What is Website Hosting Migration?
A website hosting migration is a process where all the current web pages on your website get redirected to new web pages with an entirely new hosting without affecting your ranks or changing your website’s layout.
The ideal migration occurs when the website is completely transferred to a new host without any noticeable change.
Website migration can be stressful, especially if you cannot afford to be offline for a certain period. The biggest delay is usually getting your website’s DNS registration migrated over to your new provider, which can take a while, depending on when you begin the process. We’ll cover this in greater detail, but timing is worth keeping in mind.
With this article, we will show you how to migrate a website to a new domain. You can use our step-by-step guide as a basis for manual migration and then build your plan around it. Not all steps may apply to you, so use what you need and leave out the rest.
What is Website Downtime?
Combined with the need to transfer website files, restore important databases, and get every software installation and subdomain configuration in working order, it can take up to a day of inactivity before your site is fully functioning again. This inactivity is called downtime – the time when the website isn’t available for functioning or use.
1. Back Up Your Files
Back up all your site files before you attempt to migrate your site. You should be backing up regularly anyway, and a backup procedure should be routine any time you make major changes to your website. With a migration, you never know what might happen. It’s best to have all data safely stored away in the event of an issue.
There are several ways to back up your website’s files. Most WordPress-friendly hosts can automatically backup on a regular schedule, and these back-up files should be downloaded and saved off the server, or to a third party cloud storage service.
The easiest way to back up your WordPress site is with a plugin. UpdraftPlus is a popular and well regarded plugin which makes it easy to download backups to your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox and more. While the free version of this plugin is useful, the premium version has the most powerful features. In the event of a problem, UpdraftPlus also makes it super easy to restore your site to a previous version from your backup.
2. Choose a New Host
Now it’s time to look for a new host. When choosing a new host, estimate how much traffic you expect your site to receive. Host providers typically charge based on storage and bandwidth size. If you only plan to target local customers, bandwidth may be low. If your goal is to reach the top of Google’s search results, your bandwidth requirements will increase.
3. Install WordPress
If your new host does not offer free migrations, you will need to install WordPress on the new host yourself. Most hosts offer one-click installation that simplifies the set-up process. This is usually available via the hosting control panel, with most hosts offering Cpanel or Plesk for easy administraion of your hosting account.
If one-click installation is not available, fear not because WordPress is famous for it’s ease of installation.
NB: If you want to make the switch so there is no downtime you must leave your current site running on the existing host at this stage. You will be able to decommission this later, but for now leave it running.
4. Update your computers Host File
Updating the host file on your computer allows you to access your site on the new hosting before your have officially switched your domain to point to the new server.
Updating your hosts file will direct your computer to the new host while regular visitors will still see your site on the old host until you are ready to point your domain to the new host’s IP address. This way you can get everything up and running on the new host before you switch, so your site visitors will see no downtime at all.
Copy down your new server’s IP address
Your new host will provide you with an IP address for the server where your site will live. You need to note this down so we can add this to the hosts file.
Open Notepad as an administrator
Nnavigate to your computer’s accessories. Right-click on the Notepad application and choose “Run as Administrator”. You must run Notepad as an administrator to edit the hosts file
Open Hosts File
In Notepad, select “File” and then “Open.” Select the “C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc” folder. In this directory you will find the hosts file. Open it.
Add your domain and new IP address to the hosts file
At the bottom of the hosts file add a new line with the IP address provided by your new host, followed by your domain name, e.g. 123.456.789 yourdomain.comOnce done, save the changes. Now you can access data on the new host using your domain name.
This change only affects your computer so at this stage all your site visitors will still see the old version of your site.
After the migration is complete you will need to update your hosts file again to remove the line you just added. We only want to have this added to the hosts file while your domain is still officially pointing at the old server.
5. Log Into WordPress on your new host and install the backup plugin
Now that WordPress has been installed on the new host, and you alone can access your site on the new host, you can log in to WordPress and install your preferred backup plugin. Whether you are using UpDraftPlus or VaultPress you will now be able to upload the backup file you previously downloaded from the old site.
If everything was backed up correctly, including the themes, plugins and database, this step should come with no challenge.
6. Restore Your Website on the new host
Using UpDraftPlus, do a complete restore on the new website using the backup files you’ve just uploaded. This will replace the default WordPress theme and content — like the “Hello, World” blog post — and replace it with your website.
A complete restore should mimic your original site. Now you can test to make sure everything is in proper running order.
7. Test Your Site
Run through every page on your site to ensure everything looks right. A simple mistake, like broken links, can cost your business time and money to fix.
After the migration, download a plugin like Broken Link Checker for WordPress. It can scan your website for non-working links. If any are found, you can repair them in seconds.
8. Update Your DNS
Your website now exists entirely on your new host server. Your domain, on the other hand still points to your old web host. You will need to update the Domain Name Server (DNS) nameservers to ensure your domain name leads to the right place. First, find the nameserver information of your new host, typically it is something like “ns1.newhostname.com” – you’ll usually find this in the onboarding email you received from your new host.
Now go to your domain name account and open the domain management console to edit the nameservers. Replace the current nameservers with the new ones and click “Save”. DNS changes can take up to 24 hours to propogate around the web, but once this is done your domain will be pointing to the new host and none of your visitors will even realize there has been a change. We’ve written more about the basics of domains and DNS before.
Don’t Forget: Email Accounts
Transferring your mailboxes is another thing that will require certain attention. It all depends on your existing setup: in case your email is hosted with a separate domain registrar (such as GoDaddy) or a third-party service (such as the free Zoho Mail) you will just need to make sure that the respective DNS zone file records, more specifically the “A” and “MX” types, are assigned proper values in step 5 of the guide above, after switching the nameservers. In case your email was hosted with the previous hosting provider, the easiest way to go is to simply re-create the mailboxes on your new host (or outsource them to one of the options mentioned previously, while we’re at it anyway).