I get a lot of questions from people who don’t quite understand the basic difference between a typical HTML website and one run with WordPress. Then there are those that are so new to content management that they don’t know what they really want except to have some type of web presence. In an attempt not to beat the dead horse “is WordPress better than a static HTML site” argument, I will attempt to explain the pros and the few cons of using WordPress as a content management system to run your website.
One thing that I have explained or more like complained about in the past are people that pay for or spend countless hours designing a static HTML site and then realize they would like a WordPress blog attached to it. They then want a WordPress theme to match their site except they don’t want to pay the average $200 for it. I try to explain that WordPress can run the entire website and act like a static website, not just a blog. But a lot insist on holding onto the HTML template they laboured over.
I know I have (somewhat) veered away from my intent on this site and that is to try to cater to the newest of newbies when it comes to WordPress. When I first started out with WordPress and tried to get answers on a certain forum or from the extensive WordPress.org Codex, I found the “Know It All” mentality somewhat abrasive. If you asked a question you would be chastised for being so stupid to even ask or pointed into a million different directions to get a simple answer. After some time and research thanks to Google and all the other WordPress hackers out there, I started to learn the basics of WordPress, PHP and CSS and then the light started to glow in my feeble brain. And Believe me, I just scratched the surface!
This post is inspired by a recent client whom I converted a small static HTML site into a WordPress Powered site. When I do such a job or setup a new WordPress site for a client, I automatically think that the client knows the difference. The questions asked were how to SEO optimize the site’s meta title tags, description, keywords, and alt tags. As well as how to change the front page of the site, and add more content pages to the site. I thought that the instructions I send new clients were clear on this but let’s get down to the very basics.
WordPress doesn’t hold the content like your posts, pages, the comments people make or the settings on any static files, instead, it uses a database to hold those and other settings. The actual files that are uploaded to your hosting account simply tell the database what to display on the browser. Now that is an oversimplified explanation and lacks the proper terms but remember I still am Geek Impaired. The advantage here is that the database can be exported for backup very easily to save all the essential content. If the actual WordPress files on the hosting account are deleted or corrupted they are somewhat universal and can be easily downloaded and restored from WordPress.org. So as long as the database is safe you really can’t loose anything.
That brings us to WordPress themes (not templates) and is the most popular subject for newbies. The theme is what is displayed on the browser and is made up of multiple files. The look of the theme can be altered but if you know nothing about CSS or the code used in the themes it can very time-consuming to learn on your own. Any customization to the theme is done to the actual theme’s files that reside on the hosting account so these changes are not saved in the database. So if you do have a custom theme made or you customized it make sure to back it up.
The theme has various sections on it starting with the header and some include a navigation bar on or near the header that usually has a link to the home page that automatically includes all the pages (not posts) in it. If you create a lot of pages the navigation bar can get cluttered and look terrible. There is a way to include or exclude specific pages from the navigation bar if this is something you encounter.
The content area of the theme is pretty self-explanatory this is where you show the content of blog posts or pages. Adding new posts or pages or editing and changing them is done with an editor similar to ones used for composing emails or Word documents.
The sidebars on WordPress blogs are made up of individual widgets. WordPress comes with a set of sidebar widgets, like categories, recent posts, search, archives and a few others that you can choose to show. But there are also text widgets that are basically a blank slate that is used to add just about anything you want. You can add AdSense code, images, banner ads and just about anything you want in a text widget. You can not only choose what sidebar widgets to show on a WordPress blog but you can also arrange the placement of widgets.
The main advantage of WordPress over a static HTML site is that the look of a site run on WordPress is all managed in the dashboard, any changes to the theme or sidebar widgets only need to be done once, unlike a static site that would require every page to be manually edited one-by-one.
WordPress was designed to be used as a blog, and typically a blog shows the latest blog posts on the main page in chronological order, this is called the “loop”. But you can also add pages that are not included in the loop. One of these pages can be set as the front of the blog or website to appear as a standard website instead of a blog. The actual blog posts can be shown on a different page of your choice. The advantage here brings us full circle to the beginning of this post and that is having a website with static content on the front with a WordPress blog that looks exactly the same. This is accomplished without the time constructing a static HTML site and trying to match a WordPress theme to it.
Plugins can be added to WordPress for increased functionality, and with just a few plugins that will automatically add the SEO elements to each post, there is no need to learn how to or waste your time doing SEO like you need to do on static HTML web pages. There are hundreds of other plugins that you can add to WordPress for even more functionality and chances are if you want your WordPress site to do something there is a plugin out there somewhere to do it.
So I said I will tell of the pros and cons and so far no cons. There can be some issues that come up with using WordPress and that is keeping up with the constant updates that come out. When new updates come out upgrading can be a hassle at times and some plugins may not work with new versions. My advice is to keep plugins to a minimum to reduce the chances of both they’re no longer working and also conflicting with other plugins.
This post just scratches the surface of how you can use WordPress. Once you learn some of the basics and are not afraid to get into the WordPress dashboard and dig around, you can really see the power of WordPress.