Migrating your website from one web hosting provider to another is an important process that requires careful planning and execution. While it may seem daunting, with the right preparation it can be accomplished with minimal downtime. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through all the steps needed to successfully migrate your website to a new host.
Reasons to Switch Web Hosts
There are several reasons you may want to consider switching web hosting providers:
- Your current host has frequent outages or reliability issues. Migrating to a more dependable provider will improve uptime.
- You need more resources like bandwidth, storage space, or RAM to support site growth. Scaling with your current host is costly.
- You want access to more features like free SSL certificates, staging environments, or integrated content delivery networks.
- Your site has been infected with malware on a shared server. Migrating gets you clean infrastructure.
- Your current host lacks migration capabilities like free site clones or pull requests. This makes moving away difficult.
- You can get cheaper hosting rates by switching providers or plans. Saving money is always compelling.
If your website is plagued by any of those issues, migration may be the solution. Make sure to thoroughly research new hosts to avoid jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
Choosing a New Web Host
Selecting the right web host to migrate to is critical. You want an established provider that offers what you need. Here are some factors to consider:
- Uptime/reliability – Look for a host with redundant infrastructure and a 99.9% uptime SLA. Check third-party monitoring data as well. Frequent outages should be a dealbreaker.
- Speed – Validate the new host has adequate network capacity and uses performance optimizations like caching layers and content delivery networks. Slow sites frustrate visitors.
- Support – Evaluate support channels like phone, live chat, ticketing, and knowledge bases. Prioritize timely and knowledgeable assistance.
- Security – Shared hosts risk neighbor malware infections. Managed VPS, dedicated, or cloud hosting generally offer better security. Review the provider’s safeguards.
- Features – Ensure the new host has the specific functionality your site requires like ecommerce integrations, staging servers, GIT deploys, PHP 7.4, Python 3, etc.
- Scalability – Consider future site growth. Scalable cloud hosting makes it easy to upgrade resources when needed.
- Migrations – Look for tools and guidance to simplify transfers like free site cloning, database exports, and DNS changes.
- Prices – Compare overall value between old and new hosts based on features and resources. Don’t choose servers purely by cost.
Thoroughly vetting new web hosts sets your migration up for success. Take time to carefully evaluate options to find the best provider for your needs.
Preparing for the Migration
Meticulous preparation is crucial for any successful website migration. Rushing into the process blindly can cause major headaches down the road. Let’s explore key pre-migration steps:
Document current setup – Note down all details of your existing infrastructure like web server types, PHP versions, plugin lists, SSL/TLS certificates, DNS records, and CDNs in use. This provides a blueprint of how to recreate the environment on the new host.
Identify incompatibilities – Check for differences in software versions, configurations, features, and restrictions between old and new hosts. Addressing these early prevents surprises later.
Inform search engines – Submit change of address requests in Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, and Yandex Webmaster to ensure SEO continuity after moving.
Enable maintenance mode – Install a maintenance plugin and activate it before migration to display a static page during the transfer process. This avoids confusion for visitors.
Stage new environment – Provision server space, domains, SSL certificates, and configurations on the new host per your documentation. Get as close to an identical setup as possible.
Back up everything – Download complete backups of your site files, database, email accounts, and anything else on your old host in case you need to restore during issues.
Confirm DNS changes – Work with new provider to redirect DNS to their servers. Retain your current domain registrar to avoid adjusting registrant info.
Create transition schedule – Strategize timing for activation of new host, DNS shift, removal of old host, monitoring, and cancellation. Communicate plans with support teams.
Following those preparations will make your actual migration smooth and headache-free. Never start a transfer without detailed planning and protections in place.
Transferring Website Files
The first technical step in a web migration is transferring your full site contents from the old server to the new one. This includes all files that make up your web pages, applications, images, plugins, themes, and initial backups. There are a few approaches to achieve this:
Zip and download – Zip your entire site directory, download the archive to your computer, and then upload and extract on new host.
FTP/SFTP – Use an FTP client to directly transfer files between hosts. Great for large, complex sites.
GIT clone – If site is managed by GIT, push/pull repositories from old to new server.
Host-assisted – Some hosts offer assisted migration tools to copy your contents between their servers.
Cloud sync – Install a cloud sync tool like Dropbox on both servers to mirror files.
