Making the Move from Paid WordPress to Self-Hosted
Welcome to the second post in a four-part post series on my move from Paid WordPress to Self-Hosted! These posts will discuss my lessons learned and tips you can use (even on Free WordPress!) to improve your website.
At the end of June I made the scary leap to self-hosted for my blog, and I was surprised how easy moving to self-hosted from paid WordPress was! I’d heard horror stories from friends who broke their site and spent weekends fixing it, which was the main reason I didn’t go self-hosted last year when I decided to buy a domain.
If you are a blogger considering making the move to self-hosted from WordPress (either free or paid), this guide is for you! I will go over the actual steps I took, how long of a process it is, and a couple of things I’ve learned since. This is a long post, but it should answer all of your questions!
Things to Consider Before Getting Started
Whether you are on a paid or free plan on WordPress.com, there are a few things that I’d recommend considering before taking the plunge.
- Your blog statistics and post likes will not move (unless you pay an addition $149 to Automattic to make it happen). Your post comments will migrate. What this means is your older posts will have all the original comments, but there will not be any post likes and prior page views won’t carry over. For an example, Reading Around the Globe was posted on August 16, 2018. It has 96 comments but only 2 likes; the likes came in once I moved hosts.
- Your original blog hosted on WordPress.com will not go away. I started on a free wordpress site in March 2018 and upgraded to paid in July 2018. At that time, the free version of my site automatically redirected to the new domain. I was concerned that since the free version no longer existed, I would lose all the data on my original blog so I backed everything up via excel. But that wasn’t necessary! Once I pointed my domain to the new host, my wordpress.com blog reverted back to the free version and all my data is still there (I just lost my pretty premium theme and CSS, so be sure to save that stuff first!).
- It is best to be on a blog hiatus while you migrate your site. Once you move your posts and comments over to your new webhost, any new comments or posts made on your old site won’t be carried over. This is why I turned off blog comments completely and halted my posting while I moved hosts.
- Give yourself time so you aren’t rushed! My move took two weeks, but that was largely because I was redesigning my site. It took some time to find a new theme and for my commissioned header and site button to be designed.
- The one bummer I’ve noticed is pingbacks don’t seem to work 100%. This is weird because I am using the Jetpack plugin so it should function, but I get very few now that I’m self-hosted.
The Process of Moving
Congratulations on making the decision to go self-hosted! I honestly believe that it is the better option for blogs looking to own their own domain because it’s cheaper and you have a lot more control.
1. Research web hosts to find one that meets your level of experience and budget.
I have prior experience running websites, but didn’t want the hassle of breaking my site or nightmare weekends. I wanted a host with customer service and features which streamlined the process for me. I did a lot of research, and after chatting with Christine about her experience I decided to go with SiteGround. Other popular hosts for book bloggers are Lyrical Host and managed hosting with Nose Graze.
I was impressed with the amount of space provided and their 24/7 customer service (not to mention the price). So after finding my front runner, I decided to test their customer service and ask a bunch of questions before getting locked into a plan.
2. Ask lots of questions!
My main concerns were having the ability to redesign the look of my blog without changing the visiting experience for my visitors, additional costs (domain registration, themes, security certificate), cancellation policy, and that I would be able to take advantage of their free website migration.
SiteGround has a 30-day cancellation policy if you are unsatisfied, which gave me the peace of mind that I needed. Domain registration is a little pricey through SiteGround ($15.95), but I got a free year renewal for transferring my domain over before it expired with wordpress. If you are currently on paid wordpress, I recommend starting a month before your domain expires to take advantage of this; there needs to be at least 15 days remaining. Domain transfer takes up to 10 days to complete but you do not need to point the domain to your new site until you’re ready.
I’d recommend ensuring that you have a 100% money-back guarantee with whoever you decide to go with.
3. Once you’re ready to make your purchase, get ready for a hiatus.
I recommend taking a little break while you move everything over and get all set up. Not only will anything posted or new comments that come in after migration not move over, but I just didn’t want to deal with content creation while building a new site.
I made an announcement post about the hiatus and turned off comments on my blog. WordPress doesn’t make this easy to do – I had to do it manually through WordPress Admin (your website address/admin).
4. Make your purchase and submit a ticket for migration (or migrate yourself).
One of the main reasons I was super excited about going with SiteGround is they would take care of moving my posts and comments over and installing WordPress for me. Sure, I could do it, but I didn’t want to. Since I had already chosen my theme, I asked them to install it for me at the same time. I got an email notification when it was done and was able to get to work on the redesign!
The import/export is super easy to do yourself if you need to. On your current website, go to tools > export and select that you want to export all content. You will then upload the export file on your new site via the import function on WP-admin (see step 6a for more information about navigating and designing).
5. Find your perfect theme!
You have access to any of the 5,000+ free themes available on WordPress.org when you are self-hosted, which is awesome! You can browse the themes here even before you get started to streamline the process. It is a simple install once you are ready!
6. If you are moving from paid wordpress, change your computer’s local DNS so you can work on the new site.
I didn’t want my blog’s visitors to see a site under construction and I didn’t want to take it down to put under construction while I worked. I wanted people to have access to my guides and reviews, so I needed to change my computer’s DNS settings.
This sounded really scary to me, so I Live Chatted with SiteGround’s support and they talked me through it. Turns out it was very easy to do and it allowed me to use “readervoracious.com ” to build the website, regardless of the domain name’s current DNS settings. When my computer went to readervoracious.com, I saw the new site. Everyone else saw the old one.
NOTE: This step isn’t necessary if you are moving from a free wordpress website because your custom domain isn’t already being used. You can build your website and launch whenever you are ready without needing to redirect the domain.
