Part of being a webmaster is learning how to move your website to a new host. It may sound easy but there are a lot of steps you will need to take into consideration before undertaking the task. Taking these actions will help you navigate your website’s move with ease and preparedness.
Differences Between Domain and Host Servers
For a beginning webmaster, the differences between a domain and a host server can be confusing. The best way to think about it is this: your domain name is the address of your website, while your host server contains your actual website, complete with web pages and all of your other features.
A domain name and a host server are not always provided by the same service, although if you are using a free resource to build your website, it most likely is. For professional reasons, it is best to have a domain name that is easily found on search engines.
Depending on what your website is used for — personal reasons, business, charity events — you will need to register a domain name that is proper its use. For example, if you are a non-profit organization, you will want a domain name that ends with “.org.” For businesses, it will end with “.com.”
Consider Your Needs
Take a moment to consider why you are changing web hosts. Are your current web host servers not meeting your expectations in support or bandwidth? Are you facing too many problems with your website’s functionality? Or have you found a hosting service that provides more features with better-rated support at a more affordable price?
Know why you want to switch will help you know where you want your new site to be hosted. Make a list of non-negotiable things you are looking for in a new web host both in the short and long-term, and stick to that list.
Choosing a New Host
Now that you have your list of needs, you are ready to choose a new host. For a beginner webmaster, this will be a learning experience that will teach you about different hosting sites. Each one is slightly different, with a unique range of features, so pick the one that is best suited to your needs.
One thing to remember is that hosting sites charge a fee for their support and features. While it may seem like an incurring cost that you will want to forgo, if you are serious about your website, or you use it for business, this is a fee you will have to accept. Do not try to save money on a new host — you will get worse service than you are getting now.
Once you have found a host that you like and can afford, do yourself a favor and research the host online first. You will find reviews by people who have used the service and can give you a crystal clear picture of what it’s like working with them. This is an important step, because if you choose a host without researching their customer service and support online, you may get a rude awakening when you need help solving a problem on your website. Purchase the hosting server when you are truly satisfied with what you have found.
Back Up All Your Files
Not backing up all of your files is the single biggest mistake that people make when switching web hosts. Absolutely, under no circumstances, move your site to a new host without first backing up your files. This is best done through a manual back up to ensure that you have every single file you ever had on your old host.
Stop Updating Your Old Site
Once you have purchased your new host and have backed up your files, stop updating your old site with new information. Doing so will just mean more files for you to manually save during the move.
If you have any advertisement or promotional campaigns you are currently running on your site, suspend them. While it may be an inconvenience for your website users, interrupting these services until you switch to the new site is necessary in order to have a smooth transition.
Inform Your Website Visitors
There is no getting around it — people who go to your site during the move will notice that it is down. This might cause some confusion or anger for your clients and readers who were not notified that the site would be down.
You will want to inform your website visitors that there will be a move to a new website and that traffic to the site may cease for a period of one to three days. This is especially important if you are a business that is switching servers.
Put an update on the front page of your website stating when the transition will occur, and email clients who may need access to give them plenty of notice — a week at the very least — that the site will be down during the move.
Transfer all Your Website Files to New Server
Once you have set up your account at your new hosting service, transfer all of your website files to it. You will want to do this before moving your domain name or setting up new email accounts.
Your new hosting service will provide you with an IP address and instructions on how to upload your files. Follow the instructions step by step, and double check every step before moving on to the next one. If this is the first time you are moving a site to a new host, double checking your work will ensure that you have a smooth transition without problems that could be easily resolved.
Set Up New E-Mail Accounts
If you have email accounts that end with your domain name, such as johndoe@yoursitename here, you are going to need to set up email accounts with your new hosting service. Remember to keep a list of all your contacts and print out the most important emails so you can have an easier transition.
Moving Your Domain Name
This will be the most time-consuming part of the process. You are going to move your DNS — which stands for domain name system, which is your website name — to the new host. This step will ensure that your website visitors are taken to your new website instead of the old one once you are done moving.
If you have your own website name, you are going to update your DNS records with the new information with your registrar. Do this step only once you feel confident that your website works with the new hosting service.
If you do not have your own domain name, you now have the option to create your own. There are several domain name services that can provide you a website name that will fit you site. Once you have picked one, simply post it to your new site.
If you are using a brand new domain name, do not test it out by having it post to your old host. This will cause further delays in getting your new website up and running. Even if you just want to test it to see if it will work
The move of your website name from your old host to the new host will take time. The average time it takes for your domain name to point to the correct website can be anywhere from several minutes to a few days. Be patient during this process. Only contact your registrar if your domain name is pointing to the correct site after five days, which is the longest that this process should take.
There will be some delays in who sees your website at your old host and at your new host, so there may be confusion. To remove any confusion, create a static front page for your website that explains that you are in the process of moving the website. If clients to get in touch with you, provide an email address — preferably one that is not linked to your site — that you can get contacted through.
Test the Site
Ideally, you want to leave both sites — your old one and your new one — running concurrently for a week. This is just to test to make sure the site is running smoothly on the new server with little delays for your website’s traffic. Doing this also ensures that you are happy with the new hosting service before closing out your account with your old service.
Because moving your domain name can take some time, you need to be prepared for the possibility that some of your visitors may be redirected to your old site while the new site is being set up. The DNS set up should take no longer than two days to move your traffic to the new site, but just in case, keep your old site up with the static page that explains your website is going through maintenance.
Finish Setting Up
Now that your site is successfully set up, it is time for you to set up any marketing campaigns and advertising that you had on your old site. Do this one campaign and service at a time to make sure that everything is running smoothly in between the set up for each feature.
If your new host has features that were not accessible to you on your old server, take the time to read the instructions for installing them on your website. Again, take the time to ensure that each feature successfully shows up before moving on to the next one.
Your new website should be complete after this step, so congratulations are in order. Now all that is left is to close out your account with your old host and delete your files from their server.
Optional: Update Links
This step is optional, but for many websites that create a new domain name during this process, it can be an important one. If you rely on redirected to your site from other key sites, or you are featured in other people’s blogrolls, you will want to inform the webmaster of that site that your site address has changed. Provide them with the updated information as soon as you possibly can to avoid losing out on that redirected traffic.
This is also a key step if your site is still new enough that it needs as many hits as possible to show up on search engines. While SEO keywords might be enough to bring traffic to your new site, you might find it worth your time to manually find links to your old site and have them updated.
The most efficient way to do this is to search your old link on a search engine like Google. Take the first two pages of results and contact those webmasters with your updated information. It can be time-consuming but it will also ensure that your site maintains the same amount of traffic it had before you made the move.
Close Out Account with Former Hosting Site
This is the absolute last step that you will want to take in this process. This is for several reasons, the most important being that you want to ensure that your new site works as intended, your email addresses are in place, and that you have taken all of the files that you needed from your old hosted site.
Another reason is that you may encounter difficulties with the new website and you may need the old site for professional reasons. If you are a blogger who has a portfolio of work online or a professional who makes your business through your website, the last thing you want to do is be without a website for any length of time.
When you are ready to close out your account, make sure to go in and manually delete your files from their server. There are several websites that will point you in the right direction of how to do this for your specific host. This is an important step to do because you do not want your web files on any other server than the one you are currently using.
Key Things to Remember
There are bound to be some growing pains when it comes to moving your site to a new host. As a beginner in the art of webmastering, this is a great learning experience for you, particularly if you are looking to create more websites in the future.
Remember that when you move your site to a new host, you will lose some visitors. That is okay — it’s part of the move. It is something that just cannot be avoided. In time, however, your website will gain more traffic because you moved your site onto a better server with more features for your visitors. You will just have to be patient those first few weeks.
Another key thing to keep in mind is to stick with the new host. Now that you have made the move to a new server, you might be tempted to jump ship again. Host servers are continuously adding new features and upping the bandwidth and services they can provide you with. If you are happy with your new host, stay there.
If you have followed all of these steps, you will have your site up and running with a new host in no time. It takes time, patience, and some work on your part, but as a webmaster, these are steps you will need to be familiar with for the life of your website.