How To Start Blogging with WordPress

Websites can be a pain to set up–even with HTML and CSS, hand-coding a site can take hundreds of hours. And it gets worse if you want a website you can update frequently because you’d have to dig back into the original code to make changes. Enter the CMS, or content-management system, designed to let you easily update a site without monkeying with the underlying code. WordPress is perhaps the most impressive, powerful, and widely used blogging CMS there is. For beginners and non-technical types, it’s incredibly easy to set up, even if you’re using your own domain. More advanced users can tweak WordPress to an incredible degree with themes and plug-ins, and power users can even adjust the open-source code with a basic text editor.

We’ll assume you want a self-hosted blog with your own domain name; for example, mygreatsite.com. (The other option, a hosted blog, is easier but less professional looking. WordPress.com lets you sign up for a free hosted blog.) You can get a cheap domain name at NearlyFreeSpeech.net–a .com address runs about $9/year. Next you need somewhere for your blog to run. A WordPress blog is a piece of software, albeit not one that runs from your Mac. That means besides simple hard disk space on a server, you need a few minor bells and whistles to go with it. Make sure your prospective web host provides compatibility with PHP and SQL databases. Web hosting is cheap–NearlyFreeSpeech.net, for example, offers pay-as-you-go pricing for storage and bandwidth that can be as low as $2/month. Popular domain-registration and hosting service GoDaddy.com charges about $57/year for hosting with 10GB of storage and 300GB of traffic. That should be sufficient for most blogs, even if you intend to stream video. Lastly, pick up a good FTP client, which makes it easy to upload files to your blog–we like Fugu (free, rsug.itd.umich.edu/software/fugu/).

Difficulty Level: Medium

What You Need:

>> WordPress (free, wordpress.org)
>> TextEdit (included with Mac OS X)
>> FTP client such as Fugu (free, rsug.itd.umich.edu/software/fugu/)
>> Web hosting space (prices vary)
>> Personal domain name (optional, prices vary)

1. Set Up an SQL Database

Every host’s SQL setup is a little different.

With your web hosting and domain name set up, the first step is to create an SQL database. Your new host’s help section will walk you through the process of setting one up. Make sure you note down the name of the database, as well as your username and password.

2. Download WordPress

Replace database_name_here, username_here, and password_here with the correct details. We also had to change localhost, according to our hosting company’s instructions.

Download WordPress from wordpress.org. Rename wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php and open it using TextEdit. Go to the section called My SQL settings. Enter the details exactly as they appeared when you created your database.

3. Secure Your Site

Looks like gibberish, but think of it as secret security sauce.

Copy and paste the link in the config file into the address bar of your web browser to generate a set of keys that will make your passwords harder to crack. Copy the keys from your web browser back into your config file. Save it and close it.

4. Upload to New Host

Upload it all; you’re basically installing WordPress in your web space.

Log in to your space using your FTP client (we’re using Fugu). You’ll get the login details from your hosting service, or try ftp://[your-site-name].com, although the address can vary depending on your hosts. Upload everything in your WordPress folder to your new host. Go to [your-site-name].com, and you’ll see the WordPress welcome screen.

5. Name Your Blog

Your blog needs a title, a username for you, and of course a password.

Think up a name for your blog and make sure you enter a reliable email address so your WordPress install knows where to reach you–this address will be used to notify you when someone leaves a comment on your blog, and it’s where a new password will be sent if you forget your old one. Make sure to change the username from “admin” to something less common and harder to guess, and use a strong password.

6. Preview Your Blog

Our default blog isn’t much to look at, but it’s up and running, and it’s ready for content and customization.

Once you’re in the WordPress Dashboad, click your blog’s name in the upper left (mouse over it for a tooltip saying Visit Site) to see the prototype of your new blog. When you next visit your blog, type [your-site-name].com/wp-admin to get to the login screen and Dashboard.

7. Upload Multimedia

Let WordPress handle the uploading.

With WordPress installed, you’ll be able to see why so many bloggers swear by it. Naturally, you get rich text formatting, and WordPress allows you to upload images and videos without needing to revisit your FTP client. Once you’ve clicked Add New Post, simply click the image button on the toolbar, and WordPress will automatically upload your multimedia files into new folders on your FTP server.

8. Explore Themes and Plug-ins

More themes than you can shake your mouse at.

In days gone by, installing new themes or plug-ins was a nuisance. You had to download a new theme, upload it via FTP, then activate it in WordPress. Now, if you go to WordPress’s Dashboard and click Appearance, you’ll see the Themes settings and an Add Themes tab. Click this, and you’re taken to a wonderland of free themes where installing a new one couldn’t be simpler. The same goes for plug-ins, which can be searched for by keyword. WordPress is resilient to user error as well–if you make a mistake in the front end (as opposed to in an FTP client or when trying to edit your WordPress database), you’re very likely to be able to undo your changes and return to a working version of your site.

Why Not iWeb?

It’s hard to ignore the temptation of Apple’s iWeb. You probably already have it, it produces acceptable results, and unlike WordPress, iWeb doesn’t make you go near an SQL database or fiddle with the back ends of hosting accounts or domain names. iWeb even has built-in and downloadable themes and enough multimedia compatibility to keep people happy.

But WordPress leaves iWeb in the dust, especially for the ambitious webmaster or those who think they might make some money from their blog. For starters, WordPress has a far more active community than iWeb, which means a lot more choice when it comes to themes, as well as more plug-ins and more help forums if you get stuck. The upshot is that your website is likely to be more individual if you use WordPress. iWeb’s themes are quite heavy on clip art and stock backgrounds, which will mark your new site as the work of a rookie. iWeb is also poorly suited to blogging. It lets you add a blog, but in order to update it you need to be in front of a Mac that has iWeb installed–not much use if you’re without your MacBook. A WordPress blog can be updated from any computer with a web browser, and you won’t lose any features.

iWeb does have a few upsides: it’s undeniably easy to use, and its iPhoto integration means that if you don’t care to learn anything new, you can still have a decent-looking presence on the web. But anyone with a modicum of ambition should give WordPress a go–you won’t regret it.

 

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