After performing countless installs of WordPress, I’ve learned a few things about how to make it work more effectively, and how to avoid some common pitfalls that I’ve never seen in any of the documentation. This is part one of three; it deals primarily with the decisions you need to make before you write your first post. Subsequent posts will discuss different aspects of WordPress and the “Best Practices for Non-Geeks.”
So, getting started… the first question when you decide to start publishing on the Web is:
To Use a Blogging Service or Self-Host
There are many articles on the Web that argue one way or the other. On the one hand, with WordPress.com, Blogspot.com, or any other online blogging services (although, I strongly recommend WordPress) you can be up and running fairly quickly with a minimum of effort or technical acumen.
WordPress.com or Other Blogging Service
- Pros: Easy to install/maintain; your blog lives on a fairly reliable, commercial farm of servers; usually free (more on this in a moment). WordPress lists many of their pros on the WordPress.com Features page.
- Cons: Limited customization ability; you are giving up data to the host; they may add advertisements to your blog (unless you pay a fee to have them removed); using a domain name (rather than a x.wordpress.com address) costs extra.
- Pros: Completely customizable; you have complete control over your installation; you don’t give up or share any monetization (unless you want to).
- Cons: Occasionally requires some technical expertise.
For me, the decision was easy — I’m a bit of a geek, and I like to play around with the guts of my site — so I went the self-hosting route. If getting your hands a little dirty scares you, then you may want to start with WordPress.com. One of the great features of WordPress.com is that you aren’t locked in; you can pretty easily export your content and install it on your own server at any time. The caveat to this is that if your URL changes, any Google rankings will probably be lost.
Quite honestly, even if you aren’t especially technically-savvy, self-hosting isn’t too difficult.
Choose the Right Web Host
Once you decide to self-host your WordPress-powered Web site, the next important decision is: who are you going to use as your Web hosting provider? The folks at Automattic (the creators of WordPress) have a list of companies that they suggest. The only ones I’ve worked with and had positive experiences with are DreamHost and Media Temple. I had bad experiences with GoDaddy, but that was several years ago, so I hesitate to dissuade considering them.
The one I suggest, actually is 1&1 Hosting. True, they don’t offer the 1-click install that some other hosting providers have, but they offer a bunch of features that I actually use, and are a fraction of the cost. For instance, with my shared hosting account (I use their “Business Shared Hosting”) I pay $5/month (this has now gone up in price to $9.99/mo, but they’re also running a 50% off sale — which effectively means $5/month). This includes three free domain registrations for as long as you have your account, and let’s me host an unlimited number of domain names registered through them within my one account (or up to 100 externally-registered domain names). I can have up to 2,500 POP3/IMAP email addresses, and includes a $50 voucher for Google AdWords. For my particular needs, this is perfect.
One mistake I frequently see people do is to buy too much Web hosting — this is why usage tracking is important. If you have fewer than 5,000 visits/day, shared hosting may be your best bet. When your traffic scales, that’s when you should scale up to VPS (virtual private server) or dedicated hosting. These types of services give you much more control, bandwidth and capabilities, but also require much more technical knowledge. This makes sense — to put it in perspective think of it this way: “just because I can drive a car doesn’t mean I can fly a 767 aircraft.” The plane can do a lot more than a car can, but most of my transportation needs don’t require jet fuel (actually since I live in NYC, I rely on the subway more than cars).
On the flip side, if you know you are going to have tons of traffic right out of the gate (for instance, if you have paid AdWords traffic that will be hitting your Web site), or a major public relations push — you may need to start out with more powerful hosting… but that is beyond the scope of this article.
In Part 2, I’ll guide you through the installation and first steps of setting up WordPress in your self-hosting environment.