Have you ever wanted to have a website at low cost, without the need to hire a team of developers and designers, without learning advanced PHP, and with almost unlimited extension possibilities? Or maybe you're more about getting into the world of website creation and becoming the next expert? If that's a yes to any of the above questions, WordPress is likely the platform you should look into.
These days, everyone has a good reason to have a website. It's not just large companies anymore. Individuals, families, and small or independent businesses all need to have one. Some individuals and small businesses don't have the financial resources to hire a website development company or a freelance web developer to create a website for them. In short, WordPress is an open source web software application that you can use to create and maintain an online website, even if you have the minimum of technical expertise.
Since it is a web application, WordPress does not need to be installed on your home computer, or any other machine under your control. It can live on the server (a kind of computer) that belongs to your website hosting company. It is also free, easy to use, and packed with excellent features. Originally, WordPress was an application meant to run a blog website, but it has now evolved into a fully-featured Content Management System (CMS).
Actually, at the time of writing, WordPress powers over 60 million websites in total, or in other words, one of every six websites on the internet. And if that's not enough, the newest version of the platform has been downloaded over 14 million times. It seems that joining the team is, indeed, a wise thing to do.
In this chapter, we'll explore:
The reasons that will make you choose WordPress to run your website
The greatest advantages of WordPress
Online resources for WordPress
The complete list of features in the newest versions of WordPress
WordPress is an open source blog engine. Open source means that nobody owns it, everybody works on it, and anyone can contribute to it. Blog engine means a software application that can run a blog. It's a piece of software that lives on the web server and makes it easy for you to add and edit posts, themes, comments, and all of your other content. More expansively, WordPress can be called a publishing platform because it is by no means restricted to blogging.
In fact, a number of big (by today's standards) online agencies use WordPress to run their sites. Outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Reuters all use WordPress as the base of their web publishing platforms.
Originally, WordPress was a fork of an older piece of software named b2/cafelog. WordPress was developed by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, but is now maintained and developed by a team of developers that includes Mullenweg.
Over the years, the platform has evolved a lot and, even though a massive amount of new functionality got introduced, WordPress still remains one of the easiest to use web publishing platforms out there.
Normal websites with relatively static content—pages, subpages, and so on
Blog websites—chronologically organized, frequently updated, categorized, tagged, and archived.
Corporate business websites
Product websites, and more
For those of you unfamiliar with blog websites and blogging terminology, let's take a look at the basics.
Starting your journey, what is a blog? A blog is a website that usually contains regular entries such as a kind of log. These entries can be of various types, such as commentary, descriptions of events, photos, videos, personal remarks, tutorials, case studies, long opinion pieces, or political ideas. They are usually displayed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent additions on the top. These entries can be organized in a variety of ways—by date, by topic, by subject, and so on.
One of the main characteristics of a blog is that it's meant to be updated regularly. Unlike a site where the content is static, a blog behaves more like an online diary, wherein the blogger posts regular updates. Hence, blogs are dynamic with ever-changing content. A blog can be updated with new content and the old content can be changed or deleted at any time (although deleting content is not a common practice).
Most blogs focus their content on a particular subject—for example, current events, hobbies, niche topics, technical expertise—or else they are more like personal online diaries.
Originally, a blog was short for weblog. According to Wikipedia, the term weblog was first used in 1997, and people started using blogs globally in 1999. The terms weblog, weblogging, and weblogger were added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2003, though these days most people leave off the "we" part.
If you are new to the world of blogging (or the "blogosphere," which is a fairly popular expression these days), you may want to familiarize yourself with the following common terms.
Each entry in the blog is called a post. Every post usually has a number of different parts. Of course, the two most obvious parts are title and content. The content is text, images, links, and so on. Posts can even contain multimedia (for example, videos and audio files). Every post also has a publication timestamp, and most also have one or more categories, tags, comments, and so on. It is these posts, or entries, that are displayed in reverse chronological order on the main page of the blog. By default, the latest post is displayed first, in order to give the viewer the latest news on the subject.
