Everyone with a website wants to make sure it looks modern and professional, and for good reason: 38% of users will stop engaging with a website if they find the content or layout unattractive.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, so it’s understandable to want to work with a professional web developer to help your website live up to its potential. But you might be wondering how to hire a web developer, what questions to consider, and where to start looking for top talent.
To give you the most accurate information, we spoke to different kinds of web developers and customers about the pros, cons, and costs of working together, and the best places to find freelance web developers online. Now let’s take a look at what we found!
A web developer is someone who builds and maintains websites. This includes everything from programming the code that tells the site how to function, to finalizing the page layouts.
Some common projects for web developers include:
- Building layouts, buttons, and interactive features
- Building code
- Troubleshooting applications
- Managing databases (the part of a website where data and information is stored)
Web developers don’t work on:
- Static graphics (like logos or charts)
- A website’s branding and style
These projects are more likely to be undertaken by a designer or a marketing team.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a Web Developer?
- Top-quality results: Your website will look like it was designed by a professional, because… it was.
- Constant support: You have someone to contact directly if you encounter any technical issues.
- Minimal time investment: You’ll have to take the time to communicate your ideas with a developer, but you won’t need to spend any time actually building your site.
- Expensive: Working with a web developer is one of the most expensive ways to create a website, and it usually costs at least a few hundred dollars.
- Not very hands-on: You won’t have any direct control over the creative process behind your site.
- Can’t make tweaks yourself: You’ll likely have to go through your developer in order to make small or last-minute changes to your site.
What Are the Different Types of Web Developers?
Website creation can be split into two main areas: functionality and design.
- Design includes everything from logos and header images to the style of a website’s navigation bar and the layout of each page.
- Functionality is the more technical side. It involves the code that will translate into a website’s features, like shopping carts or “contact us” forms.
There are two main types of developers, each specializing in one of these areas: front end developers will help you with design, while back end developers will help you with functionality.
However, most projects – like building a complete website – require both services. In this case, you’ll want to hire a full stack developer.
Front End Developers
It’s important to keep in mind that a front end developer is not the same as a web designer, even though their jobs can seem similar. A front end developer would take the layouts created by a designer, and bring them to life by making them interactive.
If you only need help with the logos, graphics, and general style of your website, then you should hire a website designer. If you need help combining the website’s design with code in order to make it functional, then you’re in the right place, because you need a web developer!
Back End Developers
Back end developers are more technical than front end developers. They focus on the information and logic that make up the back end of a website. The back end is the part of the website that visitors don’t see. It’s where all of the data that makes up the site is stored and organized.
The back end sends and receives information from the front end (the interactive website that users see), and these two sections work together to create a fully functioning site.
Full Stack Developers
If you’re looking for someone who can work in both the back end and the front end to build you a complete website, then you’ll want to hire a full stack developer. A full stack developer has the tools to connect the data in the back end to the interactive designs in the front end.
Expert Tip: Denis Fedioukovitch, Web Developer
All developers should have experience with the front end and the back end
“Today it’s quite hard to split developers by strict roles. Every developer faces a situation where you need to make something on either the front end part or back end part. And even if you don’t, you should still think about how your approaches and solutions could affect the other parts.
I would say that these days, all developers are full stack developers, just with different experience levels on each part. So these three groups might look like:
- Front end developer: 80% front end, 20% back end
- Back end developer: 20% front end, 80% back end
- Full stack developer: 50% front end, 50% backend.”
Do I Need to Hire More Than One Developer?
That depends on how large your project is. If you’re creating a small or midsize website, like for a local business, ecommerce boutique, or personal blog, then no – just one full stack developer will do!
Really large companies often hire multiple developers to maintain their website(s), including back and front end developers to keep a close eye on both parts of the site. But the rest of us don’t really need that kind of capacity (or have that kind of budget!).
Hiring a web developer can make your life easier, and make the final outcome of your website much more professional. Figuring out how to get started with a web developer can seem daunting, but it’s really just a matter of knowing what you want – and once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be able to communicate your vision to a developer who can make it a reality.
