A beginners guide to WordPress (in 2500 words)

WordPress is now the world’s largest website publishing system. Every year at Pootlepress we train hundreds of people how to build WordPress websites. The sheer diversity of uses that WordPress is being put to continues to amaze us.

There are many misunderstandings about WordPress, so we’ve put together this article to explain the key concepts.

This article will cover the following:

  • What is WordPress?
  • The different versions of WordPress
  • How to install WordPress and get your new website live
  • What makes WordPress so powerful?
  • How WordPress themes and plugins work
  • The WordPress ecosystem

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a website publishing system. WordPress lets you create a great looking website that is functionally rich and easy to update, without having to be a programmer. However, if you are a programmer or designer and want to get into the code to tweak and further develop your website then WordPress is incredibly powerful.

WordPress was started in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg (USA) and Mike Little (UK). Mullenweg and Little had both been using a very simple open source blogging system called B2, but the developer of B2 ran out of steam. Mullenweg took over the project and renamed it WordPress. Since that time WordPress has grown massively and now over 25% of all new websites are built with WordPress. That’s a huge number and WordPress continues to grow.

The 2 versions of WordPress

  1. WordPress.org (single site and multisite)
  2. WordPress.com

Version 1 – WordPress.org

WordPress is sometimes called WordPress.org or ‘self-hosted’ WordPress. This is the version you will want to use if you want complete control over the design and functionality of your website. In simple terms, WordPress is just code – albeit beautifully written code – that you install on a server. WordPress is just 4.7mb. All you need to get your new website up and running is a domain name and a server on the Internet. A website hosting company will provide the server for about £3-10 per month.

Installing WordPress.org

One of the big misunderstandings of the WordPress installation process is that you need to download WordPress to your PC or Mac. In fact you don’t need to download WordPress at all. You can install WordPress directly on the server that you have leased from your hosting company.

Warning: If you use a good hosting company then installing WordPress only takes 5 minutes. If you select a bad hosting company this can take days and cause you sleepless nights!

Most good hosting companies have what’s called a 1 click install of WordPress. This is a good idea because WordPress needs a database to function and the 1 click install sets up all of this for you. If your hosting company doesn’t offer 1 click WordPress install then it’s a not a good sign in my view.

Some excellent hosting companies for WordPress are Heart Internet (UK), Blue host (USA) and WP Engine who are based in the USA but with data centres in the USA and UK.

WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite is less well known than WordPress single site but is very powerful if you want to build a network of websites that have the same context to them. WordPress Multisite enables you to install WordPress once and then have multiple sub websites running under the 1 installation. There is no real limit on the number of sub websites that you run, you could run 1, 10 or 1000.

Here’s a few examples of where WordPress multisite could be used:

  • An events company that wants to create micro-sites for each event they run
  • A charity that has regional offices that need their own websites
  • A multi-blog network
  • A product company that wants to create micro-sites for each product[hr]

Version 2 – WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a managed service run by Automatic Inc, Matt Mullenweg’s company. With WordPress.com you don’t have to install WordPress. WordPress.com is free to use at the most basic level. However with WordPress.com you can’t install your own themes or plugins. It’s great if you are happy with one of the WordPress.com preset themes but if you want more control over your website then wordpress.org is the way to go. 99% of Pootlepress customers use wordpress.org.

7 WordPress concepts that it’s important to understand

1) WordPress is completely free

WordPress is free and will always be free. WordPress is licensed under the GPL license. In simple terms the GPL licence says WordPress is open source and free. This means you get free access to the software and all the code. The GPL license also means that you are free to download and modify WordPress as long as you then redistribute the resultant code back to the community.

2) WordPress is very powerful and makes it easy to build websites

WordPress is very easy to create content with – users love it. It’s possible to build a great looking website without any programming skills. WordPress powers some of the busiest websites in the world. It is very scalable and can handle huge amounts of traffic.

3) WordPress is very easy to install

WordPress only takes 5 minutes to install. Compared to other website building systems this is a beautiful thing!

