Want to know the secret to my success? How I managed to learn how to code and immediately start making money with my coding skills, while continuing to learn?

The answer is simple: WordPress.

WordPress is one of those incredible open source gifts that just gives and gives and gives some more. And for the beginning coder who wants to keep learning new programming skills while making some money, WordPress is hands down the way to go.

For those of you not familiar with the platform, WordPress is an open source content management system built in PHP. Originally, WordPress was designed for blogging. But now, thanks to the creation of custom post types and the hard work of thousands of WordPress plugin developers, the platform can do much, much more.

I, like most developers, built my first website using HTML and CSS. Shortly thereafter, a good friend of mine suggested that I look into hacking around in WordPress. What he explained to me is that WordPress was a great content management system, and could be a good way for me to get familiar with some basic programming concepts like templating, working with loops, learning about database, and more fun things like that, while also building cool custom websites.

He spent 30 minutes explaining to me how the application is set up and where to look for more information, and that was it, I was off to the races. Me and my new friend WordPress soon became inseparable.

For a good year or so after that, I had a great side hustle going building marketing and content publishing websites with what can only described as an extremely limited tech skillset.

Now, I look back at the websites I created with WordPress before I really knew anything about programming with a mix of horror and amazement.

But honestly, I really shouldn’t be embarrassed because though they weren’t particular programmatically exciting, WordPress made it easy to build extremely robust custom marketing and content publishing websites even with only a small set of skills. Four years later, many of the websites I built are still alive and going strong (wow did I love big rounded buttons or what?).

The top five reasons why you should learn how to build in WordPress:

1. Do nothing, and you’ll still have a great website
Wordpress comes out of the box with arguably, one of the best content management systems in the world (thank you open source & the power of hundreds of people working together on one web application). Now, there is still a learning curve and some people do complain that the WordPress backend is a little too complicated, but honestly, as someone who has done a lot of work with other systems (and seen what it looks like when you try to building something as robust as WordPress from scratch), they really have worked out a lot of the kinks!

2. Chances are, someone else has already solved any problem you run into
One of the best parts of WordPress is that you have access to a HUGE library of open source WordPress plugins that will allow you to customize the CMS in all manner of ways. If you find yourself wanting to add some functionality to your site that isn’t native to the platform (a slideshow, a contact form, a facebook login) chances are someone else has wanted to add that functionality and already done the hard work for you. And all you have to do is install the plugin!

3. When you are lost, WordPress has the best docs
The WordPress Codex is seriously the most amazing, wonderful, searchable group of docs every created for any open source project ever. Anyone who has worked with other open source web applications or content management systems (*cough* Drupal *cough*) can tell you that the WordPress documents are spectacularly thorough, clear, and easy to use. If this is your first experience, know you are being seriously SPOILED.

4. Did we mention the 5 minute install?
Oh, by the way, WordPress is incredibly easy to install on your local machine (let me introduce you to my friend WAMP and MAMP and the famous, 5 minute WordPress install), and is supported by practically every web hosting service in the world. In fact, major web hosts like GoDaddy and HostGator offer fancy things like “1-click” WordPress installation services that will have you up and running in a matter of seconds.

5. And most importantly, knowing how to hack WordPress is known to lead to some serious CA$H
Last, but not least, knowing how to customize WordPress is a seriously marketable tech skill. There are many many freelancers and companies that have built entire careers on hacking WordPress. Just ask our friend Zoe!

Have I convinced you that WordPress is awesome? Fantastic! Watch out for a post next week about advanced WordPress techniques.

When I launched my blog in 2012, I went about it like this: I Googled “WordPress blog,” clicked a button that said, “get a free blog,” and I started rolling.

A year later, I realized I should have done more research. I wanted to change my site layout and add functions (like a hovering Pinterest button), and I realized (oh nooos!) I needed a “WordPress.org blog” for that.

Getting a “WordPress.org blog,” it turns out, really means downloading the free, open-source WordPress web software and using a third-party hosting service (like GoDaddy or Bluehost) to get your site online.

WordPress.com, on the other hand, takes care of all that legwork for you. You don’t worry about hosting or serving up files, and your blog comes with a free domain that looks something like this: www.mynewblog.wordpress.com.

But when you hand over responsibility, you also lose control: your WordPress.com site will show ads unless you pay a yearly fee, and many upgrades, like hosting videos or buying a custom domain name for example, can get costly.

