“So what is WordPress, exactly?” – you might be wondering. The simplest answer is this:
WordPress is your website’s operating system. ⚙️
Think of it this way, just like your smartphone needs either iOS or Android to work, your “smart-website” needs WordPress.
While WordPress is certainly not the only website operating system around, it is the unquestionable leader in this space. At the time of writing, WordPress runs 40.6% of all websites. Again, that is *all* websites.
Just to show you how big the gap is between WordPress and everyone else; the second most popular website platform, Joomla, is used by less than 3% of websites.
What makes WordPress dominate this much & what is it used for?
There are at least a handful of reasons:
- 💸 WordPress is free. You can download it right now with no money involved at all.
- 👋 WordPress is open source. It’s a community project built by thousands of volunteers around the globe. Everyone can participate. Everyone can build upon WordPress and help the platform grow even more.
- 🤩 WordPress is modern. If some feature is considered “a standard” in website software, you can be sure that WordPress has it.
- 🏗️ WordPress is versatile. It can run any type of website. No matter if it’s a simple business site, a blog, a photo site, a hobby site, a professional corporate site, a portfolio site, a wedding site, a fitness site, a directory site, even an e-commerce store, WordPress can easily handle it all.
- 👐 WordPress is accessible and user-friendly. It can be used by users with impaired vision with no problem.
- 📱 WordPress works on all screen sizes and devices. You can access your website via a desktop, laptop, tablet, phone.
- 🔌 WordPress is extensible. You can add custom features to WordPress with the help of plugins. Think of plugins as your website’s “apps” (like your iPhone apps, but for your website).
- 🎨 WordPress is beautiful. There are thousands upon thousands of free and premium design packages (called themes) available for WordPress. You can install those in a single click.
What is WordPress? In a nutshell, WordPress works as the engine under your website’s hood. It allows it to run, lets you edit the content of the site, create new posts and pages, and then makes sure that your website displays correctly on all devices.
Of course, in order to take advantage of these benefits, you first need to get your hands on WordPress. Which brings me to …
What happens when you google “WordPress”?
Googling “WordPress” is perhaps one of the few confusing things about WordPress.
Here’s the problem; when you google the term “WordPress” you’ll find two primary results:
Even though basic common sense would suggest that both these sites should be the same, they’re not.
In fact, they’re very different. Here’s what is WordPress when looking at the .org vs .com:
- WordPress.com is a fully commercialized online platform.
- WordPress.org is the open source software project that we’ve been describing above.
So, what is WordPress.com? WordPress.com was created as a solution for people who don’t necessarily want to deal with the raw WordPress software on their own but instead would prefer to have someone handle it for them. So, what you do get with WordPress.com is the ability to create an account – your user profile – and then use a simplified version of WordPress that’s already been preinstalled on the platform’s servers. You can create a website that way quicker than with standard WordPress, but you also give up some of the functionality (unless you’re willing to pay a small fee). Here’s more info on the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
In short, we recommend the WordPress.org version to most people.
How to use WordPress & how does WordPress work?
Let me briefly tell you how to get started with WordPress and then point out some further reading – should you be interested in learning more.
So, to use WordPress, you must follow either of two paths:
Case (a): If you want to build a fully featured website with WordPress
For that, you need two elements:
- a domain name – the address of your website; for example, ours is
- a web hosting setup – aka. web server – the place where your website is going to be kept
Though it might sound technical, getting your hands on both is rather straightforward. There are companies that can register a domain name on your behalf and also grant you access to a web server. They will also take care of installing WordPress for you. One of such companies is Bluehost.
We wrote about the whole process of getting a domain, hosting and installing WordPress from start to finish over here. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re going to be building a WordPress website on your own. The good news is that you can do it in 15 minutes or less. Yes, you’re reading this right, from scratch to a perfectly functioning WordPress website in 15 minutes.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in a particular type of website, we have material on how to build those as well:
- How to Create a Portfolio Site
- How to Start a Personal Blog
- Building a WordPress Photography Website
- How to Build a Non-Profit Website
- How to Build an Amazon Affiliate Store
- How to Build a Coupon Site
- How to Create a Wedding Website
- How to Create a Freelance Website
- How to Create a Fitness Website
- How to Create a WordPress Service Website
Case (b): If you just want to build a local site for testing
If you’re not thinking about launching a fully featured site yet, but just want to experiment with WordPress in a sandbox-like environment, you might want to consider installing WordPress on a local server.
Now, the trick with WordPress is that, from a technical point of view, it’s a package of software. Only it’s the kind of software that you don’t install on your own computer directly but instead run through a web server. So if you want to do that locally, you first need to get a local web server.
We have detailed how-to guides on doing just that:
- How to Install XAMPP and WordPress Locally on Windows PC
- Create a Local WordPress Website on Mac
- A Quick Guide to Local WordPress Development With DesktopServer
- A Quick Guide to Local WordPress Development Using Docker
- How To Create a Local WordPress Testing Site for Windows
- How to Create an Intranet With WordPress
Though, as I said, this is a less traveled path, usually chosen by aspiring developers who want to learn the inner workings of WordPress. For most users, going with Case (a) will be the optimal choice.
How to extend WordPress and change the design
The first thing that most people like to do with WordPress is customizing the default appearance/design of their websites.
As I mentioned, WordPress is very easy to extend and modify – both regarding new functionality and design.
First, let’s talk plugins. 🔌
Plugins are small pieces of software that can be installed on your WordPress site to extend its built-in set of features. There are thousands of free plugins available on the web. Here are some good starting points:
- Here’s a list of the essential plugins that all WordPress users should consider.
- And here’s how to install a WordPress plugin.
Next, designs. Or, as we call them in the WordPress world – themes. 🎨
Themes are your all-in-one design packages that can change the way your website looks in a couple of clicks. They can be installed on your WordPress website just like plugins.
There are thousands of free themes available here, plus many reputable theme stores that offer premium WordPress themes.
We’ve done our share of work in the WordPress themes ecosystem and have some cool themes of our own. Check them out.
Also, check out these two massive lists of the best themes available on the web overall:
At the end of the day, despite its user-friendly nature, WordPress is a very powerful tool and can be used successfully to run any size of website.
For example, if you go to Beyonce.com, guess what … that’s WordPress you’re looking at.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are multiple other examples of famous brands using WordPress. Brands like ACM, Time Magazine, James Bond, and others.
What is WordPress? If you want to learn more about WordPress, here is an excellent place to start: our 8-step ultimate DIY guide to making a WordPress website 👈 we cover the entire process from start to finish.
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