WordPress: What is it? How do you use it? Why?

If you have a business, for profit or non-profit, and want to have an online presence, you’ll need to have a website. That’s where things get complicated very quickly.

WordPress to the rescue. There are other options out there but WordPress is a very good one and has been in use for several years by large and small endeavors. So, it’s tested.

WordPress gives you two things almost instantly, 1.) A professional-looking online presence and 2.) A website you can edit yourself. And it does this… for free.

According to Wikipedia “WordPress is an open source blog publishing application.”

What that means to you is if you want to have a website, you can use WordPress to instantly launch a website that uses blogging tools and features.

Previously, I’ve written about start-up businesses and what they should do to get a web presence or “get online.” My suggestion is to think “blog.” What I mean by that is to shift your thinking from simply “getting a website” to thinking about using the existing technology and variety of solutions and resources available across the internet, for free, to set up a website based on a blogging engine or “blog publishing application.”

WordPress, Chocolate and Vanilla

WordPress comes in two flavors, 3 actually, but two that matter most to you: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The third flavor is WordPressMU used for larger blogging community websites.

How WordPress works.

The difference between the .com and .org versions of WordPress is that one is hosted by them and the other is hosted by you on a server of your own choice. WordPress.com hosts the site on their servers, so you don’t have to do anything about finding a host or ISP. All you need to do is register with WordPress.com and then launch a blog. The rest is you populating Pages and Posts with your content to your heart’s content.

WordPress.org is a stand-alone version that you or someone has to download and then install on a separate web host (or ISP). Some hosts, and those recommended by WordPress on their site, offer one-click automatic installations. Check with the host before committing to them. Also, if you’re not picking one of the recommended hosts, but you’re interested in using WordPress for your site, make sure that the host you’re considering has the most up-to-date versions of PHP and MySQL running. Those will allow your WordPress installation to work on that host.

Whether you want a hosted solution or a solution you host yourself can be a negligible difference or a big difference, depending on what you want from your site. WordPress.com offers about 30-40 pre-made templates or Themes that you can choose from to determine the look of your new website, all of which are perfectly professional, presentable and in some cases very impressive. You can customize certain elements of most of these templates, such as the artwork that goes in the header or top of your site. WordPress.org has easily thousands of templates available, on the WordPress.org site as well as across the internet. These are templates made by hundreds of different designers, some good, some bad, some are for a fee, but most are absolutely free.

If you absolutely need or want your site to be unique, then you, or someone who knows XHTML/CSS, have to design a unique stylesheet to change the look of the WordPress templates you’re going to use.

Themes are the different “looks” that you can choose from for your WordPress website. The term templates, as far as WordPress is concerned, refers to the individual parts or chunks of code and layout elements that make up a WordPress site. Where this is particularly relevant is that some Themes use more or fewer templates to handle the data in your website. Basically, that means functionality. If you want the most functionality for your site, choose a Theme that does what you want, and then redesign it to look the way you want.

What does it do?

If “blog publishing application” is not clear, how about this? WordPress allows you to create webpages (Pages or Posts) on your very own website, organize them hierarchically, and populate them with whatever content you want.

WordPress let\'s you add and subtract content on your site.

So, if you have a business and want to sell products (or services) you can write copy, communicating the features and benefits of your stuff, and publish that on your website. If you have product photos (or a digital camera and a good eye) you can upload your “product” photos anywhere inside your sales copy on any of your Pages (or Posts). If you want to handle credit card transactions right from these pages, you can register with Google’s Checkout service and add a Buy Now button to that very same sales copy.

Bingo, you’ve got an e-commerce site.

Since WordPress began as a blogging solution, it’s primary function is to allow you to create and publish “content” on your website and manage it accordingly. Therefore, what most people recognize as “blogs” (articles written by a website owner and posted on said website, and organized according to chronology) are Posts in WordPress. Pages, on the other hand, are static information, pages of copy (and photos and stuff) that don’t change too often, or at all, and that don’t need to be organized or archived based on when they were written. Calling anything on a dynamic website, such as a WordPress website, “static” is a bit of a misnomer. Since WordPress uses the power of a database to “serve” information (Pages and Posts) to your website’s visitors, it’s by definition a dynamic website. That doesn’t just mean that it’s a sexy and interesting website. So, to be more precise, Pages in a WordPress site are pages of information that don’t require updating or managing as much as or in the same way as Posts do. Your particular content and intentions will dictate which of these are most efficient for you.

What’s in it for me?

If the benefits of the above are not clear, allow me to clarify.

Did I mention that WordPress is free?

WordPress allows you to almost instantly have a website up and running. In the case of WordPress.com it takes whatever amount of time it takes you to 1.) Register, 2.) Launch a “blog,” 3.) Write and add content to your blog (Pages or Posts), and 4.) Hit “Publish” for each new addition. If all you do is launch and add one Page or Post saying that you’re developing this new site and that visitors should come back often to see how it develops, you’ve got a bona fide website up and running.
Instant online presence with WordPress.

With WordPress.org, it takes basically the same amount of time as that, plus the additional amount of time it takes you or your Webmaster to download and then upload WordPress to your host, set up your MySQL database and log-in to your new web site.

Adding more photos, longer copy, and simple or complex shopping cart functionality takes more time, but you get the picture.

Traditionally, the small business start-up has held “getting a website” as a function of finding a coder, someone who knows HTML, who would create a website for them using their knowledge of the secret internet arts. In the best cases, that “coder” was a bona fide designer who was fluent in the latest software and programming solutions available. In the worst cases, that “coder” was a kid who knew just enough to put something together but not enough to teach you, the client, how to use it or, more importantly, edit it, let alone, market it.

With WordPress, you can focus your time, attention and budget on professionals who can make a WordPress “Theme” that is custom-tailored for your business and its branding. The back-end technical stuff has already been handled by hundreds of brilliant programmers and contributers and thousands of users and testers. Your job is to focus on the content and running your business.

If you’re considering launching a website for your business and are interested in what WordPress has to offer, I recommend that you go to WordPress.com, register and launch a “blog” right now and take it for a test drive. Since no website really exists until you start to drive traffic to it, either through paid advertising or word-of-mouth, the likelihood of anyone visiting your new WordPress.com site is zero. Therefore, you can’t embarrass yourself too badly.

Start it up, add some Pages, add some Posts, reorder them, create categories for your Posts, add Tags and basically become familiar with operating your very own website.

Come back here often for more information on how to market your business and your website.

Update

Here’s an article about the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org from the official voice, WordPress.com, WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.

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