Switching your websites over to a new hosting provider doesn’t have to be a painful process. It will take a bit of work, and you should take it seriously, but there is no reason to put it off forever. Sometimes you just have to pull the plug and move on, for one reason or another, and this guide will help you do that.
One of the biggest concerns that most people have about changing their web hosting provider is being able to avoid downtime. The goal is to make this transition period as smooth as possible, with little or no disruption to your websites and your users.
It can be difficult to avoid downtime altogether during a move, but if you follow the steps below then you stand a better chance at minimizing it. You may also want to inform your viewers and regular clients before the move, just so they know ahead of time to expect a small amount of disruption.
Keep your current hosting account active, and sign up for an account at your new host.
Backup your website’s files and databases. Make copies of the backup on your hard disk, a USB drive, and upload one to an online storage service or mail it to yourself on a webmail account.
Upload all of your backed up files and databases, with the same file paths as before, to your new hosting account.
If you were using an email address at your old host, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, then you will need to recreate this at your new host.
Find out what the appropriate nameservers are for your new host – it should be something like ns1.company.com and ns2.company.com (where ‘company’ will be different from host to host).
Login to your domain registrar. This will be whichever service you originally purchased your domain name from, such as GoDaddy for example.
Update the DNS records for all domain names you are switching to the new host, with the nameservers for your new host that you found in the previous steps.
It will take up to 48 hours for the DNS changes to come in to full effect, so leave your old hosting account open and active for at least two to three days to be sure. After this period of time, and after checking to be sure the transition worked properly, you may now cancel your old hosting account.
The act of switching web hosting providers should have no negative effect at all on your search engine optimization strategies. As long as you take care and follow the steps above to avoid downtime, the search engine robots should have no problem finding your new home.
However, if you are changing to a new domain name at the same time as changing host – or you are making changes to file paths and linking structure – then you have some more work to do. Google wants you to build and maintain your website with visitors in mind, not robots, so if you keep everything running smoothly for your visitors after the move then you will be fine.
So, if you are changing domain name, upgrading from HTTP to HTTPS, or making changes to file names and/or links then you should use a 301 redirect to facilitate this. 301 is a code that basically tells robots and browsers “this link has moved permanently to a new location, and this is where to find it”. Search engine robots will now follow your website to its new home, and your users will be redirected there also.
Google recommends that you keep control of your old domain name for at least six months after switching and employing a 301 redirect. This will allow their robots more than enough time to figure out where your new website is. You can then either sell the old domain name, make a completely new website on it, or whatever else you like.
Tips for WordPress Users
The following list of things to do is specific to the WordPress content management system.
Log in to cPanel on your current host, and export your WordPress database in SQL format to be saved on your hard drive. If your host does not use cPanel, you may need to ask your host what to do, or do it straight from the OS on an unmanaged server.
Create a new (empty) database on your new host, with all privileges, and make note of the username and password.
Open the wp-config.php file of WordPress in a text editor. Change the database name, and the username and password, if they are different on the new host. Upload this file along with the rest of the WordPress installation to your new host.
Import your database to your new host.
Upload all of the files from your old host through FTP in the same paths as they were previously.
Now that you have a bit more of an idea on the process involved in changing your website hosting, it’s time to get your plan in action. Don’t rush in to it though – make careful and deliberate steps, and make sure you have a little free time set aside before you start making any major moves.
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