Many blog owners start out with a free service, like Blogger, hosted WordPress.com or Tumblr. As their content amount and traffic increases, though, the storage provided by these free platforms is often not enough, plus their customization options can be very limiting for an established blogger. You won’t be able to add plugins to your hosted WordPress, for example, which means you can’t add features like e-commerce, custom contact forms, advanced SEO, user registration, newsletter signup and many others. But what ultimately drives a lot of users to make a switch to the self-hosted service is the ability to monetize their sites. You cannot use Google AdSense on a hosted WordPress blog, for instance, and if your traffic is high, you might be missing out on a lot of income opportunities for this reason.

Many people avoid moving their blogs for the fear of losing data or driving some of their regular readers away. WordPress makes the transition pretty easy, however, and helps you avoid any of these types of issues. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to help you with the process of moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

1. Get Hosting and Domain Name Set Up

Before you start the transfer, make sure you have purchased a hosting package and a domain name for your new site. Check to see if something similar to your current blog’s name is available. For example, if your blog is http://example.wordpress.com, then try to get http://example.com as your domain name, to make it easier for people to find you in the new location and to help them associate the new site with the old one. Keep in mind that domain names often come free with hosting, so look at hosting packages first before you rush to pay for a domain. WordPress recommends several options, including Bluehost, HostGator, DreamHost and Go Daddy. Alternatively, you can find your own provider by doing a quick online research. Once your hosting service is set up, you should be ready to move your WordPress site.

2. Export the Data from the Old Site

To export your data from your hosted WordPress.com blog, go to your Dashboard and select Export under Tools. Here you will be given an option of a free transfer or a guided one for $129. If you go with the paid option, WordPress will assign a Happiness Engineer to do all the work for you, including moving your data, switching your domain over, and installing the plugins you will need to be able to replicate any functions you are currently using on WordPress.com. The service also includes two-week support, should you experience any problems or have questions about your new site. If you choose the free option, make sure you select to export “All Content.” After this, click “Download Export File.” Don’t be intimidated by the free transfer – it’s not very hard to do and will save you some money.

3. Install WordPress with Your Web Host

The next thing you will want to do is to install WordPress with your hosting provider. Most Web hosts these days offer a one-click WordPress installation, so you should check with your provider to see if this options is available. If not, then you can follow the WordPress 5-minute installation guide, which can be found at http://codex.wordpress.org/Installing_WordPress.

4. Import the Data to the New Site

Once you have installed WordPress.org, go to your dashboard, which will look very similar to the interface you are used to with WordPress.com. Go to Import under Tools, and select WordPress. If you haven’t used this option in the past, the system will prompt you to install an importer plugin. Once that is done, you’ll be redirected to a screen where you can upload the XML file that you have previously exported from WordPress.com. Many hosting providers have an upload size limit, and if you have a lot of data on your old site, you might exceed this. If that’s the case, you can either ask your Web host to temporarily lift the limit or you can use WordPress WXR File Splitter to divide the file into smaller pieces. The program is free and easy to use.

Once the plugin is installed, click the option to Activate and Run the Importer. In the next screen you’ll be able to choose the file from your computer and Upload and Import it. You will then see the option to assign additional authors – you can do this if your blog has more than one contributor that you want to have access to the admin panel. If you are the only person posting to your site, you can just go with the existing user. On the same screen, make sure that the Download & import file attachments option is checked, so that your media files are transferred as well, along with the basic things like blog posts. Note that the videos you uploaded to hosted WordPress won’t be moved, but you can continue accessing them via VideoPress plugin. Once the file is uploaded, scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on Have Fun.

5. Use Plugins to Recreate WordPress.com Features

Since any features you get with WordPress.com are pretty much set in stone, Automattic has added some basic functionality to the hosted version to make it a little easier to work with and to have some features most users would deem necessary. You can think of these as built-in plugins. The self-hosted WordPress.org, on the other hand, comes with a lot more basic of an interface, stripped of any of these functions and giving you a choice of whether you want to add them or not. If you want your WordPress.org admin panel to have all the features your WordPress.com interface used to have, you can add all of these and more with the help of plugins.

The Jetpack plugin is a good place to start. It will give you the stats that the hosted version has, a widget to display recent tweets, Carousel feature for creating great photo galleries, VideoPress functionality for uploading and inserting your videos, and much more. If after adding Jetpack you still find a feature that’s missing, you should be able to get it from the plugin directory. In your dashboard, go to Plugins and click Add New. Here you’ll see a search bar. Try looking for a plugin by author and entering Automattic into the search field. Because it’s the company behind hosted WordPress, it has designed a lot of plugins that reflect WordPress.com features.

6. Redirect Your Readers to the New Site

Once your transfer is complete, you don’t want to leave your visitors hanging. You want to make sure that both regular readers and search engines are able to quickly find you in the new location. To do this, you can use the Offsite Redirect feature under the Store menu item in your WordPress.com dashboard. For $13 a year, WordPress will automatically redirect all of your traffic for you. Alternatively, you can simply post a message on the home page of your old blog providing a link to your new address. This won’t notify search engines about your move, though, and might cause you to lose your prior SEO ranking. The paid service will take care of both your visitors and SEO, so it’s worth investing into for at least a year.

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