Beginner’s Guide to WordPress

WordPress is an online open source content management system (or CMS for short) that allows anybody to easily manage and build customized websites from scratch.

In this introductory post, we’re going to go over what WordPress is, why people use (and like) it and if whether or not it’s the right solution for your next website.

At the end of the post, we will briefly walk through the process of installing and setting up a basic WordPress site but first, let’s start by giving you a few more details about what exactly WordPress is.

Contents

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a content management system. That means it gives you a nice and friendly Back End admin interface for publishing and managing all of the content on your site, whether it’s posts, pages or media.

Initially, WordPress was classified as just a blogging platform and was largely associated with blogs as its main functionality was to allow easy publishing experience but then, has evolved throughout the years into a powerful, flexible and robust content management system to allow the creation of fully, complicated websites and mobile applications.

WordPress usage statistics – source: BuiltWith

WordPress is still evolving at a rapid pace and now powers more than 38% of all websites on the internet. A lot of brands trust and use the CMS to run their websites including but not limited to The New York Times, Toyota, Microsoft, Forbes, Disney, Sony and IBM.

Because of this, we can find a while ecosystem around the software, like plugins and themes.

WordPress plugins are able to enhance the built-in technical functionalities of the CMS. In other words, they transform WordPress into something more sophisticated, complex, handy and powerful than just a simple CMS. There are close to 30000 free plugins and roughly 10000 of paid ones.

We can say pretty much the same thing about WordPress themes. These ones determine the visual aspect of your site and just like the plugins, there are tons of themes that are available both for free and for money.

How WordPress Works

When you type a domain name (ex. google.com) into your browser’s address bar, it looks up the IP address of the server on which the domain name lives. All machines connected to the internet have one IP address, including your computer right now. Then it connects to that server and requests the available files.

For some websites, these files are often created with programming languages like HTML and CSS. Once we create our HTML and CSS files to say, for a personal website, we have to upload them via an FTP application on a host server. Once our site is live and working, we may need to go back and make edits.

To make edits to the site, we would use, again, an FTP application to download these files on our computer, edit the HTML and CSS files, save them, and re-upload them back live to the server.\n\nFor small, simple and static websites, this process is fine. But when it comes to publishing a lot of dynamic content every day such as blog posts and have this content rendered in different places and pages on the site, we would use a database to take this content out of our files and store it in a database instead.

Once our data is stored in a database, we can use a programming language like PHP, which WordPress is built with, to add code to say, pull the latest posts in here, or pull this specific post in here. In this case, we use programming code instead of hard coded content in our actual files that make our website.

At this point though, if we wanted to edit our content, we would still have to interact with the database somehow. Either using a database application or using code once again.

This is where WordPress comes handy. It gives us a bridge or an interface between us and our data stored in the database.

WordPress provides a well-designed admin area (called Dashboard) that lets you log in, see and edit all of the content pulled from your database and nicely organized across different sections. This is what is called Back End and it looks the same for pretty much all WordPress powered sites.

The Front End on the other side is what your site looks like, visually, to visitors. The Front End may look different for every WordPress site thanks to WordPress themes.

When and Why you should use WordPress

When it comes to asking the question of when to use WordPress it really depends on the type of site you’re creating, the budget you’ve got available to you and your level of programming expertise.

WordPress may not always be the perfect tool for the job but will certainly deliver a massive head start on your project and get you up and moving with real data quickly.

You’ll be able to have your content and users inside the admin area very quickly and working away.

Let’s take a look at why you should use WordPress.

1. WordPress is free
WordPress is open source and licensed under GPL. That means you are free to use the software any way you chose. You can get it directly from wordpress.org or with many hosting providers that offer a one click install. There’s even a freely hosted version available at wordpress.com although this version is slightly limited.

2. WordPress is made for beginners
You don’t need to be an internet expert or a web coder to use WordPress. Every day, new people are joining the WordPress community by creating their own, first WordPress powered website. It is fairly easy to use and you can have your website up and running in few minutes.

3. WordPress is extendable
WordPress was designed to be extended. From core system to look and functionality, almost every aspect of the software is customizable. Need a photography or a magazine template? An eCommerce solution? A contact form? There is always a theme or plugin for that!

4. WordPress is mature
WordPress is 15 years old. During a whole decade it has been strengthened, secured and enhanced. In the process, the competition was struggling to survive.

5. WordPress is community-driven
Another great point about WordPress is the huge community. The software is maintained by volunteers, this includes WordPress users, developers, designers, consultants and owners of WordPress-related businesses. Anyone can contribute by writing patches, coding plugins and themes, answering support questions and translating WordPress. By using WordPress you become a part of this awesome community and you get the chance to contribute back.

