Have you ever wanted to get yourself a shiny new website at a 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 want to get into the world of website creation and becoming the next expert. If that's a yes to any of these questions, then WordPress is likely to be 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, freelancers, and small or independent businesses can all benefit from having one. Many individuals and small businesses may not have the financial resources to hire a website development company or a freelance web developer to create a website for them. This is where WordPress comes into play.
In short, WordPress is an open source web software application that you can use to create and maintain a modern website, even if you don't have any technical expertise. Since WordPress is a web application, it doesn't need to be installed on your home computer, or any other machine under your control. It can live on a server (a kind of computer) that belongs to your website hosting company. WordPress is free, easy to use, and packed with excellent features.
Originally, WordPress was an application meant to run a blog website. However, it has now evolved into a fully-featured Content Management System (CMS). Actually, at the time of writing, WordPress powers over 23 percent of the entire Internet. If that's not enough, the newest version of the platform has been downloaded over 25 million times (you can see the live numbers at https://wordpress.org/download/counter/). It seems that joining the craze 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 content management system. Open source means that the source code of the system is made available with a license, whereby the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose (as Wikipedia defines it). Content management system means a software application that can run a website (for example, a blog) and allows you to publish, edit, and modify the content. 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.
Even though WordPress was originally a blog engine—used primarily to run blogs—it's now being used by a number of big (by today's standards) online agencies to run their sites. Outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Reuters use WordPress as the base of their web publishing platforms.
Undoubtedly, the platform has evolved a lot over the years, and even though a large number of new functionalities have been introduced, WordPress still remains one of the easiest to use web publishing platforms out there.
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.
A normal website with relatively static content—pages, subpages, and so on.
A blog website—chronologically organized and frequently updated, categorized, tagged, and archived.
However, as experience shows, these days WordPress is successfully used to run a wide variety of other sites as well, such as:
Corporate business sites
One-page profile sites
Education sites (e-courses) and more
For those of you unfamiliar with blog websites and blogging terminology, let's take a look at the basics.
Originally, 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.
Just to give you a more plain-English explanation, a blog is a website that usually contains regular entries made by an author. These entries can be of various types, such as commentary, descriptions of events, photos, videos, personal remarks, tutorials, case studies, long opinion pieces, political ideas, or whatever else you can imagine. They are usually displayed in a reverse chronological order, with the most recent additions at the top. Those entries can be organized in a variety of ways—by date, topic, 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, and technical expertise. This doesn't mean that blogs are meant to be published only by individuals sharing their personal opinions on given matters. On the contrary, these days, blogs have become a major part of the online presence for many businesses and corporations. The modern practice of "content marketing" is now one of the most widely accepted web marketing methods, and its core is based on publishing quality content, often in blog form.
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 have one or more categories and tags assigned to them. It is these posts, or entries, that are displayed in a 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, while 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 might have different tags (for example, soup, baked, vegetarian, and dairy free).
The purpose and correct usage of tags and categories is one of the widely discussed topics among bloggers. Although there are basic guidelines such as the ones presented here, every blogger develops their own approach after a while, and there are no rules "written in stone".
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 experience interactive. Often, the author of the blog will respond to comments by posting additional comments with the single click of the reply button, which enables 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 large number of comments shows how popular and authoritative the blog is.
The theme for a blog is the design and layout that you choose for your blog. 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 minutes to install and start using a new one. Moreover, there are a number of very good free or low-cost themes available online.
That being said, you need to be careful when working with free themes from unknown developers. Often, they contain encrypted parts and code that can hurt your site and its presence on Google. Always look for user reviews before choosing a theme. Most importantly, the safest bet is getting your free themes only from the official WordPress directory at https://wordpress.org/themes/. The themes there have been tested and checked for any suspicious code.
You can learn more about this whole issue at http://newinternetorder.com/free-wordpress-themes-are-evil/.
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 like WordPress itself, the code within plugins is open source, which means that anyone can build a new plugin if they have the required skill set. 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, caching, social media integration, interactive contact forms, and backups.
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 the meaning of menus in WordPress. 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 changed in version 3.0, whereby the new Custom Menus feature was introduced. In plain English, it allows us to create completely custom menus (featuring any links of our choice) and then display them in specific areas on our sites. To be honest, this feature, even though it sounds basic, is one of the main ones that has turned WordPress from a simple blogging tool into a fully-fledged web publishing platform. I promise this will sound much clearer in the following chapters.
RSS is an acronym for Really Simple Syndication, and Chapter 8, Feeds, Podcasting, and Social Media Integration, addresses the topic of feeds in detail. For now, let's say 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 timestamps and are not displayed in a chronological order. Also, they 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, while new posts can be added every day or so.
A home page is simply the main page that visitors see when they visit your website by typing in your domain name or URL address. In the early days of WordPress' existence, a home page wasn't something we talked about as a separate kind of page. Originally, a home page was generated automatically from the newest posts—it was a listing of those posts in a reverse chronological order. Right now, however, WordPress allows us to build a completely customized home page and display whatever content we wish on it.
