Does a blogger need to learn how to code?

Running a website used to be a fairly technical endeavor.  If your aim was to make things look pretty and formatted, you had to at least learn some Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to get things lined up.

Some of my first articles on Mighty Bargain Hunter were hand-coded HTML.  I found a template that I liked with some very basic structure, and hacked into it until it was more or less readable.  Formatting the webpage took me nearly as much time as writing the article!

That was 2004.  Things were probably a lot easier in 2004 than the way I did it, but we all start somewhere.  (Actually, I know it was easier.  WordPress was first released in 2003. so I was behind the curve at the time.)

WordPress eliminated a lot of coding from the start

When I began blogging in 2005, I used WordPress 1.5.  I recall at the time being completely blown away with how much easier it was than the hand-crafted HTML I was using.  After getting over the hurdle of setting up the WordPress installation — which was by no means difficult — I couldn’t believe that putting up a new webpage was nearly as easy as writing an e-mail.  Type in a subject (the title) and the body (the post) and click the “Publish” button.

In December of 2005, a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) text editor was standard, which got rid of the need to do any HTML whatsoever.  It was no longer necessary to remember all of this:

<a href=””>Mighty Bargain Hunter</a>

All that was needed was to highlight the text, click on the little chain button (for Link) and type in the website address.was no   That was it.

The basics of producing content involved almost no coding.  The content management system’s dashboard (administration section) took care of most of that.

It didn’t eliminate all of the coding, though.  I do remember hacking into the theme’s files to add AdSense code, or add code to show the list of post categories, or add a copyright notice to the bottom of the page, or add text links there (back when Google didn’t frown on them so badly!)

Now, it’s eliminated still more coding

As easy as using WordPress was in 2005, it’s gotten even easier.  Far easier, actually.  Here are a few ways it’s gotten easier, especially with respect to the coding burden:

  • Standard interfacing with WordPress plugins and themes.  The good plugins (that extend WordPress functionality) and themes (“skins”) are updated regularly.  There is now a standard interface for the designers to tell WordPress what the current version is.  No need to search to see if there are updates.  The dashboard tells you what needs updating.
  • There are plugins for the most desired functionality.  Plugin developers have most of the bases well covered with regard to extending the functionality of WordPress.  Getting WordPress to jump through many hoops is less a matter of coding but more a matter of finding the right plugin.
  • The WordPress update process itself is close to seamless.  There used to be a few knobs to twist in order to update to the new version of WordPress.  Not anymore.  It’s as easy as a click of a few buttons in the dashboard.  WordPress even goes into maintenance mode automatically so as to avoid problems with people commenting on the blog as it’s being updated.
  • Moving content around in the design is drag and drop.  WordPress 2.8 had widgets — modular blocks of content that could be moved around freely within the layout of the theme.  Many plugins now had widget capability, so popping the new content into the design didn’t involve cracking open the theme’s files to insert code.  It involved dragging the widget with the mouse into the appropriate part of the design!
  • Themes come with their own interfaces in the dashboard.  Things like background color, background image, overall theme color, and even layout are parametrized.  Changing these parts of the theme doesn’t involve modifying the theme’s code.  It involves changing options in the dashboard.

I’ve found that a lot of things I needed to do with code a few years ago are no longer needed now.

So … does a blogger need to know how to code?

That was the question posed in the title.  It might appear that a blogger doesn’t need to know how to code.

Here are a couple of tasks that still require some knowledge of coding to do (as far as I know!):

  • Display post tags instead of post categories.  WordPress has a PHP function in its API that displays the categories for a post.  (PHP is a self-referential acronym that stands for PHP: Hypertext Processor.)  What if you use tags instead?  Getting WordPress to display the tags involves (a) finding where in the code the categories for a post are displayed, which first means (b) figuring out the particular function that displays the categories (c) in which file(s), and then (d) figuring out the function that displays the tags, and finally (e) updating the code in the appropriate places.
  • Change font style, color, border widths, etc., in themes without admin options.  Along with a theme comes a CSS file (cascading style sheet).  While the theme files determine what is displayed, the CSS file determines how it’s displayed.  Fixing the look of your website may mean poking around in the CSS file to tweak some numbers, add some attributes, or even add your own CSS classes to create a whole new formatting rule.  Most tweaks are possible with the proper coding, but maybe not without.
  • Identifying places where you’ve gotten hacked.  It’s happened to me, and knowing what constitutes good code and what constitutes bad code is half the battle.
  • A custom widget, or a tailored interface to another website.  Let’s face it:  There may just not be a plugin to do what you want.  Now, you’re the trailblazer.  WordPress is open source software.  You want it?  You code it!  (Or hire someone to code it.)

