Easiest Way To Get Started With WordPress and who and why get started with WordPress? WordPress has grown enormously in the last few years, going from the most popular blogging software to the most popular web-based software, period. At 2012’s Signal Conference, it was estimated that WordPress powered 16% of the entire web . A study by the Royal Pingdom blog showed that of the top 100 sites on the web, nearly half of them ran on WordPress .
What is this thing, and how did it get so popular?
Who and Why Get Started With WordPress ?
WordPress is one of many content management systems that allow you to update your site through a simple Web interface instead of editing and uploading HTML files to a server. Most other systems emphasize either blog posts or web pages. WordPress is best known as a blogging system, but in fact it treats posts and pages equally. It is therefore ideal for dense reference sites that also have a news section, or news-oriented sites that have a few informational pages. It is a flexible system that can be used to create sites for businesses, project collaborations, university departments, artist portfolios, and (of course!) personal or group blogs.
A developer familiar with WordPress’s application programming interfaces (APIs)—which you will be, too, once you’ve finished this book!—can even use WordPress as an application development platform. Yuri Victor, describing how the Washington Post uses WordPress writes:
The Washington Post uses WordPress for blogging and to quickly build products and prototypes because while being a lightweight system, WordPress is a good foundation for what we need . . . The crazy thing [is] we’ve only been using WordPress for about six months. I don’t think The Post has ever launched so many products, so quickly with such success.
wordpress.com vs. wordpress.org
WordPress comes in two distinct flavors, usually referred to as .com and .org.On wordpress.com, anyone can sign up for a free, hosted site running on WordPress. The service comes with a few limitations, however: you’ll have to choose from one of the approved themes (although there are a lot of them), and you can’t install any plugins. On the other hand, you never have to worry about backing up your data or upgrading the software; all of that is handled for you.
Getting Started with WordPress
If you need more flexibility than wordpress.com offers, you can go to wordpress.org, download the software for free, and install it on your own server, along with any themes and plugins you desire. You will be responsible for backing up your data, installing upgrades when they become available, and making sure your site is secure (all of which you will learn how to do in later chapters). Most commercial Web hosts support WordPress, although only three are recommended on wordpress.org. There are a handful of managed WordPress hosting services that try to combine the benefits of wordpress.com (handling backups, upgrades, and security for you) while giving you the flexibility of wordpress.org (custom themes and plugins). If the prospect of backing up and restoring a MySQL database makes you tremble, these hosts might be the answer for you. The Vandelay Design blog has a good comparison of the managed WordPress hosting services.This article covers only the self-hosted version of WordPress available from wordpress.org.
Everything You Need
WordPress is famous for its five-minute installation. In fact, if you have your database connection details in hand before you begin, it might not even take you that long! WordPress’s system requirements (discussed in more detail in Chapter 2) are modest, allowing it to run on most commercial shared hosting plans that include PHP and MySQL. WordPress comes with everything you need to set up a basic web site, including:
Posts and pages: In the most traditional use of WordPress, a blog (composed of posts) will feature a few “static” (but still database-driven) pages, such as “About.” However, as you’ll see throughout this book, you can use these two primary content types in a number of other ways.
Media library: The post and page editing screens allow you to upload files and insert them into your content: images, audio, video, Office documents, PDFs, and more.
Categories and tags: WordPress includes both hierarchical and free-form taxonomies for posts.
User roles and profiles: WordPress users have five possible roles (Subscriber, Contributor,
Author, Editor, and Administrator), with escalating capabilities and a basic workflow for editorial approval. User profiles include a biography, e-mail address, URL, and a Gravatar (a user image stored in a central service).
RSS and Atom feeds: There are RSS and Atom feeds available for just about everything in WordPress. The main feeds include recent posts and comments, but there are also feeds for individual categories, tags, authors, and comment threads.
Clean URLs: WordPress supports search engine-friendly URLs (or permalinks) on both Apache and IIS servers, with a system of tags that allow you to customize the link structure.
Spam protection: The WordPress download package includes the Akismet plugin, which provides free industrial-strength filtering of spam comments for personal sites. (Nonpersonal sites can use it for a small monthly fee.) Because it uses a central web service, it constantly learns and improves.
Automatic upgrades: WordPress displays an alert when a new version is available for the core system or for any themes or plugins you have installed. You can update any of these with the click of a button (although it’s always a good idea to back up your database and files first).
Multiple sites from one installation: You can expand your WordPress installation into a network
of connected sites. The setup process is just a little more involved than the basic installation, and your host has to meet a few additional requirements, which I’ll go over in Chapter 2.