Categories and tags are ways to organize and find posts within a blog and even across blogs. Categories are like topics, whereas tags are more like keywords. For example, for a blog about food and cooking, there might be a category called recipes , but every post in that category would have different tags (for example, soup, baked, vegetarian, dairy-free, and so on).
The purpose and correct usage of tags and categories is one of the more discussed topics among bloggers. Although there are basic guidelines, as the ones presented previously, every blogger develops his or her own approach after a while, and there are no "written in stone" rules.
Most blogs allow visitors to post comments about the posts. This gives readers the opportunity to interact with the author of the blog, thus making the whole enterprise interactive. Often, the author of the blog will respond to comments by posting additional comments with the single click of a reply button, which makes for a continuous public online conversation or dialog.
Comments are said to be one of the most important assets for a blog. The presence of a big number of comments shows how popular and authoritative the blog is.
The theme for a blog is the design and layout that you choose. In most blogs, the content (for example, posts) is separate from the visual layout. This means you can change the visual layout of your blog at any time without having to worry about the content being affected. One of the best things about themes is that it takes only seconds to install and start using a new one. Moreover, there are a number of free or low-cost themes available online. However, you need to be careful when working with free themes from uncertain developers. Often, they contain encrypted parts and code that can hurt your site and its presence in Google. Always look for user reviews before choosing a theme.
WordPress plugins are relatively small pieces of web software that can be installed on a WordPress site. They extend the native functionality to do almost anything that the technology of today allows. Just as with WordPress itself, the code within plugins is open source, which means that anyone can build a new plugin if they only have the required skillset. Every WordPress website or blog can work with an unlimited number of plugins (although it is not a recommended approach). The most popular functionalities introduced through plugins include spam protection, search engine optimization possibilities, caching, social media integration, interactive contact forms, backups, and more.
In short, widgets are a simplified version of plugins. Furthermore, they display a direct, visible result on your blog by using small content boxes (depending on the exact widget you're using, this content can be very diverse). The most common usage of widgets is to have them showcased within the sidebars on your site. Typically, your current theme will provide you with a number of widget areas where you can display widgets (as mentioned, many of these are located in the sidebar). Some of the common usages for widgets are to display content such as categories and tags, recent posts, popular posts, recent comments, links to archived posts, pages, links, search fields, or standard non-formatted text.
We need to talk some history to explain what the meaning of menus in WordPress is. Back in the day, WordPress didn't allow much customization in terms of tweaking navigation menus and hand-picking the links we wanted to display. This all changed in Version 3.0, when the new Custom Menus feature was introduced. In plain English, what it does is allow us to create completely custom menus (featuring any links of our choice) and then display them in specific areas on our sites (supported by the current theme). To be honest, this feature, even though it sounds basic, is one of the main ones that has turned WordPress into a fully-fledged web publishing platform and not just a blogging tool. I promise this will all sound much clearer in the upcoming chapters.
RSS is an acronym for Really Simple Syndication, and Chapter 8, Feeds, Podcasting, and Offline Blogging, addresses the topic of feeds in detail. For now, understand that RSS and feeds are a way to syndicate the content of your blog, so that people can subscribe to it. This means people do not actually have to visit your blog regularly to see what you've added. Instead, they can subscribe and have new content delivered to them via e-mail or through a feed reader such as Feedly.
It's important to understand the difference between a page and a post. Unlike posts, pages do not depend on having timestamps and are not displayed in chronological order. They also do not have categories or tags. A page is a piece of content with only a title and content (an example would be About Me or Contact Us —the two most popular pages on almost any blog). It is likely that the number of pages on your blog remains relatively static, whereas new posts can be added every day or so.
