Just as most people no longer stay at one job for their entire career, today most website owners will switch hosting providers once or more during the life of their site. The first time through the transfer process can feel a lot like riding a roller coaster or watching a thriller movie.
Whether you are new to transferring a website or already an expert, this post offers 5 essentials to ensure the smoothest possible transfer.
Back Up EVERYTHING
Before you begin the steps to transfer your website, you need to make sure you have a backup copy of absolutely every element of your website. This includes each of the following:
- Emails (especially those you have not yet responded to).
- Photos and graphics.
- Audio and video files.
- Custom scripts, directories or CSS.
- Databases (including MySQL databases as applicable).
This will ensure you have access to everything you might need should there be a glitch during the transfer process (no matter how carefully you plan, you can’t ever predict what Mother Nature or other entities may do that might interfere).
Also, if you are transferring from an unfriendly host – one that makes it more difficult to leave – you won’t have to interact with that company further should any files go astray during the transfer.
1. Schedule the Transfer Date & Time Wisely
If there is one experience that will leave a lingering memory, it is choosing to transfer your site during an inopportune moment, such as during your heaviest annual sales period or just before your webmaster goes on vacation.
All that to say, taking the time to really think through the timing of your transfer will give you peace of mind as well as extra time to troubleshoot post-transfer just in case you happen to need it.
Ideally, the transfer itself will be so fast and easy no one will even know it has taken place. But just in case, you will also want to alert any other site users, administrators or major customers or vendors who rely on information from your site, just in case they attempt to access the site while the actual website transfer is taking place.
2. Don’t Forget About SEO & Site Structure
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is what makes your site not just run, but thrive and grow. All those little “extras” your site has, such as specific meta tags for each page of content, must move too, or your site will no longer be able to advocate on your behalf to attract new organic and paid content.
In the same way, if you are changing the underlying structure of the site itself (an example would be changing from a “static” to a “dynamic” or “responsive” website design), you may need to account for how the site URLs will change accordingly.
In case any visitors get lost, it is also smart to set up a customized transfer website guide to help visitors find you at your new location:
- Build in 301 redirects: Every page that has been indexed by Google’s browser is likely to continue to generate web hits, even if your new site no longer uses those URLs. To get around the issue of “not found” error messages, you can build in what is called a “301 redirect” for every indexed page to make sure the old site URL points to the new site URL.
- Create a personalized 404 page: Just in case you miss any indexed pages, or simply run out of time to catalog all of them before your new site transfers completely and launches, it is helpful to create a personalized 404 “not found” page so site visitors will know where to find you at your new location.
3. Create your own transfer website guide checklist
Perhaps the smartest way to plan out your website transfer is to create a personalized website transfer guide to use to be sure you don’t forget anything at any step during the transfer process.
You can think of this like a travel checklist. On that checklist, you want to list out everything you need to bring and your entire itinerary from the day you leave until the day you return. This way, you can enjoy your travels knowing everything has been meticulously planned out, with every contingency thought of in advance.
4. Keep your old hosting and email service until the transfer is a success
Once you have made up your mind to make a change, it can feel so tempting to tie up any loose ends in advance. But this does not extend to terminating your services with your old hosting provider – at least not if you want to enjoy a seamless transition.
Even if your old hosting provider is willing to serve as a website transfer guide during the process, you may still risk missing emails and confusing site visitors, as well as potentially losing data, especially if you haven’t backed everything up as well as you thought!
5. Edit your DNS records to point to the new site host
If you have ever had the experience of checking…and re-checking…and still your website has not repopulated under the new hosting provider, you have probably had the experience of forgetting to change your DNS records.
DNS records are what tells your server where to look for your website content. This will be the last thing you do before you initiate the actual website transfer – without it, your website can’t move to its new location.
After you have your first transfer under your belt, you will start to get the hang of how the process is supposed to work. In the meantime, by paying close attention to these 5 essentials, you will sidestep many first-timer mistakes and enjoy a seamless website transfer.