Since I just spent the last week or so learning everything that I could about blogging, so I thought it might be appropriate for my first post to be about sharing a few of my experiences. I started this endeavor because my friend and coworker Dallas Snell and I have lately been discussing how useful blogs would be in promoting better communication within our corporation, both internally and with our customer base, so I wanted to educate myself on what it took to set up a professional blog site. Starting from ‘complete web development noob’ status, it took me around 15-20 hours of bumbling around to create this particular site, something I probably could have done in about an hour if I had had a solid tutorial. So, here it is: my first blog post, and (hopefully) a fairly decent walkthrough on setting up your own ‘professionally hosted’ blog space.
Please note that this walkthrough only covers the steps that I used to create the blog you are looking at right now, using WordPress (a free blog publishing platform), a professional hosting service like HostICan, various themes and plugins downloaded for WordPress to customize it, and a little elbow-grease.
*Disclaimer* I am absolutely not a web development expert, so I make no claims about knowing the best method for doing any of this! Also, I’m fairly certain your ‘experiences may vary’ using this guide, so please don’t hammer me if things don’t work out exactly the way they appear here – just leave me a nice comment and I’ll see about integrating any caveats into this post.
Step 1: Get a Host
The first thing you’ll need to do is to find a company that will host your website. There are literally thousands of them out there to choose from, so you can google ‘website hosting’ to find a bunch of prospects, or use the one that I chose: HostICan. When shopping for a host, you’ll need to consider a few things, including:
- The amount of storage space provided. You’ll need enough space for anything that you’ll eventually want to make available on your website for viewing or downloads. If you plan on hosting pictures, audio files, video clips, etc. on your server, you’ll probably need a lot of storage!
- The amount of bandwidth allowed per month. This is the cumulative amount of data that can be downloaded from your site every month. If you plan to have a lot of visitors, this is an important consideration.
- Domain name provided. Many hosting services will give you a free domain name as part of the service. Domain names can cost $10-$30 a year to register depending on the length of ownership, so it might be a good idea to pick a host service that gives you one for free if you don’t already own one.
For comparison shopping, I received 200GB of storage, 2500GB/Month of bandwidth, and a free domain name for $6.95 a month from HostICan. They also have a nifty script installer called ‘Fantastico De Luxe’ that will install WordPress automatically for you. *Important*: for the purposes of this walkthough, I’m going to assume that you’re using this utility, otherwise you’ll need to figure out how to install the WordPress software on your web server site using shell scripts or whatever other facility your host service provides.
Once you’ve picked out a host service, you’ll need to sign up, give them your information, etc., and wait a little while for them to send you an email that will contain the information you will need to access your web server (in my case this only took a few minutes).
Step 2: Get an FTP Client
You’ll need an FTP program to upload files to your web server. The one I used is called FileZilla – it’s completely free, open-source, and works very well, so if you don’t already have an FTP utility you should download FileZilla from Downloads.com and install it on your computer.
Step 3: Install WordPress
So here’s the tricky part: getting WordPress set up on your web server. If you are using HostICan or another provider that has the ‘Fantastico De Luxe’ utility, follow the process outlined below. Otherwise, click here and follow the installation instructions on the WordPress website.
By now, you should have received an email from your host provider that contains information on accessing a control panel for your web server. If you’re using HostICan, look through the email for the part that says ‘How to login to cPanel’, click the provided link, and enter the provided user name and password information.
Once the web server control panel opens, find the ‘Fantastico De Luxe’ application, which looks like this:
Click the ‘New Installation’ link, and enter the following information:
- Install on domain: leave at the default setting.
- Install in directory: leave blank
- Administrator-username: enter the name you want to use for administrator access to your WordPress control panel
- Administrator-password: enter a password for control panel access
- Admin nickname: enter anything you want here
- Admin e-mail: enter your email address
- Site name: enter a name for your site
- Description: anything you want
For now, you can leave the email account information settings alone. Just click the ‘Install WordPress’ button.
If everything went as planned, your wordpress site should now be available at the domain name you chose when signing up with your host provider. Go to www.(your domain name).com and see what’s there!
Step 4: Explore WordPress
Now that you have WordPress up and running, the first thing you’ll want to do is explore the control panel, available at www.<yourdomain>.com/wp-admin. Remember to use the name and password you entered when installing WordPress to login.
The WordPress control panel is broken down into the following sections:
- Dashboard: gives an overview of your latest activity
- Write: this is where you’ll make new posts! Go ahead and give it a try, you can always delete it later.
- Manage: allows you to manage (delete/view/edit) your posts. Make sure to explore the sub-menu, where you can manage ‘pages’ (things like ‘about me’) and ‘categories’ (category groups for posts).
- Comments: here you can view or search any comments left by visitors.
