How to Start a Self Hosted WordPress Blog
We’ve covered how to set up a Blogger blog and how to set up a WordPress.com blog, but for some reason, we never got round to covering how to set up a self hosted WordPress blog – which is probably the most complex out of them all! Don’t worry though – we’ll walk you through it, and it’s much easier than you think!
We’re going to assume that you’ve already got your niche all sorted out and you have an idea of the sort of things you want to include on your site – if you need help with that, then you may find our free ebook “Launch A Blog In 5 Days” helpful, available on our sister site, The Glasshouse.
What’s it called?
First things first – what’s the site name going to be? There’s a really useful site that we’ve talked about in the past called NameChk which shows you whether the domain you’re looking for is available, as well as if the name is available on various social media platforms. This is a great way to make sure that you keep the same username over all the different sites, but if you can’t get the same domain name, then at least you can make sure that you get the same username on the main social media platforms you plan to use (we’d recommend grabbing it on at least Instagram and Twitter!)
Once you’ve figured out what domain name you want, it’s…
Time to spend some money!
This is probably the scariest part of it all! It’s difficult to know what sort of package you should go for and who to go with – before making any purchase, we recommend looking and asking in any blogging Facebook groups you’re in for their recommendations. We’ve used the following hosts over the years, and never had any issues with them – the only reason for moving on was cost (some hosting companies will do an amazing deal for the first year and then the price increases significantly in year 2)
One host that comes up a lot in Facebook groups as one to avoid is Bluehost. If you’ve been looking at other guides on how to set up a blog, you’ve probably seen Bluehost recommended – this is more likely because of the amounts they pay out in affiliate linking. None of the links in the list above are affiliate ones, so you can be sure that they are honest and not influenced by how much we would make if you use them.
Something to ask when looking for a host is how good is their support. You want a host that is friendly to respond and responds quickly. When there’s a problem with your site, you’re going to panic and you want to get it fixed straight away. All three of the hosts recommended above have been great with support.
A good website host should be available to speak with before making a purchase – so you can ask for what package they would recommend. For many bloggers starting out, something like the Stellar package from Namecheap should be sufficient – you can always upgrade later if and when you decide you need the additional items. It’s worth checking whether the domain you want is included in the package (at the time of writing this, the Stellar package does come with a free domain name, but it’s only from a list of specific TLD’s (the bit at the end) so be aware that if you want a domain with a different TLD, then it’s probably going to cost you a bit extra.)
What’s the difference between a domain and hosting? (and why do I need both for this?)
Think of it this way – a domain is the street address while the hosting is the house – the domain tells people how to find your site, but the hosting is where it lives. (Something to look out for – see whether the place you’re getting your domain from offers domain privacy – for more details on why this is a good idea, make sure you check out this post)
If you already own your domain, and you’re going to a different company for the hosting, then you’ll need to update the name servers on the domain name provider to match the hosting provider’s details. These will be specific to your host, so if you don’t already have this, ask them what details you need to update. It can take a while for the details to update, so you may want to get this done before you start getting everything else installed!
Time to install WordPress
All of the hosting companies we have used in the last 10 years all have a one click set up for WordPress, so this is actually the easiest part of getting your blog up and running! The way that this will work will depend on your host, but it should be fairly easy – typically, you would go into your dashboard and choose the WordPress option. Many hosts will send you an email when you first sign up to explain how to set this up, and if not, use that support we said about earlier to ask how to do it! If you are asked to create a username for your site, avoid using admin – it’s the default username in WordPress so if someone is trying to gain access to your site, then this is the first username they’ll try. (Already got your WordPress set up? Check out this post about how to get rid of the admin user – it’s a tiny change, but it just helps to make your site a little more secure)
Choose your look
Now you’re all ready to go, it’s time to have some fun! There are millions of WordPress themes out there, both paid and free, so the hardest part is choosing a good one! Check out this post about how to find the perfect WordPress theme – we have a Pinterest board of lots of different types of WordPress themes here but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect, because you can make little tweaks with CSS later.
Are free themes better than paid themes?
Maybe! A free theme is a great thing when you’re trying to start a site up for as little cost as possible but they can be restrictive – they probably wont have as many options to change up easily. However, just because you pay for a theme, doesn’t mean it’s more secure or safe – one prominent example of this is the Pipdig scandal (which you can read more about here). If you’re looking to buy a theme from a site, just do a quick search on Twitter for their name (either the company name or the Twitter handle) – this will give you a good idea of what people are saying about them, and how quickly they’re able to respond to questions. You don’t want to buy a theme and then never get a response when you need it!
Things to look for with any theme – how recently has it been updated, how easy is it to tweak (some themes will offer tons of customisation options in the Customise section which is great if you’re not confident in tweaking with CSS) and whether the theme has good mobile optimisation.
To install a theme, go to Appearance > Themes in your dashboard, and click “Add New”. This will show you to the WordPress directory of themes, so you can easily find one there, but if you’ve purchased one from somewhere else, you can upload the zip file containing the theme in this section.
A few shops we recommend:
- 17th Avenue Designs
- aThemes (these guys have some free layouts which work great, if you’re looking for a layout to use temporarily until you find one to invest in!)
Must have plugins
One of the reasons many people recommend WordPress is the plugin feature, which make your website do exactly what you need.
To find and install a plugin, go to Plugins in your dashboard then “Add New”. You can then search for the plugin you need, and install directly from the WordPress website this way, or if you have already downloaded the plugin (either from the WordPress website or elsewhere) then you can upload the zip file here. You’ll then be asked to activate the plugin before you can start using it.
A few plugins we like:
- Wordfence – for helping to protect from attacks
- Askimet – for dealing with comment spam
- Elementor Page Builder – this plugin makes it easy to make a homepage like ours – you just drag and drop the blocks as you want them onto the page. This plugin can work with most themes, so you’re not limited
- Jetpack – a WordPress plugin which has some useful functions, but it can slow your site down a little
- GDPR Cookie Consent – the easiest way to get that accept cookies message that sites in the EU need
- Smash Balloon Social Photo Feed – a plugin to display your Instagram feed on your site
- Google Analytics Dashboard Plugin – a simple way to put the code needed for Google Analytics to track your visitors on your site
Two things to be careful of is using too many plugins, as that can really slow your site down, and keeping plugins updated to avoid any security issues.
That’s pretty much it! Self hosted WordPress is a system that is always changing, so you’ll always have something new to learn, but it’s fun to learn those new skills, and you may even find them useful in your everyday life.
Now you just need to get some content up! Go go go!