What to Do Before Hiring a Developer
Before you start speaking to potential developers, you should set aside at least an hour (a whole afternoon is even better!) to think about your goals – after all, you can’t make someone else understand your vision if you haven’t worked it out yourself yet!
Expert Tip: Pavel Moiseenko, Back End Developer
We asked: How can a website owner with minimal experience work effectively with a developer?
“I would say to formulate your acceptance criteria as clearly as possible. Then break down large tasks into small sub-tasks, and ask the developer to estimate the time needed to complete each task.”
Here are a few questions to work out before starting the hiring process.
1. What Is Your Website’s Purpose?
For this first question, we’re going to keep things a little abstract (we’ll get into specific features in question two). This is a conversation you’re going to have with your developer early on, so it’s best to come prepared by thinking about what you actually want your website to do.
Before speaking to a developer, identify your website’s main purpose. For example:
- Providing information and contact details
- Selling products and/or services
- Showcasing creative work
Finalizing your ideas before getting started means that your web developer can spend less time in the “discovery” phase. This is the first part of the website creation process, when a lot of research and conversations take place to figure out what, exactly, you want your website to do.
A lot of developers bill by the hour, so if you can speed up the discovery phase by outlining your goals beforehand, you might be able to save some money in the long run.
2. What Kinds of Features Do You Need?
When you hire a web developer, they’ll want to know what kinds of capabilities you want your website to have. Different types of sites will require different features, so definitely consider the following:
- Are you going to be selling products on your website? Ecommerce functionalities will require a little more effort to build out.
- Will your site be very image-heavy? Photographers, artists, and other creative types will need to store and organize lots of images in their website’s database.
- Do you want to engage your visitors? There are plenty of ways to keep your website fresh and fun to use. For example, if you’re creating a blog to talk about beauty products, you might want an interactive quiz to help users pick their perfect shade of blush.
Definitely don’t limit yourself in the brainstorming stage. This is your chance to bring your dream website to life, and a web developer is the perfect person to help you build out the features that you want. If you’re willing to pay for a web developer, then you should try to get as close to your dream end result as possible!
3. What Is Your Budget?
There are plenty of trustworthy online marketplaces where you can find a freelance web developer for your project. Most developers will post hourly or one-off rates on these forums, and your total costs will depend on two main factors: the developer you choose to work with, and the length of your project.
For personal or small business websites with 1-6 pages, you can expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars. You can also use a web agency to find a team of designers to work with, although this will usually end up costing at least $1,000.
At this stage, it’s best to identify the price range that you can afford, so you’ll know which developers to limit your search to. If your project is to build a small to medium-sized website from scratch, then you can expect it to take a few weeks.
Case Study: How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Web Developer?
Nick Valle, Restoration Rocket
“About two months ago, I was extremely interested to see what current web development costs were, so I put out a job post on Upwork. My post included the following information:
- That I already had hosting
- I already had a WordPress theme (my post required applicants to have experience with the theme)
- The website would be 6 pages in total
- I already had website copy
- I already had images
- I already had a website for the developer to model design-wise.
All the developer had to do was develop.
After receiving about 20 different bids, I was amazed at what came back. Regardless of the developer’s hourly rate and the time they expected to spend on the project, the cost always came back at $1,500-$2,000.
Some developers were charging $10 an hour but anticipated 200 hours of work. Others charged $20 an hour but expected the same project to take 100 hours of work. This was true across multiple countries. It was clear that these developers were using a fixed project cost, but manipulated the hours and rate to get to the same place.
Having built several websites myself, I pushed back on the developers to see how firmly they would hold to their quote. It doesn’t take a developer 100 hours to complete a 6-page project where all of the assets are provided. Each of them came up with different reasons why the project would take so long. Research, custom coding, image sizing, etc. – it was always something.
To test my own suspicions, I built one page myself, with a theme I had no experience with. It took me 5 hours.
Beginners who are making the decision to hire a developer should take the following advice: Be clear about what your expectations are. Detail what assets you’re providing and what a developer will have to source. Do not share your budget before the developer gives you their pricing. Shop around to see what market rates are. If you’re unsure about a particular developer, move on – there are plenty more out there.”
Expert Tip: Ricky Bergmann, Front End Developer
Come prepared with examples
“The cost will depend on the specific requirements and how much time is involved in completing the project. Developers will usually charge an hourly rate.
In preparation for a project quote, it’s important to list all the essential features your project requires, and at least one or two examples of similar websites or applications you have in mind. If you are looking for a ‘simple’ 5-page website, draw each page with pen and paper to get an idea of how you want to lay out your messaging, and specify what user interactions there may be – like a contact form, for example. This will help developers predict how much time they will need for the project. Small to medium projects can range anywhere from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars.”
What to Look for When You Hire a Developer
Once you have your goals and budget in mind, it’s time to start looking for a developer. Before we talk about the different websites you can use to search for freelancers, here’s a quick summary of the information you should be looking for on a developer’s profile.
Studying these details will help you weed out the less-than-impressive candidates:
- Their portfolio: Quality developers will have samples of previous work available for you to check out. This could include other websites that they’ve built, or even mobile apps that they’ve created.
- Reviews from past customers: Most freelance marketplaces have a “reviews” section on each developer’s profile, where people who’ve worked with them in the past can leave comments and star ratings about their experience.
- Skills and experience: While resumes aren’t as important as actual work samples, it’s still nice to see a list of the programming languages a developer can use, as well as any special certificates they might have earned in the past.
Top Tips From Real Customers
Grant Aldrich, OnlineDegree.com
Use social media for recommendations
“To find the best developers, I recommend reaching out to other business owners in your network. Create a simple LinkedIn or Facebook post saying, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a website designer – who has recommendations?’ Once you start to contact designers, find one that aligns with your vision, budget, and requirements.”
Rocky Vuong, Calibre Cleaning
Start with a small assignment
“If you need a whole site built, start with a small project or an individual web page first. This will help reveal many of the important factors when it comes to working with anyone: communication skills, punctuality, work quality, etc.
Chances are high that you won’t find the perfect person on your first go, and starting small helps to minimize the cost of risks.”
There are countless online marketplaces where you can hire freelance web developers – but some marketplaces are much more reputable than others.
Below, we’ll compare the top four places to find a web developer, based on the most common responses we got from the real developers and customers that we spoke to.
Where to Hire Web Developers
- Codeable – Best for WordPress projects with a large budget
- Toptal – Best for high quality but expensive work
- Upwork – Best for small projects
- Fiverr – Best for affordable rates
In our conversations, Codeable and Toptal often came up as the best options for people with a higher budget and a bigger project, who want expert support. Codeable is limited to WordPress developers only, meaning you’ll only want to use it if your website is built on WordPress. But the talent pool is still very large, especially when you consider that WordPress websites make up about 32% of the entire web!
Meanwhile, Upwork and Fiverr were the better options for people with small or midsize projects who need quality work at a lower price. You can also opt to hire a developer with experience in a specific platform – such as Shopify – through these sites. Our guide to how to find a Shopify developer explains more!
What About Hiring a Local Web Developer?
The best way to find a web developer is by choosing from the huge pools of talent online. However, there are some advantages to keeping your search more local.
For one thing, working with a developer in your local area means that you can meet them in person to get your ideas across. And even if you don’t end up meeting in person, you’ll have the convenience of working in the same time zone.
There are two ways to find a web developer in your area: Google reviews, and word of mouth.
Google reviews are customer reviews that you can see in the search results for local businesses. If you type in “web developer near me” and hit enter, you’ll find the web development and design agencies in your area, and you can use star ratings and quotes from previous clients to decide which agency has the best reputation.
Of course, the biggest advantage of hiring locally is that you can use word of mouth to find a reliable developer. 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends, and they can help you narrow down your search a lot faster.
Expert Tip: Sanket Mehta, Full Stack Developer
How to work with an agency
When we spoke to Sanket, he explained that if you’re deciding between multiple agencies, you can try to set up an initial conversation with each of them to get an idea of how they would approach your project and how much they would charge.
