Want to make your own custom blog? Here’s how.

wordpress design header

Want to share your JET experience with the world but don’t want just any old Blogger blog? Wide Island View Webmaster Joshua Zimmerman shows us just how easy — and cheap — it is to set up your very own custom blog with a custom domain name.

By Joshua Zimmerman

One of the wonderful benefits of being in Japan is that it leaves you with a lot of very weird stories to tell your friends and family back home. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, there are numerous ways to keep people back home informed of your adventures in Asia. In this article I’m going to show you how, for the low price of ¥1,000 ($9.24) you can set up your own blog with a custom domain name, and it’s just as easy to do as writing an e-mail.

Did you know that the Wide Island View website is just a glorified WordPress blog running regular blog software? In fact, the basic functions of the entire site took only 10 minutes to set up, and most of that time was spent waiting for online software to install itself! That’s how easy it is to set up an impressive-looking, and highly functional, personal blog.

Step 1:  Buying server space

There are two easy ways to set up a blog. For those who don’t wish to spend any money, you can always just go to WordPress.com and sign up for a free blog through them. If you do choose this option, skip down quite a bit.

For those who can spend the ¥1,000 ($9.24), you can get your own domain name, a lot of storage space, and more control by heading on over to Dreamhost.com. Dreamhost is a popular online Web hosting company known for its very low prices and decent service. While not the best in the industry, it’s pretty much perfect for the casual user.

Once at Dreamhost.com, sign up for an account. Be sure to think carefully when choosing a personalized domain name, because you only have one chance to sign up for your free one.

1 pick a domain

Then choose the Full Hosting option, either for one year or two years. Don’t worry, we’re going to use a promotional code and your first year will only cost you ¥1,000 ($9.24)

2 free trial

Then fill out your personal contact information.

After that, pick a username.  IMPORTANT:  Under “Promotional Code”, put in “777”.  This is Dreamhost’s never-ending promotion that makes your first year only ¥1,000 ($9.24).

Then fill out your credit card information for payment. You should also see your promotional rate in effect here as well, with a hefty “$110.16 off” listed.

3 credit card

If for some reason you’re presented with a whole bunch of options to buy or install, just ignore them and finish your buying. (I was unable to go any further to take screen shots without signing up for another account. I’m sure you’ll do fine.)

Now we wait for Dreamhost to send you your account information. This could take up to an hour, so now would be a good time to get a cup of tea.

Step 2: Installing WordPress

Signing up for Dreamhost was actually the hard part of this whole setup. Seriously. Once you’ve gotten your account set up, and all the confirmation emails, you need to log into your account. Go to panel.dreamhost.com and log in.

Once within Dreamhost, you’ll need to install the WordPress Blog Software. In case you don’t know, WordPress is a very popular, free, and highly flexible blog software. To do this, click on the “One-Click Installs”.

You’ll have two options, “Easy” and “Advanced”. You’ll want to pick “Advanced” in order to have more control. Don’t worry, WordPress is really easy to use.

Now choose WordPress from the long list of install options. (It should by default be the first thing checked.)

4 wordpress install

Now below you have an option as to where on your Web space you’d like your blog to be installed. The easiest option is to just leave it blank.

5 wordpress location

Click the “Install” option and wait for an e-mail from Dreamhost. If you’ve not done so already, go have a cup of tea.

Step 3: Setting up WordPress

WordPress is darned easy to setup, really. Once you have a confirmation e-mail from Dreamhost, click on the link. It will take you to the WordPress setup.

Enter in the username and password that was in your e-mail from Dreamhost.

Once in WordPress, you’ll have to choose a blog title and also put in your e-mail address.

Now you’re free to do what you like within WordPress (the first thing you should do is change your password). Give yourself a pat on the back — you now have a blog! Now you’ll just have to add content…

Step 4: Understanding WordPress

Using WordPress is a lot like using Web-based e-mail. You log into it, type up an entry, upload pictures if you want, and then post. WordPress is set up so that the average user will never have to deal with html code unless they want to.

Within WordPress, you’ll see  a big toolbar on the lefthand side. Most of the options there should be more or less self-explanatory, but you should just click on each option once and familiarize yourself with everything. Go on. We’ll wait.

6 wordpress tools

Themes

The first thing we’re going to talk about is installing new Themes. Themes are pre-made blog designs that you can install at any time. In fact, you can switch between Themes with only a single click. For the new user, the easiest way to install Themes is by using your built-in WordPress software (if you want to do it manually, you’ll need to use ftp. So just do a Google search). Click on Appearance and then Add New Themes. Now all you have to do is search for the type of Theme you want based on color, columns, or features. Once you find one you like, just click Install and you’re done.

7 themes

To activate the Theme, just click on Appearance and Themes, and then click Activate. Very easy. Feel free to install as many as you want; changing Themes will never mess with things that you write.

Widgets

Think of widgets as little single purpose programs that you can install on your blog. These can range from widgets that display the most recent comments to widgets that display your Flickr pictures. Widgets make up a big part of the Wide Island View website. Everything you see on the right of the page is controlled by various widgets. Besides being very simple to set up, one of the best parts about widgets is that you can move them around your website with ease. By going into Appearances and then to Widgets you will see a list of available widgets as well as locations where you can put them. Just drag a widget from the middle to where you want it. To download and install widgets, keep reading.

8 widgets

Plugins

Plugins refer to any bit of extra software you install into WordPress, such as widgets. There is a plethora of plugins for WordPress that do everything from keeping track of visitors to your page to automatically making photo libraries. Just like Themes, you can use the WordPress interface to find and install plugins. Just click on Plugins and then on Add New. Search by topic or keyword, then click Install. To delete them, or even to just deactivate them, click on Plugins and then Installed.

9 plugins

Upgrades

Every so often WordPress or a Plugin will let you know that there is a new version available. To upgrade, just click on the appropriate Upgrade link. WordPress will download, install, and replace the old version with the new version. If you’re using a lot of plugins, then you’ll probably have upgrade requests every week.

Backup

Things can go wrong, and the last thing you’ll want to lose are all your blog entries. WordPress has a backup option which you should use every month or so. Just go to Tools and then Export.

10 export

How the Wide Island View works

I wasn’t kidding when I said that the basic functions of the Wide Island View were up and running within 10 minutes, even though it was my first time using WordPress. What took many hours of work was putting all the old articles online as well as organizing all the content into proper categories. Below is a list of what makes the Wide Island View run, some of which might help out on your future blog.

Themes:

Arthemia – A free magazine style layout.

WordPress Mobile Edition – Makes a cell phone friendly version of the page.

WPtouch – Makes a smartphone (iPhone) friendly version of the page.

Widgets:

Paypal Donations – Helps others donate.

WordPress Google Calendar – Links with Google calendars.

Extended Category Widget – Just adds some extra functions to Categories.

Plugins:

Lightbox 2 – Makes pictures pop up when clicked on.

Smart Youtube – Makes it easy to put YouTube videos into your posts.

statpress – Tracks who and what visits your page.

Step 5: Actually writing something

Well, if you’ve made it this far then you’ve probably gotten everything installed. Now you’ve just got to write something. Be it long stories about your students, or pictures of your island, just be sure to actually post stuff from time to time. The Web is littered with JET blogs that only contain two or three posts. If you want people to read your blog, actually have stuff for them to read.

I hope this little guide was helpful for you in some way. If you have any problems, post them here or do some Google searching. Most WordPress problems can be cleared up by searching Google. If you actually use this guide to make a blog, post it here as well — we’d like to read all about your JET adventures.

One comment