Today's post is about migrating to a self-hosted WordPress website. It has the compilation of my experiences, tips, and steps that I followed for the move of my blog to a self-hosted server from the free WordPress platform. This post has been due for a long time. The move happened in April 2018. It has been more than four months now on the new server and I have been quite happy with it.
It seemed like a daunting task in the beginning. However reading and collecting information from various online manuals and forums, gave me the confidence to go for it. It was a very simple process and I was able to learn a lot from this experience. As promised in one of my posts after the move, I have finally created a post on it. Hope my compiled tips help someone looking for such information.*Please note this post contains affiliate links, I recommend the products here only because I find them useful. The opinions in this post are all my own and based on my blogging experiences *.
MY BLOGGING JOURNEY
Let me begin with a brief story of my blogging journey. The first time I wanted to start a blog was after I took a break from my IT job of fourteen years. I did a little exploration by visiting some of the popular blogs and wondered how people are successful bloggers and have so many followers. Before I could do much more exploring, a training institute was starting a new session of a web designing course right across the street I lived in. It was something I was interested in. So I enrolled and got into the world of learning web designing and blogging went on hold.
Just after I finished up with that, one of the residents in my community started a weekend photography class for beginners. Being a photography enthusiast, I could not let that opportunity go by. I had never explored the camera beyond the manual mode. The class covered the basics of daylight photography and was really interesting. Blogging was still on my mind, but it kept getting pushed to the back burner.
Soon after, I took up another job for two years, after which I took my second break. This time I was determined to start my blog no matter what, as I had some free time during the day. I came up with my blog name InspiresN and shortlisted the topics I would write on recipes, photography, and inspiration. So long story short - that is how it all began! Once the basics were ready, explored the other aspects of the blogging world.
Back to Self-hosted Migration Compilation tips and tricks, I have listed in order how I went about choosing the platform for my blog, using the free platform, and the move to the self-hosted server. I have also mentioned the themes and plugins that I started off with.
CHOOSE THE PLATFORM FOR YOUR BLOG :
First, decide on what platform you would like to blog on. There are many platforms out there WordPress, Wix, Blogger, Tumblr, Medium, Squarespace, Joomla, and many more. I had heard of WORDPRESS.com as a good platform for beginners for its ease of use, being free, and especially highly recommended for the great community support. The other platforms that I heard of which are quite popular in the blogger community are BLOGGER and TUMBLR. The reviews of the various platforms are on many online sites and one of them is here. I started InspiresN initially on the FREE platform WordPress.com. WordPress has two platforms WordPress.com, the free version, and the self-hosted version WordPress.org. The free platform has many advantages for beginners but many limitations as well.
- Ease of use and that it is free.
- Most of the technical aspects like the backup of all your content, files, statistics, security, spam protection, protection from hacking, optimization, and much more are automatically updated and taken care of.
- Great support from fellow bloggers and WordPress community.
- Does not allow you to run your own advertisements for monetization unless you upgrade to their paid plans.
- Limited choices for your theme (look and feel of your website) although there are plenty to choose from.
- Does not allow you to have your own branding, you will have the WordPress.com extension on your website URL/link
- You can not upgrade to the third-party plugins and external services unless you upgrade to their paid plans.
- Your content will not be owned by you and they can have it taken down any time.
One of the reasons, I chose the free WordPress.com platform, in the beginning, was to first get a feel, concentrate on my blogging, and see if I was really interested in pursuing it. Once I was sure, this was something that I was interested in, moved to the self-hosted WordPress.org.
As your blog grows along with your subscribers, you may want to have all the options in the limitations list above. One of the solutions is to upgrade to their paid packages, however, it may finally turn out to be expensive. Eventually, it is best to migrate to a self-hosted version of WordPress, WordPress.org.
After a year on the free platform, I decided to migrate INSPIRESN to WordPress.org. You could move even sooner as you feel confident. After the move to the self-hosted server, you will have to pay for the web hosting, domain, take care of backups, security, install the plugins, etc. which were all taken care of for free in the free platform.
