Now that we’ve come up with our topic, figured out how much everything is going to cost, and actually rolled up our sleeves to prep some great content, it’s time to set up the nuts and bolts of our shiny new site.
Here in Step 4, we get to play with some of the fun technology that quietly runs blogs. We’ll register a domain, set up our hosting, and get our email system up and running. We might even get rolling with a mailing service.
This step is kind of fun, but it can also be frustrating. Things sometimes go wrong – because computers can be stupid. So, before you start, gather the support contact information for your host and email provider.
That way, if something does go all kerflooey while you’re setting things up, at least you’ll know who to call. It will not be ghostbusters. I mean, it can be, but they probably won’t be able to help.
Now, as much as I’d like this to be a step-by-step guide that leads you through every mouse click and configuration option, that’s just not possible. There are so many hosts, email providers, and registrars that there’s no way to capture all the individual peculiarities specific to each one.
So this is going to be an all-purpose guide. The good news? If you’re using high quality providers and resources, everything should be easy, fast, and just work with very little hassle.
When you’re done with Step 4, you’ll have all the essential infrastructure in place to get your WordPress install up and running.
Registering A Domain Name
Back in Step 2, where we set up a budget, I talked about how there’s not a lot of difference between different domain registrars. And it’s true, they’re all pretty much the same. Sure, they all have their own sets of “special offers” and “included features,” but you don’t need any of that stuff.
You’re sure not going to host your site with Network Solutions, and you don’t need any of the security or marketing up-sells that GoDaddy offers (atadiscountonlyto peoplewhoregisteradomain, click now!).
No, no, no. All you need is the actual domain name, and any registrar can do that.
However, it might be worth spending a few minutes checking around to see if anyone is offering any sales. Because, sales do happen, and you might be able to save a couple of bucks by taking advantage of them.
In general, though, you’ll be well served by any of the big names. I’ve always used either Network Solutions or GoDaddy. Just because. I have no special reasoning behind that choice.
If you haven’t actually chosen your domain name yet, you can use the handy box below to search availability. It’s not an ad or an affiliate for this site, just a neat tool.
Some other reliable registrars:
A couple things are probably important when you register your domain:
- In addition to the .com extension, you should probably also register the .net and the .org variants. If you do grow your site into the next-big-thing, count on some shady jerk taking advantage of your failure to register those common extensions by doing it for you. Well, not for you, for him. Because, shady, remember? Even before you get to super-stardom, some search engine people postulate that the redirects from the .net and .org to the .com might count as your very first backlinks. I’m not sure about that, but I am sure that it can’t hurt.
- Register your domains for at least two years. A lot of times you can get a discount for choosing longer registration blocks, and sometimes a registrar will even throw in an extra, like a free year of privacy protection or something.
- Put your domains on auto-renew when you register. I have a true, personal, real-life horror story about not doing this. I ended up in arbitration with the official mediation committee at ICANN. A scummy jerk from half way around the world not only snapped up my domain, but also completely replicated the entire site I hosted on that domain. Like, word-for-word. It was a total mess. Oh, also, getting into arbitration cost me $1,000. That’s not an experience you want.
- Definitely – d e f i n i t e l y – spend the few extra dollars for privacy protection when you register. This will hide all of your personal information on the official domain registration records and replace it with generic information supplied by the privacy company. Unless you want literally anyone who can visit whois.sc to know your personal deets, this is money well spent.
Once your domain is registered, you’ll need to do a little configuring to get your domain to point to where your WordPress site actually lives. This is pretty easy, but the instructions vary based on your registrar and your host. We have a quick overview of the process in our article on setting up bluehost name servers. The overall process is very similar for all hosts and registrars, so don’t let the names fool you.
Read More: Setting Up Bluehost Nameservers
Setting Up Your WordPress Host
Probably 60% of the “getting started” articles on this site have at least a little bit of discussion about why it’s so critically important to choose a top tier WordPress host.
I’ve spent so much time talking about why you should choose a good host that I just don’t have anything new to say here.
If you happen to be totally new to our fine site (hi!) I’d recommend that you read through our article on hosting and then through the hosting section of our “stuff you really need” article. Those two sources will give you the skinny on why good hosting is orders of magnitude better than “ok” hosting, and how it’s actually going to save you a pile of time and money.
Overall, I recommend that all WordPress dungeon masters start with a premium host from the very beginning. Not an enterprise host that costs $5,000 a month, but a good host that starts in the neighborhood of $30 a month.
