WordPress: The Barriers to Business Online Are Gone

In last week’s episode I explained how websites and website hosting works. This week we continue that conversation with how WordPress fits into the world of building and managing websites. Along the way I share stories from the past to add perspective and present some deep questions for you and your business.

Relax and enjoy during your morning/afternoon commute or while getting some exercise. As always, please let me know if you have any questions.

Show notes:

Sites mentioned:

Sound bite: Rabbi Bregman, BregmanSuccess.com

Full Transcription

Hi I’m Tom Litchfield, Coming up on this broadcast…

  • What the heck is WordPress…
  • and why do I need it?

This week’s show is all about WordPress.

Last week I talked about websites and web hosting but I intentionally left out WordPress. And I left out WordPress because that’s really a topic for its own show.

Well, this is that show.

Today I plan to cover…

  • What is WordPress?
  • Why is it popular?
  • Do I need WordPress?

We’re going to answer these questions and more on this week.

And if you think you know WordPress already, you may want to hear my take on some stuff. We’re also going to talk about HTML and some other fun stuff, so don’t go anywhere!

Before we get into WordPress, I want to quickly welcome in yet another a new client:

Baby Does New York City combines the power of Parent Bloggers with the marketing finesse of a PR firm and the technology of Silicon Valley.

Put another way Baby Does NYC guides expectant and new parents with the information and products they are most interested in need. In their own words, “In a crowded restaurant we are the waiter that brings the sushi to you.”

Baby Does NYC is an exciting new company and I’m amazed at all the things they’re doing with websites and apps. I’m really grateful to be associated with them.

You can find out more about Baby Does NYC at babydoesnyc.com That’s b-a-b-y-d-o-e-s-n-y-c dot com. As usual, I’ll have a link in the show notes.

Last week I explained the basics of websites, website hosting and domain names.

If you listened to the show last week, as you should have, you learned that a website is nothing more than a group of documents that can be reached at the same place on the world wide web, and that you can create a website using nothing more than Microsoft Word document.

Okay, I don’t really expect anyone to make a web page using Microsoft Word, but I’ve done it before, probably more than once.

It does work, however, most websites I create are much more sophisticated and my guess is that you want your site to be much more than a few plain Word documents.

That’s where web authoring tools come in.

You’re probably not familiar with the term web authoring tool, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But they are basically software programs for designing web pages. One of the more famous tools is Dreamweaver, which you may have heard of.

I’m introducing an important term here: design

We know that web pages are basically documents, but how often do you design documents?

When it comes to web pages and website, there is a lot of emphasis on design and aesthetics.

As result web authoring software are heavy on design features.

Behind the scenes web authoring software are converting content and design elements to HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

I don’t want to get too technical here, but I think it’s important to mention what HTML and JavaScript are, because they are so important in today’s web.

HTML is short for HyperText Markup Language, H-T-M-L. It’s a standard language web browsers can interpret.

Remember that web pages are nothing more than documents. HTML is simply organizes the content on that document in a way the web browser can understand, and present the content to you.

HTML is NOT a programming language. They are more like “tags” that are attached to the content, telling the browser what that content is.

For example, there is a tag called IMG for image. A file that is tagged with IMG tells the browser the file is an image and it should be displayed.

There’s a P tag for paragraph, which tells the browser the content with the tag is a paragraph.

Another tag is OL for ordered list, and tells the browser the text content within the tag is a bullet point list with numbers.

OK, I think you get the point. HTML is not hard to learn, and I encourage you to try and learn it. It does come in handy from time to time if you publish content on the web.

CSS is short for Cascading Style Sheets. HTML is more for layout and organization of content, and CSS is used to style and format the content.

CSS can control the font sizes, font colors, type of font, page colors, highlights and much more.

It’s a layer that can be applied to HTML tags for styling, and the style definitions are typically stored in their own documents.

JavaScript is a real programming language that browsers understand, and is used to add behaviors to a web page.

For example, when you fill in a form and it says you entered an invalid phone number or email address, it’s usually JavaScript that is verifying that information real-time, and displaying a message for you.

JavaScript can be used to move objects on a web pages, like rotating pictures in slider and other types of animation.

Like I said, of the 3, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the one that is a true programming language is JavaScript.

So web pages are simple in concept, but as you can see, to have web pages with styles and behaviors, thinks can start to get a little complex.

And I haven’t mentioned server scripting and databases yet!

Back about, wow, 16 years ago. I spent a lot of time learning all these different technologies. I spent a couple years on just databases alone.

Now there’s a problem with using all these technologies to create web pages. It meant that programmers were required to update content.

So if a client needed to change a price on a web page for one of their products, they couldn’t do it themselves. They would have to request me to do it for them, and then wait for me to get it done.

So it managing web sites back then wasn’t very efficient.

Then around 2002-2003 I think, I started hearing about something called a CMS.

CMS is software that stands for content management system.

The idea behind CMS software is to separate the content from all the web technology, so you would update your website without having to mess with any HTML, server languages or databases.

With a CMS you could login to a web site control panel, and edit a web page using an editor similar to using something like Microsoft Word.

Sound familiar? You may be using something like this today to manage your website.

But back then this was all new. And believe it or not, many of my peers didn’t like it. But I was all for it, I knew it was the future.

The first CMS I came across was something called PHP Nuke.

I was hard to learn and buggy, but it was new and it was free. However, it just wasn’t ready for primetime yet.

Then a few other CMSs followed.

Drupal was better but it was hard to understand and use.

Then came Mambo, which was easier to use and stable. It was the first CMS I felt comfortable enough with to use for a client project.

I did quite a few projects with Mambo. Mambo is still around today I think, but you may be more familiar with its sister Joomla.

So if you’ve used Joomla it has its roots in Mambo.

I think around 2005-2006 I tried WordPress. I may have heard of it before then, but its reputation was that it was a CMS for blogging only, and I was building client sites not blogs.

I installed WordPress but was unimpressed. It didn’t compare to Mambo. There was so much you couldn’t do, it was very limited. There was no way I could use it to create client websites.

One thing I liked about it though, is that it was far easier to use than any other CMS.

It wasn’t until about 2008 that WordPress evolved and matured to the point I started using it in my personal projects. I started creating niche sites for various topics and the fastest and easiest way to get sites going quick was with WordPress.

Key features were added during that time that starting putting WordPress on par with Joomla and Drupal.

It was around that time WordPress was starting to get popular because I think it was so much easier to use than any other CMS.

So why is WordPress so popular these days?

I think part of it is that is it easy to manage content. Perhaps not easy to just anyone to set up and get looking exactly how they want. But most people have no problems updating pages and blogging.

I’ve taught dozens, maybe hundreds of people through my videos and one-on-one how to use WordPress. People from 13 years old up to 74 years old.

When people get the hang of it I don’t really have to help them anymore, except maybe doing something complex like rearranging something on their site.

The other reason WordPress is so popular is the marketplace, with all the plugins and themes available.

Now I haven’t mentioned that yet: plugins and themes.

Plugins are small pieces of software that add features to your website. That’s it!

Plugins can be installed on your site to add functionality.

There are simple plugins social network buttons, to plugins that can manage entire forums, or e-commerce store and a lot more.

Plugins allow WordPress site owner to add and manage complex functionality without coding it themselves.

Many plugins are free, and can be installed within WordPress itself.

There are many commercial plugins, which are not free. Typically, plugins that add complex functionality to your site will be commercial.

Plugins have contributed to WordPress’s popularity because there are so many available now, that plugins can be used to create just about any type of website they want these days. An online store, a community, a business directory, you name it.

Ok, Themes.

Themes or website templates, are designed layouts that can be used to style and brand your website.

Themes can also add functionality to your site in addition to providing the design.

Like plugins, some themes are free, but the better ones are commercial.

Commercial themes are usually professionally designed and include features not found in free themes.

Commercial themes can be anywhere from $40 to over $100, and in most cases, I think themes are an incredible value:

  • First, you get a professionally designed website by an expert
  • You get all the hours testing that went into that theme, that probably included testing on various mobile devices
  • You get added features that often come with commercial themes, especially themes developed for specific markets like real estate or ecommerce. For example, a real estate theme may have features for showcasing properties and supporting agents.