In conclusion …

For most cases, a blogger does not need to know how to code.  WordPress is incredibly powerful software.

But I think a blogger should want to learn some coding because it will make the blogger more versatile and able to control their medium.

It doesn’t take money to launch a successful blog

You may have heard that it takes money to make money.

After you have a bit of money, that’s very true.  It’s easier to get a new venture going with money than not.  For example, it’s far easier to buy an investment property for cash than it is to go through a bank.  A bank will demand all kinds of documents — credit check, proof of income, appraisal, and more — before they’ll release the money to purchase the house.  If you have the cash, you can seal the deal with little more than a handshake.

Throwing money (wisely) at a blog doesn’t hurt, of course.  You can get the word out faster if you can hire someone to leave good comments on other blogs in your niche.  Your blog can give a better impression immediately if you have the money to pay a designer to create a good logo and a theme that is pleasing to look at.

The power of consistent effort

If’ you’ve already started a blog, then you already know that it doesn’t take a lot of money to start.  You can even start one for free.  (If you haven’t already, just try it!)

So money clearly isn’t the barrier to getting on the web, and it needn’t even be barrier to building influence on the web.  Some people never go beyond free hosting and become household words.  Clean All The Things!

The key is to create on a regular basis that builds your presence on the web.

The main ingredient to a successful blog isn’t so much money as it is consistent effort.  Just like socking away a couple hundred dollars a month adds up over years, plugging away at creating content each week adds up, too.

A journey of a thousand miles

Getting the first post out, as I’ve shown, can be as easy as part of the setup process.  That first post is further than nine out of ten people get with blogging, so even that is an accomplishment.

That’s one.  Everyone who starts a blog has a first post.  Here’s mine on Mighty Bargain Hunter.  Riveting, huh? 🙂

Repeat that four times a week for a year, and you have two hundred posts.

This post has about six hundred fifty words.  Printed out with normal font size it would be a little more than two double-spaced pages.  If each of the two hundred posts averages six hundred fifty words apiece, that works out to 130,000 words in a year.

One hundred thirty thousand words is a decent-sized novel.  (My wife has written two, and they clocked in at 120,000 and 140,000 words.)

Create, create, create

The posts for your blog are just part of your creation.  Other things contribute as well:

  • Comments on your blog.  Interacting with the people who take time to write thoughtful comments will encourage them to come back.
  • Comments on other blogs.  Reaching out to blogs related to yours — or even blogs simply of interest to you! — give you the opportunity to expand your reach.  Thoughtful comments get the blogger’s attention, and if you’ve left a link to your blog, as most comment platforms allow, then you encourage still others to come and visit.
  • Useful posts in communities.  Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Squidoo, and other forums are worthwhile if they help to (gently) bring more attention to your blog.
  • Guest posting or blog swaps.  If you can write for other bloggers, either through guest posting (one way) or blog swaps (exchanging posts) then this helps you to reach other audiences.

So, again:  It doesn’t take money to launch a successful blog.  It does take time and regular effort.  The regular effort is also what sets apart the top 10% from the top 1% and the top 0.1%.  Few people will stick with it to see the fruits of their creative labor.

The regular effort does add up.  It’s amazing what can be accomplished simply by showing up and just doing it.

Are you ready?  Then — seriously! — create that first post.

Rinse and repeat.

Whose business are you building?

Content — anything that’s creative like an article, a video, or a picture — takes time to create. Social networking platforms, forums, question and answer sites, etc., can contain a lot of stupid stuff, for sure, but there also is quite a bit that is insightful and intelligent. Some of it likely took hours for the person to create.

This content gets linked to, retweeted, and shared. It gets slurped up by the search engines into their giant indexes to be served up in hundreths of a second to any search term imaginable.

When someone clicks through from Google, Bing, Yahoo!, or wherever, and the person searching gets an answer to their question or has their need for information met, then this is a great thing. It’s what makes the Internet a wonderful place.

The person who created the helpful content may hear from the person that was helped, or they may never know. That’s the way it works. I’ve answered a bunch of questions on various question and answer sites, on Facebook, and on Google+.

Another way to look at it, though, and the main point I want to make in this post, is this:

“Who benefits financially from the content?”

Certainly, money isn’t the most important thing on the Internet. And it may not be even partially important for you. That’s fine.

But what if you are hoping to make money with your content? (Hint: You should be trying to make money with your content. What’s inside your head is valuable.)

