Self Hosted WordPress 101, For Beginners

by Thomas MORADPOUR on January 18, 2011 · 13 comments

I started this blog in November ‘10 with the misguided idea that self-hosted WordPress.org was not for me, too complicated for beginners. So I opened shop at a WordPress.com hosted account.

But being the tinkerer that I am, a few months and 6,000 hits later, I started feeling itchy for a bit more customization. So I set forth to migrate to self-hosted. I was a bit nervous at the idea of not being able to set it up, of losing my existing data etc.

I was wrong. It’s super easy.

While I spent a number of hours this week-end fiddling with themes, plug-ins, and design options, truth is I could have relaunched my whole blog, identical to the way it was on WordPress.com, in less than 15 minutes. Yes, it’s that easy.

So, I thought I’d share (and make a handy note in case I ever want to do it again),
my 101 beginner’s guide to self hosted WordPress!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • obviously, a live Internet connection,
  • a credit card,
  • an FTP client (I use Cyberduck on my Mac),
  • your previous wordpress.com creds, if you are migrating.

KEY STEPS

1. Set up your own domain and hosting.
The easiest part. Also the only one you really need your credit card for.
You can purchase the two services separately. Or you can make your life easier by registering a domain with a hosting provider for one combined fee, typically $5 to $10 per month. WordPress.org suggests a number of options that have all compatible specs and software. Up to you – I went with BlueHost.

2. Install WordPress on your domain.
Wordpress.org offers clear instructions and claims the process takes less than 5 minutes – downloading a zip file from their server, then using an ftp client to upload it on your domain. BlueHost actually made it even easier for me – I just clicked an installation script included on my hosting control panel and voilà! I was up.

3. <option> Migrate existing data from WordPress.com.
Takes 3 minutes. On your WordPress dashboard, go to « Import » in the « Tools » menu. You’ll be prompted to choose a system to import from, including WordPress. This will ask you to choose a file to import. To create it, open a new browser tab, go to your old WordPress.com blog dashboard, and click « Export » in your « Tools » menu. Select what you want to export (most likely, everything), click « Download Export File ». Next, go back to your new dashboard and import the file – this will grab all your posts, comments, tags, categories, etc.
Two key things won’t be imported though: your stats… they’re gone, sorry; and your design, or theme… you’ll have to reload it, or pick a new one. But hey, that’s the fun bit, no?

4. Start to play with your blog’s look, feel, and functionalities.
Now, you need to make your blog… yours! If you are migrating,  you’ll feel right at home, since the .org online Dashboard is almost identical to the .com version. You will already be familiar with themes and widgets. The new part will be plug-ins, which are what makes self-hosted significantly better! Just as for a .com account, everything can be customized from within the WordPress dashboard.

Themes: Picking a theme is key, as it’s the first thing your visitors will see: it projects your blog’s identity.“WordPress Themes” has to be the single most popular Google search, judging from the number of results you can get. Most are free, but beware, a number of sources warn of the dangers of free themes: they may include spam links or malicious code that can put your data at risk; best to stick to trusted sources. After trying a few options in the free and safe WordPress themes “store”, I felt like using something a bit more powerful and picked a commercial theme.A lot of folks like the Genesis or Thesis frameworks for their blogs – I went with Thesis, which set me back $87. I’ll let you judge the results on these pages, but I don’t regret my choice. Thesis looks great out of the box, and despite the many customization options (number and size of your columns, fonts and colors for everything, widget integration etc), it stays super easy to use.

Plug-Ins: This is where the real fun kicks in! Every WordPress user has its favorites, a fact I learned yesterday when I tweeted for help on the best plug-ins available, and got 20 responses in 5 minutes. Quite a few are absolute must haves! Here’s the list I implemented so far.

  • Akismet – so good it is already included in your default install. Filters out comment spam,
  • Disqus comments – the comment management reference; replaces and improves your default comments (and imports all existing comments, so you won’t lose anything),
  • All in one SEO pack – useful to optimize your blog and posts for SEO,
  • Efficient related posts – automatically includes a list of related entries for each of your posts,
  • Find Me On – sidebar widget that displays a linked icon to each of your social networks,
  • User Bio – another sidebar widget that displays your gravatar with  some bio text. Simple, does the job,
  • TweetMeme – the fully customizable “retweet” button you’ll find in the top corner of this post,
  • Sexy Bookmarks – the broader sharing bar you’ll notice (and hopefully use, hint hint) at the bottom of the post,
  • WordPress Stats – no need to say more,
  • Google Analytics – same thing!
  • WPtouch – automatically mobilizes your blog for viewing on iPhones, Android, Blackberry etc.

