4 min read |  Posted Nov 10, 2015

Understanding WordPress Basics in Four Simple Steps

Powering a quarter of the top websites, WordPress is by far the most popular software of its kind. Originally designed to make it simple to maintain a blog, the software has evolved into a powerful content management system that makes it easy to create and edit text, pictures, and more.

Since WordPress use is so widespread, its ecosystem includes an incredible array of visual themes along with plugins that add new functionality. WordPress’s popularity also makes it easy to find help with everything from setting it up to enabling custom features and cosmetic tweaks.

All of this makes WordPress a great way to get started on the Internet.

Although the underlying software is complex, understanding WordPress basics is something that anyone with a few spare minutes can do.

Exactly What is the WordPress System?

Once upon a time, anyone who wanted to put a new page up on the web would have to dive into the markup language HTML. Not intended for human eyes, that language is interpreted by web browsers to produce the nicely laid-out pages users see. It didn’t make sense for something so basic to require in-depth technical knowledge, so software designers began producing tools that helped publishers skip to the good stuff.

First released in 2003, WordPress is one of the most advanced software packages to arise from this effort. Instead of requiring users to work with mystifying HTML, WordPress presents them with intuitive content creation forms that accept plain text. Instead of making it necessary to understand the programing layout language CSS, WordPress allows a user to transform the look of a website with the installation of a theme.

WordPress also accepts plugins, software packages that add specialized functionality like comment filtering and image galleries.

To the question, “what is WordPress?” one might respond: a simple, powerful way of creating websites of almost any kind.

What’s Needed to Get Started with WordPress?

Flexible and fairly easy to use, WordPress can be a great choice for anyone who wants to create and update a website. While its accessibility is a strength of WordPress for beginners, installing it and configuring it is something else entirely. It requires specialized skill to put a new WordPress installation together from scratch, so only the most experienced will want to go this route.

Instead, most choose between two basic options. The simpler is to create an account at the website of a company that offers ready-to-go WordPress hosting. Within minutes of signing up, a new user can be publishing posts, making this a great, low-cost investment way to experiment.

For a business that is committed to putting up an entirely new website, the more common option is to hire a developer to do the heavy lifting. This will allow the creation of a custom WordPress installation, typically with a unique theme reflecting a company’s branding plus an assortment of plugins making the software even more powerful and secure.

The Fun Begins: Creating New Content

Whether with a stock installation or a new, customized one, WordPress really comes into its own when it’s time to create new posts and pages.

Although the system is fairly straight forward, there are several ways of adding content, each of which new users will become familiar with in the course of using WordPress to create a website.

The most important thing to understand is the distinction between posts and pages. Both are created from the corresponding “Add New” links at the main WordPress dashboard web page, but they have different roles in the grand scheme of things.

Posts tie back into the system’s heritage as a blog-hosting engine. They are time-stamped updates that can be viewed in chronological order or searched according to the subject matter, collectively forming a stream of thoughts, news items, and the like.

Pages are meant to be more permanent. A small business might have a relatively static page describing one of its products or services, for example, while a number of posts might talk about the particular ways recent customers have benefited from it.

Once a post or page has been put up, users can also add images, links, and even multimedia galleries either through the basic interface or those provided by plugins.

Going Forward: Customization, Maintenance, and More

Even in its most basic form, WordPress is an impressive piece of software. Whether working with a stock installation or a customized one, it is entirely natural, over time, for a user to come up with ideas for how it could be made even better.

That means most users will want to experiment, down the line, with new visual themes or tweaking existing ones, as well as with some of the thousands of plugins that extend the capabilities of the system.

While it is a generally sound piece of software, WordPress also benefits from periodic maintenance to keep it running smoothly, as well as from updates that fix security flaws.

Most users will want to have someone else help with these details, whether by relying on a hosted WordPress installation or keeping in touch with a developer who can provide assistance.

In every case, though, the most important thing is to use an understanding of the basics of WordPress to keep creating great new content.

Randy Monroe