So a few weeks ago I launched a new design for Joyfully Jay. At the same time I moved the blog from Blogger to WordPress It was quite an involved undertaking and one for which I needed a lot of cyber handholding from other folks who had gone through the process and shared their experiences. So I thought I would take some time to pay it forward, share how things went for me, and hopefully offer some advice to other people looking to do the same. I know right now many of my regular readers won’t care much about this, but I hope you will bear with me. And to any new folks reading, welcome!
Before I start I want to say that I am by no means an expert. I am merely sharing my experiences and hope they are interesting and helpful to someone. But please don’t use my limited knowledge and experience as your sole guidance. YMMV
So why did I do this in the first place? Well, first off, I was having some problems with getting my scheduled posts to work on Blogger. For about a week this feature was totally down and it made things really challenging. I will admit, the decision was largely born out of frustration. But I also heard nothing but positive things from folks using WordPress. I sort of relate it to the Mac and PC thing. PC users seem to range from unhappy to satisfied. But no one out there is singing the praises of how wonderful their PC is. It works, they like it, life is fine. Mac users on the other hand are near fanatical in their love for their computers and accessories (I will admit to being a super fan myself). Now I don’t think the Blogger/WP thing is quite that extreme, but you get the idea. People just seemed to love using WP. And I figured if I was going to make the move, I should do it when I did my redesign.
When I first started, I knew nothing about WP at all. I had to do a little reading just to understand what I was looking at. So for you all starting out, the first thing to know is that there are two different types of WP set ups. First, there is the “free” WP that works pretty much just like Blogger, called wordpress.com. You sign up for an account and get a blog URL with “wordpress.com” in it. You can choose from among the free WP themes (designs) and make some minor customization and you are ready to start blogging. For the most part, Blogger and wp.com work the same, although sometimes the terms are different. Blogger calls their sidebar items “gadgets” and WP calls them “widgets” for example. But the process is pretty similar and this is the fastest and easiest way to get a WP site live.
The downside of these wordpress.com sites is that customization is limited. You can choose from a bunch of themes, but the options for adapting these themes are more limited than I found with Blogger. You can pay an annual fee that gives you some additional font and design options, but you can’t make major design changes to these free themes and you can’t use your own custom design like you can with Blogger. The only way to have a custom design (as far as I have learned) is to get a wordpress.org account.
Now, I knew I was doing a redesign and that I am a control freak with my blog, so I could tell right away this was the route I would need to go. So how does this work?
First, you need to have a custom domain. This is when you use your own URL rather than the default one with WP or blogger in the name (www.joyfullyjay.com rather than joyfullyjay.blogspot.com). This is an easy process, you can buy a custom domain pretty cheaply. I think mine was $10 for a year.
The trickier part is that you need to host your site yourself with WP.org rather than through Blogger or WordPress like you do with the other accounts. Which means for most folks, you need to find a web host and this costs money (unless you are one of those wonderfully techy people who can host their own web site at home). I did a lot of looking for a good web host. Prices vary WIDELY. I mean, by hundreds of dollars a month. Honestly, cost was my biggest consideration and I went for the cheapest ones I could find and then made some phone calls. Most of the ones I considered were under $7/month. Some other things to think about:
- Tech Support – This was my number one issue after cost. I like to have someone real to talk to when I have a problem. I don’t want to just have to go to a forum and try to figure it out. I call all the time for help with random things (I bet I am the only person you know who has called the toll free numbers on the back of food packages with questions! Many times.). So some things to think about… How easy is it to get help when you need it? Do they have 24/7 support in the language you need? Are they familiar with WordPress and can they help out with basic WP questions? Can you talk to a live person or only through email? Do they have a good website with support resources?
- Contract – How long are you locked in for? Do they have a trial period during which you can get a refund? There is a lot of fancy footwork happening with some of these places. They promise a prorated refund in the first 30 days or whatever, but in reality, once you back out all their mandatory fees you get next to nothing (seriously, I read an analysis of the numbers from one place and it was like $3 back out of $30). Also, most of the prices you see quoted are for multiyear contracts and monthly costs are higher for shorter terms, so be sure you know what you are paying for. And find out the monthly fee AFTER the contract ends. Usually it is higher than your initial contract cost.
- Reviews – These were hard to find but I did look online to get some user experiences with the different companies. I wanted to see what folks thought and how happy they were.
After doing my research I ended up with Web Hosting Hub. Their service prices were reasonable, they knew what I was talking about when I asked questions on the phone about my particular situation, and they were easy to work with. Since I signed on I have called support NUMEROUS times and have always been more than satisfied. So I am happy with my choice, but there are lots of good options out there.
So now that you have your site, you will need a design. WordPress offers many free themes and there are tons more out there made by third parties. Some are free and some you buy. Each has varying levels of customization that I think an average person coming in can probably handle. But unless you are pretty knowledgeable with CSS and other techy stuff, you may want a designer for something more complex and custom. I started looking at redesigning my site before I even considered moving to WP and did a lot of research. As with Web hosts, prices vary widely. I wanted something more personalized than just buying a premade theme/design, but I didn’t want to spend a fortune for a custom created web site with original graphics and complex site structure. I ended up working with Lori from Imagination Designs. Lori uses predesigned scrapbook kits as the foundation for her artwork which keeps the costs down tremendously. But she has a huge list of artists she works with and there are many options you can choose from so you have a lot of flexibility in your look. If you are interested in more details on my design process, just email me and I am happy to chat more. But I will say Lori was a pleasure to work with. I am a high maintenance, total control freak and the fact that she didn’t kill me before the process was over is a testament to her patience. She made endless adjustments for me and totally got my vision for the site. I couldn’t recommend her more highly.
Making the Move
Ok, so now you have your custom domain, you have your web host, and you have your design. So how do you actually move this thing? I’ll be honest, this was a bit complicated and not for the faint of heart. If I had the money, in hindsight I probably would have hired a company to make the move for me. But as I said, cost was a big issue for me and I did it all myself, with the help of some great online resources. I did a lot of reading ahead of time and found two online guides that were really helpful. The first is a free guide from a company that also does paid migration services: http://bloggertowp.org/migrate-from-blogger-to-wordpress-best-tutorial/. The second was done by another blogger who wrote about her expriences: http://www.beautifully-invisible.com/2010/11/part-one-so-you-want-to-move-from-blogger-to-wordpress.html. Both of them followed similar, but slightly different, processes. The latter site is a little older and some of the screen shots are out of date. I sort of combined them together and did my best. I also read through Lori’s experiences with her own migration which helped me quite a lot.
I will say, even following these instructions, I had a few glitches. I could never completely achieve a successful one to one redirect of posts from my old Blogger account to WP. Either readers got a warning they were moving from one site to the other, or the old blogspot links took you to my new WP home page rather than the specific post. In the end, I figured folks would rather come right to my site without the warning so I chose that option but it wasn’t perfect. Other than that, nothing major, but it there was definitely some clean up involved that is still in process (more details on that tomorrow).
The other thing to note is that if you already have a custom domain you are using on your Blogger site like I was, things are a bit trickier. If you are considering the move at all, personally I would wait on the custom domain until you make the move if you don’t already have one. The reason is that you want to be able to build your WP site and get it all ready before you move your content over. If you are using a custom domain already, you need to somehow hide your new site so you can see and it work on it, but before you are ready to redirect users there. My host helped me set up my home computer so I could see my WP site but no one else could until I was ready. And some places will give you temporary space to build your site. So it is not a major hurdle, but it is easier if you can do it all at once.
Ok, so those are the basics. Decide you are going to make the move. Get a custom domain, get a web host, get a designer. Read about how to migrate your site, then do it! Got all that?
So in tomorrow’s post I will talk a bit more about this process, focusing mostly on setting up my site, choosing plug ins, and other stuff you will deal with post migration. Thanks for listening and hope this helped someone!