Even at $100 a commercial theme can be an amazing value.

I may do a show on just plugins and maybe another on just themes. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss that.

Like I said, the options available for WordPress websites is incredible and the fact that these website options, some very complex, are fairly inexpensive, is part of what is behind WordPress’s popularity.

In episode 5 I explain the economies of scale in the website development industry, the industry I work in, and that it is really inexpensive these days to build a stable website for any business.

And WordPress is a big part of that because of its popularity. Since there are so many people using WordPress, there is a lot of innovation and competition in the marketplace, which drives down prices.

I don’t think people realize the power in WordPress.

First of all it’s Open Source, so you can use it for free. You have to pay for webhosting of course.

This might be a good time to mention WordPress.com, which is a hosted version of WordPress where you don’t have to pay for web hosting.

The company behind WordPress, Automattic, will host a limited version of WordPress for free. Limited in that you don’t have your own domain name, you use the domain wordpress.com but you’re given what is called a subdomain which becomes the name of your site.

A subdomain is like a child domain name, under the main domain name. Like I can create a store under by own domain name and call it shop.supertype.tv, or an online classroom and call it learn.supertype.tv.

So WordPress.com will allow you to create a site for free and give you a subdomain under WordPress.com, provided that the name you want to use is available. So you can create a site and call it “my super fantastic site.wordpress.com”

You can use your own domain name instead of using WordPress.com, but you have to pay them a fee to have that feature. I believe its 20-24 dollars a year, and that does not include the cost of registering your domain name.

WordPress.com is also limited in what plugins and themes you are allowed to install.

When you hear people say WordPress.com, they are talking about the hosted version of WordPress. The regular version of WordPress is called “self-hosted WordPress” but it is usually implied that if someone just says WordPress they are probably talking about the self-hosted version.

So I was talking about the power we hold in our hands with WordPress, and that I think people don’t realize that power.

For just a few dollars a month for web hosting, you can have an ecommerce site and sell products online, and have it all set up in less than a day.

That’s pretty amazing to me.

With WordPress, we can have sites with video courses and online classrooms, a site for a chain of restaurants with multiple locations with maps and reservations for each branch… we can have our own online communities, automated news aggregators.

These are all things I’ve done, there is so much more others have done with WordPress.

To give you some perspective, 10, 15 years ago, all the different example sites I just mentioned would be very expensive to develop, and take months, sometimes over a year to build.

Years ago I worked on websites that cost over $100,000 to develop. I mean in once case the estimate was $90,000 and we went over budget I think 20 or 30 grand, can’t remember exactly.

These weren’t projects that spiraled out of control budget wise. Back in 2003 that’s how much it cost to develop a custom built ecommerce site.

Back then if you didn’t have that kind of money for site, or at least say 5 to 10 grand depending on what functionality you needed, if you didn’t have that kind of money that might be a barrier to getting your business online.

In 2016 and for the past few years, that barrier is gone!

You need to realize what an amazing time it is to be doing business online. So take advantage!

Do you need WordPress?

Let see if you pass the test.

Do you have a website or need one for your business? Yes? Check.

Are you willing to invest money in your business website? Not a lot of money, but you understand that this is your business and with that comes normal business expenses. Yes? Check.

Now, you might be wondering what the difference is between WordPress and some of website managers out there like Square Space, Wix and others.

The different is that self-hosted WordPress is built to customize, other platforms are designed for the masses. Other platforms must limit their features to only the needs the average site requires.

Now I have another question for you: Are you just average?

If you said “No,” if you are NOT average and you said Yes to the other two questions, then in my opinion WordPress IS right for you.

And if you’re new to WordPress and have any questions about it, then let me know. I’d be glad to answer any questions for you and try to help you out.

In the next episode we’re going to talk about web designers and web developers and how to work with them.

You definitely don’t want to miss that, so make sure to subscribe!

That’s it for The Supertype Show this time around.

If you have questions about anything we talked about on the show, please find me on Twitter for continued conversation on these topics and more. Simply search Twitter for @ tomlitchfield.

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