This is a basic introduction and tutorial about WordPress, intended mainly for beginners. Enjoy.
WordPress is (mostly) Free
WordPress is, and always will be, free. Or, I guess you could say, the WordPress “core” is free. Sure, you can spend a lot of money extending WordPress, but if you’re cheap (like me), you can learn how to run a WordPress site without spending much money at all.
WordPress comes in two “flavors” – host it yourself (a small monthly cost), or let WordPress.com host it for you (totally free).
The self-hosted version is sometimes referred to as “wordpress.org”, so when you see that mentioned, you’ll know what it means. WordPress is often abbreviated as simply ‘WP’. I’ll use that here a lot as a generic reference.
It’s Easy to Get Started
If you’re going for the wordpress.org option, most hosting companies (like HostGator. BlueHost, GoDaddy) have a one-click type of setup. It’s easy – click a button, fill out a few fields, submit, and you’re ready to go. Each control panel setup is slightly different, so check with your host’s support documentation for specific directions.
Self hosted WP sites do need a unique domain name (about $10 a year). Domain name selection is a complex subject I don’t want to get into here. So, I’ll just say the easiest is to use your own name (like WallyDay.com) if it’s available as a .com, .net or .org. If not, try the newest extension – .xyz.
If you choose the wordpress.com option it’s even easier. Sign up at wordpress.com, name your blog, choose a theme and some plugins, and you’re set. You’ll have to follow their rules and restrictions, but it’s not so bad.
It Has Lots of Features
WordPress consists of basically 3 parts – the core (or the software that “runs”), a theme, and plugins. The theme is what you see when your website is rendered in a browser, and plugins extend the basic functions of the core (or software).
The WordPress.org setup comes with several basic themes you can use, and they release a new theme every year. You can also install other themes – some from the WordPress.org “repository”, and some from independent theme developers.
Most themes are free and fairly simple, although some can be quite complex. Some themes are “premium”, which means they cost money but come with special or advanced features.
WordPress.com has dozens of themes you can install with one click, some of them free and some premium.
Plugins Let You Do More
Plugins extend the basic core functions of WP. They can be simple (like a basic contact form), or very complex and require a lot of setup (like a shopping cart or e-commerce plugin).
The basic plugins most sites need would include a contact form (if your theme doesn’t have one), an anti-spam plugin (yes, you’ll get spam comments), and a maybe a backup plugin. If you’re planning to do more than just blogging, you can start looking into SEO plugins, caching plugins, security plugins, affiliate plugins, membership plugins, etc.
WordPress.com offers a multi-purpose plugin called Jetpack that has a number of very unique functions, adding a contact form. It can also be installed on self-hosted sites, but you’ll need a WordPress.com account. Worth checking out.
It’s a Blogging Platform
The basic – and original – use for WP is for blogging. A blog, or “web log“, is just a way to record and publish your thoughts, opinions, and ideas. You do this by writing whatever you want into the “post” editor and clicking “publish”.
Since a blog is usually date based, WP is set up to show the latest posts first, followed by each post in reverse date order. This way your readers always see your latest information first when they visit your home page.
Posts are considered “dynamic” since a new post pushes older posts to the “back” of the blog.
It’s a Website
At some point in time it became evident that not all posts should disappear over time. After all, what good is an “About Me” post or contact form post if they disappear from the front page?
So, WordPress introduced “pages”. These are considered “static”, and are intended to contain information that is important “forever”. Pages are usually set up to be directly accessed from any page in the website.
Although most WP users use pages for stuff like About pages, contact forms, privacy policies, and other static data, I know some WP users who use only pages. At that point I would no longer consider it a blog, but rather, a website.
It’s a Content Management System
Over time, as WP users requested more and more features, the core system evolved into more of a content management system, or CMS. What that means is that WP can handle much more than just the written (typed) word.
It’s possible to manage multiple forms of media – like images, video, and audio – and to work with and display them in many very slick ways. With the built-in media editors, you customize your media to your heart’s content.
It Has Categories and Tags
You can organize your posts (and pages with the help of certain plugins) into specific categories. This help to organize your blog, or website, so your visitors can focus on specific information. Some visitors might be interested in posts about your job, but have no interest in posts about your cat. Categories allow them to choose what to read.
Another way to organize your site is with tags. Tags are generally very specific points you want to highlight in a post, and can cross the category boundary. For example, maybe a post about work is specifically related to another post about your cats in some way. Tags can be used to link the two posts together.
It Has Menus
Clear and concise navigation is important when someone visits your website, especially if you’re doing more than just blogging. WP has a built in menu system that is pretty cool. It even supports drop-down sub-menus, which makes your navigation very clear to visitors.
Menus can be set up for page navigation, category navigation, and if you use the custom links option, can be used to navigate just about anywhere. The latter is very handy for highlighting a specific post on your site, or to link to another website (like an affiliate offer).
It Has Widgets
Basically, a widget is like a mini plugin in that it extends the core WP functions. Generally, widgets are used to add containers of “stuff” to sidebars, but some themes allow widgets to be added just about anywhere. This is very similar to how other Content Management Systems work their magic.
WP comes with some default widgets – like archives, category and tag list, meta data, and a few others. Some themes have custom widgets, and many plugins support widgets.
Hopefully, this post has provided a good summary of what WordPress is and what is can do for you. Stay tuned for a lot more in-depth information coming your way.