4) With WordPress you are the one in control and you own your terms and conditions

Unlike hosted services like Tumblr, Blogger, Ning and Squarespace with WordPress you have complete control over your website. With hosted services like Tumblr you have no control. If Tumblr should change its pricing model or close down you are stuck. This happened to customers of Ning a couple of years ago. Overnight Ning removed their free pricing level. Customers of Ning then had to either to pay lots of money or close down their websites. With WordPress this will never happen to you because in effect you own the software.

5) WordPress themes are very clever

WordPress themes are one of the most powerful and useful elements of WordPress. WordPress themes are built upon the open standards of the web (HTML/CSS) and there are no design limitations whatsoever on what a WordPress website can look like. One of the most important concepts to understand is how WordPress separates design from content. This allows your website design to sit separately from your content. In practical terms this means that you can switch your theme at any time and your content will flow into your new theme. This gives you enormous flexibility to develop and evolve your website going forward.

6) WordPress Plugins will super charge your website

A WordPress plugin can be as simple as showing your twitter stream on your website, or enabling you to build a full blown e-commerce website. There are over 21,000 free WordPress plugins and they are all listed on the WordPress.org plugin directory. They are incredibly easy to install and do all sorts of clever things. Here is our list of the top 25 WordPress plugins.

7) There is a huge WordPress community

With thousands of users, developers, designers and programmers of WordPress you get access to knowledge and expertise that you can apply to enhance your own website.

3 WordPress myths that need debunking

1) WordPress is just for blogging

This is one of the most common myths that I hear. WordPress started life as a very simple blogging tool. However some of the worlds biggest brands are now using WordPress to run their websites. WordPress can do some very complex things these days. You can build almost any type of website with WordPress. WordPress is not just for blogging!

If you just want a blog then WordPress is still great, but WordPress is incredibly extensible.

2) All WordPress websites look the same

There are no design restrictions on what a WordPress website can look like. I often hear customers say “it looks like a WordPress website” and it’s true that certain design conventions have developed when people build websites on WordPress. But on the technical and design level there are no limitations on what your website can look like.

3) WordPress is not secure

Again not true! There was a period in its history when WordPress had some security vulnerabilities but those days have long gone. WordPress is now very secure. And because of the huge user base, if any vulnerabilities are found they are patched very quickly. Updating WordPress is incredibly easy, with just 1 click. The 3 most common security problems are 1) not updating WordPress 2) using an insecure theme 3) using an insecure plugin. Get these three right and you shouldn’t have a security problem on your website.

The vast WordPress community

The ecosystem and community that surrounds WordPress is what makes it so great. Take a look at the WordPress plugin directory and you will get a sense of the scale of the activity that surrounds WordPress. Over 21,000 free plugins. Over 350 million downloads!

The WordPress development community

The development of WordPress is steered by Automatic Inc. the company founded and run by Matt Mullenweg. Automatic Inc. donate time and money to the WordPress project. They are able to fund this because they have created some ancillary commercial services such as WordPress.com and Polldaddy (online surveys and quizzes).

Automatic Inc. are aided in the development of WordPress by a community of developers that anyone can contribute to. As well as developing WordPress, Automatic Inc. also guide the development of Buddypress – great if you want to build your own social network – and P2 – a great microblogging WordPress theme.

The WordPress plugin ecosystem

One of the really smart decisions that the WordPress core development team made was to limit the scope of WordPress. The development team made the decision to try and make WordPress the best website publishing system they could. But they opened up the WordPress code so that 3rd Party developers could add their own functionality via plugins.

The WordPress plugin directory on WordPress.org is incredible. Over 21,000 free plugins. Part of the challenge of using WordPress plugins is to narrow down the 21,000 into the ones you really need.

There are also a growing number of commercial plugins available. Commercial plugins generally cost under $100. I have listed 3 great examples below:

  • Gravity Forms  – An uber clever and powerful forms engine
  • Wishlist member  – To set up a paid membership website
  • Wooslider  – To create beautiful looking sliders on your website

The one health warning on plugins is this; anyone can write a plugin and upload it to the WordPress.org plugin directory. Therefore you need to do your research before choosing a plugin. WordPress plugins are not tested by a team of people sitting at WordPress HQ before they become available on the plugin directory. However plugins are policed by the WordPress community. Therefore if there is a problem with a plugin the community will generally find it and it will be removed from the directory.

