Website Building Competency, It’s Not What You Think


It was 2009 and I was sitting on the floor between sessions at WordCamp Birmingham, talking to Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress.  An announcement came on about the next session starting.  I turned to Matt. “Well,” I said, “I really need to go to this next session. It’s about building a theme from scratch and, I hate to admit I’ve never built a theme from scratch.”

He looked at me straight on, furrowed his brow, and said, “I don’t know why anyone would want to build a theme from scratch.”

In that moment, I felt as if I’d been absolved by The Pope!

Let me tell you why…

When I first started learning WordPress in 2004, I was desperate to find other people doing WordPress in Atlanta, since my only contact with anyone doing WordPress back then was strictly online.

When I finally found a WordPress Meetup group on the other side of town, I was thrilled!  Most of the attendees at this small group were web developers, which meant that they wrote code. Even though I had been the founder and CEO of a successful medical records software company that I sold in 2001, I am not a coder. Not even close. And, because I was not a coder, back then, and, for a long time thereafter, I felt like a second-class citizen in the WordPress Community.

And, now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

I felt this way even though I had grown the Atlanta WordPress Users Group to almost 3,000 members; I am a frequent speaker at WordPress Meetups and WordCamps across the country; I was lead organizer of WordCamp Atlanta for 5 years; and, I have a successful WordPress web design company!

There has been and I believe still is a bias in the WordPress Community that WordPress Developers are better at building WordPress websites than people who aren’t coders. That is true if by “building”, we mean from the ground up – from scratch.

But, truth told: if a WordPress developer is building a site for a small business client, they’re not going to build the site from scratch. They’ll start with a theme framework, customize a child theme and use tested plugins from the repository. This is the fastest, least expensive route and is ultimately better for the client since it will be easier for the client to maintain over the years.

I have had the opportunity to do website reviews on many WordPress sites in the recent years, what I realized is that the moniker of designer or developer is not what differentiates an effective WordPress website from one that will not pass muster. What I discovered is that website building competency boils down not to the job title, but to mastery of an entire skill set that is required to build a website and to do it well.

This research led to the creation and development of THE SEVEN CORE COMPETENCY FRAMEWORK for web designer (or, developer) mastery. They are:

  • Business and Client Management
  • Messaging and Copywriting
  • Design
  • Usability and User Experience
  • Online Marketing
  • WordPress
  • Technical Expertise

Whether you are a WordPress Developer or a WordPress Designer, in order to create professional, high-quality websites, you must have some level of knowledge and skill in each of these seven core competency areas. There’s no getting around it. You don’t have to be an expert in each one, but you do need to keep up with best practices in all of these areas so you can develop a team of people who can provide what you need to create an effective website.

Within the WordPress Community, there is a place for both Developers and Designers. In the end, however, the hierarchical brouhaha begs the final question: Are you or are you not proficient at building effective websites for satisfied clients? The answer surely doesn’t lie in how much code you know. And, I am thankful for that!

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