WordPress.org on a Budget

Long time readers will notice that this blog recently got a new look. There’s a very big reason for that: I moved from hosting my blog with Google’s Blogger service to a self-hosted WordPress.org blog. I was nervous about making the change, but I’m so happy that I did. I love the new look, and I love how easy it is to customize my blog using WordPress.org.

Links in this post are referral links. 

What’s the Difference?


There are several differences between using a blog hosting service and hosting your own blog. Blogging services like Blogger and WordPress.com are free, and your information is housed on their network. When you switch to WordPress.org, the WordPress software itself is free, but you must purchase a domain name and pay for hosting space through a hosting company. It’s kind of like the difference between renting a home and owning a home; a free service will let you live there, but they own the property. When you self-host, you are buying the real estate and building your own home. As it is with home ownership, there’s a little more work but a lot more freedom when you self-host your blog.

Many bloggers start out on Blogger or WordPress.com because it’s free. That’s why I started with Blogger. I wasn’t really sure where this blogging thing was going, so I didn’t want to spend money on something that I might not stick with. Three years later, I realized that I wanted my blog to have a more professional look and feel. However, I didn’t (and still don’t) have a lot of money to spend on hosting and domain names, and I couldn’t afford to pay a developer to move my blog for me. I started to research a way that I could move my blog over and not spend a fortune. I wanted to share what I found with you in case you are in the same boat.

Please keep in mind, I’m not a professional developer. I am a moderately tech-savvy, mostly self-taught blogger. If you’re looking for a developer, contact me and I can refer you to some wonderful people who can help. The following things are what I have learned from my experience moving two blogs to self-hosted WordPress.org.


Purchase Your Domain Name


I use GoDaddy.com to purchase my domain names (and ONLY to purchase domain names – not for hosting). Their prices are reasonable, and if you’re buying more than one domain they sometimes offer good deals. Before you purchase, be sure to check sites like RetailMeNot for a coupon code. I recently bought a $13 domain name for only $5 using a coupon code.

If you can afford it, purchase variations of your domain names. You can set them up to forward to your main URL. For example, I purchased “mom4less.com” and set it up to forward to this page. If you can only afford to purchase a single domain name, don’t worry! Your main URL is the most important one. You can always add others later.


Choose a Host


This was one of the hardest parts of the process for me. I wanted to choose a host that was affordable, but also reliable. Researching online was no help; every host I researched seemed to have people who both loved and hated them. I talked to several blogger friends to get their recommendations, but ultimately I went with Hostgator and have been very happy with my choice! They are affordable, reliable, and have given me great customer service.


I paid about $57 up front for a year of hosting, but they also have options to pay monthly or as many as three years in advance. There are lots of hosts out there, so you should have no trouble finding one that fits your budget. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Many companies will install WordPress for you, and I’ve heard that some will even handle the Blogger to WordPress move for you. Be sure to ask these questions before signing up with a host. And don’t stress about it too much; if you don’t like your host, you aren’t stuck with them forever. You can always change if you’re not happy with the service you’re receiving.


Install WordPress

Now that you’ve purchased your domain and chosen a host, it’s time to get down to business. You can install WordPress yourself, or you can have your host  do the install for you. Some hosts (like Hostgator) even have a “one-click” installation feature for WordPress. The first time around I installed WordPress myself. I was able to do it successfully, but it stretched the limits of my techie ability! I highly recommend letting your host do it or picking a host with one-click installation. If you would like to install yourself, WordPress has detailed instructions on their website.


Import Your Blogger Posts to WordPress


Now it’s time to move all your blog posts from Blogger to WordPress. Back up your blog before you do anything else! Chances are slim that you’ll lose your work, but don’t take the risk. Go the “Settings” tab in Blogger to export a copy of your blog.

When I made the switch, I followed the directions laid out in this post by MamaBlogga. The whole post is great, but start around step five to catch up to this point of the process. Be sure to follow her instructions for changing your permalinks. Permalinks are simply the links to your individual blog posts. You’ll want to make sure you set up your permalinks in WordPress to match the format you had in Blogger, so your posts don’t get lost. Follow the instructions for moving your posts over, and within a few minutes you’ll have all your posts in your WordPress dashboard.

So then you’re good to go, right? Wrong! Because Blogger and WordPress create their permalinks differently, you still have some work to do. Blogger is set up to immediately truncate post titles in a permalink; WordPress is not. Your permalinks will not match, which means links to your individual posts may be broken. Thankfully, WordPress allows you to edit your permalinks, so you can correct them to match the links created in Blogger.

There are plugins (plugins are kind of like apps for your WordPress blog) designed to help with this, but I wasn’t comfortable trusting a plugin to update my permalinks, so I did it myself. It took a LONG TIME! Lots of copying and pasting from one platform to another. For me, it was worth the work, but if this sounds dreadful to you, consider checking out some of the plugins listed in the post linked above.


Choosing a Theme


Once you’ve made it through the technical side of moving to WordPress, you’ll want to focus on the appearance of your blog. Many bloggers think you have to pay a designer to create a theme for your blog, but that’s not your only option. There are many free WordPress themes available. I couldn’t find what I wanted in the free theme selection, so on the recommendation of a friend I signed up for Elegant Themes.

Elegant Themes is a collection of 76 (and growing) WordPress themes. For only $69 a year, you get access to ALL of their themes. This is an extremely reasonable price, and all of their themes are clean and professional looking. The themes can easily be customized, and they have excellent tech support. I’ve found answers to most of my questions just by searching their forums. I use Elegant Themes for both of my blogs, and I am extremely pleased with them. If you can’t afford a designer, consider checking out Elegant Themes.


These are just a few of the ways I’ve been able to have self-hosted blogs and still keep my costs low. If you’re serious about blogging, don’t let financial concerns keep you from having a self-hosted blog! Making a small investment to move to WordPress.org can reap big dividends by providing you with a more professional looking blog and more control over your content. Consider making the move, and do it for less!

Image Credit: Ed Yourdon (Flickr: Bryant Park, late Apr 2009 – 23) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons