Switching website host provider is a daunting task for any business. It is one of those tasks that will always get put on the ‘long finger’ until frustration levels reach breaking point. So following the launch of our new site a couple of months back, we thought we would share our experience of switching host provider, in 5 steps. Hopefully this will ease the pain for anyone out there that is thinking of, or wanting to, make the switch. It should be noted that our experience is with a WordPress site.
TIP: Within this blog there are also individual guides that may help you even if you are not switching. For example, backing up your website!
Why Switch Host Provider?
The want, or more likely the need, for switching provider can come about for numerous reasons. However it generally boils down to
a) The experience of a poor level of service on your site’s performance
b) Poor customer service relations.
Tip: If your website is running slow, which our old site was, it is definitely time for you to consider switching or asking questions of your current host. Google recognises this slowness, deems it as an ‘unpleasant’ experience for visitors and will penalise your site for it. Of course you should always investigate if there are underlying problems such as large amounts of data (pics etc) and/or plugins that are causing the problem, but unless you are a large e-commerce site, then this should not be an issue.
Step 1: Find a New Host Provider & Right Package
There are hundreds of website providers on the market and you can be excused for getting your head in a spin when looking to choose which one is best for your site. For us, there were a number of factors involved that were going to dictate our decision. They are fairly common ones that most people/companies will come across
1) Type of Package to switch to? 2) Customer Service 3) Irish owned or not 4) Recommendations.
When we made the decision to switch provider we immediately took to social media (twitter mainly) to see what was on offer. After back and forth with a number of potential hosts we narrowed it down to 4 potentials (Black Night, Let’s Host, Host Ireland and Dediserve). Whilst all the above mentioned companies were very responsive, what made our decision easier was the level of response from the provider we eventually chose. Black Night, with their online chat support, were difficult to beat and considering we had a number of good recommendations from colleagues who are clients of theirs, they were the choice for us.
In conjunction with this you need to understand which package is best suited to your site. For us we were originally on a shared server (meaning sharing your site with other businesses on the same server). However despite being advised by some other providers to switch to a dedicated server (your own server exclusively for your own site) we felt there was no need and wanted to remain on a shared platform. For a site like ours, which is for all intensive purposes a brochure site, there really is no need to have a dedicated server. What we liked about Black Night is that they confirmed this and made it clear that we would not have issues with a shared package. This was our major concern considering we were switching because of slow speed which was due to a shared server.
Step 2: Backup Your WebSite
Even if you are reading this post and not considering a switch, you should have a backup of your WordPress site. It will only take the one time for you to loose your site to realise why. Most hosting companies do automated backups but we would strongly recommend that you have a copy of it on your own local server. You can backup your site through a number of FTP clients. We use FileZila which is a no nonesense, easy to use program and of course is free. Simply login in using the ftp username and password for your website and download the entire site to your local server. You are going to need this backup to upload to the new host anyway. Depending on your website content and internet speed, this may take a little while. If you don’t know login details, your host provider will give them to you.
Step 3: Backup Your Database
Many businesses out there don’t have any experience or hands on knowledge of website backend functions. Y our website’s database is the engine of your site. Whilst backing up your files in Step 2 is essential, without the database you will have a car that will not drive. Also without the database, your new site will not be visible when you upload it to the new host. Again you should have a backup copy of the database saved locally on your server in case of your site failing. Here is a step by step guide to backing up your website database.
1) Login into your control panel on your host providers website.
2) Click on Domains and click on the domain related to your site (sometimes you might have numerous domains such as .ie .com.eu etc). Click on the one that is your main site.
3) Click on database or MYSQL database and then login to your database. You will be most likely brought to MyPHPAdmin site to do this. (see screen grabs below). Once you login to the database, click on the name of your database which will load the structure table.
4) Click on the export tab, highlight save files as and export to your local hard drive or server. We kept all the settings as default. Make sure the compression ‘zipped’ is checked. It should not take long to download the database. In our case it was under 10Mb.
Tip: if you have no record of usernames and passwords for any of the above then contact your host provider who will issue them to you.
Step 4: Upload Your Website & Database To Your New Host Provider
Once you have downloaded your site and database and purchased your new hosting package it is time to upload it to your new host provider’s server. They will have given you FTP login details which you will need. Here is a step by step guide to uploading your site and database.
1) Use your FTP client (Filezilla Client in our case) to upload your site excluding database to the specified folder. Make sure you ask your new host provider which folder it should go into as there maybe numerous folders on show. It may take a bit of time to upload depending on internet speed and size of content.
2) Once the site is uploaded, login into the control panel of your new host, click on Domains and click on your domain which should be there. They will have set it up for you. Once you click on your domain you will be given an option to add a new database.
3) Click on databases and then click on ‘Add New Database’ This will allow you to setup a database in order to import the one you saved above. You can name it whatever you like. If, like us, you by accident go to far at this stage and setup a new database after adding it, you can easily delete the associated files in your MyPHPAdmin control panel before importing your existing database.
4) Once the database is setup, login to it (same as you did for your original hosts) and go to the import tab. It is likely it will be a MyPhPAdmin control panel again. This is where you will import the database that is located on your local harddrive or server. Import the zipped file.
5) After importing your database, you need to edit wp-config.php file and define your database name, username, password and the address (the details you entered in the step 3 above). This is important and needs to be done so that your website knows where to look for your database and is able to access it. Now all your content should be ready to go.
Step 5: Test And Redirect Your DNS
Now that all your site content, and your database, is uploaded to the new host provider, you will need to make sure that everything is working before switching the DNS to point to the new site. DNS pointing can be confusing but is in fact very simple to understand. At this point in the switching process, your site is located on two hosting platforms – the original host providers and the new host providers. However your Domain name www.yoursite.com is pointing at the original host to read your website from their server. If you are not switching domain, (ie you are leaving yoursite.com domain name registered with the original host provider) you will need to switch the DNS to point to the new host and read your site from their servers. Here is a step by step guide to testing and redirecting your DNS
1) Test your site and database has uploaded correctly. Your new host provider should be able to give you a link to the site for you to check. TIP: If you make changes to your site on your original host provider at this stage and DO NOT download the database again they will NOT appear on the new site.
2) Switching DNS is straight forward enough. Login into your original host providers control panel and go to DNS Administrator. Click on the domain you are switching and a DNS records table will appear. In here there will be a number of entries such as www, ftp, imap, pop3. The main entries you need to deal with, if you are only switching your website and NOT your domain or email, is the www and the blank one that is the A record Type and has a corresponding IP address assigned to it. Both these entries need to be A record types and be pointing to the new host’s site. They will have given you the new IP address to enter here.
3) Upon updating the DNS records, it could take approximately 1-2 hours to point to the new server (know as propagation). Your site should not go down during this process. TIP: If it does go down, then make sure you contact your new provider first as they are much more likely to help you as you are switching to them. You may need to go back to the original host if your new provider can’t help out.
Some Useful Links
tools.pingdom.com/fpt – check the speed of your website
blacknight.com – recommended host provider due to level of customer service and the fact that the speed of our site has greatly increased since switching over
mxtoolbox.com – check to see where your site is being read from