The word WordPress means different things to different people. WordPress is a content management system, or CMS, which means it is a way for non-technical people to manage the content (words, images, audio, video, etc.) on a website.
With a CMS you can get a web developer to build the structure, functionality, and design of a website and then manage your copy and images on your own.
WordPress is by far the most popular CMS out there in the world. It has been estimated that 30% (!!!) of the entire World Wide Web is now built with WordPress. What this means is that having a WordPress site means that it is unlikely that the technology will ever become outdated or abandoned. The developer community is huge, and you will always be able to find someone to help you re-design your site or add more functionality.
You can have a web developer set up a self-hosted a WordPress website by having them use the free code on WordPress.org, or you can build a site on WordPress.com that does not require you to buy separate web hosting. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these.
Self-hosting your WordPress.org site means that you have a LOT more flexibility to add a customized design and unusual functionality. You also have more control over the ownership of the code. There is the cost of hiring a web developer to build it as well as an ongoing cost of the web server.
Building a site on WordPress.com can be a faster and easier solution, but you lack the flexibility to build something unique. There is also the ongoing cost of paying WordPress.com to host and maintain the site.
You can change the look and feel of your WordPress website by easily switching out the layout and design, called a theme.
Some WordPress themes are very basic and free to use, while other themes have a lot more functionality, generally called “premium” themes, and cost a bit of money for a fee. Some of these fees are a one time payment, and other times there is an annual cost to continue to receive bug fixes and updated code.
One of the good aspects of an pre-fabricated theme is that it is very cost effective for the quality of design you will be receiving. The drawbacks, however, are: 1) there is a chance your site will look exactly like someone else’s on the web and 2) the themes are often bloated with code you do not need and can slow down your user experience.
If you want a unique and faster website, it is often better to have a web designer create a custom WordPress theme for your site.
WordPress also has a very extensive network of added functionality called plugins. Plugins can add all sorts of features from a simple spam blocker to a complex online shop for your website.
Like themes, some plugins can be added with the click of a mouse and come in both the free and paid (i.e. premium) varieties.
A good web developer can create custom plugins specifically for your needs.