In this first installment of switching to WordPress, we will cover hosting and domain names. If you are new to this whole WordPress thing, and looking at purchasing a domain name, make sure you hang in there to the end (or just skip to the domain name part) because I’ve got some important info regarding domain names that you don’t want to miss.
This post covers:
- Differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com
- What to look for in a host
- Understanding shared hosting and host reviews
- Domain name purchases and what not to do
Well, this whole process of switching to WordPress has been kind of intense. Way harder than I thought it would be. And I’m a graphic designer who does a lot of web design! I can’t imagine trying to navigate through this whole mess without having a lot of experience with similar technologies such as Joomla and DotNetNuke. I knew that WordPress was going to be harder to use initially, because it’s so much more powerful. And I was really starting to feel limited by Blogger. Yes, I was able to design my blog in under an hour, but there were so many things I couldn’t control. I feel like I’m barely touching the basics of what WordPress can do. And I have to say, I’m very impressed. I think it’s going to be worth it. I just wish I’d started out with WordPress instead of having to go through the process of transferring.
For this article I’m going to start with the basics. The thing about blogging is that most of us just learn as we go along. So I’m going to start at the very beginning of the move and cover stuff like hosting and the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org in this post. In future posts I will cover how to transfer your site, domain name, etc.
So first things first. When people say they are switching to WordPress because they need more features, or because their blog is growing, they are generally referring to WordPress.org, not WordPress.com. You may be wondering what the difference is, or perhaps you didn’t know that there were two choices at all! Well there is actually quite a big difference. WordPress.com is similar to Blogger in that you don’t really own it. It’s hosted on their servers, and you have the option of paying for upgrades for things like better templates. And it does have more features than Blogger, but it’s not the same thing as your own blog on your own host.
WordPress.org is generally the choice that most pro-bloggers make. It’s robust, has tons of options, and along with that it can have tons of headaches. The biggest difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com is that with WordPress.org you will have to purchase a domain name and purchase hosting. But you will be able to install the full on hardcore version of WordPress, you can change whatever you want, install whatever plugins you want, and basically do whatever you want. Your user stats and site analytics are much improved, and in general Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is easier to manage.
Now one of your biggest decisions when deciding to make the jump to WordPress.org is hosting. Mainly because, if you are like me, your blog doesn’t really make money. I’m just starting out blogging. I hope someday it will, but right now it isn’t. So to spend money on something that is really just a hobby… well let’s just say I don’t want to break the bank. Now I host lots of websites for clients, and I have a host that I’ve used for years and I really like. But I didn’t go with them. First of all, it’s expensive compared to some other hosts, and second of all they are not running the newest version of java, which is required to run the newest version of WordPress. So I made the choice to go with a host that specializes in WordPress hosting, has a one click install, and is inexpensive.
I went with iPage because they were the cheapest, had good reviews, and had some features that were very important to me. These features should be important to you too when you make your decision, regardless of whether you choose iPage or not. The link above is an affiliate link, so I would get some money if you read this article and then decided to sign up for hosting.
First of all I really considered three hosts. BlueHost, HostGator and iPage. BlueHost was recommended by WordPress.org and WordPress gets a kickback if you use them. However they were more than twice as much as iPage, and their reviews were not any better than iPage’s reviews. I’m going to talk a little more about hosting reviews later, because there are some important things to cover there. The next choice, HostGator, was also a good option. It was also more expensive than iPage, but cheaper than BlueHost (if you went for the Hatchling plan which is the one that has the least amount of features). The problem with that was that the Hatchling plan didn’t have a feature that was very important to me, and I’d have to upgrade my plan to get it, which put it at $7 a month rather that $3 with iPage.
So what features was I looking for?
Unlimited Domain Names
This feature was not offered by HostGator on their cheapest plan. It’s important to me because my domain name, Krista-Artista.com has a hyphen in it and some people may not see it. So I also purchased KristaArtista.com. This way if they forget the hyphen they will still find me. Later on if I added a shop to my blog, or an art gallery or something, I want to have the option of buying other domains and pointing them to my blog.
This isn’t an issue right now. I have a lot less traffic than, say, someone with 5000 followers. But we all dream right? I am not doing all this work of transferring to WordPress with the plan of staying small. I hope that if I work hard and continue to provide good ideas, or in this case, explain some of the hard stuff, that people will follow me. And if by some miracle my traffic increases by 500%, I don’t want to get charged for overages, or worse, shut down.