Easy to Use
WordPress has an amazingly user-friendly administration interface. Even Web novices can begin updating content with very little training. Rich text editing: WordPress includes the popular TinyMCE editor, which provides you with an interface similar to Microsoft Office products. For those who prefer to work with markup directly, WordPress has a basic HTML view as an alternative. The editor includes tools to import content and remove embedded styles from Office documents. Media uploads and embeds: The content editing screens include a media uploader. You’ll be prompted to provide titles, captions, or other metadata based on the file type, and you can easily link to the media files or insert them directly into the document. WordPress includes a basic image editor that allows you to rotate or resize the image. It also generates thumbnails automatically that can be used in place of the full-size image. Images can be aligned left, right, or center, and can include captions as well as alternative (alt) text. It’s easy to embed audio and video files from other sites into your content—just paste the URL as you edit, and when your post or page is published, the address will be replaced with the appropriate media player.
Menu management: You can let WordPress build navigation menus automatically based on your pages’ hierarchy, or you can define custom menus that link to the content you specify, including posts, pages, categories, tags, and links to external URLs.
Easy to Extend
WordPress offers a robust template system as well as an extensive API. Anyone with experience in PHP can change a site’s appearance or even modify WordPress’s behavior. At www.wordpress.org, you can download thousands of themes and plugins to do just this.
Plugins can add functions, template tags, or widgets; modify existing functions; and filter content. A plugin could add administration screens that give you access to new settings, or it might change WordPress’s usual behavior—alphabetizing your posts instead of sorting them by date, for example.
Widgets are drag-and-drop components that can be added to your site’s sidebars. For example, there are widgets to display polls, Flickr photos, and Twitter streams. You can use widgets to list pages, posts, and links; provide a search box; add arbitrary HTML; or display an RSS feed.
Some themes come with their own widgets; other widgets can be installed as separate plugins.
Advanced users can extend the basic types of content in WordPress by adding custom fields to the standard title, content, and excerpt fields. You can even define your own content types in addition to posts and pages. And if the built-in category and tag system isn’t enough for your site, you can create custom taxonomies for posts, pages, or media files. I’ll go over custom fields, taxonomies, and content types in Chapter 14.To see just how far you can go using themes and plugins, visit buddypress.org. BuddyPress is a set of themes and plugins for WordPress that turns a basic site into a complete social network with member profiles, friends, private messages, forums, and activity streams. The transformation is amazing!
The Business Benefits of WordPress
Because WordPress has built-in support for clean and canonical URLs, microformats and rich snippets, categories and tags, and standards-based themes, it does a stellar job of optimizing sites for search engines. At the 2009 WordCamp in San Francisco, Google’s Matt Cutts explained to the audience that WordPress is the best blogging platform for search engine optimization purposes, and that choosing WordPress would be a good first step for any small business seeking to build an online presence.It’s easy to integrate moneymaking features into WordPress sites. Thanks to the vibrant plugin developer community, there’s probably a plugin to help you integrate any third-party marketing services, ad servers, or affiliate codes you would want to use. There are even a number of e-commerce plugins that will let you turn your WordPress site into a storefront.
Sites Built with WordPress
These are just a few examples of WordPress sites. As you’ll see, there are virtually no limits to the designs you can create with WordPress. For more examples, visit the Showcase at wordpress.org/showcase.
Web Experts and Open Source Projects
Many of the Web’s most famous designers have adopted WordPress: Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer, Jason Santa Maria, Douglas Bowman, Dan Cederholm, and Aarron Walter are a few. Famous geeks Robert Scoble, Chris Pirillo, and Leo Laporte use WordPress, too.WordPress powers the web sites of other open source projects, too. For example, it’s the basis for the jQuery site
(Figure 1-1), including the documentation.
Figure 1-1. The jQuery project uses WordPress categories to organize its documentation
Government Web Sites
Budget-crunched government offices are turning to open source content management systems—and the results are not as dull as you might expect. The Milwaukee Police News site (Figure 1-2) is one of the most stylish WordPress sites on the Web today. Scroll down the entire home page to see their fantastic use of photos.
Figure 1-2. The Milwaukee Police News blog uses an innovative parallax scrolling design to mix news, statistics, and photos into a compelling presentation
Tons of public figures use WordPress for their sites. Some of their sites look more or less like blogs (Figure 1-3); others are video libraries or design showcases.
Figure 1-3. Author Jennifer Crusie’s site is a standard blog with a quirky navigation menu
Blog Networks, The New York Times, Edublogs, and wordpress.com are large sites with anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands of individual blogs. These sites use the WordPress Multisite feature, hosting all their blogs from a single.
Some of these blogs include the most viewed sites on the Web. FiveThirtyEight, part of the New York Times network (Figure 1-4), was the star of the 2012 election.
Figure 1-4. The New York Times blog network includes some of the busiest blogs on the Web
Using the BuddyPress suite of plugins, a WordPress site can be turned into a complete social network in just a few minutes. Niche networks built on BuddyPress include FilmmakerIQ (Figure 1-5), Vivanista, Nourish Network, and Hello Eco Living.
Figure 1-5. The FilmmakerIQ network lets its members form special-interest groups
Colleges and Universities
Bates College (Figure 1-6), the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Texas Tech University, and Queens College at the University of Melbourne all use WordPress to maintain their schools’ web sites. A number of schools use WordPress for individual departments, such as the Yale School of Drama, Vanderbilt University Alumni Relations, the University of Virginia Department of Environmental Sciences, Cornell Department of Music, Duke University, and Texas A&M University—just to name a few.
Figure 1-6. The Bates College home page uses a stunning full-screen photo slideshow—and little else
Universities using WordPress Multisite to create a unified presence for their main sites and departments include
the University of Maine, Southern Arkansas University, Wesleyan University, Wheaton College, and Missouri State University. Many universities also use Multisite to provide blog networks for students and/or faculty. WordPress is also a popular choice among secondary and higher-education teachers for providing students with
blogs for their classroom writing projects.
Wandering Goat Coffee and IconDock (Figure 1-7) are among the many small businesses using WordPress to run their main business sites.
Figure 1-7. The IconDock site is a store featuring a clever drag-and-drop shopping cart
When you install WordPress for the first time (see Chapter 2), you’ll have a simple site dressed in the lovely new Twenty Twelve theme (Figure 1-8). (If this theme is not your cup of tea, don’t worry. In Chapter 2, I’ll show you how to install other themes, and in Chapter 12, I’ll show you how to create your own.)
Figure 1-8. A simple WordPress home page using the Twenty Twelve default theme
Let’s break down this page and see how WordPress put it together. At the top of the page, you’ll see the site title you chose when you installed WordPress (see Chapter 2). Off to the right is the tagline (“Just another WordPress site”), which you can specify in the theme customizer or on the General
Settings page (see Chapter 3). The row of links just under the site tagline is a navigation menu. You can specify which links appear in your menu, and you can create additional menus to use elsewhere on your site. This example uses the default menu: a list of all the pages in the site.Below the header and the menu, you have two columns: the content area and the sidebar. This content area shows a page. In later chapters, I’ll discuss a number of ways you can change what appears here.
This site’s sidebar contains four widgets: Search, Recent Posts, Recent Comments, and a list of archives. You can add and remove widgets by dragging them into the sidebars on the Widgets administration screen in the Appearance section. These four widgets are part of WordPress’s built-in set. Some of the themes and plugins you install will provide you with additional widgets, and in Chapter 13, I’ll show you how to create your own.
Anatomy of a Page
Take another look at the content area, and compare it to the page editing screen (Figure 1-9).
Figure 1-9. The page editing screen
Here you can see how each page is built behind the scenes. You enter your page’s title and content, and the theme determines how that information is displayed. You can change the display by switching themes, or by modifying the theme you have. Template tags are PHP functions, so if you’re familiar with PHP syntax, you’ll have no trouble learning to modify WordPress themes. Even if you’ve never used PHP before, you can begin modifying your site by copying template tags from the WordPress Codex (codex.wordpress.org) or a tutorial. As you grow more comfortable with the language, you’ll find yourself making bigger changes with confidence.
In this chapter, I’ve introduced you to WordPress. I’ve shown you how WordPress is easy to install, easy for you and your content authors to use, and easy to customize. I’ve discussed the accolades WordPress has won, and I’ve shown you just a few examples of the wide variety of sites that can be built with WordPress. I’ve gone over the components of a basic WordPress site and explained some of the terminology (like themes, sidebars, and widgets) you’ll see often throughout this book.
In Chapter 2(next article), I’ll show you the famous five-minute installation process. You’ll learn the extra configuration steps needed to expand your WordPress installation into a network of sites. I’ll show you how to upgrade your site when new versions of WordPress are released, and how to install and upgrade themes and plugins. I’ll also go over some common installation problems and troubleshooting tips.