That’s it! If you had spent the time reading this post actually building your WordPress account, you’d be done already!
Have fun and share your tips in comments please!

Related Posts:

  • http://twitter.com/jacobvar Jacob Varghese

    Congratulations on the new (self hosted) blog Tom. It looks great.
    That’s a good list. I’m going to try out a couple of the plugins you have suggested and that I don’t have on yet.
    You may want to try
    -cbnet Ping Optimizer (prevents pinging the default services everytime you edit post – could get you tagged as a ping spammer)
    -Google XML Sitemaps (will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog) ….see my blog for more info.
    Both are not absolutely necessary but ‘good to have’

    • Anonymous

      thanks Jacob, I’ll give these two a spin :-)

  • http://ianmrountree.com Ian M Rountree

    Great stuff, Tom!
    I’ll second Jacob’s suggestion of Google XML sitemaps, and perhaps add a couple of suggestions;

    - “Insights” is a useful plugin – adds a search section to your blog post screen, makes it easier to reference your older posts
    - Google Analyticator is another GA plugin, but this one displays stats on your Dashboard, and has a setting to NOT track logged in users. Helpful for comparing with WordPress.com stats

    Good to see you’re moving on up :) Keep up the great stuff!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Ian for this! Installing Insights now :-)

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Well, I definitely didn’t achieve migration in 15 minutes and I still need to design my site -it’s em…a work in progress. I don’t have a paid theme right now because I feel one of the main advantages is being able to customize it, and I clearly need to brush up on some html skills before I get that to happen! :)

    I do think that it’s good to spread the word that self-hosted is not as scary as it sounds. Like you, I figured that first blogspot and then wordpress.com would be fine, but a lot of that was sheer fear at the thought of becoming “self-hosted.” (cue Twilight Zone music here).

    Congratulations on the move. I think the site looks great!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Margie! You know you were actually my inspiration to migrate from .com to self hosted, a move you made a few months back. And you stay my blogging role-model – I don’t know how you manage to get such consistent goodness every day on your blog! Cheers, Tom

      • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

        Aw, thanks for that, friend! :)

  • http://twitter.com/Andrew_K_Kirk Andrew K Kirk

    Nice post and the website looks great! I’ve used WordPress.com for about 6 months, and I’ve wanted to make the jump to WordPress.org. Your post has inspired me.
    Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Go for it!
      Tom

  • http://twitter.com/Almost60Really Paula Lee Bright

    Tom, your new place already looks more professional and in great taste. It has the feel of an experienced self-hosted spot, and really emanates control over your subject matter. Kudos to you! You’re so far beyond where I’ll ever be that I’m almost envious. But no, I’m happy for you.

    I have a series in mind for bloggers who are moving to other platforms, and yours will be my first place to send them for ideas. Great job on this post. You reminded me of a couple plug-ins I need to check into. I’ll be interested to know how Sexy Bookmarks works out for you. Maybe you can give a report on it down the road a bit? Best of luck!

  • http://twitter.com/dhartzler10 Dustin Hartzler

    WordPress.org is the only way to go. You have so many more options for customizations, themes and whatnot. You have complete control on how your site looks.

    Great post Tom highlighting how easy it is to change over from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. I hope this inspires many to self host their blogs / websites.

    Dustin
    YourWebsiteEngineer.com

  • http://keywordjump.com/ seo firm

    WordPress is an great remedy for the sites of business owners. It can be set up easily, easily submit articles, and easily improved to display in The search engines serp’s. Every web page can be found and listed by The search engines, which sometimes doesn’t occur in other more conventional CMS (content management) techniques.

  • http://keywordjump.com/ seo firm

    WordPress weblog look like a collection web page, company display, cms, journal and just a conventional web page using webpages. These WordPress styles variety in price and you can get permits for designers to use on several sites. Some people provide these sites as a service and run their own web style company.

Previous post:

Next post: