Basic WordPress Terminology: What the Layperson Should Know

WordPress proudly touts its user first design for ease of use, but on other end of the spectrum are the website owners. Even the owner of a simple website is instantly barraged with the seeming jumble of terms, acronyms, and phrases that make up a typical WordPress installation. An experienced WordPress website owner may not give a second thought to this jungle of words, but a new WordPress website owner may be daunted by terms like ‘taxonomy’ and ‘shortcode.’

Here at WebDevStudios, we commonly work with newcomers to WordPress and non-technical stakeholders that do not have time to trek through the jungle of jargon, so we have put together a helpful list of some of the most common terms a website owner may run into.

Out of the Box

WordPress is designed to be customized and expanded upon, and there are a slew of terms that go along with that. When WordPress is first installed, though, there are still plenty of new terms you will encounter right out of the box. Let’s start with the basic frontend and backend terms:

Frontend vs Backend – Simply put, the frontend is what visitors to your website will see. The backend is where you, as the website owner, will login to manage content, users, customizations, etc.

The term backend is often used interchangeably with dashboard, admin, admin area.

Posts and Pages are two types of content that you manage with WordPress. A page is generally representative of a single piece of content, such as an About Us page. A page can stand by itself and have a different layout than any other page. A post is generally part of a group of entries about a topic. E.G: A corporation my have several pages providing information on products and many posts about is products such as new product releases, product updates, and news about the company.

While editing content you will be presented with a WYSIWYG. WYSIWYG is a scary looking acronym that expands to What You See Is What You Get. In human terms, it is the box where you enter content. The box has a toolbar on top of it that allows you to mark up your content with headers, bold, italic, etc. When using the toolbar to mark up content that markup displays in the box. So if you click the bold button your text will display in bold, WYSIWYG.

Sometimes you will want to put thing into your content other than text or an image. This is where a shortcode comes into play. Shortcodes allow you to embed other forms of data into your content, such as a tweet from Twitter. Shortcodes are typically surrounded by square brackets and, building upon the Twitter example, will look similar to

Shortcodes allow developers to create a nearly unlimited set of data that can be inserted into your content.

Content gets grouped together with Tags and Categories. Tags and Categories operate under a similar premise; Categories are used to create more structured groupings of content whereas tags are often used to group elements inside the content of the current post with content in other posts. E.G: You may have a sports website with a category for tennis and in a tennis post you may have tags TeamUSA and Venus Williams. Clicking into the tennis category will show you all the posts about tennis. Clicking the TeamUSA tag will show you all posts about TeamUSA regardless of their category. Tags and categories are both taxonomies, which we will get into later.

Comments provide a simple way for visitors to your website to interact with your content, often as a response or followup question. Comments can be used as a simple form of discussion about the topic in the content and are often used to drive social interactions and create loyal users who will return to interact with your site content in the future.

The Media Library is where all the non-text content you upload to your website lives. This can be images, videos, or regular files from your computer. When editing your content, if you upload an image you will be able to find that image in the Media Library after saving the content.

Customizing WordPress

Another strength of WordPress is the ease with which it can be customized. With tens of thousands of customizations available online, both in free and paid form, you begin to get a picture of the scope of power available through WordPress.

Probably the first thing you will do with your site is change the theme. The theme is what controls the look and feel of the frontend of your site. WordPress comes with a few themes out of the box. These themes can be customized with the theme customizer available in the backend under Appearance > Customize on the left menu, or an entirely new theme can be chosen under Appearance > Themes. If you are working with a developer or designer to create a brand new theme you will find it here as well.

Where themes effect the display of your site plugins effect the functionality of the site. Plugins allow you to add functionality such as backups, additional security, payment processing, data analytics, basically anything you can imagine. Plugins can also be utilized by your site to tap into external resources such as research databases.

A website disseminating information may only need pages and posts; however, any site with additional data needs will use Custom Post Types. A Custom Post Type, or CPT for short, is a new type of data within WordPress. A CPT will be used when the data about a post is significantly unique, such as in an ecommerce site. An ecommerce site will need a Products CPT. This new CPT will contain all the properties unique to a product, such as SKU, Price, Description, Availability, etc.

Custom fields allow you to extend your posts and custom post types with additional information. This information can be nearly anything. In the example of an ecommerce site, additional information requiring custom fields is part of the product properties. Custom fields would be utilized for information such as price, quantity, size, color, etc.

