WordPress powers over 23% of all websites on Earth. Naturally, many people want to hire experienced WordPress developers. Some of the folks looking for WordPress devs are agencies, who need a developer on staff. Some are enterprise level businesses, who rely on their in-house web development team to keep their website up-to-date. Some are small businesses or entrepreneurs that need someone to help them launch or redesign a website.
While large organizations are likely to have more experience with hiring web developers, smaller businesses may not know what to look for. Here are some things to look for when hiring WordPress developers.
Why Is This Important?
Unfortunately, many people simply buy themes from a marketplace, install a few plugins, and call themselves a developer.
Dishearteningly, some old-school IT guys think they can learn the ins-and-outs of WordPress in an afternoon, and quickly realize they are in over their head.
Shamefully, many one-stop marketing shops see dollar signs when they hear about the market share of WordPress and seek out a warm body who they can outsource that work to.
In many of these cases, the developers are not vetted properly by the hiring person, whether that’s a small businesses or a small web agency. This is just one article that will give you guidelines of what to look for in a professional WordPress developer.
What Will You Need Your Developer To Do?
Web studios will know the answer to this, but the small business looking to get work done may not. If possible, try to figure out what level of expertise you’ll need before searching.
Do you just need someone to configure a pre-built theme and some plugins? Do you need custom development from a commercial theme? Do you need custom functionality built on top of an existing plugin? DO you need a custom built theme? If you’re a larger business or digital agency, do you need custom integration with different APIs?
Some of these things are not like the others. Understand there are knowledge jumps between simple theme implementation, building custom themes or plugins, and building something that has probably never existed before. The more complexity you need a web developer to navigate, the smaller the pool of talent you are looking at, and the more you should expect to pay.
Have A Realistic Budget
You get what you pay for.
It was true when your grandparents said it, and it’s true today. The biggest error most people make when hiring a WordPress developer is underestimating how much quality will cost.
Many small businesses look to freelance marketplaces like oDesk or eLance, middleman connectors like Thumbtack, or forums like Jobs.WordPress.net or Craigslist for finding a developer.
Though it’s not 100% of the time, it appears there is a high correlation between seeking help on these sites and wanting to pay as little as possible for the work. Which is fine, as long as your website is only a box to be ticked on your checklist.
But if you actually care about getting results from your website, then you will have to have a realistic budget. Brian Krosgard published an extensive article in 2014 about the costs of getting a quality website built. At the lowest end, you should anticipate paying a web developer between $25 and $40 an hour if they are just starting out, and anywhere from $175 to $400 an hour for specialists who solve complex problems. While there are large jumps in expertise between these levels, the point is that quality WordPress development costs more than many people believe it does.
While I’m sure that not every developer charging less than $20 an hour is terrible, the number of web projects I have rescued from cut-rate so-called web experts tells me the odds are definitely stacked against that being true. My colleagues in the industry will also back that truth up.
Bottom line: don’t go shopping for web development at the dollar store. If you do, you’re likely to get something you’re unhappy with, and that may do more damage to your business than help.
Can You Work With This Person?
Communication is critical to any successful web project. While people are always on their best behavior at the beginning of a work relationship, try to gauge early on how clear your communication will be with your prospective developer. Do they answer email within 24 hours? Are they descriptive, concise, detailed or lucid? Does their personality mesh well with yours?
The greatest thing a web professional can do for a client is set their mind at ease. And I don’t mean just tell them what they want to hear, but actually help them feel less at-risk — pointing out things that they could improve, helping them understand what the process is, making them feel secure. Teaching people is one of the things I truly believe in. Mastery of technology begins with understanding, and that is enabled by clear and honest communication.
Check Out Their Site
You can learn a lot from a web professional’s website. Sure, you can see the level of quality they put into their own site, but you can also tell how involved they are in WordPress and web development by how much they share on their site.
About 80% of all websites I see are in full-on pitch mode on every page, but have almost zero content that actually shows they know what they are talking about.
If a developer is able to write about the things they know, what they have learned, and where web development is going, that signals that they are knowledgeable — and more importantly, good communicators.
In other words, if someone is comfortable enough not only to perform a task, but to teach other people how to do that task, or why it is important to do that task a certain way, it means they put some thought into what they do. They have internalized their profession and tools enough to have a viewpoint on it. It means they give a damn about WordPress as more than a means to an end, and not just as a way to get money from people.
