So, what is WordPress really?
Before you begin, you might want to read our blog post about what WordPress is and how it works. Read both posts to gain a solid foundation in basic WordPress information, terminology, and use.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is an open source plug-and-play content management system (CMS). It’s a content management system because it allows you to take all different types of content (videos, text, pictures) and manage exactly where that content will go on your website, when and how it will appear, and how it will relate to other types of content on your website. It’s plug-and-play because a great deal of the functionality of WordPress is encapsulated in modules that can easily be swapped in and out with other modules, and these modules often can be used immediately without any sort of preparation or additional coding (plug in your module and it plays on your site instantly).
But WordPress is more than that. WordPress is a community of designers and developers (and a lot of people whose jobs can’t be easily described) who work tirelessly to keep WordPress open source, high quality, powerful, advanced, and available to the average user. WordPress has a lot of tangibles and intangibles, but we’ll focus on the tangibles for the purposes of this article.
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
Before we get too much further, it’s important to know the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com.
WordPress.com is a hosted version of WordPress that’s free to use (although some upgrade features are paid) and ideal for hobbyists and bloggers who are just getting started or do not plan to monetize their blog. WordPress.com is not what businesses of any size need, no matter what kind of website they want, so we are going to talk instead about WordPress.org, which makes some truly amazing business websites possible.
WordPress.org is where all the open source files for your WordPress website reside. This is the place we go to get the WordPress core files to upload to our own host. While WordPress.com can be limiting in terms of themes and functionality, WordPress.org has none of the above limits. With a self-hosted WP site, the sky is the limit.
As you get involved with WordPress you’ll be pleased to find that we have our own language. Just as in any language, there are certain terms that you won’t hear elsewhere, or that mean something different elsewhere, so let’s begin by defining and explaining the importance of some of these terms.
Themes control the look and feel of your site. Everything from the colors and fonts to structural layout is determined by your theme.
You can get themes from WordPress.org (the repo), marketplaces like Theme Forest, or independent theme shops. You can also partner with a designer/developer to get a custom made theme for your site (we just so happen to know folks who do that). Regardless of where you get your theme, you want to make sure of 3 things:
- It’s well supported, meaning the developer releases updates regularly
- You can find help from a forum or support system (might be more difficult with free themes)
- You’re selecting a theme that meets your website goals—not just what you think looks cool or pretty.
Plugins add additional functionality to your WordPress site. WordPress is quite robust on its own, but it probably won’t do everything you need for your site. Plugin functions vary: everything from SEO functionality to social sharing to ecommerce can be achieved through plugins.
Just like themes, plugins are available through the WordPress repo and through marketplaces and individuals, and these themes can be custom developed to suit your unique needs. Plugins should be evaluated carefully for support, compatibility, and true necessity. It’s tempting to install more plugins than you really need, but doing so usually doesn’t align well with a strategic website plan.
Let me just be honest here. I hate the term “post types” — it’s confusing. Posts are a post type, so for the sake of clarity think of post types as content types. Post types (remember — content types) are the different types of content you can create with WordPress. The most well known post types are simply posts (aka blog posts). These are single entries usually arranged by date.
More static site content is a different type of post type called a page.
WordPress also allows us to add our own post types throughout themes and plugins. These post types can be whatever we need them to be: products, locations, portfolio entries, testimonials, and so on. Post types not only make it easier to organize content, they also make it possible to display content in different ways.
A WordPress archive is simply a group of posts (any post type) organized together by some linking factor. Could be author, taxonomy (categories and tags), date or some other factor. Archives exist to help group content in a way that is useful to the website visitor.
For example, if you’re reading a blog post and you click on the author’s name, you’ll usually be taken to page displaying an archive of all of that author’s posts.
Taxonomies are grouping mechanisms for posts. Default taxonomies are categories and tags, but WordPress makes it easy to add custom taxonomies as well. For example, on a event post type it would be helpful to include a “venue” taxonomy. Taxonomies allow you to organize your posts in a variety of ways to make searching for and finding information easier for your customers
Widgets are one of the most powerful features of WordPress because they bring the plug-and-play ability of WordPress to life. You can easily drop in content to a specific area of your website, like the sidebar or the header. Widgets also allow you to add functionality to your website by inserting a widget that, for example, adds an RSS feed to your sidebar. Widgets allow you to have the power of advanced code without knowing how the code works—you simply drag and drop until your website does what you want it to do.
Sidebars allow you to add the beauty of a grid design to your website. Instead of your content being forced to take up the entire width of the page (which usually makes reading your content more difficult), you can split your content up into larger and smaller columns. This makes for a more beautiful design, but it also gives you an area where you can include a widget. When you fill a sidebar with featured products for example, you give your audience an added function that they want on your website without taking them away from the main content you want to present.
WordPress Core is simply the files that come “out-of-the-box” from WordPress. These are the functions and features built into WP before any additional themes or plugins are added. That may sound a little wimpy, but WordPress is incredibly powerful all on its own.
Without going too far down the security rabbit hole, I’ll say this. You’ll keep yourself out of alot of trouble by keeping your site updated, using a reliable web host and creating strong passwords. Beyond that there are plugins and other ways of “hardening” WordPress.
Even with all of the security features you can manage to add to your site, the truth is you could still be hacked. Beyond good practices, your best security defense is to have a plan of action if something does happen to your site. Take regular backups, be active on your site.
How to Find Help
WordPress is huge, and answers to basically any question you have already exist somewhere—you just have to look for it. Make sure you spend time actively looking for your answer through Google and other resources before you The active WordPress community is actually very small, and many of the same people are active in a variety of Facebook groups (and other social media groups). Because of this, if you ask a question in several places, basically the same people are going to see it over and over.
Once you have a question, make sure you explain it in as much detail as possible (and show any code that is giving you trouble). List the following things:
- this is what i need to do
- this is what I’ve tried
- this is what I’ve searched for
This will improve your experience and make life easier for everyone.
WordPress.org/support – get help with themes, plugins, core and pretty much anything WP related in the forums
We love our SEO! Here are some great SEO resources we learned about at San Diego Word Camp 2015!
We’ve always used Yoast.com and their plugin, but we thought we’d add that here too.
Front End Resources
Our Front End Developer Frank Gomez does all our front end development work. Here are some great resources we found for front end development at the WordCamp:
Tell Us What WordPress Means to You!
We love WordPress, but we want to know what it means to you and your business! Leave us a comment and tell us how WordPress is important in your life.