• Are you confused by all the different components that make up a WordPress website?
• Do you wonder how a WordPress website work and what you need?
• Everyone throws words around like hosting, domains, plugins, framework, etc., but how do they all work together?
• How do you know you have set up all of these different components correctly?
• What does being self-hosted actually mean?
If you are looking for clarity about WordPress, then keep reading! You are in the right place!
WordPress is one of the world’s best tools for building sustainable websites. It is “open-source,” which means that anyone can create tools to enhance or extend the platform’s functionality. WordPress is continually improving thanks to developers worldwide who develop tools that serve the end-user and allow you, the blogger, to have complete control over your content. The downside is that it does mean that you have a lot of moving parts. It is like building with LEGO®. You can choose to follow a design-build by a LEGO® designer who gives step-by-step instructions, or you can choose to use the same bricks and create something completely unique. If you think about it, this can be incredibly powerful.
To use the same analogy of the LEGO® pieces, let me help you understand all the various building blocks that will make up your website. By the end of this article, you will have an overall picture of your website, complete with an understanding of the main parts or building blocks.
The WordPress Website Structure Overview
To symbolically explain the different components of a website structure, I created this visual analogy. Take a look at the image. What do you notice? How do the components of the image fit together? It might not make sense yet, but don’t worry. I will explain it to you now.
Before we get started…did you notice anything odd? Why is WordPress on wheels?!
This might surprise you… Did you know that WordPress is completely movable? To understand this I will need to explain how everything fits together. We already talked about LEGO® bricks as an analogy; another way to think about it is that a website is like a building. A building needs to be created on land or real estate. Every building requires a foundation, as well as a structure or framework. Then paneling and interior decorating are added, and finally, furniture makes it usable.
So let’s get started by exploring how real estate works in the online Internet world. There, you can find your own piece of land to start building! Then, you will learn how to get different contractors, materials, and essential services for the website you are building.
Real Estate – Hosting
There are several ways you can acquire hosting for your website. Each has its pros and cons, depending on the goals for your website.
• Hosted: You can choose to build your website inside an already existing platform/building. Think of it as renting a flat in an apartment building. You will be given a set amount of space and allowance for visitors. You can only build your website according to the framework and structure that is provided to you. With the help of some CSS code (this code works like the paint and decorating of your website) you can knock out some of the interior walls but customization is limited. Just like living in a rented apartment, you must abide by the rules and regulations within the building, which might change without much notice and could directly impact your business. The worst-case scenario is that the building could be shut down and you lose everything you built. If you could move your content to a new host, you would need to go through the whole interior design process again. The worst, worst-case scenario is that you could lose access to your content if your host decides to shut you down, for some reason.
Examples of “apartment buildings” in the hosting world are: Wix, Weebly, Blogspot, WordPress.com, Squarespace, and Shopify.
These hosting options also have advantages. If your website’s only purpose is to act as a storefront for your products or services by providing information to your customers, then this option is absolutely perfect for your needs. Usually, these hosting options have beautiful designs and are quick and easy to set up. Additionally, hosted sites are usually much cheaper to keep running since you will probably not require help from designers and web-developers. Be aware, though, that depending on your business’ needs, the monthly cost of using one of these services could be more expensive than a self-hosted website!
• Self-Hosted: The recommended route is to purchase hosting through a hosting provider where you rent a piece of ground-level land to build your own stand-alone website. This is called self-hosting. Finding a good web host is essential but also not crucial. If you are unhappy with the service you get from the hosting company, you can move your entire website to a new hosting provider. That is why your WordPress website is on wheels! Once you have built the WordPress website, the content stays yours forever. You can choose to move it to better and faster providers as you grow.
Examples of self-hosting “rental land” online are: Bluehost, GoDaddy, SiteGround and HostGator.
Nameboard – Domain
The domain acts like the name board you put in front of your building. This cyber name board is high tech—it comes with a “GPS tracker” that tells your host where to send all your website visitors and customers.
This name board has been “manufactured” by a few key companies that add their branding onto the end of the board with .com, .gov, .biz, .org, etc. They are called Registrars. You might have a few different “shops” that can sell this name board to you like GoDaddy, Namecheap, or Shopify. You do not need to purchase your domain from your web hosting provider. It might be better to shop around for the best deal. The great thing about domains is that they are also movable. You do not need to stick with the shop where you first purchased it. You can move it to a new shop if they offer you better prices.
Side note: Whenever you move your WordPress installation, domain name, or install core features like an SSL certificate it requires moving the root files, which can take up to 72 hours.
When you purchase your domain from a different shop than your hosting provider, you need to activate the GPS location. Your domain name is actually a whole lot of numbers (not letters!). Those numbers make up an IP Address Now, the domain needs directions or a road to point to your website’s host, where all your website files are kept.
This is done with the DNS records.
