Getting Started with WordPress

Welcome to WPUniversity’s Getting Started with WordPress guide! Our goal with this guide is to quickly get you acquainted with WordPress.

Essential WordPress Terms

Core: The WordPress installation files you download from

Themes: Control how your site looks. May add additional features and functionality.

Plugins: Add additional features and functionality to your website.

Commercial/Premium: Refers to plugins or themes that you pay money for.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) that’s used by over 20% of websites globally. It started off as a blogging tool back in 2003, co-created by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. Over the following decade it evolved to be much more powerful platform.

Today you can use WordPress to build websites of all sizes, for all kinds of purposes. You can build business websites, online stores, private members-only sites, news sites, portfolio sites, and, of course, personal blogs.

Much of this is possible thanks to the many thousands of themes and plugins (free and commercial) that have been created for WordPress over the years.

What’s a Content Management System?

Back when the web was young, websites were simply pages linked together. Website management involved opening each page and manually editing the code and content together. This task usually fell on someone who had the role of “webmaster” – this person was responsible for managing all things on the website.

The old way of managing websites couldn’t keep pace as the web became more complex. Having one person responsible for all duties was impractical, and requiring coding knowledge to was a bottleneck for managing websites.

This led to the creation of Content Management Systems (CMS). You can think of a CMS as a “control panel” for maintaining websites. They empowered non-technical users to take care of tasks like adding and updating content.

To put it another way:

Think of your website as a car. Your CMS is the driver’s seat. From the driver’s seat you can control everything that your car does without worrying about everything that’s going on under the hood. With a CMS, you can control your website without worrying about what’s happening in the code.

Six Steps to Setting Up Your WordPress Site

Now that you know a bit about WordPress, let’s look at what you’ll need to get WordPress set up the right way.

{ infographic of WordPress-is-like-a-house }

1. Purchase Web Hosting

Choosing the right web host is a lot like choosing the right location to build your house. Consider: What features do you need? What’s your budget? Who else is in hosting with them (do you know anyone in the neighbourhood)? Note that the host you choose needs to support PHP and MySQL for WordPress to run. (Most hosts do.)

We recommend one of three providers: Bluehost for small sites and tighter budgets; Siteground for larger sites and medium-sized budgets; and WPEngine for WordPress-only hosting and larger budgets. (More details can be found in this blog post.)

2. Register a Domain Name

{ screenshot of address bar, highlighting the domain }

Your domain name is like a street address – it’s how people will find you. A good domain name, like a good street address, should be easy to remember. And like a street address, it can be a pain to change later – so choose a domain and stick with it!

Many web hosts offer domain registration with their hosting plans, but if you’d like to register a domain separately, we suggest using Hover. They’re a simple-to-use service that specializes in domain registration, and they offer great support.

3. Get Desktop Apps: Text Editor & FTP

No house is built without the use of tools. A text editor and FTP app are the most robust tools in your arsenal; they’re your hammer and screwdriver.

The text editor is what you’ll use to modify the wp-config-sample.php file during WordPress installation (more on that below). A few apps we recommend: Sublime Text (Mac & Windows), TextWrangler (Mac), or Notepad++ (Windows).

The FTP app is what you’ll use to upload the WordPress files during installation. We recommend using Filezilla (Mac & Windows) or Transmit (Mac, paid).

4. Download & Install WordPress Core Files

Now it’s time to pour the foundation. The Core files are the solid base on which the rest of your site will be built.

Head over to the WordPress download page and get the latest version’s .zip file. Once it’s downloaded, unzip the /wordpress/ folder contained in the .zip file to a location on your computer.

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to install WordPress. We’ve put together a tutorial for that.

5. Select a Theme & Plugins

Your theme is to your website as framing, siding, and drywall is to a house. It defines layout and appearance.

You can find thousands of free themes in the Theme Directory. You can also purchase commercial themes from shops like WooThemes and Themify, or from marketplaces like Mojo Themes and Creative Market.

Plugins are the guts of your site, much like electrical, plumbing, HVAC, appliances, and interior fixtures are the guts to a house. Plugins determine the functionality of your site – that is, what you (and other users) can do.

As with themes, free plugins can be found on the Plugin Directory. You can also purchase commercial plugins directly from developers (e.g. Gravity Forms) or from marketplaces like Creative Market.

  • Find more info on choosing themes and plugins in our Themes lesson and Plugins lesson.

6. Add Content

Last, but certainly not least, is adding content to your site. This is your stuff. If WordPress is like a house, content covers all of your belongings – the things that make your house a home, unique from any other.

Out of the box WordPress includes support for two types of content: Posts and Pages.

Posts are timely pieces of content that can be organized with Categories and Tags. Posts are typically displayed in reverse-chronological order (newest to oldest), either on the front page of your site or on a separate page that you specify. WordPress automatically creates a variety of Archives for your posts – most commonly date, category, tag, and author.

Posts are most commonly used for a news-like section of a site, e.g. “Latest Updates”, “Blog”, “Announcements”, etc…

  • Learn more about Posts in our Content lesson.

Pages, unlike posts, are “evergreen” content. They’re not archived, they have no categories or tags, and the date they’re published on is not as important as with posts. Pages are hierarchical (they can have sub-pages).

Pages are most commonly used for information that rarely changes. e.g. a business site may have pages for Contact Information, Services, Pricing, and Team (content that changes infrequently), and use posts for Promotions and Announcements (content that is time-sensitive).

  • Learn more about Pages in our Content lesson.