What is WordPress and Why You Should Use It For Your Site

by Yaritsa Arenas | Web Design

What is WordPress and Why You Should Use It For Your Site

WordPress is an excellent content management system, but for a long time people didn’t embrace it as such and merely labeled it as another blogging application. But WordPress it not just for blogging anymore!

For people in the web industry, it’s not news that many sites (even those that don’t contain blogs at all) use WordPress for day-to-day updates. But while the industry is caught up to this fact, many clients don’t even know what WordPress is.

This article is directed to those who don’t know WordPress (referred to as WP moving forward) and are considering using it for their next web project.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a dynamic content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL. It has many features including a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is used by over 14.7% of Alexa Internet’s “top 1 million” websites and as of August 2011 manages 22% of all new websites. WordPress is currently the most popular CMS in use on the Internet.

Wait, don’t go yet! In simple terms, WordPress is a content management system that allows you to update your site’s content without needing prior knowledge of HTML or CSS. Once you have a design/theme setup (whether the default WP theme, a purchased template or a custom design), you can easily update your pages just as you would type up an email or word document.

Another plus, is it’s web-based so you don’t need to buy any software or programs for maintenance. You can update from your own computer, work computer, iPad, you name it! There, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

What is CMS?

A content management system (CMS) is a computer system that lets you update your website content from one central location. They generally allow multiple users, so it works great for collaboration and multiple managers as well as single users. The plus side, is that you don’t need prior knowledge of web language to update, where on traditional HTML sites, this was a requirement.

WordPress is not the only service that provides CMS. There’s Drupal, Joomla!, Movable Type, among others. Of course some people would prefer some of those options, but I’ve found that WP combines ease of use with unlimited customization. There’s an ever-growing library of plugins that allow you to add extra features to your site, again with no web programming knowledge required!

I find it to be very useful for my clients to easily update their sites, while making the back-end coding easier on me! That’s what I use for my own site and what I recommend to others. So let’s focus on what, in my opinion, makes WordPress so darn great!

WordPress is No Longer Just For Blogging

It may have started out as a blogging service, and it still remains so, but many designers and site owners are using it to create full sites. With and without blogs. Since WP allows you to create pages, not just posts, you can create about page, portfolio, event pages, and anything else your site might need. Some other CMS have limitations of what additional pages you can create and sometimes even the format/content of those pages (I’m looking at you Blogger!).

You can see how that would limit what you can do. With WP, the only limit, is you! Anything that can be coded on a static site, can probably be coded for WP. Yes, even shopping carts and discussion forums.

Wide Range of (Great Quality) Themes and Plugins

Since WP is rapidly becoming the most used CMS for blogging as well as for non-blog sites, many developers try to get in on the action. They offer beautiful themes (design layouts) and useful plugins (add-on features); some for free to draw attention to their design capabilities and some paid, to well, make money. Sites like Theme Forest have a range of designs to choose from, and installation is very easy.

Of course using themes, you can start to get into repetition, several sites looking the same. As a business owner, you want to make sure you have a unique design. The great thing about WP is that you can have your designer create a custom theme to work with your existing blog. You can continue to post articles and update the theme when it’s ready. There’s no need to start from scratch.

No Software Purchase Required

With a static HTML site, if you wanted to update the site yourself, you’d need some sort of program to make site changes. The industry standard is DreamWeaver, but there are other comparable (and less expensive) ones like Coda and Aptana Studio. There are some free solutions as well, but they don’t tend to be newbie-friendly. Regardless of your preference, you need an HTML Editor and file transfer program to upload the files once edited.

With WP, you don’t need anything other than a web-browser and wireless connection. You login to your WP site (from your home computer, work computer, iPad, etc), make edits and log out. It’s that easy.

You’ll Save Money in the Long Run

Because you’re able to make simple updates yourself, you don’t have to rely on a web developer to make those changes for you. This means quicker updates on your end, and savings that will make your wallet happy. Yea, I got your attention now, don’t I? Think about it, if you have weekly/monthly events or news and need your website updated accordingly, you can pay your developer a monthly fee for maintenance, or you can make the updates yourself. WP is simple enough that you can easily do that, saving you money in the long run.

Of course you may not have the time, energy or patience to do this yourself and might still prefer to have your developer make updates, but with WP and similar CMS services, you at least have the option. I do offer maintenance services on the sites I create, but have found that most clients like to have the ability to make updates themselves.

Option for Self-Hosted Services

Stay with me here, this is more of a back-end thing, but it certainly applies to you! Particularly if you’re looking to have a custom web address. WP allows you to host your site for free on their server, but this means you get a url that looks like mysite.wordpress.com. The good thing is, you can install WP directly on your own server and have a custom domain (which would be mysite.com). Some CMS services allow this, others don’t.

Intuitive Dashboard / User Interface

Did I mention WP was easy to use? I know I did, but it bears repeating. When I create a WP site for my clients, I provide them with a simple how-to that I wrote, but often times they don’t even need to reference it. The dashboard is intuitive and it’s easy to see where to go to update a page vs a blog post.

When you’re updating pages, you have similar features as your email would have: B button for Bold, I for Italic, type alignment options, a button to hyperlink sites and add images. You can preview your updates before committing to making the viewable to the web and you can also schedule posts. Want this post to go live next week at 9am? You can do that.

I won’t get too much into the dashboard, but you get the idea. And, as a designer, I like how sleek it looks. Yes, aesthetics are important, I’ve seen some sites that have dated looking interface, it’s not intuitive and things don’t work the way you want them to. Everything on WP is easy to understand and they have a very robust help section and community support.

Okay, I’m Sold on WP, But Why Do I Need a Web Designer/Developer If It’s So Easy?

Glad you asked. As easy as WP is to use and maintain, you will still need design and setup. Working with a designer will help you establish the look of the site and get you up and running. Once you’ve got your layout down, you can maintain the site yourself. Here are some things to consider:

Unique design
If you have a general blog, then you can probably get by with using a free theme, but you run the risk of having the same site as someone else. You may not care about that, but most people do. The web is so overpopulated with sites, blogs and products, you want to make sure yours is distinct and stands out.

You don’t know what you don’t know
With so many plugins and themes, it can be a little daunting to do all the research and figure out what you need on your site and what is unnecessary fluff. A web developer (ie. me!) can walk you through your options and help you make decisions regarding what’s recommended for you and guide you through options you didn’t even know where available

The more features you need, the more you’ll start to need programming knowledge
While basic options require no programming, such as adding a new post, updating current pages, linking to other pages, adding photos etc, once you start getting into more “heavy duty” functions, you need someone to be able to code those features in a way that works with your site and needs. After the setup is done, you can easily update the site yourself.

Bottom Line

Hey listen, WordPress is my CMS of choice. It’s growing fast, there are almost unlimited resources and the support community is extensive and always eager to help out. You may prefer other services and that of course is your call. My bottom line, is that WP is easy, sleek and versatile. I highly recommended it over using a static HTML site.

I hope this article has been helpful in helping you learn a little more about what WP is and how it works. If you’re ready to start your own site, feel free to contact me, I’ll be happy to help you out.

And if you have any questions not covered above, feel free to leave a comment for me to respond to.

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