Mentioned previously, taxonomies allow you to group posts by category or tag. Taxonomies in WordPress can be extended to create custom taxonomies. Custom taxonomies allow you to create unique groupings of your content. Continuing the ecommerce example, you may have a taxonomy called Product Types. Inside of this Product Types taxonomy you my create groups like t-shirts, DVDs, motorcycles, etc. Any time content needs to be grouped together a taxonomy should be used.

Some themes have built in widget areas. These areas allow you to insert pre-built elements into your theme called widgets. A widget can be anything that alters the display of your theme. Some common widgets include: search filters, promotional ads, social network links, related content, or additional information about the post.

You may have noticed some websites have an easily readable URL structure like: These pretty URLs are created with permalinks. Without setting a pretty permalink the previous URL may look more like Not very attractive or readable, but it is the way your website knows how to reference the product. Under the hood, WordPress matches the pretty permalink to the not so pretty permalink automagically to direct your visitor to the proper page.

Advanced tricks of the trade

You now have a high level view of WordPress! Let’s get down into what makes WordPress go.

Every time you interact with software on a computer you are seeing the result of something built in a computer language. Just like math has a language to show you a solution, computers have languages to show you an app or website. There are many different computer languages. Each language was created with a specific goal in mind. WordPress is made up of four primary languages: PHP, HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

PHP is the base language of WordPress. PHP is used on the computer that serves the website. PHP puts together all of the information about the page the website visitor wants to see. This information gets translated into HTML. HTML is a language that your computers web browser uses to display the web page on your screen. A CSS file is referenced by the HTML to make the website pretty. CSS tells your browser where elements on the page should be arranged in the layout, what colors they have, text fonts, and more. Finally Javascript comes into play by adding special interactive elements to the page that do not require the visitor to click a link to another page.

The next three terms deal with the performance of your website. They are add-ons you can get but that are not necessary to make your site operate. Your target audience and number of visitors will determine how much value they have for you.

If your site is experiencing long load times you may need to enable caching. Caching works by saving the HTML sent to your web browser on the server to be sent on subsequent requests. It can make your site faster because a cached page does not need to load WordPress or PHP. All of the elements on the page are already built and available for the visitor. When and how to use caching is beyond the scope of this document and you should ask your developer about the pros and cons of running it on your website.

If you are expecting your website to receive traffic from a wide geographical or international area you may want to look into utilizing a Content Delivery Network or CDN. A CDN will copy your website assets, such as images and cached files, to a server that is physically closer to your visitors. This can not only provide speed benefits when loading assets for the visitor, it will also reduce the amount of resources visitors are using on your server by sending them to the CDN instead.

When your website traffic reaches a point where a single server can no longer provide the resources to support your visitors you will need to scale the site to multiple servers. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways that are out of the scope of this document. An easy way to understand the power of scaling is to imagine a single server can support 1,000 visitors at once. Two servers will support 2,000 visitors, three servers 3,000 visitor, etc. Scaling has complex requirements based on your site traffic and you should consult with your developer on the best method for your use case.

The Server Side of Life

The server hosting your website is that magical thing that lives up in the cloud. The following are generally set it and forget it unless you are moving to a new server. Your developer or IT manager should be able to handle this process for you, but it is good to have a high level picture of how things work.

Your server has an IP Address associated with it. The IP is a numerical way to find your server on the internet. Every device connected to the internet has its own unique IP representing it. A domain is an easy to remember and human readable way to get to the server. Think of it like the contact list on your phone. Your mother has a number you could input directly to get to her but it is much easier to simply call her by name from your contact list.

DNS stands for Domain Name Server. Your computer does not automatically know the address of your server. To find it when you type in a domain in your browser, your computer will first ask a DNS server what server your domain belongs to and then direct you there. Just like asking your sister for your mothers phone number.

If you run an ecommerce site, deal with personal information, or like extra security then SSL is for you. SSL provides a securely encrypted connection from your browser to the website. This prevents others from snooping sensitive information during your visit, such as credit cards or passwords.

Other Terms

That was a broad overview of some of the most commonly questioned terms in WordPress.

If you are a website owner: What other questions do you have?

If you are a developer or site creator: Are there other questions that you frequently run into?


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