WordPress: what is it, how can you use it, and the main secrets
When it comes to creating blogs, websites and online stores, one of the most thought of and recommended tools is WordPress.
By the way, if you’ve been following our blog for some time, you may also have noticed a pattern: we always recommend the platform as soon as one of our articles mentions hosting structures and content management.
This is not a coincidence.
To have an idea, WordPress accounts for an impressive 61% of the CMS (content management systems) market in the world.
To top it off, its main competitors are far from representing any kind of challenge. Joomla has a 5% share, Drupal has 3.3%, Magento has 1.6%, and Blogger has only 1.4%.
These data were taken from W3Techs and are updated for July 2019.
The broad domain of WordPress is just one of several reasons why all Digital Marketing professionals and students seek to master the use of this tool.
For this reason, we have prepared a comprehensive post with everything you need to know about WordPress.
Keep on reading, and you will understand:
- What is WordPress?
- How does it work?
- What are its advantages?
- What is the origin of WordPress?
- What is the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com?
- How to get started?
- Why migrate to WordPress?
- How to choose the ideal hosting service?
- How do the themes work?
- What are the essential plugins?
- How to optimize your WordPress site?
- What are the most common errors?
Are you ready for this deep immersion in the world’s best known and most respected CMS? Then keep on reading!
What is WordPress?
WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS). In other words, it is a system used to manage websites, blogs, online stores, news portals, member areas and other types of pages.
But what does this CMS do?
As the name implies, the purpose of the CMS is to manage content simply and practically.
More specifically, its mission is to enable the creation and editing of content on a website without the need for a programming language.
The idea is to make it easy enough that even content producers without any previous coding knowledge can manage their entire portal, store or blog simply and intuitively.
This includes creating text, using images and videos and making forms – not to mention the various options for customizing the layout of the website and many other functions.
The proposal of WordPress is precisely to democratize the development of websites ranging from professional blogs to larger pages for those who have a company, project, portfolio or any other idea.
And with such an expressive domain in the market, WordPress obviously did not remain a success only among small and medium content producers.
On the contrary: the platform was chosen to host some of the largest websites in the world. This includes the online pages of major brands such as the PlayStation console blog and the websites of BBC America and Forbes.
How does it work?
WordPress has two versions available to users: the WordPress.com platform and WordPress.org.
The first is a service that offers free hosting of blogs and websites using the WordPress software.
The second is an open-source platform, which you can download for free from the official website and install on a server of your choice.
To use the free platform, you will need a domain and a host (which we will discuss later in this guide).
We won’t get into the differences between them now because we’ll talk about it later on. For now, it is important to clarify the existence of these two ways of using WordPress.
Moreover, they share a very similar system. The tool has a site management interface. You will see several categories on this screen, each one with specific (and very useful) features for your website or blog.
Among these features, we can highlight:
- Adding, programming and editing posts for the website or blog as if writing in MS Word, for example;
- Inserting and editing media files, such as images, videos and audios;
- Creating new pages, menus, categories and tags for the website;
- Moderating visitors’ comments;
- Tracking basic access data;
- Editing the layout of the website;
- Managing permission levels for page administrators;
- Creating, adding, editing and deleting plugins and extensions;
- Exporting and importing data from the website or blog.
What are its advantages?
If you still don’t understand why WordPress is the most used content management system in the world, you will now.
We’ve selected no less than 7 benefits to show you, once and for all, that WordPress is the definitive system for those who want to have a website that includes dynamic content.
Even those who don’t yet have a blog should already use the system due to these 7 advantages:
1. Intuitive use: you do not need to master coding!
If you want to have a site hosted or managed in WordPress, you hardly have to worry about code or programming languages.
Using the system is quite simple. For example, when editing a text, you can put words in bold, justify a paragraph or insert an image in the content through buttons that the platform editor indicates.
Those who deal with web programming know that HTML is one of the simplest forms of code. But if you don’t know what this means, that is also okay, because you won’t even have to use it.
Most of the WordPress features are accessible with just a few clicks – not even one line of code is necessary.
2. Easy installation
Another great advantage of WordPress is that you don’t waste any time before you start using all of its features, because the installation process is very quick.
This is actually one of the most valued details on the platform’s website. Its installation is known for taking from 5 to 10 minutes, making WordPress stand out from the competition.
WordPress offers simplicity and agility not only during the installation but also in its updates. These can be done automatically and very quickly – even more quickly than the initial installation.
3. Wide range of plugins and extensions
The purpose of plugins is to extend and improve the experience of using a website, both for administrators and visitors.
For example, some extensions allow you to create photo galleries, increase the security of the website and improve the page loading speed.
In other words, plugins and extensions serve as enhancers that make your site or blog even stronger and more powerful.
But the coolest thing is the sheer quantity of plugins. Currently, there are just over 50,000 of them available for installation, and the best is that the main ones are free!
4. Changing templates without changing the content
Another point in favor of WordPress is how easy it is to change the layout of a website without damaging the content already published.
For example: let’s suppose you are dissatisfied with your blog’s current template (a pre-designed layout template).
Even if you already have dozens of blog posts published, the change can be made without any of the posts being lost.
The only thing that changes is how this content is presented visually to the public, a typical win-win that is another proof of the flexibility of WordPress.
5. Usability on mobile devices
Seeking to make it as easy as possible for its users, WordPress also provides access to its platform via mobile devices.
This way, if you have a smartphone or tablet with Android or iOS, you can download the WordPress app to manage your website anytime.
The cool thing is that both applications work for both WordPress.com and WordPress.org-based websites.
6. Open source system
This also one of the top WordPress advantages.
The fact that the system’s source code is open allows anyone to edit, enhance and customize its versions, themes and plugins.
Do you want to know a clear benefit of WordPress being an open-source software?
The translation of the platform into Brazilian Portuguese was a notable achievement for the WordPress developer community in Brazil.
Furthermore, most of the resources WordPress has come from user initiatives.
Of course, to modify the WordPress code and customize your website, you will need a good knowledge of programming or a professional developer by your side.
But it is a fact: with the open system and an active community, as it is the case, WordPress has everything to keep evolving greatly.
In many ways, this is even better than having a system with their own support team because of the possibilities for innovation and operational cost.
7. Constant updates
The amount of updates WordPress receives is a consequence of the active participation of the WordPress community of volunteer developers.
From version 0.70 to 5.2.2 (released in June 2019), more than 75 updates have improved the system’s usability and made it more secure.
One important detail: WordPress updates can be done automatically on your system. Although automatic updates are simpler, we recommend that you update manually (we’ll explain why when we talk about optimizing your website on the platform).
How was WordPress created?
Now is the time to tell the story of WordPress. To do that, we have prepared a timeline that starts with the creation of the platform to its latest versions. Check it out!
The origin of everything
WordPress emerged from the interruption of a project called B2 Cafelog, which was supposed to be a platform for blog development.
This project started in 2001 and was abandoned in 2003 – more precisely, on May 27th, when WordPress was created (version 0.7).
Therefore, WordPress is a variation of the extinct B2 Cafelog, founded by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little.
The release of version 1.0 in 2004
Less than a year after its release, WordPress presented its 1.0 version.
The features developed for this version are still useful to this day, such as the possibilities of installing it quickly and easily, managing comments and creating friendly URLs.
In 2004, update 1.2 was also released, which allowed the installation and support of plugins.
The arrival of Automattic and WordPress.com
Automattic was a commercial idea initiated by Matt Mullenweg in 2005, and from which WordPress.com was born.
Today, the company has a structure that offers support and hosting to the websites developed on the WordPress.com platform.
In the beginning, the idea was to expand the market restricted to the use of the source code and start generating profit from it.
The development of versions 1.5 and 2.0
These two versions stand out because of the number of new features they brought to the system.
In the 1.5 version, released in February 2005, the features of themes and static pages were added.
This distinction between design (templates) and features (native platform resources) turned WordPress into a business opportunity for many developers and designers.
Many of them started to monetize their activities with the commercialization of customized themes for websites.
Version 2.0, released in December 2005, added the uploading of images, the review of internal administrative processes (back end) and an increased system speed.
The changes from version 2.0 to 3.0
Between versions 2.0 and 3.0, 5 years and 9 updates passed, improving WordPress (a lot!).
We summarized the main changes as following:
- inclusion of the tagging system;
- creation of plugin and theme directories;
- support for widgets;
- adding spell checkers, automatic saving and a trash can for the deleted files;
- insertion of update alerts;
- inclusion of themes and plugins early in the installation process;
- improvements in the platform design.
In 2007 and 2008, WordPress suffered from serious attacks on its security.
The negative highlight was version 2.1.1, which became vulnerable to malicious code insertion that damaged much of its blog base.
The problem was acknowledged by WordPress itself, which quickly released version 2.1.2.
In 2011, as reported by UOL, the system had security-related problems again. In this case, there was a threat in the code of three popular WordPress plugins: AddThis, WPtouch and W3 Total Cache.
Those who had access to the WordPress forum and to the communities that hosted plugins and themes had to change their passwords.
