What Exactly is WordPress?
Whether it’s visiting us at Speckyboy or other design/development blogs, you’ve undoubtedly run into countless articles about WordPress. There are all sorts of rundowns of terrific plugins, themes or tutorials on how to do just about anything with the popular content management system (CMS).
That’s all well and good. Sometimes, though, we seem to forget about those who haven’t used WordPress before but want to see what all the fuss is about.
If you’re new to WordPress, consider yourself no longer ignored! Let’s go over some of the basics of what WordPress is, installation types and some tips for using it.
While we’re at it, I’m going to throw a lot of different terms at you. If you’d like to learn more about these terms and what they mean, visit the Introduction to WordPress Terminology.
What Exactly is WordPress?
WordPress is a completely free, open-source software platform referred to as a content management system. Essentially, it allows you to easily manage all parts of your website, including:
- Adding, removing or editing content.
- Uploading multimedia files like photos, PDFs, Microsoft Word documents, spreadsheets, video and audio.
- Changing the look of your website through WordPress Themes.
- Adding new functionality to your website through Plugins.
Your site’s text content and settings are all saved into a MySQL database. Everything else is saved as a file on the web server.
There are two different types (or flavors) of WordPress websites:
- Self Hosted – Often referred to as “.org”, this is the downloadable version of WordPress and main focus of our guide. It requires that you have some space on a web server (and access to create a database) to install the software. The good news is that just about every web hosting company out there has accounts that can run a WordPress website. You are then free to edit or augment the software to fit your needs.
- WordPress.com – All websites created through WordPress.com are hosted by WordPress. You can get a site for free, and there are some paid services available as well. The software is a bit more locked down for free sites, restricting you to use of only specific themes and plugins.
How to Install WordPress
The self-hosted flavor of WordPress is famous for its “5 Minute Install” (the link has full step-by-step install instructions). In order to install WordPress this way, you’ll need:
- A fresh copy of WordPress, which you should unzip into a desired folder on your computer.
- A MySQL Database (you should be able to create one through your host’s control panel).
- A text editor to update the
wp-config.phpfile with connection details of your database.
- An FTP client (FileZilla is a nice, free option).
Once the database is created and the files are uploaded, just point your web browser to the URL of your install. Choose a language, fill in your login details and your install will be complete.
And, depending on which web host you use, there may be a faster option. Automated installs are widely available through different hosting companies. You’ll be able to install a copy of WordPress by filling in a few details of your site and clicking a button. That will save you the trouble of creating a database and uploading files via FTP.
You’ll be able to login to your WordPress installation by visiting your site’s admin URL:
The WordPress Dashboard
The WordPress Dashboard is where all of the magic happens. If you’re logged in as an administrator, you’ll have access to content creation, media management and have the ability to install themes and plugins. Just use the handy menu on the left to get around.
WordPress comes with a few versions of its default themes, but you aren’t obligated to use them. Inside WordPress, just go to Appearance > Themes in the WordPress Dashboard menu and click on the Add New button to see the many free themes that are available. There are free themes available for creating online shops, creative portfolios, small business sites, and many more niches. Of course, there are also a whole lot of commercially available themes available elsewhere on the web.
Themes that take advantage of the WordPress Customizer will let you tweak settings such as fonts, colors and background images and show you a live preview as you make changes. More robust themes can have dozens of settings for you to play with.
As with themes, WordPress has many free and commercial plugins available. They can extend the functionality of your website. There are plugins for virtually every type of need. For example, there are plugins to help you sell products online, create interactive photo galleries and sliders, create forms, share content on social media, etc.
To get started, just visit Plugins > Add New from the WordPress Dashboard to start exploring what’s available. Just remember that not every plugin is a high-quality one. Look for plugins that have good ratings and that are widely used. The Plugin Directory offers usage numbers and user reviews for each plugin.
Pages and Posts
The two main types of content you’ll create with WordPress are Pages and Posts. Sometimes, users can get a bit confused about the differences between them.
- Pages are generally thought of as static content. Think of an “About Us” page on a website. It might include some text about the site’s owner and a few photos. Essentially, a page stands on its own within a website.
- Posts are best suited for things like blog posts or press releases. It’s a way to keep a running archive of something. You can even use different categories and tags to break things down further down to a particular subject.
Other Features To Note
The world of WordPress is pretty vast. There’s no way to cover everything it has to offer (have you ever browsed the WordPress Codex?). That said, here are a few other features you might want to know about.
- You’ll add and edit content by using the Visual Editor.
- The Media Library lets you upload and access your media files. You can also directly Insert Media to a page or post.
- Site navigation is controled through drag-and-drop Navigation Menus(or the Customizer).
- WordPress Widgets are a great way to add useful information to your site.
- There are Android and iOs Mobile Apps that allow you to update your site on the go.
- JetPack is a free plugin that has features for security, added functionality, statistics and more.
Now that you know the basics of WordPress, don’t be shy about continuing to learn more about it. Over time, you’ll find some favorite plugins or a theme that works just the way you want it to.
If you need some guidance, there is a fantastic, worldwide community of users who are glad to share their knowledge. One of the best ways to learn directly from the pros is to visit a WordCamp. They’re inexpensive, you’ll get some swag, and you’ll also get the chance to meet some smart WordPress people.
I hope this has been a helpful introduction to using WordPress. Have any questions or suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments!