Q&A: How To Create a Self-Hosted Blog

How To Start a Self-Hosted Blog

What process did you go through to create your domain names “http://lifeinlimbo.org” and “http://stephaniepellett.com“? I’ve attempted creating my own blog so many times it hurts, but I’ve always gone through Blogger.     -Sarah

Just over 3 years ago, I changed over from WordPress.com to self-hosting my blog and it’s safe to say that I’ve never looked back. Hosting my own blog has given me tons of freedom, including the ability to also host my own personal website and the podcast website, with the option to add an unlimited number of more sites if I choose to. By self-hosting, I can also embed many more widgets and add advertising options to my blog. Not to mention I am able to design my websites to look exactly the way I want them to using CSS and HTML. Obviously, hosting costs more than using a stellar free service such as WordPress.com, but for me it offers enough advantages to be worth it. If you’re interested in making the switch too, here are the steps you’ll need to take.

1. Choose a host

This is definitely the most important decision you’ll make regarding your blog. The host you choose will store your website on its servers, while allowing you all the freedom you want in terms of design and content. A host works behind the scenes to ensure that everything on your blog is running smoothly.

My hosting service has always been (and probably always will be) Bluehost. They offer unlimited storage and unlimited registered domains (ie. as many websites as you choose to have). They also have 24/7 support, if you ever need help with your site. I’ve only ever had one serious issue with my site since I’ve been self-hosting – I accidentally left my blog in a state of permanent maintenance mode – and I was able to resolve it over the phone in only a few minutes with a very nice Texan man. He was friendly, smart, and most of all very efficient in solving my problem.

And the best part about Bluehost? It’s so well priced. If you sign up for 12 months, it’s only $7 a month, or $84 a year. If you sign up for longer, as I intend to do the next time I need to renew my service, it can be as low as $4.95 a month. You can learn more about their pricing options here.

I did a lot of research before initially choosing my web host, and I’ve always been very happy with my choice.

2. Register your domain

How To Start a Self-Hosted Blog

The next step is to register your desired domain name. “Domain name” is just a fancy way of saying the URL of your blog. Mine, for example is “lifeinlimbo.org”.

One of my favourite things about Bluehost is that I can register domains from inside my dashboard and don’t have to use a third-party service. It’s very easy, and if your desired domain name is taken, they show you other options and their prices right away. I love having all that information at my fingertips. It can be dangerous though – I’ve gotten carried away registering a few extra domains for future projects and endeavors!

Domains usually cost about $12, but can be much more expensive depending on how popular the name is. I also personally purchase domain name privacy protection for my sites. Legally, you must provide your name and address when you purchase any domain, and that information is searchable online. For $10 a year, Bluehost allows you to protect your private details by masking them with their own information. You can learn more about domain privacy services here.

3. Install WordPress

How to Start a Self-Hosted Blog

Once you have secured hosting and a domain name, all you really have is a blank webpage. To turn it into a blog, I recommend using WordPress. It is hands down the best website software available, and it’s totally free. Once installed, you can have a gorgeously designed blog up and running within a few minutes, literally.

Through Bluehost, you can very easily install any platform you choose, including WordPress, in only a few minutes. It’s very simple and straightforward, and you can access the installation page from your account’s homepage like in the screenshot above. If you are using a different host, you can download the WordPress software directly from their website and install it yourself.

Once installed, you’ll have a link to a WordPress login page, ex. “http://yourblog.com/wp-admin” where you can sign in and access your WordPress dashboard. Once you’re signed in, you’re in an easy-to-use backend of your blog where you can easily install plugins, see stats, choose a theme, add widgets, write posts and upload photos.

4. Choose a theme

How to Start a Self-Hosted Blog

Now for the fun stuff! WordPress offers thousands of free themes, most very customizable, available to browse on their website. You can also find them in the “Appearance” panel of your WordPress dashboard.

There are many other awesome themes on the market, and most are fairly inexpensive. I personally use a heavily customized version of the free Brunelleschi theme on this site.

Choosing a theme can take some trial-and-error, so play around with it and don’t be afraid to switch it up. I’ve changed my theme many times over the years, and I always love a good redesign! If you’re just starting out, I would recommend resisting the temptation to buy a theme, even if it is only $30. Some themes are really worth it (though they tend to be more like $100), but most aren’t much better than a good, customized free theme.

5. Install plugins

A plugin is a program that runs behind the scenes on your blog to add on features. There’s a (free) plugin for almost anything you can imagine! My favourite plugins are:

  • Jetpack: a package designed and updated by the WordPress team that offers everything from site stats to awesome widgets to custom CSS.
  • Disqus Comment System: a streamlined, functional system for commenting.
  • Akismet: protects my sites from spam comments.
  • jQuery Pin It Button: displays a “Pin It” button when someone hovers over a photo on my site.
  • LinkWithin: displays other related posts at the bottom of all my blog posts.
  • WP to Twitter: automatically tweets the title and link of published blog posts.

I do have others not listed here running in the background of my site for other tasks, but these ones would be my top picks for someone starting their website from scratch.

To install a plugin, go to the “Plugins” menu on your WordPress dashboard (right below “Appearance”, see the previous screenshot) and select “Add new”. You can then search for any plugin you wish. You can also browse plugins on the WordPress website.

6. Customize your theme and add widgets + buttons

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 11.02.38 PM

Most themes these days have tons of customizable options, including the number and position of sidebars, which can make a huge difference in a site’s overall design. Most blogs have one sidebar on the right, for example:

Others have two sidebars, one on either side of the content, for example:

I’d suggest taking some time to explore your favourite blogs and make notes on what you like and dislike about each of their site designs. It depends on your theme, but this option usually comes built into your “Theme Options” page.

After that, it’s all about the widgets! “Widget” is the WordPress term for a little box of code that lives on your sidebar or footer and displays content. On my blog, that’s everything you see in the right hand column, from my “Welcome” photo all the way down to my affiliate links and what I’m currently reading. Take some time to explore the widgets that come built into WordPress, such as ones displaying your most Popular Posts, site archives or categories.

Most of the widgets you see on my sidebar are pulled from other websites (ex. Mailchimp) or custom coded by yours truly in HTML. Knowing even a little bit of HTML is immensely helpful when installing or creating widgets, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post. If you don’t know any HTML, the w3schools website is a great resource. You may also want to check out their tutorials on CSS if you want to do anything like changing the fonts, site colours or link styles from the default theme options.

7. Get blogging!

Realistically, this is the most important step on the list. You could stop after getting hosting, WordPress and a theme, and just get to the point of the whole thing and start creating content. Over the years, my site has gone through a ton of designs and themes and they’ve all built slowly on top of each other as my knowledge has grown and my style has developed. But the one constant is the writing. One of my all time favourite blogs, The Trephine, has one of the most simple blog designs I’ve seen, but she’s gained a tremendously loyal, interested following because her writing is amazing and true. And really, that’s the whole point of blogging.

So ultimately it doesn’t matter if you’re on Blogger or WordPress.com or hosting your own content – the important thing is to write true things down, reach out to others and stay passionate. I absolutely love that John Irving quote: “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed,” and nowhere is that more true for me than when it comes to my blog. I’ve been blogging (aka spewing my thoughts) for a very long time. The earliest blog post I can find that’s still in existence (it’s on Livejournal and you’re never, ever finding out the name of it) was December 2006, and the post itself refers to two previous blogs that I, in the words of my 15 year old self, “grew out of”.

Safe to say, I’m obsessed and have been for a very long time. Like all things, my interest ebbs and flows, but if I’m ever away for too long I start to feel like I’m not myself anymore. Blogging doesn’t have to be that thing for you, but if it is, hold onto it and forget about what your theme looks like or what widgets you need to choose. You’ll get there over time. If you’re in it for the long haul, it doesn’t really matter how fast you figure it out.

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If you have any more questions about blogging and self-hosting, or widgets and themes and plugins, feel free to let me know in the comments below. Best of luck and have fun!

Please note that affiliate links are used in this post. If you purchase any products recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions are absolutely and always my own.

  • Sarah Struthers

    Oh my goodness, I feel so honored to have inspired a post! I definitely never expected to see my question at the top of a blog page! It feels like I got featured. ;) Thank you for all of the great information, and just so you know, I took your advice all of those months ago, decided to just try to make magic happen for free first, and started writing at http://www.thevoyagingstruthers.blogspot.com. I think I’m getting a domain name for my birthday though :) Thank you again, and, as always, this was a joy to read!

    • stephaniepellett

      Hey Sarah!! Ha, well it was an awesome question. I hope you don’t mind me using it! I’m glad you decided to start writing, hopefully you’re enjoying it. :) I’ll check out your blog!

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  • Hi Stephanie, loved this post! Thanks to you, I’ve gone with BlueHost for my personal site. :) Would you be able to do some tips with regards to how you set up your personal site? I really only have experience with blogs and not much otherwise. Thanks!

    • stephaniepellett

      Hey Starr! Woo! So exciting to hear about your switch to Bluehost. I love their service and I hope you’ve liked it so far too. I will definitely start thinking about tips on how I set up my personal site, but you should know that it’s also on WordPress! I just chose a theme that looked less like a blog. :)