WordPress Skill Levels (IMO)

I created this break out of the various WordPress skill levels for my Web Design students at Saint Paul College. These levels are my opinion and may differ from the opinions of other WordPress developers. I provide this information to my students so they can put their learning about WordPress into context of where they are now and where they could be with more experience with WordPress.

On a side note, I didn’t learn WordPress in this order, and it was to my detriment. I made a custom child theme and add PHP scripts before I even knew what a plugin is. I could have easily solved the problems I was trying to solve if I had understood plugins. When I teach my students, we start with learning how to create and edit Posts and Products, and then we learn how to create a WordPress website and use Customizer and Plugins.

WordPress Skill Levels, in Order

Level 1. Content Editing

Non-developer, Content Experts, WordPress Developers

The first step is to learn how to add and edit WordPress posts, products and pages. Most WordPress users never go beyond this level because their interest is in writing content for a website. Most of my clients do their own content editing, with a bit of training and support.

Developers need to understand content editing so they can support their clients.

Level 2. SEO Copywriting

Non-developer, Content Experts, WordPress Developers

The next step is to learn how to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) copywriting. Most websites use the Yoast plugin. Using the Yoast plugin is key for adding the right metadata to posts and prepare posts for media sharing.  (See my article on using Yoast for social media.)

I include it as a separate level because not all of my clients who edit WordPress know how to use an SEO plugin. Even so, most communications professionals who use WordPress need SEO, and SEO copywriting is something any trained writer can do.

SEO copywriting is a bit more complicated than Level 1, so it is important for WordPress developers to understand how SEO copywriting works with the website metadata in order to support their clients.

Level 3. Installing WordPress, Themes, Plugins and Using Customize

WordPress Designers or Developers

The next level is to learn how to create a WordPress website, add a theme and plugins to WordPress, and then use Customize to design it. 

A non-WordPress designer or developer could possibly do this step, but it is often one-time and not ongoing work, so less critical to learn if your goal is communication and writing.

This analogy may help. Say I want to save money and change the light fixtures in my home. I would have to study how to do it and it will take me a long time to finish the project. A trained electrician would do it more safely and in 1/10th of the time. The same is true for setting up a WordPress website. Non-WordPress developers could do it, but they would spend an entire weekend on it and may not be happy with the results. A trained WordPress designer or developer could do the same work in 1/10th of the time.

Level 4. Additional CSS/Custom HTML

Web Developers and WordPress Developers

The next level is to be able to add some Additional CSS in the Customizer and to write HTML if necessary to achieve the design you want on WordPress. To be proficient at WordPress development, you will likely need to become very comfortable with adding Additional CSS in the Customizer.  If you are able to do this, then I would attach the title of Web Developer instead of Web Designer. 

In the past, I have supported some WordPress Designers with Level 4 work. WordPress Designers are able to use the theme and plugin settings (and perhaps a page builder) to achieve most of their design. When they need a change that isn’t available in the settings, then it is necessary to add some custom CSS in Additional CSS.

Level 5. Beginning PHP WordPress Developer

WordPress PHP Developers

With this level, you are able to access the PHP scripts and insert code as necessary. You’ll find code on the Internet, but you’ll have to make minor tweaks to it to make it work on your website. This slideshow will give you the background you need for this level. Most of the time you can simply add a PHP script you find on the Internet to the functions.php file for the child theme.

Level 5 is very easy to learn, so don’t hesitate to learn to make some simple PHP changes in WordPress.  Making a simple change to the functions.php file could avoid adding yet another plugin to the website.

Level 6. Create Custom Layouts with PHP

WordPress PHP Developers

You probably need at least a bit of PHP experience to work at this level, keeping in mind that much of your code may be HTML markup. At this level, you can add some custom page layouts and custom post types. For example, the modules I have on Web Dev Students (HTML/CSS) are a custom post type using the Advanced Custom Fields plugin and Beaver Themer. 

Level 7. Theme and Plugin Developer

WordPress PHP Developers

Because of the movement to the block editor, to achieve this level you need to be able to code in React as well as in PHP. React is a JavaScript framework. 

Better Skills = Higher Pay

The higher level you achieve the more money you are likely to make in the WordPress community.  Look for projects that give you new skills.  Consider not just the pay for a job, but also the opportunity it provides to add to your technical skills.

Are you a Web Designer? A Web Developer? A WordPress Developer

The titles of Web Designer and Web Developer are very blurred. You can pick what is the better fit for you. Do you really like the layout and design side? Call yourself “WordPress Designer” or “Web Designer”. Do you enjoy problem solving and finding new solutions to problems? Call yourself a “WordPress Developer” or “Web Developer”.

There is a movement within the WordPress to clarify skill levels and test against those levels:


Interested in learning more about WordPress? Check out the WebDevStudents.com WordPress Training.