Some agencies will do this for free, while others might charge around $50 per hour. But, depending on your budget, $50 to weigh your options in the preliminary stage could be money well spent!
The main benefits of working with a web developer are that they require no hands-on effort from you, and that the end result is modern and original. But working with a web developer is one of the most expensive ways to create a website, and there are cheaper alternatives that will still give you a professional-looking end result.
Why I Didn’t Use a Developer: Kate MacDonnell, Coffee Affection
“I fall under the category of someone who has never hired a professional web developer. Personally, I don’t think outsourcing web development is necessary (at least right away) in this day and age. There are a number of free sites that allow you to build a good looking website with relative ease.
What’s more important, in my opinion, is first seeing whether or not your company is worth the hefty investment of hiring a professional web developer. Yes, a professionally done website does help when it comes to making your brand seem sleek and professional, but it’s usually better to see what you’re working with before you make that plunge.”
Website builders are the most cost-effective way to create a good-looking site without a developer. Even the least tech-savvy among us can use a website builder without any help, because they’re beginner friendly and don’t require any technical knowledge.
How Do Website Builders Work?
Website builders offer dozens of pre-designed template options. Once you’ve chosen a template, you can change its colors, fonts, and page layouts to represent your own personality, and you can add and remove content blocks depending on the features your website needs.
Website builders are flexible, drag-and-drop tools, meaning you don’t have to know anything about code in order to customize your template. Instead, all you have to do is literally drag page elements (like images and text boxes) around until you’re happy with your design, like this:
Basically, website builders wrap web design and web development into one service, and they handle all of the technical stuff for you – so you’re just left with the fun part!
Website Builder Pros and Cons
- They’re cheaper than hiring a developer: Most website builders cost $6 – $14 per month – that’s less than most developers charge per hour.
- You get more control over the creative process: Website builders are beginner-friendly and require no technical skills, meaning you don’t have to rely on someone else to execute your vision.
- You can make changes whenever: If you want to tweak your site after it’s live, you can do it on your own time without having to contact your developer for help.
- They’re not as scalable as developer-built sites: A developer has better tools to help grow your site’s features and audience a lot over time.
- Design is more limited: Website builders are very flexible, but developers can still offer more design freedom.
- They require a (small) time investment: A website builder can get your site live in just a few hours, as opposed to working with a developer for weeks. But you’ll be the one putting in those few hours of work!
Why I Used a Website Builder: Alexandra Seagal, Animalso
“I have worked with website developers before and had both positive and negative experiences, but when launching our current website, we decided to use a website builder instead.
We did this after looking at available templates, and realizing that we could accomplish everything we wanted to in-house. Although developers can offer a completely custom site, if you don’t need that, it is a huge expense that you can avoid paying. One advantage to a website builder is that you know exactly what you are getting, and you don’t have to throw away thousands of dollars if you hire someone who turns out to be a bad pick.”
How to Choose a Website Builder
It’s a lot like choosing a web developer: There are tons of options out there, and you need to narrow it down to the highest quality platforms. If that sounds like a daunting task, don’t worry – we’ve already tested and researched the best website builders on the market.
Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly earned the top three spots in our analysis, and you can see how they compare below:
- Wix is the all-around best website builder in our research. Its prices start at $14 per month, and it offers 500+ templates.
- Squarespace is the best website builder for creatives. Its prices start at $12 per month, and it offers 100+ templates.
- Weebly is the best website builder for small businesses. Its prices start at $8 per month, and it offers 50+ templates.
To recap, here’s how to find a web developer that will work well with you in three steps:
- Decide whether you need a front end, back end, or full stack developer
- Identify your goals and budget
- Compare developers in an online marketplace, or use Google reviews to search locally
Should I Hire a Web Developer?
Hiring a web developer isn’t for everyone, but you should consider it if…
- You have a sizeable budget
- You don’t have time/don’t want to create a site yourself
- You don’t mind being a little removed from the creative process
- You need a website that you can grow a lot over time
And if that doesn’t sound like you, remember that website builders are always a cheaper, beginner-friendly option – and there are plenty of free website builders that you can try without spending a dime.