Category Archives: Start a Blog

Welcome ‘Art of the Blog’ members and anyone else who has wanted to start a blog but has been afraid to take the plunge.

Moving In – Installing WordPress on your Self-Hosted Blog

If you’ve decided to self-host your blog, there are two options for installing WordPress on your host.  The first is to visit http://www.wordpress.org and download the free software.  WordPress.org does include step-by-step directions for installing the software on your site.  

Increasingly, however, web hosts are offering an easy one or two click installation of the software when you purchase your hosting package.  Your installation process will be similar to thethe following:

  1. Most hosts that offer WordPress (or other Platform choices) will present you with a control panel to manage your entire site.  You’ll usually see an option to install WordPress or ‘Popular Scripts’ as shown below NewImage
  2. To begin, click ‘Install’.  The script installer will try to detect your settings and will let you know if any changes need to be made prior to the installation.  Once your host account settings are in order, your installation will begin.  
  3.  Some web hosts will do everything for you when you click install, but others may want a little information from you.  The second phase of your installation screen will ask you where you want the blog stored – do you want readers to find the blog when they type in your web address, or do you want it to be a subpage on your site.  Other things you may need to determine are the name of the installation directory (the installation script will create it), your Administrator user name, and the Admin password you want.For security reasons, it is recommended that you do not accept the default Admin user name ‘Admin’ or the default Installation directory of ‘wp’.  WordPress is popular with readers and writers, but it is also a popular target for hackers who tend to exploit those default names to gain access to blogs:NewImage
  4. Click ‘Next’ and your web host will take care of the rest of the installation.  Your blog’s web address will be the ‘Base URL’ address you chose.  Your blog’s administration page will be at www.yourblogaddress/wp-admin.  Your login information will be the name and password you chose.  If you forget your password, it can be emailed to the address you provided.  Again, choose an email address that can’t be deduced from the name of your web address.
  5. Your hosting provider will email you with your user ID and password and confirmation of the installation completion.  Now it’s time for the fun part of any move-in:   decorating.

Keeping Up Appearances – Decorating the Self-Hosted Blog

If you’ve already been blogging at WordPress.com, much of the self-hosted WordPress environment will look very familiar.  However, there are a few key differences – even when keeping up appearances – between running your blog at WordPress.com and having your own ‘place’.

Themes

When you first login to your new self-hosted WordPress Dashboard, one of the first things you’ll want to do is customize your appearance.  To start, click on ‘Appearances’ in the left pane of your WordPress window and then click on ‘Themes:

NewImage

The installation will include a few default themes, but you can add new themes by clicking the ‘Install Themes’ tab.  That tab will let you upload custom themes you design or buy, or you can choose from over 600 free themes.  

As with WordPress.com, each theme on your self-hosted blog allows a different level of customization.  You can use the links to choose from different appearance options, or, if you know CSS  or HTML, you can click ‘Editor’ and tinker with the code.   Be aware that, on a self-hosted blog, you can break a theme, so be sure to make a backup before wading in too deep. 

Widgets

As with a hosted WordPress blog, your self-hosted blog includes a Widgets, add-ons to your blog page that can be dragged to your side bar.  There are a few default widgets – Custom Menus and a BlogRoll you can add to your blog right away.  You can add others by installing them from the ‘Plugins’ section of your WordPress Dashboard.  

To add a widget to your blog sidebar, click and drag the widget to the desired place.  Widgets can be moved up and down in relation to each other:

NewImage

This is how a widget looks on the actual blog:

NewImage

Plug-ins

The plug-in is where the self-hosted blog really begins to flex its muscle.  Plug-ins are basically neatly-packaged scraps of code that you can add to your WordPress blog and that allow you to add custom Social Networking widgets to your sidebar, shopping carts to your blog, and even forum infrastructures to encourage your readers to engage with each other on your site.  If you know PHP programming, you can create your own, but the most common way to add a plug-in to your blog is to choose from the thousands of free offerings.

