You’ve been told that WordPress is the best way to set up your new (or next) website – but you don’t really know why. In fact, you’re wondering, what is WordPress and what makes it so great?
In this post I will explain:
- what WordPress is
- what makes it best for your website, and why
- what you can do with it
- what you need (and what you don’t) to get started
So, what the heck is WordPress anyway?
If I told you that WordPress is a content management system or CMS, would you be any the wiser? Perhaps, but not a lot. So I’m going to go back to basics with a quick anatomy class, and bit of jargon busting.
Every website is made up of a number of pages (the content part) and some associated files that tell them how to look and what to do (the management part). If you were to download and print these website files they would just look like sheets of random words and symbols, and it would be pretty difficult for a non-geek to make head nor tail of them.
Each of these files are stored on a server, a bit like the documents on your PC. The server they are stored on is run by your hosting company, who give you or your website developer access to them. The visual result is your website – and it’s domain is similar to your physical street address, being the unique location of your website files in the almost infinite realm of the internet.
You can read my earlier article on How to Choose the Right Domain Name here if you are needing any pointers on naming your website.
The good news is that you don’t need to really understand all of this to create a beautiful and highly functional website. This is where WordPress steps in.
WordPress is a means for designing, building and formatting your website – rather like you might use Word or Power Point for written documents or presentations. WordPress gives you a user-friendly and intuitive way to put the right objects in the right places, and make them look and act the way you want them to.
What makes WordPress so great…
The what can be summed up in just a few points:
- It is easy and intuitive to use
- It is free
- It is ‘open source’ – more on that in a moment
- There are countless themes and plugins for you to choose and use
- Many of these themes and plugins are also free
- You can do-it-yourself, or pay someone else to do so – it’s up to you
- There are plentiful resources for support and learning
- It’s flexibily means your site can grow as you do
… and why can be explained by elaborating on these points:
Easy and Intuitive to Use
Since Microsoft Windows entered our lives we have all become accustomed to a particular way that the software we use on a regular basis looks and works. Put simply, if you can navigate Microsoft Word then you will find WordPress no challenge at all.
WordPress uses a combination of menus and buttons to make things easy, and when you are creating posts or pages you have an editor that feels very similar to Word – so you will feel right at home.
Nothing more to say on that really…
WordPress is Open-Source
Open – what?
WordPress has been, and continues to be, developed by a group of people who not only happily share their software for free, but also allow you to see and access the code behind it. This means you (or your friendly programmer) can use and change this code to suit your particular purpose without infringing any pesky copyrights. You could also use the same code to create and sell, yes sell for money, any add-ons you have developed for yourself.
Themes and Plugins
WordPress on it’s own is not enough to build a website with. You need to apply a theme to your site – a set of instructions that give a framework and pre-formatting to your infant site, and offer initial customisation options – so that you can then add your pages and content to it. WordPress release their own (free) theme each year, which is invariably the default theme your brand new site will come pre-loaded with.
Plugins are extra bits you can add to your site if you need or want to. Different sites have different needs, so not all functionality is required by everyone. There are plugins for literally anything and everything you can think of, and there are a certain core few that you are definitely going to need … I think that is good subject matter for another post entirely. You just need to pick the extras you would like, then simply add them to your site with a couple of clicks. WordPress does all the difficult technical stuff for you.
Aren’t you just a little bit in love already?
There are many totally free themes and plugins…
…again, nothing I can really add to that. Oh, except that I don’t think I’ve mentioned that most of these are also open-source. So once again you have another opportunity to change their form or functionality – and then also to pass this on.
DIY or Sub-Contract?
If you are new and savvy (or a little bit brave if you are a complete WordPress virgin) it is possible to register a domain name, get it hosted and create your own website without needing to pay hundreds or thousands of pounds/dollars/magic beans to a designer or programmer. Your only cost would be a small monthly fee for the hosting of your shiny new site.
Alternatively you could hand the design, form and function set up over to somebody else – and then simply add your own words and pictures where you want to. This is the best of both worlds – saving you lots of time, minimising the stress, but still allowing you to retain overall control of your website content.
