5 Things About WordPress Your Small Business Needs to Know

by Angela Penny on December 26, 2011
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The number of websites built with WordPress hit 60 million last month. Why it is so popular? The open-source content-management system is easy-to-use, scales well, and free.

Here are five things about WordPress that small businesses need to know before using it to build a website.

  1. It’s a complete content-management system. Originally developed as a blog publishing tool, WordPress has evolved into a full-fledged, collaborative content-management system. CMS is basically a fancy name for the process you use to edit the pages and images on your website. Traditionally, one would edit a webpage in a desktop application and then use FTP to transfer the file to the web server. In contrast, the WordPress software is either hosted on its site for free or installed directly on your own web host. Either way, WordPress provides a simple, menu-driven dashboard that lets you edit your website from anywhere via any web browser.
  2. You can test-drive the system for free. You can build a sample or starter website hosted on the WordPress servers free of charge. Go to WordPress.com/signup/ to get stared. Note that you can customize only the first part of your web address, giving you a URL like example.wordpress.com. Go ahead and give it a try; you’ll be surprised by how easy it is. WordPress serves ads on the pages it hosts, but you can pay about $30 for an upgrade to make the ads go away. (You can also buy more storage space, if needed.)
  3. Basic designs are provided via “themes.” A WordPress theme creates the overall look of a website, including the elements that remain consistent from page to page, such as header graphics, background colors, titles, and buttons. Thousands of free and premium ($20 to $800) themes are available. You can also hire a theme designer. After choosing a theme, you may customize your website with hundreds of widgets and plug-ins that add functionality: You can track your website’s activity, optimize it for search engines, provide links to your social networks, and much more.
  4. Customization creates complexity. With help from the vast amount of WordPress website documentation that’s available, you can probably figure out how to design and manage a website, but there’s a learning curve. If your business needs are complex, you may want to hire a designer who knows WordPress well. “In order to take full advantage of the features and properly integrate design for your site or blog, you should choose a developer who specializes in WordPress,” says Aliza Sherman, a web pioneer who started the first woman-owned internet company in the ’90s. Today, Sherman is an author and keynote speaker who blogs about social media issues at SheKnowsSocial.com. “WordPress developers and designers usually have a deeper knowledge of how to customize and optimize using the platform’s templates, plug-ins, and features,” she explains. “For anyone else, it is a lot of guesswork and poking around, and they’re bound to miss something useful.”
  5. When you’re ready, migrate to an independent web host. The version of the free software you use in this case is found at WordPress.org (note the .org suffix). You will need to pay for your own domain (or use one you already have) and the host server on which your website will exist. When shopping for a host, make sure it “plays nicely” with WordPress so the host can help you with the installation process, if needed. Many web hosts offer one-click WordPress installs. “WordPress.com is perfectly acceptable as long as you know that there are some limitations to features and options you can access. For example, you can’t paste any JavaScript into your site code, which eliminates the ability to add a variety of forms, embedded media, and widgets,” Sherman says. “Personally, I often start out with WordPress.com and if a site grows or I need more features, I migrate to WordPress software on a server with minimal fuss. I turn to a WordPress developer to handle the migration.”
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