30+ Free Pro Resources for Building Killer WordPress Websites in Way Less Time
There are certain tricks of the trade web developers pick up after spending a few years in the industry. These are often shortcuts and timesavers that streamline the process of building a site. Unfortunately, it can take a lot of trial and error to gather the appropriate tools and resources to get to such a place.
But there is sort of a shortcut to the shortcuts. Thankfully, developers are a sharing lot and often provide insights as to what tools are best. So I’ve done some digging and came up with a list of 30+ resources that will assist you in building WordPress sites much faster. And the best part is every resource listed here is 100% free.
Within this list you can expect to find websites, social media profiles and groups, plugins, guides, courses, videos, and more that make creating WordPress sites easier and at times a real joy.
Now without further delay, let’s get to the list!
Now we can’t start any list about free WordPress resources without talking about the ultimate resource created by the folks that are responsible for bringing us WordPress in the first place. Yes, I’m talking about WordPress.org. It’s so much more than just the place you can download the CMS. It’s also an infinite resource that covers everything you’d ever want to know about it.
WordPress.org is a good place to go for WordPress news, of course, but it’s also the place to go to find themes and plugins, to get support via thorough documentation and forums, and to get involved with the WordPress community at large via the Make series of sub sites. These sites give those interested in contributing to the development of this platform a place to congregate and share ideas. Just a few of the areas you can contribute to include Core, Design, and Accessibility.
A companion to WordPress.org, WordPress.tv is the go-to place to watch speeches and presentations about WordPress from the latest WordCamp events that are held all around the world. This site gives you a front row seat to the best and brightest working in the industry today, without having to actually attend a WordCamp.
You can watch these videos at your leisure and learn all about how to use WordPress as well as how to run a business online, optimize for SEO, and more. You’ll also find archives of some of the best videos from WordPress events with keynote speeches from WordPress pros like Matt Mullenweg, Chris Lema, and Andrew Nacin.
Another official resource that’s totally free you should check out is the WordPress Developer Plugin Handbook. I realize that not everyone who builds a WordPress site wants or needs to build a plugin but I included it here anyway because it’s such a wonderful wellspring of information.
The key thing to remember here is that sometimes you’ll need to add features to your site. And though the odds aren’t likely, you might not be able to find a plugin that fits the bill. So, if the need should ever arise to create a plugin from the ground up to suit your industry, you’ll have this free resource on hand. A read through will help you learn everything about plugin development from the basics and security, to hooks and using WordPress core functions like settings and menus.
If you want to learn about WordPress, you should read as much material as you can about it. And while structured tutorials and guides are great, sometimes the best resources can be found on social media. Many of the best WordPress developers and industry trend setters are currently on Twitter and share their insights with their followers on a regular basis.
Just a few of the “best of the best” you should consider following include @pippinsplugins, @tommcfarlin, @photomatt, @lorelleonwp, @bobWP, @mark_forrester, @markjaquith, and @chrislema to name a few.
Treehouse is a subscription-based education site that offers courses in all manner of online tools, including WordPress. But if your budget is tight (read: non-existent) you can get some guidance on the site’s blog. The Treehouse Blog covers all manner of web development topics but if you search for “WordPress” you’ll quickly find a list of posts that cover features, tips, and tricks for using the CMS.
You might not get the most thorough tutorials here but it’s still a handy resource to check out, especially if you’re stumped by something. Search the blog to see if the topic has been covered. If so, you’ll have your answer for free. Plus, all the content here is written by world-class instructors so there’s a definite quality aspect to appreciate as well.
This site is sort of unbelievable. In case you’ve never heard of Codecademy, it’s a totally free resource that walks you through the process of building a website step-by-step with hands-on instruction. You get to recreate real websites and learn everything you need to know to build a site from scratch. I know you’re using WordPress but if you want to tinker with any code, dedicating some time to running through the courses (at least the “Make a Website,” “Make an Interactive Website,” and “HTML & CSS” ones) will have a profoundly positive effect on your site development skills. Seriously, sign up right now.
Here’s an invaluable resource through and through. CSS-Tricks was created by Chris Coyier and offers countless CSS code snippets to help you quickly customize your site. These snippets can be easily plugged into your theme’s CSS file and you’ll be off to the races.
