A long journey…
This isn’t a guide – beginner or otherwise – to switching from WP.com to WP.org. There are plenty of those already out there. You might want to start with this one from Mashable. Instead, this is a reflection on the process from the viewpoint of a non-techy journalist. I’ll suggest a few websites that helped me and a few plugins (mostly free) which I’m finding really useful.
Most importantly, I’ll try to explain WHY your new blog isn’t appearing in a Google search. This scared me at first. What had I done wrong? Nothing, it turned out, once some friends explained a bit about how search engines work. Mostly you just have to be PATIENT. Yuck. This is what I wish I’d known before I started.
Good question. I’d been thinking about switching for a while mainly because I like using Storify and there is no reliable way to export a Storify to a WordPress.com site. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The only solution is to switch to WordPress.org where you can use a special plugin. Similarly, I was also keen to display the latest pins from my Pinterest board on “Coding for Beginners” in my sidebar – not possible unless you switch to a self-hosted account.
I also felt it would help consolidate some of the HTML/CSS skills I’d been learning on Codecademy if I had a self-hosted site I could do a bit of tinkering on.
I wanted to have control over meta-descriptions and the like. Not full blown SEO – just a bit of control.
The final straw that pushed me over the edge was purely practical. I was going to a conference and suddenly at the last minute realised that I needed business cards. I didn’t want them to be out-of-date a few months after I’d paid for them so I decided to switch websites that weekend so the business cards would be relevant.
How was the switch?
Horrific! It tested my tech skills to the max and I failed. Setting up a domain name and web host was fine (I used Laughing Squid which is one of the ones recommended by WordPress) but the actual WordPress.org installation was complicated (for me). Perhaps if I wasn’t working against a deadline (those damn business cards), I could have worked my way through it. But I didn’t have the luxury of time to research each step, I was getting frustrated and so I ended up calling on help from my husband who’s way more patient than I am.
So you might want to set aside a couple of days to do this and make sure you have a techy friend available on the end of the phone line for when you need help.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have chosen the Guided Transfer. This is where one of WordPress’ Happiness Engineers transfers your .com site to .org for you for a one-off price of $129. It would have saved me a lot of time….. but I felt it was cheating!
So let’s assume you’ve got your nice, shiny website, chosen your theme, added a header image. That’s all there is to it, right? WRONG! There are several more hoops to crawl through. You probably want to transfer the content from your old website onto your new one, you want people looking for your blog to be able to find it, you want to help people share your blogposts and a whole lot more. There are lots of plugins available. These enable you to extend the functionality of your blog in all sorts of ways. But be careful! Too many plugins slow your site down so it takes ages to load. Potential readers may not have the patience to wait. So choose your plugins with care.
- You probably want to export all the posts and pages from your old website and import them into your new one. This is not too hard or time-consuming. The WordPress instructions are pretty good and there are plenty of YouTube videos out there too. It’s a bit nerve wrecking when you get to the final stages of the export/import but it did all work for me. Stay strong!
- IMPORTANT. You’ll notice that a Google search still shows up your old wordpress.com website and doesn’t seem to find your new self hosted website at all. That’s not what you want. Ultimately, you just have to be patient. It will take the Google robots a while to trawl your website and add it to its searches. The good news is, there are a few things you can do to help. Firstly, add your blog’s new URL to Google’s webmaster tools. You then need to verify it which is a little tricky but, again, there’s help out there.
- Install the Google XML SItemap Generator plugin. This helps search engines like Google index your blog and, hopefully, show it when somebody searches for it. You can check that Google is crawling the website OK by typing “site:YourBlog.com” into a google search box. Can you see your blog listed? Cool! You can read a clear explanation of this here. Go to Q1.
- Set up a Site Redirect button on your old WordPress.com blog. You have to pay $18 a year for this but a year of redirects is probably enough. I think it’s money well spent. For example, people have linked to my blogposts from their websites. If somebody clicks on those links, they go to my old website which is not what I want. With the site redirect set up, they automatically get sent to the same post on my NEW website.
- I’m a journalist rather than an entrepreneur so I’m not looking to monetise my blog or generate a huge amount of traffic. But I do want people to find me and I do want the information displayed on search engines to encourage people to click on my blog. So I strongly recommend the All in One SEO plugin. You don’t have to delve into the Dark Arts of SEO but it is useful to have a few tricks up your sleeve and this plugin does that. For example, I like to be able to rewrite the metadescription underneath the title and URL of each post. This is what should be displayed in searches.
If you don’t write the metadescription yourself, Google just grabs a fairly random bit of text from your post and shoves it there. But be warned! Your changes to meta descriptions etc won’t show up instantly. Again, you have to be patient and wait until Google comes your way and sees the changes. It could take several weeks, I’m afraid.There are other things this plugin will do which you can explore at your leisure….
- Now you want to spend a moment sorting out your permalinks. This is how the URL of each web post will look. WordPress has a weird default mode which you will probably want to change. In default mode, it just gives your blogpost a boring number rather than the title you carefully wrote. This website by Yoast explains it well. Follow the instructions in Section 1.1.
- What I liked about WordPress.com was the social media aspect. There were easy-to-install share and like buttons so readers could share your blog posts on Facebook, Twitter etc. I also liked the stats. That stuff doesn’t come with your new wordpress.org blog but there’s an easy way to get it – the JetPack by WordPress Plugin. According to the blurb, JetPack will “supercharge your WordPress site with powerful features previously only available to WordPress.com users.”
It’s really easy to install and there are lots of bits you can customise and add. Nothing too complicated and all pretty self-explanatory, I’d say.
- I suggest installing the Aksimet plugin to deal with spam comments on your blog. It’s a slightly involved process getting your API key but not technically demanding. You can do it!
So, I reckon if you do all that, you should be good to go. You still need to be patient though. A google search for “LizHannaford” was still showing my OLD blog with no sign of my NEW one eight days after I’d set it up. Then it appeared and disappeared for a day – which was almost worse. I’m glad to report that on day nine (time of writing), it seems to have settled down. But it can take even longer than this.
Now the fun stuff!
This is where all your hard work becomes worthwhile!
My favourite bit was creating the Recent Pins in my blog’s sidebar. I had a look round various blogs for ideas and liked this one best from prettydarncute.com. It’s a little TOO cute for my needs on her blog but the css styling works great and I really like how it looks. There are plenty of other ideas around!
Finally, the reason I started this journey in the first place – Storify. I installed the Storify embed plugin. There are others. This one works very simply. I just paste the URL of the Storify into my blog post and it’s there! So I spent some time going back through my old blog posts redoing them with this new method because it just looks better.
There are loads more things I’d like to play around with and now that I’ve finally got Google’s attention, I’m going to enjoy doing that.