The view from the sky

Building a modern, professional looking website and keeping it up to date can be a challenge. There are tools that can take some of the tedium out of this process. One type of tool that is used more and more is the Content Management System (CMS). There are many varieties of  CMS out there. Some are geared towards building a website for a certain type of business, like restaurants or real estate. Some are more general purpose. One that we’ve found really useful is WordPress. WP started out life as a blogging tool but has grown into something anyone can use to construct a useful and functional website.

One key thing that a CMS will give you is the separation of look and feel from content. This allows folks with little website-building knowledge to easily add content to a website without breaking the site.

While WordPress provides lots of tools for building a consistent, attractive website from scratch,  it does take some time to get familiar with it.  This series of articles will introduce you to the key elements of how WP works, and how to find your way around. These will all be at a fairly high level to get you familiarized with the basic concepts of a WP site. These are the articles I wish I had found when starting to work with WordPress.

Website Structure

Most modern websites can be broken down into three elements: look and feel, navigation, and content. The look and feel of a website is the color palette, the number of columns on each page, the choice of fonts, the graphical elements, etc. In WordPress look and feel is defined by the theme you choose. The navigation defines how you move around in your website and consists of menus, sidebars, and web tools. In WordPress you’ll be defining the navigation of your website with custom menus, pages, widgets, and plugins. Plugins are small web applications that add functionality to your site, such as a calendar or a shopping cart.  Widgets are locations in your theme where you can add some functionality. You may find widgets in the sidebars, the header or the footer of your theme. We’ll discuss them more in the next article. The final element, and the most important one, is content. This is what you have to say on your website.

Static vs Dynamic Content

When setting up a website you will probably have two kinds of content, static and dynamic. Static content is the sort of thing that doesn’t often change, for example, your address and a map of how to find you, your organization’s goals, by-laws, or mission statement. Dynamic content is the sort of things you want to share with your clients, customers or members on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Newsletters, up and coming events, sales, or timely articles. WordPress calls static content pages, and dynamic content posts.

Types of Pages in WordPress

As you set up your WordPress site you’ll come across several different kinds of web pages. There are three basic types: Posts, Pages, and summaries. A Post or a Page will contain one article, either dynamic content or static content. A summary page will contain a title and excerpt from several posts or pages. Examples of summary pages are current posts, posts  that were created around the same time (archives, usually grouped by month/year), results from searching your website, or posts grouped by a common themes (categories or tags). Each of these types of web pages has a template that defines the way it appears in your current theme.

Grouping articles

WordPress has two ways of organizing posts, by category and by tag. Categories are a hierarchical arrangement of topics in the dynamic part of your website. Tags are keywords that someone might use to search for an article. For example: you might have a pet website with categories like:

  1. Pets
    1. Cats
      1. Feeding
      2. Grooming
      3. Quirks
    2. Dogs
      1. Feeding
      2. Grooming
      3. Training
      4. Quirks
    3. Birds
      1. Feeding
      2. Cages
      3. Training

Tags for this website might include, vaccines, indoor/outdoor, house-breaking, shedding, breeding, puppies, mongrels, pure bred.

Both categories and tags can be added to your website at any time and articles can be moved from category to category or appear in multiple categories. The same is true of tags.

Hopefully at this point you have some understanding of why you might want to build a website using WordPress, and what some WordPress terms mean; such as pages, posts, categories, tags, templates, themes, and widgets. We’ll revisit these in the next articles and fill in how to use each element in building your website.

In our next articles we’ll talk about Layout, or where you find each of the elements we’ve mentioned and Navigation, which is the heart of your WordPress site.