What is WordPress and How to Use It? (Explained)

WordPress is an open-source Content Management System (CMS) used to create blogs, websites, membership courses, e-Learning materials, eCommerce stores, etc. It was first created in 2003 by developers Matt Mullenweg, and Mike Little from an earlier software called the b2/cafelog.

WordPress is a completely free blog publishing platform that can be installed on a web hosting server running PHP and MySQL database. The latest version can be downloaded from WordPress.org.

WordPress is managed by the non-profit WordPress Foundation.

As of 2021, more than 42% of the top 10 million websites are running on WordPress. It is also the most popular CMS holding a market share of more than 65%. (source)

What is WordPress used for?

At its core, WordPress is a blog publishing and website-building platform. WordPress is used for building a wide variety of websites and blogs. Let us go through the use cases in detail.

Blogs and Websites

WordPress was initially developed as a blog publishing tool. Till today, WordPress is at its core a blogging platform.

Almost, 6 out of every 10 blogs are built using WordPress (including the paid version). The reason for its huge popularity with bloggers is because it is very simple to use with no coding skills required.

All you need to do is log in to your WordPress website, create a post, and hit the publish button.

The other reason is the customization that WordPress offers for novices. You can edit any aspect of your website design using themes or a page builder.

If you need to extend the core functionality of WordPress, there are thousands of free and premium plugins available on WordPress.org for different tasks.

eCommerce sites

WordPress is one of the major eCommerce website platforms for individuals and small business owners. There are hundreds of eCommerce plugins available that let you upload and list your products easily.

The most popular eCommerce plugin is WooCommerce which when combined with some addons (there are hundreds to choose from), allows you to operate a full-fledged eCommerce store in no time.

E-Learning platform

WordPress is also one of the most popular eLearning platforms thanks to the rich variety of Learning Management System (LMS) plugins available.

You can create full-fledged courses, upload videos, and do much more with these plugins. But why just plugins? There are dedicated LMS themes available for WordPress that you can try out to start your eLearning hub easily.

Membership sites

WordPress allows user registration for creating membership sites. You can have as many or as few members as you want and grant them different access privileges based on their membership levels.

For added control and access, you can use one of the many membership plugins available to create a rich experience for your users.

What’s more, you can pick a membership plugin that compliments your LMS plugin to deliver outstanding eLearning courses and content exclusively to your members.

Digital publishing

Many news websites and other publishing websites also run on WordPress. Examples of such websites include the New York Times, Indian Express, Microsoft News Center, etc.

You can easily power your news website using a news or magazine WordPress theme.

Portfolio sites

Businesses that want to showcase their portfolio often pick WordPress because of its built-in flexibility and adaptability.

Even individuals and freelancers find WordPress very convenient to work with.

Differences with WordPress.com

There is also a commercial version of WordPress that is owned and developed by Automattic, a company started by Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress. This commercial version is available at WordPress.com.

The main difference between the two versions is that you do not need to sign up for any plans to use the free version of WordPress. On the other hand, WordPress.com is a commercial blogging platform where you can create your website after signing up for one of their plans (free or paid).

The other major difference is that the free version offers thousands of plugins that you can install on your website to extend its functionality. The paid WordPress version allows you to install plugins only on their higher plans.

Also, while you can install any theme that you wish on the free version, the paid version offers its own collection of WordPress themes to its users.

There are other differences as well as highlighted in the image below.

What is WordPress.org vs WordPress.com

Main features of WordPress

The primary features of WordPress are listed below.

Free and open source

WordPress is completely free to download and use. It is licensed under GPL V2 that allows users to edit the WordPress core files as per their needs.

The development of WordPress is handled by the non-profit WordPress.org foundation.

The only restrictions relating to the use of WordPress are its name and logo. Websites cannot use ‘WordPress’ in their domain name (for example, www.wordpresstips.com is not allowed).

Instead, they can use ‘wp’ as an acronym for WordPress, which is the practice followed by most websites in the WordPress niche.

WordPress features explained
Main features of WordPress

No coding skills required

Users do not need any programming skills to operate WordPress. It can be installed on a web server and used out of the box.

For this reason, it has gained wide acceptability as the top blog publishing and website building platform today.

Frontend and backend editing features

WordPress works not just on the backend of your site but at the front end as well. Every aspect on the front end is controlled by it and you can change any element using different themes and plugins that are explained below.

Regular updates

The core WordPress software receives regular major upgrades and minor updates throughout the year. Usually, there are three major releases of WordPress every year and many more minor updates that focus on security and bug fixes.

Optimized for SEO and speed

WordPress is built in the PHP language. The code is optimized for speed, security, and SEO. Many of the top-ranking websites across any niche are built using WordPress.

There are different speed and SEO plugins available to provide extra firepower to your website or blog.

Migration and data privacy

With proprietary publishing tools Ghost or Wix, your data is never safe in case you wish to migrate to a different platform. Wix does not even let you download your published pages.