One of the benefits of hosting on your own server is that you can actually upload files for people to download and keep them on your own server. So lets say I create a printable for a blog post that I’m offering as a free download, and the PDF is 10MB. I can put it on my server and not be told the file is too large. Or get charged extra, you get the idea. Unlimited = good.
Unlimited Email Addresses
I’m not sure it really matters, most offer at least 5. But let’s dream, shall we? I start this blog, and it grows, and I bring on other writers, or artists, or some sort of employee. I don’t have to pay extra to give them all email addresses. Plus I can not only create Krista@Krista-Artista.com, but I could create other ones like Info@Krista-Artista.com, or Sales@Krista-Artista.com. OK I really don’t need those addresses now, but maybe someday.
One-Click WordPress Install
Can I manage to install WordPress without SimpleScripts doing it for me? Absolutely. I did it on the host I already have. And I think I’d prefer the pain of childbirth. OK not really, but it’s a lot of work. As in you have to set up databases, etc. Which unless you do it for a living is very hard. I do it for a living and it was still a lot of work. I screwed it up twice before I got it right. Why put yourself through that when you can have it done for you? I can’t really think of a good reason, can you? And let me just tell you, I had WordPress installed and an email sent to me with login info in the time it took me to make a cup of coffee. It was soooo nice.
Like I said, my blog doesn’t make any money. Well maybe it will if you purchase hosting through my affiliate link. Ha! But making the switch means you have to purchase hosting and a domain name. So cost was a factor. If you are independently wealthy then forget the whole shared hosting thing and buy your own dedicated server. But I went for the cheapest option that had everything I wanted.
Should my hosting all the sudden not perform to my liking, I want to be able to leave. Even after 30 days, or 6 months or whatever. In order to get a cheap hosting contract, you have to pay for at least a year upfront. Many of them are 2 years. So if they don’t live up to their end of the bargain, I want to be able to get out. Many hosts only let you get out before 45 days. iPage will let you out and refund whatever remain months you have paid for. That goes a long way towards my peace of mind.
OK, so now that I’ve talked about what I looked for in a host I want to address something that a lot of people don’t really know about when reading reviews. Shared hosting is just that. You share hosting with a bunch of other people just like you, who may know what they are doing, or perhaps only know enough to make them dangerous. So they could seriously mess up their site, to the point that they crash the whole server. That can happen whether you pay $3 a month for hosting or $300. If you are on a shared server it can go down. Now hosting companies have alarms that go off, and they have people on around the clock, especially large hosting companies which all of these are. But it can happen. Shared hosting is cheap because you are all sharing one computer, but one person can screw it up for everyone. And it’s possible that your site could go down. But I pay a lot more money for hosting for some of my client’s websites, and they have gone down. One went down for several hours once. So when you read reviews where people complain that their site went down, realize that it’s not just that one host. It happens everywhere. Every single host that I reviewed had complaints about downtime. In fact on the WordPress.org website, they shut down several threads on their forums about BlueHost, their recommended host, because people were complaining about downtime.
Bottom line is do your research. I was a little concerned about WordPress page load time so I purchased hosting at all three sites and then cancelled two of them. iPage was not any slower than BlueHost or HostGator with the load times. I’ve come to realize with WordPress it’s going to load slow if you have lots of plug-ins, or you don’t set up caching (more on this in another post).
Whew! This is a long post. And I’m not done yet. I have one more important thing to talk about. Domain Names. A lot of these hosts offer you a free domain name with the purchase of hosting. I am going to give you a piece of advice that I really, really hope you will take. Do NOT, purchase your blog’s primary domain name this way. Trust me on this! Go to GoDaddy and buy the domain name yourself. Because if you let them buy it for your hosting it’s only your domain name as long as you keep your hosting there. If you are unhappy or need to move to a dedicated server because you have grown a ton, you will not get to take that domain name with you. That’s right. They register it and they own it. It’s really quite simple to buy your domain name at GoDaddy and transfer it to point to your web host. I promise to do another post on how to do this. But I’m warning you that this is not the place to save. Your name is one of the most important things about your blog identity. You must own it.
Well, that’s it for this post. Stay tuned for next time where I cover the dreaded actual transfer of your site from Blogger to WordPress. I’d love to hear if this series helps you. Because it’s been a lot of work to write it! This is one of my longest posts ever!