.