So there she was, with her new business, the business that she left her job as a teacher for, and she needed a website urgently. ASAP, as they say.
At that point, I knew I needed to step in and help her out. After all, she's my mother, and it's hard to say no to your mom.
That was somewhere around 2008, I think, and it was my first real experience having to build a website really quickly and make sure that it is top quality at the same time.
A week later, the thing was online. Built on WordPress.
Back in the day, when you wanted to launch a new website, you either had to learn web programming yourself or hire a professional who would take care of the whole process for you. Those times are gone, and we can thank WordPress for that.
More than a quarter of the entire web runs on WordPress already, and that number is only expected to increase in the coming years. In simple terms, with WordPress, anyone can build a beautiful website with the least amount of effort possible and then make it available to the world in no time.
I feel I need to emphasize on this some more. With WordPress, you don't need to hire a team of developers and designers. You don't need to learn advanced PHP, and you can still end up with a high-quality website with almost unlimited extension possibilities.
Frankly, these days, everyone has a good reason to have a website. It's not just large companies anymore. Individuals, families, freelancers, or small/independent businesses can all benefit from a website. However, not everyone has the financial resources to hire a web development company or a freelance web developer to create a website for them. This is where WordPress comes into play. WordPress is free, easy to use, and packed with excellent features.
In short, WordPress is an open source web software application that you can use to create and maintain a modern website. Since WordPress is a web application, it does not need to be installed on your home PC or Mac, or any other machine under your control. It can live on a server (a kind of computer) that belongs to your website hosting company.
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 nearly 30 percent of the entire internet. Impressive, isn't it?
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
- Some of the most useful 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 (more on what a web server is later on) and makes it easy for you to add and edit posts, themes, comments, and all of your other content. The following is the logo of WordPress:
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 entire websites. Brands such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Reuters, Wired.com, Sony, Toyota, plus some of the biggest artists (such as Beyonce or The Rolling Stones) all use WordPress as the base of their web platforms and outlets.
Undoubtedly, WordPress has evolved a lot over the years, and even though a large number of new functionalities have been introduced, WordPress 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.
There are generally three popular types of websites for which WordPress is meant to be used:
- A normal website with relatively static content, pages, subpages, and so on
- A blog website, chronologically organized and frequently updated, categorized, tagged, and archived
- An e-commerce website, a fully functional online store that allows people to buy goods or services, and the website owner to manage orders and fulfill them
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
- Portfolio sites
- Membership sites
- Video blogs
- Photo blogs
- Product 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, the 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, web blogging, 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 website 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 in the online presence for many businesses and even 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 the blog form.
If you are new to the world of blogging (sometimes called 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 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 are 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 written in stone rules.
Most blogs allow visitors to post comments on 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 a single click on the 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 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. On 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 uncertain 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 (SEO), caching, social media integration, interactive contact forms, and backups.
In short, widgets are a simplified version of plugins. 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 is 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 have turned WordPress into a full-fledged web publishing platform from a simple blogging tool. I promise this will sound much clearer in the upcoming chapters.
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 homepage 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 homepage wasn't something we used to talk about as a separate kind of page. Originally, a homepage 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 custom homepage and display whatever content we wish to 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 (admin/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 to create an unlimited number of user accounts won't be that impressive for anyone planning to manage a site on their own, it can surely be a more than an essential feature for big, magazine-like websites.
WordPress is not the only publishing platform out there, but it has an awful lot to offer. In the following sections, I've called attention to WordPress' most outstanding features.
Main benefits of WordPress summarized:
- WordPress gives you full control over your website. You can change/adjust/modify/customize everything, and I mean everything, about your site.
- There are thousands of themes and plugins to choose from, hence giving you the possibility to make your website look and work however you wish. WordPress is extremely extendable. Basically, any additional functionality that you can dream of can be added by means of a plugin that you or your programmer friends can write.
- The day-to-day work with the platform is very easy to grasp. Tasks such as editing content, publishing new articles/posts, or interacting with the audience through comments have no learning curve.
- WordPress is open source. There's no price tag on the platform, you can get it for free. This also means that learning how the platform works under the hood and how to extend it even further doesn't require anyone's permission.
Basically, if you need a website, and you want to be able to build it yourself, then WordPress is the platform that will make it possible.
WordPress is the perfect tool, both for beginners just dipping their toes in website building for the first time and developers working on client websites professionally.
WordPress has been around for quite a while and was in development the whole time. 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, by the way. 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.
WordPress as a platform and as a community of users has grown in two main areas. The first one is gathered around WordPress.org (https://wordpress.org/), the native, main website of the WordPress project. The other is WordPress.com (https://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 https://paleorecipeslog.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.
Here is a list of some of the features that WordPress has to offer (in no particular order):
- Compliance with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, although it does depend on the theme you're using
- Unlimited posts and pages
- Unlimited categories and subcategories
- Unlimited tags
- Mobile friendly (depending on the design/theme you use)
- Flexible--create any type of website you want
- Scalable--can handle any size of website
- Automatic syndication (RSS and Atom)
- Ability to post via email 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, Blogger, and others)
- Easy to administer and blog without any previous experience
- Convenient, fully functional, built-in search
- Multilingual capability
- Ability to password protect content
- Comments manager and spam protection
- Built-in workflow (write, draft, review, and publish)
- Intelligent text editing via a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor
- Multi-user and multi-author support for user accounts
- Feature-rich Media Library for managing photos and other non-text content through a visual and highly usable interface
- 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, SoundCloud, Reddit Comments, and others)
- An admin panel that's accessible via all modern devices, operating systems, and web browsers
- Pre-made color schemes for the admin panel
- User-friendly image editing, plus a drag-and-drop image importing feature
- Advanced Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features through plugins and themes
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:
- New default theme--Twenty Seventeen
- New Press This feature--making it easier to take any content you've found on the web and share it onto your WordPress website
- Easier theme installation and switching--all within the WordPress Customizer
- Easier plugin update and install from the Plugins screen--done with just a couple of clicks
- Support for native Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters, musical and mathematical symbols, hieroglyphs, and also a plethora of emojis (including all of the latest Unicode 9.0 emoji characters)
- Improvements to the way that passwords are chosen and changed
- Possibility to manage the site's favicon--both on desktop and mobile
- Improved customizer panels and Sections and new Customizer Media Controls
- Better display rules for matching images to different screen sizes and devices
- Integrated REST API infrastructure and the addition of API endpoints for WordPress content
- Extended custom header feature to introduce support for video headers
- Added user admin languages and locale switching
- Device previewer buttons added to the customizer to better visualize what the website looks like on desktop, tablet, and mobile
- Added inline link editing--enables adding links without switching to modal dialog
- Introduction of native device fonts for the WordPress admin panel
- Improvements to internationalization
- A lot of security improvements to protect your site from hacks and malicious scripts
If you'd like to see detailed lists of all new features added since WordPress Version 4.1, take a look at the docs here:
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.
As WordPress is constantly being developed, it's important to keep yourself up to date with the software community's 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, 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/.
Some additional resources worth mentioning are as follows:
- 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
- https://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 WordPress Codex is the central repository of all the information that the official WordPress team has published to help people work with WordPress.
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 deliver more or advanced information on the topics in this book.
The Codex can be found at https://codex.wordpress.org/Main_Page. Refer to the following screenshot:
Apart from the Codex, there's also one more resource that will come in handy to 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 docs on WordPress' 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 updatable from within your WordPress administration panel (wp-admin), while other plugins have to be updated manually. We'll cover this in detail in a later chapter.
Having a website of your own is essential these days, no matter if you are an individual or a small business, and no matter if you are blogging regularly or want some accurate static content up on the internet. In this chapter, we reviewed basic information about WordPress, 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 easy to use, and you need no special skills or prior experience to work with it. Last but not least, it is 100% free!
In the next chapter, we will explore the choices and steps involved in installing WordPress and getting started.