As mentioned earlier, 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 have different credentials and access rights. WordPress is clearly trying to resemble a traditional publishing house where there are authors, editors, and other contributors all working together. Even though the possibility of creating an unlimited number of user accounts won't be that impressive for anyone planning to manage a site on their own, it can certainly be a more than essential feature for big, magazine-like websites.
In web years, WordPress has been around for quite a while and was in development the whole time, and so constantly getting better. WordPress very first release, Version 0.70, was launched in May 2003. Since then, it has had 24 major releases, with a number of minor ones in between. Each release came with more features and better security.
Each major release comes with a codename honoring a great Jazz musician, and this has become a tradition in the WordPress world. For instance, the latest version, 4.1, is codenamed Dinah (in honor of jazz singer Dinah Washington).
WordPress is a continually evolving application. It's never left alone to stagnate. Developers are working on WordPress constantly to keep it ahead of spammers and hackers, and to evolve the application on the basis of 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, sharing new plugins, discussing the technical aspects of WordPress, and being all "techie" in general. WordPress.com (the preceding screenshot) is a purely community-driven site where bloggers can meet with each other, and publish their content on free blogs under the
wordpress.com subdomain (for example, something like
http://my-blog-name.wordpress.com/ is a subdomain). That being said, there are paid plans available at WordPress.com as well.
In Chapter 2, Getting Started with WordPress, we will discuss all of the differences between having your blog on WordPress.com and 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.
Unlimited categories and subcategories
Automatic syndication (RSS and Atom)
Use of the XML RPC interface for trackbacks and remote posting
Ability to post via e-mail and mobile devices (there are apps available for all major mobile platforms, including iOS and Android)
Support for plugins and themes
Import of data from other blogs (Moveable Type, Textpattern, Greymatter, b2evolution, and Blogger)
Easy to administer and blog without any previous experience
Convenient, fully functional, built-in search
Instant and fast publishing of content—no re-building of pages required
Ability to password protect content
Comments manager and spam protection
Built-in workflow (write, draft, review, and publish)
Multi-user and multi-author support for user accounts
Social media integration capabilities
Dynamic and scalable revision functionality with post (edit) locking
Built-in embed functionality through shortcodes (compatible with services such as YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, and SoundCloud)
An admin panel that's accessible via all modern devices, operating systems, and web browsers
User-friendly image editing, plus a drag-and-drop image importing feature
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:
Introduction of a new, modern admin panel design (uncluttered, with clean typography, improved contrast, responsive structure, and better theme management)
Inclusion of eight new admin color schemes
Introduction of Open Sans as the new font for the WordPress admin panel
Update of the external libraries used in WordPress
New click-to-add interface for adding widgets to sidebars
Introduction of a smoother media editing experience (better visual editing, quicker access to scaling, and crop and rotation tools)
Drag-and-drop file importing into the editor itself
Image gallery previews right in the editor
Introduction of a new theme browser
Enabling of HTML5 markup to be used for captions and galleries
Improved database layer
Media Library listing now appearing on a grid layout
Improved visual editor that expands to fit the content being worked on
New fixed toolbar in the editor
Embeddable content previews right in the visual editor
Inclusion of a new grid view of the plugins page for finding and installing new plugins
Introduction of the Customizer API
Improved WordPress installation in languages other than English
Improved media experience on small screen sizes
Also, you can read a fully explained feature list at https://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.
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, then the most important spot to visit or subscribe to is WordPress Releases. Whenever there is a new release, be it a major release, or an interim bug fix, or an upgrade, it will be at https://wordpress.org/news/category/releases/.
Also, be sure to stay tuned to the main WordPress blog at https://wordpress.org/news/.
https://wordpress.org/: The absolute main hub for WordPress
https://wordpress.com/: The main platform for free WordPress blogging
http://jobs.wordpress.net/: Job listings for anyone searching for employment in various areas related to WordPress (or anyone searching for WordPress help)
http://wordpress.tv/: A great source of 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 everything WordPress, it takes place a number of times during the year in different locations around the world, and this site is the central point for the conference
The Codex has some basic tutorials for getting started with WordPress, such as a detailed step-by-step discussion of the installation, and lists of every template tag and hook. 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):
What's also worth pointing out is that, recently, the WordPress team released one more resource that will come in handy for new and experienced developers alike. It's called the WordPress Code Reference and it can be found at https://developer.wordpress.org/reference/. It delivers a lot of education on WordPress's functions, classes, methods, and hooks.
The online WordPress community asks questions and responds with solutions on the WordPress forum at https://wordpress.org/support/. It's an excellent place to go if you can't find the answer to a problem in the Codex. If you have a given question, then probably someone else has had it as well, and WordPress experts spend time in the forum answering them and giving solutions.
There are official directories for themes and plugins on WordPress.org. Though not every theme and plugin is available here, the ones that are 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 (wp-admin), while other plugins have to be upgraded manually. We'll cover this in detail in a later chapter. You can find the Theme Directory at https://wordpress.org/themes/ (the following screenshot) and the Plugin Directory at https://wordpress.org/plugins/.
Having a website of your own is essential these days, whether you are an individual, a small business, or some other group, or you are blogging regularly or 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 really can do anything you want, and it has a wealth of online resources. Additionally, it's super easy to use, and you don't need any 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.