WordPress is wonderful, but one of its downsides is that it's very, very easy to put together an awful website.
If you have a WordPress site or are planning a to commission a new one, here are ten questions to ask your WordPress agency before you hand over any money.
1. Are you going to build the site on a theme, a framework or will this be a bespoke build?
We’ve talked to so many clients who thought they were getting a bespoke built website, only to find it’s built on a free or premium theme and just coloured-in. There’s nothing wrong with premium WordPress themes, but make sure you know what you are getting before you sign a contract.
If you are planning extended functionality further down the line or want more control over the design of your site, you may find yourself limited by an off-the-shelf theme further down the line.
This is the #1 question to ask a potential WordPress agency before they build your site.
2. If they are suggesting a site built on a paid-for off-the-shelf theme, who is going to own the licence?
Another favourite of amateur WordPress agencies is to build you a site on a theme that only has six months worth of support and updates from the theme developers.
After that, you get no more support or updates unless you’re paying for it – themes and the plugins they rely on start to go out-of-date, and as your crappy agency bought the theme in the first place, you’ve no way to update things.
It can be quite tempting for smaller companies looking for budget website design to go for off-the-shelf themes.
3. Are they planning on using 100s of free WordPress plugins?
This one is always a treat – we get asked to audit sites all the time and very often we see that the developers have been very trigger-happy installing free plugins.
Again, one of the beautiful things about WordPress can quickly turn ugly if you’re site relies on out-of-date plugins that are no longer supported or compatible with your WordPress version.
WordPress’ strict rules about plugins mean that they have to be up-to-scratch before they can make it into the plugin repository, but after that, they can start to age and developers can stop updating them – this means potential problems.
4. Do they use premium plugins for core functionality?
In general, we recommend premium plugins for your site. We work with developers that make a living out of their plugins – this means it’s in their interests to keep everything up-to-date and compatible.
You’ll find that in many cases, developers will hold unlimited site licences for good plugins, so can use them across all the sites they develop.
If you’d prefer to hold your licences, these plugins are very cost effective to buy.
5. Do they use a site builder, Gutenberg or something else?
WordPress’ WYSIWYG editor can now be ‘improved’ with the Gutenberg editor (the jury is still out on this one), or site builders can be installed to turn your editor into a seemingly endless array of content blocks, all with their intricate styling.
Find out how they are planning to allow you to manage your content – what looks like a beautiful page on the front end can end up being an absolute nightmare to maintain on the back end.
Again, such builders aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but you need to know in advance how they are planning to build your site.
6. Do they know about Advanced Custom Fields?
Undoubtedly one of the best WordPress plugins out there, ACF allows us to build custom admin pages to edit your pages, posts, custom post types and products.
In a nutshell, when you use ACF, you can give site editors the content areas they need on a per-page or template basis.
This means that if you have complex content, data or anything that might be hard to manage in the WYSIWYG or Gutenberg, a custom set of fields can be created to allow you to maintain that content more intuitively.
This plugin transforms WordPress for larger sites and teams that want to focus on publishing great content, not messing around for hours with layout builders and tools.
7. Do they do research and pre-design/build planning?
When planning a new site or improving an existing one, planning is one of the most critical parts of the project.
If your agency wants to jump straight into the design stage, or they provide you with a proposal that talks little about research, planning, UX, user journeys, calls-to-action, landing pages and conversion rates, don’t sign the contract.
Don’t just get fobbed-off with ‘yes, we do SEO’ either.
Ask them what they mean by that, what they will be doing and how it will be managed as part of the project.
Any conversation about a new site should start with content, structure, audience, SEO and the desired outcomes of the site.
If they lead with design as the most crucial stage of the project, your website is going to be nothing but a nice looking waste of time.
8. What do they know about structuring a site?
Part of point seven above, but it’s of such importance with WordPress sites that it gets its own slot.
Most WordPress sites have pages and posts. Some have products too (WooCommerce), and others have custom post types.
Add into the mix, categories and tags for all these, and you have a cocktail that can spell SEO disaster.
Your site needs a clear and well-planned structure – over and above a site map.
Categories and tags need to be planned, managed and optimised as part of the page/post structure.
Everything needs to be structured as part of your overall on-page SEO and internal link plan – your site needs to make sense to search engine bots to get rankings.
Randomly adding new content, categories and tags that are not optimised is the best way of confusing the search engines and a quick way to a crap site.
The URL structure of your site also has to be considered carefully, as do ALT tags for images and everything else!
Your agency should CONTINUALLY RANT ON ABOUT THIS as it’s so important.
If you’re planning to manage your content and SEO moving forward, you also need to know about this and be very pragmatic and methodical when adding new content not to undo any SEO that’s already working.
We manage our WordPress sites on Google sheets – sounds a bit odd, but it allows us to plan new content and map it into existing or new site structure and SEO.
9. Who owns the site when it’s completed and who has access?
WordPress is Open Source and free. We fully embrace that and retain no ownership of any site that we design and build. Once our bills are paid, the site is yours – no questions asked.
Not all agencies are the same – you may find some lock you out of editing rights to template files and give you only basic access to the site – this may be for a good reason, but always check what happens post-launch.
10. Do they provide ongoing support and maintenance options?
The general day-to-day management of a well built WordPress site is pretty straightforward, but for updates, plugin installs and coding needs, it’s usually best to have some form of ongoing arrangement with your agency.
Make sure your developers offer something that covers off keeping WordPress up-to-date and means they are on-hand to provide technical assistance when required.
We have a range of affordable WordPress maintenance services for all the sites we look after (whether we’ve built the site or not).
WordPress is awesome. In the right hands, as a content management system, it will give you more control over your website and make managing content easier than you can imagine.
When WordPress sites are built properly you should have only the occasional need to call on your developers for basic maintenance.
Making sure you ask your developers the right questions in the first place can save you hours and budget further down the line.
Problems with your current WordPress site?
As I’ve previously mentioned, it’s very easy to build a bad WordPress site, so if your current site is leaving you a little frustrated, get in touch and we’ll audit it for you – Toast looks after 100s of WordPress sites for small and corporate clients – we can quickly tell you how well it’s been built and any remedial work that needs doing.