To add to the new-blogger confusion, when you’re working on your blog, the Dashboard (the place where you edit your blog from the back end) looks almost exactly the same no matter which avenue you take. Because WordPress.com runs on the same WordPress software as a self-hosted site, the user experience after setting up your blog isn’t that different.

Deciding between starting a free WordPress.com blog and self-hosted WordPress site is as simple as deciding how much freedom you want over your site’s look and feel, how much behind-the-scenes work you’re willing to do, and whether you want to monetize your blog.

WordPress.com Vs WordPress.org Comparison

 

1. How much control do you want over your site’s look and feel?

If you’re okay with an “out of the box” theme [http://theme.wordpress.com/], WordPress.com might work for you. For an extra charge, you can customize some features, like fonts and background colors. Overall, though, you are limited when it comes to changing the design of your site.

If you’re looking at those themes and thinking, “but I want my Instagram feed up higher and I’d like social media buttons above the top navigation,” you’ll want to go with a self-hosted WordPress blog so you can access your site’s layout and HTML.

2. What extra functionality do you want on your site?

Remember that anecdote about the Pinterest hover button I wanted? WordPress.com is always updating and adding new features, but you will have more control on a self-hosted site. Through WordPress.org, you’ll have access to libraries of plugins [https://wordpress.org/plugins/] that can add features like interactive calendars, social media sharing options, and RSS feeds–not to mention, Google Analytics–to your site. And by accessing your site’s code, your opportunities to add to and embellish features are unlimited.

3. Do you want to monetize your site?

“Oh wow, I have so many pageviews! Maybe I can make a little cash with ads!” Nope. Not if you’re on a WordPress.com site. They’re giving you a lot for free; it’s no surprise that you can only sell ads in WordPress-approved ways. On a self-hosted site, however, the world is your oyster…or, you know, your sales floor.

In addition, while, WordPress.com recently introduced new ways to sell on your site, eCommerce is more established and flexible with a self-hosted site.

4. How much can you spend?

Self-hosting is an upfront cost that ranges from a few dollars a month to closer to hundreds per year. But using a free WordPress.com blog and adding a lot of additional features can get pricey. Infographic cost comparison:http://howtomakemyblog.com/wordpress-com-org/

When it comes down to it, WordPress.com is a valuable tool for users looking for a free option, who don’t need to customize or make money off of their site. But getting a self-hosted site through WordPress.org provides the most flexibility, freedom, and opportunity for growth. And let’s face it, you’re going to want to use this site to become a moneybags, and WordPress.org allows more freedom for turning your hard work into cold hard cash.

Looking for a new job where you can put your tech know-how to work? Having digital skills opens up a world of career choices for you. Take a look at some of the latest and greatest jobs we’ve found that’ll let you flex your digital muscles.

Today, we’re featuring jobs that require WordPress skills – and learn more by signing up to watch our webinar on Friday, August 1st: 3 Ways to Make WordPress Bullet-Proof!

Position: Designer, Marketing & Communications, Interactive Design
Company: Boston University

Location: Boston, MA
Start as a member of BU’s integrated design team. Take the lead on creating and improving websites through outstanding design. Manage, build, and grow Boston University’s nationally recognized and award-winning online magazine, Bostonia. Coordinate successful issue launches, liase between the magazine editor and the design team, and play a key role in enhancing the content management system (a customized installation of WordPress). Plus, participate in the design and front-end development of other WordPress-powered websites and editorial channels across the university.

Position: Graphic Designer / Project Manager
Company: Community Blueprint

Location: Minneapolis, MN
Create campaigns for governmental and nonprofit organizations focus on public health behavior change in this multi-faceted opportunity. A little experience with print and web design, project management skills, and an understanding of WordPress sets you up for success in this role. Your time will be split managing multiple projects and doing design for some or them.

Position: Web Designer
Company: Global Bioethics Initiative
Location: New York, NY

Jump right in to help create and launch a new website for the Global Bioethics Initiative, focused on serving as an educational resource and a database for breaking news and research in the fields of organ trafficking and organ transplantation. The site will be made – ideally – using WordPress. Take your Skillcrush skills and create a beautiful, user-friendly, and content-centered site to cover organs, tissues, cells donation, and biotechnology policy trafficking stories.

Position: Content Marketing Manager
Company: InfoScout
Location: San Francisco, CA

Put your marketing chops to work at this content marketing company, InfoScout. The current blog, InfoScout.co, is only scratching the surface of what can be done with the company’s data – so you will report directly to the CEO in this amazing opportunity to take the content to the next level. Bring your go-getter attitude to optimizing content, managing the WordPress blog, and growing the InfoScout newsletter base!