Or if you have deeper pockets you can contract someone to design, build, populate and maintain your site for you whenever you want… Although I defy you to stop yourself having even the tiniest bit of behind-the-scenes action when see just how easy it is to use!
Innumerable Resources for Support and Learning
The benefit of there being a user-oriented website content management system that is more popular then ever (even after 14 years or more since launch – a millennia in the world of the internet) is that you can’t walk a hundred yards without tripping over an expert. They’re everywhere!
The internet is riddled with sites and blogs with hints, tips, tutorials, how-tos, videos, demos and downloads all bursting with invaluable information to help you work how to do whatever it is you may be struggling with. This is primarily thanks to the whole open-source movement and ethos – sharing the love!
You may not even need to look online – small ads and circulars offer similar resources or services, and there are plenty of further education training opportunities around if you want to take your learning to the next level. Alternatively, walk into any pub or bar and there is bound to be someone who knows someone who knows WordPress. I just wouldn’t recommend taking in too much of the loopy-juice and then going home and publishing a brand new site. Or maybe…?
One of the overwhelming benefits of the whole WordPress system is that you can make changes and updates to your site without the need to take it offline. Meaning you never lose the opportunity to capture another reader, customer or client.
Amendments and additions can be made in the ‘back-end’ of your site, and will not be seen by visitors until you either press Publish, or until a date and time that you have scheduled them to go live. You are also able to make WYSIWYG changes (what you see is what you get) – with a version of the live page showing instantly what difference the changes you are making will have.
You may decide to start your site with just a handful of pages, or even a simple one page layout. Depending on your niche, a Home or landing page, a page telling people a little about you and what you do, and page where they can find out how to contact you or where to visit you could be all that you need to begin with. This will get you online and in business super quick – and then over time you can add a blog, a portfolio, an online store, or whatever else will help you to grow and serve your business.
What you do (and don’t) need to get started
On the DO side:
- A website domain name
- A website host
- Ideas for how you want your website to look
- An idea of what you would like your website to do
- An enthusiasm to see your project take shape and come to life
On the DON’T side:
- Programming or Developer skills
- A huge budget if you are happy to roll your sleeves up and give it a go
- Expensive software
- Money for additional add-ons
- A full plan for the finished version of you site
It’s as simple as choosing your domain name, registering it and purchasing a hosting plan. And this is even easier than it sounds. I have already written an article covering the things you should consider when picking your new web address – you can read that here.
Personally I would recommend registering that name through the same company that you are going to use to host your site. There are often financial benefits to doing this – such as discounts on certain hosting packages or even registering your domain name for free for the first year. Plus there are technical benefits too – your domain name will come automatically connected to your hosting server, rather than having to configure it yourself. But with so many hosting options and deals out there, how do you pick the right one?
You ideally want a hosting company that offers tiered packages (so that you don’t over pay for extras you don’t need) and WordPress hosting. Email addresses included with your package are a useful extra! You don’t have to choose WordPress hosting, all this means is that WordPress is already attached to your site and you are ready to get going immediately. With a package that doesn’t include WordPress you will need to obtain and upload the management system yourself – far easier to have someone else do it for you.
I would also select a host that has been around for a while, and check their reliability, support and up-time ratings if you can. Once you start looking you will probably come across some names that you have heard of – this is a good sign. Oh, and having a support centre in your home country is helpful too – no worrying about time zones or language difficulties, because technical support can be tricky enough at the best of times!
Personally I recommend using 1and1 – they are big, established, reliable, good value, helpful and… well, I’ve been using them for all my online projects for many years and have always been over the moon with their services. Follow this link to find out more about their WordPress hosting options.
In addition I have put together some of my favourite tried and tested resources and recommendations for the other aspects of your website project. From design to function, this list is a great place to start.
To sum up…
WordPress is without doubt the most popular website solution for for new and small business websites and blogs. This is because of many factors including ease of use, flexibility, available help and resources, thousands of additional themes and plugins, and continual ongoing development.
When you are setting up something as important as your website – your home on the internet – you want the best, tried and tested, most reliable management system that allows you to have the access and keep the control that you desire. It’s as much about peace of mind as it is about anything else.
It’s a no-brainer.
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