WordPress is everywhere.

A few days ago, WordPress announced rather startling statistics:

  • WordPress is now powering 14.7% of the top million websites in the world.
  • 22 out of every 100 new active domains in the US are running WordPress.

Those are big numbers.

If you’re not familiar with WordPress, I’ll give you a very brief overview.

WordPress is a collection of tools to help you create a web site.

  • There’s a standard dashboard and standard administration screens that are always the same regardless of where you run WordPress. Behind the scenes is a standardized database.
  • You can freely choose from countless themes that change the way the web site looks, switching between them with a single click.
  • There are third-party apps that will work with any WordPress web site to accomplish any specialized thing you can imagine for your site, behind the scenes or on your pages. There are tens of thousands more that you would never think of.
  • It is intended to be simple enough for real people to use it. Like most technology today, that part is not necessarily true.

The WordPress platform is open source; there’s no company trying to get rich from it. It’s possible to use WordPress and create a web site for free at WordPress.com, which makes modest amounts of money from advertising and paid upgrades. You can also sign up with most hosting companies to run the same WordPress software on the hosting company servers. WordPress is the same either way but you get more control over some other chores related to running a web site – deeper control over the WordPress database and files, access to other tools provided by the hosting company, and the like. If you run WordPress through another hosting company, all the WordPress apps, themes, and support come from WordPress.org instead of WordPress.com.

Side note to make sure we’re all together: This is not software that you get in a box and install on your computer. Your interaction with WordPress is all done through a web browser; the actual software is running at WordPress.com or the hosting company.

WordPress was created for blogs, and it continues to be best suited for blogs – frequently updated articles listed chronologically. Why, that’s this page! Bruceb News is built on WordPress.

A few years ago people began to exploit features already in WordPress to create other web site pages, beyond the ones with blog posts. It turned out that entire web sites could be built on WordPress, whether a blog was involved or not. The sites got the advantages of WordPress: readily available themes and apps; fast page loading; consistent look and feel with no effort; and search engine optimization.

The result is in those statistics at the top. WordPress is being chosen to power huge numbers of web sites, going far beyond blogs. It is being used as a “content management system”, the phrase of the moment for web sites whose design is controlled by a professional developer, with places for business owners to add or change content without risk of bringing down the site.

It’s not a slam dunk that the world will now be all WordPress, all the time. There are contrarians who argue that the content management features in WordPress are half-baked compared to CMS products expressly designed for the purpose. There are many competitors who bravely pitch the superiority of their products specifically for blogs – Joomla, Drupal, TypePad, Blogger. Many web site designers will only work from scratch, which might be craftsmanship or might just conceal their lack of familiarity with WordPress controls (and their frustration that it’s just too easy – there’s no way for them to make a lot of money setting up a WordPress site).

Once you become familiar with the look and feel of WordPress sites, you’ll notice the similarities as you move from one to the other. Despite all the customization, WordPress sites tend to look and feel a bit like WordPress sites. You won’t use it if you want a web site that truly is like no other.

If you’re a small business setting up or revamping your five page site, though, you might want to start asking designers if they know how to build your site on WordPress. Or if not, how will they set you up so you can update the web site when your phone number changes, or an associate leaves the firm, so you don’t have to pay the designer a few hundred dollars to do it? It’s a reasonable question, and WordPress is a pretty tempting answer.

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