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What is WordPress? A Beginner’s Guide

23 May 2023


WordPress is the most widely used content management system (CMS) globally, powering over 43% of all sites on the internet. But what is WordPress, what is WordPress used for, and why is it so popular? Whether you’re new to the platform and want to learn WordPress or are a seasoned user wondering how does WordPress work, this beginner’s guide will help you answer these questions and more. So, let’s start!

What is WordPress?

At its core, WordPress is a powerful and user-friendly platform that allows you to create and manage a website, blog or shop. As an open-source CMS, WordPress is constantly evolving and is licensed under GPLv2, which means that anyone can use or change the software for free. This makes building and managing a website accessible to everyone, even those who aren’t developers.

So much work has gone into improving the capabilities, editing experience and performance of WordPress – there’s a reason it’s become the best CMS in the world, powering a THIRD of the Internet. vs.

When people talk about WordPress, they usually refer to the self-hosted, open-source software available at However, there’s another version called, which is a for-profit, paid service powered by the open-source WordPress software. is more beginner-friendly but offers less flexibility compared to the self-hosted So, in most situations, self-hosted is the better option for owning and customising your website.

Self-hosted means you host the core WordPress files and a database on your own hosting. You can do this using a one-click install, so don’t be put off if that all sounds like a bit of a headache. The benefits to hosting your own website are that there are no fees for using your CMS. WordPress is – and will always be, thanks to its open-source licensing – free to use. Plus, you are in complete control of your own website, so you’re not constrained to a set number of pages or products, forced to pick from a selection of themes or unable to change certain things.

Why WordPress?

WordPress is the go-to choice for millions of users worldwide because it offers many advantages, such as:

  • It’s continually updated, for free.
  • It’s easy to use.
  • It’s flexible and highly customisable.
  • It’s SEO-friendly.
  • And easy to extend, thanks to the plugin library, which is home to over sixty-thousand plugins.

The history of WordPress

  1. 2003 – WordPress is born. Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little initially created WordPress as a fork of a blogging platform called b2/cafelog. They released the first version of WordPress, named version 0.7, on May 27, 2003.
  2. 2004 – The concept of themes was introduced, allowing users to easily­ change the appearance and design of their WordPress websites.
  3. 2005 – WordPress 1.5 is realised, with a new plugin architecture which allowed users to extend WordPress functionality with third-party plugins.
  4. 2010 – Custom Post Types and Multisite are added.
  5. 2015 – The Customizer is launched, making it easier for users to preview and customise their website’s appearance visually, and in real-time.
  6. 2018 – WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg are launched. WordPress 5.0 brought a major change to the editor with the introduction of Gutenberg, a block-based editor which provides a more flexible and visual editing experience.
  7. 2021 – Full site editing comes to Gutenberg.

What is WordPress used for?

WordPress powers all kinds of websites, from small hobby sites to some of the most visited sites on the internet. WordPress is used for:

  • Blogs
  • Business websites
  • eCommerce stores
  • News and magazine sites
  • Non-profit and charity websites
  • Educational websites
  • Community and membership sites
  • Personal sites
  • Government and public sector sites

Is WordPress easy to use?

Yes! WordPress is designed to be easy to use, even for non-technical users. However, there is a slight learning curve as you familiarise yourself with the platform. But don’t worry, there are plenty of resources available to help you learn WordPress.

And once you get your head around it, you’ll never need to learn a new CMS again. WordPress accommodates websites of all sizes and can handle high levels of traffic. With its flexibility, you can easily add new features, redesign your website, or extend its capabilities as your requirements evolve, all without needing to switch platforms.

How does WordPress work?

Your core WordPress files connect to your database, where your content – your posts, pages and settings – is stored and pulls that data out into your theme using a magic bit of code called the loop. Which, as the name suggests, is looped through for each post, retrieving the information your theme asks for.

WordPress is regularly updated and in turn, your plugins and themes will be updated to keep them compatible and in sync with the changes to WordPress. As your content lives in the database, you’re free to change your theme and plugins without affecting your posts and pages.

You can work on your posts and pages as drafts, then publish them once ready, making them visible to the world (and search engines).

WordPress themes

WordPress themes are the presentation layer of your site. They dictate how your pages look and are where you apply your personalisation and branding. The limitless possibilities WordPress themes supply are one of the key things which separate WordPress from its competitors like Squarespace and Wix.

WordPress comes with a Gutenberg-ready theme which works out of the box. And, the WordPress theme directory is full of free, user submitted themes, which are reviewed and approved before being listed. Beyond the theme directory, there are countless marketplaces and theme sellers, offering Premium themes you can easily apply to your website. You may even opt to hire a developer to build you a bespoke theme or, have a go at coding your own.

WordPress plugins

WordPress plugins allow you to extend the functionality of your website and, with tens of thousands to choose from, chances are if you can think of it, there’s a plugin for it. And if there’s not, you can always make it yourself or hire a developer to build it for you.

Plugins are packages of self-contained code which can independently add to your website’s functionality, without changing anything about your core WordPress install. Adding a WordPress plugin is simple; Just search for the plugin, install and activate it.

Some of the plugins I install on every site are:

Learn WordPress

So, whether you’re looking to learn WordPress tips and tricks to help you manage your own website, or want to learn WordPress development and create your own theme, I can help. I’ll be posting articles and tutorials on my blog which will take you through the process of building your own theme and will be sharing all my WordPress knowledge, to help you get the most from the platform.

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About the author
Amy Evans
Hello! I’m Amy, a freelance front-end developer with over 15 years’ experience. Hekla is where I develop websites for creative brands and agencies, and also where I write about front-end development and WordPress. As a self-taught developer, I have learned so much from other people online, and I want to pay that foward. Let's build something awesome together. Keep reading
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