Switching from WordPress.com to a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog
Last week I described how I set up my business blog in under 10 minutes. Getting it up fast was great, as far as it went, but I very quickly started bumping into some significant limitations, and that convinced me it was time to move on to a more flexible setup.
The issue that I ran into was what you would call “a good problem to have”—a friend of mine commented on my first post. (Yay! Engagement!) But I didn’t want to use the native comment functionality in WordPress. It’s fine as far as it goes, but I’d learned from other projects in my professional life that I wanted to use Disqus comments. Outsourcing functionality to a free, single-purpose system that’s usable across (almost) any platform was a no-brainer.
How to switch? 5 minutes of googling gave me the answer I didn’t want: there’s no way to use Disqus on WordPress.com. It requires a plugin, and WordPress.com only supports a handful of plugins that they have chosen to support. Crap.
From previous research on other projects, I knew that I still wanted to use WordPress, but I’d have to deal with my own installation of it. That would allow me to install whatever plugins I decided I needed. Luckily, I had already been experimenting with hosting my own WordPress site—a self-hosted WordPress installation, as it’s known—since it’s commonly suggested as the way to go for starting a blog or a small business website. At least it’s suggested in the circles that I’m familiar with.
In my experiments with self-hosting, I had first manually installed WordPress via ssh command line. If that sounds scary, it is.
In a former life, I was a Unix systems admin, and this kind of thing was my bread and butter. I don’t recommend it to anyone unless you’re installing multiple WordPress sites per week, and you get off on this sort of thing. It takes all year. And it seemed like every time I turned around, there was a software update for WordPress, and I had to install that by hand as well. Ain’t nobody got time for that, especially me.
Now, lest you think that I’m bagging on WordPress, this is the sort of thing I deal with in Drupal on a daily basis. Only doing it in Drupal is harder and more involved. But that’s my full-time job, and I’ve been doing it for years. When I’m using my “free time” to build a business, I don’t want to be spending what precious little time I have installing security patches on the command line so that my WordPress blog that I don’t update often enough doesn’t get hacked. I’ve got real work to do. Like actually blogging, for instance.
Anyway, my second experiment was the one suggested by Michael Hyatt on his blog. He’s got a post titled How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less: A Step-by-Step Guide, which pretty much summed up what I wanted to do. In short, it’s a set of detailed instructions to purchase web hosting from Bluehost for $3.49 a month (though that price requires a 36-month, up-front payment, which comes out to $125.64 total). I knew I was serious about using WordPress for my various projects in the long-term, so I went ahead and paid the full 3 years. It really is an awesome price for hosting, and the setup was quick and ridiculously easy. The performance isn’t stellar, but I expected that from a $3.49/mo. shared hosting account.
Back to the story. I had already set this account up months ago for another WordPress experiment that I was ignoring, so all I had to do was add another “site” to the account, which didn’t cost any more. And since I’d already purchased the domains I wanted to use, I just plugged them into Bluehost’s setup wizard. It walked me through the process and told me what changes to make over at GoDaddy.com, which was where I bought the domains.
Tada! I had a new self-hosted WordPress site for my blog in about 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, I still had a blog on WordPress.com, and that’s where my content was. One whole post of it. With one lonely comment.
If I’d been blogging for any amount of time, it would have made sense to migrate the content from the old site to the new one. There are quite a few tutorials on the interwebs detailing how to do just that. But given how little content I actually had posted, I took the easy way out: I just copied and pasted the single post from the WordPress.com blog to the new self-hosted one. My first post was a copy of my previous first post. It was literally a 5 minute process. Then I modified the old blog post to point to the one on my new blog, because WordPress.com has abso-freaking-lutely no way set up a redirect! Can I just say how obnoxious that is? I searched all over Google for half-an-hour. That’s an eternity for me, at least as far as performing a search goes.
So that’s another reason to host your own WordPress setup:
- You can install whatever plugins you need.
- You can control the environment.
Adding a redirect to an .htaccess file may seem like an arcane art, but when you need to do it, you really need to do it. Enough said.
After that, I just installed the Disqus WordPress plugin that was the impetus for this whole adventure, in the first place. It was significantly easier to do than I expected: click the Plugins link, click Add New, search for “Disqus”, click the Install Now button, add my account information, and bang! It was all set up. No wonder all my friends at work who run the company blog started whining when we switched from WordPress to Drupal. What an incredible user interface downgrade! It was the right thing to do, for a number of reasons, but now I empathize more with their annoyance and frustration.
My last step was to contact the one person who had commented on my WordPress.com blog, and ask him to repost the same comment on my new blog using the newly setup Disqus system. Luckily he was a friend, and he readily agreed. With that comment posted and approved, my new blog mirrored my old blog, and all was right with the world.
I was in complete control of my blogging destiny. Sort of. I still had a lot to do to figure out just how to use WordPress, but at least I was up again with a lot more options at my disposal. Now I could install any plugins I wanted. I just needed to figure out which ones were useful. Knowing how to use a software system is only the first 10 percent of learning it; the other 90% is knowing what is possible, so you can choose the best option.
Shoot! Now I sound like my perfectionist self again. Oh well, you get the idea.
To sum up: self-hosted WordPress on Bluehost is better than WordPress.com. You have to pay for it, but at least it’s cheap. That’s a tradeoff I can live with.