How Does WordPress Work? (Simply Explained for Beginners)

by | Oct 26, 2020

WordPress powers almost 50% of the top 1 million websites on the web.

There’s no secondary competitor right now, and if you master WordPress, you’re building with a platform that is the standard for blogs and business websites everywhere.

The funny thing is, I bet 80% of independent website owners don’t know how WordPress works!

This article will go over the “stack” of a website along with the WordPress framework. Let’s lift the curtain to understand what’s happening behind the scenes.

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Domain & Web Hosting

The base or start of it all is the domain name and web host. They’re all that’s needed to get online and access the websites you see.

You can think of it as a neighborhood. One of them is your address (domain), and the other is like your house (host/server), where you can store all your stuff.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is nothing more than software built to manage your stuff in your house (the web host).

It’s called a Content Management System, and you can think of all the things in your home as content. That means blog posts, website pages, images, audio clips, PDF files, etc.

If you want to build a blog, WordPress is an ideal choice since it began as a blogging tool. Eventually, it morphed to be the go-to for most small business websites, too.

The software is built with PHP code, so it’s mainly PHP files on your server, with a handful of other web files (Javascript, CSS, etc.) that generate your website.

The content of your website, such as the blog posts and pages, gets stored in a database (MySQL).

To quickly summarize, a web host needs to support PHP code and have the ability to create a MySQL database. If it does those two things, you can choose any web hosting company to launch your WordPress website.

WordPress.COM vs. WordPress.ORG

Here’s one of the big confusing points about WordPress. You may have noticed with a little research that there are two WordPress platforms, and

What’s the difference between them?

The .COM version is a service that bundles WordPress with its own hosting. The funny thing about that is if you are on their lowest level package, they don’t give you the full version of WordPress!

That’s because they want their host to be optimized, and if they gave you complete control, they wouldn’t be able to optimize the host effectively.

It’s the same thing that all the other one-size-fits-all website builder services do, like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly. They bundle the website builder, domain registration, and web hosting to make it easy to use. However, they don’t give you a lot of flexibility, and they don’t give you the power to edit as you want.

That’s why we use WordPress.ORG. You can download the WordPress software directly from their website as a ZIP file, which you can upload to your web host.

Today, most web hosting companies come with a way to quickly install WordPress, usually with the click of a button.

As part of my free 14-day blog launch training, I go through three of the most popular web hosts and show you how to install WordPress step-by-step.

The nice thing about installing WordPress on your hosting choice is you have absolute flexibility. You can move from host to host if you ever need to upgrade, and you can use whichever themes and plugins you want, restricted only by the capabilities of your hosting resources.

Themes & Plugins

WordPress has two features that make it stand out – Themes and Plugins.

Themes are the design and look of a WordPress website. Think of it as the paint and trim of a house.

Plugins add functionality to the website. These are like the automatic lights, garage door opener, appliances, and other things that go into a home to function as needed.

WordPress lets many web developers and designers create these tools to customize your website by building off other’s work. There are thousands and thousands of themes and plugins that you can choose from.

Search the WordPress Themes and WordPress Plugins repositories and see how many there are. Most of them are free, and there are many paid upgrades to help you do cool stuff or hook into other services you might require.

Free Theme Recommendation

In the 14-day blog training, I use the free theme that WordPress develops called Twenty Twenty.

Premium Theme Recommendation

For people looking to build a business website, I recommend the most popular theme for WordPress. It is called Divi by Elegant Themes, and it’s an easy-to-use drag-and-drop page builder that lets you design much faster.

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In a way, it is a theme and plugin rolled into one.

It makes it easy to visually build your website without knowing code or customizing through an existing theme.

You can get the exact look you want by dragging and dropping different modules and editing those how you wish. They have modules for text, images, widgets, and anything you need to display your content. They also have row and column formats to manipulate the layout to your liking.

Watch me build a business website with Divi!

Content Creation

Once you’ve launched, what drives you forward are the pages and blog posts that bring traffic to the website. Pages are your site’s timeless elements with your most important information like the Home page, About page, Contact page, etc.

Then to bring in traffic, you’ll want regularly scheduled blog posts. These will be articles that can be about anything within your industry. You’ll want to have posts that educate and help your niche.

