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What Is WordPress?

It powers a quarter of the Internet. It is by far the most popular way of creating and maintaining a website. It is free for anyone to use and modify in any way they want. But what is WordPress?

Simply put, WordPress is a piece of software that allows creating and maintaining websites. WP is often defined as a content management system (CMS) because it helps put together the structure onto which content like text, images, forms, videos, etc, can be added.

There are three parts of the WordPress ecosystem: the CMS itself, often called WordPress Core, as well as templates that allow changing how a WP-based website looks and plugins that help with the functional parts such as social sharing, contact forms, selling online, search engine optimization, etc.

Summing up, WordPress allows performing the following tasks:

  • Establishing a website on a given domain and hosting – adding pages and managing general settings related to publishing, commenting, and other aspects of site’s operations.
  • Determining how the website looks like by using third-party (or your own custom) templates; such themes are interchangeable and can be activated and deactivated with a click of a button.
  • Adding new functionality to a website by installing third-party extensions called plugins. Just like with themes, there are both free and premium WordPress plugins available on the Web.
  • Adding and managing users with various roles – from guests and authors with limited access to features and settings to administrators with full privileges.

What WordPress doesn’t do on its own:

  • It doesn’t provide domain names – those need to be registered separately; you can head over to our in-depth guide on choosing a domain name whenever you feel like learning more about this topic.
  • If doesn’t offer hosting – instead, it needs a hosting itself in order to store the website’s files and data (content). More about choosing a hosting provider – in our definitive guide.
  • It doesn’t create content – only provides the visuals and functionality for the underlying website; the content is added by the owner of the website and other contributing users.

Should You Use WP?

Before going into practical details, let’s zoom out for a moment and ask whether WordPress is a good candidate for a specific online project. This is a sensible question because there are numerous alternatives which might be more suited for certain situations.

The most important thing to remember here is that WordPress needs a hosting to “live” on – which leaves ample room for other site-building products to compete with it. The most popular type are site builders: integrated solutions which include both the hosting and the drag-and-drop interface for constructing pages and adding content. The flip side – you need to pay every month for such a bundle, and the prices are often higher than a standard hosting would cost in case of using the free WordPress CMS.

Site builders are useful to those who don’t want to spend an absolute minimum time learning how to use the product, who need a website as quickly as possible or who just want to test a particular idea – in this case it might be reasonable to consider the all-in-one option; just be aware of the fact that monthly payments can stack up to hefty sums in the long term. You can read more about the best website builders and use a free wizard to help you choose the right one in our in-depth guide on this topic.

In most other cases, however, you would be better off sticking with WordPress as your primary site engine, for several reasons:

  • You can get most additional features for free because of the vast community of developers who make plugins and themes for WP
  • Since it is the most popular CMS on the Web, it receives the most attention – this means regular updates and new features (again, for free)
  • So many people use WordPress that you can be almost 100% certain that if you have a question, it has already been covered by someone; even if not, you can always ask on the official forums or on communities like StackExchange.
  • Once you learn how to use it, WordPress is can be scaled easily to grow your website or launch multiple new ones. Large sites like BBC and TechCrunch use WP as their CMS.

Installing WordPress

Alright, now we understand what WP is, what it does, and whether it’s a good fit for the online project at hand. Let’s look at the practical side and go through the setup steps to arrive at a fully functional, customization-ready WordPress website.

There is more than one way to install WordPress, and your particular sequence of actions will depend on your choice of hosting provider and personal preferences. We’ll start with the simplest one and look at the alternative methods afterwards.

Method 1: Semi-automatic Install from Hosting Control Panel

Many large hosting providers offer handy modules in their admin panels that allow quickly installing a fresh WordPress in just a few clicks. In most cases it can be found as a WP logo among the other icons on the hosting control panel; here’s how it looks on Bluehost, for example:

After clicking on the icon, the wizard will ask you to fill in several fields, the most important of them being admin username, password, and email. Avoid using “admin” as the username since this obvious choice greatly increases the chances of being targeted by hackers wanting to break into your administrative account (the password should also not be “password” but something much less guessable, self-evidently). It is also important to indicate your real mailbox that is being regularly checked because WP will send all critical notifications to it.

One more setting worth mentioning is the path that will be used by the WordPress system: it can either be the root of your hosting’s directory tree – or a folder inside the root. The second option is not necessary, but is typically more advisable if there’s a possibility that you will be adding more WP sites to your hosting account in the future – using separate folders for each WordPress instance will keep your file structure cleaner and more manageable.

In other words, if you’re asked for the WP path you might leave it blank (if you’re sure you’ll not use other WP installs on your hosting) – or indicate a clearly identifiable folder name, e.g. one that corresponds to your project’s name (small letters, no special characters).

After completing the form, you can proceed with the installation, sit back and wait until the process is completed. You will be shown the data for your new WordPress website (and most probably receive a copy as an email).

If you’ve chosen a specific path for the WP folder in the previous step, you will also need to make sure that your domain points to that folder as its primary destination; this can be done by accessing the domain settings section in your hosting control panel.