In addition, updating these extensions was not recommended until the problems were solved.
Since then, WordPress has intensified bug-fixing and protection measures to ensure the safety of its millions of users worldwide, and such cases have become rare.
The news that led to version 4.1
Between 2011 and 2014, the years in which the platform went from version 3.1 to 4.1, WordPress went through a growth phase as a system and as a product.
It became the main CMS in the market and, at this time, added several new features, such as:
- the media manager;
- audio and video upload;
- customization of themes and headers;
- possibility of updating the system automatically;
- adaptation of the dashboard to other screen sizes (responsive design);
- platform redesign;
- image editing;
- HTML5 support.
The acquisition of WooCommerce in 2015
Another milestone in the history of WordPress was the purchase of WooCommerce, which became a platform plugin.
This acquisition marked the entry of WordPress into the market of themes and e-commerce development, which began to bother the industry’s major players, such as Magento and Shopify
The platform continues with the updates and modifications that make the life of its users increasingly easier.
Most of the new features are linked to an improvement in the speed, customization, usability and security of the tool.
Some examples of system changes are the preview screens that appear when you insert a new theme, the draft texts and the video headers.
What is the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com?
We have already talked about how WordPress works, its advantages and its history. Now it is time to explain the differences between both modalities of WordPress.
At first, it can be confusing to know that there are two versions of the system, but keep on reading and you’ll find out the purpose of each one – and what makes sense for you.
Just to recap, WordPress.org is the community website where you can download the open-source software to install on other servers.
This means you need to have a registered domain and a contracted server to host your WordPress site before the installation.
As using the code is free, you can edit it and customize it your way. Furthermore, you can use all plugins, themes, languages and other resources without any kind of limitation.
This limitation issue is perhaps the big difference between the two WordPress modalities.
You will understand this better in the next topic.
WordPress.com is a website hosting service that uses the WordPress software.
You can register for free and have a website with the domain “mywebsite.wordpress.com” or pay to have a custom domain – besides some other features.
In this modality, you don’t need to have a host or a registered domain to start. However, in this case, there are several limitations, such as:
- the impossibility to use custom themes (only the ones provided by WordPress);
- minimal customization in the way links are presented;
- impossibility of monetizing the blog or website (possible though if you contract the two most expensive plans);
- display of WordPress ads;
- WordPress brand and slogan in the footer of the site;
- inability to edit the source code;
- limitation on storage space in the free and cheaper plans.
It depends on your goal.
More robust projects, e-commerces and larger sites will need WordPress.org.
Because of the possibility of customization and free use of the source code, .org stands out as an interesting alternative.
It requires other investments to be made, such as hosting and domain registration.
Still, this model is very worthwhile if you want to extract the maximum from the software and have minimal limitations.
However, if you intend to work with a more personal project and not too focused on monetization, WordPress.com may be the best CMS option.
This version is suitable for the public who wants a basic website or blog, but with some features.
Everything will depend on the goals and circumstances of each person or company that wants to have their site hosted or managed by WordPress.
How to get started?
As there are two versions of WordPress, there are two ways to start using the platform.
How to install WordPress.org?
There are two ways of getting started with WordPress.org: installing it automatically via the server or manually.
Before we discuss them, let’s clarify some of the minimum requirements of WordPress:
- UNIX/Linux based server (Microsoft servers may limit the use of the platform);
- PHP version 7 or higher;
- MySQL version 5.6 or higher (can also be MariaDB version 10.0 or higher);
- memory for PHP of at least 64 MB (only for the WordPress software, without additional plugins).
Having said that, let’s move on to the necessary steps for the installation.
The automatic form doesn’t require any kind of explanation because each hosting service has its own.
In general, you just need to fill out the data requested by the hosting services. The rest is up to them.
See how the installations work in Hostgator, Uol Host, Locaweb and KingHost.
To get started, go to WordPress.org and download the data package from the platform. The file is almost 12MB.
Soon after, go to your web server (Hostgator, KingHost or others) and create a WordPress database. The user of this database must have all access and modification permissions.
Then just copy and rename the file wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php.
Open the wp-config.php file in a text editor (like Notepad ++ or TextEdit) and fill in your database data.
The text will appear similar to the image below:
You must change the ‘DBName’ to the name of the database, as ‘wordpress’. This is how the line should look:
The value ‘MySQLuser’ can be modified by ‘yourname_wordpress’.
Following, ‘password’ should be changed to ‘my_super_secret_password’ (always using underline instead of spaces).
