This is the start of our occasional series of posts covering the aspects of starting a blog
But it's hard! I don't know how to use FTP! CHMOD?!?! php is confusing! what's CSS?
These are all typical arguments I've heard from people in the past when arguing against setting up their own blog under their own URL on a server. We know that setting up a blog on Blogger or WordPress.com is easy, but it doesn't match a blog under your own name, where you control every aspect.
Naturally it helps that you're not afraid to try, and sometimes fail along the way, but anyone can do it. URLs are easy to buy, easy to point
Buying a domain name for your blog is as easy as visiting a domain registrar and typing in the name you want. The hard part is finding a name that isn't taken, but using sites like Domaintools.com can help there. Once registered, the only remotely scary bit is pointing your URL to your server. Many registrars will offer easy to follow instructions, but all you have to do is find the right option, and usually enter two things, something like ns1.yourhost.com and ns2.yourhost.com, and both will be provided by your host. Not the least bit scary. If you can type, you can do this!
If you've decided to buy hosting from your domain registrar (I'd never recommend that you do, but some do), you don't usually have to point the domain either.
Blog setup is often a click or two away
In the old days, setting up your own blog meant ftping the code base for your blogging platform of choice to your server, playing with permission settings, editing config files, then if you were really lucky and got every step right, you'd have your own blog. The good news is that on most hosts today, you don't have to do any of that. Wordpress is regularly offered as an install option in Plesk, cPanel and similar offerings, and installing WordPress usually involves a few clicks, and maybe typing in a password you'd like, and an email address for the account. Very, very simple.
If you're concerned that your host might not offer this feature, check before signing up. Long gone are the days where hosts would kick you off for running a blog, today easy installation of blogs is a selling point. Themes, FTP! Help!
At this point, everything as been really easy. You have your own domain, you have WordPress set up, and you're able to post. But not many people will want to stick with the default WordPress theme. This is where FTP steps in, and it's not as scary as you think.
Can you browse files using Explorer in Windows or Finder on a Mac? Can you move a file from one folder to another? If you can, you already have every skill required to upload a theme to your blog.
I recommend Filezilla for FTP, it's available for Windows, Mac and Linux, and it comes with a killer price tag of $0, but there are others you can use. If you're really keen, you can even use Windows itself, with Explorer supporting ftp addresses and logins.
The only things you'll need: ftp details (usually ftp.mysite.com) username and password. With WordPress, you open the themes directory in wp-content (sometimes your WP install will be buried in httpdocs or user or similar folder). You download the theme, then you drag and drop the theme folder into the themes directory, and let it upload. If you'd rather not drag and drop, navigate to the folder using Filezilla, then click on upload once you've got the themes directory open on the right of screen. And that's it. Might take a few minutes, but there's nothing hard or scary there. Think of FTP and the folders/ files on your server in the same way you'd look at the same on your computer, and you'll be fine.
Like themes, plugins do need to be installed, in this case to the plugins folder in wp-content. There is usually instructions with the plugin, and there will be two possibilities: upload a file or upload the folder. Do as it says and they will be installed. To activate, go to plugins in the WordPress control panel, and click activate on your plugin of choice.
WordPress today makes it a lot easier to add these plugins to your site, without having to touch any code. If the theme you have installed supports widgets (and many do) all you have to do is go to the widgets tab under design in WordPress, then simply add your plugins where you want them.
There are going to be times where the widget and/ or template doesn't support widgets. If you just can't cope with code, I'd recommend sticking to ones that do.
See, it's not really that hard. There's no massive learning curve required to run your own blog on your own URL where you have full control. We'll tackle the coding side in a future post because it helps to know a little, but there is no reason today why you can't set up your own blog. If you're reading this, and can turn on a computer and open a file, you can do this.