As a business, a good way to approach blogging is to answer all of the simple questions you get repeatedly and walking people through your process.

For example, a kitchen remodeler should have a blog post entitled, “How Much Does a Kitchen Remodel Cost?” because they’ve surely been asked this on every initial consultation.

And that means people are also searching online for answers when they aren’t in touch with a professional.


To get traffic, consider the niche you’re in and match that to ONE ideal traffic source.

Here is where marketing comes into play. You have to get above the tech stuff and start getting creative with how you go out there and bring people to your website.

As discussed above, Google search is among the highest quality traffic since a person is actively seeking answers to pressing issues in their life. But that normally takes time.

More people spend time on social media, so you must consider that as an option.

For example, recipe websites get tons of eyeballs from Instagram & Pinterest. In contrast, an accountant likely isn’t going to find new clients if they adopt a canned social strategy using those networks!

Once you start to get traffic, use a service like Google Analytics to give you a detailed report of your web traffic. It’s going to tell you where your traffic is coming from and how people interact with your website. You can see what strategies have been working and which ones didn’t do anything to move the needle. You can optimize your design around specific goals that you track.

Then ultimately, what you want to do is collect leads and turn that traffic into money. It’s never been more possible to turn a passion or a hobby that you have into an online income.

It is why I’ve been so interested in WordPress for over ten years. I’m fascinated by how you can build an online platform from scratch that brings in money.

You shouldn’t need to rely on local employment with all the tools we have to connect you to others worldwide.

WordPress File Hierarchy

Let’s take a look into the WordPress file hierarchy. We will dive into my web host and look at the web server files to see what a WordPress installation looks like as if you’re using Windows Explorer.

It’s easy to look at the files on your server using an FTP program like FileZilla. Or you can use the file manager that hosts typically provide.

You’ll know it’s a WordPress installation by the folder names wp-admin, wp-content, and wp-includes.

All of the files that make up that admin dashboard are within the wp-admin folder.

There are other important functional files that the WordPress software depends on to run in the folder wp-includes.

Then we have the wp-content folder where your plugins, themes, and file uploads go.

If we click into the themes directory, we’ll see folders for each installed theme. Here, I have the main theme, Twenty Twenty, and what’s called a child theme, Twenty Twenty Blogger.

A child-theme inherits styles from the parent theme and allows you to customize it without fear of your customizations getting lost when the parent theme gets updated.

Check out my 14-Day Blog Launch Training to learn how to create a child theme.

The plugins directory operates in the same way. There are folders for each plugin you have installed, and these contain the necessary files each plugin needs to run on your website.

The uploads directory is where all of the files you upload to use on your website live like images, PDFs, etc. Typically organized by date, it will go into a year and then monthly substructure when you upload something.

The bulk of your disk space is usually dedicated here if you have an image-heavy website. This is why it is essential to optimize your images before you upload them.

WordPress Theme Hierarchy

The theme hierarchy is a little bit more advanced, but I want to give you a basic understanding of how it works.

Going back into the themes directory, if I click on the Twenty Twenty theme, you will see more files.

These template files are what generate the front-end pages on your website. When you load your homepage or your about page, it will determine which of these template files to use based on the template hierarchy.

Above is the flow chart for the template hierarchy. It’s confusing at first, and you don’t have to know this to use WordPress, but it helps in understanding how it all works and which files are used.

You can see the page type on the left-hand side and then see which files are used to load that page. All pages default to the index.php file that can be seen linked to the right.

But more specific templates usually take precedence.

For example, if someone goes into your blog archives and they’re looking at February’s posts of two years ago, then that’s going to flow over to archive.php. If that archive.php doesn’t exist, it’ll use index.php.

WordPress also has built-in functions that you can use if you’re looking to learn a little bit of PHP.

For example, an easy one is you can check to see if a user is logged in or not. You can add a distinct section or a tag to an HTML element or whatever you want to customize for logged in users.

All of this flexibility is the biggest reason that I love WordPress.

They give you full access to the lowest level, where it is possible to write code and edit your website as you need. It is possible to build just about anything you want.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re building a blog or a business website, WordPress is the perfect option. I always recommend it over the big website builders so you have the most control.

Learn how to start from the FREE training below.

🚀 Launch Your Blog in 14 Days!

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