It took me a LOT of time to research and figure out exactly how to get started, so I decided to write my own post that shows step by step exactly how to start self-hosting your blog. I hope it helps you!
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything through my links, I will receive a small profit. However, I would never recommend anything that I don’t truly believe in — these are services I use myself. Thank you for supporting me! 🙂
Before I switched
First of all… surprise! I’m not actually sitting at my computer 24 hours a day to post everywhere! I know you thought I did. I forgive you for judging me. I mean, do I spend a lot of time on the computer with my cat…
Before I switched, I had been using Buffer to schedule tweets and G+ posts. I was even using it for Pinterest & Facebook, but recently stopped doing that in favour of BoardBooster & Facebook’s own scheduling features. (I’ll get into BoardBooster later in this post.) Buffer’s “Awesome” Plan is $10 USD/month, lets you link up to 10 different social profiles, store up to 100 posts for each, and change your schedule for each day of the week.
They do have a free plan as well — you’re just limited to scheduling only 10 posts per profile at a time, you can’t link to Pinterest and can only link one profile per social service, and you can only have one schedule that works for every day. I’m not using it for Pinterest anymore, but I always have way more than 10 posts scheduled to Twitter, so I’ve been paying $10 USD for that each month since November 2015.
(UPDATE Oct 30 2016: I’m no longer using the paid version of Buffer because now that I use BoardBooster for Pinterest, I only need it for Twitter. And since Twitter doesn’t bring me as much traffic as Pinterest and Facebook combined, I’d rather focus on those. It entirely depends on what works for you.)
I also had been with the free WordPress.com before I switched, and I purchased my domain in October from them for $34. DON’T DO THIS! I 100% regret it. You can get it for free if you sign up for hosting with Bluehost or SiteGround, or you can buy it from GoDaddy for really cheap too.
UPDATE Oct 30 2016: After about eight months, I found my traffic grew and BlueHost couldn’t handle my site anymore. After talking to a few people I met through Elite Blog Academy, I switched to SiteGround — and they were so helpful, they even allowed me to use a promotional rate I’d seen a few days earlier! I highly recommend them instead of BlueHost. Their pricing is pretty much the exact same for WAY better service — the actual hosting and customer service. Click the banner below to start with them or transfer over!
UPDATE Apr 3 2017: Bluehost also no longer offers a pro-rated refund, which means if you sign up for 3 years and cancel after your first 30 days, you DO NOT receive your money back for the remaining time. Not worth it! Go with SiteGround instead for sure. I’m still with them and it’s been great!
On December 18th 2015, I bought hosting from BlueHost, after doing a bunch of research about who is a good host.
BlueHost consistently gets great reviews about customer service, and that’s a big one for me. (Update Apr 3 2017: After blogging for a while, I’ve noticed the consistently get BAD reviews.) If you’re looking to self-host, definitely do your own research and decide what’s best for you — this one was definitely the best one for me at the time.
When I first looked BlueHost up back in October 2015, they were charging $8 USD/month, billed annually. I ended up going through an affiliate link I found, though, because it was cheaper.
You can choose how many years you want, but the most value comes from their 3-year plan, which is what I went with. It’s more upfront, but it’s well worth it — plus they give you a domain name for free for the first year if you don’t already have one, and they really do have amazing customer service. I had a small problem with my initial set-up and they were very friendly with helping me out! Click here to check BlueHost out and get their services for $5.95/month instead of $8!
Then, as soon I was registered, I installed WordPress. It was literally the click of a button, done! Nice and easy.
After (again) doing a bunch of research, I decided to purchase a theme instead of using one of the two free ones that comes with WordPress. You could absolutely use one of those (it comes with Twenty Fourteen and Twenty Fifteen) but as I’m doing a lot of writing on feminism, which is unfortunately a topic that draws a lot of hackers, I wanted a more secure theme. The free themes are much easier to hack.
The Genesis Framework theme from StudioPress is known to be better for security as well as SEO (search engine optimization), and is a really popular framework for many child themes. Child themes are the themes you see when you visit most self-hosted blogs — the Genesis Framework is like the foundation or frame, and the child theme is what adds character and actually makes up what you see. It serves as the backup in the case that things go wrong and you are hacked, from what I understand. Your child theme might be down, but your framework is still there.
So basically, either way, you need Genesis. You could stick with just the Genesis theme, but purchasing a child theme gives you more flexibility and they look nicer. I bought the Style child theme from Restored 316.
Then I spent the first few weeks trying to customize and fix things like crazy. In fact, I’m still trying to fix things a month later! But the thing that’s nice about both Genesis & Restored 316 is both of them have Facebook groups where you can ask questions.
(UPDATE Oct 30 2016: Since I started my blog, I’ve actually had it professionally redesigned by Laura at PixelMeDesigns. She does AMAZING work — it’s worth way more than she charges so if you want something a little more professional or you have something specific in mind that you don’t know how to design yourself, I highly recommend her! But if you need something more affordable, you can still do it yourself like I did.)
So! Up to this point, these were my expenses for starting up the blog:
Domain Name from WordPress: $34
BlueHost hosting: $250 USD for 3 years
Genesis Framework: $59 USD
Restored 316 Theme: $69 USD
Buffer: $10 USD/month
BoardBooster: free until trial expired (see below)
Yes, with the exchange rate at the time, that SUCKED as a Canadian. Maybe I should’ve waited, but honestly, I’m so glad I got started! And don’t forget — you get a free domain name with BlueHost, so don’t buy it from WordPress.com if you haven’t got one yet.
Right after installing WordPress, I looked up the best plugins to install. Plugins are basically mini programs that stick code into your themes in order to do something specific, like make an email sign-up form or add social media buttons for easy sharing.
These are the ones I have on my blog — all of which are free.
Akismet. Really good for filtering out spam comments, to later be reviewed in your spam queue.
Click to Tweet. Those really pretty clickable tweets you see on all my posts? Made possible by this lovely plugin! Super easy to use as well.
Comment Reply Notification. Sends anyone who comments on your posts an email when they get a reply. This is really good because it’s automatic, and helps a lot since it’s unlikely people will return just to see if anyone replied.
CommentLuv. Gives people the option to check a box and share their most recent blog post when they leave a comment. I like this because it’s nice to help each other out, and it helps create a sense of community on my blog 🙂
DoFollow Case By Case. Adds a little checkbox when you create links so that you can add a rel=nofollow tag to any affiliate links, which is REALLY important so that search engines don’t crawl your affiliate links. This is required for every single affiliate program.
Yoast SEO. This is the plugin I use to do all my own search engine optimization (SEO). Really easy to use, I love it and highly recommend it!
Featured Image In RSS Feed. RSS feeds don’t include images. This fixes that and adds my featured images to each post.
Jetpack by WordPress.com. Lets you add widgets that you have on your WordPress.com blog, like Top Posts & Pages, Twitter Timeline, etc.
MailChimp for WordPress. I tried several plugins that integrate with MailChimp, and I like this one the most. It’s simple to use and integrates with your theme. Love it!
Optimize Database After Deleting Revisions. Helps with saving storage space! Just deletes trashed posts, redundant revisions, and more.
P3 Profiler. I like this one A LOT. This is a plugin performance profiler so you can see which plugins are slowing your site down if you have that problem. It measures the load time of each plugin to measure the load time of your whole site. Super useful!
Remove Amazon Links from RSS Feed. It’s against Amazon’s policy to have their affiliate links in RSS Feeds, so this solves that problem!
Revive Old Post (Former Tweet Old Post). This automates tweeting of old blog posts! Its default is posts older than six months, but you can change it to whatever you want. This is great to … er… revive old posts!
Shareaholic. This is the plugin I use for my social media buttons beneath each post! Some people don’t like it because you have to go in and change a lot of settings, but I just basically turned everything off that I didn’t want and it was really easy to do.
(UPDATE Oct 30 2016: I’ve stopped using Shareaholic because it slowed my site down a lot. Instead, I’m sticking with SumoMe and saving for a better plugin that costs money but looks way worth it.)
Simple Social Icons. These add the social media buttons at the top of my sidebar.
(UPDATE Oct 30 2016: I no longer have this plugin because when I had Laura from PixelMeDesigns redesign my site, she created the buttons that are at the top of my site on the right.)
SumoMe. This plugin adds the social media buttons you see on the left side of my site. It also lets you add the top bar that collects email or FB likes that you may have seen on other sites, the email subscription exit and scroll boxes, and welcome mats. There are lots of options and you can deactivate what you don’t want as well change what everything looks like to fit your brand. I love this!
Wordfence Security. Lets you know when your site is down, attacked, when someone unknown logs in, etc. — general security stuff.
WP Canvas – Gallery. Has a bunch of different options for how to display photos. This is the one that lets me use scrolling for my images of my kitty, Matrix!
After a lot of researching (as usual) I decided to sign up for one advertising network. I planned to wait until I’m getting lots of traffic before applying to Google Adsense, so I spent time looking for alternatives. Media.net is known for taking a while to approve websites, so I expected to wait about 3 months before being approved, which would give me time to grow my traffic.
Whoops. They approved me two days later!
I spent December trying to optimize my ads, as they offer a lot of flexibility in design and you get your own personal assistant (kind of) who helps you figure out what’s working and what isn’t on your site. I started out getting a reasonable rate, but then suddenly I was getting nothing — like, literally $0 — and this was because of low quality impressions. I won’t get into it too much here, but basically, it was too soon to think about advertising. I was right to try and wait, but they approved me too early! I spent so much time freaking out about how low my traffic was —I get about ~1400 pageviews a month right now, which is NOTHING to an ad network — and ended up not even enjoying blogging as much anymore.
