Moving a website can be a frustrating and stressful experience. To help insure a “smooth move,” we’ve created this guide. Do-it-yourselfers should read this guide carefully to avoid costly mistakes. Those that prefer to use our services, can simply browse through this guide to see what is involved in the moving process.
By following this guide you will move your site without the current web host’s knowledge and your visitors will never notice the switch.
Step 1: Find a New Host
The first step is to find a new web host. There are over 15,000 hosting companies to choose from. It is a very competitive field – chances are prices have dropped since you first developed your website. We provide a free host ratings feature to help you decide on a cheap host.
Warning: If your host won’t allow you or other people to make changes on your site, then they are holding your site hostage!
What to look for in a host:
The right operating system (Unix, Windows, Linux). It is best to stick with the operating system used at your previous host.
Good technical support – most hosts provide 24/7 support. Hosts with telephone support are desirable.
Email capabilities – good hosts should allow for at least 20 email addresses and pop 3 or smtp abilities. Webmail is a bonus.
Hosting space – it is important to know how much space you need (always leave room for growth). Most sites can get by with only 50 MB of space.
Data transfer limits – it is important to calculate the amount of data transfer you require. Take a look at your stats program and log files to determine the amount of space needed. Again, make sure you leave room for growth. Most sites need at least 2 GB of data transfer per month.
CPU Usage Limits – similar to the data transfer limits, you will want to make sure you won’t be using too many CPU ticks. Overage costs can be tremendously expensive.
Database programs – if you are using MySQL, SQL or any other database program, make sure the new host supports those technologies.
Scripting abilities – if you are using CGI, SSI or any other advanced scripting technologies, make sure the new host supports it – you’ll be surprised how many hosts don’t.
Performance – always find a host that has fast servers and a great connection to the Internet backbone. Make sure the host has great uptime (over 99.5%) and don’t take their word for it – test it or read about tests performed by third parties.
Control panel – control panels vary depending on the host. Some are better than others. A good control panel can make life much easier.
Step 2: Find Registrar Info
It is important that you are listed as the owner of your site’s domain name. Using your favorite Whois service or your registrars website (if known), you can see who is listed as the administrative contact and who is listed as the technical contact. Make sure you are listed as the Administrative contact. If you are not listed, moving will be very complex and you probably can’t do it without the current host or designers permission (legally – you should always be listed as the administrative contact).
Tip: Usually you are better off not telling your current host that you plan on moving.
Your current host is almost always listed as the technical contact, which means they will eventually find out when you try to move your site. We recommend not telling the current host your plans until you have already transferred the site completely. Most hosts have so many accounts that they don’t care if you are trying to move, but others take it personally and can shut your site down early, reduce the allotted traffic to your site, or even mess with your registrar information. Plus, you won’t get as big of a sales pitch on why you should stay if the site has already been moved to another host.
While you look up your site’s registrar data, it is a good idea to check when your domain name expires. If you try to move your site near expiration date, it could seriously complicate matters – you could even lose your site. To get around this, you can extend your ownership or transfer registrars before transferring web hosts.
Step 3: Back Up All Data
Careful: Always back up all your data. We even burn an extra copy of the data onto a CD.
We can’t stress this step enough. When we move sites, not only do we make a copy on our hard drives, but we will burn a CD copy of the site. Some web hosts make backups of your site, but this isn’t a safe assumption.
There are a few ways to back up your data. One way is to use an ftp program to download all the data. Another is to use software to import or publish your data to your computer. A more tedious way to do it would be to use “file > save as html” in your browser, but you need to make sure you save the file with the right name and download all the images (right click over the image and choose save as), plus you might end up with extra code in your html that you don’t want (if you are currently with a free or cheap host, there might be pop up ads or other ads hard coded into your files which you wouldn’t want to bring over to your new host).
Other data that you might not think of saving is your log files. If you use statistical programs or plan to some day, you will want to keep your log files. If you were running any scripts or had any special folders with password access, you might want to pay close attention to how you set up those folders so you can set the permissions correctly on your new server.
Step 4: Set Up With Your New Web Host
Assuming you found a host that you like, pay close attention to the items mentioned in Step 1, you can now sign up with your new host. Choose a service contract that you are comfortable with. Most hosts have a 30 or 60 day money back guarantee, which should be a enough time to determine whether you like their service.
