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How to choose a WordPress developer – a 13 point checklist

How to choose a website developer

Choosing a WordPress developer is an important decision. A good website can help you achieve your business objectives. Get it wrong, and you risk hurting your business.

You need a new website. You’ve decided to go with WordPress CMS (good choice by the way). Your website development skills (and possibly your time too) are limited so you need some help. You decide to give the work to a WordPress developer. A quick search on Google returns an endless number of WordPress developer websites. So how exactly do you go about choosing one?

Choosing a WordPress developer is an important decision.

If you think of your website as a tool to help you meet a business objective such as selling more products, improving customer relationships, establishing your brand, marketing your services better, etc., then selecting the right WordPress developer is an important step in putting together this tool. A good website can help you achieve your business objectives. A bad website, on the other hand, risks hurting your business and it can set you back a while - wasting time and money seeking a replacement.

So how exactly do you go about choosing a WordPress developer?

The starting point in choosing a WordPress developer is to decide on whether you want to work with someone face-to-face (perhaps locally too), or whether you are willing to work remotely with someone over the phone or video conference. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but there are pros and cons to either. Next, you’ll need to create a shortlist.

However you create your shortlist – google search, local directory, word of mouth, freelancer platforms, LinkedIn, etc., - that’s up to you. Maybe, someday, we’ll write a guide on how to build a shortlist. For now, we’ll assume you already have a shortlist, and we’ll focus on how to pick a suitable WordPress developer from your shortlist.

Working with your shortlist.

Your first contact with your shortlisted WordPress developers is very much like an interview. You want to get a sense of the personality and culture of the person or company. Here are some questions to ask about before making a choice.

1. Tell me a little bit about your background?

This sounds like a typical interview question, and perhaps it is. The purpose of this question is to get a sense of where your WordPress developer’s strength lies. Broadly speaking, WordPress developers will come from one or three backgrounds – technical, marketing or design. One isn’t necessarily better than the other – but there may be implications for your website. For example, a WordPress developer with a background in design may not necessarily know the most technically efficient way to implement a particular function on your website. Your choice should be guided by your business needs.

2. How long have you been involved with your chosen CMSs?

This is a tricky question because you’re effectively asking how long it takes to master WordPress. For someone who has been involved in web development or a person with additional web skills or from a technical background – then we’ll suggest a minimum of 12 months. On the other hand, if the person doesn’t have any previous web development experience, you may want someone with a minimum of two years continuously developing or working on WordPress websites. Off course, these are very subjective recommendations. It all boils down to the person’s ability to deliver a website that meets your requirements.

3. How many WordPress websites have you built?

We’ll suggest you look for someone who’s developed at least 3 or 4 different WordPress websites - at a bare minimum. Bear in mind that some sites may be larger or more sophisticated than others. Try to unearth their role in developing these websites. For example, were they responsible for developing the entire website, or did they just look at a specific aspect? Did they work alone, or as part of a team. Did they focus mainly on the design of the website (layouts, graphics, typography, etc.) or did they carry out any technical work on the website? Look at the websites they have developed. Is there a certain look and feel to their sites, or is there variety in their design? Most importantly, do you like their style?

TIP: if your requirement is for a “simple” WordPress website and you have found a novice willing to “learn” on your site – then go for it. The world needs more people who are willing to work with beginner WordPress developers – howbeit at concessionary rates.

4. What’s your process for developing a website?

Each WordPress developer will have his or her own answer to this (or quite possibly, NO answer). It’s worth asking, as it’ll give you a feel for their website development process. Do they have a structured, systematic planning process to take you through the website development phases? Will they document all the discussions and decisions? Do they have a Website Planning Guide that you can work through together? Ask if you can speak with some of their current and recent clients, to see how smooth the website development process was. You want someone who has good project management skills, as well as good communication skills.

5. Will you be customising a template, or building one from scratch?

First, it’s important to mention that whether your website is built from scratch or from a template depends on your requirement - the more you deviate from a design template, the more time it’s going to take your WordPress developer to implement the changes. Therefore, if you’re going to deviate considerably from a template, them consider developing your website from scratch – it might work out to be cheaper. If you do go down the road of customising a template, bear in mind that it does require a bit of skill to ensure the customisations are properly implemented from a technical perspective.

