The Proposed WordPress Developer Code Of Honour

Over at WPShout Fred Meyer has published a proposed Code Of Honour for WordPress developers.

The article is address to developers of SME websites and is addressed to both developers and their clients. It addresses problems with SME website projects and puts forth a solution in the form of the code.

It’s a reasonably long read. And if you are either a business owner about to engage in a web project, or if you are web developer who builds out projects single-handedly – then it’s well worth reading.

Immediate Thoughts

After reading the code I had some immediate thoughts: the article and the post itself is timely. In fact, it’s overdue: many good developers have the experience of being pulled into an SME project to discover that the previous developer didn’t know his stuff. Consequently budget gets sucked into cleaning up unholy messes.

Web development professionals aren’t just in it for the money. We want our clients to be happy. We want the projects we work on to succeed. We want to create websites to return an investment. We don’t like seeing clients in pain because the previous team didn’t know what they were doing.

The code requests the developers use professional best practices. Best practices in technically building the project, and in client communication. It requests that developers be accountable to their clients.

The very existence of the code also creates a condition of accountability: accountability to a community that declares itself for the code.

I like this.

Unexpected Controversy

I’ve been in private discussions with people who are in the business of delivering web projects for SME’s. These people are both solo developers and agency owners. These people are good providers and all have records of delivering great projects and making their clients happy.

They largely agree in principle with the code itself. But to my surprise they had two objections to the article itself.

“The problem isn’t the developer. It’s the client”

According to this critique, projects don’t fail because of the developers own weaknesses. They fail because the of faults on the clients end.

There’s some truth to this. Some projects do indeed fail because the client makes unreasonable demands, micromanages the project and doesn’t trust the authority of the agency or the developer. Clients sometimes don’t understand the work that’s involved, and make unreasonable demands. Often clients fail to honour the process by which agencies and developers create good results.

I think that agencies can have good reasons for thinking these things. But I also think that ultimately it’s the responsibility of the agency or the developer to guide the client on these matters. Or to simply turn away clients that won’t work within the process of the agency.

Besides, in all fairness Fred links to content about how to avoid bad clients. And how to be a great client.

“The article is elitist. The author favours programmers over non-programmers”

Now as I mentioned above, the people I heard this critique from have histories of delivering great work. They’ve built many projects that make their clients money. I believe that these people are non-programmers themselves. And they seem to feel that the article shows a kind of hidden contempt for non-programmers the deliver WordPress projects.

But personally I think the critique is baseless.

Someone responsible for delivering an SME WordPress website can deliver without knowing how to program. They can simply hire a programmer.

But the reality is that the better someone knows how to program, and specifically how to program within the WordPress world, then they are in a better position to quickly solve the kind of problems that will come up within the project.

Non-programmers who build websites are spoilt silly by the WordPress world: there are extensions for pretty much everything. From creating real-estate listings, to assessing your content for search engine visibility. There are plugins that promise to make your website faster. Plugins exist for layout out page, for capturing leads, for social media…

There’s a huge amount that you can done without being able to program.

But ultimately if a provider doesn’t understand the underlying technologies then they are disadvantaged.

Understanding the underlying technology brings some significant advantages. Here are just a few.

  1. A programmer can anticipate problems before they happen
  2. A programmer can often solve these problems faster
  3. Cost estimates for projects will be more accurate
  4. When bugs rise from common extensions, programmers can find the cause
  5. … and probably fix them

To clarify: non-programmers can be competent and even excellent at delivering satisfying projects. And sometimes programmers don’t have non-programming skills that great results require.

But personally I think that everyone who is in the business of delivering an SME web project should at least be learning the underlying technologies.

My Endorsement

Personally I endorse Fred’s Code Of Honour 100%.  At this point I have zero reservations about it. If the code was “officially released” today in it’s current state then I would commit to it.

The “wild west” period of web contracting is coming to end. Even though cowboy agencies and developers still exist, their opportunities are fading.

Fred’s code is a an idea whose time has not only come: it may be overdue.

So you have an existing website. You have either just launched it or perhaps it’s been live for a while. The design is solid. But now you want to improve your position in Google’s search results. Maybe you want to see your page on the front page.

First Step: have you taken care of the fundamentals?

Before attempting to improve your search results positioning some things have to be taken care of first. Both in terms of design as well as under the hood.


Is the underlying code as clean as possible? Have on-page technical SEO requirements been met?

These questions are difficult or impossible or impossible for non-tech to answer. To have these questions resolved you need a qualified and experienced developer. Hopefully the person who built your site was qualified and experienced. But trying to push pages higher up Google’s search engine results without having these things taken care of first handicaps you from the start. Poor development practices


Does your site generally and your pages individually communicate your message clearly to your target audience? Do you have clear calls to action? Is your copy great?

If your copy doesn’t grab and keep the attention of your target audience than good search engine results positioning won’t help you as much as you think. Your conversions will suffer.

Design issues can be taken care of by recruiting a good designer and/or copywriter.


Google rewards sites with good hosting and punishes sites with bad hosting. A good hosting company will provide you with an adequately fast server. They will give you good advice on which of their offerings suits your needs. They will help you in maintaining SSL certificates. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for when it comes to hosting. So don’t use crappy cheap hosts if your website is important to your business.

So, with the fundamentals taking care of, we can begin…

Improving Your Search Engine Positioning

When Google accesses your page it assess it for two things: Quality and Relevance.

How do we know this?

Google is open about the broadest aspects of how it ranks sites and pages.  It publicly releases information to the public, including some of it’s internal documentation. However, Google keeps many details secret. Both to prevent people from gaming the system and to remain competitive.

Now that we know about Quality and Relevance, how to make sure our pages and sites have both of these things?


We can glean what Google considers Quality by looking at a document that Google provides to an internal testing team. There’s a lot of detail and context that I won’t go into. But here’s what we can tell that this team within Google are told to test for:

  • A “satisfying amount of high quality content”
  • Page design that satisfies the visitors needs
  • Articles written with effort and skill
  • Articles written with “Expertise, Authorativeness and Trustworthiness
  • Helpful supplementary content
  • A positive reputation

Conclusions Google’s Quality Guidelines

The interesting thing about the quality guidelines that Google gives to it’s own testers is that they pretty much make sense to non-technical folk. It helps to have an understanding of web content generally. But generally the guidelines are intuitive.

Practical Steps To Improving Search Engine Positioning

There are two points at which you can take practical steps to implement the quality guidelines:

  1. When creating new content
  2. When editing existing content

Either way, you can treat Google’s quality guidelines as a checklist. When creating or editing content you can look at your text and ask if it meets those guidelines. If you aren’t sure on the meaning of the guidelines you can read the document itself.

User Advocacy

It is extremely important not to be self-justificatory when critiquing your own copy against the guidelines. Don’t look at compare your text against the guidelines and think “this text matches my visitors needs” without really thinking about your visitor and their needs.

It’s too easy to confuse the needs of our visitors with our own needs as the content publisher. They are not the same. We need to step back and be honest about the human desires and needs of the consumers of our content.