This isn’t the case with WordPress. You can easily migrate to or from WordPress. WordPress allows you to export all your posts/pages, media for use elsewhere.

You can even keep a separate backup of your WordPress site to restore it on a different host later on.

There are no strings attached to your data. Your personal information is not shared with 3rd party for any monetary gain.

Thriving community of users

WordPress boasts of the largest and most active community of users worldwide. WordPress camps and meetups are organized routinely.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, online WordCamps were organized to engage with the community and share the latest developments in WordPress.

The WordPress.org forum offers free support for every theme and plugin and general WordPress bugs and errors. Also, you can choose from hundreds of freelancers and service companies for any type of need with your WordPress website.

Now that you’re aware of the main WordPress features and benefits, you should know how to start using it.

How to use WordPress?

In order to use WordPress, you will require two things: a domain name and web hosting.

A domain name is the internet address of your website like www.example.com.

Web hosting is a service where WordPress is installed along with other website files. Your hosting server transmits information to a user’s browser when the user visits your website.

Read more about different types of web hosting here.

You should ensure that the domain name resolves as quickly as possible i.e. when someone types in your website address in their web browser, it should quickly point to your website IP address.

One of the fastest and popular domain name providers is Namecheap, which we use.

Secondly and more importantly, you should pick a fast hosting provider to serve your website pages in the least possible time. There are hundreds of web hosting companies to choose from.

However, if you’re just starting your WordPress journey, it is recommended to go with Dreamhost. It’s a shared hosting provider that’s tried and tested by us and delivers rapid performance without compromising on support or other features like storage and bandwidth.

After completing these two steps, you can use the one-click installer in Dreamhost or any other hosting provider to install WordPress.

Most of the web hosts either provide cPanel, a popular user panel, or their own custom user panel to install and manage your WordPress website.

Once your website is up and running, you can log into your WordPress admin panel by navigating to www.yoursite.com/wp-login.php.

Related: How to start a WordPress blog step-by-step

Every aspect of your website can be controlled and customized from the WordPress backend, including, installing themes and plugins that are explained below.

What are WordPress plugins?

I have spoken about plugins a number of times already and now is the right time to describe what are WordPress plugins and what do they do?

Plugins are extensions that are installed to extend the default WordPress functionality. At last count, there were close to 60,000 free plugins available on WordPress.org.

Apart from this, there are hundreds of premium plugins sold on different marketplaces which can also be used on your website.

Plugins are available for every possible need including SEO, analytics, page editing, social sharing, etc. Practically the sky is the limit here.

There are so many plugins available that it’s easy to lose your way in the plugin jungle when you’re just starting out with WordPress.

Adding too many plugins can adversely impact the speed of your website and also introduce security vulnerabilities if a plugin hasn’t been updated for some time.

That’s why I advise you to go through this list of the 15 essential plugins for WordPress to install only the most useful plugins for your blog or website.

What are WordPress themes?

A theme controls the overall appearance of your WordPress site using a collection of styles, layouts, typography, and other features.

When you first use WordPress, the default WordPress theme comes pre-installed. The WordPress developers usually release an official default theme every year.

But you can easily change your theme any time from the Appearance menu in the WordPress admin dashboard.

There was a time when the theme did everything on your site, including, handling the SEO features. However, this is no longer the case today thanks to the amazing advancement in WordPress plugins.

You can install a basic theme and design and edit every aspect of your WordPress site using a page builder plugin. On the other hand, some 3rd party marketplace themes include everything required to design complex websites.

It’s always a good idea to pick a lightweight and fast theme for your WordPress site that offers the right balance of performance and features.

After the release of WordPress 5.0, block themes that allow full site editing are slowly gaining popularity. And if you are a stickler for only using the native WordPress site editing features, you should take a look at some of the popular WordPress block themes.

Is WordPress easy to use?

If you can use one-click installers and find your way around the WordPress dashboard, you can use WordPress without any difficulty.

Using WordPress out of the box is almost child’s play and requires no specialization.

The advancement in the WordPress block editor has further made creating and editing content not just easy, but more importantly, a fun activity.

You can change themes, fonts, colors, etc. without hiring a developer or designer.

The problem that some users face is when one of the plugins or their theme throws up an error. Most of the time, the error is caused by unintended user input.

Most of these errors are easy to resolve. However, if the errors are a result of inadequate resources or bad code, you will need to get professional help.

You can go through the list of most common WordPress errors to troubleshoot these bugs yourself.

What is WordPress: Conclusion

WordPress is not just the most popular blog management and publishing platform, it’s also the easiest one to use.

Using WordPress requires no investment apart from the domain and hosting where your website will reside.

The advantages of choosing WordPress over similar platforms include its ease of use, data security, regular updates, a wide selection of themes and plugins, and a thriving community of users.

Further, if you need professional support, there is an entire industry of designers, developers, freelancers, and agencies providing 24X7 WordPress support services.

The future looks bright and promising for WordPress as a CMS and as a website building platform.