If you like getting your hands dirty with code but don’t feel like spending hours troubleshooting and figuring out how to make your site do what you want from scratch, QueryPosts can help. This site is a one-stop resource of all the functions that are currently included in WordPress.
What makes this really nice is how organized it is. Visually, each function is displayed with plenty of whitespace so it’s not overwhelming (ahem, WordPress Codex, I’m looking at you) and includes all the arguments and returns, a description, the WordPress version in which it was introduced and the file path. It also includes a search function for added convenience and a separate section for code added in WordPress 4.0. There are placeholders for Classes and Hooks, too. Once those are added, this truly will be a must-bookmark.
Hook databases can be incredibly helpful when developing a website. There are actually several hook databases that you can use but not all of them are user-friendly or complete. That’s why my top choice is Hookr.io. This resource is free and designed to be immediately usable. It can be used on any device, has infinite scroll on indexes, and includes multiple versions of each core, plugin, and theme feature.
It also plays in the realm of familiarity and includes annotated code signatures and descriptions for easy browsing as well as related hook callbacks, usage examples, and a fully annotated source code. Honestly? It’s pretty great.
This site is basically the same thing as the template tag section of the WordPress Codex but it’s formatted so intuitively that it warrants its own spot on the list. Its entire existence is based on the idea of speeding up development, with an emphasis on theme development in particular.
To begin using it, all you need to do is select your current version of WordPress then you’ll be presented with an easy to browse index of all the current template tags in use within WordPress. It’s nifty and definitely something to have bookmarked.
Another Tom McFarlin creation, the WordPress Plugin Boilerplate Generator offers a quick way to not just create a plugin but also create a plugin boilerplate by customizing the text strings you’d like included in your boilerplate. It promises to reduce the amount of time spent performing find and replace tasks within the code, which sounds pretty useful to me! The generator is based on the already amazing WordPress Plugin Boilerplate (also made by McFarlin, though the whole shebang is maintained by Devin Vinson now). But instead of going through that code manually, you just need to fill out a simple form and a custom boilerplate will be created that only includes the code you need to build the plugin you want. I realize that not everyone who sets out to build a WordPress site needs to build plugins but just in case you need a special feature or something, it’s good to have the WPPB Generator in your back pocket.
Can you sense a trend, here? This tool allows you to create a quick settings menu by completing a simple form. It uses the WordPress Settings API to make this customization process a lot easier. On each page, you can input what you’d like included on each tab, including the menu position.
From there, you can drag and drop the settings fields you want included like a text box or radio button. This Settings tool is compatible with WordPress 4.0 and is an all around awesome addition to your toolbox.
Indexes and code almanacs are great. But you kind of need to know what you’re looking for to make proper use of them. If you’re not quite sure what you need, a code search engine like WPSeek.com is a good choice.
With it, you can search through functions, filters, actions, and constants so you can find what you’re looking for a lot faster than if just browsing through a list of the same. WPSeek also comes in Android and iOS app versions, so you can have the tools you need on the go, too. Plus, there’s even a jQuery search and an API for easy integration into other tools.
Another thing you’ll probably make use of when building WordPress websites (especially if you build a lot of them) is WordPress starter themes. I mean, sure you can always use a theme right out of the box. There are plenty of those available, both free and premium. But if you’re wanting to make something a little bit more custom, starter themes are where it’s at.
With them, you can create a totally custom theme without having to put in even a fraction of the work as you would if building a theme from scratch. A few definitely worth checking out include Quark, Bones, Underscores, and Naked WordPress. There are many other starter themes out there, too, but not all of them are free, Genesis being a good example.
Aesop Story Engine is all about storytelling and boy does this one have a leg up on all of its competitors. This plugin makes it possible to create a site that’s devoted to featuring long form content in an incomparably stylish way. You can use it with just about any theme and configure it to showcase your writing with large featured images, videos, quotes, and other great details.
While not everyone will be able to make use of this tool, it can be a major time saver and allow you to create visually stunning sites without having to put in nearly as much effort as you would if recreating the included features from disparate plugins and code snippets.
