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Using WordPress for Your Web Site

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Using WordPress is a powerful and mostly free way to build and maintain a personal, group or commercial web site. It is an example of open-source solutions at their best. And for the beginner, nothing could be easier.

This summer I re-discovered WordPress. A group of us were looking at ways to improve our radio club’s web site, and one member suggested using WordPress. I was immediately captivated. The last time I looked at WordPress ten years ago, it had been a pretty basic blogging package. Much has changed. (If you are interested, you can see a ten year visual history of how WordPress has evolved here.)

Today, WordPress is a comprehensive content management system. It is free and open-source software. More than sixty million web sites are using WordPress. You can create a web site that does blog posts and comments, as well as normal web pages, in a few hours. What is really amazing is that using WordPress is utterly scalable. It’s a system that works for a small web site like this one, all the way up to major media outlets like BBC America and retailers like Best Buy.

There are two different ways you can start using WordPress. One way is to use their hosting service, which is free in its basic form. The other way is to download and install it on your own web site. Most web hosts provide an automated “one click” script that will install WordPress for you. Once installed, you can start creating your web site right away. There are many online tutorials to help you out, as well as books. For a beginner, I would highly recommend WordPress: The Missing Manual.

Using WordPress – Themes and Plugins

Themes control the visual appearance and some of the functionality of your WordPress site. There are hundreds of free and commercial themes which you can download. The better ones give you complete control of layouts, typography, colors and so on. Good themes let you completely customize the appearance of your site. This web site uses the excellent Make Theme. There is almost no need to understand code. It’s all about visual design and development.

Plugins add extra features and functions to enhance using WordPress. There are thousands of free and commercial plugins which you can download. This web site uses plugins to optimize content for search engines and connect with social media like Facebook and Twitter. But that just scratches the surface. There are plugins for almost anything you can think of doing on your web site.

As an added bonus, most themes and plugins are responsive. This means that your web site will adapt its appearance to the user device used to view the site. If you access this site using your phone, tablet and computer, you will see it change shape and look great on any size of screen. And this responsiveness is automatic.

Using WordPress – Getting Started

There are two ways to get started using WordPress in a low risk environment. The first is to sign-up for a free account at the WordPress hosting service. This way you can have your own site up and running in a few minutes. Then you just play with it, trying different things. Your hosted site will probably not be noticed until you are ready to publicize it.

The second and more advanced way is to set up a test web site on your computer and access it locally. This is a completely private option. There are several different ways of doing this and they are all fairly straightforward. I used the Bitnami WordPress Installer to create a “pretend” web server on my computer. One Windows install and it was up and running. Bitnami also works on Apple and Linux. I use Bitnami as a private web site to test different ideas. After they work properly, I can transfer the ideas to the “real” web site. (In the world of IT, one calls the “pretend” web site the development environment, and the “real” web site the production environment. If you plan on doing any serious work using WordPress, it is very useful to have a separate development environment.)

Either way, getting started using WordPress is rather painless. Do you have the skills to get started? In my view, if you know how to use a word processer (say MS Word or Google Docs) the answer is a definite yes!

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