Winds of Change: Migrating Web Hosts

Though sometimes it is necessary, moving your website from one web host to another is not always as simple as it might seem, and there are pitfalls to watch out for, especially if you don’t want to lose your customers during your move!

Preparing to move

The first thing to do before you begin your move is obvious but overlooked by many people, and that is to make sure your website is completely backed up and that you have at least one copy of all the files on your computer. You can make copies either through FTP or through your web host’s file manager system.

Make your copies before you inform your web hosting company you plan to move, because some hosts have been known to make life very difficult for customers they are about to lose anyway.

If you’re changing to a new domain name, make sure your internal links are not referencing the old URL.

Upload your website to the new host and test everything to make sure all links work properly. Only when you are sure all is well should you update your DNS records with your domain name registrar so the domain name is pointed at the new host. It takes about a week for the changeover to be complete, as some visitors will continue to access the old site until their name servers have been updated.

Don’t delete the old site or inform your old host you’ve moved for at least a week, because some visitors won’t have access to your new site yet. Also resist the temptation to put a redirect page up on your old site because it will just redirect back to the old site if your visitors’ ISPs have not updated their servers yet.

Redirecting your visitors

If you’re moving your own domain to a new host, you don’t need to redirect your visitors as it will happen automatically. You can cancel your old hosting account after a week or so. Your visitors probably won’t even notice you’ve moved, and neither will the search engines, since they’re still pointing to your domain.

If you’ve changed URLs because your old web host was a free one and you now have a domain name, your visitors will follow the old links to your site and won’t know where you’ve gone. You can put up a redirection link after the week allowed for all the ISPs to be updated, but most people won’t bother to click on it. If you put up an automatic forwarding page the search engines might delete your old URL from their index before your new one has time to get established (up to a month).

A good solution to these problems is to add a .htaccess file to your old site’s web directory if your site supports it. Check their help documents to find out. This file transparently redirects your visitors without them needing to click a link. For every page it would contain a redirection line such as:

Redirect permanent /oldpagename.html /newpagename.html

If your old host doesn’t support .htaccess, then a redirection page or link is better than nothing.

Updating your listings

If you’ve simply moved an existing domain name, you don’t need to do anything here, but if you’ve moved to a new URL you should update any listings that have your old URL, and submit your new URL to the search engines. Some loss of visitors is inevitable if your URL has changed, but if you follow the advice above, it should be minimal.