For a long time now, the place to go to find plugins for your site has been the WordPress plugin directory. It’s located on WordPress.org, and while not perfect, it does offer a fairly fast and convenient way to locate appropriate plugins. However, this doesn’t cover everything and it’s difficult to parse out what’s best in the sea of options.
That is, until the Unofficial WordPress Plugin Directory was born. This site offers a categorized and aesthetically pleasing directory of free plugins. At the moment, all plugins featured here are free but there are plans to include premium plugins as well in the future.
When I came across this tool for the first time I had a total “why didn’t I think of that” moment. The What WordPress Theme is That search tool allows you to quickly input a URL and find out what WordPress theme a site is currently using. It can also tell you what parent/child themes are being used along with what plugins are installed.
This can be an invaluable tool for developers who are looking for some design inspiration. I mean, it’s a lot easier to just figure out what theme a site is running and use that as the foundation for your design than trying to recreate it from scratch, right?
A must-have plugin, in my opinion because it goes a long way toward speeding up your website. And while having a fast site doesn’t necessarily make the process of building it any faster, it does ensure that you can get your site to a place of optimal function much quicker.
It works by improving server performance and cutting back the amount of time it takes for your site to load. In fact, it promises at least a 10x improvement on site performance, which is pretty significant. Paired with browser caching, this plugin works hard to streamline any site you may wish to build.
How do I love thee, Jetpack? Let me count the ways. While it may be a bit bloated (but hey, that’s what we have W3 Total Cache for, right?) Jetpack is simply a must for most WordPress sites. It comes with tons of modules that you can handpick from and it allows for WordPress.com connectivity, which is worth the install alone.
I always make sure to activate the Custom CSS, Contact Forms, Infinite Scroll, Shortcode Embeds, Markdown, VideoPress, Enhanced Distribution, Comments, Publicize, Subscriptions, Photon CDN, and Akismet modules. Though it comes with many more so you can customize what your Jetpack looks like. Since it includes so many features, Jetpack is a total timesaver since you won’t have to hunt around for individual plugins that accomplish all of these tasks for you. Seriously, did I mention how much I love this plugin?
Your site needs a sitemap. No ifs, ands, or buts. And while you can make one yourself, why do that if you don’t have to? There are several plugins that do it for you but I like Google XML Sitemap the best. It makes it super easy to create an XML sitemap automatically based on your WordPress pages and posts.
Activating this plugin on your site makes it a lot easier for crawlers to see every page on your site and index it appropriately. It’s simple and straightforward to use and can definitely save you the time you would’ve spent on building a sitemap on your own.
If you like to test out a lot of different customizations on your sites, you might be able to make use of the WordPress Reset plugin. This plugin allows you to automatically strip all the customizations you’ve made and reset the site back to its original settings. It basically restores a site to how it was upon installation and restores all the default settings.
This can be particularly useful if development has gone awry and you want to start over but don’t want to spend the time on reinstalling WordPress from scratch. Again, this might not be something everyone needs but it can be a great time saver.
While it’s customary to include a search bar on your site, the one that comes with WordPress by default leaves a lot to be desired. It works, but it’s not very intuitive and could leave people who visit your site without the answers they’re looking for. And that means more people bouncing off to another site.
The Relevanssi plugin equips your site with a smart search feature and sorts search results by relevance, allowing site visitors to get a lot more out of their search experience and increase the likelihood of them staying on your site. This plugin can help developers save time by automatically configuring search parameters that would take hours to create from scratch.
It’s easy enough to find free themes: there are literally thousands of them in the WordPress Theme Repository at WordPress.org. But if you need a bit more direction than that or just want to try something different, there are plenty of other sites out there that offer totally legit free themes.
Best of all, these free themes are typically available from industry leading theme developers. It’s good business for a premium theme developer to offer a few themes for free. It increases the odds of new people trying out their themes and this, in turn, can lead to more paying customers. But there’s no reason why you can’t take advantage of those freebies! Tons of developers do this, but a few definitely worth checking out include: Theme Isle, DesignWall, Template Monster, and ColorLib.
Now, I’ve talked a lot about Tom McFarlin-created tools and resources already but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his own site in this list. It’s his blog but it’s such an awesome resource. I mean, this guy really knows what he’s talking about and offers up WordPress tutorials on a daily basis. And it offers an insider’s view of WordPress Core development as well as insights into the life of a developer.