When starting a web site or a blog of any kind on WordPress there are certain plugins that can make your life 1000x easier. Not only will they save you time, but plugins can bring your site to the next level by making it more usable, searchable, and innovative.

So what is this magical “plugin” we speak of? A plugin is simply a program that you can install to add a specific feature to your website. For WordPress, these plugins are written in PHP and integrate seamlessly with your site.

Installing A Plugin

Installing a plugin can be a little bit tricky if you haven’t done it before. First, log in to your WordPress admin page (https://[yourdomain.com]/wp-admin). From the admin dashboard, look to the left sidebar menu. There is an option on that menu to choose called “Plugins.” Click it! You’ll open the plugins settings tab. From here, there are two main ways to install:

1.  Search for a plugin in the plugins library

When you open the plugins setting tab, there is a search box on the main page. Type in the name of the specific plugin you are looking for, or a keyword (i.e. “SEO”) to find a list of options. You can also search by popular, new, favorites, or pre-determined keywords. Once you search, a list of matching results will appear. Research them by clicking “details” or install right away by clicking “install now.”

Search for Plugins

2. Upload your plugin

You can download a plugin as a .zip file to your computer, and then upload it to your site. Click the “upload” tab in the top navigation on the plugins settings tab, choose the file, and voila! Your plugin will upload and install for you. An important note is that you can only upload files in .zip format, so if you get an error message, check that!

Upload plugins

Every plugin is slightly different with the setup required once it is installed – some require none at all, and others require a bit of work. Click into your plugin once you install it to make sure you follow the correct steps to get it up and running!

Must Have Plugins

As you will see, there are thousands of plugins to choose from. What makes a plugin a must-have? Here’s the criteria we like to use at Skillcrush:

  • Will the plugin make your site faster?
  • Will the plugin reduce spam?
  • Will the plugin help you better accomplish your site goals?

We scoured to find you a few wonderfully helpful plugins that will accomplish just that! Try them out to make running your website much easier:

Akismet

This is a great plugin for getting rid of annoying comment spam. If you are frequently disapproving or deleting spam comments, you need this. [Download here]

Google XML Sitemaps

This plugin makes it much easier for search engines to go through your content. And, when a search engine can better index your content, it is more likely to show up in searches! Plus, this plugin notifies search engines whenever you publish a new post. [Download here]

Flaunt Your Clients

This is a fun plugin for web designers to use to make it easy for your clients to show how pleased they are with your work!  It creates a new custom post type specifically for client stories and testimonials. These “client pages” can be sorted by category, linked to blog posts, and more. [Download here]

WordPress SEO by Yoast

This plugin is super useful for ANY blog: it is the ultimate optimization plugin. It enables you to determine how your post will look on Facebook and Google. It also allows you to optimize your page or post for Google search. There is a reason there have been over 7 million downloads to date! [Download here]

Slick Social Share

This plugin will get your stuff shared on social media seamlessly. Plus, it looks gorgeous on your site! [Download here]

W3 Total Cache

This plugin will help your site load faster (which, especially if you have a lot of high-resolution photos or images, is quite important). It has page cache, minification, database caching, CDN integration and browser caching to speed up loading times for site visitors. [Download here]

SEO Smart Links

This plugin fully automate the internal linking process of your WordPress blog. One of the best ways to keep people on your site and improve SEO is to link between your own site content and posts, and this makes it straightforward and no-brainer. It also can convert specific keywords into internal and affiliate links. [Download here]

Video Capture

This plugin integrates video into your site in a big way. You simply put a shortcode into any page or post, and users will be able to record short videos, up to three minutes in length. It’s a fun feature to add, if you have a creative way to use it! [Download here]

Meet My Team

This is great for showing off who is on your team. This plugin will provide you with a custom post type designed for displaying team members and their info. A shortcode displays the team members in a responsive grid on any page or post you like. Until you take a Skillcrush JavaScript class or blueprint, it’s a great shortcut to make your site responsive! [Download here]

Contact Form 7

If you ever filled out a contact form on a blog, it very well may be through Contact Form. This plugin provides easy contact forms for blogs (i.e. contact us for help / advertising, etc.). It also works in conjunction with Askimet (above!) so there won’t be any spam abuse with these forms. [Download here]

Do you have any particularly helpful WordPress plugins? We’re always on the lookout for new favorites! Let us know.