What is WordPress? The Beginner’s Guide to the Most Popular Open-Source CMS

Chances are, you’ve heard of WordPress before. It powers over 40% of all websites on the internet, from small personal blogs to massive online publications. But what exactly is WordPress and why is it so popular? This beginner’s guide will explain everything you need to know.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a free open-source content management system (CMS) that allows you to build websites and blogs. It was created in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg and has grown to become the most popular CMS in the world.

At its core, WordPress is simply software that you can install on a web server to manage website content without needing to code everything from scratch. It provides a graphical interface and lots of built-in features that make managing content easy for anyone, not just developers.

Some of the key things you can do with WordPress include:

  • Create any type of website – business, blog, portfolio, eCommerce store, food ordering, memberships etc.
  • Easily add and format content like text, images, videos, etc.
  • Customise the design and layout with themes
  • Add functionality with plugins
  • Manage users, content and security
  • Integrate with other services and apps
  • Get data and analytics on traffic and usage

Unlike some other CMS platforms, WordPress is completely open source. This means the core software is free for anyone to use and you have full control over your website files and data.

Key WordPress Terminology

Before we dive deeper, let’s clarify some common WordPress terms:

  • WordPress.org – This is the self-hosted, open-source WordPress software that you can download and install on web hosting services. It offers the most flexibility and control.
  • WordPress.com – A hosted service run by Automattic where you can easily create WordPress blogs and sites without needing web hosting. Less flexible but simpler to set up.
  • Themes – These control the design and layout of your site. Free and paid theme options allow you to customise the visual styling.
  • Plugins – Extend the functionality of WordPress by installing free and paid plugins, e.g. for eCommerce, forums, memberships, SEO and more.
  • Posts – The main content items of a WordPress site, usually displayed chronologically in reverse order. Can be organised into categories.
  • Pages – More static content that is not date-based, like an About page. Typically sits outside the main blog posts index.

Why Use WordPress?

There are many reasons WordPress has become the world’s most popular CMS. Here are some of the key advantages:

Flexible and Customisable

WordPress is extremely flexible, allowing you to create any kind of site you can imagine. The core software provides the essential CMS features, while themes and plugins empower endless customisation options.

Easy to Use

The WordPress admin area is designed to be user-friendly for website owners without technical skills. You can intuitively add content and make design changes without needing to know code.

SEO Optimised

Many WordPress features like permalinks, metadata and XML sitemaps help optimise your site for search engines out of the box. There are also hundreds of SEO plugins for more advanced optimisation.

Open Source Software

As open-source software, WordPress is licensed under the GPL and you have full control over your website content. You can also freely modify WordPress core code if you need to.

Huge Theme and Plugin Ecosystem

With thousands of free and premium themes and plugins available, you’re spoiled for choice to add features and functions to your WordPress site, this includes contact forms, SEO, eCommerce, extra security and membership capabilities, to name a few.

Large Support Community

As the world’s most popular CMS, WordPress has a vast community of users, developers and support resources to help you.

Scalable and Secure

WordPress is built to scale to handle high traffic volumes. There are also many plugins and best practices available to tighten WordPress security.

Is WordPress the Right Choice?

WordPress is an excellent choice for most websites and blogs, but there are some cases where other CMS platforms may be more suitable:

  • Large enterprise websites that need complex custom features
  • Sites where you don’t need much CMS functionality
  • Developers who prefer coding custom sites from scratch
  • Sites needing very specialised functionality out of the box

However, with the flexibility of WordPress, there are not many sites it can’t handle. For small to medium sites, and blogs, it is usually the best option.

Getting Started With WordPress

If you’re sold on using WordPress for your next project, here is a quick guide to getting started:

  1. Choose web hosting – You’ll need web hosting with PHP and MySQL to run WordPress. Managed WordPress hosting is recommended for best performance.
  2. Install WordPress – Many hosts offer one-click installations. Otherwise, you can manually upload WordPress files to your server.
  3. Pick a theme – Browse the WordPress theme directory and pick one that matches your site design needs. Install and activate it.
  4. Add content – Start creating your pages and blog posts via the user-friendly WordPress admin dashboard.
  5. Install plugins – Extend functionality like SEO, forms, galleries and more by installing plugins.
  6. Publish your site – Once you’ve added content, configured settings and customised the design, publish your WordPress site!

From humble beginnings as a simple blogging platform, WordPress has grown to become much more – a fully-fledged CMS capable of powering all kinds of sites. Give it a try and see for yourself!

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