After reading and researching from many sites, online manuals, help guides, and forums came up with a list of the following tasks for the move:
- Find a domain
- Find a Web hosting provider to host your site
- Export data from wordpress.com
- Install WordPress on the new web hosting service
- Import data from WordPress
- Choose existing themes or buy a new Theme
- Install plugins
Find a Domain: The most popular names for purchasing a domain in the market are from goDaddy.com and Name.com. Please know when you purchase a Web hosting provider (next step), they sometimes have an option to also purchase a domain from them. They are even free at times for some web hosting companies. However, it is recommended to buy your domain independent of the web hosting provider so that you have better control. You can purchase a domain and enter it on being prompted while registering with a web hosting company. In my case, I had not purchased a domain earlier and opted for the domain from the web hosting provider itself.
Find a web hosting provider: There are many hosting providers out in the market. After researching and comparing performances, narrowed down to the following. Some of the comparisons that were looked into it are load time, downtimes, costs, customer support. I found this site with some useful information (Please Read). Do check out and do your own homework and investigation to see what works out best for you. The ones I narrowed down to were the following:
SiteGround has three hosting plans and one can sign for any of them. It depends on what you are looking for:
- The StartUp plan is perfect for people with one website that are starting now
- The GrowBig plan is a great value for money offer, including the option for multiple websites and the SuperCacher that greatly improves a WordPress and Joomla website speed
- The GoGeek plan is perfect for people with e-commerce and larger sites, or more geeky development needs like staging and GIT integration
I opted for the StartUp plan as I had only one website and thought that was perfect for me when I started. However, the majority of them are happy with the Growbig plan due to its premium features and to use it with multiple websites. After you choose the plan, you will be prompted for a domain. As I mentioned earlier you can choose to purchase it independent of the web hosting company and enter the information here.
Next, you will be prompted for any extra services for moving from one host to another which can be done for a price. They also have an option for a site scanner. I did not opt for them. For the site scan, I was planning to install a plugin as there are many free plugins out there that can be used. One of the add-ons that are really useful and highly recommended is the Private Domain registration. This will keep your personal information private from spammers and telemarketers. It also protects information like your address to prevent identity thefts.
Once you have your domain and web hosting provider setup, you are ready to export data out of wordpress.com and import it into the new server.
Export data from wordpress.com ;
- Login to the admin dashboard at https://<yourdomain>.wordpress.com/wp-admin to export your content from wordpress.com.
- Navigate to Tools - > export and Choose export (Free or guided transfer). I used the free option as it is simple and pretty straight forward. You can also use the guided transfer for a fee.
- Choose "All Content" in the option of what to export. This will ensure all the files, posts, pages, comments, categories are exported.
- Click on "Download Export file". An XML file will be saved to your computer which will be needed at a later step for importing into the new hosted server.
- An email with the details of the zip file with the exported file will be sent.
- For those who used the link feature in WordPress (using a hyperlink in a post), you need to export your wordpress.com blogroll by going to https://<yourdomain>.wordpress.com/wp-links-opml.php
- Click on ctrl + S and save the file for later.
- These two files the XML and PHP will be required at a later step for importing to the WordPress on the new host.
Install WordPress on the new web hosting service and Import data from wordpress.com
- Login to the new hosted server with the email and password sent by the web hosting provider.
- Most companies offer a 1-click WordPress installation so it is pretty simple. Navigate to the c-panel and the auto-installer section to locate the WordPress icon.
- Double Click on it and follow the instructions to complete the installation process.
- Once WordPress is installed, use the new admin URL https://<yourdomain>.com/wp-admin on the new hosted server.
- Navigate to Tools -> Import and choose "WordPress" from the list. This installs the WordPress importer plugin which helps import files exported from wordpress.com.
- Click on Install when prompted to install the plugin.
- Next click on "Activate Plugin and Run Importer"
- Choose the XML file that you exported previously and click on the "Update file and Import" button. Make sure the assign authors and import attachments are all selected correctly.
- Now to import the PHP file, download a link manager plugin by navigating to the Plugins section.
- Click on Activate which will bring up a link option in the side menu.
- Next, navigate to Tools -> Import and import the PHP file saved earlier. This will help your site to be free of broken links.
- You can also refer to this link for screenshots and step by step instructions under "Transfer WordPress from wordpress.com".
- After import, all your posts will be live from the new URL https://<yourdomain>.com.
Congratulations! now you are officially live on the new hosted server.
Some useful recommendations:
- Send a mail to your subscribers and followers of the move well in advance about your new website URL in case of downtime due to any glitches during the move.
- To avoid readers visiting your old blog, mark it as private from wordpress.com by logging into the old wordpress.com dashboard and navigating to Settings and Reading. Select the "I would like my site to be private" option and save.