If you don’t control the web space at the level of the second-level domain — meaning the part of the domain name just to the left of .com, .net, .org, etc. — then by posting content on that website you’re building up a web site that someone else controls.

For sure, sites make it very easy for you to help them add to their content base. They let you sign up for free. They provide a good, sometimes outstanding platform to phrase your thoughts, ask your questions, or help others. The more effective ones give you reputation and badges and other virtual bling to reward you for your contributions to the site. )

Hey, I’m proud of my 10k+ reputation on two separate Stack Exchange sites! Nonetheless, though, if you’ve been an active member of forums or question and answer sites like those within, you’re building up the content on someone else’s site. You’re improving the Internet, but you’re enriching the site owner, not you.

Another example is Facebook. You might have a page on Facebook, like (That’s the Facebook page for my personal finance blog.) I certainly don’t control, so whenever I answer a question that one of my friends asks, I’m building up Facebook’s content, not mine. And they’re mining every last penny out of every word that I provide on their site, and every Like I make.

A more subtle example: This is a free blog that I can post things on, and direct people to from other places if I wanted to. But this isn’t really my site either. is the site that gets the huge Alexa ranking. Those who own can decide later to change what I can and can’t do on the blog. They hold the hammer. The “blogmightier” part is a subdomain of I’m part of their site, not my own site. They have my e-mail address, and can market to me whenever they want as a condition for letting me have a free site there.

Take control of your content and your business

Contrast this with registering your own second-level domain, like I did with As long as I continue to pay to register the domain, I control it. I can point it to wherever I want. I can change the content management system from WordPress to Joomla! or Drupal. I can add, delete, edit whatever I want, or change the way the site looks completely.

But most importantly, I can sell advertising on it. I can add affiliate links. I can direct people to sign up for a mailing list that I control.

It’s a direct extension of my business that I own, that I can create value on, and that I can (eventually) sell if I want. Any content that I add to this site increases its value (or so I’d like to think!)

I’m building up my own business by writing here.

Now, is it bad to write about things elsewhere on sites that I don’t own? That wasn’t meant to say that you should abstain from posting anything of value on Facebook or other places. Doing that helps to get the word out about who you are and to build a reputation for the areas that you want to become known for.

In fact, participating in Facebook discussions, question and answer sites, forums, and other blogs is a great way to do that. I’ve made some good colleague friends by participating on the Stack Exchange sites. Possibly even a few have checked out my blog.

But I really have to start asking myself that if I create a 1,000+ word answer to a question, should I post it there, or post it on my blog?

That’s the question I’d like you to start asking when you are about ready to post a monster response on a site you don’t own.  If it’s that big a response, then it’s might be best to post in on your own blog, and link to it in whatever way you can.

Make your writing one of your assets. If it’s good, then it’s worth owning it. If it’s good, then others will come to get it.

At that point, it is your business — literally! — how you let them access it. You can make it available to others for free, and put advertising alongside it. Or you can charge for it if it’s valuable enough.

Whose business are you building?

Yours, I hope.

Position yourself in an elite group

If you don’t have a blog, you can join an elite group, right now, for free.

If that sounds like a sales pitch, it’s not.  It’s the truth.

According to estimates, there were about 31 million bloggers in the United States in 2012.

This isn’t 31 million bloggers who make money.  This isn’t 31 million bloggers who get over 3,000 hits a day.  This isn’t 31 million bloggers who have 1,000 followers or more on Twitter.

This is 31 million bloggers.  Period.  Thirty-one million people who have at least one blog, somewhere, in some form.

That may seem like a whole lot of people — and it is! — but what percentage of Americans is 31 million?

Allow me to make a couple of estimates.  Let’s consider people in the United States 18 and over, not to knock younger bloggers, but to treat everyone the same:  as adults.  This number is about 240 million.

That highly back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me that 13% of Americans are bloggers.

So less than one adult American in seven even has a blog, somewhere, in some form.  Less than one American adult in seven has taken the trivially easy step to start a blog — something that can take their careers to better places, make them money, or fulfill a calling.

Don’t know what to blog about?  Start anyway.

Your first blog can be about anything.  It doesn’t have to be polished prose, high comedy, Greek tragedy, or Pulitzer.

It can be something you know something about, like fly fishing, LCD monitor performance, down comforters, hermeneutics, or contra dancing.  It can be for an event that’s coming up, like your high school reunion.  It can be a simple diary of whatever you want to share with the world.

It can be about pretty much anything.  But it has to be from you.  At least this first one.

(You don’t have to reveal your real name.  All that matters is that you know it’s you.)

