What is WordPress? At a high level, it’s a tool that helps you create a website.
You can kind of think of it as your website’s operating system.
Just like macOS handles the basic operations of your Macbook, WordPress handles the basic operations of your website. Then, if you want to add more features, WordPress lets you install apps (called “plugins”) just like you can install apps on your Macbook.
The end result is that WordPress can help you build pretty much any type of website without any code, from a simple blog to an enterprise-level eCommerce store and lots more.
There are a lot of impressive WordPress statistics, but none that can beat this one:
WordPress powers over 40.6% of all the websites on the internet.
Yes – that number is as crazy as it sounds. More than two out of every five websites on the internet use WordPress. For comparison, Wix and Squarespace both power only 1.7% of websites each, so WordPress is in a completely different universe from these tools, though you won’t hear WordPress being advertised on any of your favorite podcasts.
So – to learn more about what WordPress is and why so many webmasters and businesses choose to build their websites with WordPress, keep reading our full introduction to the WordPress software.
📚 Table of contents:
How does WordPress work?
Rather than trying to explain what WordPress is in abstract terms, let’s start by showing you how WordPress works, and then we can circle back to the details.
To make a website with WordPress, you first need to install the WordPress software on a website hosting.
Going back to the operating system analogy, your computer’s operating system runs on your physical device – e.g. your Macbook.
With website hosting, you’re basically renting that physical device so that you can run the WordPress software and make it available 24/7 to visitors around the world.
Once you have WordPress installed, WordPress serves two high-level functions.
First, it helps you manage all of your website’s content and settings using a backend dashboard. This dashboard is private – only you (and other authorized users) will be able to see it.
Second, WordPress will then take all of that information that you entered in the backend dashboard and use it to generate the frontend website that your visitors interact with.
This is why WordPress is called a content management system (CMS). You get a backend dashboard to manage your content and then WordPress turns that content into a website for you – no code required.
For example, let’s say you want to write a new blog post for your website.
First, you would use the backend WordPress dashboard to write your blog post using the WordPress editor. You can include images, set up basic layouts, add buttons, and so on:
When you’re finished, you can publish your post. Then, WordPress will take all of your content and choices and turn them into a finished blog post in the frontend of your site. Here’s an example of what it might look like:
Beyond adding content, the backend WordPress dashboard also lets you manage all other aspects of your site, including users, settings, comments, and so on:
Customizing your WordPress site with themes and plugins
If you want to further customize your site, WordPress offers two types of extensions:
Themes let you change what your website looks like. You can easily change themes just like you change clothes. If you changed your site’s theme, all of your content would still be there – it just would look different. Here’s an example of the same blog post from above, just with a different theme:
Plugins let you add new functionalities to your site. Think of them like programs or apps that you install on your computer/smartphone, but for your website.
If you buy a new iPhone, you’ll almost certainly want to install some apps to make it your own and add key functionalities. No one uses just the stock iOS software without any apps.
Well, it’s the same for WordPress. The core WordPress software only covers the basic features that you need to create a website. To add everything else, you’ll need to install plugins.
For example, want to add a contact form? You can install a contact form plugin. Want to add a live chat feature? Install a live chat plugin.
Plugins can also make big changes to your site. For example, if you want to create an eCommerce store, you can install the WooCommerce plugin.
Or, plugins can also change the backend administrative experience of your site. For example, if you want to design your site using a visual, drag-and-drop interface, you can install a page builder plugin.
Every single WordPress site will rely on multiple WordPress plugins. In fact, plugins are one of the best things about WordPress, and a big reason why it’s so popular. But plugins aren’t the only reason – there are lots of other benefits, too.
Why is WordPress so popular?
There are a lot of reasons why WordPress is so popular, but here are some of the biggest. WordPress is…
- Free – the core WordPress software is 100% free.
- Open-source – WordPress is an open-source software, which means anyone can download it, view the code, contribute their own code, and so on.
- Secure – the core WordPress software is secure and trusted by famous brands like Facebook and organizations like the US White House.
- Versatile – you can use WordPress to build pretty much any type of website. More on this in a second.
- Easy to integrate with other services – no matter what third-party tools or services you’re using, there’s a pretty good chance you can integrate them with WordPress.
- Responsive (works on all devices) – whether your visitors are using a desktop, tablet, or smartphone, your website will still look great and be functional.
- Easy to extend with plugins – you can find tens of thousands of free and paid plugins to add new features to your site.
- Easy to customize with themes – you can find a plethora of free and paid themes to achieve the perfect style and design for your website.
- Accessible – your site can be used by everyone, even people using screen readers or other assistive devices.
What types of sites can you build with WordPress?
Now, you might wonder “what is WordPress used for?”
Well, the answer is that you can use WordPress to build pretty much any type of website.
While WordPress does have its roots as a blogging tool, it’s long since morphed into a full content management system that you can use to build literally any type of website, from eCommerce stores to online courses, social media communities, and more.
Here’s a partial list of site types that you can build with WordPress:
Here’s an example of an eCommerce store built with WordPress:
Beyond creating public websites for visitors, you can also use WordPress to create internal websites to streamline your business. For example, you can use WordPress to create your own…
You can also mix and match these use cases. For example, you could create a portfolio website for your freelancing business that also contains your invoicing system and CRM.
Or, you could create a blog and then also add a forum and start offering online courses.
This type of flexibility is another advantage of WordPress. If you use something like Shopify, you can pretty much just create an online store. But with WordPress, you can create an online store while still adding other features if needed.
Why are there two different versions of WordPress?
If you searched Google for “WordPress,” you would probably see two different results at the top:
So – why the heck are there two different versions of WordPress?
Well, the short answer is that there aren’t two versions of WordPress – WordPress.com and WordPress.org are different things, and there’s only one “WordPress.” But it’s a confusing topic, so you’re definitely not alone in thinking so.
Let’s quickly go through it:
What is WordPress “.org”?
WordPress.org is the home of the free, non-profit, open-source WordPress software.
When most people say “WordPress,” they’re talking about the open-source WordPress software and project, AKA WordPress.org.
What’s more, everything that we’ve written in this post applies to WordPress.org. While WordPress.com shares some similarities, it’s not the same thing.
What is WordPress “.com”?
WordPress.com is a for-profit website building service that’s based on the open-source software at WordPress.org. WordPress.com provides one way to create a site with the WordPress.org software, though it limits your access unless you pay for the highest-tier plans.
🧐 WordPress.com is not “WordPress,” it just uses WordPress.
Put another way – all WordPress.com sites use the WordPress.org software, but not all sites that use the WordPress.org software are on WordPress.com. In fact, most sites that use WordPress are not on WordPress.com.
👉 For a more detailed look, check out our full WordPress.org vs WordPress.com comparison.
How much does WordPress cost?
Now it’s time for another important question – what is WordPress going to cost for you to make a website?
Well, there are a lot of variables here. In general, WordPress can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it.
Let’s start at the beginning:
The open-source WordPress software itself is 100% free.
However, there are some associated costs of running the WordPress software, so it’s pretty much impossible to run a serious WordPress site for free.
Let’s talk about the two biggest costs you might encounter:
Web hosting and domain name
In order to power the WordPress software, you need to install it on a website hosting service.
While you can find some free WordPress hosting services, free hosting is really just for testing. For any type of serious website, you’ll want to pay for hosting.
For many websites, you’ll be totally fine with budget WordPress hosting, which can cost as little as $2.75 per month. This is especially true when you’re just getting started.
If your site grows in traffic and starts receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, you’ll need to upgrade to pricier, performance-optimized hosting, which can cost $30+ per month.
Here’s a quick summary of the pricing offered by some of the most popular WordPress hosting companies:
- Bluehost – $2.75 /mo
- DreamHost – $2.59 /mo
- Hostinger – $1.39 /mo
- SiteGround – $4.99 /mo
👉 See a list of all the top WordPress hosts compared here.
Beyond hosting, you’ll also need to purchase a domain name, which is your WordPress site’s permanent address on the Internet. For example, ours is codeinwp.com.
A “.com” domain name costs ~$12 at a budget-friendly domain registration service, while other domain extensions might cost more or less. Some website hosting services will also give you a free domain name for your first year.
Plugins and theme
While you can find thousands of free WordPress plugins and themes, it’s also possible that you might want to add a premium theme and/or some premium plugins to your site.
Most premium WordPress themes cost around $60, while plugins can range in price from as little as $20 to $100+.
You only need one WordPress theme, which caps your cost at ~$60 if you want a premium theme. However, you might want multiple premium WordPress plugins, so what you pay for plugins is variable and really depends on your site.
Putting the costs together
If you put all of that together, you could create a simple WordPress site for ~$50 per year (or even less). This number is attainable. Personally, I’ve built successful WordPress sites that cost that little.
However, many WordPress users will pay more than that, especially if you’re creating a specialized site such as an eCommerce store, membership site, online course, and so on.
A more realistic price for a fairly straightforward site would be $150-$300 per year. And for some sites, such as eCommerce stores, you could easily spend $500+ or even in the thousands.
Of course, all of that assumes that you’re setting things up yourself. You can also pay a WordPress developer to create a site for you, but that will obviously cost more.
How to create your first WordPress site
Now that you can answer the question of “what is WordPress?”, you might be interested in getting started with your own WordPress website.
If you’re ready to dive in, check out our step-by-step guide on how to make a WordPress website. It will walk you through every single step in the process of going from zero to a working WordPress site.
Of course, while WordPress is by far the most popular way to make a website, it’s definitely not the only option. To see some other non-technical tools, you can browse our roundup of the best website builders. We also have posts that compare WordPress versus two of the most popular website builders:
Do you still have questions about what WordPress is or whether it’s right for you? Ask us in the comments!
Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%:
Layout and presentation by Chris Fitzgerald and Karol K.