What is WordPress?
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WordPress is free open source software used to build websites, blogs and apps.
You probably know this already.
So let’s take a look at WordPress in a bit more detail.
In the web design industry, WordPress is what’s known as a content management system (CMS). It uses a coding language called PHP. Do you need to know PHP to use WordPress? No. That’s all behind the scenes.
On the front-end, the part you and I see, which we access through a browser or app, WordPress uses plain language and a visual interface similar to programs you’re already used to. Another popular website coding language WordPress uses is HTML. Again, you don’t need to know this language to build websites with WordPress, but it helps.
Similar content management systems to WordPress include Joomla, Magento, Drupal and hundreds more.
What does WordPress look like?
When you log into a WordPress website, you enter an area called Dashboard
From here, you can see a summary of what’s happening on your website and access the various admin and management tools.
Here is a screenshot of the dashboard on a brand new site with little to no content.
And here’s a screenshot of the editing area for creating posts or pages.
Yours will be slightly different to this as I have a few plugins enabled and I’m using the Grammarly Chrome Extension (the green G).
If you don’t like the colour scheme, you can change it on a per-user basis.
WordPress started as a blogging platform
WordPress started life as a blogging platform in 2003 and now powers more than 40% of the internet.
Millions of people still use WordPress for blogging, while millions more use it to build and run websites because it’s easy to set up, manage and update.
Even if you’re not very technical or into coding.
In fact, its ease of use is one of its most appealing factors.
Which version of WordPress is best for you?
WordPress comes in two formats – hosted and self-hosted.
The hosted version is available on WordPress.com.
It’s free to register and create a blog, but the free version has many limitations:
- You must use a WordPress.com subdomain (eg http://myblog.wordpress.com rather than http://myblog.com)
- You only have access to free themes
- 3GB of storage space (no good if you’re a photographer or you like posting lots of images)
- No email or chat support
- You may see ads on your site and you won’t earn any money from them
If you upgrade from a free account to one of the paid options, some of these features become available.
While this lack of features might put you off using WordPress.com, it enables people to get a feel for the system without spending any money.
The two versions of WordPress differ slightly but not so much that you’d have to learn a whole new way of working if you switched from one to the other.
WordPress – The self-hosted version
The self-hosted version is widely available through web hosts around the world and can be installed on any server. Usually with the click of a button.
You can also download it from WordPress.org and install it on your computer. To run it locally, you’ll need additional software.
To run the self-hosted version on the internet you’ll need to buy a domain and web hosting.
We’ve put together an easy-to-follow tutorial for you on how to do that: How to Set Up a Self-Hosted WordPress Website.
Once WordPress is installed on a server and your website is set up, you manage your site through a standard web browser like Chrome, Firefox or Safari.
If you prefer using mobile devices, you can download an official WordPress app to manage your website:
The beauty of WordPress
All of this means you can use WordPress to build and manage websites and blogs with hundreds or thousands of pages using nothing more than a smartphone, tablet or laptop/computer and an internet connection.
You don’t have to understand code, you don’t need other software (although you might need an FTP program at some point) and you can create great-looking websites in a very short time with little to no knowledge of web or graphic design.
How is this possible if you have no design or coding skills?
WordPress is the framework to which you attach more components; namely themes and plugins.
Themes create the design and add some functionality while plugins add even more features: contact forms, social sharing buttons, and shopping carts, to name just a few.
You’ll need at least one theme and a number of plugins to turn your basic install into a working WordPress website worth shouting about.
A lot of themes and plugins are free to download and use. And, if you don’t mind paying, there are a lot of premium themes and plugins available to buy. More on these later.
Open Source and the WordPress community
WordPress is open-source software. It relies on a community of interested people to code, build and market products to make the platform do the kind of things you expect from a fully-functional website.
The community of plugin developers, theme designers and coders take WordPress to the next level, where anyone who wants to can benefit from the skills and abilities of others.
