When it comes to maintaining your website—along with your ranking in search results—web hosting is one of the most crucial aspects to tackle. In some cases, switching web hosts becomes a necessity; perhaps the shared server you’re currently using has become overloaded which is why you’re experiencing more downtime than usual, or you need more space than your current provider can offer. Downtime makes your site appear low-quality and unreliable, and negatively affects your site’s user experience—consequently impacting your SEO efforts.
The web host you opt for determines the consistency of the website experience you offer. If you want to prevent page timeouts and server errors—and stop users from bouncing back to search results—you need a solid web host that you can rely on.
Migrating web hosts requires careful planning and execution, and if done right, it can open up new opportunities for your site.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss a step-by-step how-to of how to migrate web hosts without losing any SEO value.
Step 1: Finding The Right Web Hosting Provider
Once you’ve made the decision to migrate, the next step is to find a suitable web host—one that fits your SEO requirements. Take time to research new providers. Go through customer feedback and online reviews, and analyze their offerings.
Here are some technical features that you need to keep a lookout for when evaluating hosting providers:
- Server technical specifications—like the server version and the operating system. For instance, if your site requires Microsoft-specific technologies like ASP, MSSQL, or MSACCESS, you’ll need a Windows-platform web hosting plan.
- Bandwidth and disk space—look into the services and limitations of the server.
- Location of the server. To reduce latency—and improve site speed—host your site on a server that’s in close proximity to your visitors. So, for example, if your visitors are primarily based in the UK, having a data centre in the UK will give you a higher chance to rank well. Global businesses, on the other hand, can benefit from geographically-distributed servers.
- Server configurations, such as the time limits and installed libraries.
- See if the server supports Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). CDNs play a huge role in optimizing page speed, thus, improving user experience.
- Security system performance
Learn more about must-have web hosting features, here.
Once you’ve found a suitable new provider, we recommend registering your domain to a third-party provider (if you haven’t already). This way, your domain will remain unaffected whenever you’re switching web hosts.
Step 2: Create A Complete Backup Of Your Site
After you’ve purchased your new hosting plan, before cancelling the previous one, make sure to back up your site in its entirety. There are tons of tools available online for both backup and migration of your site.
- Fire up your FTP client, insert your credentials, and connect.
- Locate the root directory of your WordPress site and mark all the files. Files should ideally be downloaded in the same tree structure in which you want to upload them later.
- Make sure your FTP client also displays all the hidden files (such as .htaccess).
- Download your site files to a directory on your computer.
Step 3: Export the Database
phpMyAdmin is a great tool for handling both importing and exporting of your website’s database.
It has an easy interface that requires you to simply enter the name of the database you’re using, go to the Exports tab, make a few selections, and save the compressed database to your computer.
Step 3: Create A Database At Your New Host
Now you need to create a new home database for the database that you just exported.
Go to your new host server and create a database with a secure user password and assign proper privileges to it.
Step 4: Migrate Your Website Files To The New Host
Once the backup is complete, you’re ready to migrate your site to the new host. You can also ask the web hosting provider to do this for you.
First things first, locate a file called wp-config.php in the backup and replace the database_usernameand database_passwordwith the username and password of the database that you created earlier at your new host.
When uploading website files, we’ll start the process in the reverse direction. Fire your FTP client, and use the IP address of your new server to connect (you can find this in the hosting account).
Once connected, upload the backed up files (including the modified wp-config.phpfile) to the root directory.
Step 5: Import the Database
Log onto the database administration tool on your new web host server. Assuming its phpMyAdmin, just select the database you created earlier and click Import.
The time it takes for the database to import depends on the size of your database.
Step 6: Test the New Website
After the migration is complete, make sure your website is compatible with the new host by testing it first. This includes testing all its functionalities—perhaps via a temporary URL—such as, checking it up with IP or setting it up on a temp subdomain.
Double-check if your site is working properly before moving on to the next step. Some hosting companies allow you to preview your site on the new domain before making it live.
Step 7: Update TTL of Your DNS Records (Optional)
Domain Name System (DNS) is a service that maps domain names to IP addresses (the network addresses of the servers hosting your website).
When you change hosting companies, you’re basically transferring your site from the IP address of the old server to the IP address of the new server.
In order to complete the transfer, you need to update the DNS records, notifying the world that the IP address for the site has changed.
However, in some cases, DNS records can take over 24 hours to update and become visible globally because they’re cached for a specific period of time (known as TTL or Time-To-Live). As a result, changes in your DNS record will reflect in 24 hours, and in the meantime, your visitors will continue to access a static version of your website via the old server. Their interactions with the database (such as posting blogs, or shopping on eCommerce sites) will not be reflected.
To overcome this obstacle, you can speed up the DNS update process by changing the TTL value from 24 hours (or 86400 seconds) to 5 minutes (or300 seconds). Doing so a day before you migrate will ensure that your visitors directly access the site located on the new web server. However, your new hosting provider needs to support this feature.
Step 8: Update Your DNS Records
As discussed earlier, we need to update the DNS records to complete the transfer. You can do this by updating the NameServer records. Be sure to change back the TTL value from 5 minutes to 24 hours.
It’s important to mention here, that changing the DNS records of your domain will also likely affect your emails. Therefore, make sure you set up your email accounts with the new hosting provider before updating your DNS records.
Finally, it’s best to play it safe and keep the old server live for 1 or 2 days after the website migration. Since search engines also update DNS records every 24 hours, doing so will ensure that you don’t lose any traffic or emails.
By following all steps correctly and testing your site’s migration thoroughly, you can ensure that your SEO efforts will not be affected by the update. Moreover, you can make the most of your SEO strategy and boost your site performance by using a website SEO audit tool like RankGenie. It analyzes all the on-page SEO elements on your site, such as your domain elements, backlink profile, sitemaps, etc. to indicate which areas need improvement—so that you can take action right away.
How was your web host migration experience? What kind of technical difficulties did you come across? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Andrew Wilson is an SEO analyst at Rank Genie. He loves to watch movies, listen to podcasts, and plan about launching his own podcast. He has helped the Rank Genie team shape their rank tracker and make it one of the most easy-to-use and SEO friendly tracker out there. You can find his blogs on www.RankGenie.com.