what to look for in a wordpress developer
locating the sweet spot between cost, experience and compatibility
November 8, 2023
As with all specialty occupations, finding the perfect WordPress developer agency can be a daunting task. With a combined 40+ years design and development experience, we can hopefully help assist you in this difficult task, whether you hire us or not.
Let’s explore various topics to help you make the right choice in who you hire.
If you were searching for someone to install a gorgeous new set of kitchen cabinets in your newly purchased home, you most likely wouldn’t hire the first person you find holding a hammer outside Home Depot, right? Same thing goes for WordPress developers.
Experience matters because building a good WordPress site consists of a complex combination of disparate elements – design, performance, security, functionality, SEO and more.
We’ve frequently seen other developers build sites quickly and beautifully, but completely fail to make sure the client understands that poor security and maintenance will turn those sites into a hacker’s paradise. Similarly, there’s a huge difference between how your site performs on your lightning fast cable connection in the office compared to someone on mobile in a poor coverage area.
Site optimization also heavily relates to getting good scores with Google’s PageSpeed tests – in other words, performance matters for SEO as well!
Beyond these technical considerations are questions of general business and even life experience. This feeds in heavily into the inevitable business-related decisions that arise in the process of developing a new site. Many coders and builders tend to lack practical life and business experience outside their chosen profession, making them prone to make decisions on your behalf that may appeal to them in the development process (i.e. adding some new whizz bang feature) rather than meet the needs of the customers you’re trying to attract. Said more poetically, wisdom comes with age and experience.
Getting along with the workers in whatever WordPress web design company you hire is also essential in making a good selection. Sadly we’ve heard from far too many clients about an unpleasant experience they’ve had with a former developer, who seemed friendly during the sales process, but later became a pain when their initial enthusiasm to work with you wore off.
Most likely it’s an issue that a lot of developers are simply nerds with poor social skills or that they just lack basic customer service experience.
We have as many clients that hired us for post-launch maintenance as those who started off with brand new projects. We’ve quite literally lost track of how many times we’ve heard some variation of “I just couldn’t work with them anymore” or “they’re driving me crazy” or the all-time favorite “they’re not responding to my emails anymore”. It seems that far too many developers are eager to launch a new site and move on to the next one, rather than help past clients maintain their installations.
From our experience, it turns out that all of those customer service jobs we did as teenagers really made a huge impact, because congenial client relations is something we excel at – this is something to really pay attention to when you’re interviewing a potential WordPress agency or freelancer.
Are they friendly? Do they listen attentively to your needs? Do they emphasize with the struggle to bring your dream to reality?
Another point to consider… if you’ve found a larger agency that looks appealing, make sure you talk to the actual developers and not just someone in sales. For the hard fact is that it’s the developer you’ll be working with the most. If you’re only negotiating with a sales person, that could be a warning sign, because the possibility is strong that you’ll find the sales staff totally simpatico, but struggle to communicate with the developer who is doing the bulk of the work.
There’s an old adage that also applies to hiring a good WordPress website design company – “he who pays cheap, pays twice”.
We’ve all been there and done that. Bought something for the price and not the quality, later regretting the decision once the item broke. Same thing is true for hiring an agency. Sure, you’ll find a better deal on fivrr, but it’s only a good deal if the site doesn’t break down a year from now for one issue or another.
The vast majority of cheaper developers either use a pre-packaged theme that looks close to your end-goal or use visual tools that make site development quick, but often cause problems later on. (More details on that topic in the next section.) By contrast, seasoned developers usually build bespoke themes so as to have full control over the code base, ensuring efficient performance and a more secure system, as visual editors are a frequent target for hackers, simply because they’re so popular.
Back to the kitchen cabinet metaphor… for sure, if you want something fast, putting together a pre-made cabinet from Ikea may solve an immediate need, but long term the problems will surface, as their furniture (and most websites) won’t necessarily last thru the years. Simply put – quality counts!
This issue itself could easily spawn several more articles, so we’ll try to keep the concepts quick. Our main warning is about themes and how the site actually gets built.
If you’ve poked around the WordPress topic for a while, you likely may have heard of various page builder systems like Elementor, Visual Composer or Divi. These themes and plugins are efficient for allowing people without coding skills to quickly build a beautiful site, but they often come with some major trade offs, mostly in performance.
Website performance is critical to getting good SEO (search engine optimization) scores and this is where visual-based editors and themes often fail. The simple reason is that they’re engineered to be “all things to all people” which translates into loading TONS of code that is often never needed.
Clients new to website development also often make another critical mistake – buying a so-called “pro WordPress theme” that looks super close to how they want their site to feel. But the devil’s in the details… we’ve been hired to restore numerous hacked websites that were based on themes that stopped being maintained a few years after they were purchased. Technical support for those themes is also usually quite limited unless you continually renew access to their paid for support system.
Our approach, in contrast, is to build original, bespoke themes and add in only the additional code that’s truly necessary. (Code for effects or special functionality like parallax, animation, slideshows, etc.) The result is often immediately clear, as most of our original themes score in the 90s on Google’s PageSpeed test, even before any optimization is done.
Other technical considerations are security, long term maintenance and backups. So make sure to quiz your potential agency as to what they’re approach is for those topics. Compare whether they have an instant answer (directly suggesting they bake these features into the development process) versus something more noncommittal like “there’s lots of plugins available for all of that”.
As mentioned previously, we’ve taken over maintenance for a lot of clients who’s previous developer dropped the ball in this regard, leaving it to their client to find out the hard way that not maintaining a WordPress site is an invitation for hacker bots to infest your website like some nasty code cockroaches.
We hope you’ve found this post helpful in considering various elements that make for a good WordPress developer.