If you are wondering “what is WordPress?“, you’ve come to the right place…
In this post, I will not only explain WordPress as a blogging tool (actually, it’s more than that) but also talk you through some of the most important things that you need to know about WordPress, its core features, and how it becomes so popular.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is a simple software or a tool that helps you create a website or a blog and manage its content without the need to have any coding skills or technical knowledges.
NOTE: For the sake of simplicity, I will refer throughout this post to the self-hosted version of WordPress that is available at wordpress.org simply as “WordPress”. Don’t worry about this. I will explain the difference between the hosted and self-hosted variants of WordPress later in this post.
Also, from the admin dashboard, you can almost manage everything on your website including your pages, posts, comments, media files, users ..etc.
For the nerds out there, WordPress is an open-source content management system (CMS) licensed under GPLv2 which guarantees you the freedom to use the software in any possible way you can think of (there are still some limitations, tho).
What is more, WordPress comes with a very neat feature: It supports themes and plugins!
So what’s a theme?
A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.WordPress Codex
And a plugin?
Plugins are ways to extend and add to the functionality that already exists in WordPress.
The core of WordPress is designed to be lean and lightweight, to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins then offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.WordPress Codex
So basically, you can use WordPress to create your website, and if it lacks a feature that you need, you can easily add it by installing a plugin that you can download from the WordPress Plugin Directory or third-party sources.
With the 45+ thousands of plugins in the WP directory alone, it’s really hard to not find what you are looking for.
Who Uses WordPress?
The beauty of WordPress is that almost anyone can find it useful for its business. It’s not one of those CMSs that have a narrow user base or tied to a specific market like for instance, Magento which is used solely as an eCommerce platform.
From regular bloggers to developers, small businesses, news outlets, and even well-established companies such as Sony Music or BBC America. Everyone seems to like WordPress!
If you want some examples, wordpress.org has a dedicated page that lists the best WordPress sites in the world. Among this list, you can find big brands like Sony, Bloomberg, Toyota Motors and many many more.
Wait a second… there is a catch here!
WordPress is “almost” suitable for any business, as I previously said.
What I mean is that there are some situations when you are better off choosing another platform to build your website. This raises the question, Is WordPress right for you?
Well, later in this post, I will try to answer this question.
Is WordPress Really Free?
The word “free” tends to mean something without cost or payment but when it comes to WordPress or open-source software, in general, it has little to do with money.
In fact, thousands of WordPress products are being sold every day while WordPress is still free. Yes, 100% free!
How is that possible? Glad you asked. Because this “free” has more to do with freedom:
Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.Richard Stallman
WordPress is free in a way that you can do pretty much anything with it. You can run it, modify it or even redistribute your own copy of it for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.
If you are a developer and want to modify the source code, it’s important to know that WordPress itself is free but it is not copyright free. It’s licensed under GPL which gives you the copyright to only the modifications that you made to the original source code, not the entire source code. Also, any derivative work like a theme or plugin will automatically inherit the GPL license so anyone is free to use it in any way, just like WordPress.
NOTE: Theme and plugin developers can still license their products differently but the PHP code should be licensed like WordPress. If you came across a plugin or a theme that has its PHP code encrypted or hidden somehow, you should stay away from using it.
WordPress.ORG vs WordPress.COM
If you google the term “wordpress” the first two websites that will come up in the results are WordPress.org and WordPress.com but aren’t these the same?
It turns out that the guy behind WordPress (the real WordPress) Matt Mullenweg wanted to turn WordPress into a profitable business so he created WordPress.com to offer services similar to what Squarespace or Wix offer.
WordPress.com is running a modified version of the same WordPress that can be downloaded from WordPress.org but they offer the whole package as a service including hosting and domain registration with a limited set of themes and plugins.
So, WordPress.org maintains the self-hosted version of WordPress while WordPress.com is the hosted version. This may sound obvious but believe it or not, I hadn’t known this back in 2014 even after a year or more of using WordPress until I stumbled upon a forum post that explained the difference!
WordPress Begins: A Bit of History
This is not the most exciting part of this post but it’s really worth knowing how WordPress was created.
Back in 2003, two developers Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little created WordPress by forking B2/Cafelog which was an open-source blogging system. Don’t bother looking for B2/Cafelog, it was discontinued a long time ago.
But what the heck “forked” means?
In software engineering, a project fork happens when developers take a copy of source code from one software package and start independent development on it, creating a distinct and separate piece of software.Wikipedia
Then, many developers jumped on board and started contributing to the project. A year later, WordPress 1.0 was born.
Year after year, WordPress continued to evolve as new features were introduced and slowly gained popularity and community endorsement.
Fast forward to the current day, WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world and it is powering more than 35% of all websites.
If you want to learn more about WordPress history, this article from the gurus at WPMU DEV is really worth your time.
Why is WordPress So Popular?
At the time of this writing, WordPress it sitting at the No. 1 spot as the most popular CMS in the world and it is powering 35.2% of all the websites and has a CMS market share of 61.9% according to w3techs.com.