Installing WordPress

Now that we’ve talked about WordPress from a conceptual viewpoint. Let’s walk through the process of getting a WordPress site up online.

Methode 1: WordPress.com

The easiest and fastest way to install WordPress is by using official hosted version offered on WordPress.com. The sign up should be a no-brainer.

Head over wordpress.com/start. Enter your email, an username and a password of your choice.

WordPress.com Setup Screen

Next, type a domain name for your site. With WordPress.com you get a free one-year domain registration with any paid plan.

Next, pick a plan that’s right for you. I recommend choosing the Premium one as it has a fair price/performance ratio for beginners.

That’s it. Go to My SiteManageSettings to set up some basic configurations.

To access the Back End area of your newly created website, click WP Admin in the left sidebar.

To view the Front End, click Visit site or manually type the domain name you chose during setup in your browser.

That’s it! You should have a fully working WordPress powered site.

Methode 2: Hosting Provider

A lot of hosting providers nowadays provide One-Click WordPress installation in their signup process or via their admin panels. One of them is Bluehost.

Preview of Bluehost.com

Bluehost is one of the major web hosting companies in the world. It is also an official WordPress recommended hosting provider.

Their shared WordPress hosting plans are ones of the most affordable in the industry. All Bluehost plans come with 24/7 live chat support and unmetered bandwidth with little to no downtime.

The signup process is simple. They will get you up and running with WordPress in no time.

Wrapping up

Now that you’ve got WordPress installed and working, browse the sections on your dashboard to have a better understanding or head over to learn.wordpress.com/quick-start-guide to get the most from WordPress.com.

From this quick setup, you can see that we’ve got WordPress up and running, seen what the Back-End looks like, as well as the Front-End of a WordPress site.

Basic WordPress settings

A basic setup can provide a strong foundation. Let’s take a look at some of the settings that you might want to adjust right away.

WordPress Settings – General

Settings -> General — Fill in the Site Title and Tagline fields with the right information; these fields are used by the core software, themes as well as plugins. While you’re here, make sure that the MembershipSite Language, TimezoneDate FormatTime Format and Week Starts On settings are according to your preferences.

Settings -> Reading — Make sure you are not preventing search engines like Google and Bing from crawling and indexing your website by unchecking the Search engine visibility option.

Settings → Permalinks — Your permalink settings define what format your page and post URLs will take, which can have a consequent impact on SEO. I usually recommend that people use the Post name option which creates the most human-friendly URLs.

You can adjust more settings like Writing, Reading, and Media but the ones we went through are the most important.

You would also like to remove the sample content in the Posts and Pages admin sections right away and put your own content instead.

Adding Themes and Plugins

Now that we’ve set up some essential settings, it’s time to think about the look and functionality of your new website. As stated above, we can extend the functionalities of WordPress with plugins and themes.

We know that WP is a very flexible software, so let’s make use of some third-party power.

Themes—Actually we don’t need themes with an s. Just one will do the job for most websites. But how to find the right one? This is a question that comes a lot especially for beginners, they don’t know where to look for themes.

Well, you can start by visiting the official repository where you can find a lot of simple and free WP themes.

If you are looking for more sophisticated, premium themes I’d recommend checking out ElegantThemes or ThemeForest. These are the most popular marketplaces for templates.

Plugins—Plugins or extensions add new functionalities to a WordPress website, allowing you or your visitors to perform new actions such as subscribe to a newsletter, send contact requests, protect your website from spam, and much more.

Just like themes, there are a lot of free and premium plugins developed specifically for WordPress. Here are my favorite ones:

  • Akismet (free) Protects your website from spam whether from comment or contact form submissions. The plugin has a global database of spam to prevent malicious content.
  • Contact Form 7 (free) Lets you create unlimited customized contact forms with support for Ajax, CAPTCHA, Akismet spam filtering, and so on.
  • SEO Framework (free) A complete SEO plugin with guidelines and rules imposed by WordPress and search engines, that will help boost your website and its ranking.
  • Monarch (paid) Adding social media sharing buttons to your website doesn’t to be a pain in the neck. Monarch will take care of all the heavy work for you and display these buttons in a beautiful, appealing manner.
  • Bloom (paid) Helps capture emails anywhere on your website with smart triggers like visitor location or interaction. You can also exclude specific posts and pages and display unique forms with unique offers based on those triggers.

Next: Choosing a Theme

Now that we’ve taken a beginner tour around WordPress, you’re ready to take the next step; picking a theme that’s a perfect match for your particular project. 

If you’ve got any question about WordPress or its initial setup, don’t hesitate to comment below. I’ll be glad to help you out!

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