So you’ve seen their star ratings and how many projects they’ve delivered and testimonials and all. You are convinced they are the best of the best WordPress developers. And in the next click you’ll assign them the project. Hold on a sec there. Are you a WordPress professional? Are you tech savvy? Not really the case else you’d have done the job yourself. Being a client you want to make sure you actually get the best of the best and spend the money on the right resource.
I once joined my friend who was looking for a WordPress developer on Freelancer.com. And then I took over and started chatting with the applicants. All of them were from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India. And lo and behold, their pitches were copy-paste scripts with about 15 URLs in each. Fine, I wanted to play. I opened the first one, opened up the source code of the page and asked away
“Why does the title say home?”
Well sir since it is the homepage.
But what about on-page SEO?
Sir do you want a website or do you want SEO?
Gone. Another one:
How did you add the style-sheet to the header?
I edited the header.php and added it in there.
Which theme do you work with?
You have any experience with WordPress theme frameworks?
Sir why do you need frameworks? Twenty Ten is designed by WordPress.
That kind of summarized their skill. And then there were those offering cheap pricing and what not. Almost the same is the case with any WordPress marketplace.
But they have five star ratings and have done over 10k projects and what not. Well had I played cricket long enough I could break records too. They’ve been too long at this game. So star ratings and work profile gives you a limited and narrow view of their limited world confined to that marketplace. Are they anyone or anybody outside it?
Here’s a questionnaire that will help you ensure that your developer can hold on their own and help you choose the best one.
Note: They can’t make up answers to these ones, not in a day.
- How is your development environment different from the production environment? See if they turn on WP_DEBUG. It’s not required all the time but ask them anyway “do you know about WP_DEBUG? What does it do?”. What kind of plugins do you install by default? Do they work with latest technologies like SCSS? —That helps them work smart, modify variables quickly and means they are tech-savvy: saves your time and hourly charges. Do they install caching plugins / systems on the development server? —Absolute no-no. The development environment should always be set up and ready for debugging.
- What are WordPress action hooks and filter hooks? What’s the difference? When is each used? Action hooks and filters are the way to modify the functionality of WordPress and extend WordPress beyond what you get out of the box. That’s the way how WordPress plugins work. It’s the bare basic that any WordPress developer of substance should know inside out.
- Which one would you use? Existing theme vs custom theme vs custom base. It would much depend on your budget and there are pros and cons of each. But for once, let your budget not decide the answer here. These are all options and there’s no right or wrong. It all depends on the application, users and business objectives.
- Have you done any case studies etc? Do you have a blog? It’s difficult to find developers who have actually taken the time to share insights about a successful project. It not only gives you insights about their though process, approach and expertise, it also speaks about their communication skills and how refined and seasoned they are as professionals. If they blog regularly it would give you a lot of insights about their thought-process, approach and whether they have the technical-analytical-entrepreneurial bent of mind to give your project an advantage over others.
- How many hours would the project take? These days developers (specially professional) do not disclose their hourly rates. They don’t do hourly wages. But if a $2000 project takes them 60 hours, you can do the math and viola, it’s 2000/60 = $33/hr. (or similar since they may have other factors to count in). But you get it.
- What do you need to get started? The earlier you ask this the better. It tends to catch developers by surprise. Oh, the client is already sold? Let them dwell in surprise. Hear them out and decide. Do they ask for money? Do they ask for your notes / RFP? Do the care to ask for your logo / branding to use for the color palette? Look for intelligence and presence of mind.
- How is their work any different from others? There’s no right answer here. If you are low on budget, set your priorities right. And be ready for trade-offs. Design vs code quality & documentation vs site-performance or all of it? Does your budget allow for all of it? Feel free to tell them what is important for this project.
- Show me the goods: What kind of work have you done? Do not disregard on-site testimonials and portfolio. But ask for the work beyond. Have they coded any themes for the WordPress repository? And believe you me, it’s one challenge of a task and an achievement to be able to pass the acid-test of the WordPress Theme Review Team. Respect that. What kind of ratings, bug reports do their free themes and plugins have on the WordPress repo? Have they built any commercial themes and plugins? Do they have Github repos where you can take a look? Not that you have to review and understand the code. But do see if it’s well-formatted, documented or not. Ask away: what does this line here actually do? It’s not about right or wrong, but can they explain?
- What do you do to make the development site ready for production and go-live? A production site build for performance and conversion needs more than go-live at the click of a button. Think installing caching plugins, Google Analytics, webmasters integration, social media profiles, seo plugins etc.
- What are WordPress coding standards? What’s the benefit? Does your previous work follow them? WordPress has defined its coding standards to ensure that the code is easy to understand, maintainable, transferable and also plays nicely with other themes and plugins without breaking a sweat. With thousands of themes and plugins it is only natural to expect conflicts between multiple plugins. And these standards help the ecosystem play nice. Just because the developer can get something working doesn’t mean it will play nicely when a new plugin is installed. Developers coming from the PHP or HTML background tend to have coding styles that do not adhere to WordPress coding standards.
- What do you do for conversion optimization and performance optimization? Don’t confuse performance with conversions. Performance is about site speed, caching optimization etc. Conversions is about traffic converting into potential customers.
- What’s your process for a project like this? Professional developers tend to have checklists to ensure that the development, review, launch process is followed and no little detail gets missed. Lest you get “Just another WordPress website” without even a favicon. See how thorough are they with the process.
- Feel tech-savvy? Here are some questions to test the technical prowess of your WordPress developer.
- Have you worked with Pagespeed Insights? Schema? This would help you check if these metrics even matter to them and if they keep these in mind when developing.
- What kind of permalink structure will the site have? Why? Permalink structure is a critical step in information architecture. It will affect your search engine ranks. There are several options depending on what works for you. And if you are moving the old site, ask them how will they make sure that ranks don’t tank.
- How do you add a style-sheet to the site’s
headsection? There are two things to look for
- The path to the style-sheet should not be hard-coded.
- The right way to add scripts and styles into the WordPress head is to “enqueue” them instead of hooking them to
- Who will be working on my website? While I don’t have an opinion about outsourcing, I do feel that the lesser the people in the chain then better is the reliability. No excuses being passed on to from someone to someone to you. No one selling you excellence but being outsourced to someone getting peanuts and not knowing how to code. Are you going to be working with the person they present themselves to be? Or is it someone else doing the job at the back?
- What else have you done other than WordPress? Impress me. This gives you an insight into whether their interests and orientations are. Are they creative? In what sense? Technically? Conceptually? Artistically?
- How do you communicate and coordinate? This will tell you if you are going to have issues reaching out to them or getting timely responses.
- What challenges do you think will come up maintaining and keeping this WordPress site updated? This is a good one. WordPress releases updates more frequently than you’d expect. What happens when you update? Is it prone to breaking? Data loss? What’s the plan for backups and restoration?
Search them on Google, ask for references, verify if they actually have done the site (look in the style-sheet header). Ask them how can they prove they did it?
All these questions are ones which a self-proclaimed developer will have to really think about before answering. It also is a true reflection about their skills, approach and workflow. Hope you find this useful.