What is WordPress (WP), and why should you care? Well, it’s one of the most beginner-friendly platforms for building any type of website. Best of all is that WP is open-source and 100% free—no strings attached. That means zero restrictions and no special conditions to worry about. Not only is it uncomplicated, but there’s also a massive WordPress community to support users.
This 2020 guide is for anyone who wants to explore the real benefits of WordPress. The easy-to-read format walks you through all the advantages of this incredible program.
A brief history
WordPress came about in 2003, more by chance than anything. How come? Because the developers of a highly-popular blogging platform, b2/cafelog, jumped ship. That left a huge vacuum in the blogging software market. Two users of b2, American Matt Mullenweg and Englishman Mike Little, decided to fill the void. They designed and built WordPress on the top of b2/cafelog, and the rest is history.
Types of WordPress websites available
The only limitation here is imagination. You can use WordPress to create whatever type of website you want. That could be static, interactive, for fun, profit, information, or anything else.
Below are 7 of the most popular types of projects created using WordPress CMS:
- WordPress Blogs: personal websites that can be amateur or professional
- Business websites including eCommerce online stores
- Searchable business directories
- Interactive communities
- Job boards with categories for employers to add and edit positions
- Question & answers (Q & A)
- Portfolio websites
WordPress is not only a tool for novice users with no technical skills, though it is that too. There are lots of big brands that use the platform to host their sites as well. BBC America, PlayStation, The Walt Disney Company, MTV News, and Skype are a few of many.
Why WordPress is so popular
WordPress is free, but that wouldn’t account for much if the software were useless. It’s anything but. WP makes up around 35% (455,000,000) of all blogs and websites today, and that tells us plenty. People also appreciate the profusion of well-written WordPress tutorials and how-to videos.
WordPress checks many impressive boxes, including—though not restricted to—the following.
- It’s 100% free to download and install WordPress
- Open source software
- Super easy to use and customize at any level
- WordPress uses custom themes and has 1000s of plugin options
- WordPress is a Content Management System CMS
- Stable and secure; regular updates
- WordPress works cross-browser, cross-device
- Search Engines love it
Some of the above won’t make a lot of sense if you’re a total newbie. Don’t worry. The rest of this guide goes through these strengths and a few weaknesses in more detail.
WordPress is free to download and quick to install
The software is 100% free to download from WordPress.org. It’s not one of those painful clockwatching downloads, either. It should take 15 seconds or less to save the executable file to your computer.
The installation process is equally impressive. WordPress 5.0 versions take only 5 minutes to install. There’s also an official guide to walk the first-time WordPress user through the process.
WordPress is opensource
Opensource give you free access to the source code or readable programming language. Savvy users and developers can study, change, and redistribute the code as they wish. The payoffs are lower hardware/software costs, quality upgrades, and no vendor lock-in. The list could go on. WordPress’s opensource is nothing for beginner users to concern themselves with, though.
WordPress is super easy to use
Consider WordPress if you want to create a website that’s modern and versatile. Being versatile makes it simple to tweak and customize, so the site becomes unique to you. You’re in full control of all aspects of your online project. That includes fonts, layout, images, and on-page interactions.
Most of what you do in WordPress is with menus, buttons, and mouse clicks. There’s no guesswork. Best of all, you can view changes offline to perfect a post or page before making it live.
WordPress uses themes and plugins
Users can choose from over 11,000 WordPress themes. Even better is that you can adapt most of those to create a personal touch to your project. Your WordPress pages can be static, dynamic, and or interactive. A static webpage doesn’t change unless you update it.
A dynamic webpage displays different content in real-time. Examples are dates & clocks, job listings, and product availability. Interactive sites use plugins, and there are 55,000+ of these lightweight programs. Site interactions can be things like online polls, questionnaires, comments, forms, and chat. You can easily search for and download plugins from within the WP dashboard.
Here are 5 of the popular must-have WordPress plugins for most users:
- All in One WP Security and Firewall
- Akismet (spam filtering)
- Yoast SEO
- Contact Form 7
- Google Analytics for WordPress
What plugins you use depends on the type of site you manage. The ones above are popular across most project types for obvious reasons. After the download, you only need to install the program, read the notes, and activate it. It’s a quick process that takes a few minutes at most.
Point to note: Third-party plugin and theme developers distribute their products under GPL license.
WordPress is a content management system CMS
WordPress has a superb content management system or CMS, which is at the heart of its simplicity. The Dashboard lets you build a new website online without any programming knowledge. You can access the WP Dashboard from any computer that has a connection to the internet. CMS doesn’t get much easier than the one provided by this favorite site builder.
The image below shows the simple layout and functionality of a WordPress Dashboard.
Your website or blog still needs code to work, but you don’t see it thanks to the CMS. WordPress updates the code for every change you make from within its editor window. WP is ideal for basic beginner blogs right through to fully-interactive professional websites.
WordPress is stable and secure, but…
It’s a fact; WordPress is a super stable and secure platform. Why, then, are there so many reports about its vulnerabilities? Well, a system as popular as this is a prime target and welcome challenge for malicious actors. It’s also true that many thousands of WordPress sites fall victim to malicious attacks. That sounds terrible, but it’s not all bad news.
The vast majority of WP sites are not vulnerable because of WordPress’s core software. They become susceptible and defenseless when users fail to take simple, preventative measures. The usual slipups are weak passwords and not updating plugins and other software. The solution, then, is to turn on auto-updates where possible and run manual updates if not.
WordPress works cross-browser and cross-device
The old way of building websites created problems with browser compatibility. A site would look perfect in Internet Explorer but appear broke in Chrome and other viewers. Then came the internet-connected mobile devices, and the issues got a whole lot worse. One of WordPress’s best aspects is that it works across all browser types and with all smart devices.
Search engines love WordPress
On-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was a highly-skilled, time-intensive occupation, but not now. Google and other search engine algorithms love WordPress websites and blogs. Projects built on this platform get web pages indexed in seconds and enjoy high rankings. You still need quality content, but under the hood optimization is now a thing of the past.
We have lightweight themes, SEO plugins, and cross-browser, cross-device compatibility to thank. Search engines gobble up well-written WordPress posts, pages, and some user-contributed content.
OK, let’s learn about the differences between WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.
WordPress.com pros and cons
You may have come across WordPress.com and WordPress.org on the internet. The difference between the two is hosting and control. For example, WordPress.com lets you make a 100% free website using its free web host service. That means you don’t have to pay a private company to store your files and display your site online. It sounds ideal, but there are several downsides to this as outlined below:
- com can remove your website at any time, without warning
- You’re not allowed to use ads or monetize the site in any way
- No third-party plugins allowed
- No third-party customizable themes allowed
- You do not own the domain name
So, the upside of the .com version is that you don’t need to buy a domain name or pay for hosting. Your only job is to register, log in, and make a site using the available tools. It’s just as easy to create and publish a WordPress post and page this way. But does it offer the flexibility, control, features, and functions you need?
WordPress.org pros and cons
There are none of the above restrictions with WordPress.org. You upload the site to your preferred hosting provider and take full control of it. Here are the benefits of self-hosting your WP project:
- Complete customization control
- Access to tens of thousands of themes and plugins
- Become the sole owner of a 100% unique domain name
- Free to monetize your project in any way you want
- No one can delete your site (unless you do something illegal)
The only downside is that WP.org is a fee-based service, not a free one. Still, hosting and domain names aren’t expensive, so it’s an easy decision for most users.
Now you know what WordPress is and why millions use it worldwide to build websites and blogs. This powerful, sophisticated opensource content management system (CMS) has plenty of secrets too. My WordPress courses help students unleash the full potential of this mind-blowing platform.