I’m a huge fan of WordPress. I never expected to have a strong opinion about content management systems, of all things, but over the years WordPress has earned my glowing praise and with each update it gets better.
What the Heck Is a Content Management System?
A content management system is a bunch of code that you put on your website so you don’t have to deal with a bunch of code on your website. The Internet is built on HTML. But even if you know how to code in HTML, having to write a lot of code every time you want to update your site is time consuming. So clever people made software that allows you to create blog posts and web pages without having to know a line of HTML.
WordPress is a content management system. Others you may have heard of include SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly, Blogger and Tumblr.
WordPress Is Easy to Use
A content management system (CMS) is an interface that allows you to make changes to your website without having to know how to code in HTML. This is true of every content management system, not only WordPress. But I want to make clear from the start that WordPress is easy to use, so you understand it’s not a trade off. You’re not choosing a difficult interface for more features, you’re choosing an easy interface with more features. It’s a win win.
I do prefer to do a one-hour consultation with clients when I launch their sites, so I can teach them useful tricks and answer any questions about where this or that is located. There is more of a learning curve than I’d associate with a blog platform like, say, Tumblr. But if you want to do something on a Tumblr site like display your latest book in the sidebar or add a mailing list, you’d have to code in HTML by hand. WordPress only gets complicated when you expand it beyond what other content management systems don’t allow you to do at all. Creating blog posts and new page content is equally easy in all of them. WordPress has a simple, straightforward interface, which you can expand with simple, straightforward bells and whistles.
WordPress Is Free
I’m a relentless bargain hunter. My clients appreciate my tendency to hunt down affordable solutions to their problems, and no price is better than free. But when I say WordPress is free, I don’t only mean that it costs zero dollars, I also mean that it is free from restrictions on its use. In the open source community, this distinction is often described as “free as in ‘free beer’ versus free as in “free speech.” The latter is a broader freedom; it means WordPress is noncommercial. You don’t have to worry that it will go out of business or start charging, because no one person owns it. It is owned by the community of people who contribute to it. It is free forever and forever free.
WordPress Offers Endless Customization
You know those ads for Apple, bragging about the embarrassment of riches in the app store? “There’s an app for that,” they say. Well it’s just as true for WordPress. The out-of-the-box options can match any other content management system, and WordPress gets really powerful with the use of plugins. Just as you can expand the use of your smart phone in endless ways by installing various apps, you can do the same with WordPress by installing plugins. Almost anything you can imagine you want on your site, someone has created a plugin for. And most of them are free!
Using a different content management system is like having an iPhone that can’t access the app store. Other content management systems just don’t have the enormous open source community of themes and plugins that WordPress has. If you can think of a feature you want your WordPress site to have, someone has probably already built a plugin for it.
WordPress Is Reliable
Close to 30% of the Internet uses WordPress. Thirty percent! It means that bugs or security flaws are found and updated. It means that new features are being added all the time. It means that whatever you want to do with your site, someone has already come up with a solution for. It means that the support forums are filled with volunteers to help you solve any problems you might encounter. The sheer number of people worldwide who use it mean that you can be sure WordPress isn’t going anywhere.
On top of that, because self-hosted WordPress sites are owned by the community, they are not tied to the mercies of startup culture. Who knows if companies like Wix or SquareSpace will get bought out tomorrow? This is not meant as a slight against these companies at all, I only mean to say that every website dependent upon the success of a company is subject to the whims of the market. If the company that makes WordPress closed up shop, WordPress would live on, because they gave ownership of that code to the community.
WordPress Is Beautiful
Like other content management systems, you can easily change the look and feel of your website by changing its theme. But you can do so much more with WordPress themes! You can find themes in any style. Some beautiful WordPress themes I fancy.
If You Don’t Like WordPress, You’re Free to Leave
A decade ago, before I had my own website, I started blogging on MySpace. My friends were there, so it was the simplest way to reach them. It was all hunky dory until MySpace fell out of favor. I took that opportunity to buy my own domain and launch my first site (back then I used Movable Type) only to realize there was no way to get my blog posts out of MySpace and into my new site. I could recreate each old post by hand, but that’s a time-consuming process…who wants to re-upload old photos for an old post, when there are new and current things to write about?
With WordPress there is an option that allows you to batch export all of your old posts and their associated images, links, videos, etc., so you can easily move them to your new blog. Likewise, there’s an import option that will allow you to easily bring your old blog to WordPress when you’re coming from another site with an export option, like Google’s Blogger.
It’s shocking to meet writers—who make their living off of their words—so willing to throw away all the good things they wrote because they are ready to move their website. Conversely, there are some who would like to move, but are too invested, and lacking an export option feel trapped on the blog they currently use.
Before you commit to any content management system, make sure there is a way to export your posts
Ultimately, there is no content management system that is more powerful, more flexible and also as easy to use as WordPress is. Plus it’s free forever and based on a strong community of people devoted to its development.
The Difference Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org
Further complicating matters, there are two very different versions of WordPress.
The company that makes WordPress runs a business where they sell web hosting bundled with their content management system. This is similar to how Wix and SquareSpace work.
However, because the company that makes WordPress is awesome, they also give away their content management system for free. This is the open source project you find at WordPress.org. This is referred to as a “self-hosted site” because while the WordPress content management system is free, you still have to pay for a web host. Whereas with WordPress.com, you are paying them to be your web host (If you don’t know what a web host is, check out this guest post I wrote for Learn HTML with Song). Self hosted means you are ready to have your own website.