When I first started researching how to set up a WordPress blog, I realized right away that I needed some expertise to answer a lot of questions that were surfacing. I decided to buy a copy of “Blogging for Dummies” (see http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Blogging-For-Dummies-4th-Edition.productCd-1118151941.html).
Now before you laugh (go ahead–as an IT professional, I laughed myself), the Dummies series have some of the best documentation I have seen, with straight forward language, excellent summaries, and a touch of humor to get you through any learning situation. Of course, I was a bit embarrassed reading it on the train, so I covered it in a plain brown bag–like we used to protect new grammar school books way back when–but this was so no one could see what I was reading! Unfortunately, I cannot find my Dummies book since moving and I was forced to recall what I had learned to get my new site up and running. After poking around a bit for help with WordPress I remembered a few key things.
First, there are two web sites where you can learn about WordPress: WordPress.org and WordPress.com.
WordPress.org versus WordPress.com
If you go down the path of using the .org site you can build a blog site that allows you full control over the look, feel, and function. However, the .org path is more technical and the learning curve is steep to understand all the stuff that lurks behind the scene of a blog site. Also, you have to find your own hosting for a site built with WordPress.org. The least expensive no-frills hosting I could find was around $4 per month.
Then there is building a blog using a free template and free hosting found on the WordPress.com site. This is for those of us who are happy with less control over the look, feel, and function and satisfied with the free templates. I decided on the .com site, although I still struggle with not being able to pick the exact font I want for my header. Oh well, time is of the essence and at some point you just have to get it up and running. With .com, they do have premium templates that you can buy to get additional features. Even with a free template there are customization options you can buy to bring in some additional visual and use features to go with your chosen template.
If you decide later you want more control, you can move your blog into the .org realm, but you may want to hire a pro if you want a glitzy appearance with optimal usability and you are not willing to face the learning curve that it takes. If you want to read a little more about the differences between .org and .com, here is a good article: http://diythemes.com/thesis/rtfm/differences-wordpress-com-org/
How important is your domain name?
Those in the know will tell you that your site does not sound very professional with WordPress as part of the domain name (i.e., peggystringfellowstudio.wordpress.com). So how do you get around this? The best suggestion from Blogging for Dummies and others I have read is to stay with the free hosting provided by WordPress, but map your own domain name to your WordPress blog. This takes some fingers to the keyboard work. First, you have to reserve and purchase your domain name (mine was www.peggystringfellowstudio.com). Although you can do this domain purchase through WordPress, there are other service providers that do this for less, so shop around. There is an annual fee every year to keep your chosen domain name, but you can save money by buying additional years up front.
Next you have to decide if you want the personal information for your domain to be private or public (more money of course–you pay to play). This is somewhat like a listed or unlisted phone number. Anyone can still view your website, but you keep the details of the domain private. More information on what this entails is available when you sign up for your domain name. There are all kinds of things they can sell you to go along with your domain name, but the private registration is all I opted for and all that is really necessary to start.
After you set up your free WordPress blog and pay for your annual domain name subscription, you are ready to map the domain to your blog. This part is entirely so the URL will look professional (i.e., “peggystringfellowstudio.com” without WordPress in the middle). By the way, WordPress automatically removes the www in front of your domain name. You can do this domain mapping through WordPress.com, but this is not one of the free services. However, at $13 annually, this is less than using your own domain name through an inexpensive monthly hosting service. Following the steps to map the domain may sound daunting at first, but it is doable for even non-techies. The good news is that WordPress provides straightforward instructions and a video to help you at http://en.support.wordpress.com/domains/map-existing-domain/.