Your WordPress plugin checklist:

  • Is the plugin compatible with the latest version of WordPress?
  • When was the plugin last updated? You really want to choose a plugin that is under constant development.
  • How many times has the plugin been downloaded? Popularity is a really good sign of whether the plugin is good (or not).

The gold rush in the WordPress theme market

A WordPress theme is the design template for your website. WordPress themes are easy to install even though under the hood they can be very complex. Over the past 4 years the WordPress theme market has grown massively. Many commercial companies now offer beautifully designed and functionally rich WordPress themes at a relatively low cost. A commercial WordPress theme generally costs around $30 – $70. There are WordPress themes for every kind of website you can think of, business, magazine, e-commerce, directory, review, affliate marketing, wiki, city guides and on and on.

15 of the most popular WordPress themes

  • 2011 – The default WordPress theme
  • Thesis – A theme framework
  • Canvas – A great theme framework from Woothemes
  • Responsive – A very clean and clever theme
  • Pagelines – A free theme framework
  • Pinboard – A portfolio theme
  • U-Design – WordPress theme
  • DynamiX – Premium WordPress theme
  • Genesis – Another very popular theme framework
  • Photocrati – A great theme framework for photographers
  • Whitelight – Business and e-commerce theme from Woothemes
  • Mingle – A BuddyPress theme
  • Evolution – A lovely theme from Elegant Themes
  • Nimble – Another theme from Elegant Themes
  • Currents – Magazine theme from Woothemes

My favourite WordPress theme websites:

  • Woothemes – Probably the largest theme company around at the moment. They have just under 100 themes and are now heavily involved in developing themes for ecommerce.
  • Themeforest.net – This is a market place for themes.
  • Elegant Themes – There are some beautiful themes here.

But there are many many more 🙂

WordPress theme frameworks

WordPress theme frameworks are great if you want more flexibility to change the design of your website. Theme frameworks are very powerful themes that allow you to design your website from within a theme control panel.

Whereas most WordPress themes are fairly fixed in the design and layout, the concept behind theme frameworks is that most of the elements of your website can be changed – with no programming knowledge required.[/box]

Four of the most popular theme frameworks are:

Integrating WordPress to 3rd party services

One of the great features about WordPress is that it is very simple to integrate 3rd Party online services into your website. Here are a few examples below.

  • Newsletters – There are newsletter plugins available for WordPress but I would avoid them. Instead choose a service like Mailchimp. WordPress was not designed to be an email engine and the plugins aren’t as good as using a dedicated service like Mailchimp. Integrating a newsletter service like Mailchimp into a WordPress website is very easy.
  • Back up – If you want extra insurance that your content is backed up, then use a service like Vaultpress. This backs up all your data to the cloud and also comes with an easy restore option.
  • YouTube / Soundcloud etc – Integrating video and audio with WordPress is simple.
  • Anti spam – Use Akismet for this.

10 WordPress people that you should follow

There are thousands of people involved in the WordPress project but here’s a list of some of the key people that you may want to follow.


Over 60 million websites now run WordPress. WordPress is completely free and highly customisable, and can be used for any type of website. And what’s more your users will love it.

[box type=”note”]WordPress is getting easier and easier to build websites with. As long as you are reasonably computer literate, with a bit of training you will be amazed at what is possible to achieve with WordPress.[/box]

If you have any queries or need help with WordPress, please get in touch by emailing me at jamiemarsland@pootlepress.co.uk or leaving a comment below.


3 responses to “A beginners guide to WordPress (in 2500 words)”

  1. Great overview, Jamie. As someone who just kind of jumped in and started building a site without much to go on, your site has been a huge help to me. It was interesting to read about the origins of WordPress and gave me a better understanding of its ecosystem. Keep up the good work.

    1. Jamie Marsland Avatar
      Jamie Marsland

      Hi Andrea,

      Thanks very much for the feedback – I’m really pleased you found it useful 🙂


  2. mark phillips Avatar
    mark phillips

    Really Helpful Jamie. It’s all there and perfect to give me confidence and my clients a solid overview of what they are getting for their buck. I’m so pleased I attended your course. Thanks Again.