As mentioned in one of the paragraphs above, WordPress is now a complete web publishing platform. One of its characteristics is that it is capable of working with multiple user accounts, not just a single account belonging to the owner (main author) of the site. There are different types of user accounts available, and they all have different credentials and access rights. WordPress is clearly trying to resemble a traditional-world publishing house where there are authors, editors, and other contributors all working together. Even though the possibility to create an unlimited number of user accounts won't be that impressive for anyone planning to manage a site on his or her own, it can surely be a more than essential feature for big, magazine-like websites.
WordPress is not the only publishing platform out there, but it has an awful lot to recommend it. In the following sections, I've called attention to WordPress' most outstanding features.
In web years, WordPress has been around for quite a while and was in development the whole time, getting better constantly. WordPress' very first release, Version 0.70, was released in May 2003. Since then, it has had 18 major releases, with a number of minor ones in between. Each release came with more features and better security.
WordPress is a constantly evolving application. It's never left alone to stagnate. The developers are working continually to keep it ahead of spammers and hackers, and also to evolve the application based on the evolving needs of its users.
WordPress is not being developed by a lonely programmer in a dark basement room. On the contrary, there is a large community of people working on it collaboratively by developing, troubleshooting, making suggestions, and testing the application. With such a large group of people involved, the application is likely to continue to evolve and improve without pause.
In addition to having an extremely strong core, WordPress is also quite extendable. This means that once you get started with it, the possibilities are nearly limitless. Any additional functionality that you can dream of can be added by means of a plugin that you or your programmer friends can write.
WordPress as a platform and as a community of users has evolved in two main areas. The first one is gathered around WordPress.org—the native, main website of the WordPress project. The other is WordPress.com—a platform providing free blogs for every user who wants one.
Essentially, WordPress.org is about developing the platform itself, about sharing new plugins, discussing the technical aspects of WordPress, and being all "techie" in general. WordPress.com (the image above) is a purely community-driven site where bloggers can meet with each other, and publish their content on free blogs based under the wordpress.com subdomain.
In Chapter 2, Getting Started, we will discuss all of the differences between having your blog on WordPress.com versus downloading the software from WordPress.org and hosting it yourself, but the basic difference is the level of control. If your blog is on WordPress.com, you have less control over plugins, themes, and other details of the blog because everything is managed and made worry-free by the WordPress.com service, which obviously has its pros and cons.
The following is a detailed list of many features of WordPress:
Compliant with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards
Automatic syndication (RSS and Atom)
Uses XML RPC interface for trackbacks and remote posting
Allows posting via e-mail and mobile devices (there are apps available for all major mobile platforms, including iOS and Android)
Supports plugins and themes
Imports data from other blogs (Moveable Type, Textpattern, Greymatter, b2evolution, and Blogger)
Easy to administer and blog without any previous experience
Convenient, fully functional, and built-in search
Instant and fast publishing of content—no rebuilding of pages required
Allows password-protected content
Comments manager and spam protection
Built-in workflow (write, draft, review, and publish)
Multiuser and multiauthor support for user accounts
Social media integration capabilities
Dynamic and scalable revision functionality with post (edit) locking
Built-in embed functionality through shortcodes
Since the last edition of this book was published, quite a staggering number of new features have been added to the WordPress software. If you're new to WordPress, this list may not mean a whole lot to you, but if you're familiar with WordPress and have been using it for a long time, you'll find this list quite enlightening.
Internal linking available through the standard "add link" box
Inclusion of the admin bar when browsing the blog while being logged in
Full-screen mode for editing posts and pages
Custom menus that can be included anywhere in the predefined areas within the current theme
Faster page load times
Dropped support for Internet Explorer 6
Inclusion of the single upload button (with file type detection)
Drag-and-drop media uploading
Responsive design of the admin panel (Dashboard)
The possibility to select custom header images and custom background images from the Media Library
Improved internationalization and localization features
Renaming HTML Editor in the edit post/page screen to Text Editor
New media manager makes it easier than ever to manage photos, videos, and other media files through a beautiful user interface
Galleries can be created faster with drag-and-drop reordering and simplified controls
New welcome screen in the Dashboard
Better accessibility for screen readers, touch devices, and keyboard users
XML-RPC is always enabled by default and supports fetching users, managing post revisions, and searching
All buttons updated to a modern shape (more rectangular)
Autosave and post locking, together with the new revisions functionality for easy content editing
In-line login feature to save expired user sessions
Automatic maintenance and security updates in the background
Automatic installation of language files (localization)
Also, you can read a fully explained feature list at http://wordpress.org/about/features/.