Its biggest competitors are Joomla and Shopify but their market shares combined don’t exceed 10%.
Now that you know WordPress is popular, let’s dive into the reasons behind this popularity, shall we?
Puts You Completely in Charge
We live in a world where data is extremely valuable. If you spend months or years on a website creating content and building an audience, you need to make sure that you own everything on it and you can do whatever you want with it.
When you use a service like Squarespace or Wix, you are not the true owner of your website (from a technical perspective) and your whole website is at the mercy of the company policies and terms.
What if the next morning you wake up and realize your website has gone forever or that your account has been suspended permanently? Of course, a reputable company like Squarespace or Wix won’t do something like this without a valid reason. But they still have the power to do it anyway, aren’t they?
When you use a self-hosted solution like WordPress, you are the captain of your website and you can do whatever the heck you want with it even to scam people or spread viruses and malware.
Of course, you still have to obey the rules of your host but usually, these rules are less restrictive and you still have the option to host WordPress on your own server if you have the resources to do it and can’t find a host that meet your needs.
Easy To Install and Use
It doesn’t take much effort and time and learn how to install WordPress and use it properly.
Maybe you won’t learn everything about WordPress overnight, but you just need an hour or two to get started even if you are an absolute beginner, and you can learn new tricks along the way.
When you compare WordPress with Wix or Squarespace, the latter will feel a lot easier to use because let’s be honest, these website builders were built specifically for non-technical people and with ease-of-use in mind. Their very user-friendly, drag & drop WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) editors make building pages a piece of cake.
Wix or Squarespace website builders may sound attractive at first but sooner than you think, you will find that your customization options are very limited. This is where WordPress comes in handy: It makes your options limitless!
When it comes to SEO, there are a lot of moving parts that affect your ranking and counting on WordPress alone to do all the SEO work for you is simply not possible. WordPress is only responsible for the way your content is presented.
You still need to optimize your content and do the other SEO things like keyword research and link building… etc.
But SEO is a big topic to talk about here, let’s leave it for another day. Now back to the main point… Why is WordPress SEO friendly?
There’s a myth I want to bust here. WordPress is Not SEO friendly. At least not out of the box. If you want to rank number one for competitive keywords on Google just because you are using WordPress, I am sorry to disappoint you but that’s not going to happen.
WordPress is famous for being good for SEO because of the many SEO features that come already built in it like pretty URLs, crawlable and searchable content… etc.
However, when it comes to SEO, WordPress truly shines when you choose an SEO friendly theme (like my own theme RedWaves!), use an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO and do proper SEO on your content.
WordPress is not just a blogging platform. It used to be, but now it’s not. You can pretty much use it for anything.
WordPress, out of the box is a simple blog. But with the use of a plugin or two and a few tweaks here and there, you can transform it into an e-store, a job portal, or even a social network.
With the power of plugins, you can leverage WordPress to have the most advanced technologies a website can have like advanced filters, real-time tracking, 3D rendering… etc.
Also, you don’t have to be a developer to get your WordPress website up and running. There is almost a plugin for anything, you just need to find the one that gets the job done.
WordPress can also be extended using themes, but themes are best used to change the look and feel of WordPress. Anything that alters the functionality of WordPress and the way it works should be handled by a plugin.
The performance, security level, and content management that WordPress offers out of the box, is enough for most small businesses or startups. But if these aren’t enough, they can be tailored to match any business needs.
WordPress has proven to be when properly configured and with the right infrastructure, highly scalable.
It can handle tens of thousands of requests at a time and deliver millions of monthly page views. But like any other CMS or framework, it is capable of handling as much traffic as the hardware which runs it can support.
WordPress’s appearance is handled by themes, from the top to the bottom. In fact, the final HTML code the browser will receive is put together by the theme. This gives WordPress themes the power to completely change the appearance of any page on your website from header to footer, colors, and typography.
The WordPress theme directory contains a huge collection of themes created by casual coders and professional designers alike.
Free to Use in Any Way
Being an open-source project, WordPress is 100% free to use in any possible way. There are some limitations but these are not tied to the way WordPress can be used so don’t worry about them.
The same applies to themes and plugins. If you don’t like the theme you are currently using, you can simply delete it and install another one or copy parts of its code and add them to another one. If you own the website, you also own the WordPress files hosted on it, including the installed themes and plugins.
Low Setup and Maintenance Costs
You don’t need to spend a fortune on hosting to use WordPress. Any cheap $3 shared hosting like Bluehost or $5 virtual server from DigitalOcean will get the job done.
Also, it doesn’t require much effort or time to keep WordPress running. WordPress will notify you whenever an update is available and with a few clicks, any update should be completed within seconds.
If you don’t like the free themes, $50 can get you a very good looking Premium theme which you can keep installed on your website forever.
Sometimes, you may run into some technical issues but there are thousands, or maybe millions of WordPress developers who are willing to help.
Is WordPress Right for You?
To be honest, this is a tough question to answer so please take this with a grain of salt.
I will try to list the most common reasons that make WordPress a bad choice for your business and looking for alternatives is needed or at least recommended.
