Need help with WordPress basics
July 31, 2008 2:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out WordPress, but I'm not sure I'm getting it. In fact, it's making me feel stupid (bad WP, baaad). Going through the AskMe posts isn't helping either, because you are all such geeks so ahead it further extends my confusion. Please help!

Here's the deal: I'm running a regular blog for a small business, and I want to buy a domain and map it. I know WP does this directly just by pressing a button, but they don't offer e-mail (or the possibility for it) and I want it (via Google Apps, most likely). Can I just register the domain and then map it to the blog? Is it as easy as they claim or will I get lost in a bunch of settings I don't understand? Is there a clear HowTo that I don't know about?

Also, will that give me the ability to alter the blog's code, or in order to do that do I need to get it hosted outside WP? From my understanding, the answer is yes - so if I decide to stick to the free WP for now, and later decide I want the full flexibilty, can I transfer it easily without loosing everything or having to start from scratch?

(Remember, I'm not a programmer. I am a bit techy, but obviously not enough... *Sigh*)
posted by neblina_matinal to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Firstly, the can map your domain to your blog whenever you like. The details are in the third question on this page. It should be as easy as they claim. Make sure though that the place where you register your domain gives you a control panel where you can configure nameservers.

I don't think WordPress allow you to modify your blog's code, but you do have the option to transfer your data to your own hosting arrangement whenever you like. So no starting from scratch.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:58 AM on July 31, 2008

I can't answer the questions about hosted solutions since I host my own Wordpress setup, but you can certainly modify the Wordpress code. More often than not though, you'll find themes that can make your blog look the way you want and plugins that add desired functionality. I've generally found that very little actual messing with the code is necessary.

Your best bet might be to set up a local test install to use as a staging area, so you can play around and learn in a non-production environment. If you're on Windows, an install of XAMPP will give you all of the "framework" pieces you'll need...Apache, MySQL and PHP.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:24 AM on July 31, 2008

The first thing you need to understand is the distinction between and The former, which it sounds like you're using, is a hosted solution that offers very limited flexibility. The latter is the home of the open-source platform that you can download and install on your own server.

So, (1) register your domain and activate your hosting account; (2) go to and download the latest distribution and install it; (3) poke around under the hood and see if it starts to make more sense.
posted by jbickers at 3:27 AM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: Points of information:

1. Yes, I'm on right now. And yes, the .com vs. .org has added to the confusion. Also because they say "easy 5 minute install" then they talk of PHP and SQL and honestly I feel out of my depth. (Am I being unadventurous and it's actually easy..? It's hard for me to tell because it's not like I can play around with it before commiting to it).

3. I'm on a Mac.
posted by neblina_matinal at 3:41 AM on July 31, 2008

Also because they say "easy 5 minute install" then they talk of PHP and SQL and honestly I feel out of my depth.

Depending on who's hosting your domain, this might be spectacularly easy. There's a single file in Wordpress that you'll have to edit - config.php - that tells the software where to locate your MySQL database and what your username and password are. That's it. From there, piece of cake.

So, go to the website of whoever your hosting company is (or, if it's being hosted in-house, talk to your IT guy) and find out what the process is for creating a new MySQL database on your server. Once that's created, get the username and password for that database. That's all you'll need.
posted by jbickers at 3:46 AM on July 31, 2008

The .com is the commercial side of WordPress - they do the paid-for blog hosting.

The .org is where you go to download the installation files to get it up and running on your own server. Really the 5-minute install is only going to be easy and comprehensible to someone who is used to uploading stuff with FTP, knows the login details for the MySQL database server, and can set file permissions and edit code. It's not particularly complex, but I think if I were a non-web-developer I'd be nervous about what to do. Sent you a MeMail in case you need help outside the thread.

The fact that you're on a mac is not really relevant unless you plan to install WP on your mac for development purposes (and I'd guess you're not).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:53 AM on July 31, 2008

I use Dreamhost to host my domain, but I am sure other hosts offer similar. They offer automatic install of Google domain apps and one-click install of Wordpress with a dozen default themes.
The beauty of this arrangement is they take care of any security patches and will upgrade to new versions for you. You really don't need to know anything about databases or even HTML.

I found that a bit restrictive, I wanted a different theme, so installed a local version that allows full customisation (that is, it is a software program installed on my bit of disk at my hosts datacentre). Doing this requires more knowledge of databases etc. and you will be responsible for your own security etc. although it isn't really that tricky.
posted by bystander at 4:08 AM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: I suppose getting outside hosting would only make sense in order to have it fully costumizable, yes. And definitely, as it stands, I don't feel confident enough to do it... But I can always learn, that's for sure.

How about the "Custom CSS" upgrade? Doesn't that do the trick? I don't want a flash page or anything fancy (or that would require anything other than CSS), it's only text and images... Anyone tried that upgrade?

