Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about website development and I mentioned that I now use WordPress for all of my sites. “What is WordPress?”, he asked.
And that got me thinking. Those of us who spent our lives fiddling around building websites may tend to assume that just about everyone on both this and neighbouring planets already know the answer to the question “What is WordPress?”
But, after asking around a bit, I now realise that this is not the case. And, of course, in retrospect, I realise that a great many Internet users would have no particular reason to know what WordPress is and the platform might be well outside their sphere of experience.
If you fall into that category, this article should bring you up to speed very quickly and give you some hopefully interesting glimpses into the heady world of website publishing. And when you discover just how easy and cheap it is to build your own website these days, you might even decide to join us!
What is WordPress?
So then, what is WordPress? WordPress is a powerful and immensely popular site creation tool and content management system that makes it easy for anybody to create a website. The post you are reading right now is on a WordPress powered website.
In fact, I daresay that just about everytime you go online, you will likely interact with WordPress.
Statistics from 2016 indicate that WordPress powers a whopping 26% of the web and its usage continues to grow.
Why is WordPress so Popular?
If you know your way around a computer, know how to work a word processor, and are willing to spend some time learning the basics of how WordPress works, you can create a slick, modern, and fully functional website in just an hour or so.
And, that is a big part of its allure.
When I started building websites, I hand coded using a basic text editor.
Back then, to build a site successfully you needed to acquire a quite specific set of skills and knowledge. And, not everyone had the time, the ability, or the resources to acquire this skill set.
But, thanks to WordPress and other CMS platforms, the absence of this skill set won’t stop you from publishing your own sleek and beautiful websites. Publishing on the web is easier and more accessible than ever before.
How WordPress Works
WordPress is actually an extremely complex and ever evolving piece of software. But, for the purposes of this discussion, we can break it down into three main components that all work together.
Everything you publish via WordPress – text, images, everything – is stored in a database. When a visitor comes to your website, the appropriate information is pulled from the database and displayed. This takes place transparently in the background.
Thankfully, unless something major goes wrong or you want to perform advanced tasks, you may never have to directly access the database. In fact, you could probably run WordPress for years without needing to delve into the rather daunting innards of its database.
As noted, when you or one of your visitors accesses your site, your content is lifted from the database and displayed. Exactly how your content is displayed is dependant on the theme you are using.
The WordPress.org website explains WordPress themes like this:
A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.
In other words, you can change the entire appearance of a WordPress site in just a few clicks by activating a new theme.
And, there are thousands of themes available, many of which are completely free via the WordPress Theme Directory.
As well as this constantly growing repository of free themes, there are thousands more premium themes that you can purchase if you want a certain look or functionality for your site.
Once you’ve installed a theme, you can then customise it to suit your needs and tastes. Usually, themes can be customised in many different ways. So, even sites that have the same theme installed may look very different once their owners have customised their chosen theme.
You can also greatly extend the functionality of WordPress by installing little pieces of software called “Plugins”. As with themes, there are thousands of plugins for WordPress, many of which are free.
WordPress.org describes plugins like this:
Plugins are ways to extend and add to the functionality that already exists in WordPress. The core of WordPress is designed to be lean and lightweight, to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins then offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.
Some plugins such as those that allow you to create online forums or membership sites are quite complex. Others are designed to do simple tasks such as displaying social media buttons to your visitors.
Plugins can be accessed via the WordPress interface and installing them is very simple. They can help you to get your site to perform and behave just as you want it.
Publishing On WordPress
Publishing content on WordPress is quite straightforward. You use an editor that allows you to add text, images, videos, and other elements. If you’ve used word processor software such as Microsoft Word, you will quickly grasp the basics of how to use the editor.
You can save a post that you are writing as a draft so that you can come back later. And, you can preview the post so you see what it will look like when published. When you are ready, you just hit the “Publish” button and your post will go live on your website.
Here’s a screenshot of this article in the editor prior to publication:
How Much Does WordPress Cost?
The WordPress software itself is completely free and is available for download via WordPress.org.
To self-host WordPress, you will need to purchase web hosting and a domain name from a hosting company such as SiteGround. Many hosting companies offer managed WordPress plans that preinstall and maintain WordPress for you. Basic hosting plans that are quite adequate to get you started will only cost you a few dollars a month.
If you just want to test out WordPress or if the site you want to create will just be a personal blog, then you could opt for the free plan available via WordPress.com. This is probably the simplest way to try WordPress as you can have your site up and running in just a few minutes and it won’t cost you a cent. Note that the free plan does have some limitations but it’s a great way to get started and find you way around WordPress at no cost.
I’d Like To Give it A Go! What’s Next?
A great place to start is the official WordPress website at wordpress.org. The site not only provides the software itself but also give you access to a vast repository of information for WordPress publishers.
If you are serious about learning and using WordPress, then I would highly recommend that you do the course “WordPress Essential Training” over at LinkedIn Learning. The course is presented by WordPress guru Morten Rand-Hendriksen. The material is very clearly presented and covers every aspect of installing, configuring, and publishing on the WordPress platform.
There are also countless other websites and resources that can help you quickly get started with WordPress. A simple web search should give you plenty to choose from.
So, now if someone asks you the question “What Is WordPress?” you’ll be able to fill them in, no problem. In fact, in due course, you might be able to show them your own wonderful WordPress creation and inspire them to go forth and build their own sites!
WordPress and similar offerings are helping to democratise the web. And that’s a great thing!