To add a plug-in to your site, click ‘Plug-Ins’ in the sidebar of your administration screen.  You’ll notice that the WordPress installation includes one or two default plug-ins.  Click ‘Add New’ to navigate to the search page:

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 10 34 09 PM

You can use keywords or categories to search for plug-ins, just as you would when installing a new Theme.

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 10 37 46 PM

 Plug-ins shown in your search results are rated and can be sorted by rating or by name.  Click promising listings to learn more details and then to install the one you want.  Once the plug-in is installed, you’ll have the option to ‘Activate’ it.  Some plug-ins, such as tracking programs, operate behind the scenes but need you to custom their settings to your blog.  Others, such as shopping cart plug-ins, will appear as new pages or as new widgets to be added to your sidebar.

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 10 38 01 PM

Because plug-ins are usually free, and because they offer new options for customizing your site, it can be tempting to add a bunch all at once.  However, extra gadget you put on your site, visible or not, is like the clutter in your junk drawer – it may be useful, but it takes up space and, in the case of your blog, can slow things down for your user.  Only you can decide when that next new widget is one too many.

A Domain of Your Own

A Domain of Your Own

 

When you create a blog with WordPress (or install to your web host), the web address of your blog will be www.your_blog_Name.wordpress.com  If you want a more personal address, you’ll need to register a domain and then point it to your host or blog.  

Domain registrars

 

WordPress.com

If you’re building your blog at WordPress, you can register a domain through one of their premium services.  The cost is $18 ($5 for registration, $13 for mapping) to register and map your custom address to your blog.  Once you purchase the domain, you own it, and you can move it at anytime.  

 

Third Party Registrars

If you’re self-hosting your blog or if you think you may move your blog from WordPress.com to your own host at some point, you can also purchase a domain through a third-party registrar such as GoDaddy (http://godaddy.com).  There are other registrars (Network Solutions, for example, but I’ve had good experience with GoDaddy and their support over the years. You will need to map to the domain to your host or to WordPress.com ($13), or you can forward the domain to your WordPress.com blog for free.

 

Mapping a Domain

Purchasing a domain on GoDaddy or another registrar is as easy as finding an available name you like, adding it to your cart, and then checking out.  Mapping it to your WordPress.com blog is equally easy.

1.  Update your Domain’s name servers (it’s not as hard as it sounds).  First login to your account with your registrar and navigate to your list of purchased ‘Domains’.   I’m using ‘GoDaddy’ as the example, but updating the name servers will be the same process on most registrars.  :

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 5 20 36 PM

2.  When you see your purchased Domain (or list if you have more than one), select the one you want to update, and the control panel for your domain will appear.  Locate ‘Nameservers’ and click ‘Manage’:

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 5 28 56 PM

3.  A pop-up will appear displaying your current Nameserver settings.  Click the ‘Custom Nameserver’ radio button and, when it appears, click the link to ‘Enter custom name servers’:

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 5 32 25 PM

4. A new pop-up will appear with 2 blank Nameserver fields.  Click the button to add a 3rd Nameserver field and then, into the first, second and third fields, enter:

NS1.WORDPRESS.COM
NS2.WORDPRESS.COM

NS3.WORDPRESS.COM

and click ‘Save’.

 

6. To finish the mapping in WordPress.com, go back to your Dashboard (the process will be similar if you’re self-hosting your blog, but you won’t incur any additional costs besides the domain purchase and the initial hosting).

In the WordPress.com dashboard, click ‘Store>Domains’ in the menu in the sidebar:

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 4 19 23 PM

When prompted, enter the name of your new domain.  WordPress will let you know it’s registered and ask if you want to move it.  Check the box to confirm your ownership of the domain and then click to begin the mapping process on WordPress.com.  WordPress will take you to the purchase page to purchase Mapping and, after your purchase is complete, it will prompt you for your registrar details to complete the procedure:

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 4 22 50 PM

7. That’s it.  Now just give people your custom domain address when publicizing your blog.

 

 

Forwarding a Domain

If you’re a WordPress.com blogger and you’ve bought a domain somewhere like GoDaddy already but you don’t want to fork over the $13 to map your domain to WordPress.com, there is another alternative – Forwarding your Domain – that gives you a custom look without the the custom price.

