WordPress terms you should understand

Key WordPress terms

Table of Contents

Archive

An archive is a page that shows a group of posts. The main blog page is an archive based on recent posts. Category and tag pages are archives. A search results page is also an archive.

Footer

The bottom area of a webpage that is repeated throughout the entire website. It usually contains your copyright information at the minimum.

Header

The top area of a webpage that is repeated throughout the entire website. It usually contains the logo and menu.

Landing page

Broadly, a landing page is any page where traffic “lands” – enters your website.

Narrowly, a landing page is a webpage with a specific goal. It is usually designed to stand alone and doesn’t include a header or footer. (They are excluded to remove navigation options.) It may or may not match the rest of the site’s design.

Landing pages are also called lead capture pages, squeeze pages, or sneeze pages although those terms have their own implications.

Lightbox

A lightbox is a type of modal (see below) used to highlight and/or enlarge an image.

The Loop

The loop is the magic behind how themes display posts in WordPress. 

When WordPress displays a page, it starts with a query. A query contains all the information that WordPress needs to find the right information in its database. It could be as simple a page ID if WordPress is supposed to fetch a single page.

But more complicated pages have more complicated queries. The main archive’s query includes the order to sort the posts (most recent on top), the post type (post), the number of posts to get. If it’s a taxonomy’s archive, the type of taxonomy and the taxonomy term are both added.

Then WordPress processes each post based on the blueprint in the theme. It processes 1 post and loops back to process the 2nd and so forth until they’re all processed.

This isn’t something you’ll come across often. But it does come up in certain situations.

Menu

A set group of links used as the main navigation throughout the website. They are found in the header and sometimes in the footer.

Tabs

I occasionally hear people refer to the menu as tabs. This causes a lot of confusion.

Menus are used for navigation between pages (or spots on the same page). Tabs are a function used to show different content on the same page. Here’s an example of tabs from the Bridge theme demo.

Maintenance Mode

When your installation of WordPress is updating its software (core files, themes, or plugins), it goes into maintenance mode. This protects the files and the database. It usually only lasts a minute or so. 

Modal

A modal is a kind of popup that is part of the website. Marketers used to create popups that opened new browser windows or tabs. This technique looks similar.

My menu is built in a modal. Click MENU in the header to see it.

Plugins

Plugins are scripts that provide additional functions for WordPress websites.

Posts and pages

This is probably the 2nd most confusing aspect of WordPress. (Templates are the most confusing.) In WordPress, everything is a post. Blog posts, pages, images – they’re all posts. But they all have different capabilities. Luckily you only have to worry about 2 of them: posts and pages.

Posts are articles that make up your blog. They’re listed in reverse chronological order. They can have a featured image. By default, they use the taxonomies categories and tags.

Pages have none of that. They’re more utilitarian in purpose. You’ll see pages used for About Pages, Contact Pages, and other single-function pages. They can have featured images, but rarely use them. And they don’t have categories or tags.

I’ve left a bit out, but that’s enough to get you moving in the right direction.

Custom post types (CPTs)

This is 1 of my favorite WordPress features. Custom post types are the same as pages and posts but you name them and pick what capabilities they have. This lets you create new sections for your website that may or may not be part of the main loop.

Common examples of custom post types are portfolios, reports, and products (for e-commerce). I’ve also seen them used for testimonials, real estate listings, and team members.

Templates

Templates are a giant headache. What they are is awesome. I love them. They’re a key part of what I do. I love working with them. The problem is that there are 4 different types of templates that are all called templates.

1 Theme templates

Theme templates are the files that work as blueprints telling the theme how to display different sections of your website.

2 Page templates

Page templates are a type of template that is applied to a specific page. They are also stored in the theme.

I never use these anymore. There’s the confusion 

3 Builder specific templates

Page builders like Elementor and Divi have a system for saving a page layout for reuse. They’re also called templates.

4 General templates

Not a WordPress thing, but many people have templates, blueprints, etc that they use to plan their pages and posts. 

Themes

Themes control the way a WordPress website appears. Often, a theme also contains additional functions for the website. This is considered bad practice by WordPress purists. Additional functions should be added via plugins.

Themes are made of files called templates (but there are other kinds of templates). These theme templates can be applied to different parts of the website based on post type, taxonomy, type of archive, and more. Here’s a breakdown of the way WordPress knows which template to use.

Child themes

Child themes are the proper way you modify an existing theme. Instead of editing the parent theme, changes – and only the changes – are put in the child theme. WordPress will use the parent theme for anything that isn’t changed.

Taxonomies

Taxonomy is simply the process of organizing and classifying things. WordPress has 2 built-in taxonomy systems: tags and categories.

Custom taxonomies

You aren’t limited to categories and tags. You can add all the taxonomies you want. And you get to set their capabilities.

Imagine you’re building a book review website. You’d need a few custom taxonomies: author, genre, publication year. That would make it easy to display all posts from that group. Click on the book’s genre and you’d get an archive of all posts in that genre.

WordPress Multisite (WPMS/WPMU)

WordPress Multisite is a self-hosted version of WordPress configured to operate like WordPress.com. This allows for a network of websites. It’s generally a pain in the ass and doesn’t play well with others.

Couldn’t find what you’re looking for?

Have a term that needs a definition? Send it to me via the questions page.

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