The method you choose depends on your technical proficiency and how the old host provides access to files. Using a cloud service as an intermediary allows incremental syncs. FTP is best for ultimate control.
Avoid making changes to site content right before migration, as this can complicate syncing between hosts. Get files on new server first, then tweak later.
Migrating the Database
Once website files are transferred, the next critical step is the database migration. This moves your posts, pages, settings, plugins data, users, and other site content to the new hosting environment. We’ll explore two common methods:
Backup and restore – Export a complete database backup from your old host, download locally, then import into the new database. Most straightforward option.
Find and replace – Run a find/replace script on the new database to change old domain references to new. More complex but avoids backup step.
The best approach depends on the size and complexity of your database, along with the export options available in your old host’s control panel.
Here are some database migration tips:
- Disable plugins before export to avoid unnecessary data.
- Adjust character set and collation to match new server.
- Modify XML sitemap and snippet URLs to use new domain.
- Clear any cached transients from export.
- Enable maintenance mode until DNS cutoff to new host.
- Test by importing backup to staging environment first.
Smooth database migration avoids disruptions to your site content and functions. Take time to plan and carefully execute the transfer.
Updating DNS Settings
A key step in shifting website hosting providers is updating your DNS settings to point visitors and services to the new host. This involves adjusting DNS records with your domain registrar.
Some steps for updating DNS:
- Make no changes until website migration is fully ready to activate.
- Determine current TTL and expiration times of DNS records. Changes can take this period to fully propagate.
- Create duplicate A records pointing new host IP (optional). Lower TTLs on these.
- Modify registrar NS records to new hosting provider. Usually requires 2-4 servers.
- Add A record pointing site root domain to new host IP.
- Create new CNAME records as needed for subdomains like www, mail, ftp.
- Verify DNS changes propagate globally using tools like NSLookup and MXToolbox.
- Keep old DNS active alongside new until transition is tested and complete.
Proper DNS planning ensures visitors, email, and other services switch over smoothly to the new infrastructure. Coordinate DNS changes closely with the activation of your migrated site files and database.
Launching the New Website
With files transferred, database migrated, and DNS configured, you’re finally ready to launch your site on the new web hosting provider. Follow these tips for a smooth transition:
- Activate maintenance mode plugins on both old and new sites to avoid sync issues.
- Enable new site by uploading migrated database and configuring access.
- Test thoroughly on new infrastructure while old site remains live.
- Switch DNS to new host servers. Keep old DNS active as fallback.
- Monitor error logs, traffic, speed, and DNS propagation. Roll back if issues emerge.
- Disable maintenance mode on new site once stable.
- Remove old DNS records after full propagation and stability confirmed.
- Redirect old host URLs to new site via 301 redirects.
- Submit change of address confirmation in search tools.
- Announce new host on social media, email newsletter, etc.
With those steps, your site visitors should experience minimal interruption as your website settles into its new home. Handle launch carefully and have rollback plans ready just in case.
Cancelling Old Hosting Account
Once you confirm site migration is successful and your new hosting provider is running smoothly, it’s time to take care of closing old accounts. This checklist will ensure you wrap up loose ends:
- Cancel auto-renew on domain registrations. Retain registrar until new host proves stable.
- Download any remaining files or data. Backup databases one last time.
- Reset FTP passwords and disable accounts. Remove any SSH keys.
- Cancel or unsubscribe from email newsletters, backups, monitoring services, etc.
- Delete DNS zone files and email accounts through control panel.
- Notify support that migration is complete and you wish to close account.
- If paying monthly, wait for next billing cycle to avoid fees.
- Request final receipt and account closure confirmation.
- Monitor for unexpected renewal charges and follow up if needed.
Cutting ties fully with your old host ensures you don’t pay for unnecessary services going forward. Close accounts carefully to avoid surprises.
Migrating a website between hosts is an involved but very doable process with proper planning. By following this comprehensive guide and executing each step methodically, you can achieve a successful transition with minimal downtime for your site visitors.
The key is attention to detail. Document your existing setup thoroughly, choose a new provider carefully, back up everything, test extensively, manage DNS closely, then monitor progress during launch. With patience and care, you’ll join the ranks of happy website owners with a shiny new online home.