What is WordPress?
Per the WordPress.org website, “WordPress is web software you can use to create a beautiful website or blog.” But what does that mean really?
WordPress is a piece of software that handles all the hard parts of creating and maintaining a website for you. In the old days, a person basically had to be a programmer to create web pages. Every single thing that appeared on a website was manually coded in HTML (HyperText Markup Language), and woe unto you if you made a serious mistake, such as forgetting a semicolon. Nowadays? If you so desire you can concentrate on creating a great website and leave all the grunt-work to WordPress.
Technically speaking, WordPress is a content management system using PHP and mySQL to manage all the bits and bobs that go into a website. There are several others out there, but I believe that WordPress is the most widely adopted. It allows a writer to create content, manage pictures and other media, and wrap it all up so that anybody with an internet connection can access it.
Why Use WordPress?
While there are several other similar platforms out there, there are a few advantages to using WordPress. Since is has such a large user base, and is open source software, the entire user community can create extensions (themes, widgets and plugins, which I’ll get to later) vastly increasing the capabilities of the base software. This website, at the time of writing this article, uses over a dozen plugins to automate some of the management or extending the capabilities of the base system.
Easy to Install
Having installed WordPress multiple times on a few different hosts I can tell you that it’s pretty easy. Many hosts have what they call a one-click install, which is essentially just what it sounds like. My current favorite host, HostGator, offers just such a simple system. You shouldn’t ever have to worry about fighting your way through this step, and you can be almost completely computer illiterate and still get it right the first time. Whatever your host, they must have PHP and mySQL support for you.
Tons of Features
So how does WordPress making your website creation easy?
WordPress is Extendable
Themes control the design of site (as opposed to the content which you get to create). This site uses a theme called Studio Blue from Elegant Themes. I personally have no layout or artistic skills, so installing a pre-made theme designed by somebody with talent is a must for me. I don’t have to worry about the menu bars, heading bars, or even font and color of my pages or posts. Studio Blue has taken care of all that for me so I can focus on writing.
There are a lot of free themes out there but you have to be careful. Some of them contain hidden code that will use your website for their own purposes. I’ll get into that in another post, but for now if you are going to use a free theme stick to something you download from the WordPress website. It is my understanding that those are scrubbed of any malicious code. Not having to worry about this is one advantage of a premium theme. Just one reason I like my subscription to Elegant Themes.
Widgets are little modules that you can drag and drop and automatically show up on your posts and/or pages. Take a look at the options down the right side of this page. The welcome message, Google ad, search boxes, etc. are all widgets. You can understand zero code and still make your side very nice. The best source for these are the WordPress site, but some themes have some packaged with them.
Plugins are where WordPress really shines. They provide functionality functionality for your site that you wouldn’t be able to get without knowing how to write computer code. This site uses a dozen or so of them that control everything from some site security, SPAM protection, user statistics and the ever present CAPTCHA generator. There are thousands of them, sometimes many that do the same thing. The best place to find them is at the WordPress website, although there are plenty of premium ones out there as well.
Posts & Pages
WordPress began as blogging software, but has evolved into a full fledged content management package. What that means is that you just put your writing and media into it and WordPress will serve it up and make it look good by itself. WordPress gives you two ways to post your content:
Pages are the original way that content was posted to the internet and are also how many corporate websites are built. If you have certain information that you want to always be findable in the same location on your website, such as this site’s How to do WordPress series of instructions, then pages is the choice for you.
Posts are less formally organized information. They are all dated, and you have the option to indicate what information is in them with Categories and Tags, which I’ll get into in a bit. These are traditional blog posts. WordPress will handle their organization and display. All you have to do is write them.
WordPress Includes an Easy to Use Built-in Editor
WordPress includes a nifty little editor that enables you to compose your posts with relative ease. It is a light WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), which is a fancy way of saying that if you change a font or a color or insert a picture in the editor you will see pretty much the same thing when you look at your actual web page. Think of your word processing software. The WordPress editor works in essentially the same way. It can be a bit limited at times, but the vast majority of the time it does everything you’ll need it to.
This is an area where WordPress shines. Using the drag-and-drop interface you can add media to your website very simply. Then using the editor you can add it to any page or post with just a few clicks. Once you have it down it literally takes just seconds to select, place, adjust the size and add metadata.
Categories & Tags
What good is publishing great content if nobody can find it? WordPress provides two ways to organize your content: categories and tags.
Categories give you the opportunity to create a traditional hierarchy to organize your posts, such as Nation (United States), State (New York), County (Erie), City (Buffalo). Tags on the other hand allow you to define your content with a single word or a few words. Such as “Cool Restaurant”, “Coffee”, or “JFK” – anything that is relevant to the post. If you are going to use categories it is best to think about them and define them before you create too many pages or posts since they will be a royal pain to change later. Tags you can make up on the fly.
This is a really nice feature as it allows you to enable other people to contribute to your blog while limiting the damage they can do. Users can be set up as Administrator, Author, Contributor, Editor or Subscriber, each with their own set of default permissions. This way you can share site management duties with people you trust while limiting what random people on the internet can do with (to?) your site.
Overall WordPress is a very powerful tool that can help you create great websites. It is important to remember however, that you are where the most important part of your website comes from. It is the content that you create that will get readers to return again and again. WordPress just makes it easy for you to make your dynamite content look great.