But, listen, if you absolutely cannot swing one of these hosts right away you can start with a host like Bluehost, which will only cost you like $5 a month.
Bluehost has kind of redone how they approach WordPress hosting, and have gotten rid of their old system, which was basically just WordPress tacked on to a basic shared hosting plan. Now, they have WordPress focused hosting that includes a lot of the easy-setup and easy-management features of larger hosts.
The WordPress hosting I know the best is Kinsta, because it’s the host we use. Believe it or not, the helpful folks over at Lattè Press (don’t act like my fancy è doesn’t impress you) have put together two step-by-step, click-by-click videos on how to set up a new hosting account with Kinsta and then configure your first site.
For some reason, they’ve chosen to make the videos not-embeddable-on-other-sites, so you’ll have to make do with old fashioned links
Overall, with any real WordPress host the actual process of installing WordPress and getting it ready for themes, plugins, and posts is not really a process at all – it’s all automatic. This automatic process needs very little input from you except for easy stuff like “What are we going to call this site.”
Getting Started with Email Hosting Providers
Dedicated WordPress hosts do not typically offer email hosting services.
This is a little different than signing up for a shared hosting or VPS plan at a more “traditional” host, where you can set up your own email server as a part of your hosting. It’s also better, because you won’t be saddled with the responsibility and time commitment of taking care of an email server – which can be a pain if something goes wrong.
Since you can’t host your email via your WordPress host, you’ll need to signup with one of the email hosting providers. A lot of companies offer dedicated email service, and we’ve written a walkthrough of email hosting that you can read to learn more.
Read More: The Rockstar’s Guide to Email Hosting
To simplify things, if you have no preexisting preference for a specific email host, you won’t go wrong with either GSuite (Google) or Rackspace Email Hosting. Both are fast, secure, and easy to use. Gsuite costs a couple of dollars more ($10/mo for a business account) but offers easy integration with other Google services. Rackspace is a little cheaper – generally just a few dollars a month – but will be a true standalone service. Either one is fine.
Here’s a decent video doing the click-by-click to get your email setup with GSuite.
Rackspace has an entire library of videos covering everything you could ever want to know about email. Too much, probably – unless you’re really into learning about how the secret magic of internet services works.
I poked through some of their videos and found a three-video playlist that does a good job walking you through how to add your domain to your Rackspace account and get it set up to do email handling.
Video Playlist: Adding a Domain to Rackspace Mail & Configuring Email Services
Optional: Setting up a Mailing Service
Mailing services are not the same thing as email hosts. An email host handles your normal day-to-day email. A mailing service stores and manages your email lists, lets you create the email templates you use for newsletters and other marketing/sales purposes, and sends specific batches of emails (using the newsletters and other marketing materials you’ve created) to people on your managed lists.
Mailing services aren’t really an optional item. You need to have one. From the very first day, your site should be able to collect opt-ins – people who visit your site should be able to give you their email address to sign up for a newsletter, get notified of new posts, etc.
This step is listed as “optional” because I don’t actually know which WordPress host, email host, or other back end details you’ve chosen to use. Some of the options for these services include a package of things that are kind of like a stand alone mailing service, which might be enough to get you started.
As long as you can display an email signup box, make it look nice, and send the email addresses you collect to a warehouse somewhere, that’s all you need to get started.
If you haven’t signed up with some combination of hosting and email services that includes features like this, just go signup with Mailchimp. They’re one of the best mailing services on the market, and you can start with a plan that costs none dollars per month.
That’s what we did, way back in the beginning, and it worked great. By the time we actually had to start paying $10/mo for Mailchimp, we’d already started making revenue. The free plan is generous, so this is likely to be your experience, too.
Mailchimp is easy to integrate with WordPress and is one of the “supported services” in almost every good WordPress plugin that has to do with collecting user data. That means it’s easy to use from the beginning and will scale naturally with the services you offer.
Read More / Video: Integrating Mailchimp with WordPress
Ok! Once you finish the steps above, you’ll have a full fledged platform for your blog. Your domain will be registered, your host will be setup and ready to go, your email will be humming, and you’ll even be ready to start collecting signups from your legions of new fans.
With that boring, technical stuff out of the way, we’re almost done. All that’s left is a little plugin configuration, installing a theme, and getting the content you wrote in Step 3 posted and live. Just a few more steps and your blog will be live and rocking. Cool.
All Done with Step Four? Onward to Step 5: Themes & Plugins