One very useful characteristic of WordPress is that it has a large, active online community. Everything you will ever need for your WordPress website can likely be found online, and probably for free. In addition to this, these days we can also find many paid resources and training programs that offer expert advice and training, revolving around many different possible usages of a WordPress site.
As WordPress is always actively developed, it's important to keep yourself up-to-date with the software community about their latest activities.
If you visit the Dashboard of your own WordPress site regularly, you'll be able to stay up-to-date with WordPress news and software releases. There are widgets on the dashboard that display the latest news and announcements, and an alert always appears when there is a new version of WordPress available for download and installation.
If you prefer to visit the website, the most important spot to visit or subscribe to is WordPress releases. Whenever there is a new release—be it a major release, an interim bug fix, or an upgrade—it will be present under the following link: http://wordpress.org/news/category/releases/.
Also, be sure to stay tuned to the main WordPress blog at http://wordpress.org/news/.
Some additional resources worth mentioning are:
http://wordpress.org/: This is the absolute main hub for WordPress
https://wordpress.com/: This is the main platform for free WordPress blogging
http://jobs.wordpress.net/: This provides job listings for anyone searching for employment in various areas related to WordPress (or anyone searching for WordPress help)
http://wordpress.tv/: This is a great source for top-notch WordPress tutorials, how-to advice, case studies, product demonstrations, and WordPress-related conference presentation recordings
http://central.wordcamp.org/: WordCamp is a conference that focuses on WordPress and it takes place a number of times during the year in different locations around the world; this site is the central for the conference
The Codex has some basic tutorials for getting started with WordPress, such as a detailed step-by-step discussion of installation, lists of every template tag and hook, and a lot more. Throughout this book, I'll be providing links to specific pages within the Codex, which will provide more or advanced information on the topics in this book.
The Codex can be found at http://codex.wordpress.org/Main_Page (the following screenshot).
The online WordPress community asks questions and responds with solutions on the WordPress forum: http://wordpress.org/support/. That's an excellent place to go if you can't find the answer to a problem in the codex. If you have the question, probably someone else has had it as well, and WordPress experts spend time in the forum answering questions and giving solutions. There's also an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel where you can get additional support.
There are official directories for themes and for plugins on WordPress.org. Although not every theme and plugin is available here, the ones that are here have been vetted by the community to some extent. Anything you download from these directories is likely to be relatively bug-free. Plugins and themes that you get from other sources can have malicious code, so be careful. You can also see what the community thinks of these downloads by looking at ratings, comments, and popularity.
Additionally, plugins in the Plugin Directory are automatically upgradable from within your WordPress Administration Panel, whereas other plugins have to be upgraded manually. We'll cover this in more detail in a later chapter. You can find the Theme Directory at http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/ (the following screenshot) and the Plugin Directory at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/.
Having a website of your own is essential these days, whether you are an individual, a small business, or some other group. This is true whether you are blogging regularly, or just want some accurate static content up on the Internet. In this chapter, we reviewed basic information about blogging and common blog terms for those of you who are new to the concept.
WordPress is an excellent software application that can run your website (blog or not). It's packed with excellent features and is so flexible that it can really do anything you want, and it has a wealth of online resources. Additionally, it's super easy-to-use, and you need no special skills or prior experience to use it. Last, but not least, it is free!
In the next chapter, we will explore the choices and steps involved in installing WordPress and getting started.