If you are giving the new host credit card information via the web, be sure the form is secure and their security certificate is up-to-date. Make sure you know that you are dealing with a real company and not a site posing as a host. We usually ask for examples of sites they are currently hosting and might even contact those companies.
Careful: Keep your login and password information to yourself. Usually technical support isn’t even allowed to know it. If you ever get an unsolicited email asking for your password, never give it out!
You should be given an IP address, a login & password, name server information (primary and secondary) and links to your control panel. You will also want to change your password because your initial password will usually be big and ugly – something like: “Vm7RH35_cP1115w4.” Make copies of this information and put it in a safe place. If you plan on using frontpage, the password must be changed in both your control panel and in frontpage.
You should be able to connect to your new site via your IP address. Try connecting to your site with your ftp program or web editing software and create and upload a temporary index.html (or appropriate variation) page. Then type the IP address into your browser like this: http://555.555.555.555 and make sure your new page shows up.
Now you are ready to upload your files. Upload all your files and be sure to use your current directory structure. Use ASCII if prompted. Don’t overwrite or delete any important files your new host provided you with – this may result in contacting technical support to reinstall those files.
If you use permissions on any of your folders, be sure to make those changes. Often times CGI scripts must be put in the folder the host has provided, even if it is a slightly different name.
Tip: Even if you have great attention to detail, it is always a good idea to have someone else test out the new site. You are so involved in the process, you might miss something important.
Step 5: Test, Test, and Test
Testing your site before flipping the DNS switch is very important. Customers can’t see the new site yet, so now is your chance to work out all the bugs.
If your site links use relative paths, you should be able to view the newly uploaded site in your browser. If you use absolute paths, then it will end up clicking over to your new host, so you will either need to switch to relative paths or you can type in the correct page name in order to view it.
Check all your pages to see if they mirror what is on your old host. Make sure all the pages exist and the links point to the right places. When you downloaded the site, you should have received a page count and when you uploaded the site you should have received a page count. If these don’t match, find out why.
Carefully test all of your forms and check all of your scripts (many scripts will require editing). Make sure you don’t have extra code from your previous host (especially if they were running the advertising on your site) – you will want to remove this code if it exists.
We recommend using a link checker after you do all the manual testing. Good link checkers will let you know of possible broken links and should help you fix them. You will want to run your link checker again after switching hosts.
Step 8: Cancel Old Host
Now that you have successfully made the move, it is time to cancel your old account. We recommend keeping your account at least one week after the DNS change. If money is not a factor, then you may want to keep the old site for up to a month (some servers around the world will take more than the standard 24-76 hours to propagate).
Some hosts will make canceling your account as difficult as possible. You will need to follow their cancellation instructions closely and even then, you might get the run-around. The key is to be persistent. Sometimes picking up the phone works better. If it is a big company and the reps give you trouble, ask to speak to management. If it is a small company, let them know you are serious and are willing to report them to the better business bureau or pursue legal action if necessary. Chances are after some resistance, the old web host will cough up the money. As mentioned earlier, it is usually better to keep the current hosting company in the dark until after the DNS changes.
Tip: It is a good to keep your old host account for at least a week to make sure the site moved correctly and to give all the servers in the world time to recognise the move.
Step 9: Check Scripts
Once the DNS changes take affect and your site name is now showing your current site, it might be time to check your scripts again. It is possible that your scripts worked on the new host only because they pointed to your old site.
If you had to change your scripts temporarily to point at the IP # rather than the site name, this is your chance to change them back.
Step 10: Check Links
It is always a good idea to run a link checker after the move is complete. If you made temporary link changes, including links that point to the IP address or relative links that you would prefer to be absolute links, then you will want to make the appropriate changes. Besides internal links, you may need to check external sites linking in.
If you changed your domain name or didn’t have one, you will want to notify any site linking to you. The best way to discover these sites is to look are your referrer log files and stats or do a reverse link check in google or alltheweb (these two search engines are considered the most comprehensive). Contact any of these sites to make sure they point to your new site. Unfortunately, some site operators are either lazy or run a stale site, so you can be sure that not all referrers will make the change.
Pay close attention to your stats or log files and look for any errors and how they occurred. Your users may also email you if they have any problems with the site.
Congratulations! You successfully moved your site. Assuming you chose a good host, you can now relax and enjoy your better service or cost savings.