How to use WordPress as a CMS

The latest incarnation of WordPress, a dynamic open-source blogging tool, also makes a sound content management system.

Unlike some tools, WordPress doesn't generate folders full of unwieldy HTML files when you publish content. You don't need to create backup folders for archives or spend ages waiting for a large site to update. Instead, WordPress uses simple, editable templates that pull data from your server on the fly. The result? It's faster, more robust and easier to manage than many similar systems.

WordPress boasts RSS feeds, post scheduling, support for file uploads, trackback URLs and more. Indeed, with its support for multiple users and editable categories, WordPress is flexible enough to support many kinds of site, from online brochures and portfolios to news sites and notice boards. In fact, any site that needs regular updating could benefit from switching over to WordPress. Not convinced? Let us take you through some of the hacks and add-ons that will make WordPress work less like a blog and more like a CMS (content management system).

Download WordPress and install it on a PHP-ready remote server. You'll find full details on how to install WordPress at Installing_WordPress. If you already have the software running, or have come to the end of the installation, you'll need to go to the admin panel or Dashboard to continue with the practical elements of this feature. (The folder you have the software installed in is the one called 'wordpressdirectory'.) The key feature that enables you to use WordPress like a CMS is Pages. Pages are created in the same way as blog posts within the admin panel; but rather than being archived by date, a page has a permanent link that can be inserted into the site's navigation, either dynamically using PHP code or manually with HTML.

Pages and pings

You create pages the same way that you would blog posts – in the WordPress Dashboard. Click on the 'Write' link and choose Page. So far, the page editor looks exactly like the blog post editor, with fields for title and content. In Visual mode, rich editing is switched on by default, enabling you to format text, add media elements and so on.

A key point to note is that content pages – generated by a CMS news system – wouldn't ordinarily need comments or trackbacks. WordPress pages have both enabled by default, so switch them off before going further. Click the 'Comments and Pings' link and uncheck 'Allow Comments' and 'Allow Pings'.

Like a conventional, static website, pages can be placed in a hierarchy. Scroll down to the Page Parent option and you'll find a drop-down menu that allows you to choose where the page you create appears in the directory tree. You do this by setting the parent of the page you're creating to an existing page. The navigation for the page links is generated automatically.

When you've finished creating a page, click 'Save'. Then to add it to your site, click 'Publish'. It's important to make sure you complete the last part, or your site won't update. WordPress pulls data directly from a database, but you can configure how the URL appears to your punters. Go to Settings in your Dashboard and choose Permalinks. By default, WordPress URLs are designed as database queries. While that looks fine, you might want something that looks a little more like a static folder system. You can choose from one of the ready-configured options or design your own custom URL structure.