WordPress started life in 2003 and is free ‘open source’ software.
The easiest way to describe WordPress is this:
WordPress is software people use to build websites and blogs. It’s stored on a web-server and managed through a standard web browser or app.
Technically, this means you can build and manage websites with 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.
How is this possible if you have no design or coding skills?
WordPress is the framework to which we attach to more components; namely themes and plugins. Themes create the design and add some functions while plugins add extra functionality (contact forms, sharing buttons, shopping carts).
You manage WordPress through a web browser or app, so it needs a back-end, which is known as the admin area.
It’s where you do all the work and it can look a little bit scary when you first login. Don’t worry about this as you are able to customise the way it looks to suit the way you work.
What Does WordPress Look Like?
Here are a couple of screenshots from the WordPress admin area.
The first is what’s known as the dashboard and the second is the post editor.
The admin area received a major design update as of version 3.8, which includes a responsive layout and the ability to change the color scheme.
(Click the images for the detailed versions.)
Now that you know what WordPress is about, and you’ve got an idea of what it looks like when you login, let me tell you a bit about the WordPress community and what makes it such empowering software…
The WordPress Community
A very active supporting community of plugin developers, theme designers and coders who spend hours and hours writing, testing and tweaking code, is what makes WordPress so powerful and useful. The community takes WordPress to the next level, where anyone who wants to, can benefit from the ability of others.
- There is a years old official WordPress forum where you can ask questions and find answers to obscure and everyday problems. The forum has proved invaluable to me as I’ve taught myself how to hack themes and plugins to make WordPress for me.
- There are hundreds of helpful blogs covering all aspects of WordPress.
- The developers of ‘premium’ products.
In the early days of WordPress, all the addons were free. This isn’t the case anymore, due to ‘premium’ products such as themes and plugins (more about these further down).
There are still plenty of free products around, and there always will be, but the community is littered with premium products too, which is no bad thing.
Plugins and Themes
Earlier, I mentioned plugins and themes; the components that compliment the framework. 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 defines how your site looks and works. A new theme is very easy to download/install and changes the look of your site the second it becomes active.
There are hundreds of free themes around, and there is also a thriving premium themes market.
Premium themes cost money, and while that may seem like a needless cost, I suggest that you spend some time looking into the advantages of a premium theme, especially if you use WordPress to power a business website.
The beauty of premium themes is twofold:
- They look great because experienced designers/coders create them,
- Most premium theme developers’ provide a decent level of customer service, this cannot always be said for free theme developers (and plugin developers too).
Why does it matter? Because the WordPress code changes.
WordPress uses a coding language called PHP. WordPress releases major updates every three months, with minor updates happening in between. WordPress changes with each update, not all of it, just little snippets here and there. If some code is removed or changed that stops a plugin or theme working, unhappy customers will soon make their voices heard. For this reason, it pays for premium service providers to stay on top of these changes and amend their products as a result.
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 Very Search Engine Friendly
WordPress has a reputation for being very search engine friendly. This is absolutely true – as long as it’s setup correctly.
Whenever you publish new content, or edit old content, WordPress sends out an electronic signal called a ‘ping’ to search engines spiders and web crawlers. This ping alerts the various spiders that crawl the web that there’s new content on your site. The spiders come calling and index the new content, often within seconds of publication.
Linking to your own content helps the search engines find your content, so does a sitemap, but if content is not indexed, it usually means the search engines think the content is poor quality.
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. It’s used as an out of the box solution, or, if you want to get your hands dirty, you can delve into the WordPress code and develop it to your heart’s content.
You use a browser to use and 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 plugins are free! And there are tons of WordPress themes available for free!
The only thing you have to pay for (if hosting WordPress on your own domain) is the hosting and the domain name.
I hope I have sufficiently answered the question – What is WordPress? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me if you have any questions or you need a further explanation. Due to its organic nature, WordPress is sometimes a complicated beast that is continually changing, however, the basics remain the same and it is the only platform I recommend to anyone who is looking for a website.