If you have a website you also have hosting. You may not know the specifics (I am constantly dismayed by how few people have this information to hand) but ultimately you are paying someone for the cyber-home for your website. In addition you might also have email hosting (although more and more people are using G Suite or similar for this, which costs more but can be a lot easier long term). And to be fair when everything is working as it should this is not probably something you spend any time thinking about. But occasionally you might find you need to change hosting companies, there are several possible reasons for this but in my experience the main ones are:
- poor service, load times or support from your current setup
- old technology or infrastructure at your current hosting company, and a lack of motivation on their part to change this (or help you with it at all)
- the company being taken over by someone else, and a drop in service quality or your experience as a customer (this is especially something you may want to consider if your hosting provider is part of the EIG network).
Why you might want to consider this is explained here and alternatives listed here. Bear in mind that a change away from EIG may result in a higher hosting bill but it is worth it.
Most of the time people put off changing hosting companies because it seems too risky, too stressful and just altogether much too difficult to contemplate. And yes it can be a little overwhelming, so I thought I would share my tips and best practices to make it as smooth a transition as possible. And I have just done this for my own hosting account so it’s perfect timing.
Before you begin
There are a few things you need to do before you start the move. I have listed these IN ORDER below.
FIRST – split your domain registration from your hosting account
When you signed up for your domain it probably made sense to host your website and email with the same company. But I would recommend splitting the domain away from the hosting – it just makes it easier to move the one or the other if necessary. I personally use Gandi.net for all my domain registrations, even for .co.za domains. They cost a bit more for some TLDS (thats the .com or whatever) but the dashboard makes it very easy to manage your name servers yourself. You can also have up to 5 mailboxes / mail forwards per domain for no extra cost, and if you don’t need hosting on a particular domain and just want to redirect it (like your local .co.za to your .com) then you can do that for free as well. Also I noticed when I transferred my domains to them that it cost me nothing, and they added a few more months duration onto each domain (balance of the year in most cases), which is also nice.
SECOND – do some housekeeping on your current server
Specifically here I am talking about tidying up your email and, if necessary, your website files (but please if you aren’t sure about this part then rather leave it or ask us for some guidance – you really don’t want to delete the wrong thing). Also empty the trash / .trash folder on your server, this can hold a lot of old stuff you deleted before.
Email: you should already be doing regular maintenance on your inbox, any subfolders and your sent & draft items, especially if you are using IMAP. Not sure which protocol you are using? Have a look at your current email account settings and it will say either POP(3) or IMAP. Ok, but what’s the difference you may ask?
Well IMAP is more commonly used when you are checking mail on multiple devices (i.e. laptops, smartphones, tablets etc). It works well for this as it will synchronise the status of the mail items across devices (read vs unread etc). The thing to bear in mind with IMAP is that your mail lives on the server – you just view it / access it from different devices and mail clients. But eventually your mail server may actually fill up with mail and then you won’t be able to send or receive any more until you sort that out (this limit will depend on the hosting plan you are on, how many mailboxes there are etc). So even if you aren’t moving hosting companies its good practice to periodically archive or copy mail to your local machine (laptop or desktop would be the best bet). And then back it up to an external hard-drive as well to be doubly safe. You can read up on these 2 protocols and the main differences here.
For some help on how to create local folders and move mail to them have a look at these guides depending on your client:
- For MAC users this video is quite handy
- For Outlook users start by creating the PST folder, then create subfolders within the new PST folder by right clicking on the top-level folder and creating a new folder. You can then use your search tools on your inbox to find all the mail you want to move → CTRL + A to select it all and then drag it to the new folder or right click > choose “move” and select the folder you have just created as the destination.
THIRD – sign up for your new hosting account
Sign up with your new hosting company and get all the verification checks done and holds lifted if there are any. Make sure to get a big enough plan to accomodate your mailboxes / databases etc as per your existing (soon to be cancelled) account. Don’t create any content in the new account yet but have it ready to go.
FOURTH – forward your email address to another (personal) email address
Just before you are ready to hit “go” on the migration request with the new hosting company you might want to forward any incoming mail on your current (about to be moved) email to another email address that won’t be affected – most likely a private gmail account or similar. Why would you do this? Well the new hosting company will take a backup of your existing server content, including all your mailboxes etc, and move that onto your new hosting account. But this backup will occur at a point in time and you will continue to receive email on this about to be moved email account until the DNS changes have been completed. This can take a couple of days to finish. You really don’t want to miss any mails right? So this way anything that comes into your old mailbox will be sent to your private email as well. You don’t have to reply from here but at least you will have a copy you can then forward back to yourself once the move is over.
FIFTH – fill in the migration request at your new hosting company
The new hoster will most likely do a full cpanel backup and move (that will be all your email accounts / databases / websites etc) to the new account. Make sure to give them login details for the old and new cpanel and your alternative email address so they can contact you for the duration. If you want the migration to happen at a certain time you can request that sometimes but often it happens when it happens.
Put any online stores into maintenance mode so that you don’t miss any orders etc. Don’t do any blog posts or other updates right now.
SIXTH – wait for them to advise you that the move has been completed successfully
In the meantime advise your old hosting company you are moving and they must please unlock your domains if they are registered there, and accept any updates. You may have to speak to your (ex)developers about this as well if you don’t know where your domain is registered (this is why I urge you to stay in control of your online IP at all times).
SEVENTH – sign in to your NEW hosting account and remove all the mail forwards you set up before
Once the move has been completed and you receive that confirmation email from your new hosting company you can reset all DNS entries on your domains on the new hosting cpanel. This way all these entries are updated to use the new server information. In the case of email hosted on G Suite make sure any MX entries for your email have copied over correctly in each case. Similar entries can be found for Office 365 or Zoho Mail (depending on your mail provider).
EIGHTH – do a sanity check
Make sure the correct number of databases / folders moved across, contain what looks like the correct amount of files and info, and all seems like it should. Depending on the new hosting company you can either use a temporary URL or the server IP address to view your website content in your browser, but remember just typing in your domain name will show you the website on the old server, so you can’t test this way. Using a HOSTS file (on windows) is the easiest way to double check this quickly. The IP address of your server can be found in the server info on the cpanel or in your original signup email from your new hosting company.
NINTH – update your name server details
This will need to be done at your domain registrar for each of the domains you have just moved. Make sure you or your old hosting company / developer / accountant or whomever accept the move request emails or the update will fail.
TENTH – update your email account settings in your mail client
Once you receive the “update complete” emails from your registrar for the domain in question you can edit your mail account settings for each email account you have just moved on each of your devices (note: again this is only for email accounts you host with your domain….G suite or other externally hosted email is not affected by this move and doesn’t need to be changed – as long as you have checked / updated the MX records on your new hosting account – although they should have copied over already).
ELEVENTH – check your DNS updates have replicated worldwide
The easiest here is to use the Global DNS Propagation tool and make sure all servers are showing the new IP address. Once that is done you can check your websites are all working as expected and take them out of maintenance mode if necessary. Make sure all your SSL certificates (if you had any) have also moved over ok and are still working as expected. If all your files and databases moved over correctly there is not much more you need to do as your sites will work as they did before, but if you want to be reassured check on Google Analytics that your tracking code is still working correctly and you are seeing your own visit to the site in the REALTIME section (don’t be logged in if using WordPress).
TWELFTH – cancel your old hosting plan
AND…ta-da – you are done! Put your feet up and have a well deserved cup of coffee, or glass of wine.
If you need any assistance with this process please do get in touch.