Let me start out this post by saying I know a couple of things about computers. Like how to turn one on, for instance. Or Google. I’m good with Google. And on occasion I go crazy and Ctrl+Alt+Delete something… and now you have experienced the entire breadth of my technological savvy.
But not knowing what MySQL is, or what language my database and server are speaking hasn’t stopped me from hosting this website, or using Thesis to build the theme you see here. Nor should it stop you, my fellow DIY bloggers, from maximizing the customization and flexibility of your sites.
I’ve been blogging for five years and it took me four of them to work myself up to self-hosting because I was intimidated by all those acronyms. And then I did it, and it was easy enough that I knocked my head against the wall a few times for not trying it sooner. So here’s a non-techies take on the easy way to host your own WordPress website via Go Daddy.
I’ve run the gamut of “does it for you” to “do it yourself” blogging options in the last few years. I spent the early days with Xanga (and I still have deep love for the Xanga community, lots of awesome people hang out there). Then I switched to Blogger, then WordPress.com when I wanted to have my own domain, and I finally took that leap to self-hosting a WordPress powered site about a year and a half ago.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, WordPress is the best experience I’ve had on the internet. The admin panel gives you a ton of options without being overwhelming. There is a huge community of people that provide support, and the themes, plugins, and do-it-yourself customization options are endless. If you want a taste, just go here and browse through all of the plugin options for customizing your site.
Even if you already have a blog through another provider, WP makes it easy to transfer all of your content (including comments) over with a click. I’m telling you, it couldn’t be easier.
While you’ll get a lot of WP awesomeness through their blogging service at WordPress.com, the true customization options come out when you host your own site. I host mine through Go Daddy, for $6 per month.
I’m Convinced, Now What?
I read at least 10 different articles and how-to’s before trying to switch this site over to a self hosted service, which took a long time because I had to google every. other. word. to understand what was going on. After a year and a half I’ve got a better grasp on things, so here are the steps I’ll talk you through in this post. And even better, I’ll show you through screenshots.
1.) Getting the right tools
2.) Getting WordPress on your server
3.) Getting started with WP (and switching your Blogger or other site over)
4.) Getting started with customization (themes & plugins)
Oh my god, this is going to be a long-ass post. I need to go get some coffee. And speaking of which, the process does take some dedicated time, so don’t think I’m telling you that you can snap your fingers and have a website.
Getting The Right Tools
There are two things I recommend to get started. Getting a good browser, and getting a hosting account through Go Daddy.
I didn’t realize this for a good many years, but Internet Explorer is like crippling yourself when you look at the internet, and it’s so easy not to have to use it. I recommend FireFox (don’t worry, it works just like IE, only faster) particularly because of all the fun add-ons you can get, like FireFTP, which will make managing your WordPress files extra easy. Trust me on this, you’ll thank me later.
1.) Go to Mozilla.com/firefox and download Firefox
2.) Once you’ve installed it on your computer, Open Firefox and then go to Tools > Add Ons
3.) Search for FireFTP and when it comes up click Add to Firefox. Then click Install. (Firefox will prompt you to restart when appropriate.)
4.) To run FireFTP, open Firefox and go to Tools >FireFTP (the icon should be right there in the drop down menu now.) This is what it looks like…
Kind of boring now, actually. But when your site is set up, FireFTP will let you see all of your website files on the server where they live. It will also let you transfer files from your computer to the server easily which comes in handy when adding new themes or plugins to your site.
Let’s take it up a notch by talking about making the big commitment and purchasing your hosting account. There are a lot of places that will host a website for you on their servers, the reason that I like Go Daddy is because it makes it extra easy to install WordPress and update it when necessary.
2.) Select an Economy Hosting Plan for whatever duration you choose. I run 3 websites off an economy plan without a problem so you’ll probably be ok with the minimum. Select Add to Card.
3.) The one thing I dislike about Go Daddy is that they will always try to sell you things you don’t need, and if you aren’t careful (or just aren’t sure) you could end up spending a lot more money than you need to. When you add the hosting plan to your cart, Go Daddy will take you to another page that tries to sell you a bunch of stuff. All you need to do is scroll down, find the No Thanks button, and click it. They make it small and gray. Don’t be fooled by the big shiny red buttons.
4.) The one legitimate thing they may try to sell you is a domain name. (A domain name is what comes after the www. My domain name is “diydiva.net”) If you don’t already have one, you’ll need one and you can order it from your cart. Go Daddy often has deals for $1.99 domains or something else cheap when you buy a hosting plan. (Note: If you already have a domain name through someone else, that’s fine, you can “point” it to your Go Daddy account. Technically I think this is called pointing your domain to the correct domain name servers or DNS. Whoever you bought the domain through should allow you to do this through an admin or account settings panel. It consists of typing a series of numbers into a box… for more information on what those numbers should be, go here.)
