What is WordPress?
WordPress is a blogging and content management system (CMS) that allows you to set up blogs and websites. A basic installation of WordPress can be set up very quickly and will do quite a lot; and you can extend its functionality and add features with plugins.
WordPress is free* and open source; as it’s one of the world’s most popular CMSs, there is a huge community of users and developers. Other things that I love about WordPress are: it’s very search-engine friendly, and it’s incredibly user-friendly. I’ve set up WordPress sites for haters and fearers of technology, and it’s got them happily blogging away.
The downsides are: security can be an issue – because it’s open source, hackers can find vulnerabilities. Also it’s mostly not suitable for extremely complex sites or sites that require multiple custom functionalities.
*A caveat about free: I heard a great line recently – ‘free software is free the way puppies are free’. See more below on the care and feeding of your free system.
Is WordPress suitable for my non-profit?
It depends on your needs. WordPress is great for starter sites, and sites for small organisations. There are good, robust, well supported, free WordPress plugins that will allow you to set up online donations, capture emails and connect to popular CRMs. If you need a lot of complex functionality however, you will most likely be better off with a more powerful system.
Choosing a CMS is a very important decision, so get consultation and help. Other popular CMSs include Drupal, Expression Engine and Joomla; CharityComms in the UK have a useful guide to technology choices for charities. Never take a CMS just because it has been offered for free, or because it’s the only one your existing agency know how to use. It could be the free puppy that never stops weeing indoors.
What’s involved in setting up a WordPress site?
Broadly, the steps you and your web designer need to follow are:
1. Buy a domain name and a hosting plan
I would really, really advise that you speak to a web designer or developer before buying one. Lots of hosting providers are hopeless, and if you book the wrong one you will waste time and money. I particularly recommend not using GoDaddy. More advice about buying hosting is available on my own website.
2. Set up a database on your web server
The database holds all the content that appears on your WordPress site. Your web designer / developer / agency will do this for you.
3. Install WordPress on the server and connect it to the database
I don’t recommend using the 1-click installation that some hosters offer, as it can make the WordPress files tricky for developers to access in the future.
4. Customise the site’s appearance
Use an existing WordPress theme, customise a theme, or design a theme from scratch. Ask your designer to use a child theme if they’re customising an existing theme, as it means that updates to the original theme won’t break the site. And make sure your theme is mobile-responsive!
5. Add the necessary plugins to enable your site to do more
But don’t add too many or it will affect the loading time of the site.
5. Set up your users and start populating the site with content
And remember that your site will perform better in search engines if you regularly add fresh content in the form of blog posts.
What are plugins?
WordPress have explained it better than I ever could: “Plugins are ways to extend and add to the functionality that already exists in WordPress. The core of WordPress is designed to be lean and lightweight, to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins then offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.”
When you get a new WordPress site, it’s tempting to install all kinds of plugins and turn your site into a flashing, buzzing, gizmo machine. However, too many plugins can slow down your site, add to your admin load (the constant updating) and cause security issues. Only install plugins that you really need; there’s good advice on wpmudev.org on managing plugins.
But definitely install the following plugins:
- A security plugin such as Wordfence to protect your site from hackers
- Akismet – to combat spam in your blog comments
- WPBackup – it allows you to easily back up your database
Care and feeding of your WordPress site
All websites should be living documents and need not just fresh content, but maintenance and upgrades. WordPress is essentially a piece of software running on your web server, and the developers at WordPress are constantly updating it to stop hackers and fix bugs.
Plugins also need to be regularly updated – each time WordPress updates, plugin developers should ideally be updating their plugins to make sure they still work correctly. It’s not difficult for you to update your site’s plugins; there are simple update buttons in the Plugin area of your WordPress back end.
Updating WordPress itself is a bit more challenging as you need to back up your database and files each time. If you don’t have web skills in-house, it’s a good idea to pay your web designer or agency for a few hours of support time each year to cover WordPress upgrades.
It’s a really user-friendly system, and if all you’re doing is publishing content, you probably won’t even need any help. If you do, check out the WordPress for Beginners Lessons on WordPress.org.
If you want to learn how to install and customise WordPress from scratch, this checklist from Capsicum MediaWorks is great, and Creative Bloq has helpfully gathered together lots of useful WordPress tutorials.
Generally, because WordPress is so widely used, there are tutorials and support available online for pretty much anything you need.
- by Jean O’Brien