- Purchase the site re-direct so that the visitors are redirected to your new site. Navigate to the wordpress.com dashboard ->Store and purchase "Site Redirect".It also helps search engines to be re-directed to your new blog and this helps you not to lose any SEO.
I did run across a few hiccups after the move. Some of my posts did not get transferred to the new host. However, I was able to get it fixed by filing a ticket with the Siteground customer support folks. They are very quick to respond, extremely knowledgeable, and patient. The likes to the posts from the old host cannot, unfortunately, be transferred but the good news is the comments, images are all migrated. I also had issues where my posts did not show up in the WordPress reader or took longer to appear, the featured image was not visible. However, they were all resolved after filing a ticket with Jetpack.
Note: Your new site will also not have any old themes or plugins that were installed on wordpress.com and so you will have to re-install the themes and plugins.
Choose existing themes or buy a new Theme :
One of the exciting and biggest advantages of moving to a self-hosted server is you have unlimited choices for selecting a theme, the look and feel of your website. You have many free versions available, but you really want ones that make your website stand out, look professional with endless customization and elegant layouts. Some of the themes can be pricey as well, so it is a personal choice and what works for each one. Some of them that I narrowed down are listed below. I finally opted for Z-black which was economical for me. Some of the themes that you buy will also help you install it. However, I was able to install it myself and had a lot of fun customizing the new look of my blog.
Install plugins :
Last but not the least, here are some of the plugins which are must-have and the ones that I found useful. Plugins are nothing but extra add-ons or extensions specific to WordPress blogs which helps improve your website features. Some of them are paid and some are free. I am listing a few of the ones I use here and have mostly used the free versions:
Jetpack by WordPress -This plugin is useful to connect your blog to a WordPress.com account. This has some powerful features normally only available to WordPress.com users. The likes and comments to a post, site stats from the dashboard for example give great insight.
Akismet-AntiSpam - This plugin protects your blog from spam. You can be rest assured your site is being protected even while you sleep.
Wordfence Security - WordPress is not secure by itself and to avoid any malware and virus, this plugin is useful for Anti-virus, Firewall, and Malware scans. There are many other plugins as well but I found this useful.
Yoast SEO or All in one SEO pack - These plugins are useful for your site to be found by the search engine. I use the Yoast SEO for now but have heard good recommendations about the All in one SEO pack as well.
WordPress Importer - This plugin was installed to initially import the contents like posts, pages, comments, custom fields, categories, tags, and more from a WordPress export file when the blog was moved from wordpress.com to a self-hosted server.
Ad Inserter - This is a very useful plugin for advanced advertising features to insert ads at optimal positions in your website.
WP Recipe Maker - This recipe plugin is very useful for better SEO, it presents recipes in a nice format, ready for printing and to be picked up by search engines.
Mailchimp for WordPress - This plugin has highly effective sign-up methods to your site, I have not yet activated this and plan to look into it soon. This has been recommended by many bloggers. The other plugin that I have heard good reviews are about Madmimi
WP Post Navigation - This plugin helps Shows previous and Next links for your post. My theme did not support having the links so I had to use this plugin to get the links.
WPGDPR Compliance - This plugin helps to comply with European privacy regulations is known as GDPR to avoid large fines although they do not guarantee you fully comply with using this and ask to contact a GDPR consultant or law firm to assess.
WP Instagram Widget - This plugin is useful for those who use Instagram , the WordPress widgets help to show your latest Instagram photos.
There are many more plugins that I have installed and plan to activate and will update this page as I do.
Google Analytics and Clicky are good analytical programs for tracking how your website is performing, to analyze and track how many visitors you had, the country from where the visits came, and which posts are being read, and much more. This helps you know what topics are favored and to concentrate on them to get better traffic.
AmaLinksPro - As your website grows and you begin to monetize from your site , you may want to look into this very useful plugin .This helps create elegant product displays , Amazon affiliate links with just a few clicks without leaving WordPress and makes it easy for any publisher to use.
I will be updating this page with more information as and when I update and make changes to my site. Hope this information is helpful for someone who is looking to move to a self-hosted server from the free platform. However, I would recommend you do your research and collect information from all sources before making a decision on what works best for you.I will be more than happy to answer any questions that you have in the comments below to the best of my abilities. Thank you for reading and have a good day!