WordPress has transformed how ordinary people create and manage content. What began as a blogging platform has become a viable tool for creating entire, complex websites. If you’re considering a new website, you could do a lot worse than to choose a super flexible, relatively user-friendly, open-source platform. You’ll be in some big company. This website is on WordPress as well.
How WordPress works (basically) and its advantages
Everything you could possibly want to know about the mechanics of using WordPress is on the WordPress Codex, which is written for everyone from rank beginners to coding whizzes. In addition, virtually any tech forum on the web has threads about how to do almost anything in WP.
Some web admins/developers have a love/hate relationship with WP. It does not lend itself to absolute, robust out-of-the-box enterprise-level control like Drupal or Plone, and if you happen to have a web admin who will be in charge of creating or maintaining your actual content, they may shy away from WP. But if you or someone on your team who is not (or only marginally) technical will actually maintain the front end of your site, WP has a much shorter learning curve than most.
But basically, you install it on your computer and point it to a domain, which you may just do by setting up a free WP account, but generally you get your web admin to set up access to an FTP server, download one of the free FTP clients, like FileZilla, then install the basic WP package on that server (you’ll probably need help with that part).
Once it’s set up, though, you can do most of the rest with your browser: log into an admin page, choose a theme, then start learning the ropes.
Content-wise, WordPress is formed around posts, pages, media, and categories. Posts are usually for dynamic content, pages are for static content, media is all your photos, etc., and categories are how you group everything together. There’s more to it, of course, but that’s how it works.
There are thousands of free WP themes you can choose. All of them come with some native customization options, but you can make them do whatever you want with some coding experience. Even fancier paid themes are inexpensive, usually $30–$60.
Usually, if you’re going to modify a theme, you create a child theme that lets you modify things like font styles or colors in a non-destructive way. WordPress loads your child theme settings first, then uses the parent theme to fill in the rest. That way, updates to the parent theme don’t overwrite your changes.
WordPress supports added functionality with plugins, which can do just about anything you want them to do with little or no digging into the code. The vast majority are free, and created by the WP user community.
Development and deployment
Your web admin will give you access to an FTP or shell account on which the WP site resides until it is ready to deploy to a production site. Your development site is like a sandbox in which you can play until it’s time to launch. Once you do launch, the development site can be mirrored and remain behind, or you can just make your edits to the production site.