Finally, the value ‘localhost’ must be replaced by the host of your MySQL server. This is a kind of data that is hardly modified.
However, to ensure that you don’t get it wrong, ask your server’s technical support for the right ‘DB_HOST’ value.
All this work will serve to generate your login and secret password for authentication.
Did you think it was over? You have the last two steps still:
- Move the WordPress files to the desired location on your server;
- Run WordPress through your installation script. To do this, go to http://yourwebsite.com/wp-admin/install.php or http://yourwebsite.com/blog/wp-admin/install.php if you have installed the platform only in a separate blog.
For those who are not used to these actions, the installation of WordPress can seem complicated. The automatic path may therefore be a more viable option.
How to have your website or blog on WordPress.com?
The process of getting started with WordPress.com is much simpler.
First, go to the WordPress.com website and click “Start your website”.
Then, create an account.
Now it’s time to give your website a name. As an example, we use the address “blogwithacoolname.wordpress.com” (free version). If you prefer a domain without “wordpress.com”, you will have to pay for it.
Choose one of the 4 plans offered by WordPress. Analyze the features and advantages of each. Here, we’ll proceed with the free plan.
Then choose a temporary design for your website or blog. If you prefer, you can skip this step. Proceed to the next step.
Choose a font.
And then, choose a plan. In this test, we are going with the free version.
Voilà! Your website is ready!
Why migrate to WordPress?
But what if you use another content management system? Maybe you’re not entirely sure if it’s worth migrating to WordPress yet.
Of course, there are other good systems on the market, both free and paid. But hardly any of them are superior to WordPress.
And there are at least 3 reasons why we recommend you migrate your website to the platform. Check them out!
1. Advanced security
The first reason to migrate to the WordPress platform is its high level of security. This is ensured by the constant updates, specific plugins to protect your information and the accurate and active performance of its community.
No wonder WordPress is the choice of major players from various industries in the international market. None of them would trust their sensitive data to a fragile and vulnerable platform.
2. Complete control
Everything you may need from a website, both in terms of layout (front-end) and structure and support (back-end) is included in WordPress.
The platform is complete and has many robust solutions for every kind of digital operation.
All this in a platform that works on any device, with agility and precision. If you’re looking for total control, WordPress was made for you.
3. Usability and interface
Many tools rely on powerful solutions but fail to deliver a good user experience. Fortunately, that is not the case with WordPress.
The platform becomes more user friendly with every development. In the most recent updates, for example, control was introduced through blocks of content.
This makes it even easier to manage content internally and to create more beautiful and functional pages.
How to choose the ideal hosting service?
As we have already mentioned, to use WordPress.org, you need your own hosting and domain.
This means that even with all the advantages highlighted here, if your server is not of quality, all the potential of the tool can be wasted.
Then the question arises: how to choose the ideal hosting service?
First of all, you should accept that there is no universal answer to this question. The ideal hosting for your website is not necessarily the same as what the Forbes blog needs.
So think about some key factors and see how to make your choice according to them:
- current needs: what do you need today, in terms of traffic, subdomains, e-mail addresses, etc.? Look for a hosting that offers these items;
- cost-benefit: calculating the cost-benefit is fundamental. If a hosting service costs much less, but the server is always offline, it is better to go with a more reliable option;
- scalability: how much do you think about growing your site in the future? If this happens, will the server be able to support this growth? This is another essential factor when it comes to choosing.
Always try to combine these 3 principles when making your choice. This way, you will always have a solution that matches your current needs, with a good cost-benefit ratio. You will also make sure that the service will not let you down in the future as your website grows.
How do the themes work?
There is a multitude of WordPress themes for you to choose from. It only depends on the type of website you want (a portal, blog, portfolio, e-commerce and so on) and the type of customization you want.
Many free themes offer great customization options, not to mention the thousands of complete paid themes that offer a great cost-benefit.
Installing any theme is as simple as clicking a few buttons. If you want a template that is already in the gallery, just search by name, download and activate.
If you have purchased a template and the file is on your computer, just load the compressed folder (in .zip format), click “install”, and then activate.
After that, it’s time to start the layout adjustments and the theme settings according to your need. If you’re wondering where to start, we’ve made a list of the 145 best free WordPress themes to help.
What are the essential plugins?
We have already explained that plugins are extensions that add new features and improve the platform user experience.
But among more than 50 thousand options, for the most diverse tastes and needs, you can expect some to be more important than others, right?
That’s why it’s important to highlight some of the essential WordPress plugins, both national and international.
Just a reminder: this list contains only some of the plugins that are worth knowing and using. But don’t limit yourself to them. Keep looking for new options that meet your goals.