(and I promise I know how to count. I do, really).
posted by neblina_matinal at 4:20 AM on July 31, 2008

The Custom CSS upgrade will allow you to customise the layout of the pages - fonts, colours, images, margins, borders etc etc. With that you can do a lot.

It won't allow you to (for example) create a different page layout for a particular category, or to add or change a feature in a way that you can't do via the admin pages.

Given that you're not ready to delve into editing actual code, the only significant argument I can think of in favour of outside hosting is that you'd have access to a huge array of third-party themes, as opposed to the 60 or so that come with the hosted version.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:32 AM on July 31, 2008

Although it obviously depends exactly what you have in mind, a combination of choosing a template and using the Custom CSS option should give you plenty of flexibility as far as a "text and images" blog is concerned. I've used that upgrade and it's very straightforward.

As le morte says, hosting it yourself would give you more templating options, but there should be enough in the 60 that are installed on

You should be able to set up email at the domain, but it's unlikely you'll be able to use Google Apps to do it. And you'll need to work out that side of things with the domain registrar -- just email their support and ask them before you commit to anything.
posted by robcorr at 6:56 AM on July 31, 2008

If you want a one-stop shop that answers the phone with live human beings, you might like HostMySite for your domain. They include WordPress and email in the package, and you can also register domain names with them, so you don't have to forward a domain registered somewhere else.

For example, you'll end up with a WP blog at and the option for a "regular" site at This will be the full WordPress install with the option for lots of themes, etc. or for hiring geeks to make the blog do exactly what you want.
posted by PatoPata at 7:02 AM on July 31, 2008

robcorr, WordPress does allow you to use the Google Apps email service from WordPress.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:03 AM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: You see, le mort, why it is I get confused? The specifically mention in other places you cannot get e-mail if you get your domain registered via

Q: I purchased a domain through - can I setup email through it or change my mx records?
A: Sorry but that cannot be done at this time.

But above they do say:

UPDATE: You can now use Google Apps for your email and have domain mapping + email

So... Hm.
posted by neblina_matinal at 8:11 AM on July 31, 2008

Ah, sorry. I think what they're saying is that you can get your domain registered through Google and then use Google Apps for email alongside your WP-hosted blog.

If your domain is purchased through WP, then it's probably quite restricted in terms of allowing you to do things like set up your email elsewhere.

I wouldn't recommend registering the domain through WP for the general reason that it's easier to have it somewhere where you can easily change settings and point the domain to hosting elsewhere later on if you need to.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:29 AM on July 31, 2008

It really sounds like you just want someone to Tell Me What To Do. I totally understand that. If that is what you want, do the following. If it isn't, ignore it.

To have the most control over your blog, its style, settings and themes, get off and Move to your own WordPress install on your own host.

1) Sign up at a host that offers one click install of WordPress. People say Dreamhost here, but I think it's expensive. Pato's suggestion of HostMySite has a WordPress package looks like a nice deal.

2) Choose a domain name. For ease of setup, I would suggest you register your domain name at the same outfit as your host.

3) Follow the steps to install your WordPress blog from your host's control panel. It won't ask for anything more exotic than your domain name and an email address.

4) If you don't have a lot of posts, you can transfer them over manually. If you do have a lot of posts, you can use your current or .com control panel to export your entries, and your new wordpress install to import them. I don't have a link for this.

5) For the absolute easiest interface, CALL your new host and ask "I would like to set up email for my new domain via GoogleAps. How do I do that?"

6) If you want to install a new theme your host does not already have available, you'll need an FTP client. Here are some nice directions for installing WP themes. Ignore the comments; these are from people who do not understand you can't install themes at Basically, to install a theme, you:

a) Download it
b) Unzip it
c) Upload it to your server in the /wp-content/themes/ directory
d) Turn it on in your WordPress control panel.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:37 AM on July 31, 2008

DarlingBri's advice is pretty good. A host with a one-click WP install is a nice simple approach if you're not committed to staying with
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:52 AM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: Ahahah. It's not so much "tell me what to do" as it is "tell me how it's done so I can tell if that's what I want to do". But good one, DarlingBri, the breakdown is helpful.

So, I'm gonna get a domain, map it myself, and get Google Apps for e-mail. Then, I'll see how it goes. Maybe I'll get the CSS upgrade, maybe I'll do exactly what you say. Thanks everyone!
posted by neblina_matinal at 12:50 PM on July 31, 2008

If you do decide to go with self-hosted, the 5-minute install actually is easy, if you think of it like you're performing a magic spell :) I was so worried I'd be doing it wrong, but I just followed the steps to the letter without trying to understand what they meant, or why they were necessary. It really did just take 5 minutes, and has worked wonderfully for me ever since. Having used it for a while, it makes more sense now, and I've gained a lot of confidence. But that first time, it really was easy as long as I just did what I was told :)
posted by harriet vane at 6:02 AM on August 1, 2008

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