Like many freelance website designers, I use the WordPress content management system (CMS for short) to build websites. In this article, I’m going to explain what WordPress is, and the 5 key reasons why I use this.
What is WordPress?
Everything you see on a website – the text, logos, images, videos and downloadable files – is content, and a website needs software to manage this content.
WordPress is just one of many different CMS platforms which can be used to build websites.
You’ve maybe seen adverts for WordPress alternatives like Squarespace, Weebly and Wix. With so many options to choose from, then why did I choose WordPress?
There are lots of reasons why, but in the interests of keeping this article short I’m going to focus on the 5 key reasons.
1: WordPress is open-source
WordPress began life as a blogging platform in 2003. It’s open-source, which means that the platform isn’t restricted by any copyright or trademark, and so it’s freely available for anyone to download and modify. The first version of WordPress was in fact a modified version of an open-source blogging system called b2/cafelog, which was no longer being maintained.
Since 2003, tens of thousands of talented people from across the globe have contributed to the project, making WordPress the great software that it is today. The fact that it’s open-source also means that there’s no risk of the company going out of business, which can’t be said for many WordPress alternatives.
Because anybody can download WordPress for free, the only things you need to pay for when building a WordPress website are a domain name and website hosting.
2: WordPress community
According to W3Techs, who measure these things, WordPress is used to power 34.5% of the top 10 million websites (as of September 2019). That’s a lot of websites. Its closest open-source alternatives are tiny in comparison, with Joomla at 2.8% and Drupal at 1.8%.
Over the years, a very large WordPress ecosystem has grown. For example, there are people who specialise in building themes and plugins (more on this later), and there are hosting companies which only host WordPress websites.
This WordPress community isn’t just online though. Every month, across the world, informal WordPress meetups are held. I go to my local one, where I meet up with a friendly bunch of people. Some are website designers like myself, but others are involved with WordPress in all sorts of ways: e-business owners, hobbyists, bloggers and digital marketers to name a few. It’s all about being able to share knowledge and helping each other out with any website issues.
More formal weekend-long annual conferences, known as WordCamps, are held in different regions across the world. The one I attended in London this year was very well organised, and the sessions I attended were hugely informative. And, of course, you get to meet plenty of other people who use WordPress on a daily basis.
The offline WordPress community is of course underpinned by a wealth of online resources such as WordPress blogs (naturally) and social media. There’s a huge amount of very helpful information out there.
3: WordPress is highly customisable
Wouldn’t the internet be a very boring place if all websites looked the same? Fortunately, WordPress is highly customisable.
Each website is based on a theme which governs the basic layout and functionality of the site along with the look & feel – the fonts and colours – and there are thousands of themes to choose from.
Many of the basic themes are free, but others, giving more control of the web page layout, can be installed for a modest sum. My favourite theme is called GeneratePress, because it is lightweight and can easily be customised with Cascading Style Sheets (or CSS) which is the language used to describe how a web page is presented.
The real strength of WordPress though is plugins. Plugins are code modules which add functionality to a website, and there are currently over 60,000 plugins available.
These plugins can be used for loads of different things. Some of these are widgets that appear on the web page, such as forms, or image carousels, or interactions with social media.
Other plugins add functionality behind the scenes, to the ‘back end’ as it’s known, providing functionality for things like website security and taking backups.
Lots of plugins are completely free to use, whilst other ‘freemium’ ones let you use the basic functionality for free, but you need to pay to unlock the advanced features.
4: WordPress is SEO friendly
Core WordPress has been built with an emphasis on speed and performance, which is critical if you want your site to rank well in Google. There are also many plugins available which help you optimise your site design and content, the most popular of which is Yoast.
WordPress can only do so much though, and there are lots of other factors to bear in mind if you want an SEO friendly website, such as optimising images so that these load quickly. The most important factor though is content, as your site will not rank very well with stale and outdated content that is poorly structured.
5: WordPress is scalable
WordPress can be used to power anything from the smallest blog through to websites for some of the largest multinational companies. For example, BBC America, Sony Music and Walt Disney all have websites built with WordPress.
Core WordPress can also be extended through the use of plugins such as WooCommerce to turn your website into an ecommerce store.
All of this means that WordPress is the ideal platform for your business website, because you can easily extend your website as your business grows.
Many of the rival platforms do offer viable alternatives for building websites but, for me, WordPress is the best all-round CMS. It’s probably fair to say that WordPress has a steeper learning curve, but its strengths more than compensate for this:
- WordPress is open-source, so it’s not under the control of one company
- the huge community means that WordPress is continually evolving
- it’s highly customisable, with new functionality being added all the time through theme and plugin updates
- WordPress is definitely SEO friendly, enabling you to get your site to rank well for search engines
- it is scalable, so your website can grow as your business grows