WordPress Beginners: What is WordPress?

Written by Tom Greenwood - May 2, 2012

As an agency specialising in WordPress, we sometimes assume that everyone knows what WordPress is and what it can do.

But after delivering a series of free WordPress workshops in London for beginners we’ve realised that there are so many people that can benefit from WordPress that would like us to explain things from the beginning.

So with that in mind, we’ll be posting a series of articles on our website to help beginners learn the fundamentals of WordPress and how to get the most out of it.  In this first article, I’ll be covering that most essential question – what is WordPress?

What is WordPress?

Put simply, WordPress is a system that allows you to edit the content of your websites pages and post news/blog articles on to your website without needing a web developer and without needing to install software on your computer.

Imagine you have a website and you think that you’d like to update the text on your homepage, add a photo of your team on the about page, add a special offer to your news section or add a new page about your new service.  With an old fashioned website, you’d have to either learn some HTML programming or phone your web developer and ask him to make the changes for you.

But you don’t want to do that, do you?  You want to just go to your website, log in to a control panel and make the changes through a simple content editor, like updating a Word document.

Well that is what WordPress does.

The technical name for a system that does this is a Content Management System (CMS).  And WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS, used by over 70million websites worldwide.

Why is WordPress so popular?

There are 4 main reasosn why WordPress is so popular:

  1. It is super easy to use
  2. It creates your pages in a way that is easy for search engines to read, helping you rank higher on Google
  3. It is incredibly flexible and packed with features
  4. It is FREE

There are a lot of other content management systems, including some other free systems such as Drupal and Joomla, but most other systems only tick some of the above boxes, whereas WordPress ticks them all.

How can it be good if it is FREE?

Now I know what you’re thinking.  You get what you pay for, right?  So how can a free system be any good.  Surely there is a better CMS that you can pay a bit of money for.

Well, in the olden days (pre-internet) that probably would have been true, but the world has changed.

WordPress is an open source project, meaning that it is developed my a huge community of developers around the world who volunteer there time and resources to keep making it better and better.  Just for the love of being a part of creating something brilliant.  That enthusiasm and community is something that even big software companies have been struggling to keep up with.

What’s more, this community means that you have access to a HUGE support network with forums, events and experts such as Wholegrain Digital that can help you out.

It is so good, that it is now used by big corporations who such as Pepsi, UPS and Sony, aswell as the the official website of the UK Prime Minister.

I heard that WordPress is a blog. Is it true?

WordPress did indeed start out as a tool to allow you to easily create you own blog (like an online journal).  People who used it to create a blog found it so easy to use that they started asking “can I add normal pages to my website through WordPress?”

And so it evolved into a fully-fledged CMS that powers all types of different websites from blogs to large corporate websites.

If your friend told you that WordPress is a blogging tool and you should use a more serious CMS, tell him that he’s a few years out of date and stop taking tech advise from him.  It seems that he knows even less than you at this point!

Can WordPress do anything else?

Although the main function of WordPress is to enable you to update your page content, it also has some other nice features that help make it the best CMS for most applications:

  • Menus – you can easily choose what links to include in your navigation menus
  • Design Templates – there are literally thousands of design templates (called themes), and you can have a web designer/developer create your own
  • Extra Features – it has an almost endless library of extensions (called plugins), so you can add new features to your website (e.g. forms, galleries, even e-commerce)

Is there anything that WordPress can’t do?

As amazing as WordPress is, there are some things that it is not well suited to, and in those cases you might want to look at an alternative.  These include:

  1. Custom Web Applications – if you’re trying to build something that has functionality unlike any other website (e.g. the next Facebook), then you really need to develop it as a custom system
  2. Large E-commerce Sites – WordPress does now have some amazing e-commerce plugins that allow you to setup an online store, and solutions like FoxyCart integrate seemlessly with WordPress to deliver a solution that is arguably superior to dedicated e-commerce systems like Magento.  However, if you’re running a large scale retail business then you may need more advanced e-commerce functionality with an enterprise grade e-commerce solution.
  3. Security Sensitive Sites – While the vast majority of WordPress sites will be safe if they are on secure hosting and always upgrade to the latest WordPress version, there is no way of guaranteeing that your site won’t get hacked.  If you run a business that needs 100% guarantee of security (e.g. banks) then you need a custom system designed to meet your unique security demands.

For 9 out of 10 websites, WordPress is exactly what they need.

Who owns WordPress?

Some people are suspicious that it all sounds too good to be true and that there must be a catch.  Is there some big evil company behind WordPress that wants to lock you in to using their system and then make loads of money out of you?

Short answer: No

The WordPress Foundation, started by visionary developer Matt Mullenweg in 2003 has made WordPress open source and free for all to use.  As all of the code for WordPress is open source, there is no possible way that anyone can lock you in, and you’ll always have access to the community of WordPress experts around the world to help you ensure that you are always getting what you want out of it.

The only exception to this is if you sign up for a free blog with wordpress.com, which is owned by a company called Automattic.  It is a great service, but it is a business and you won’t have the same freedom as people who download the code and install it themselves.

How do I get a website powered by WordPress?

If you want a WordPress website you have two options:

  1. You can get a free website at wordpress.com, but it is really suited to bloggers who want a quick an easy way of getting online
  2. If you are serious about your website and want full control and ownership, the you can download the WordPress code and install it on your own hosting with your own domain name.  You can find instructions here, but if you’re not comfortable doing it, you can ask a WordPress developer like Wholegrain to do it for you.

If you go for option two, then you also have the freedom to get your own custom website design and functionality to suit your specific needs.  If you want to do it yourself then you’ll need to learn how to program in HTML/CSS/PHP, but agencies like Wholegrain exist so that you don’t need to worry about that.

Give us a call on 0207 112 8240 or fill in our contact form if you need any help getting started with WordPress.