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.
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!