WordPress Basics for Beginners | Designed by LauraYou gotta love WordPress. No, really. You gotta love WordPress! Lots of people do. Nearly 30 percent of all websites are built using WordPress. When you think about how many websites actually exist, you realize that is a huge number, and it is constantly growing. 

WordPress, if you’re not familiar with it, is a content management system (CMS) used for building websites. It began as a blogging platform, but has evolved into a robust and powerful CMS capable of handling large, complex websites, and is used by everyone from solitary bloggers to some of the world’s biggest companies.

When I started building websites lo, these many years ago, I did everything by hand. I wrote the code for every line of text, every image, every display choice. Initially, WordPress and its ilk seemed like a cop-out. Can’t handle learning a little code? Boo-hoo. Here’s an easy way out.

Keep in mind, when I first started building sites, essentially all you had to know was HTML. Eventually, CSS popped up to help style your HTML, keeping your site looking good and your code looking neat. In the 20-ish years since then, the number of coding languages has blown up. Many of these were actually developed before I started coding, but were only well-known in programming circles: Javascript, Jquery, Perl, C++, Ruby, PHP, Sass, Python, Java (not to be confused with Javascript), and more! Each language has its own purposes and quirks, and they are often used together to build the powerful websites consumers expect.

The beauty of WordPress is that you don’t have to know any coding languages. If you do, that means you can do even more with it! But, I won’t lie to you: There is a learning curve with WordPress. Although it’s lauded for its user-friendliness, it can be a little confusing right out of the box. I’m going to cover a few basics here to help you keep your cool when you approach WordPress for the first time.

There are 2 WordPresses

Okay, I know. That seems like a cruel joke. But, there are two kinds types variations of WordPress, and they both come from the same company. I’ll go into more detail about the differences in a later post because the differences are incredibly important. For now, I’ll touch on them superficially.

First, there is WordPress.com, which is a hosting platform as well as a way to build your site. This version of WP is used mostly by bloggers eager to get up and running, rather than to build full-fledged websites. It is free to start, but if you want more bells and whistles, you’ll have to pay.

Secondly, there is WordPress.org. This is the version I am referring to 99.999999% of the time I mention WP. In fact, for anyone who designs and builds websites, they are almost always referring to this version of WP. This version is free to use and is supported by the majority of well-known website hosts. It is used to build and maintain complex, robust websites of all kinds. It is entirely possible to build a quality website for free (barring hosting services and domain name costs) using WordPress.org.

WordPress is Open Source

Being open source means that WP’s source code is not proprietary so that developers all over the world can contribute to it in an ongoing, communal work experience. This means that WP is being constantly tested and improved to bring a better experience to the site builders and the site visitors.

Plugins Make the Dream Work

Plugins are bits of code that expand the functionality of your WP website, and they are the backbone of what makes WP websites so awesome. Without plugins, you’d have a useful — but a little boring — website. Plugins are useful for behind the scenes as well as in front of the faces visiting your site. 

On this website, at any given time, I have plugins for security, website optimization, image optimization, mailing list sign-ups, automatic backups, “lightbox” image effects, and more. At a later date, I’ll take an in-depth look at some of my fave plugins.

There are plugins for just about everything you can think of. Plugins create e-commerce functionality, for example. Plugins are responsible for many of the cool effects you see on modern websites. Plugins are required for things like membership sites and forums. So when I say that plugins are the backbone of WP websites, you know I’m not exaggerating.

Themes Make the Dream Look Good

Whenever you hear someone refer to a “WordPress theme,” it’s really just shorthand that encompasses all of a WP website’s visual elements. Themes dictate the look of your site, from the most minimal to the most flamboyant. Themes affect your site’s color scheme, typography scheme, layout, navigation, and more. Most elements in a theme can be overridden with a little CSS nudgery, but, ideally, you should choose a theme as close to the chosen look of your site as possible, to begin with.

There are a ton of themes to choose from. (I’m not being hyperbolic. If it were possible to weigh WP themes, the sheer volume available would equal much more than a literal ton.) Themes range from the very basic (just adjusting the colors and fonts) to the extremely complex, and come in free and paid options. You can find themes that come preloaded with plugins, like an entire website in one tidy package.

Although there are a few free themes that come with included plugins, you’re most likely going to pay for those extra features. Typically, the plugins included with themes are premium plugins, so you would be paying for their use regardless.

Just remember what I said earlier: You can build a beautiful, robust website without paying for anything beyond your hosting and domain name registration.

That’s it for your down-and-dirty introduction to WordPress. There are a lot more nuanced details to be covered, but this gives you an overview, and a solid foundation of WordPress basics.