One of the challenges in training people in the use of WordPress is the huge number of variances between WordPress WebSites. Of course, one of the great strengths of WordPress is its Content Management System (CMS) architecture/characteristics that separates the functionality from the content and the ‘look and feel’. For example, one may change the ‘look and feel’ of a WordPress Website by simply installing and activating a new Theme without having to make changes to the content within the Website itself. Conversely, of course, it’s possible to change the content without having to know anything about the functionality or structure of WordPress itself.
Because adding and amending content is so simple in WordPress (due to the separation of content from functionality and ‘look and feel’) there is often the tainted view that everything with WordPress is as simple as it is to add a new Website Page. Sure, by comparison to competitors’ software, almost everything is simple however one needs to keep in mind that many of the functions being done with WordPress are extremely complex. Consider for example something like a Twitter Plugin that allows for the Tweeting of the webpage and the display of the number of times the Post has been Tweeted; there is a lot going on in the background such as authentication with Twitter, accessing information from Twitter regarding how many times that Page has been tweeted, displaying the Tweet count in the Post etc. etc. and all in a fraction of a second.
One thing I always do when training people on WordPress is to communicate the four core components (from the ‘average’ users’ perspective):
WordPress Software (Core)
Per the diagram above, the WordPress software is the ‘glue’ that combines the three other parts described in this article. The core software (as downloaded from wordpress.org) offers, as its foundation, the most essential elements that will be used by almost everyone using the software. There are quite simply millions of very clever things that may be done with WordPress and including all that functionality in the core software is not viable and against the interests of the product (the ability of anyone to develop functionality for WordPress and very easily integrate their development via Plugins is a key reason for WordPress success). When you first install wordpress.org software you get the basic functionality and the means of easily extending the core software through Plugins and Themes (calling the software ‘basic’ is a huge oversimplification of the power of the ‘out the box’ wordpress.com software).
Pros: Simple to use, very reliable, takes a few minutes to install, free to use, very well thought out architecture
Summary: Some people perceive free software as inferior to costly software. WordPress proves that the absolute best things can be free. This is quite simply the best Website management software available!
Content (Pages and Posts)
Included in the core software (i.e. no Plugins are required and any Theme may be used), is a very powerful Content Management System (CMS) with which Websites and/or Blogs may be published and managed. Posts are used for Blog Articles and Pages are used for ‘static’ content such as a ‘Home Page’ or ‘Contact Us’ Page. The content is stored in the backend MySQL database and is independent of non-core functionality and styling (i.e. Plugins may be added and removed and styling changed without affecting the Page or Post content). Adding, editing or deleting content is very simple via a Graphical User Interface (GUI).
Pros: Very simple to add or amend content, all changes via GUI, no scripting or coding knowledge needed, content doesn’t change when ‘look and feel’ changes
Cons: Image manipulation and table capabilities are a bit too basic.
Summary: Just like riding a bicycle, once you know how, it is very simple (and learning how to add or amend Pages and Posts is a small task).
WordPress Themes Explained
As mentioned previously, the Theme defines the look and feel of your Site. There are thousands of Themes available for no cost as well as many that may be purchased. Many people and organizations that require their Site to be consistent with their branding may choose to have a custom WordPress Theme created just for them.
From the colour of text, the dimensions of widget spaces, custom 404 landing Pages to whether to display the tags on Posts and so on are all defined in the Theme. For most users changing to a new Theme is very simple; one does however need to be aware that some on-screen elements may be affected by changing Themes, for example, if you use a custom template that is particular to a Theme and then change the Theme, any Posts or Pages using the custom template will be assigned a default template. The most common issue with changing Themes however tends to be with Widgets where any active Widgets prior to changing the Theme may need to be re-created.
Pros: Thousands of free Themes, ability to create custom Themes, simplicity of changing Themes
Cons: Custom themes do generally require knowledge of scripting
Summary: Themes make changing the appearance of a WordPress Site simple without the need to touch the functionality or content of the Website.
About WordPress Plugins
Plugins provide a means of extending the functionality of the core WordPress software very easily. Anyone is free to ‘plug-in’ their functionality to WordPress via what are termed ‘hooks’ and are made simple for the average person through Plugins. Creating Plugins requires more advanced PHP and other scripting knowledge however there are tens of thousands of Plugins available that provide all sorts of functionality (and they are mostly available for free use).
Say for example you’d like to add a contact form to your Website so that when people fill it in and click send, you receive an email with the content of what the person filled in the form. With Plugins, setting this up can be achieved in a few minutes as it is made so simple (it’s as effortless as installing and activating a contact form Plugin, setting up your required options, then adding the contact form via a widget or adding it to a Page or Post).
Plugins are available to perform all sorts of functions. Some of the better Plugins I tend to use often on clients Websites are; Contact form 7 (for powerful but simple contact forms), All in one SEO (making it easy to add information that helps search engines understand the content on a Website), WP-Table Reloaded (WordPress core software doesn’t offer great table options and this Plugin provides all sorts of table abilities (even JQuery search/sorting) and Count per Day (makes seeing the essential visitor stats. simple for clients; Google Analytics Plugins such as Google Analytics are great if more powerful stats. are needed).
Pros: Adding functionality is as simple as a few clicks, thousands of free Plugins available, the scale of what can be done with Plugins is amazing
Cons: Creating Plugins requires scripting (e.g. PHP and HTML) and WordPress architecture knowledge.
Summary: The ease with which functionality may be added via Plugins is truly remarkable. Extend functionality in seconds with no cost – this can’t be beaten!
An appreciation of the ‘makeup’ of WordPress is necessary to understand what is happening at any time in WordPress. By breaking down WordPress into the four core areas as described above it becomes more manageable, from a novice user perspective, to understand the software and its capabilities.