If you know something you want to write about, then you can head over to, right now, pick a free blog name — I did say that it would be free! — and write your first post.  (The Automattic guys make it really easy.  Start with the orange “Get Started” button.)

Then come back here.  Let me know in the comments that you’ve done this.

After you’ve done that, then you’ve joined an elite group.  You’ve taken a few simple steps to begin vastly increasing your skill sets and marketability — steps that 87% of Americans haven’t taken yet.

Now, doesn’t that feel good?

Why blog?

If you’ve been thinking about starting a blog, have you thought about why?

Perhaps you’ve hesitated because you’re unsure about what it entails, and what it all means.  Perhaps you’ve started strong, but have slowed down, or stopped, because you were unsure where all of your effort was heading.

Without clear direction — or at least some direction — it’s easy to lose momentum, or fail to start at all.

Missing out on the why

Tonight at my local Toastmasters meeting, I gave a six- to seven-minute talk about how to set up a website.  I stepped through the important mechanical parts of a website without too much stumbling: domain name, web hosting, content management system, theme, content.  That describes the “what” of a website.

My speech evaluator pointed out, though, that I completely missed talking about the “why” of a website.  Why would they want to start a website?  What’s in it for them?  Without that connection, there’s no compelling reason to take action and do it, even if they know how.

Five good reasons why to blog

Here are some reasons why to start a blog:

  1. To make money.  That’s the reason I started Mighty Bargain Hunter.  No doubt.  The idea of drawing people to my site and making money in various ways by offering my writing for free was very appealing.  And I won’t lie: the first click that registered in my Google AdSense account was magical.  I’m pretty sure I was giggling.
  2. To increase your value to employers, present and future.  Unless your employer expressly prohibits blogging about anything remotely related to your industry, doing a useful industry blog on your own time is wise.  Doing so increases your clout in your industry.  This makes your boss less likely to fire you, because you have something you can take with you to one of your company’s competitors.
  3. To inform and update those who are interested in your activities.  Perhaps you’re on a six-month mission trip or in the Peace Corps for a couple of years.  A blog is an easy way to give a shout what you’re doing to friends, family, and those supporting you.  Or perhaps you’re wanting to use the blog as a year-round Christmas card.
  4. To improve your writing in a public way.  It’s a bit unnerving to get a negative comment the first few times, but those negative comments can be valuable, because they point out factual mistakes, failures of logic, or vagueness.  These are opportunities for improvement.
  5. To record a journey.  This reason is closest to the original intent of blog, which is short for web log.  Within my main niche (personal finance) one of the big journeys to chronicle was getting out of debt.  There is still a lot of interest in this particular journey, because (a) it’s common to a lot of people, (b) it keeps people somewhat accountable, and (c) it can make really good money!

There are many more good reasons, I’m sure, but what’s important is that you figure out why you want to start a blog.  This reason why may be different than why I started, or why your friends started.  Figuring out why you want to blog will make your destination clearer.  This is a good thing, because how you blog in order to go toward one destination may be completely different than how you blog to get to a different destination.

To figure out where you want your blog to go, figure out the why.

Introducing Blog Mightier

Hi everyone, and welcome to the 12,674th blog on the Internet that talks about blogging!

I’m John, and I’ll be sharing some of what I’ve learned over the past eight years as a part-time personal finance blogger over at Mighty Bargain Hunter, my pride and joy.  (Hence the “mightier” part of this domain.)

If you’ve arrived here, you might be thinking, “Why should I listen to you?”

I honestly don’t know. 🙂  I haven’t made enough money at blogging to cash out and quit my day job, but I have demonstrated a bit of stubborn bullheadedness to create 1,700+ posts and hundreds of thousands of words on various money topics.  The money ebbs and flows, but I have made well into five figures with Mighty Bargain Hunter and others.

Everyone is at different stages in their life, with different and unique commitments.  You may be young and single, not so young and married, or retired.  Whatever stage of life you’re in, though, the exercise of starting up a blog on a focused topic and sticking with it for any length of time pays dividends in many ways.

Your blog may make money by itself, or may pave the way to making money some other way.  Or it could just as well serve to keep people informed of things that are important to you.

In any case, though, your blog is your creation.  You can point to it and say, without a doubt, “I put that together.”

It’s this last point that took me a long time to realize fully, and it’s a great feeling to see a decent chunk of writing that is my own and that others have seen fit to ponder about, and engage me with comments, both online and in real life.

It’s opened a lot of doors for me.  I know it can do the same for you.

I’d love to show you how.