In order to understand how to customise your WordPress site, it’s important to know a few of the basic concepts and how the WordPress ‘ecosystem’ works. To do that, we’re going to use the analogy of building a house!
WordPress itself is basically a bunch of files that set up the basics of every WP website. From there, we can customise our website by adding our own code, using a theme, or using plugins.
In our house analogy, WordPress Core is the concrete slab, walls and roof. Every single house has them, they make a functional living space, but by themselves they aren’t very exciting!
The ‘bones’ of WordPress that exist in every installation provides you with:
When you are building a house, the first step is to sort out the stuff that makes your home your own. Your flooring, painting the walls, installing your feature lighting. Some builders will include extras like air-conditioning, landscaping, or a fancy dishwasher. Others will include only the bare necessities.
Themes work kind of the same - they generally control the basic styling (and sometimes functionality) of your website, and different themes can come packaged with more, or less, bells and whistles. Just like when you build a house, there can be both a benefit and a downside to having these extras included in your theme. It may seem attractive not having to sort these things out yourself, but in the long run you might not end up with what you would have chosen yourself and the quality might be lacking!
There are thousands of free themes available from the WordPress repository - a marketplace of open source products made for WordPress. On top of that, there are literally thousands of ‘premium’ themes created and sold by developers all over the world. Just like builders, themes aren’t all created equal - and you don’t always get what you pay for! There are fantastic free themes available, and terrible paid ones. It’s always good to do your research before choosing a theme to make sure it will fit your needs and not cause you problems down the track.
Your theme will typically control:
Once we’ve painted our walls and laid our carpet, it’s time to turn our house into a home. We need to install our furniture and appliances - things like our lounge, microwave and air-conditioning. In the context of our website, these things might look like:
Just like appliances can be cheap and good quality, or expensive and poor quality, plugins also vary greatly - from free to hundreds of dollars, and from fantastic to truly terrible. Just like with themes, we can access thousands (in fact, tens of thousands) of free plugins from the WordPress repository.
Now that we understand a little about how WordPress Core, themes and plugins fit together, we can start to customise our website.