Once you have purchased your domain you need to redirect the path with the help of the “GPS” code from your hosting provider which is their IP address or most commonly referred to as the hosting name servers, to the DNS records nameservers where you purchased the domain. DNS records act like the road where information is sent through between files.
Solid Foundation – WordPress
By now, I’m sure you understand that building on WordPress is a good idea. Remember, the site and content are yours to keep and move anywhere! There are other platforms like Joomla and Drupal, but the industry standard is still WordPress. WordPress uses open-source code. This makes it very easy for plugin developers to design tools and integrations that optimize websites to perform and convert. If one plugin or tool does not serve you well, you can always swap it out for another with a similar function.
Theme Framework – Creates the structure in which your website lives
WordPress comes with its own unique structure but can be limited in certain ways if you require a building with more flexible interior spaces. Common website frameworks are Genesis, Elegant Themes, Thesis, etc. They are also commonly referred to as the “Parent Theme.”
You do not necessarily need to use a parent theme but it is advisable for functionality, security, and easy updating of the framework without affecting the custom styling and functionality created on a “child theme.” If you do not use a child theme you can run the risk of major updates to the parent theme affect the functionality and look of your website.
Theme/Child Theme – Inside walls of your building
Your website’s unique look and optimization of the tools for your business are created on a theme. This is the interior designer of your building. It provides you with options to build various spaces for specific functions. The theme will set a few things in places like your website’s layout, where certain functions are placed like pictures, widgets, and other tools. Your website’s interior walls allow you to come in and add your own touch of color and add furniture. Some themes have brick walls that are hard to move unless you bring a developer to custom code the changes. Other themes are very flexible and built with drywall that you can easily remove on your own and change to whatever you like.
• An example of this is a child theme on a Genesis framework that is usually built with brick interior walls. The advantage of this is that it is doubtful that you will break anything on your site. It is built for optimized SEO, speed performance, and specific functions. It is solid and trustworthy and usually comes with excellent support.
• Elegant Themes, on the other hand, are built with drywall. It has a drag and drop interface, making it super easy for someone with no coding skills to build beautiful websites. The downside is that these themes use a lot of extra code in the background that slows down your site. Changing themes will also cause your site to look super wonky, and you will need an expert to help you clean up all the extra code. However, if you do not mind getting messy with changes and like to have complete control over your website, then a theme that comes with a drag and drop interface is brilliant!
• So, where do page builders like Elimentor, Divi, and the Beaver Builder come into play? They are the DIY kits that help you to make changes to the interior of your website. Giving you tools to create your own look and feel within the theme. They do, however, slow down your speed with extra code in the background. Gutenberg is a page builder that helps you create custom layouts without the extra code slowing down your site. Gutenberg is more hardcore DIY, but it is worth learning to use. When you build pages in Gutenberg, you have a much cleaner transition between themes if you ever choose to change in the future too.
Plugins – The furniture of your website
Plugins help to add extra functionality to your website. It turns the beautifully designed spaces of your theme into usable spaces with a specific function. Invite your customers in with a plugin that showcases your Instagram feed or give them a free gift for signing up to your newsletter through an opt-in box plugin etc. Plugins also add security and safety for you and your customers. There are various ways you can use plugins like Woocommerce to build a shop and payment system within your website or a plugin that will allow your customers to browse your products and services on your site but pay at a different location.
When it comes to the interior decorating of your website with plugins, the key is minimalism and a Marie Kondo type of approach. If it does not make your website happy and bring your customers joy then chuck it! Please just say a loving “good-bye” to the developer who put their heart and soul into developing some of these tools. Especially some of the free tools! Having too many plugins can cause slow speed. So, be careful to only add plugins as you need them and remove those you are not using. You can always add them back on at a later stage. Having two baths in one tiny bathroom can be problematic. So always add only one plugin at a time and see if it is causing a conflict with another plugin first. It is also good practice to backup your website before adding a plugin that adds big functionality like Woocommerce or a page builder.
I hope that painting a picture of the website in the form of a building helped you understand the ins and outs of your website. Once you understand how it is all connected you will find it much easier to set up your website and problem solve any issues that come along the way.
We have taken a look at the main components that is needed for a WordPress website.
- A domain name that will point customers and visitors to your website no matter where it is hosted.
- Web hosting provider provides you with a space on their real estate in the internet world so that your website files have a place to live.
- A solid foundation in WordPress, which will manage all your content for your business. Being on WordPress helps you move between hosting providers to always optimize for speed and functionality.
- You need a solid framework for your theme. This makes building the inside of your website possible.
- A theme to help you customize your website so that it uniquely represents your business.
- Plugins are there to add functionality and make your website user-friendly and optimize the customer experience.
If this was super helpful to you and you are ready to build your website, then you can grab my free checklist that helps you to set up your WordPress website from the get-go. If the WordPress website’s backend terminology confuses you, then hop on over to this post where I explain it in more detail.