Purchase and activate a new hosting account with the new provider
As stated previously, most web hosting providers provide free migration services to their platform If they don’t, you might think twice about moving to them. This ensures that things go smoothly for you and to ensure that nothing is missed during the transfers. Look in the webhosting provider’s FAQ or Knowledgebase to see how you can start the migration of your current site. Some providers will integrate the migration information directly into their order form, while others provide a ticketing system or request form to be filled out after a new service has been created. After you have signed up, follow the instructions to start a website migration for your new provider.
Migration assistance and providing information to the new host
The migration process will require the new hosting provider’s team to access your existing hosting account to review the requirements and specific configuration of your site to ensure compatibility with the new service you have purchased. If there are any additional configuration requirements, they may need to be set up or added to the new account before the migration takes place. Sometimes these features can be unknown to everyone involved until the migration is finished and the site is being reviewed for errors.
The migration will usually require access in the form of a username and password from your old hosting provider. A few tips: do not send your login information via email, it is highly insecure. Additionally, don’t keep the password the same on the old account – change it to a new temporary password before providing it to your new provider’s team. This is because most people use the same password in multiple locations and while you should absolutely be able to trust that the provider you are giving the information to will not doing anything questionable with it, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad actors that would use it for malicious intent if they got their hands on the information.
Also, make sure you detail the services that you are using with your current hosting provider and the expectations for each. Do you host email with the same provider as your website? Some people do, some people do not, especially with the rise of services like G Suite and Office 365 email. Many companies are hosting their website with one company and hosting email through another. This may not seem like an issue, but if the new provider is not aware of this external email service, you may lose email capabilities during the migration due to misconfiguration. Additionally, if your domains are hosted through a service separate from the the website, you’ll need to provide that information as well or be prepared to update the DNS records yourself as requested by the new hosting provider.
Move all website files – including databases and email accounts to the new provider
Once everything has been configured and verified on the new host, it’s time to move the old website and all its attached data. This can include databases if your site has one (most all CMS systems like WordPress, Jooma, CraftCMS, Bolt, and others have a database). Additionally, if you are hosting email on the same provider, creation of the email accounts and forwarders, as well as transferring data to the new host is required before the actual changeover can begin.
While this may seem trivial to some users, a lot can go wrong at this stage. For one, not all providers allow you to transfer your site (Wix, SquareSpace, GoDaddys Website Builder, etc) as they are’t real websites. They are built with their proprietary website building services, and thus cannot be transferred. The new provider may detail this and recommend rebuilding the site in a new, more portable format, like WordPress. This most likely will not be free and can cost in the high hundreds of dollars. Its one of the reasons that most providers don’t recommend using these services for business sites as it makes them very immobile and clunky for a web developer to work with.
Additional issue that may arise include the lack of visibility into all folders or files. There is usually a special file called .htaccess that exists in the root of the website, that not all providers allow access to. Some must be configured through their control panel and thus will not be copied with the data when the site is moved. Additionally, some providers with email support, don’t always make it easy to find all forwarded addresses or aliases. In some cases, they can be missed, causing a minor headache afterwards for you as only some emails will be missed being delivered to the right inbox, and it can be hard to notice the lack of a few random emails.
Check new site on staging / temporary URL and troubleshoot any errors or defects
Most hosting providers will give you a temporary URL to use for verifying the site is fully functional on the new host before the actual switch over is active. Unfortunately, many CMS systems like WordPress will actively redirect a user back to the original domain (and away from the temporary URL) so additional steps are needed in order to verify the site is working as expected. The most common and generally easiest to implement is updating your local hosts file to point to the new host for the DNS. This only effects your local system, not the rest of the world, so if the site isn’t working correctly, you can change it before everyone else see it. More info on this can be found in our Knowledgebase and applies to any hosting provider that provides the IP address of their service with creation.
Point your domain DNS records to the new web host and optionally transfer your domain
Once you’ve verified the site is functioning as you’d expect, it’s safe to move the DNS over and show the world the site on the new location. This can be done in a few different ways and each provider may have their own requirements. The two general ways of handling it are to either update the ‘A’ records for the domain and ‘www’ subdomain to point to the new hosting provider, or to point the domain’s nameservers to the new provider. The first option generally only effects the website. If there are additional services hosted elsewhere, like email, they should remain unaffected. The second option, while providing better control over the domain, can cause outages to other services if the DNS on the new host is not fully configured to consider the external services.
Once the DNS has been updated using either of the previous options, it can take several hours for the updates to propagate around the world. Some people may immediately update to the new site, while others may take a day or so. If your website provides sales or other customer transactions, we highly recommend scheduling an outage window for the migration to stop all transactions on the site to ensure that users are on the new site before making any requests. Additionally, it may be beneficial to put a permanent ‘Under maintenance, please check back later’ page for the old hosting provided until the site is fully taken offline to ensure anyone getting the old site cannot request anything from it. There is nothing worse than a customer placing an order with the old site, only to have it lost in the ether because no one can review it from the new site location.
If you have chosen to update the nameservers to your domain to point to the new host for ease of use, you may also consider transferring your domain to the new host as well. Most hosting providers are also domain registrars or are resellers of domains. Many providers offer free domain transfers that will extend your domain registration by one year when you sign up for new hosting services. This can also simplify administration of the domain by allowing control over all of your services (domain, website, and possibly email) within the same user control panel and with the same vendor. It can also cut down on solicitation bills and scams from ‘public domain registry’ providers that will send out solicitations looking like domain registration or email hosting bills.