Method 2: Manual Installation

In case your existing hosting provider does not offer a one-click WordPress install module, you can always do it “by hand”, it will take you 5-10 minutes, not 1 as in the previous case, but will still be one of the easiest ways to get your very own website up and running from scratch. Plus – you will learn to use tools and techniques that will surely come in handy later on when you’re managing your website. There are five steps to follow:

  1. Download the WordPress core in the form of a .zip archive from their official repository (never use any other links for that as they might contain corrupted files): https://wordpress.org/latest.zip
  2. Create a new database using your hosting admin panel (you can name it any way you like) and add a new database user with all privileges for that database.
  3. Rename the “wordpress” folder with the modified wp-config.php file to whatever you like (the name of your online project, for example) and upload it into the root of your hosting’s folder tree using an FTP client such as the free FileZilla (here’s a detailed guide on using this tool). In case you want WordPress in your hosting’s root directory, you’ll need to upload the contents of the “wordpress” folder.
  4. Point your domain name to the folder with WordPress on your server; this can be done in the hosting’s admin panel by modifying the domain name settings. In case you’ve chosen to upload the WP files into the root directory, your domain will most probably point to your WP install automatically.
  5. Go to your website’s URL in your browser; if steps 1-5 were performed correctly, you will see a form asking you for database details. Input the database name, username and password you created in step 2 and click on Submit. The final form will appear, asking for the website’s admin account details (use a strong password and change the username to something other than “admin” to increase the security of your website).

Voila! You’re all set. Now you can access your new website’s admin panel by appending /wp-admin to your URL, e.g. http://example.com/wp-admin. To log in, use the admin data you’ve set up in step 2 of the first installation method or step 5 of the second method.

Essential WP Settings

Now that WordPress is up and running, let’s look at some of the settings that you might want to adjust right away. You can change them at any time later on, but going through the following list after the installation can help make your website more manageable.

  • Settings → General admin section: fill in the Site Title and Tagline fields with information relevant to your online project; these fields are used by many themes and get indexed by the search engines. While you’re here, make sure that the Membership, Timezone, Date Format, Time Format and Week Starts On settings are according to your preferences.
  • Settings → Discussion admin section: you might want to tick the Allow people to post comments on new articles checkbox and untick the Allow link notifications from other blogs checkboxes in the Default Article Settings. Most webmasters activate the Comment must be manually approved checkbox in the Before a Comment Appears section, since having it off means any visitor can write anything on your website and it will instantly be live – which is, of course, not something you’d want on yours. Enabling threaded (nested) comments in the Other Comments Settings section will make comment replies branch down in a tree pattern and is useful if you want to facilitate as much discussion as possible. Apart from that, check the Email Me Whenever section and set the checkboxes according to your preferences.
  • Settings → Permalinks admin section: the most human-friendly URLs are usually generated by the Post Name option – choosing that one will enable new posts to automatically create permalinks based on their titles.

You can adjust other settings according to your preferences as well, but the ones above are important to go through after a fresh WordPress installation. Apart from that, there’s also high probability that you’ll have sample content in the Posts and Pages admin sections (often titled “Sample Page”, “Hello World”, etc – to prevent it from popping up in the navigation and blogroll, you might want to remove all of it right away and experiment with your own content instead.

Adding Themes and Plugins

Now that we’ve got the basics set up, it’s time to think about the appearance and functionality of your new website. ¬¬For this, we’ll need to add some WP extensions – themes and plugins. It can be argued that the real power of WordPress lies in its virtually unlimited flexibility thanks to such third-party modules, so let’s get started!

Themes are primarily responsible for how a WordPress website looks, yet lately there’s been a trend towards including all kinds of additional features and even integrating plugin-like bits into premium WP templates, especially on marketplaces like ThemeForest. We will not go into details in this guide in order to stay on the topic, and because we’ve got an entire piece dedicated to choosing the right WordPress theme. You can also check out our own free multi-purpose theme called Bento.

Plugins add new functionality to a WordPress website, allowing you and the visitors to perform new actions such as send contact requests, share your pages on social media, sell stuff online, and much, much more. There are thousands of free and premium plugins developed specifically for WordPress, so you’re unlikely to feel any lack of choice whatsoever; in this article, we will list some of the most popular and high-quality WP plugins which can be useful on most websites. All of them are absolutely free to use and are actively maintained by their authors:

  • All in One SEO is helpful for setting the meta tags for search engines to be able to index your website properly and display it in search results for correct keywords. Apart from that, it offers a wide range of other settings which you’ll find quite useful as you grow your online project.
  • Akismet is the creation of Automattic, the collective behind WordPress itself; it’s an essential tool for any website with comments allowed from visitors: Akismet autonomously filters out comment spam, greatly reducing the moderation burden.
  • Contact Form 7 does exactly what its name implies – enables creating simple yet powerful contact forms on any page of your website. You might need to also install and setup WP Mail SMTP plugin in order for your website to be able to send email notifications to you about new incoming contact requests.
  • Google Analytics Dashboard plugin allows inserting the GA tracking code into your website without the need for altering the source code of your theme. It also adds an Analytics interface right inside the WordPress admin panel.

Next: Choosing a Theme

All set up! We are now ready to dig a little deeper into WordPress themes and find the one that’s a perfect match for your particular online project. Head over to our guide on choosing a WP template for more.

In case you’ve got questions about WordPress installation and initial setup, don’t hesitate to hit us in the comment section below – let’s discuss!

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