How Involved Are They In The WordPress Community?
Every year, the WordPress Foundation posts a survey on all their sites, the WordCamps sites and social media, for anyone working with WordPress for a living. It is estimated from numbers on various freelancing sites, that somewhere between 1 million and 3 million people list WordPress as one of their skills. Yet the survey from this the end of 2014 only netted 8,000 responses.
In other words, less than one percent of people who claim they are WordPress experts participated in this heavily promoted survey. That leaves 99% of the rest of the ecosystem as not following WordPress very closely. For the small business owner seeking a WordPress developer to help them with their site, these are terrible odds.
Those 99% don’t invest in learning the ins and outs of WordPress. They are not interested in improving their skills, get better with the platform they get paid for working with, or make sure that their clients are safe, their websites are compatible and work properly.
Now I’m not saying that if a person isn’t involved in the WordPress community, or if they don’t write about it, or attend WordCamps or local WordPress Meetups, that they are an awful developer. But I surely feel a lot more confident that they know what they’re doing if I see that they are.
It’s very easy to talk the talk. You actually have to immerse yourself in the culture on a daily basis to walk the walk.
What Have They Worked On Before?
This seems obvious, but many people neglect to ask for work samples when hiring WordPress developers. Find out what role they played on each site. Did they simply buy a pre-made theme and install it? Did they build custom functionality? Did they build a custom theme or plugin for these sites? The developer who can build sites from scratch has a more diverse skillset than the developer who simply buys themes and installs them.
Now, if you’re an agency, you can evaluate their code quality and development work with relative ease. But if you’re a regular business owner, this work becomes more difficult to appraise.
But what you can do is go through the prospective developers’ sites, and evaluate how they work. As you go through their sites, ask yourself he following questions.
Does the site work well on mobile? Does the site load slowly? Does anything feel “off”? Does it look there has been attention to detail? Would you purchase anything from these sites? Do they look trustworthy?
How Will They Keep Your Site Secure?
Security is an issue for any website, large or small. But since WordPress is such a large chunk of the web ecosystem, it is also a very large target. One of the important differences between a professional WordPress developer and an amateur that dabbles in WordPress is how seriously they take security precautions.
Because there is such a wide variance of knowledge in the WordPress space, there are some sites which are set up with security in mind, and some which have been set up with no thought whatsoever to security.
Ask your prospective developers if they are aware of the latest security vulnerabilities. How do they stay informed of security patches for popular plugins? Do they have a plan for keeping your site updated with WordPress core and plugins? Will they hide the login screen? What steps will they take to keep your database secure?
Speaking of Security…Where Do They Purchase WordPress Themes?
This is so important, but few people outside of the hardcore WordPress community seem to get it. Most developers (and even long-established agencies) seem to rely on ThemeForest as a source of WordPress themes. But 99% of the people using WordPress realize that most products on ThemeForest come bundled with plugins already baked into the themes. These bundled plugins can’t be updated like normal WordPress plugins, and are often out of date at the time of purchase. This causes all sorts of security vulnerabilities, that end up affecting hundreds of thousands of sites.
This is why it is important to not only find a quality WordPress developer, but bring them in on your project before it even begins. This way, they can help you make decisions about the theme that will help you avoid getting hacked later on.
Do They Have Opinions?
If your prospective developer is familiar with WordPress, they will have opinions on many things based on their experience. Here’s some example questions that I might ask a prospective developer.
What are the best hosting companies for WordPress? Why? What caching plugins do you like working with? HOw do those work with hosting? Why is this important?
What are the major changes coming to WordPress over the next year that I should be aware of?
(If this is a redesign project) What are some things I am doing now that can be improved?
If you’re an agency, you will likely have more specific questions related to coding practices. If at all possible, make sure that the person evaluating the prospective developers has extensive knowledge of WordPress. If you are looking to make your first web developer hire for an agency, call on your network to recommend someone knowledgeable and trustworthy.
It bothers me when employers simply grab a person out of college (because they’re inexpensive) and they end up deploying sites that are insecure and/or inefficiently coded.
While this list is far from exhaustive, hopefully it will give you more to think about when you are looking for a qualified WordPress developer.