When you login to your Domain administration window in GoDaddy, you’ll see the option to setup Forwarding just below the Name Server administration.  Click ‘Manage’ to begin setting this up.:

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 9 26 24 PM

In the pop-up that appears, enter the actual address of your blog as the forwarding address.  At GoDaddy, you can choose to Mask your forwarded address so that when your readers land on your wordpress.com page, at the top of the screen, they’ll see the Domain name you chose and registered.

You’ll also see to ‘Redirect’ types, Permanent (301) and Temporary (302).  The first lets search engines that your site using the registered domain name is permanently at the address setup in your Forwarding screen.  The second option tells the search engines that the forwarding address is temporary.

Screen Shot 2013 09 24 at 9 30 00 PM

 

Forwarding vs. Mapping

On the surface, Forwarding and Mapping accomplish the same objective –  they give your blog a customized name.  However, while the cost of forwarding your domain may seem like the way to go, they are different.

Forwarding is like forwarding mail from the post office.  Users enter the domain name you gave them, but the forwarding configuration sends them to the blog’s actual address, hiding it with your custom domain.

When you map the domain, users entering your custom domain, they start and end at your site. When you map your domain, every post you create in your blog will have its own unique web address that uses your domain name, making it easier for users to find and come back to favorite posts.  It also means the site is indexed under that domain (www.yourcustomname.com) instead of the domain it’s being forwarded to (www.yourcustomname.wordpress.com).

Hosting – Your Place or Mine

When setting up a blog – or growing an existing blog – the question of whether to host or have your blog hosted for you often arises.  The host is the infrastructure for your blog.  You can choose to have a blogging service host your blog for you, or you can pay to host your blog on someone else’s web server.  Each option has advantages and disadvantages as shown below.

Hosted vs. self-hosted

Hosted

A hosted blog is an inexpensive way to get started quickly. A hosted blog is stored on the servers of the blog platform.  Blog platforms such as WordPress and Blogger (now owned by Google) offer free sign up.  There are a number of pros, but there are also a few drawbacks to a hosted blog.

Hosted Pro’s and Con’s

PRO’S

  • Sign up is Free, offering up to 3GB of blog space on WordPress and few limits on Blogger (they limit you to 1GB of photos).  
  • Getting started is quick.
  • The host handles automatic backups of your blog
  • The blog host handles software upgrades automatically for you
  • The host handles spam filtering.
  • The host handles security issues.

Con’s

  • Customization is limited to default themes offered by host
  • Most hosts won’t allow you to add plugins
  • With the exception of Blogger, you can’t use Adsense 
  • Most hosted blogs won’t allow features such as shopping carts 
  • You can’t use Google Analytics (except for Blogger)
  • You can move your blog content, but you don’t own it – the host can remove it at anytime or drop support for your blog platform

Self-Hosted

Self-hosted blogs are not free, but if you like to be in control, this may be an option for you.  

Self-Hosted Pro’s and Con’s

PRO’S

  • You own your blog
  • Complete control over your blog.
  • Ability to upload custom themes and plugins.
  • No need to know web design or coding, but if you do, you can completely overhaul the look of your site.
  • Access to custom analytics and tracking tools
  • Freedom to monetize your blog as you see fit

Con’s

  • You’ll need to find a hosting package.
  • You are responsible for backups and security.
  • You are responsible for upgrading your software when the blogging platform announces updates.
  • Costs for hosting range from $3 to $7 per month or more depending on the size and traffic levels of your blog.