5.) Remember that No Thanks button as you go through the checkout process.
You’ll have to go through a few more steps to checkout and set up your hosting account. Go Daddy guides you through this process but for more information you can check out this article.
TIP: Before you set up this account, open a new word doc and type in these four titles: Go Daddy Log In Information, Hosting Log In Information, Database Log In Information, and WordPress Admin Log In Information. Throughout the rest of this process you will have to set up usernames and passwords for all of these… it’s easiest if you keep them all the same, or write them all down as you go. But keep the document somewhere extra safe if you do.
It usually takes 30 minutes for your hosting site to be set up, so it’s a good time to take a break.
Getting WordPress on Your Server
Congratulations, you now have a server! Or a little corner of one, at least. The next step is to get WordPress installed on that server, and Go Daddy makes this pretty easy.
1.) First, log in to your hosting account through Go Daddy. (You do this by going to Godaddy.com and logging in first with your Go Daddy username and password, which you probably set up during the checkout process. Remember that document I told you to start, this is where it comes in handy.)
2.) Once you’re logged in, you should see a panel on the left side of the screen with the heading My Products. Click on Hosting.
3.) You’ll see a list of your hosting accounts (which if you’re reading this, probably consists of just one). Click on the Manage Account link.
4.) When you’re in the Hosting Account control panel, you’ll see a big button at the top for Your Applications. Click on it.
5.) There are a ton of applications you can install from here. To find WP click on the Blogs tab on the top left, then click on WordPress from the list. When you do, it will appear in the center of the screen. Click Install Now! to install it on your site.
6.) If you have multiple domains under one hosting account it will ask you to pick which one to install WordPress under (again, if you’re reading this, you probably only have one to choose from.) You will then be asked to set up some “database info”, namely another username and password. Click Next when you’ve finished.
7.) Now you get to pick where you want to install WordPress, and by default it asks to put it in a subfolder of your domain called “blog” or “wordpress”. However, most of us want our blogs to be on the top level of our domain. (Which means if you go to www.yourdomain.com people are taken right to your blog.) To do this, delete any words out of the box so that it just says http://www.yourdomain.com/ then click next.
7.) You’re not done with creating usernames and passwords yet. This one is important though, because it’s the administrator username and password for you site. So anything you post to your blog that says “by yourusername” will be this username. For example, my username is kitliz, so thats what you see when I post or comment on this site. I’m just saying, choose wisely. Click Next.
8.) Now you’re done creating usernames and passwords! You’re also done installing WordPress on your site. Go Daddy is going to do the rest of the work for you… it usually takes 15 to 20 minutes, and then you’re ready to roll. If you want to do something fun in the meantime, go to http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/ and start looking at themes you like. When you find one, download it to somewhere you’ll be able to find it again on your computer. (Like your Desktop, or a Downloads file.)
9.) You should get an email when WordPress is installed on your site, but if you’re getting impatient you can always check it from the main My Applications page. On the right hand side you can see your progress under the “My Applications” tab. It may say something line “creating database…” if it’s still working. You know it’s ready when it says “installed.”
10.) Check it out! Go to your domain and see your new WordPress site.
(If you have another blog you’d like to port over, don’t freak at the lack of posts… we’ll get to that in a sec.)
Getting Started with WordPress (and getting your content where it belongs)
All WordPress sites start out with the same blank theme, so now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to customizing, but first you’re going to want to get familiar with how to log in, change, and update things through the admin panel.
1.) From your domain, scroll down on your new site until you see the “Meta” tab on the right sidebar at the bottom. Then, click Log in. This is how you will log in to your site and add posts, check stats, change settings, moderate comments, or any number of things that you can do from the administration panel.
2.) The admin panel is completely customizable and easy to use. Spend a little time playing around to get comfortable with it. Here’s some detailed information on everything you can do from the admin panel. Or if you’re super impatient we can get to porting your content over to the new site right away.
3.) From your admin panel go to Tools > Import, and then choose your current blogging platform. (I suggest taking a look at this article before you start to see what exactly is involved in importing your content… I’m using the example of Blogger because it’s common and easy.)
4.) I created a sample Blogger site for illustrative purposes.
5.) Now follow the instructions to allow WP to access the content on your other blog and click the Import button.
6.) No kidding, it’s that easy. (And don’t worry, it doesn’t delete anything from your old site.) Now all posts and comments are in your new WordPress site.
