So, someone told you that you need to build a WordPress site. I’ve been at this web design and development gig a long time, and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve had clients come to me with requests for specific technologies, like WordPress. Used to be they just called me up and said, “I need a site to showcase my adorable pug’s amazing singing talent so I can get on Conan,” or “I need to be able to schedule appointments for my sock-monkey-making one-on-one intensives.” (Okay, you got me, neither of these are real examples of what clients ask for, but if you need either of these things, definitely call me.)
And the truth is, people often still know what they need… They need a site they can interact with on a regular basis without having to call up a web designer to do everything for them. They want to blog or just keep in close contact with their client base. In an age of instant gratification, they need to be able to give their audience everything they could possibly need to make a connection or a sale, and they need the technology to do that as easily and seamlessly as possible. Once upon a time, the catch was that you needed a web developer on hand to manually make updates to your site for you, or to potentially spend hours building something that you could work with yourself (and probably paid a pretty penny to do it, too). Now, when you chat with your fellow business buddy over that 12 oz cup of no-whip almond milk latte with sugar free vanilla syrup, they say, “Oh, what you need is a WordPress site.”
You probably go one of two directions at this point. You either nod and pretend you know what they are talking about (with intentions of Googling it later), or you ask them what it is. (You may already know, but my assumption at this point is there’s a good chance you don’t. Or maybe you are simply reading along in hopes of a video of a cute pug singing.)
If you ask them, well, they may have to Google it then, too, but chances are they already have a WordPress site of their own and they know how wonderful a tool it is for putting your small business web site into your own hands. With a WordPress site, they tell you, you can do so much for such little investment.
Harnessing the Magic of WordPress: Go Solo or Go Pro?
Even people who would not consider themselves web developers often find themselves amazed that they can build their own web sites with such robust functionality. Sure, depending on how fancy you want to get and what resources you have at your disposal, the time investment on a learning curve could take you a couple of weekends to a few months to get what you’re going for. Depending on how much time or money you have—or, most importantly, patience and desire to learn—you may decide to brave it on your own or hire a web designer/developer.
For small business owners with little time on their hands, getting professional help is probably the best option. There’s no replacement for a cohesive web presence that captures your brand, your marketing message, and is reliable, secure, and functional for both you and your audience. However, financial times have been difficult to say the least, and for your small business you may need to roll up your sleeves and tackle it on your own (like I did for so many years with my own accounting until that throbbing vein in my forehead started to look it was becoming a permanent facial feature).
So, let’s assume you are still considering if WordPress is right for you, and you just want to know a bit more about what WordPress can do for you, why your friend recommended it, and what it actually is.
What Is WordPress?
WordPress is what we geeky types call a content management system, or CMS for short. It lets you do basically what you’d guess… Manage your own content. But content management systems do so much more than simply let you enter content. They can be set up to allow the content to be displayed in various ways, they can have the power to sort, organize, and make it easier to interact with your content. And often they can be utilized to also manage the site design so that you can match your small business’ brand and marketing.
WordPress has another wonderful feature as a CMS… It’s open source. That means that a world of geeks are contributing to it and creating free things for you to use (geeks rule, right?) If you decide to work with an open source CMS then your only costs would be the usual web site hosting costs and the costs related to implementing it. You don’t actually have to pay to use it. (In the old days, you know, like ten years ago, this was a bigger consideration as open source was not as popular as it is today. There are still pay-to-use systems out there, but they generally are targeted towards specific sorts of audiences. Back in the day people would pay hundreds to thousands of dollars just for the right to use a CMS for their site, and because of the financial barriers fewer people knew how to work with them. There are a plethora of WordPress developers out there these days. Viva la open source!)
WordPress isn’t the only CMS out there. Other major open source content management systems that are in use today are Drupal and Joomla. I won’t say much about these here, other than to note that I also build Drupal sites and I love it. I tend to use Drupal for more complex web sites with more robust content that have complex content display needs. However, Drupal works great for smaller sites, it just is a little less intuitive because it is so robust and has a far greater learning curve. Most of my client’s needs are served through the WordPress CMS, and it is often more cost-effective a solution for a small business, too.
What Can WordPress Do and How Do You Get It?
So what exactly does WordPress do? Well, once you install it you can log into your site and administer your content through your web browser. Some basic things you might want to do with a WordPress CMS is create pages on your web site (perhaps for sections like About, Services, Contact Us) or create blog posts (WordPress started as a blogging platform). You probably want to control what appears on the top menu of your site, or in the footer. You may want insert images into pages or create galleries. You want to change your logo, site title, or tagline. These are all basic functions you can do out of the box with the WordPress content management system.
One note… When I talk about building WordPress CMS web sites, mostly what I am referring to is the version of WordPress you can download from WordPress.org. Or if you have hosting with a company, chances are they have what they call a “one-click install” for WordPress and other related technologies. Essentially you install it on your own host (manually or through the one click install) and can configure it to your heart’s content.
You can also build a WordPress site through WordPress.com (notice the .com vs. the .org). However, the site you build there is hosted on their servers, has extreme limitations to what you can do with it, and requires you to pay additional fees for things like linking your domain name to the site or modifying the stylesheets (i.e. the files that modify the design of your site). But if you just need a basic site, can’t afford to hire anyone, and feel too nervous to build one yourself, it could be a good start for you. A beautiful thing is that you can easily export much of the content to a custom WordPress site at a later date, if you finally get to a place where you are comfortable with installing it yourself, or have the cash to hire someone to help you.
More WordPress Articles on the Way
Hopefully this was a helpful overview to help you wrap your mind around what WordPress is in a general way. It is the first of many posts I’ll be creating about building WordPress sites, so if you want to be notified of new content you should sign up for the newsletter. In my next post I will go over some of the basic WordPress CMS functionality and talk about the various aspects of a WordPress site. And later I will be giving an extensive overview of all the pieces I put together to create the most general functionality that many of my clients need on their own web sites. My hope is that I can help you see why nearly 58 million people around the world use it, and how it can help you better present your small business on the web.
In the meantime, if you have any general questions about WordPress, feel free to post them in the comments! And if you have a WordPress site, share with us what you like most about working with it.