There may come a time when your site has outgrown its current hosting plan, or things are not working out with your current web hosting company. It may be that you are disappointed with the support of your web host or you may have shopped around and found a better set of features. Whatever is the reason for switching, now you have to face the tedious task of packing up your files and moving your site. There is more to a web hosting transfer than simply copying files over to the new server. You can avoid many headaches associated with the server switch, if you know what the process entails and methods to adopt for a seamless transition.
To successfully move your website to another web host without a hitch you have to properly manage your domain name, email, and the site itself. You must first find and join a new web hosting company for your website with fast servers, minimum downtime, robust security, and good customer support. Find out if the new web host can offer assistance with the transfer process as it will make the move much easier. Do not cancel with your old hosting provider before you have moved your files to their new location. Canceling prematurely may prompt your old host to throttle bandwidth or cause downtime by prematurely terminating your site.
Step 1: Copy Files To The New Host
If you maintain only one copy of your website, make sure you backup your existing website content on your local hard drive. Download all the files on your current host’s server and save them on your computer in a single folder through the “File Manager” option in your control panel, or your favorite FTP client. Once the new hosting contract is in place and you have your login information, start by moving your files from your current host to the new host with a simple FTP transfer, or using your preferred file manager in your control panel. Using the FTP client, open two windows for both servers and copy everything.
If your site was built in Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage, you can upload your HTML pages from the program in its entirety, for your site to appear as it did in the old host. With FrontPage, the new host’s web server needs to have the same version of FrontPage extensions installed for it to work without any issues. Alternatively, visit your live website and right click on the page you want to save. Go through the menu and select the “View Source” option to save the HTML code. You have to copy, paste, and save the code for all the pages you want to transfer to the new server.
When working with databases within your site, be sure you export them from any site that uses a MySQL database so that you can import it to the new site. Your new website host and platform provider will have support documents to help you do all this. You must also backup any databases on the old host in order to upload the files to the new host via FTP, and then restore the database via SSH or cPanel’s phpMyAdmin. For any site based on database driven components or with a complex content management system (CMS) there is a chance that pages may not display exactly as they did on the old host server. If the problem persists with the code, you can contact your new web hosting provider for support, or, if your provider doesn’t offer support, get help from an expert web developer.
If your email is managed by your domain host, you will have to follow instructions from your domain host to change some DNS settings when the new site is up. If your email is managed by your hosting company, you may have to move your email account too. To do this, find the email client settings for your new host and set up a new account with your preferred settings. You will be able to connect to this account only after you switch the DNS. Delete the old account only when you’re sure that your new email account is the one getting all new messages.
Step 2:Test Your Site On The New Server
The next vital step for a problem-free web host transfer is testing your site to make sure all your files and pages have been moved to the new server successfully. You must check your links, images, and services to ensure everything is working. Links may have to be reactivated if there are hardcoded URLs leading to the old address. This may not be an issue if you have your own domain because your web address will not change. Otherwise make all your internal links relative links for a smooth relocation. Images may have to be resized too. If everything checks out to be functioning well once you upload and test your pages, using a temporary IP address provided by your new host, you can then move ahead and repoint your domain name to the new server.
Step 3: Switch Your DNS
If your content displays well in your new host, it is time to cut the cord on your old server and transfer your domain name to the new server. This is the trickiest part of the entire switching process since DNS records the links between a domain name and its numerical IP address. Log into the account you have with your current domain name registrar to swap the old server information with the new server information. If you did not have a domain name before, simply point the new domain name to the new host. It can take between 24 to 48 hours for DNS changes to get propagated to all the name servers around the world. Preferably do not make any changes to your site during this period. When all of the servers show your new IP address, you can safely begin to update your site on the new server.
While your IP address is switching do not delete the old site. Have two copies of your site to avoid losing visitors in the interim period. Hold off on informing your old host about the switch until both sites run concurrently for at least a week. If you moved your own previous domain name with your site, you can now safely terminate your account with your old web host. If everything goes right, your visitors will probably not have noticed that you changed hosts and your search engine listings will not have been affected since they still point to the right domain. That said, if you were with a free web host previously, you may have to take further measures in order to reduce chances of losing search engine visibility.
Step 4: Take Measures To Keep Your Search Engine Rankings Intact
The web hosting transfer process could potentially result in a few hours of downtime; however, if you do not want to see your search engine rankings go down you must set up 301 redirects when switching web hosts. The way to do this is by creating an .htaccess file in a word processor such as NotePad. Your new web host must provide access to the file so that you can make necessary changes before uploading it back to the server. For every page under the old URL, you must put a Redirect statement pointing to the new location so that the server can tell the visitor’s browser to load the file from your new site location. Visitors will consequently be redirected to the new host without having to click on a link. Search engines, such as Google, will also follow the link to index the new address as a substitute for your old one.
Update Referral Links
Check web logs in your server to track referral sites that send visitors to your website and visit those sites to see if they are still using your old URL. If they are, you may want to pass on your new address to the webmaster of that site. You may also want to submit your new URL to the search engines. You can even search for links that point to your old address by entering the old URL with a link prefix in Google or the name of your website into any search engine. Despite your best effort, you may still not be able to exhaustively remove all links pointing to your old URL.
Plan Ahead For A Successful Transfer
The web hosting transfer process can be virtually pain-free if you complete all the critical steps covered above. If you cannot complete all processes of the transfer at one time, you can carry it out in planned phases. Regardless of how you approach the transfer, always ensure that your business runs without any disruptions during the transfer phase. Your new hosting company should have the support system to help you with any hitches that do come up. If you have a managed hosting account, you can even coordinate the timing of the website transfer so that the support group at your new web hosting company is on standby to assist with the process.