What every small business owner needs to know about WordPress (a crash course)

Table of Contents

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a piece of software that runs on a server. It’s used to build websites and controls both the public-facing pages and the private, administrative section of the site.

(That isn’t perfectly correct. But if you know how the explanation is wrong, my explanation isn’t for you.)

What Makes WordPress special (how WP works)

I will go into the pros & cons of WordPress later in this article. For now, I want you to understand this key idea.

Your WordPress website doesn’t exist

Back in the day, a website was made of HTML files. They’re just plain, ol’ text files written in code. The instructions for a page could be completely contained in a single file or it could get information from other files.

If you searched my server (this server) for HTML files, you won’t find any. My website – built with WordPress – doesn’t have any HTML files. When your computer requested this page, my installation of WordPress read the request and built a webpage to fulfill the request. 

WordPress isn’t a website. WordPress is an on-demand, webpage-building machine.

The separation of data and design

WordPress can build web pages on the fly because it keeps much of the website’s information in a database. The data is assembled based on a set of instructions called a theme. The files in the theme are the blueprints for your website’s visual design as well as some of its functions.

That all means that WordPress is built so that you can change the design, layout, and organization of both your individual pages and your website as a whole without touching your content. If built properly, you can change your site’s look faster than you can change your socks.

When you should use WordPress

If you don’t have a good reason to use something else, you should use WordPress.

It’s hard to beat its flexibility. And, if you decide you don’t like it, it’s usually easier to migrate from WordPress to another platform than the reverse.

When you shouldn’t use WordPress

Nothing is perfect. Here are the top reasons to not use WordPress:

  1. You will rarely update your website and you have someone who is better with a different system.
  2. Redundancy. You have a website and want to spread out your resources to reduce risk. An example of this is hosting your podcast on a different system even though your site is the podcast’s primary, public face.
  3. You have crazy technical requirements forced on you and there’s already an existing solution.

Those are the only reasons I’ve seen. There really isn’t a great reason to not use WordPress for your business’s marketing/public-facing website unless you have some very specific needs or you simply dislike WordPress.

Should I use WordPress if I don’t want to blog?

The days of WordPress being a just blogging tool are long gone. Years ago, like 2007 or 2008, WordPress grew to the point where it was ready to operate as a full-fledged website solution, not just a blog.

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com (What is self-hosted?)

WordPress is software – the software I’ve been explaining.

WordPress.ORG is the website where you can download WordPress. It also has a theme library, a plugin repository, and a support forum. This is called the self-hosted version because you have to host it yourself.

WordPress.COM is a website built with a special version of WordPress (WordPress MultiSite) where you can host a free WordPress website. (Many premium features are available.)

The primary difference is responsibility.

If you’re using the .COM version, you’re limited to the themes and plugins you can use. Your hands are completely tied when it comes to in-depth customization. They’re responsible so they’re going to protect you from yourself whether you like it or not – whether it’s helpful or not.

If you’re using the .ORG version, you can do anything you want. You are responsible for everything. You must provide hosting. You must secure and set up a domain. If you want to make a customization, you can and you will reap the consequences – good or ill.

That might have made you a little hesitant to use the self-hosted solution. Don’t be. WordPress is well made. Just don’t be dumb. You wouldn’t pop the hood on your car and randomly remove parts or switch wires. Don’t randomly delete your site’s files or edit them unless you know what you’re doing.

Benefits of using WordPress

This article is already getting long so I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

WordPress is awesome because:

  1. You can pretty much do anything with (or within) WordPress.
  2. WordPress is popular so there are a ton of solutions already available.
  3. Can’t find an existing solution? There are also a ton of professionals who can do custom WordPress work.
  4. It can be easy to use. If you want to do something complicated, your site might be less easy to use. If your website is poorly built, it might be very hard to use.

Cons of using WordPress

Most of WordPress’s issues come from the fact that it’s a digital machine. 

  1. WordPress requires maintenance.
    Maintenance is easy and simple when it goes well. It can be a pain in the ass when it doesn’t. Again, this is no different than a physical machine. How long will your car last if you don’t change your oil?
  2. WordPress is slower than pure HTML websites. 
    When an HTML page is requested, the server delivers it. When a WordPress page is requested, WordPress has to build it and then deliver it. Of course, that takes longer. There are solutions. But poorly developed sites have given WordPress a bad name.
  3. WordPress is less secure than pure HTML websites.
    HTML websites have few or no moving parts. There’s nowhere for an attacker to get in. WordPress is all moving parts. There are more potential points of failure. Plus, WordPress is blamed for human failures like hacks due to low-quality passwords or failing to perform maintenance. Heard of the Panama Papers?

Is WordPress really free?

Yes, WordPress is absolutely 100% free.

It’s free like owning a forest means that you have free supplies to build a house.

  • Can you follow tutorials and build your own website? Yes. Will it be everything you want? Probably not.
  • Can you get by using free themes? Yes. Will you love it? Probably not.
  • Can you get by using free plugins? Yes. No caveat here. Most of the plugins I use are free – but not all. OK, a small caveat.
  • Do you need to hire a professional to build your website? No, but would you trust your website to someone who’s reading up on whether or not the software is free?

Key WordPress terms

Originally, this crash course included a list of key terms. But it was too much. The crash course was turning into a train wreck.

The WordPress terms have been given their own page here.

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