Instead, right now my focus is on increasing traffic, which basically means writing lots of good quality content, reading others’ blogs & interacting with those bloggers, and trying to stay active on Facebook and Pinterest, my two top traffic referrers. I’m still with Media.net, but I’m making $0. I think it’s totalled at about $2 on my account, but they don’t pay out until you get to $100. Oh well! Hopefully they don’t kick me out and give me a chance to grow, but worst comes to worst I find a different ad network.
(UPDATE Oct 21 2016: I applied for Adsense once I started getting around 4,00-5000 views/month, and it was well worth it. Their ads are visual images or videos and have been most effective — I was getting way more from them than Media.net. I emailed Media.net requesting these types of ads though, and now things have improved. So if you go with them, make sure you email and ask for that right away!)
I’m not really focusing too much on affiliate programs right now, but I joined Amazon.ca and Amazon.com’s affiliate programs right away in December, because I know Amazon is the most popular one. I love recommending items from there since I shop there myself. I try to use affiliate links wherever possible, but this is definitely something I need to learn more about.
Email Subscription Service
I knew I would need to build an email list for my blog from the beginning, but in order to comply with international spam laws, you need to be able to provide an address in every single one of your emails.
This meant I needed a P.O. Box, which costs ~$200/year where I live.
Yay for parental Christmas gifts of entirely cash! (Seriously, thanks mom, love you lots.)
Then I signed up for MailChimp, which is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers or send 12,000 emails a month. Of all the services I found, this one was the best in terms of value for your money. It’s also REALLY user-friendly! If you get any of my emails, you’ve seen how beautiful they look — I made them in less than an hour! (Sign up here to receive my newsletter and your FREE copy of The Quick & Dirty Guide To Feminism!)
So here are total costs of my email subscription services:
P.O. Box: $203.70
MailChimp: free until 2,000 subscribers
And that’s it!
Total Expenses To Set Up My Self-Hosted Blog:
Domain Name from WordPress (free the first year if you go through BlueHost): $34
BlueHost hosting: $250 USD for 3 years
Genesis Framework: $59 USD
Restored316 Theme: $69 USD
Buffer: $10 USD/month
BoardBooster: free until trial expired (see below)
P.O. Box: $203.70 CAD
If you’re interested, this is how I’ve been approaching social media, too…
One big thing I learned this month is that there are a LOT of Facebook groups worth joining as a blogger. They’re great for learning more about blogging and for threads to help you with promoting your blog, while also finding other new ones.
(UPDATE: I only post in The Blog Loft now. I find that with share threads, you aren’t reaching people that are genuinely interested in your site — only people who click through so you’ll click through. Don’t waste time on these! If any, join Google+ Bloggers and participate in their +1 threads because that will help your ranking in Google’s search engine. Otherwise, just focus on Pinterest and Facebook! You can grab the Pinterest Strategy Guide I use here and the Strategies Worth Sharing ebook about Facebook here.)
Pinterest Group Boards
The BoardBooster links below are affiliate links. If you sign up with BoardBooster and become a paid customer, I receive $5 towards my monthly BoardBooster subscription. Thanks for helping me out! 🙂
Over the past two months (yes, before I went self-hosted) I discovered that group boards are THE BEST — I’ve grown my Pinterest following like crazy with group boards through BoardBooster.
I did start manually pinning more often in November (you can see the first increase there) and then I started using Buffer to automate that a little and save time, but that was still way too much work. So in December, I signed up for BoardBooster’s free trial, and look at the results!
My followers increased slowly while I used Buffer, anywhere from 5-10 new followers in about 4 days, but now I get 10+ followers in the same amount of time, if not less. I went from 11 followers in October pinning manually, to 36 in November using Buffer, to 78 in December still with Buffer. Then, I joined BoardBooster on Dec 23rd. And on January 23rd, I had 152 followers on Pinterest!
And the kicker? Pinterest was responsible for 47% of my traffic in December, and 44% in January. ZERO of my traffic came from Pinterest in November!
So, yes. I’ve learned a bunch about Pinterest and am focusing on it a lot now! There are plenty of other features besides scheduling pins to group boards. You can loop your pins so more people see them, and schedule pins to your own boards so you’re not pinning all at once, as well as keep track of what times are best for you and which boards are performing best. Those are my favourite features, but if you want to check out BoardBooster yourself, click here!
(UPDATE Oct 21, 2016: Since using the Pinterest Strategy Guide which also uses BoardBooster, I grew to 1,541 as of today! And now 70% of my traffic comes from Pinterest.)
(UPDATE Jan 15, 2017: Since the last update, 40% of my traffic comes from Pinterest which is actually better than 70 — it means I haven’t put all my eggs in one basket! Make sure you do the same!)
Conclusion: Making the Switch to Self-Hosting Your Blog = Lots of Work, But The Best Choice!
Generally, I am really happy I switched to self-hosting. I have so much more control over what I can do, and even if I’ve made $0, I really feel like I can do more this way. I know it sounds like a lot of work, which it is at first, but it slows down. I highly recommend it if you want to get into blogging! You just never know where it will take you.
Are you thinking of starting a blog or switching to self-hosting? What are your favourite tools for blogging?
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