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Tips For Changing Web Hosts
Moving from one host to another is both exciting and daunting at the same time. While you're likely moving to a new host because they have a better plan which offers your more performance, better features, increased stability, and the price that fits your budget there are a few critical steps you should remember to avoid causing yourself unnecessary headaches.
#1 Choose Your New Host Carefully
There's nothing worse than purchasing hosting, getting things moved over, and then realizing that this new host doesn't offer you the features you need for your website. Some of you are probably sighing right now, you've been there, it's probably the one of the most frustrating experiences you can imagine. So before you move your website make a checklist of what your current website uses and make sure there are solutions for all of those features on your new host. Some areas which often are forgotten are database access and scripting options. If your website uses these functions be sure that your new host will also allow you to use them or at least have a plan in place for how you are going to adjust your current website to fit the new hosts system.
#2 Do Not Cancel Your Old Account In Haste
If anything goes wrong you want to have that old site as a backup. If your website is big there's a really good chance that you've forgotten to move or copy something or perhaps you just can't remember exactly how things were setup. Either way, unless there's some extreme reason to cancel your old host before things are fully up and tested on your new host don't. If you can afford to leave the old host alive for a month it wouldn't be a bad decision. That should give you time to find all the bugs and problems with the move. Naturally if things go well you'll never need the old host, but you're much better off safe than sorry.
#3 Update DNS Records
Your DNS records "tell the internet" where it can find your website. When you move hosts these records need to be updated with the new hosts "Name Server" information. You should ask your new host what name servers you should use to update your DNS Records. You will need to use this info wherever your domain name is managed (likely where you registered it originally) so that people trying to connect to your domain name will reach your new site at the new host. If you are lucky your host will have its own name servers and also be a registrar - this will make management easy down the road (see #5). If they aren't a registrar and you don't update this information properly your website will be inaccessible to the rest of the world.
#4 Alert Your Users Early
If your site has a lot of traffic, and especially if you have customers who use the site on a regular basis be sure to let them know a few weeks in advance that the move is coming. While a website is moved it sometimes takes a while for the new information to propagate throughout the internet. What this means is that for up to 2 days you may have some people unable to reach your website. In many cases the change will occur in a near seamless manner, but you really need to let your users know that they may not be able to reach the site for up to 48 hours after the move.
#5 Domain Name Registrar Changes
These days many hosts offer domain name registration and are themselves registrars. This is great for you as you can manage all your website needs in one place. If you're going to move your domain name from your old registrar to your new host be aware that this could take a few days. The transfer is generally seamless, but you may have to wait and or go through a few steps to get things done. It will be necessary to get your authorization code from your old registrar for the domain name you wish to move. This will be needed on your new hosts site for you to begin the transfer. After requesting the transfer you'll also need to have access to the email address you signed up for the domain name with. That email address will be getting an email asking whether or not you wish to allow the transfer to occur. You'll need to click a link in it to allow this to happen or the transfer will fail.
#6 I'm Changing Domain Names
This is probably the worst thing you can do if you have a large base of users. If you have to change domain names you are going to lose some visitors - there's not much you can do about it. Again try to prepare for this by setting up the new site early and alerting users to update their bookmarks with the new site's address. You can try to do a forward or leave a page where users can click a link and be sent to your new site, but you will still lose some former users. This can also hurt your rankings in the search engines as you're going to be more or less starting from scratch. If you can avoid doing this it is highly recommended.
#7 Test Everything Twice
Once you've managed to move everything over to the new site be sure to test EVERYTHING. Again for emphasis, TEST EVERYTHING. Chances are something is hard-coded to the wrong IP or some script is not in the right directory and a part of your website isn't going to work properly until you update it. Taking time to go through and find the bugs before your users have to is critical to ensuring you don't lose users from the move. Once you're sure everything is ready to go sit back and enjoy your new host!
This Sounds Really Scary
If all of this sounds daunting there are of course other options. Many of us simply aren't web gurus and don't have the time or maybe the skills needed to make all of this easy. If this is the case we've got you covered as well. There are plenty of folks out there who can help - our current favorite is www.ezsitemove.com. These guys will do everything for you from script updates to database imports, and the best part is they get to deal with any hiccups along the way!
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