WordPress describes itself as
… open source software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app.
Open source software is software that is free to use and open to developers to contribute to. Its source code is readily available to the public.
In contrast, with proprietary software like Microsoft Word and the Adobe Creative Suite, the source code is not readily available and developers are legally prohibited from copying and modifying the software.
What does all of that mean? It means much more, but for the purpose of this post, it means that WordPress is free to use. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t expenses related to owning a website or blog (we’ll get to those in a minute).
What’s a Content Management System?
WordPress is what’s known as a content management system or CMS. A CMS is built in a way that allows you to edit your own website, and its content is organized so that it maximizes discoverability by search engines.
What’s the Difference in WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
Both are free to use. WordPress.com is hosted by WordPress on their servers. WordPress.org is the self-hosted version. The two versions work identically for the most part, although WordPress.com offers far more limited control.
I like to compare this to a home. If you rent a home, you don’t have to worry if the roof needs replacing, as it’s the landlord’s problem. While you can use any sort of furniture and accessories you choose, you can’t tear down walls. You trade the responsibilities and expenses of home ownership for the ease of use of a rental property.
But what if you want to tear down a wall? Or move a room? Or build a pool in the back yard? Paint a wall? While your landlord may let you paint a wall, if you want to do major renovations, you’ll want to do it in a house you own. If you use the self-hosted version, you have complete freedom where your website is concerned — you can add any plugin or code you like and customize your theme completely to your liking.
Who Should Use WordPress.com?
If you’re a blogger and all you want to do is write, WordPress.com is great for you. You don’t have to spend much time on design, just choose a theme (like a template), set your colors according to theme settings, and be done.
If all you need is basic functionality and no specialized capabilities, you’ll love the .com version of WordPress.
Who Should Use WordPress.org?
If you want ultimate control over the look, feel, and functionality of your site, you’ll need to choose self hosted. Self hosted means you provide the web hosting and install WordPress on the host’s server. There are numerous web hosting companies to choose from, but be sure to choose one that is compatible with WordPress.
How Does WordPress Work?
For WordPress.com, you just set up an account, add a theme, and start writing for the most part.
If you’re going to use the self-hosted version, you’ll start with a web hosting package. This isn’t a good place to be cheap. You need good hosting to avoid excessive downtime and for maximal speed and security.
How Do I Install the Self-Hosted Version?
You can buy your domain name from anywhere. I use and recommend NameCheap.com.*
If you need help choosing a web host, this helpful article from WPBeginner has a great comparison among the top 10 hosts. Once you’ve chosen your web host, you’ll probably find an easy one-click install. If so, this is the easiest and best way to get started.
With the one-click install, the installation software will install WordPress and automatically create a database for your website. The database is where all of your content is stored, whether it’s written content or images.
If your hosting package doesn’t have a one-click install and you don’t want to change hosts, you’ll have to install WordPress manually. It’s not terribly difficult, but does require more knowledge and understanding than the one-click method.
Why Should I Use WordPress?
Control, Add to, Edit Your Own Website Without Code
More than 455 million website are run on WordPress, which is 35% of all websites on the internet. Most of us are not web developers. With WordPress, the easy-to-use interface allows us to write content, categorize it, add images, and change our websites whenever we like.
There’s no need to know programming, although a little HTML can be helpful. WordPress puts total control of your site in your hands.
Better Search Engine Visibility
Search Engine Journal calls WordPress “the best CMS for SEO (search engine optimization).” Among the reasons they cite are its focus on user experience, the ability to control permalinks (the permanent link to a piece of content), and the availability of a variety of SEO plugins.
With hundreds of millions of WordPress users, there is constant development and support. Chances are if you’re having a WordPress issue, many others have had — and often solved — the same issue.
Many times I’ve had seemingly major, scary issues that I’ve solved with a simple Google search.
Extensibility With Plugins
You can create anything with WordPress — from a basic website with static pages to an e-commerce site with a blog that draws traffic and increases sales.
With plugins, you can create an appointment or events calendar, add social media integration, connect with your email marketing provider, build forms, and keep your database clean and efficient.
A plugin is an additional piece of software you can add to your website to give you functionality you would otherwise need a programmer to create. There are plugins for just about anything you’d want to do on a website.
Most modern WordPress themes are designed to be compatible with mobile devices. That means your site will work well and look nice whether you visitor uses a phone, tablet, or desktop computer.
Particularly if your site is a business site, you need a responsive theme. That means that the the layout can change based on the size of the screen your reader uses to visit your page.
Posts vs. Pages
A page is evergreen content; that is, it’s permanent for the life of your website. This would be pages such as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), About Us, Contact Us and other content that is basic to your site and your business.
WordPress arranges pages according to how you arrange them on your menu. They are intended to stay in place until you move or remove them.
A post is timely content. By default, WordPress arranges them in reverse chronological order, that is, the latest post is shown first, then the rest in descending order. This gives the most prominence to your most recently-added content.
A post, unlike a page, has at least one category. Categories in WordPress are like buckets in which you place content on different topics or different facets of a topic. For example, on my marketing blog, I have categories for email marketing, content marketing, social media, WordPress, and writing.
You can also further sort and organize your posts with tags. Unlike categories, tags are optional but can help readers find the content they are looking for on your site.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a food blog and write a post about lemons. Your category might be fruits and you might tag the post lemons.
How to Keep WordPress Secure
Think back to the house example earlier in this post. When you think about your home, you also think of ways to keep it secure. Some of these are very simple, like locking your doors, or cutting down shrubs or bushes that hide your windows.
Even so, no house is 100 percent safe from burglars. It’s the same with your website. WordPress can generally be kept secure with basic precautions.
Don’t Use Admin as a User Name
Always create a username that would be hard for an evil hacker to guess. Admin is the first and most obvious guess, because it’s the default username.
Use a login name and password that’s not obvious. Use common sense and avoid passwords like simply password. If your username is Admin and your password is password it’s like leaving your door unlocked with your new 70” TV prominently displayed in front of a window.
Stay Up to Date
Plugins are the leading cause of WordPress vulnerability. Keeping plugins up to date is critical for a secure site. Sucuri outlines here how to assess the security of plugins you are considering.
This also applies to themes, and to your version of WordPress.
Use a WordPress Security Plugin
Sucuri is an excellent plugin, though not free. It scans your site regularly for malware and can offer services that clean up your site. There are other security plugins available, so do a Google search or search the WordPress plugin repository.
*If you purchase a domain name via NameCheap, I might get a small commission. It doesn’t cost you any extra and I never recommend any product or service I haven’t used and found excellent.