6a. How to build new website.
Since you are coming from a WordPress blog, it is very similar to what you are used to… you just have a lot more options now! To edit your website, go to yourdomain.com/wp-admin and you will be greeted with the WordPress admin panel.
As you can see, there is a lot there for you (but know everything between comments and appearance in the menu options are plugins). The dashboard is fully customizable with tiles that you can add and move around. To begin building your site, go to appearance > customize. The page that comes up should look familiar to you! If you haven’t already installed your theme, you can browse via this menu as well.
I did all of my design with Additional CSS in the customize editor, I never needed to go into the theme itself to tinker around with it (but I don’t recommend you edit your theme unless you know coding and what you are doing).
7. When you are ready, redirect your domain to the new website.
Once you are finished, change your computer’s host file back by deleting the code you entered. The last step will be to update your domain URL to point to your new website instead of your old one hosted on WordPress.com. This is called DNS Propagation, and can take up to 72 hours to complete globally. For me it took about 12 hours, and you can check the progress with DNSchecker.org. There may be a few bumps initially so patience here is a virtue – don’t announce right when it updates for you because people elsewhere may not have it updated yet.
NOTE: This step isn’t necessary if you are moving from a free wordpress website. All you have to do is share your new URL and make a post on your free wordpress blog directing them to your new domain.
8. Install essential plugins (Jetpack).
I have a list of the plugins I use and recommend in the next section, and you can add them at any time. But the one plugin that you definitely want to have installed is Jetpack. This plugin is designed by the WordPress.com team and brings some features over to self-hosted websites (wordpress followers, likes, a simple comment box).
You don’t want to setup Jetpack too early – I waited until propagation ended to set it up – but it is very easy to do. The cool thing is it links your blog with WordPress.com so you can continue to use the site that way if you want to.
You’ll have access to your WordPress Reader if you use it for blog hopping, and once you update your Gravatar information all comments that you make will direct people to your new blog.
9. Migrate your wordpress and email followers.
You cannot do this step until your domain is pointed to your new domain, and you definitely don’t want to move people before you are ready to come off hiatus. It takes very little time to migrate your followers, though!
Visit your new website via WordPress.com and go to Manage > Settings > Discussion. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Migrate followers from another site.”
You’ll get an email once it is finished, and it took maybe 20 minutes. I did seem to lose 49 followers from the change; I am not sure if it was people unfollowing or if something weird happened. But better than asking everyone to re-follow you!
10. Add a WordPress follow button on your self-hosted blog!
Lastly, you will need to manually add a WordPress follow button to make it easier for people to follow you. Make sure that subscriptions are activated by going to Manage > Settings > Discussion.
Go to the develop site to create your follower button and add the code onto your website!
I don’t use a lot of plugins, but I want to provide you with a list of the free ones I use that I find invaluable. To add plugins, go to Plugins > Add New and search for the name(s) of the plugins you want to install.
Accessibility by UserWay – this free plugin adds an accessibility menu to your blog to help visitors with disabilities access your website better. It’s very easy to set up.
Akismet Anti-Spam – my spam problem honestly went away once I moved to self-hosted, and I am not sure if Akimset is better or not. But I am not getting 100+ spam comments a day anymore to review.
Classic Editor – if you don’t want to use the wordpress blocks, you will need to add this plugin so you can use the classic post editor.
DMCA Website Protection Badge – I wanted to protect my website from copyright infringement, and added the badge via a plugin for easy displaying.
Duplicate Post – I copy template posts to streamline things, so this is a must!
Elementor – Essentially with this plugin you are able to build a page with multiple elements without needing to code it with HTML.
I built my homepage using the Elementor plugin by creating a homepage (you can also edit any post or page with Elementor if you want).
Font Awesome – be able to use font awesome icons on your blog!
GDPR Cookie Consent – IMPORTANT to comply with EU Cookie Law / GDPR.
NG Scroll Box – ever wonder how I have book synopses in scrollboxes? I use this free plugin design by Nosegraze instead of HTML. I downloaded the file from Ashley’s site and installed it.
Redirection – sets up redirects. This is especially important if you change your post naming structure when you move to self hosted to not include post dates.
Smush – this is an awesome image optimizer that helps reduce space and helps SEO.
TinyMCE Advanced – added additional features to the classic editor panel – I did it for font sizes.
UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore – Create backups of your website so you can easily restore if something goes wrong.
What I’m Reading – This is also a free NoseGraze plugin, and is how I have the pretty What I’m Reading widget. I downloaded the file from Ashley’s site and installed it.
Yoast SEO – powerful and free tools to boost and improve your SEO (search engine optimization).
The last six weeks has been full of learning and excitement, the vast majority of my experiences being incredibly positive! Honestly, barring not getting notifications for pingbacks is a small price to pay for how much control I have over my website now and cut my hosting costs by 50%.
Going self-hosted sounds really scary, but I promise you with a good host it’s really seamless! I am so glad that I decided to go with SiteGround because their customer service is absolutely stellar. I haven’t run into any issues and am so happy that I locked in hosting with them for three years!
This post is #notsponsored, but I did join their affiliate program because I truly believe in them and the services they provide. If you are considering going self-hosted, check SiteGround out using my link – if you decide to go with them, I’ll get a little money to help support the blog & Flapping Pages at no additional cost to you (and it works with promo pricing).
The next post in my Lessons Series will be how to properly use headers in your posts to help your SEO! I never really cared about SEO when I was on WordPress.com, but now I am digging DEEP and have lots of tips for you… even on free wordpress!
Let’s go on another adventure together!