TL; DR: WP101, a popular series of WordPress video tutorials, equips beginners, professionals, and support teams with the tools they need to help themselves or their clients create, edit, and manage WordPress sites with confidence. Since its founding in 2008, the tutorial company has served more than 2 million customers while continually developing its software in stride with the WordPress core. With a new dashboard-based plugin and collaborative partnerships with GoDaddy and beyond, WP101 is well-positioned to educate future WordPress experts.
When it comes to technology, Shawn Hesketh is no late adopter. In fact, he’s been designing websites for his clients since 1994 — less than a year after the web itself came into public domain.
A decade later, Shawn’s clients began to request more involvement in the design and editing process. At the time, that task required some coding knowledge — after all, the drag-and-drop tools available today did not exist. “I went to work trying out all the popular CMS platforms at the time — Joomla, Drupal, etc. — and when I finally found WordPress, I thought it was amazingly intuitive; super easy to pick up,” Shawn said.
His clients agreed, and Shawn began designing WordPress sites that he intended to pair with a series of video tutorials. “I thought for sure somebody had created some screencasts for WordPress, but I only found one set that was badly out of date,” he said.
Empty-handed, Shawn decided to use his audio and video background to create his own video guidelines. The series, initially intended for Shawn’s clients, also proved popular with WordPress developers, who requested access to the videos through a membership site.
With that, Shawn became the creator in 2008 of WP101, one of the most popular WordPress tutorial sites around the globe. In more than a decade since its founding, WP101’s tutorial videos have helped more than 2 million users learn how to create and manage their sites.
Most recently, WP101 introduced a new, dashboard-based plugin that allows freelancers and small businesses to provide tutorials to their clients. Through continuous development in step with the WordPress Core Team and collaborative partnerships with GoDaddy and other tech giants, the company continues to offer novice WordPress users a clear educational path forward.
Educating More Than 2 Million WordPress Beginners Since 2008
Shawn said it’s a tall task to keep WP101 current amid continuous WordPress updates. Since its inception, WP101 has released almost 30 updates to the series. “So it’s always been kept up to date, and that’s been an incredible challenge,” he said. “To overcome that challenge, we stay ahead of the curve by paying close attention to the WordPress core development team’s Slack channel to determine what’s changing so we can either rerecord or add new material to our videos.”
Another challenge in teaching WordPress, Shawn said, is overcoming the disconnect between the backend editing experience and the frontend public view. “There’s an abstraction between the backend and frontend experience,” he said. “Gutenberg, in my mind, is the first step toward bridging that gap because you’re able to create content that looks closer to what you’re going to see on the front end.”
WordPress Version 5.0, which includes the Gutenberg editor, was released to the public on December 6, 2018. Gutenberg, a new block-based editor, provides a streamlined yet flexible editing experience. “I think this helps WordPress compete with platforms like Squarespace and Wix in that they offer true WYSIWYG editing,” Shawn said.
The introduction of Gutenberg also meant the WP101 team had to quickly rework its video series. “We went to work as soon as we got the announcement, along with everyone else, that Gutenberg was going to be released within two days of WordCamp US 2018,” Shawn said. “We rewrote the entire series from scratch, adding 14 new videos just to cover the out-of-the-box experience using the block editor.”
A Library of Dashboard-Based Tutorial Videos with the WP101 Plugin
WP101’s most apparent benefits come in the form of ease of use. WP101 users prefer the video series over content found on YouTube because it offers an intuitive, end-to-end experience.
“The number one benefit WP101 brings to the table is that all-in-one WordPress learning experience,” Shawn said. “It’s a harmonious learning experience from start to finish, no matter what type of site you want to build. Our members are thankful to have finally found a reason to stop spending hours watching homemade YouTube videos filled with ‘uh…’ and ‘um…’”
Another notable benefit is WP101’s Q&A Forum, which members can use to get expert answers to their most pressing WordPress questions quickly and easily. Shawn said some users renew their memberships just to access the expert advice provided by himself and other content educators.
Recently, WP101 introduced an update to another tool intended to make the user experience that much more intuitive: its WP101 Plugin. The redesigned plugin, initially launched in 2011, allows developers, freelancers, and small businesses to install WP101 directly within the clients’ WordPress dashboard.
“We’ve rewritten the entire codebase from scratch and created a cool dashboard that freelancers and agencies can use to manage deployments on all sites for which they’ve installed the WP101 plugin,” Shawn said. “They can remotely activate or deactivate the service, or display specific videos depending on a particular client’s needs.”
Continuous Development in Step With the WordPress Core Team
As far as WP101’s daily operations go, Shawn runs a one-man shop. But he frequently contracts with developers, content creators, and WordPress educators. Well-known WordPress experts, including Zac Gordon, Joe Casabona, and Brian Hogg, have created entire courses for WP101.
“That’s one of the ways that we hope to scale — by leveraging WP101’s brand recognition and our audience to turn it into a learning marketplace,” Shawn said. “That’s been our focus for the last year or two.”
WP101 also aims to operate in lockstep with the WordPress community; not only to keep content up to date, but to stay aware of challenges faced by end users. For example, a number of controversies surrounded the Gutenberg editor in the aftermath of the WordPress 5.0 release, including concerns about its compatibility with WordPress page builders like Elementor and Beaver Builder.
“When we hear multiple questions about Elementor through Facebook pages, Slack channels, or comments on the WordPress website itself, this information helps us understand what we need to prepare in terms of additional course material,” Shawn said. “Being aware of challenges gives us the direction we need to extend learning experiences for our members.”
At the end of the day, WP101 aims to deliver content that serves the needs of an individual site owner who has just installed WordPress for the first time. The courses introduce these users to plugins and other essential third-party solutions, including Jetpack, Akismet, and WooCommerce.
“All of our tutorials, all of our courses are driven by what we feel represents the kind of use cases that our members are bringing to the table depending on what type of site they want to build,” Shawn said.
Collaborative Partnerships with GoDaddy and Beyond
Shawn said 2019 will be a busy and exciting year for WP101. Soon, the company will announce partnerships with three hosting companies that will deliver WP101 videos directly to customers using managed WordPress hosting platforms.
“We will deliver tremendous value to customers and alleviate support loads because users will be able to watch the videos right in their own dashboard instead of opening up support tickets for basic WordPress questions,” he said.
GoDaddy has found the program beneficial over the past few years, according to Shawn. “We’ve enjoyed that partnership, and we’re just continuing to expand on that,” he said.
Through the new partnerships, Shawn will be able to reach even more users in his never-ending mission to educate future WordPress experts.