Getting Started with Customization
Welcome to the wonderful world of being able to do almost anything you can think of to your website. And I know, at this point self-hosting seems like a whole lot more work, and it doesn’t look or do anything better than your last blog. Until now. You’re set up and ready to roll with themes and plugins. I’ll wrap this up by showing you how to install your first theme and plugin and the leave you to the frenzy of customizing you’re going to do.
If you haven’t chosen your theme yet, go find one. Start here (http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/) but the power of self-hosting is that you aren’t limited to the options there. Check out these places for great free themes or even some premium themes that aren’t to expensive.
Here’s how to get it on your site:
1.) Download the zip file for the theme to your computer (preferably somewhere you can find it again) and unzip it.
2.) This is where FireFTP comes in handy. The first time you use FireFTP you’ll have to set it up, and to do that you’ll need 2 pieces of information.
- Your IP address, which can be found on the dashboard of your godaddy hosting control center, here
- The hosting account username and password you set up when you were installing WordPress on to your site. (Remember that word doc with your login information? I do not lie.)
3.) Set up FireFTP to talk to your site by opening Firefox, then going to Tools > FireFTP to open FireFTP.
4.) From the dropdown menu on the left choose “Create an Account”. Name the account whatever you like. Enter your server IP address in the “Host” field. Then enter your database username and password. FireFTP will save this information, so you’ll only need to do it once. Click OK.
5.) From FireFTP choose the new account you just set up from the list, then click Connect. You should see your computer files (such as MyDocuments) on the left, and your website files (some that say wp-content, wp-includes, etc.) on the right. Everything about your blog just got 100 times easier. This is where you can transfer files directly to your website.
6.) To upload your new theme, use the panel on the left to find the theme folder you unzipped (I told you not to lose it) I created “my_themes” and “my_plugins” folders on my computer to keep all of the stuff I am constantly dowloading and trying out on my site organized.
7.) Then, on the right panel of your screen, dive into the wp-content folder by double clicking on it, and then dive in again to the themes folder. On the left panel of your screen highlight the folder of the theme you want to add and then click the right arrow, and it will transfer into your blog themes directory. (Note: Make sure there isn’t another folder with the theme name nested inside the first one, which sometimes happens when you extract zip files.) And there you have it… theme installed.
That doesn’t mean it shows up on your blog automatically… you can drop as many themes as you want to in your theme directory this way, and then choose the one you want to display from your blog dashboard.
8.) Activate your new theme so it shows up on your website through your WordPress admin panel. Go to Appearance > Themes and then click “Activate” under the theme you want to use on your site. You can change as often as you like and it’s easy to change back.
9.) View your site to check out the new look!
Some themes will give you specific options for that theme under the Appearance tab, depending on their features. (such as adding a custom header or images for a slideshow.) Because you’re using the open source version of the themes, you also have the ability to go into the code of the theme and edit it through Appearance >Editor.
You may not change your theme that often once you find something that works for you (though I’m constantly looking for ways to tweak mine), but WordPress plugins will give you some of the best features and customization for your blog. Anything from adding the ability to rate posts to having your Twitter account automatically update when you post something new.
To install plugins to your site, you download them the exact same way you download themes. Browse around http://www.wordpress.org/extend/plugins to find one to try it out on, or check out some of my faves below.
Then follow the same steps you did to install your theme: Unzip the plugin file > Use FireFTP to upload it to the plugins folder (also found in wp-content) > Then go to your wordpress admin panel and choose Plugins, to activate them. There will always be specific installation instructions for different plugins on the pages you download them from.
Depending on what your plugin does, different things might appear on your dashboard, or in the new-post panel, you just have to try them out and see.
Here are some of my Can’t Live Without plugins:
Related Posts– Automically links to related posts at the end of each post.
WordPress Wiki– Turn your blog into a wiki
Kimili Flash Embed– Embed flash objects into a post
Poppuper– create fun popups in your posts
Depending on what your plugin does, different things might appear on your dashboard, or in the new-post panel.
Now go forth and customize the hell out of your websites my fellow DIY bloggers!
Disclaimer: Like everything else I do, I have no idea if this is the “right” way, I’m only relaying what works for me. I’m not a complete computer novice, but I don’t have a tech background either, so if you have any questions I’ll do my best to help you out, but your best bet is probably checking out these resources and forums instead, where much smarter people can give you advice.
WordPress Docs: http://codex.wordpress.org/Main_Page
WordPress Support Forums: http://wordpress.org/support/
Go Daddy Help: http://www.godaddy.com/community/community.aspx?ci=16292