WordPress is an application that allows you to easily build websites and publish content online. It was launched back in 2003 and has since grown to become the most popular website building platform in the world.
The software is released under the GNU Public License, which means it is free to download and free to use.
What attracts people to WordPress is its versatility. It can be used to create blogs, directories, forums, galleries, business websites, online shops and more.
Today, WordPress powers about 35% of all internet websites and its popularity continues to grow.
Let’s take a closer look at WordPress is and what it can do.
What is WordPress?
The software is written in the PHP scripting language. All website content, including settings, blog posts and pages, are stored in a database. MySQL is the most popular choice of database, but some website owners choose to use an alternative solution such as MariaDB or SQLite.
Don’t worry if this all seems technical. Your hosting company handles the technical side of running WordPress so that you can focus on creating content and marketing your website.
Therein lies the beauty of WordPress.
The software allows anyone, regardless of their technical experience, to quickly create professional looking websites using a user-friendly administration area.
What Can WordPress Do?
In the early days of WordPress, people would ask “What Can WordPress Do?”.
With the functionality of WordPress being expanded so much over the years, I believe a better question today is “What Can’t WordPress Do?” as the software can be used to build just about any type of website.
Of course, WordPress will always be known as a fantastic blogging application and this remains true today.
Whether you are publishing blog posts daily, or using WordPress to add static pages, you will how love easy the WordPress editor is to use.
The version of WordPress available at wordpress.org/download/ is known as the core version of WordPress.
Whilst you can build a website with this using the default WordPress theme Twenty Twenty, the vast majority of website owners use a more advanced WordPress design. They also install plugins to add more features and functionality.
By utilizing themes and plugins, you can expand what you can do with WordPress. This allows you to create a variety of websites with WordPress including directories, discussion forums, portfolios and galleries, blogs and magazines, eCommerce websites, business websites, membership websites, online courses, hotel bookings, dating websites, question and answers, knowledge bases, and simple CV websites.
In short, WordPress can be used to create almost any type of website. You just need to find the right WordPress theme or plugin to help you do it (more on this later).
WordPress.org vs WordPress.com
If you are new to WordPress, you may be confused by the fact that there are two versions of WordPress located at different domain names.
The self-hosted version of WordPress found at WordPress.org is more popular as it is, generally speaking, much more flexible. There are no restrictions on how you use the self-hosted version of WordPress, therefore you can customize your website as you see fit and retain full control over your content.
As the name suggests, with the self-hosted version of WordPress, you need to purchase a website hosting package from a company such as Kinsta or Siteground so that your website remains online 24 hours per day.
Historically, building a website with the self-hosted version of WordPress required the website owner to handle most administrative tasks. In addition to installing WordPress, you had to manage updates for WordPress and for your installed WordPress themes and plugins. You also had to maintain website backups and keep your website secure to prevent hackers from infiltrating your website.
Whilst weekly maintenance remains an essential task for most WordPress users, the arrival of managed WordPress hosting companies has removed the need to do everything yourself as they handle most administrative tasks for you.
In contrast, WordPress.com is a hosted publishing service that hosts WordPress for you. This allows you to focus all your time on updating and marketing your website.
It is free to sign up to WordPress.com and launch your own website, however you need to upgrade to the $4 per month personal plan in order to use your own domain name and remove advertising.
Moving up to the $8 per month premium plan unlocks additional features such as advanced design customisation and Google Ads integration.
Whilst you can host WordPress yourself for just a few dollars per month, I would say that WordPress.com is generally a more affordable solution for new WordPress users and is an attractive option for those that do not want to be responsible for keeping their website online.
Be aware, however, that the hosted version of WordPress is less flexible and requires you to pay more to unlock features that are free to use in the self-hosted version of WordPress. That is why in the long-term, most WordPress.com users gravitate towards the self-hosted version of WordPress
Despite this, I believe WordPress.com is a fantastic introduction to the world of WordPress for those that are new to building websites.
WordPress Themes & Plugins
WordPress has a built-in templating system that allows you to change the look and feel of your website in seconds. These template designs, which are referred to as WordPress themes, can completely transform your website.
There are thousands of free WordPress themes on WordPress.org and WordPress.com to help you launch the perfect website. A free WordPress theme will help you get started, but if you are willing to spend between $30 and $70, you may want to opt for a premium WordPress theme instead.
The design quality of premium themes is generally better and they provide a more refined user-experience with more options and features.
You will find thousands of premium WordPress themes in ThemeForest’s WordPress theme directory, but be sure to explore smaller WordPress theme stores such as MeridianThemes too as you will find some hidden gems.
In addition to a templating system, WordPress also has plugin architecture that allows you Plug In additional code to your website. This is why the possibilities with WordPress are limitless.
The developers of WordPress have purposefully designed the core version to be light. Website owners can then build the website they want by installing plugins on top of the barebones version of WordPress. In other words, you only need to activate the additional functionality you need.
Take the email marketing WordPress plugin – Optin Forms, for example. WordPress was not designed specifically for email marketers, but by activating Optin Forms you can collect emails for services such as Aweber, MailChimp, and GetResponse.
Likewise, many people choose to use a more advanced drag and drop page builder such as Beaver Builder, Elementor, or Divi.
The WordPress.org plugin directory lists thousands of free WordPress plugins.
