There are so many platforms available for publishing your content online that the selection process can be dizzying. Which one is best for SEO? Which one is the easiest to set up? What platform has the most support in case I need help? The truth is that many platforms fit this description, but we wanted to highlight using WordPress for blogging. It is arguably one of the most popular and easiest-to-use CMS platforms, and it is also free.
Disclaimer on who this post is for: If you are new to WordPress, you will find a lot of great tips for getting started on the platform. If you are a WordPress veteran, feel free to skim through and leave a comment if you feel we missed something.
Self-Hosted WordPress and WordPress.com
For those new to WP, it can be confusing when you search for information on how to get started. This is partly because there are two different ways to get started with WordPress.
WordPress.com: A web based version of WordPress that allows you to make a basic blog with content and styling. If all you want to do is write about stuff and share it with people, this should be fine for you. A custom domain is still an option, but you give up the ability to install plugins and templates.
Self-Hosted WordPress: This is the installation package to create a WordPress site on the hosting provider of your choice. The package is available for download at WordPress.org, and it is free of charge. It comes with two default templates and is fully customizable.
Setting up a WordPress.com Blog
- Visit www.wordpress.com
- At the time of this writing, you should click the large “Get Started” button on the home page. In general, you just want to look for a way to sign up for an account.
- You will see a screen like the one below. Fill in your email, a user name and password, then click “create blog.”
- You will have to confirm your account by checking your email; then, you can start posting.
Setting up a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog
A self-hosted solution is a bit more involved; however, it gives you the freedom of posting whatever content you want, linking to whatever you want and making your blog fully customizable. Below is a tutorial for setting up a self-hosted WordPress blog.
- Purchase a domain name and hosting. You can do this through one of the many different hosting providers and domain name registrars out there. Some examples are GoDaddy, Host Gator, Nexcess and Network Solutions. You must get hosting that supports MySQL databases and PHP.
- You must create an empty database for WordPress to store information like pages, posts, etc. The easiest way to do this is through your current hosting provider. Remember to save any login credentials that you create for your database because you will need them later for setting up your WordPress site. Note that there is no need to set up tables in your database — WordPress will do this for you when it is installed. You will also need to create a MySQL user that has all privileges enabled.
- Download the most recent version of WordPress at WordPress.org and unzip it to a directory of your choice. Note that many hosting providers provide turnkey installation of WordPress from their C-panel dashboards. This tutorial will cover installing WordPress via FTP. Here is an example of instructions to install WordPress on a GoDaddy site (super easy!).
- Download an FTP program. There are a lot of free ones on the web. I am partial to Filezilla, and will use it in this tutorial.
- Open Filezilla.
- Click “File” then “Site Manager.”
- In the dialogue box that appears, click on “New Site.”
- You will then need to enter credentials to gain access to your hosting provider’s server. These can usually be obtained from your hosting provider.
- Once you gain access, you will need to move your unpacked WordPress files from your computer (in the left window) to your hosting provider’s server (in the right window). If you plan on having your WordPress blog reside at the root of your domain (i.e. www.example.com), you will have to move your files to the very first directory. This is usually a folder labeled “hdocs,” “html ” or “web,” or there may be no folder at all. If you want to install WordPress into a sub-directory (such as one labeled “blog”), simply move files into that folder.
- Once you have finished moving the files, visit your domain with /wp-admin/install.php appended to the end (if installed in root) to finish. If you installed into a sub-folder, visit your domain /subfolder/wp-admin/install.php to finish the installation. This is the back-end administration dashboard of your WordPress site.
Customizing your WordPress Site
The default theme and plugins for your site are great; however, there are lots of free and low- cost add ons out on the web. You can install custom themes and plugins to make your blog even better.
The following are some good resources for themes. You can also modify the default themes that come with the original installation; however, it will require programming knowledge.
Note that these providers are all paid services, but they offer themes for extremely reasonable prices (most are about 30 to 60 dollars). I am a firm believer that one should steer clear of free WordPress themes. I’m sure there are some that are perfectly fine, but the majority of them come with spammy links that cannot be removed, and they often have programming errors. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for.
There are loads of great plugins for a self-hosted WordPress site, which is part of the reason why it is so popular. With all the added functionality out there, it is easy to design a superstar site with no programming knowledge. The following plugins are some of the best to get you started on WP.
- Google Analytics Plugin for WordPress (requires analytics to be set up)
- Yoast SEO plugin
- Disqus commenting system
- W3 Total Cache
- FD Feedburner
Hundreds of other plugins exist for WordPress. Some are paid and some are free. One of the greatest things about WordPress is that if there is some functionality you want your blog to have, there is probably a plugin that will do it for you.
From Blog to Website
WordPress gained notoriety as a blogging platform, but many people have used it to make traditional websites, as well. You can easily turn your blog into a website using built-in tools that come with WordPress.
Pages are not a part of the traditional blog; they are accessed through a menu that you must create. Pages can have static content that does not get pushed down when new posts are added. They always remain the same unless you make changes to them. Pages are great for things like an “about” or a “contact” page. They can also come in handy when you want visitors to perform some type of action that a blog simply doesn’t lend itself well to.
Before you create pages, you must create menus. These are very easy to create in WordPress right out of the box. You can make parent menus, child menus and drop-downs very quickly. You can even assign external links to menu items if you have pages that live outside of WordPress, but are still on your server.
If you are thinking of starting a blog or looking for a different solution, you should give WordPress a serious look. Whether you do a self-hosted or web-based option, setting things up requires no programming knowledge, and there are loads of support options around the web in case you get stuck.
What is your favorite platform for blogging? Have you ever thought about switching to WordPress?