The Self-Hosted Blog

Blogger and WordPress.com users have a host built into their platforms and only need to sign up for an account to begin setting up a blog.  However, if you’ve decided to host your own blog, the next step in building your own soapbox is to find a host.  Here are a few popular and reliable hosting providers:

Godaddy 

http://www.godaddy.com

With hosting starting at $3.99 for up to 100GB of disk space and unlimited bandwidth (traffic), GoDaddy offers excellent support by email or by phone.  They also offer free, one-click installation of WordPress and several other blog platforms.  You can also register and park a domain with them.

littleoak.net

http://www.littleoak.net

I’ve used Little Oak for hosting websites and my blog for over five years.  If you’re a Mac user (and even if you’re not), Little Oak is a great place to park your website or blog.  They also offer easy installation of WordPress (and a few other blog platforms).   Hosting starts at $80/year, and you can register domains through their site.  They do offer Live Chat tech support, as well as support by email. 

bluehost

http://www.BlueHost.com

Offering support by phone or email, Blue Host is another popular web host.  As with GoDaddy and Little Oak, you can use their control panel to quickly and easily install your WordPress blog.  Hosting starts at $4.95 per month.

dreamhost

http://www.DreamHost.com

Starting at $3.95/ month, Dream Host offers one-click WordPress installation and tech support by email.

These are just a few of the available hosting options, and all of those offer quick and easy installation of your WordPress blog – a process I’ll cover in the next post.

The World of Widgets

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 6 11 37 AM

 

When you first setup your WordPress blog and preview your new page, the first thing you may notice – after perusing your first post –  is a collection of links and other items, called Widgets, in your sidebar.  Not just a fictional product in economics class anymore, widgets are the tools that let you arrange and manage the content in your sidebar and on your page.

By default, most WordPress themes will populate your sidebar with the Blogs I Follow widget and the Meta widget.

The Meta widget gives you a quick link to login to the administration side of your blog.    It also contains links to your feeds (more about those later) and to WordPress.com.

The Blogs I Follow widget is automatically generated when you click the ‘Follow’ () button in the corner of any WordPress.com blog.

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 6 29 48 AM

You can also add to this list from your WordPress Administration page by clicking ‘Blogs I Follow’ in the sidebar and then the link to your WordPress.com Reader.

 

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 6 33 33 AM

This field will let you enter the URL of any blog, regardless of whether or not it’s hosted on WordPress.com or another server.   You can see the update and the results below:

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 6 34 00 AM

 

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 6 34 30 AM

 

Both of these widgets can be customized or removed from your sidebar by clicking ‘Widgets’ under the ‘Appearances’ menu in your blog’s administration page:

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 6 49 20 AM

On the right side of the widget screen, you’ll see a collection of Widget areas that are available on your selected Theme. Some of the Widgets will appear in the sidebar – others will appear in the footer or above your header image.  To add a widget to your blog, click and drag it from the ‘Available Widgets’ section to the desired Widget area in the right side of the admin screen.

The following are Widgets I recommend for any new blog:

  • About Me – Self-explanatory, this widget lets you use a free service to add a brief bio or profile about yourself.  To use this widget, you’ll need to sign up with a free service called ‘About.me’.  You can add an image and use your About.Me profile on any blog you create.

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 7 00 28 AM

  • Categories – Your blog categories are not automatically displayed in your sidebar, so you will need to add them.
  • Search – This lets readers search your blog based on Tags, Category names and post content. It’s a good way to keep readers on your page.
  • Text  – This widget can be straight text or, if you know a little HTML, you can really customize your WordPress.com blog.
  • Facebook (Twitter, del.icio.us) – Give your readers a chance to share your work.  WordPress.com now makes it easy to add links to your social media with several customizable widgets just for that purpose:

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 10.42.11 AM

  • Follow Blog – Blogs need readers.  Make it easy for people to read your content by adding the ‘Follow Blog’ widget to your sidebar, ideally at the top:

 

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 7 06 08 AM

 

Widgets appear on your site as soon as you drag them to the Widget area – you don’t need to save them for them to appear. You do need to click the ‘Save’ to keep any changes you’ve made:

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 7 10 25 AM

 

There are a host of other free, useful widgets for your WordPress.com blog, and it’s worth taking time to play with them and see what works for you.  On a WordPress.com blog, you are limited to the widgets they’ve included.  However, if you decide at some point to host your own blog, you’ll have access to a world of plugins and widgets, including plugins for social networking, adding shopping carts and other functionality.  I will cover self-hosted blogs in another post.

Until then, have fun exploring the world of widgets.