WordPress is one of the most popular blogging and publishing platforms available, with more than 66 million sites around the world. But free content management and sleek templates aren’t the only features WordPress offers — you can actually download software from WordPress.org and set up your own custom website within minutes.
The trouble is, the idea of building a site from scratch is pretty daunting, and you may not know exactly where to start.
We’ve put together a basic guide for setting up your own hosted WordPress site, including how to register for a domain name, sign up with a hosting provider and successfully download and install the WordPress.org software onto your computer.
1. WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
You may wonder about the benefits of WordPress.org over the free dotcom route. The difference between the two services really boils down to flexibility and customization: WordPress.org allows for much more freedom for blogging and uploading content.
Even though WordPress.com is essentially a one-stop shop and easier to use, it’s more restrictive, and automatically comes with a branded WordPress.com domain (for example, yourblog.wordpress.com).
WordPress.org, on the other hand, isn’t an online-only content management system; it’s software that you download and install on your hard drive, paired with a site that is hosted elsewhere on the web. It’s more advanced, and offers more options.
Another factor to consider is money. Both WordPress services are technically free, but the downloaded software is only usable if you pay for a custom domain name and web hosting.
2. Registering a Domain Name and Finding a Host
Before anything else, find a reliable service to register your unique domain name and host your WordPress site. There are thousands to choose from, many of which can reserve your domain and provide hosting simultaneously. Either way, make sure it meets WordPress’ minimum requirements, which can be found here.
WordPress’ main site states that most of the available hosting options work just fine, and it has “dealt with more hosts than you can imagine.” However, the publishing platform highlights three services that you can trust will work particularly well with your website:
Bluehost: Features include auto-install, readily available updates, unlimited disk storage, unlimited monthly data transfer, hosting unlimited domains on the same account, 2,500 email addresses and more.
DreamHost: Features include one-click install, automatic updates, unlimited hosted domains, a two-week trial, a free domain name and several free add-ons.
Laughing Squid: The support team performs a default installation for you, provides great customer support and very cheap prices.
There are a number of perks for selecting one of these services. Since they all partner with WordPress, they ensure a smoother setup process, cheaper costs and special features you’ll have trouble finding elsewhere. Also, a small donation goes back to WordPress.org, which is a great way to support the platform.
We recommend going with one of these three services, purely for the ease of installation, but there are a number of other popular options with which you may be more familiar, including Namecheap and GoDaddy.
3. Downloading and Installing (Without One-Click)
NOTE: If any of this has you confused or you feel in over head, please resort to using a one-click installer or WordPress.com.
If you choose to download the software without the help of a one-click install option, don’t worry too much about a complicated start; WordPress boasts about its five-minute installation process. The video above, from Elliott Media Group, is a great tutorial that takes you through the most complex parts of installation.
Before you start the installation process, make sure you have four additional ingredients for the WordPress recipe. The first is a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client, which is the way you can upload files to your website. You can download a free, legal copy of the recommended FTP client FileZilla here. Another good option is Cyberduck.
You’ll also need access to your web server (your web host should have this through its own software, via a tool like Apache), a plain text editor (Notepad on PCs, TextEdit on Macs, etc.) and, of course, your web browser of choice.
Now, go to the download page and click the button that says, “Download WordPress 3.5.1.” The software comes in a compressed ZIP file — unzip the file onto your hard drive.
You’ll need to create a database for WordPress on your web server and a MySQL user that can access all of the stored posts, comments, metadata and other information. Your hosting provider probably does this for you already, or has its own specific instructions to set it up. Otherwise, you’ll have to create one manually using either cPanel (your hosting control panel), phpMyAdmin, the MySQL Client or Direct Admin — click here to find specific instructions for each. If you’re more of a visual learner, this part of the video starts at 1:55.
You’ll need to enter this information into the file named “wp-config-sample.php,” and after that’s complete, rename it wp-config.php (this is very important). Next, you need to integrate WordPress and your domain by moving all of the contents of the unzipped WordPress directory (but not the WordPress directory file itself) into the root directory of your web server. Note that this may take some time.
Navigate to your URL by typing http://
yourname.com/wp-admin/install.php. Fill in your information, log in with the temporary username and password WordPress provides, and now you have a new website at your fingertips.
These last few steps are a bit complicated; with this basic outline in mind, check out WordPress’ extensive, detailed installation instructions here, and if you’re running into issues, look at common installation problems and their solutions here.
Themes: Building your site’s backend from scratch doesn’t mean you have to forgo the variety of themes WordPress offers. Check out WordPress.org’s directory of 1,764 themes and add some personality to your site.
Forums: With WordPress, there’s always something new to learn. Peruse the forums to find resources, articles and discussions.