Recently I’ve run into clients – past, present and future – with questions about, and confusion around, exactly how WordPress works and why so many developers and designers use it to create websites. I’ve also had questions about why maintaining your WordPress website is important. A couple of clients have experienced the consequences of not keeping theirs sites up-to-date.

In this post I’ll explain a little bit about WordPress and in the next post we will look at why performing regular maintenance is important.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is an Open Source project, which means there are hundreds of people all over the world working on its development. It also means you are free to use it for anything from your recipe site to a Fortune 500 web site without paying anyone a license fee. Also, Open Source is what allows developers to create all the themes and plugins that are available for WordPress. We’ll talk about this in a minute.

WordPress started as just a blogging system, but has evolved to be used as full website management system through the thousands of plugins and widgets and themes.

WordPress is a Content Management System – CMS. That means it uses a database to store your content – text, images, etc. That is why, once your site is built, you are able to go in an edit information relatively easily.

Currently about 25% of the world’s websites are built on WordPress. Some of these include:

  • The New Yorker
  • BBC America
  • BestBuy
  • Xerox
  • The Official Star Wars Blog

40+ Most Notable Big Name Brands that are Using WordPress

Two WordPresses

WordPress.Org – On this site you can download and install a software script called WordPress on your own URL using your own hosting service. WordPress is completely customizable and can be used for almost anything. This is what designers and developers use to create your customized website.

WordPress.com – lets you get started with a new and free WordPress-based blog in seconds, but varies in several ways and is less flexible than the WordPress you download and install yourself.

Themes

The WordPress theme is the starting point for every site. There are as many different themes to choose from as there are developers with ideas. Some are free and some are not. I’m guessing that you can figure out for yourself that it’s best to use a premium paid theme over a random free theme. (been there, done that, have the grey hairs to prove it)

Even among the paid themes, they are not all created equal. After a lot of trial and error with themes I have landed on what I feel is the best theme with the most flexibility. It provides the coding framework and allows me to basically create whatever I want from there so I can be sure none of the sites I create look like any other site. I’ve created everything from a pool contractor’s site to a party entertainment site to a Forensic CPA and an aspiring inspirational speaker.

What you need to understand is that in order to get a truly unique site that meets your needs, your designer needs to know more than just how to use the theme to add sections and content. At the very least they need to know how to use Cascading Style Sheets – or CSS – to make the customizations you want. While the theme I use has a lot of built in customization options, I still do a lot of custom CSS on all the sites I create.

Plugins

Plugins add functionality to your WordPress website. There are plugins that do just about anything you want. The standard plugins I use do things like backup the site, prevent spam, prevent malicious attacks, add a calendar of events and allow people to schedule appointments.

Again, not all plugins are created equal. I’ve had clients go into their sites after the site is complete and add plugins that break their site.  There are certain things I look for when selecting plugins to ensure they are reliable and won’t break a site.

Summary

So that is WordPress in a nutshell. It is a powerful tool for creating any type of website you can imagine. As with anything, the finished product is dependent on the skill and imagination of the person creating the site. While it can be tempting to try to do-it-yourself, that is probably not the best use of your time and talent and I encourage you to hire a professional, be it me or someone else. This is the online face of your business we are talking about – what do you want to show the world?