6. What hosting providers will you use, and why?

Speed, availability, reliability, security, cost, lock-in periods, control panel access - these are just some of the factors you need to consider when choosing a website hosting service. Most WordPress developers will have their preferred or recommended website hosting service provider(s). What features are included in the hosting packages – SSL certificates, regular back-ups and restore, etc? If you don’t feel comfortable with their hosting options, will they allow you to carry out your own research and work with a hosting provider of your choice?

7. How well do you know CSS?

In WordPress development (and much of the web design) CSS or Cascading Style Sheets control the presentation of the website pages (visual design and layout) in your browser. It is a vital part of customising a WordPress website. CSS can be used to tweak the aesthetics of a WordPress template to your exact liking rather than just accepting what the template has to offer. Therefore, for a WordPress developer CSS mastery (or, at least, near-mastery) is almost a requirement. Not all WordPress developers will have a good grasp of CSS so it’s worth asking how they would describe their CSS skills.

8. What SEO services do you offer?

The WordPress CMS comes with decent SEO settings that can be extended with plugins like Yoast [insert link to Yoast plugin]. Not everyone needs (or wants) to rank highly in the organic search results - so the basic WordPress SEO tools might suffice. If, on the other hand, you need to have SEO best practice implemented, then be sure to ask them what they know about technical SEO beforehand – from canonical URs to Structured data with Schema.org. It is often more expedient to get a WordPress developer that can incorporate the technical aspects of SEO into the website development process, rather than having an SEO person retrofit these into your website.

9. What complimentary skills do you bring to the table?

Copywriting, content editing, PR & marketing communications, graphic design, photography, video production - the list of complementary skills a WordPress developer can have is seemingly endless. If there is a particular skill set that you’ve identified as potentially useful to your website development, it is worth asking if this is something that the WordPress developer can handle. If, on the other hand, the developer highlights these skills in an effort to win your custom, then be sure to understand how incorporating these skills into your website fits with your wider marketing and business goals. (A pretty site is no good to you unless it meets your business objectives.

10. Will they provide support?

If you need ongoing support to maintain your website, will they maintain the website after it is launched, and how much they'll charge for that? Some WordPress developers want to create new websites but don't want to be involved in maintaining them. If you need ongoing support, it’ll often cost extra to get someone else to maintain a website they haven’t built, as they’ll be taking responsibility for someone else’s development work. If you're going to maintain the site yourself, will they develop the website so that you can easily maintain it – for example will the WordPress website have a page builder that allows you to easily add or edit content on the website.

11. What happens when the website is completed?

When the website is completed, will you own all of it outright? Will there be features and functionality that the WordPress developer will own and control, for example, features you can only access as long as you remain a client? Closely related to this are features and functionality that the developer has purchased under a bulk or agency licence – as it often works out to be considerably cheaper. The flip side is that the developer will own (and control) these licenses and not you. Will the WordPress developer provide you with a full working copy of the source files? You need to be assured that you will be able to edit your website (or have another WordPress developer edit your website with ease.

12. How much will it cost, and how long will it take?

What’s the cost estimate for the type of website you want? The developer may not be able to give you a good estimate until you discuss content and features of the website, but it’ll help to know if they are within your proposed budget. Also at this stage, you want to know how they will bill you. Do you have to pay for everything upfront? Will they invoice you periodically (say weekly or monthly), or on achieving certain milestones? Do you have to make deposits? Pay attention to whether they keep deferring the subject. What about estimated timescales for starting and completing your website. How does that fit with your own deadline?

13. How secure will my WordPress website be?

These days security is an ongoing concern – not with all the headlines about hacking and website security breaches. So it’s not out of place to ask your WordPress developer about their thoughts and recommendations for keeping your website secure. For example, will they include a software firewall in the development? What are their backups – will they include software to backup your website automatically? All of these are becoming increasingly vital aspects of professional website development and a WordPress developer worth their weight in gold would jump at the opportunity to highlight some best-practice measures that will help make your WordPress secure. PS: We covered some of the measures we implement when we answered the question Is WordPress a secure CMS?

In conclusion...

There are no right and wrong answers. Take your time to reflect on the conversation. How much did they ask you about your business? Did they want to get to know you, your business, your audience, and your marketing goals first? Do you think you’ll enjoy working with them? Do you feel you "clicked" with their personality and values?