WordPress is the preferred platform to start a blog, and there are three things you need initially to set it up:
- A domain name
The goal of this article and series is to take the adventure out of getting started, and leave the fun and excitement for your actual blogging!
Your domain name is your blog’s address on the Internet. A domain name always includes an extension. In the domain name “BloggingBrute.com” for example, the “.com” part of it is known as the “extension.”
The original top-level domains included .com, .net, .org, .int, .edu, .gov and .mil. There are strict rules about who can use .int, .edu, .gov and .mil, but the first three are available for any blog to use.
Later, domains were added to designate a country, like .ca or .uk. In recent years, many new top-level domains have been created. These include extensions like .biz, .info, .media, and even specialized domains like .beer and .church. Most are available for anyone to use, but always check to see if there are specific requirements.
Most bloggers prefer a domain name ending in .com.
There are two flavors of WordPress. WordPress.com is primarily for personal bloggers. For business, you need self-hosted WordPress.
“Self hosted” means your WordPress blog resides on a server you control. If you’re IT savvy, you can set it up on a server you own, but most people choose to purchase a hosting plan from a company that provides hosting services.
You can download the software to run WordPress from http://wordpress.org. Or, depending on the host you choose, you can likely install it directly from inside your hosting account. I’ll get into specifics on that later.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the three necessary elements to start a WordPress blog, let’s sort through how to actually choose a provider for each.
Choosing a Domain Registrar
You need to choose a registrar accredited by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) if you plan to register a top-level domain like .com. You can find a list here.
Additionally, the registrar should allow you to lock the domain, which prevents any unauthorized changes or “domain jacking.” Some registrars also offer free or inexpensive privacy features. If you plan to handle email through the domain registrar, check out the email features they offer.
Our top choices for domain name registration include:
Choosing a Host
Your web host provides the hardware and software that allow web traffic to access your blog. A good host can increase traffic to your blog, while a bad host can send people away.
Don’t skip on your research. Just as the choice of location can make or break a bricks and mortar business, so the choice of a host can set you up for success or failure online.
There are several types of hosting:
- Shared — you and many other blog owners share space and resources on a server. It’s the most affordable, but there are downsides.
- Managed — As with shared hosting, you share a server and resources with other blog owners. However, the server is configured for WordPress blogs only, and the company may take responsibility for updating WordPress, plugins, and filling other technical roles. It’s not as cheap as shared hosting, but still a lower cost option.
- Virtual Private Server — although your blog shares server space with others, the server is set up as if each were completely separate. It’s less expensive than the dedicated server option.
- Dedicated — You have exclusive use of a server. It’s the most expensive option, and a technically demanding one as well. It’s also where you’ll receive the highest levels of performance and security for your blog.
Most solopreneurs and bloggers start with shared or managed WordPress hosting. Unless you have IT skills, or the resources to pay someone to manage a server for you, the other options simply aren’t practical.
One of the decisions you’ll need to make concerns email. Some domain name registrars offer email services, and most shared hosting plans do as well. If you’re using a shared hosting plan, email may be available at no additional charge. Another option is to use a service like Google Apps for Business.
The price for an email plan will depend on the number of accounts and the volume of email being sent and received.
If you opt to handle your email within your shared hosting account, make sure you understand what they offer.
Managed hosting may not offer email. Most of them stick to what they do best, and leave domain name registration and email handling to others.
Note: We are not discussing here the type of third-party account you’ll want to use to send autoresponders or bulk emails to clients, customers, and your mailing list. That is a separate Email Service Provider like Wishpond or MailChimp.
What to Consider in Shared Hosting
WordPress runs best on Apache and Nginx servers. While it’s possible to run WordPress on other servers, I don’t recommend it.
Make sure the host’s servers also meet these minimum requirements:
- PHP version 7.2 or greater
- MySQL version 5.6 or greater
To check current requirements, visit this page.
Speed Is Vital
Blog readers will bounce away if your page loads slowly, and Google will penalize your slow blog as well. Don’t just take a hosting company’s word for it, try to find actual data on their speed.
You don’t want a host that constantly has issues, you want a host that’s going to keep your site up all the time. Most advertise “99% uptime,” but even within that metric there’s a lot of room for error.
With 8760 hours in a year, if the server is up for 99% of those hours, your blog can be down for almost 90 hours. If it’s up for 99.9% of the time, that’s a downtime of less than 9 hours.
While you don’t want to rely on the host to back up your blog, it should offer some level of backup protection, and the ability to restore from its backup at no additional charge.
Customer Service and Support
A host that offers phone support in your language 24/7 would be ideal, but don’t make that your primary consideration. Live chat and ticketing systems can both be extremely quick and effective. Look for reviews of the company’s customer service to find out what other users have experienced.
Access to File Structure
Does the host provide a way for you to view or edit your blog’s files? If the host provides the cpanel interface, it’s built in.
Will you be able to upload and download files via FTP (file transfer protocol) or SFTP/FTPS (secure file transfer protocols)?
“Unlimited domains” and “unlimited traffic” are common hosting selling points, but what do they really mean? Read the fine print, because once your site starts to receive significant traffic, you’ll either pay more or your site will slow down (or both). “Unlimited” is not the same as “infinite.”
Additionally, if your blog starts using a high percentage of the server’s bandwidth, you’ll hear about it.
Because WordPress is so popular, it’s become a popular target for hackers as well. While ultimately you are responsible for your blog’s security, the host should have security measures in place as well.
While any shared hosting company that meets the WordPress minimum requirements can host a WordPress blog, some companies specifically offer WordPress hosting. Chances are you’ll fare better with one of them because they’ll take care to optimize servers for WordPress.
A hosting server is a computer just like your laptop or desktop, it’s just running different software. Instead of Windows or MacOS, it’s running Apache or something similar. And just like your MacBook or PC, the additional applications that you can install and run depend on what operating system you’re using and what version you’re on. If you’re still on Windows XP, you will not be able to install the latest version of Microsoft Office.
Using a hosting server and plan that is designed for WordPress ensures that your host is able to keep their servers updated and optimized for WordPress, and can avoid trying to maintain old, legacy systems.
Of course you’re concerned about the cost as any good blogger would, but look at price last. It really doesn’t matter how cheap your hosting is, if it suffers significant downtime or if it’s slow.
I recommend Bluehost for hosting as they offer reasonably priced plans and great performance, particularly for bloggers. Bluehost is the hosting partner for Blogging Brute so it is a service I personally use. (affiliate link)
What to Consider in Managed WordPress Hosting
When you choose managed WordPress hosting, you can be confident that the server environment is optimized for WordPress. Unlike most shared hosting, where WordPress blogs share server space with traditional websites, when you choose managed hosting it’s WordPress only.
Ideally, the servers will also be optimized for WordPress security, and the company may also automatically beef up security for each hosted blog.
The better hosts will also provide some management or oversight over plugins, disallowing use of those known to have security vulnerabilities, for example.
When choosing a managed WordPress hosting company, look for good customer service and support, speed, uptime, backups, and access to file structure. This may be available only through FTP or SFTP.
Managed hosting doesn’t offer “unlimited” domains. Because it’s a managed service, you’ll pay for each site you host.
I recommend WP Engine for managed WordPress hosting. As a valued reader, if you join WP Engine you’ll also receive the Genesis Framework and 35+ StudioPress Themes for free! A great way to get your blog started on the right foot (and looking good!).
WordPress Basics for Bloggers Series
- What Is WordPress
- How To Get Started With WordPress (you are here)
- How To Use The WordPress Dashboard
- How To Use WordPress Themes
- How To Use WordPress Plugins
- Understanding WordPress Site Security
- WordPress Blogs: It’s All About The Content
- How To Optimize WordPress For Speed
- How To Prepare Your Blog To Build Traffic From Search
- How To Prepare Your Blog To Build Traffic From Social
Next Steps For New Bloggers
- Validate your blogging idea and create a plan using the Blogging Startup Planner.
- Follow the steps outlined in How To Start A Blog: The Ultimate Free Guide.
- Use the Ultimate Blogging Planner to plan your blog content and strategy for the coming year.
- Use the Blog Promotion Checklist to get maximum visibility to your blog posts each and every time.