You can find plenty of handy functions and code snippets for your perusal here as well info on the plugins and tools he’s created. While this site isn’t exactly for beginners, it does offer concrete advice you can apply directly to site development.
Pippin Williamson pretty much dominates this whole WordPress development thing. He’s the founder of Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP, and Restrict Content Pro, he speaks at numerous WordCamp events throughout the year, and so much more. But his site is included on this list because he offers free tutorials.
Yes, his site has about 52 premium tutorials right now and you can sign up for a paid membership to gain access to these. But he currently offers 142 free tutorials as well, which are available to anyone, at any anytime, without even having to input your email address. To start learning, just go to the Learn section on his site and get to reading. The free tutorials are clearly tagged as such. Plus, the search function allows you to find what you’re looking for with ease.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Andrew Nacin’s blog on my list. He’s a lead WordPress developer and is currently working for the U.S. Digital Service at the White House. So yeah, we should all probably listen to what he has to say. On his blog, he discusses all manner of technology topics, including those related to WordPress development. But what I find most interesting are his in-depth opinion pieces. On more than one occasion, I’ve walked away from reading one of his posts thinking differently about the topic at hand.
Nacin’s site might not help you develop any one particular site any faster, but reading his posts might help you to see development in a new light and implement broad brush changes to your process.
Chris Lema is another one of those jack of all trades bloggers within the WordPress community that you just can’t ignore. His blog offers insights on numerous areas including e-commerce, presentations, membership sites, pricing models, online learning, freelancing, and more. He offers several books and pay-per-minute consultations but you can learn a whole lot just by reading his blog.
I particularly like his reviews. He’s upfront, honest, and in-depth. Every time I read one of his reviews, I walk away feeling like I can trust his opinion and make an informed decision about whether or not I should use a specific plugin or service. He also writes really interesting posts about being a developer, blogger, and WordPress community member. It’s another one of those sites that makes you think about development in a high concept sort of way. But doing so can improve the efficiency of your projects and your business.
I talked about the usefulness of social media for WordPress developers in my post on the WP community a while back. But I simply have to mention it again here because I can’t overstate the value of tapping into that community when you have a specific question. You’ll find thriving communities on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ but Facebook Groups have been the most personally helpful.
You have plenty of options to choose from on that front. If you’re new to development, you might want to check out WordPress Help For Beginners, WordPress for Business, or WordPress Help and Share. But if you’re in the intermediate to advanced category, I’d strongly suggest joining groups like Intermediate WordPress, Advanced WordPress and WordPress Designers.
If you’re going to do more than just develop one WordPress site in your life, it’s a good idea to stay on top of the latest news and industry rumblings. And the place to do that is WP Tavern. Though it used to be owned by Jeff Chandler, it was snatched up by Matt Mullenweg in 2013 and now Chandler works for Mullenweg’s audrey.co and continues to produce content for the site.
This site is a good place to find out about the latest WordCamps, WordPress security fixes, and news. If you’re a developer, it’s important you keep abreast of this sort of information so you can make the most informed decisions about the sites you build.
This site’s premise is very simple. Visit it once, input your email address, and you’ll receive a newsletter in your email inbox once a week containing a roundup of the best news and articles from the WordPress community. You can always come back to the site on occasion to read through the archives, too.
Having a feed reader set up is smart but if you don’t have time to browse through every single post published on the sites you follow each week, this newsletter will simplify things for you by presenting only the best of the best. Like I said earlier, staying on top of the latest news and industry happenings is important if you want to create the most up-to-date and useful sites possible. Plus, odds are good you’ll come across a great tutorial while you’re at it.
If you would prefer a daily dose of WordPress goodness, check out our own email newsletter, The WhiP. It’s also packed with WordPress news, views, resources and a bit of fun.
There are no doubt other great free WordPress resources out there but these are some of my favorites. Load them up into your bookmarks and/or feed readers. By utilizing these resources, I’m certain your productivity will go up, your sites will improve, and you’ll shave a considerable amount off of each site’s development time.
But now I want to hear from you. What’s your favorite resource or tool on the list? Or better yet, what’s your favorite resource that didn’t make the list? Feel free to share in the comments so all of our readers can benefit.