There are WordPress plugins to enhance SEO, tackle spam, automate website backups, improve website security, integrate social media, add contact forms, insert pricing tables, and more.
Some WordPress plugins will add major functionality to your website. For example, WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads can be used to build an eCommerce website and bbPress lets you add a discussion forum to WordPress.
One of the coolest things about WordPress is that you can install and activate WordPress themes and plugins directly from the WordPress admin area. Updates can be performed there too, which greatly reduces the time it takes to keep your WordPress websites up to date.
I encourage you to explore the WordPress themes and plugins that are available on the market as it will give you a better appreciation for just how powerful WordPress is.
What You Need to Launch Your Own WordPress Website
Everyone, regardless of their experience, can launch a WordPress website.
If, however, you are a computing novice, you may want to consider launching your first WordPress website with WordPress.com.
The whole process is straightforward and you can always transfer your website to a self-hosted setup later if you wish.
All you have to do is create an account on WordPress.com and then select whether you are building a blog, business website, professional website, or online store.
You will then be asked to enter some basic information about your website such as a name and description. Then you just need to activate a WordPress theme and start publishing content.
To host WordPress yourself, you need to do three things:
Many hosting companies offer “Free” domain names to new customers, however I strongly recommend registering domain names yourself so that you have complete control over your property.
The cost of a domain will depend on what domain extension you need and where you buy it from. For a .COM domain, you can expect to pay between $10 to $15 per year from domain registration services such as Google Domains, Hover and GoDaddy.
The most difficult part of purchasing a domain name is finding a suitable name that is available. Once you find a good domain name, the actual process of purchasing the domain only takes a few minutes.
Now that you have purchased a domain name, you can select a suitable hosting company to host your WordPress website.
This can, however, be a minefield for beginners, as there are tens of thousands of website hosting companies online.
For most beginners, I believe a managed WordPress hosting company is the best option as they provide specialized WordPress support, daily website backups, website security, WordPress updates, and more.
Be sure to check out WPEngine, Kinsta, and Flywheel.
WPEngine and Kinsta’s entry-level plans retail at $24 and $30 per month for around 25,000 monthly visits.
Flywheel’s starter plan offers the same traffic for $25 per month, but the company also has a $13 per month plan that is suitable for 5,000 monthly visits. This is an affordable package for new WordPress users.
If you are looking to save even more money, check out the entry-level plans from BlueHost, DreamHost, and SiteGround.
Whilst you can save money by paying for hosting yearly, I strongly recommend paying on a monthly basis initially until you have tested the quality of service and support over time.
If service is poor, you can move to an alternative hosting company, but if you are happy with the company, you can upgrade from a monthly plan to a yearly plan.
The last thing you need to do is install WordPress.
The official “How to Install WordPress” guide shows you how to create a database, edit the wp-config.php file and upload all files using an FTP client such as FileZilla.
The WordPress installation process is straightforward, however the vast majority of website hosting companies install WordPress for you. Therefore, all you need to do is customize your WordPress website.
I do believe that all WordPress users should learn how to manually install WordPress at one point, however I strongly recommend beginners to select a website hosting company that installs WordPress for you so that you can focus your time on familiarizing yourself with the platform.
Is WordPress Right For You?
WordPress is a versatile solution that has deservedly established itself as the most popular website platform on the internet. It is the content management system I use for most websites I develop and the platform I recommend to friends, but WordPress is not perfect. No solution is.
It is up to you to determine which website platform is suitable for you and your project. There are a lot of factors to consider including your own experience, your budget and what you are trying to create.
Two open source content management systems that remain popular with website design agencies are Joomla and Drupal. I recommend checking them out.
There are many fantastic hosted blogging solutions on the market that you should also consider.
In addition to WordPress.com, you should check out the cat loving Tumblr and the versatile Squarespace. Medium, which was created by Blogger and Twitter founder Evan Williams, is another popular solution that many people are turning to.
My own personal recommendation for bloggers is Ghost. The platform is less bloated than WordPress as it has stripped away all non-essential features.
WooCommerce is not only the most popular eCommerce WordPress plugin. It is also the most popular eCommerce platform on the internet, powering more online shops than alternative solutions such as Shopify.
Please bear in mind, however, that WordPress should not automatically be your first choice for a project just because it does support that functionality.
Take discussion forums, for example.
By activating a WordPress plugin such as bbPress or wpForo Forum, you can easily add a discussion form (bulletin board) to your website.
Whilst these plugins are fine for a small forum, there are better forum solutions on the market such as MyBB, phpBB, vBulletin, XenForo, Flarum, Vanilla Forums, and more.
In other words, WordPress themes and plugins means that WordPress can do almost anything, though that does not mean that it is always the best solution.
So be sure to look at all your options so that you choose the right platform for your new website.
I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the WordPress platform.
By now you should have a better appreciation for what WordPress can do and understand the differences between the self-hosted version of WordPress found at WordPress.org and the hosted version at WordPress.com.
I have used many other applications to build websites, however WordPress is the website publishing solution I turn to again and again as creating and updating a WordPress website is so straightforward.
WordPress is also the most popular solution on the market, which attracts many developers to the platform. New WordPress themes and plugins are being released every day and the platform is well supported by every website hosting company.
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Thanks for reading.