Flashback Thursday #5
Happy Thursday, minna-san! The month of May I focused on Asian Addicts Anonymous‘s start and first year (2010). For the month of June, it’s time to focus on this blog’s sophomore year (2011). I think the biggest happening in 2011 was moving AAA off of WordPress.com and going self-hosted. You know, with going self-hosted, I always forget that my Blogaversary is in February as I went self-hosted in April. Confusing, right?
You know, in the blogging world, it’s a natural progression from going to WordPress.com to a custom domain to eventually self-hosted when you think the time is right and you think you want to have more say and control over your website. For me…it was NOT a natural progression. I started this site to learn WordPress. In 2011, my boss found renewed vigor to trying to move our website to this publishing platform so the next step was me learning the finer things about self-hosted WordPress. I was wholly unprepared for this experience.
Seeing blogging friends moving from the little pond of WordPress.com to their own self-hosted sites recently made me nostalgic and makes me realize just how little I really knew when I made my move. I didn’t search for a host and went with the one my boss recommended as that is the host he was planning on using. I took a deep breath and bought a two-year hosting plan at a relatively cheap price. That was a pretty big commitment, but I was fairly certain this site was not just a hobby and I would keep working at it. I figured I would just purchase the domain with the hosting package. At least I knew what I wanted my URL to be and it was available! That was about it.
If I had known better I would have researched hosting companies and considered things like bandwidth usage, etc. I also would not have bought a plan with things that I really didn’t need…like Sitelock. That unnecessary stuff just adds to a larger bill especially when your introductory rates go bye-bye. I also would have looked into site migration. There are a number of hosts who will guide you through a transfer of your current site to your self-hosted site and makes things much easier on you.
So what all did I do wrong? Oy. It really was a hot mess. Some people decide to just start fresh and leave their old blog up and just have the newer posts going forward on the new site. Not me. I wanted everything on one site. So how did I get it there? The WordPress import and export feature. If you’re site is relatively small, it’s not a bad feature. You download your site as an XML file and import that file to your new site. Voila! Your content has now (hopefully) been successfully transferred.
So far so good. But this is where the problem comes. You see, the options in your settings are more intense in self-hosted WordPress vs. what you see on .com. I did something and totally broke my site within hours…or maybe it was a few days. How embarrassing. I’m not sure why, but in all the troubles I had when self-hosting, I’ve never, ever once called tech support. So how did I fix the horribly broken site? Well, I delete that broken instance and installed a fresh one and imported everything again. Oh, I lost all the changes and new posts I had made. Good for me. In all honesty this guffaw did not make me aware of how important a good database backup would be. I think my second major loss was in 2012 and that finally got me on the backup bandwagon.
I’m not sure when I first decided to do a local site as a test site. You don’t get 100% accurate results on a test site using MAMP or WAMP, but I did learn the value of experimentation NOT on the live site. You don’t know how many database errors, PHP errors, and white screens of death I’ve created over my time on my live site. A sandbox site is the best place, as Miss Frizzle always says, to “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”
WordPress can be relatively simple and straightforward. You do not need to be a coder and there really is a giant supportive community. But I was at a loss. Themes, plugins, what did I get out of the box and what did I need? What is a good plugin or theme? I had your usual basic themes and then I tried out some custom ones from probably not good sources. Really, it was a learning curve and sometimes in a very bad way. It wasn’t until yet again that my boss got on the WordPress bandwagon that I began to really learn more. Plus, when my site and ideas kept growing, I needed to learn more things to get things like I wanted them.
I now have learned how to vet plugins and themes better. I’ve learned a bit about site optimization and caching. I’ve learned more about HTML and CSS and I’ve tried to dabble in MySQL and PHP. My goal has always been, and I think will always be, to completely design a theme for AAA one of these days and have it customized to the way that I truly want it to be. Of course, in order to do that, I’d have to take the plunge back to self-hosted.
So, take some advice from a seasoned pro at making all the wrong choices. Don’t follow my example. Do your research. Decide what you need and what you want. Decide on how much control you want to have yourself. I don’t think you have to go out and learn things you don’t know if you have no idea about coding. I also don’t think you have to hire an expensive expert. You can do this yourself, but it really is being aware of what you want and figuring out how to get it. I do think it’s a good skill set to have to attempt learning some finer points of basic coding and trying to understand what makes this CMS platform tick. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of fellow bloggers and of the platform community. Don’t be afraid to use tech support.
Whatever you do:
- Make sure you have a site backup plan implemented and in place and you know how to use it or you can ask your techies to help you recover from a backup.
- Don’t keep changing your permalink system. Google doesn’t like it. People trying to access your site from old links don’t like it. See…there is a bit of self-redirection built in, but you do end up having to set up some redirects yourself and that can be a bit more complicated than you’re wiling to go.
- Try to have a local version of your site created for experimentation. Always good to try out new things there and muck things up than breaking your real site.
- Vet plugins and themes. Are these from reliable WordPress community members? A good plugin or theme is streamlined without yards of unnecessary code. There is a plugin that is a theme checker. I recommend having it on your local version and testing out new themes with it there. It will let you know when a theme is a bad egg.
- Educate yourself on the basics. It won’t hurt. It’s not wholly necessary, but I always think its a good idea to have an idea how things work.
- Don’t destroy your original blog. Yes. Yes, I did. One of the stupidest decisions I have ever made. Thinking back now, I should have had a full backup before doing that…one that didn’t get deleted with computer crashes and when I was done with it. Shakes head. Bad form, NeeNee, bad form.
- Make sure to research on hosting companies.
- Make sure to have a plan in place. This is your site now on .com…what do you want going forward with your self-hosted site?
I can actually keep going and keep giving you advice from all of my major f*ckups. I can. If you want some more basic blogging tips, you can check out the blogging 101 posts I made a year or so ago. They aren’t brilliant or anything, but gives you some ideas. I’ve come far. I’ve learned a lot. And I still have much more to learn. A person should never stop educating themselves in new things. Keeps the mind fresh and young after all.