When you want a CMS-powered website that’s easy to work with, looks exactly the way you want, and with all the functionality you need, you’ve probably considered WordPress. Even amidst a crowded market of drag-and-drop site builders, WordPress remains a powerful option for more medium to large businesses that need more flexibility and functionality from their sites than Wix or Squarespace can offer.
Whether you’re brand new to WordPress, updating an existing WordPress site, or simply engaging a WordPress developer to refresh your theme or add some extra functionality, going into it prepared is the best way to prevent scope creep and save everyone a lot of time. Doing your homework up front will also help you create a thorough brief so things go smoothly from start to finish.
To help you kick off your WordPress project, here are 10 things to nail down before you get started. Some will be helpful items to include in your brief while others are good for an initial discussion with a developer.
1. Determine your core goals for your site.
The first step to defining your project is to figure out what you need from your WordPress site. Is your WordPress site going to be a simple, responsive one-pager about your business? Is it going to be an online ecommerce store? A restaurant that needs reservations and menu pages? A blog site? Be sure you can easily summarize your business goals and objectives for your site.
The more you can provide up front, the less likely you are to run into roadblocks and go over time and budget. Establish what you are looking for the site to do then sketch out a sitemap—it will likely change, but it’s a good starting point for the developer to flesh out your ideas and the functionality you need.
2. What specific, next-level functionality (if any) is mandatory to your site?
Be specific about the more complex things you want from your site, then let the developer make tech-related decisions about how to bring it to life. Being too vague about what you have in mind can result in functionality that doesn’t meet your MVP or the decision to use custom coding or plugins that might not suit your needs and require revision.
Be prepared for the developer to come back with plenty of questions about functionality before things get kicked off. Also mention what pages and content you want to be able to update on your own. This could require extra custom coding like Advanced Custom Fields or the use of a visual editor like Beaver Builder.
3. Do you already have your hosting and domain name set up?
It’s important to have your ducks in a row before launching your site. If you don’t, be sure to include this requirement in your brief or job post. This will let the developer know that there will be some additional time required to acquire hosting, a domain name, and associated things like SSL certificates.
Research hosting providers ahead of time so you know what solution works best for you. Web hosting services will different features at different rates. Do you need a dedicated server or a shared server? How much file storage is needed? Do you need email through your hosting service? How much bandwidth will your site need? These are just a few things to consider. And remember: Choose both wisely. Your domain name is how all your customers and visitors will find you, and your hosting service will be what you rely on for a fast, reliable website.
4. Write a creative brief.
Beyond that simple sitemap, a good way to house all your assets and requirements is with a thorough creative brief. Your document may include:
- Background about you, your company, or your products and services.
- Deliverables the project will create like custom plugins or integrations.
- Technical specs the developer should know.
- A bit of context around your competitors—including sites that you like or don’t like.
- The target audience(s)
- The project timeline—do you have a goal for launch?
- The project budget—which will be shaped by the information included in the rest of this article. See How Much Does it Cost to Hire a WordPress Developer? for more help.
5. Prepare any related materials (copy, images, logos) ahead of time, if possible.
It can be difficult to start writing copy before the site is laid out, but waiting on site copy down the road can be a major bottleneck that holds up your launch. Write and edit site copy, menus, and page titles as soon as you have a wireframe for the pages within your site.
If you’re not writing the copy yourself, connect your developer and your copywriter early on so they can collaborate to get it written asap.
Will you be providing an existing logo, imager, or illustrations, or does the developer need to work with your graphic designer? If you’re including photos or other images, check to ensure they are the right size and resolution.
6. Start reviewing themes to narrow down what you like and what you need.
There are thousands upon thousands of themes to choose from—many of which have everything you want right out of the box. Browse by category and bookmark the ones you like best. Do you need responsive design? A mobile-first theme?
Remember: You can change almost anything about a theme, so if you like specific things about one and not about another, know it’s possible to change things around—even fonts and colors.
7. Create a brand style guide.
Do you use a certain font, color scheme, or imagery in your marketing materials? If you don’t have a brand style guide, this is a great way to ensure consistency across all your touch points, whether those are printed materials like menus and brochures, advertising, or the voice of your social channels.
Once you’ve picked a theme, you’re going to want to make it look like your own. This is where providing style guide will make things much easier for the developer, giving them the color palette, design parameters, and logo use guidelines they’ll need.
8. Consider analytics and SEO support.
Many developers build this into their WordPress development, but it’s something worth explicitly mentioning up front if you need it. Setting up Google Analytics tools, creating an XML sitemap, adding in Open Graph data, and any additional SEO support (e.g., the Yoast plugin) can be on your to-do list.
9. Get familiar with plugins and API integrations.
If you’re new to plugins, take a spin around the WordPress plugins directory. There are some basics you should definitely install on your site—JetPack, Yoast SEO, WP SuperCache, and the Akismet spam filter—as well as more specific, tailored plugins. Search by category and get familiar with what’s out there.
10. Do you need any training on how to use WordPress?
This might seem obvious, but it’s a big one. If you’ve never used WordPress, while the dashboard is very intuitive, many users have difficulty updating content, “breaking” themes or inadvertently changing formatting that causes the design to look different than it was delivered. See about setting up a video call to have the developer walk you through the back-end of your site so you know how to work within your own build once they’re finished.
If you’ve added more complex customization, your developer might opt to use Custom Fields or Advanced Custom Fields to give you an easier way to add or edit content.
Ready to get started?
Now that you’ve laid out all the above, it’s time to engage a skilled WordPress developer to kick off your project. Remember, to maximize the amazing customizability you can get from WordPress, it’s important to set expectations up front, ask your developer plenty of questions, and be open to new ideas.