- Blogroll: allows you to add links to sites that you visit often, usually used to link to your friends’ blogs.
- Presentation: allows you to quickly alter the look of your blog (see step 5 below for more information)
- Plugins: allows you to activate or modify any plugins you have installed for WordPress (see step 6 for more information)
- Users: allows you to add new users and set their ‘role’ (administrator, editor, author, etc.)
- Options: this is where you’ll set all of the basic options for your blog and any plugins you might have installed. Make sure to explore the sub-menus!
The best thing to do now is to explore and experiment with the different options available in the control panel, and write a post or two just to see how things work. There’s a handy ‘View site’ link at the upper left hand of the control panel that will allow you to quickly view the effect of any changes you make. Once you’ve set up all of the basic options and are comfortable navigating the control panel, you should be ready to customize the look and functionality of WordPress, so on to the next step:
Step 5: Get a theme
Here’s the fun part: WordPress can be easily customized to look just about any way you want it to. There are thousands of ‘themes’ out there and a vast majority of them are completely free. At this point, you’ll want to head over to the WordPress themes directory and start looking through their massive collection for something that you like.
Once you’ve found a theme you like, download it and open the zip file to extract the folder contained in it somewhere you can easily navigate to later. If you want, go ahead and download two or three themes and put them in the same place – just remember to extract the folders from the zip files as soon as the download is complete.
Now we need to use our FTP client to copy the themes up to our web server. If you’re already familiar with the FTP process, you’ll just need to copy the theme folders you downloaded to the /public_html/wp-content/themes directory on the host site using the FTP information that was emailed to you by your host provider. If you’re new to FTP utilities, here’s what you need to do:
First, you’ll need to locate the IP address, user name, and password for your web server’s FTP access. This will usually be located in the email that was sent to you when you signed up for your hosting service. In my case, it was located under the title ‘FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Information’ in the email I received from HostICan. Once you’ve found this information, run the FileZilla application.
Now, the first thing you’ll want to do is store your host server’s FTP information so you don’t have to enter it every time you start FileZilla. You can do this with the following steps:
- Under the ‘File’ menu, select ‘Site Manager’
- In the window that opens, select ‘New Site’
- Type in a name for the site
- In the box labeled ‘Host’, enter the FTP IP address
- In the drop-down menu labeled ‘Logontype’, select ‘normal’
- Enter your FTP user name and password
- Click the ‘Connect’ button
If all went well, the site manager window will close and your FTP program will connect to your host server. If you’re using FileZilla, it may look something like this (click to enlarge):
The left side of the screen represents your computer, and the right side represents the host server. What you’ll need to do is use the controls on the left side (under ‘Local site’) to navigate to the location you saved the theme folder you downloaded earlier. On the right side, you’ll need to navigate to the /public_html/wp-content/themes directory. Then, simply drag the theme folder(s) from the left side to the right side, and FileZilla will begin copying the files you selected to the host server. If you look in the lower left hand corner of the screen, you’ll see a tab labeled ‘Queued files’ – just wait until the number shown here counts down to zero and the file transfer will be finished.
If you completed this step correctly, your theme should be ready to activate. Simply navigate to www.<yoursite>.com/wp-panel, login if necessary, and select the ‘Presentation’ tab. You should see the new theme listed in the ‘Available Themes’ section. Just click on it, wait a second, and when the screen updates you can select the ‘view site’ control to see the new theme in action!
Step 6: Get some plugins
Your WordPress blog site should now be ready to use, but you might want to spend some time customizing it with plugins to add additional features. Installing plugins is very similar to installing themes, except you’ll download them from the WordPress plugins page, will need to FTP them up to the /public_html/wp-content/plugins directory, and then activate them in the ‘Plugins’ menu available in your WordPress control panel. Each plugin is different, and may require additional steps to properly configure, so pay careful attention to the documentation available on the download page.
Here’s a list of the plugins I have currently installed:
- Akismet: checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not.
- Easy Tube: allows you to easily place YouTube objects in WordPress Content.
- NextGEN Gallery: allows you to display photo galleries (see my Photos section for an example).
- Slashdigglicious: adds user-submission icons and links at the bottom of each post.
- WordPress.com Stats: Tracks views, post/page views, referrers, and clicks.
- WS AudioPlayer: displays a small flash mp3 player for audio tracks.
- Subscribe Me: lets you easily add site subscription links to popular RSS readers.
There are well over a thousand plugins available for WordPress, so you should be able to customize your blog to do just about anything you want. If you’re wondering what the ‘best’ plugins to use are, make sure to look at the Most Popular list.
Step 7: Have Fun!
That’s all for this post. There are a ton of other features in WordPress to experiment with, but by now you should (hopefully) understand the basics. If you can think of anything important I might have left out, please let me know and I’ll see about adding it to this guide.