What is WordPress?
WordPress is a software package for creating websites. More specifically, it’s a Content Management System (CMS). But what does that mean?
A website is made up of many things. When you look at a web page you’ll probably see:
- The page’s content (text and images)
- A logo
- A menu
- Background colors or graphics
- A page header and footer
Now imagine keeping your website current. Nearly all of your edits will affect only the first item in that list: the page’s content.
A CMS can do many things, but its overriding goal is to let you manage a page without worrying about all the things that you’re not trying to edit—like the header, footer, and menu. In other words, it lets you focus on your content without tripping over the website that’s around your content.
WordPress is a great platform for building websites. Its simple and powerful editing tools let anyone maintain the website without the need for complex web development tools like DreamWeaver or Expression Web. More websites are based on WordPress than on any other CMS.
What is a WordPress theme?
When you first set it up, WordPress provides you with a nice but basic website. It doesn’t include your logo, colors, graphics, and the like.
If you want the website to look different, you do that by selecting a theme. The theme defines many things, like the colors, fonts, header, footer, and menu style.
There are many thousands of pre-built themes available for download, whether for free or for a fee.
- Most themes can be customized up to a point with no programming, and customized further with custom web programming.
- For more control or a more custom look, a web programmer can create a personalized theme just for your site.
What is a WordPress plugin?
Plugins are application programs that can tailor your website to your needs. Some have a cost, but many are free.
As just a few examples, might use plugins to:
- make your site more secure
- make your site faster
- add customized forms
- sell things
- improve the WordPress editor
Plugins are easy to install from your site’s Plugins menu. But…
Because they’re free, and because they do cool things, it’s tempting to install lots of plugins. Every plugin you install:
- has a (usually small) risk of damaging your site
- has a risk of security holes
- may slow down your site
Security problems are even possible if you’ve installed a plugin but not activated it.
So be cautious when installing plugins.
- If you have an employee or volunteer with WordPress expertise, ask for their advice.
- Consider alternatives. Whatever you need, you can usually find many plugins to choose between.
- Read reviews. And not just reviews in the place where you found the plugin. Try to find external reviews.
For more about deciding whether to install plugins, see the Blazing Moon Blog article Preventing WordPress Plugin Folly.
Creating a new WordPress site
This guide is mainly intended to help you manage an existing WordPress site, though it will certainly help you to create new ones too.
For a step-by-step guide to creating a new WordPress site, beginning with the simpler (but more restrictive) WordPress.com website builder and then progressing to your own completely independent site, see the Nonprofit WordPress video tutorial series: