You know that feeling where your head is just above water, and you’re gasping for air but at the same time you’re also trying to tread water so you don’t drown? Yeah. Redesigning a blog can feel a lot like that, especially if you don’t have a kinda-sorta-almost-understanding of HTML code or are clueless when asked about your CSS Stylesheet.
This is me, a soul who has been in your shoes, telling you to relax and stop fighting the water. I recently (for the second time) have migrated a free WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted WordPress.org blog. While it was not a totally stress-free process, I learned a lot and managed to go with the flow. I think I can help you go with the flow too, so consider this checklist an inflatable raft of sorts.
Let’s get started.
- You’re sick of having “wordpress.com” as part of your URL.
- You want transition into the ranks of a grown up blogger and subtly communicate to the digital world that you’ve taken extra measures to be independent.
- You love WordPress’ system, but when you think about all the details of “moving over” to a self-hosted site your eyes glaze over.
- Also, you don’t want to spend a lot of money, because you’re not the Pioneer Woman, okay?
- This checklist. Booyah!
STEP ONE: Brainstorm & research.
This might be a step you could skip if you’re already stoked about your current site’s overall look, feel and offerings. I encourage you to dig a little bit deeper though. When making a change as big as this one, it never hurts to re-think your current “mission” as a blogger and tweak it to better fit your impending new status. Take a sheet of paper and write out all the things you love about your site–that you don’t want to change. Is there anything new you’d like to offer? Even something as simple as a different color scheme or font to use? When it comes to blog design, the world really is your oyster. Take this opportunity to set new goals for yourself and your blog. Write a post and tell your readers you’re starting this process. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like to be changed and also enlist their support. You’ll need it!
For example, when transitioning from my WordPress.com blog, I had been wanting to change the name for a while (to better explain what I was all about). To help guide my creative process, I analyzed blogs that I was already a fan of and made a list of what I liked about their layout (predominately white with pops of color, menu placement, fun additions, etc.). This comes into play later when you start searching for a theme, so take the time to brainstorm and figure out what you like!
And not to bum you out or anything, but it’s very probable that the domain/URL you’d prefer is already taken, so you might be forced later (i.e., the next step) to get creative. Try not to look at this as a sacrifice, but as an opportunity to make your blog even more unique! (Easier said than done, I know.)
STEP TWO: Buy your domain & hosting from the same place.
I can’t tell you how many technical problems this immediately solves. Think of it like shopping at a department store. Why not buy your underwear and weekly fruit from the same place? Biggest benefit of doing this: you only have one entity to complain to when something goes wrong. One site to log into. One set of email newsletters and updates. One person you’re paying.
For the past 2 years, I’ve been a happy customer of A Small Orange and can’t tell you one bad thing about them. They offer domain and hosting all in one package, it’s extremely reasonable, a clean Account page I log into when something is wrong, and most importantly: they respond to my trouble tickets crazy fast. I’ve been up at 3 AM working on something, emailed them, and had a response within 30 minutes. When you get into the nitty-gritty of fine-tuning your site, a speedy response is akin to a direct link to God.
STEP THREE: Install WordPress.org & export your old blog.
After you have purchased your domain and hosting, your new host should send you a sweet email outlining your purchase and directing you to log into your account. The email should include initial login information and other important things. Save this email! I have a “Blogging” folder dedicated to everything I receive pertaining to sweetandsavorylife.com for this very reason. Also–take note of all new usernames and passwords you acquire in this process!
No matter where you purchase hosting from, there will be a back end that you’ll log into to access account information and also your hosting control panel (mine is cPanel through A Small Orange). If your host provides a walk through on where the most frequently used things are located–by all means educate yourself. A Small Orange is very intuitive, so I haven’t had any trouble finding what I’m looking for, but then again I am no expert.
You should be able to install WordPress one of two ways:
- Either in your hosting control panel there is an application installer (you would see the standard WordPress emblem)
- Download WordPress from http://wordpress.org/ (simply save to your Desktop) and then upload it to the same hosting control panel.
Since A Small Orange (and most hosts, I’d imagine) have the option to install WordPress, I’m not sure where exactly to direct you to go to upload your WordPress file, but that’d be an excellent question for your host. Hey, they might even do it for you! Once WordPress is installed, take a deep breath. It’s just nice to see a familiar layout with all this crazy stuff going on, huh? I know.
Then follow this tutorial from ProBlogger on exporting your WordPress.com blog to your new WordPress.org site. All your posts, comments and pictures should transfer to your new site, no problem.
STEP FOUR: Search for a theme & install.
This, quite possibly, is the most time-consuming step. Unless you’re wanting to keep your exact theme from your old blog and do not want to change things up at all, then you’ll need to start the search for a new theme. Through WordPress, there are many themes you can install for free and play around with, and then there are countless entities online that offer free themes and paid themes. I will try to whittle down this search time for you, but just know that it’s something you’re going to have to dedicate some time to.
If you want a free theme, look for ones that offer customization (color changes, able to be edited, etc.). WooThemes is a great place to start, as they feature many free themes with a clean look.
If you don’t mind paying for a theme, then here are some sites I browsed before deciding on my current theme (which, by the way is Adorable Child Theme designed by Pretty Darn Cute Design with support provided by StudioPress):
- StudioPress – which I highly recommend because with all their themes they offer a specific web support forum that comes in oh-so handy when troubleshooting issues (from small to large).
- BluChic – I almost purchased a theme from here. So many pretty ones!
- Commercial Theme Providers with the WordPress seal of approval – Consider these sites before making your purchase. They all include support, and some of the sites provide FREE themes also!
Overall, my advice to you is this: Start with something simple and then build upon it. Rome was not built in a day.
STEP FIVE: Pimp your blog!
After you have chosen a theme and installed it, refer back to your sheet from your brainstorm session. Play around with your theme, possibly brainstorm more (researching themes and other blogs will show you how many different ways a site can look–your initial ideas could evolve into something better!), but most importantly: fine tune the skeleton of your site. Organize your layout, menu structure, and sidebars (widgets included). Once the bones are in place, you can start filling in with the meat.
“The meat” could be anything, like special buttons in the sidebar linking to interesting stories/categories of your site, social networking links, your Twitter feed, a Facebook “like” box, pictures… you name it. Luckily there are a lot of resources online for additions such as these, so a simple Google search for “free blog buttons” will yield many free images you can download, then upload to your server (through your hosting control panel) and link in your sidebar. If you have any problems with this process, ask your host.
If none of that made sense, don’t fret. Here are some resources for you!
- Free Social Networking Buttons + Awesome list of posts revolving about pimping your blog!
- So many different button options here, long list of categories!
- CSS 101: Good stepping stone for learning about editing your template and general terminology.
- Install Firebug – I use Firebug Lite to better understand what another blogger has done to design their site. When enabled, you can right-click on any image/text and get more information about it. Very helpful!
- Great tutorial on how to create your own web images with Picasa (if you aren’t familiar with Photoshop)!
STEP SIX: Say goodbye to your old blog.
One of the perks of WordPress.com is the simple “Follow” and “Like” features that are provided. If you have a community of followers on WordPress.com, they will not be transferred to your new self-hosted site. That’s why it’s so important to engage them in the process. Getting them excited about something new means there is a better chance they’ll add your new blog to an RSS feed (or something similar) and stay involved in your life. All that being said, it’s hard to not be let down when you post a new blog and it doesn’t get the same response it used to. Just take some deep breaths, increase your comments on other blogs and conversation on social networks and you’ll get more traffic. These things just take time.
After my new blog was up and running, for about three weeks following I posted a weekly reminded about my new site on my old blog, directing people to visit sweetandsavorylife.com. Then, I eventually paid the $13 yearly fee to have my old blog redirect to my new one. This is something you might decide to do as well, but is not totally required. A simple “I’ve moved!” post including a link to your new blog will suffice.
And… That’s all I got for now. I think.
I know this was a loaded post, but this is one of those messy, lots-of-different-variables, broad topics. Please leave your comments below and I’ll do my best to guide you! And if this post helped you in anyway, please let me know!