Basically, you should NOT use WordPress if:
You Can’t Afford its Maintenance Cost
WordPress requires to be updated constantly. If you don’t update it for a long period of time, it shouldn’t stop working suddenly, but it might become vulnerable to exploits and attacks.
So you need to keep it up to date and also you need to make sure everything is working properly after each update including your active theme and plugins. And this can quickly become a daunting task.
WordPress isn’t that Easy to Use
Even though WordPress setup and use need very little effort and time, for some people, that’s a lot to ask.
Nowadays, many hosting companies will automatically install WordPress for you and give you all the details you need to log into your WordPress dashboard. But that’s only the first step.
You still need to learn how to tweak the settings, add your pages and posts, choose a different theme (because let’s be honest, the ones that come preinstalled look terrible!) and at least install few plugins you need.
This learning curve can be frustrating for some people and that’s why services like Wix, Squarespace and the hosted version of WordPress exist.
If you think WordPress is not that easy, I totally understand you. WordPress can sometimes drive you nuts especially when your plugin stop working suddenly or when you get a PHP error after an update.
Such issues can take your whole website offline for days, or even weeks. If you are not willing to put the required effort and time to learn WordPress and learn how to deal with this kind of problem, then the services mentioned above are a far better choice.
WordPress isn’t Flexible Enough
WordPress is flexible, no doubt about that. You can easily extend it using plugins. But is it flexible enough?
Let’s say you want to create an e-commerce website. Well, WordPress offers multiple e-commerce solutions like WooCommerce which is enough to set up your store and start accepting payments.
But what if you want to sell digital products and subscription-based services? No problem, a plugin like Easy Digital Downloads will get the job done.
That’s cool! Now let’s say you want to create the next Spotify or Youtube. So you did some research and found the perfect plugin that will turn your website into a music store like Spotify or a video sharing website like Youtube. But there is a tiny problem, this plugin doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Spotify or Youtube has. So what you do?
Let’s assume you hired a WordPress wizard to implement all the features you want. Your developer will use everything WordPress offers to create your website and he will do it the WordPress way.
Fast forward a few months or maybe years, your website is now ready to go live and you are happy with it. But it turns out to be very buggy, takes forever to load, and the overall user experience is awful. Ouch!
So what’s the catch here?; You expected too much from WordPress.
The point I am trying to prove here is that WordPress is a Content Management System and for this kind of project, you need to use a Framework.
Generally, here is what a framework means in web-development:
A framework is a library that makes it possible to develop a web application using pre-written code. CodeIgniter, CakePHP, Zend, and Django are some of the well-known examples of web application frameworks.opensourcecms.com
And here is what a CMS or content management system means:
A CMS or content management system is a web application for managing content. A CMS is built on top of an underlying framework. It enables users to install themes, plugins, etc. without effecting the essential functionality of the site.opensourcecms.com
So if you want your website to be very custom, and very flexible, you should use a framework instead of a CMS like WordPress. Also, you have the option to create an entire framework and then use it to create your website if you can’t find one that’s good enough. Maybe this is an overkill for individuals and small businesses but big companies like Google and Microsoft do this all the time.
WordPress isn’t Fast Enough
WordPress can get bloated and thus slow as a snail very easily especially if you install so many plugins. I see people abuse their WordPress websites all the time by installing so many plugins that they don’t even need. After all, most of these plugins are advertised to be “the only plugin you will ever need”!
But let’s say you will install only a couple of plugins that you really need or let’s even assume you will not install any plugins at all and you will choose a very lightweight theme. Then how fast WordPress will be?
It will be fast enough! Even if your website will be a high-traffic one like Time or The New Yorker, WordPress can get you there. WordPress when properly configured can handle hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per day.
However, a website built using a framework like Laravel will outperform WordPress in terms of speed if both are tested on the same server using a very similar configuration and with no caching.
I couldn’t find some charts online to back up my claim but I have tested Laravel and WordPress in the past on my local development machine using the same PHP, web server and database server and frankly, Laravel loaded much faster than WordPress. However, it worth mentioning that Laravel, unlike WordPress, is pretty much useless out of the box and doesn’t do anything except loading the static front page.
PHP Sucks! You Want Something Better
No PHP doesn’t suck! Actually, I love PHP and I think it has certainly well earned its title as a leading web development language.
As you can see in the below diagram, PHP is ahead of its competition by a huge margin, just like WordPress!
Even though some folks swear that PHP is dead, at the time of writing PHP is used by 79% of all the websites whose server-side programming language is known so PHP is not dead. At least, not yet!
But for some projects, a different language like Python or C++ might be a better choice so make sure to do your own research when picking the programming language for your next web project and not blindly follow the advice of a random blogger online.
Also, the debate PHP vs another language has been going on for years so who am I to end it now?!
And there you have it! The most detailed answer to the question of what is WordPress? Sorry if this post seems longer than necessary, I have just tried to be comprehensive as much as I could. Also, it’s my first post!
Did I miss something? Please let me know in the comments section below.