WordPress is a state-of-the-art web development and publishing platform. It is comprehensive, extensible and free. WordPress adheres to all major web standards and so is compatible with all modern browsers. It is a cloud based (online) system so is independent of operating systems; you view it, update it and develop it through your browser. So whether you use Mac OS, Windows or Linux, WordPress is the ideal solution for you.
WordPress and other OpenSource technologies are giving non technical and technical people alike incredible tools to communicate and interact with the rest of the world as never before. Ask anyone in the know and they will tell you… WordPress is one of the most important technologies on the web today!
So what is WordPress?
A WordPress web/blog site is a full development platform for your online presence. WordPress gives you the tools to maintain and update your site without having to hire expensive web developers, graphic designers and consultants. It just takes a little imagination and some computer know-how.
Your WordPress site can reside anywhere, just like a regular website. Most people using non WordPress.com version of WordPress now do so as their primary website but it can also be used to complement and enhance an existing site with blogging technology.
For most of us there are 2 versions of WordPress that are freely available.
- A blog/website available at WordPress.com
- An independent web and blog site using the downloadable WordPress software available from WordPress.org
This article deals with the WordPress.org edition although there are many crossover and similar features.
From the outside WordPress looks very much like any other website but inside it is very different. The primary difference is that WordPress sits on top of a database. Behind every WordPress website sits MySQL, the open source database that powers a huge proportion of online activity and processing. In days past, having this amount of intrinsic power would have cost a fortune and required skilled developers to manage. Not so anymore. WordPress harnesses and manages that power through a clearly defined and easily learned ‘Dashboard’.
So, you have WordPress installed. (This article does not cover WordPress Installation).
So let’s log in.
To access the dashboard, simply add /wp-admin to the web address. E.g. http://www.mydomain.com/wp-admin/
You will then be asked for your user name – default: admin and your password.
The WordPress Dashboard is the mechanism that allows you to turn your creativity into a real tangible website and blog that can potentially be viewed my countless millions of people.
At the heart of WordPress are Themes (which interpret the WordPress engine and provide an Interface that your visitors will see), Pages and Posts.
Choosing a Theme is important, in fact it’s crucial. There are literally thousands of themes available but are of mixed quality, support and documentation. More later…
WordPress manages content through Pages and Posts; which are created in a similar manner but are handled in a fundamentally different way.
Pages are like regular web pages. They are static. You can have one page per subject heading. You’ll see the difference when I discuss Posts. However, static though they may be, they are still way cleverer than the average web page. So let’s say you are going to create a web page.
From your ‘dashboard’ you’ll see a menu down the left hand side (I’m assuming here that you’ll all be using an up to date version of WordPress) and half way down is a heading that says Pages. Each menu is collapsible so you may just see Pages. You should open the menu and then you’ll see Pages, Edit, Add New.
So let’s add a Page.
Adding a New Page should land you in familiar territory. It looks like a Word Processor interface. You’ll see an icon bar with various buttons (icons) to help format your page. If you see only one line of icons, you can expand this by clicking on the ‘Show/Hide Kitchen Sink’ icon which opens/closes the second line.
You’ll also notice that there are two tabs in the edit window, the first one being ‘Visual’ and the second being ‘HTML’. Right now you’ll work in the Visual tab.
Start typing something into the page.
You’ll notice that it behaves very much like a regular word processor. You can bold, underline, and italicize your text and more. You can use bullets, number lists and styles. But it may be that you prefer write your copy using Microsoft’s Word (or an open source equivalent). No problem with WordPress. There is an icon for taking Word formatted documents and pasting them into the page. Just look on the second line of the icon bar for ‘Paste from Word’. Pasting a Word document directly into a WordPress page can and invariably does lead to highly unpredictable results. Use the ‘Paste from Word’ option!
Once you have created a page, just click to the HTML tab and you’ll notice that WordPress has converted everything you have typed and formatted into ‘HTML’, the native language of the web browser.
Let’s go back to the Visual tab. WordPress also enables uploading of pictures directly into a WordPress page. You’ll see above the icon bar it says Upload/Insert followed by a series of small icons; the first being ‘Add an Image’. Let’s do that…
Click on the icon and you’ll see a number of choices of how you can insert an image. This article only deals with the first of these, Select Files (From Computer). Click Select Files and browse your computer for a picture you’d like to include on your page.
(Important Note: your website doesn’t need massive pictures being uploaded. The average digital camera nowadays can take 12+ mega pixel pictures. They are huge and cannot possibly be viewed on the average computer monitor. Keep your pictures under 1024 pixels wide. A huge proportion of the visitors to your site still have a monitor that only displays 1024 x 768 pixels, and with Netbooks and smart phones, that is even less. The bigger the image, the longer it takes to load and WordPress has to deal with storing and crunching it. So in the case of pictures, Less is More… Keep the size down).
WordPress has a built in FTP (File Transfer Protocol) facility that allows you to upload images (and for that matter, whatever else you may wish to upload), so no external programs are required to get your images into your web pages. There are tools that can enhance WordPress, which will be dealt with later.
Once uploaded, you can format the picture directly from WordPress. You can change the size, you can justify to the left, right or center. You can place a caption on the image and you can create a link so that when a visitor clicks on that image, it will take them to another or another website.
Everything you need to do to create visually pleasing content that communicates with your target audience and other sites, is contained within the Page Editor but of course there is much more.
The Page Titles (in most themes) create the Menu Heading for the page. So for example, if you want to create an ‘About Us’ page, you’ll title the page ‘About Us’ and that’s what the menu will show. Of course, you could easily run out of space on your website if you displayed each page horizontally… so WordPress has the Parent/Child page relationship.
Let’s say you create a page called ‘About Us’ but you also want a page about each individual member of the company. You wouldn’t want them all displayed next to each other. So you create the ‘About Us’ page as a Parent Page then the page about the individual would be created as a ‘Child’ of the ‘About Us’ page.
Using the system of Parent/Child Pages gives true structure and organization to your pages.
A simple example:
- Home | Philosophy | About Us | Contact Us
- Mission Statement – Child of Philosophy
- Company Ethics – Child of Philosophy
- Locations – Child of About Us
- Key Personnel – Child of About Us
The Child Pages become drop down menus of the Parent Pages.
WordPress contains a treasure chest of features that allow you to create, modify and manage your website and blog. This series of articles will cover many of those features.
Part 2 of this article will bring Posts and Blogging into the mix as well as the use of Plugins and Embedded Code to enhance pages.