Here are some of the extensions that are widely used both by developers and content producers on WordPress.
This plugin was made with only one goal in mind: boosting the conversions of your website or blog. With it, it is possible to create several CTAs and banners that help convert visitors into subscribers.
Besides being free of charge, it also allows you to integrate with the main marketing automation tools to optimize your entire strategy.
We also made a post explaining how to use Rock Convert more effectively to achieve the best results.
As the name suggests, Yoast was made to help content producers optimize their pages and text for search engines, i.e., to make their websites more attractive to Google.
It allows you to edit titles, meta descriptions and keywords, generate sitemaps and check what articles need to fit the search engines (e.g., include alt text tags in images, write more words etc.).
We made a post explaining how to use Yoast the best way, and you can check it here.
W3 Total Cache
The loading speed of a page is of great importance, both for users and search engines. And that is what this extension is for: to increase the speed with which your website loads.
If you use Google Analytics for your website (and if you don’t, you should start right now), this plugin is for you. After all, the name already says everything about the function of this plugin, right?
Its role is to bring the most relevant analysis and metrics from Analytics to your dashboard. This way, you can evaluate data such as the number of visits, the average time spent on each page and the bounce rate.
The goal of this extension is to make the website or blog easier to disseminate on social networks. How?
Flare allows you to put social network sharing buttons at the beginning, middle or end of your articles.
With this, the incentive is much greater for visitors who like your content to share it, increasing your chances of receiving new visits.
Bonus: Besides these options, it’s worth taking a look at Akismet (spam prevention), Contact Form 7 (contact form management) and MailChimp for WordPress (creation of e-mail lists).
How to optimize your website on WordPress?
WordPress is a very complete platform, and it deserves all the praise it receives. Even if you use only the basic features the right way, you’ll already have an excellent management solution for your content.
But if you learn some basic tricks and optimize your site with the CMS, you are in a good position to have extraordinary results.
Here are a few things you should always pay attention to so that your website realizes its full potential.
1. Make sure your theme is responsive
Currently, the vast majority of templates available in WordPress are responsive, i.e., they fit the different screen sizes.
Still, not all of them offer a good browsing experience to users.
Therefore, it is important to test the usability of these themes on smartphones before actually using them.
Check the font size, the menu layout, the way widgets and plugins appear, among other important details.
2. Keep the versions updated
Updates are important not only because of the new features but also to fix bugs and enhance system security.
In fact, it is not only the WordPress software that should be updated. Your plugins and themes also need to be used in their latest versions.
Outdated versions are usually easier targets for hackers and possible malicious attacks. Therefore, any vulnerabilities need to be avoided.
3. Check if plugins remain compatible after a system update
It is true that most of the most popular extensions are tested in new versions of the WordPress software, but it is always good to make sure that there will be no incompatibilities between the updated version and the previously used plugins.
After all, these extensions have their own updates. If they don’t line up with the latest versions of the platform, your website may not work properly.
Therefore, it is always recommended to update the system manually.
What are the most common errors?
Although the WordPress system is powerful and well organized, it is not immune to problems. Take a look at some of the major errors you may face and what each one means.
Internal server error (Error 500)
There are several possible causes for this error. This is what you can do to try and fix it:
- check if the .htaccess file is corrupted;
- add the line of code: (‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ’64M’) to the wp-config.php file;
- disable plugins to see if the problem is in any of them.
Database connection error
This problem occurs when you enter wrong input data, such as username and password, or a database crashes on the server.
If this is the second case, the solution is to contact server support and wait for updates on the status of the problem.
Error 502 (Bad Gateway)
Error 502 happens when the page takes too long to load the visitor’s request when trying to access your website in the browser.
One of the causes may be the heavy traffic volume, which can be more than what the website can currently process. Another possibility is that some plugin is causing the failure.
As all of these errors are technical, it is worth asking a professional to handle them. If this is not possible, check the WordPress documentation to get instructions on how to act in each situation.
WordPress started as a blog creation and management platform, but it became a development system for the most diverse types of websites as time went by.
From simple projects to the most robust ones, WordPress has stood out for several reasons. Its intuitive use for people who don’t understand code, the large quantity of plugins and themes, source code customization and active community are just some of them.
Today, it is not a coincidence that it has become the main reference in the CMS market. The chances of you managing the content of a WordPress based site are great.
So dive into its features and put our tips into practice to get the best out of this platform.
After learning its history, how to operate it, and the main secrets of the platform, it is time to understand why Rock Stage is the most complete and secure solution for your WordPress.