In the early days of WordPress, all the add-ons were free. This isn’t the case anymore. ‘Premium’ products such as themes and plugins (more about these further down) are increasingly popular in the WordPress space.
What you should remember is this – ‘premium’ equals money. But that’s usually a good thing because you get a better product and support because the creator has a financial incentive. That’s not the case when everything is free.
Prices vary for premium products but they’re typically affordable. A theme might cost $30-$50 while a plugin might set you back anything from $10-$100.
There are still plenty of free products around, and there always will be, but the WordPress marketplace is littered with premium products too, which is no bad thing.
Plugins and themes
Earlier, I mentioned plugins and themes; the components that complement the WordPress software. Let me explain a bit more about each of them.
What is a WordPress plugin?
Think of a plugin as a small program. A script you add to your site that brings with it more functionality.
What does a WordPress plugin do?
A plugin can do just about anything. Seriously.
There are plugins that back up your database and email it to you, there are plugins that help get your blog listed highly in search engines, plugins that tell you how many people have visited your site and plugins that find broken links.
There are just so many plugins it’s impossible to create a definitive list.
What is a WordPress theme?
In simple terms, the theme is the design layer of your website. It creates the look and feel. The colour scheme, the layout, the typography – all the visual elements.
Some themes also add a degree of functionality too.
There are hundreds of free themes around, and there is also a thriving premium themes market.
While a premium theme may seem like a needless cost, I suggest you spend some time looking into the advantages of a premium theme, especially if you use WordPress to power a business website.
You’re effectively getting the work of a professional web designer at a fraction of the cost.
The downside of using a premium theme is that other websites may use the same one without any customization. So your websites will either look exactly the same or similar. Is this something that should put you off? Not really. The web is huge and you can hire a developer to make small changes (or learn to do them yourself) to make your site
Is this something that should put you off? Not really. The web is huge and you can hire a developer to make small changes (or learn to do them yourself) to make your site
The web is huge and you can hire a developer to make small changes (or learn to do them yourself) to make your site different.
WordPress changes all the time. Every three months or so there’s a major update. In between the major updates, there are minor updates, usually to shore up security issues and vulnerabilities.
As a website owner, it’s important to stay on top of these updates to reduce the risk of somebody hacking your website or it breaking because a plugin or theme’s code becomes incompatible with your setup.
Updating is as easy as pressing the Update button, but you should always have a backup of your site in case something goes wrong. Your host might back up your site on your behalf. If they don’t, you can use a backup plugin instead.
I can’t stress highly enough how important this is. You don’t want to lose months or years of work because you failed to back up your site.
What else is good about WordPress?
That’s WordPress in a nutshell – the framework and the other components (plugins and themes), but what else can it do? How else are you going to benefit from using it to power your website, especially if you use it for business?
WordPress is search engine friendly
WordPress has a reputation for being very search engine friendly. This is absolutely true – as long as it’s set up correctly.
Your theme might have SEO settings built in. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to install and set up one of the popular plugins like Yoast or All in One SEO Pack.
Easy to update and customise
The WordPress dashboard (the admin area) is very easy to understand and creating new posts/pages and uploading images is simple.
You use a browser to manage WordPress, so you can log in to your site from anywhere in the world. You can also create more accounts for members of your team, and give them different privileges depending on the part you want them to play in the running of the site – administrator, editor, author, contributor or subscriber.
WordPress grows with you. If you want, you can create thousands of pages without ever having to pay a web designer to do it for you.
One last thing to mention again…
The core WordPress files are free. Most of the basic plugins are free. And there are tons of WordPress themes available for free too.
The only thing you have to pay for (if hosting WordPress on your own domain) is the hosting and the domain name.
So you can set up a fully working website for just a few bucks per month.
However, if you want WordPress to work for you, you should at least consider buying decent hosting and a good premium theme. And even these won’t cost you a fortune.
Hey, I build websites for small businesses in the UK. I also run a few websites of my own, including WordPress Made Easy, which is aimed at beginners and newbies.