You’ve finally had enough of the constant issues with your current website host and decided it’s time to move to a better host.
But just the thought of all the technical details involved makes you break out in a cold sweat. Or maybe you don’t even have any idea how to move your website(s) over to the new host.
Don’t worry, this post will walk you through everything you need to know to make the migration process as smooth as possible.
Before you start
Taking the time upfront to prepare will help take the stress out of the migration process, and ensure a smooth transition.
Of course, first off you need to select your new host and sign up for an account. This in itself can be overwhelming – there are so many choices, and you definitely don’t want to get it wrong again!
No worries – I’ve got you covered. If you follow the advice in the post I wrote on selecting a host then you can’t go wrong 🙂
Next, you need to collect all of the account details you’ll need:
- Your domain registration account login
- Your existing hosting account login
- Your new hosting account login (these details will be emailed to you when you sign up)
- Your WordPress admin login
- If you have any email addresses on your current host, then you will need a list of these addresses (don’t worry so much about the current passwords – you can change these during the migration process)
You can even use the checklist we’ve developed to keep all this information in one convenient place for use throughout the process. Simply enter your details below and we’ll deliver it straight to your inbox.
It would also be a good idea to make sure you have the support contact detail for both your current and new hosts – just in case something goes wrong and you need a hand.
Finally, make sure you take a full backup of the site before you start migrating. Ideally, store the backup(s) away in at least 2 different locations – one locally on your computer (for you to use in the migration), and one on a cloud based data store (eg, Dropbox) for extra safety.
Options for Migrating
Just like most things, there are a number of ways to skin this cat.
And whilst each way will work, there are reasons why you might want to choose one way over another. It all depends on your individual circumstances.
Let’s look at the options…
Get Your New Host To Do It
Most reputable hosts will offer a service to move your site. The better ones (like SiteGround) will even do it for free when you sign up for a new account.
The obvious upside of this approach is that very little effort is required on your part – just provide them with the details of your previous hosting account and they’ll do the rest.
The downside is that everything from your existing site will be copied over – including files that are no longer needed. Whilst this won’t stop your site from working, you’re missing a major opportunity to clean your site up and clear out the excess baggage.
Also note that website hosts will generally not move any email accounts associated with your domain (more on that later).
Manually Transfer Your Files And Database
If you’re technically savvy, you can copy your website files and database from your old host to your new host yourself.
The benefit of this approach is that you can clean out all of the unnecessary fat in the process.
Of course, if things like creating a database or editing your wp-config.php file scare you (or you don’t even know what I just said) then this probably isn’t the approach for you.
So here’s the “mama bear approach” (not too technical, not too “hands-off”) – use a tool like BackupBuddy.
This way, you get to specify which files you don’t want to take across (thus cleaning up your site a bit), but most of the technical details of putting the files and database in the right place on the new host are taken care of for you.
All you need to do is load the import script and the backup file to your new host, run the import script and provide the information the wizard asks for.
Again, you’ll still need to move any email accounts separately.
Test, Test & Test Again
Moving your files and database to your new host is not the end of the process.
At this stage, your site is still being served up to visitors from your existing host. Your new host won’t take over this role until you update your domain records.
Before making this change though, it’s prudent to make sure nothing has gone wrong in the move.
By this I mean checking:
- All pages display properly
- All links still work
- All forms work as expected
- Any payment paths function as expected
- Memberships and/or secured posts and downloads are still protected
Licence details often get messed up in the migration process, and things stop working. So make sure you check your site thoroughly.
You can check some of the above points using the temporary domain link that your new host will provide when you sign up.
However, due to the way WordPress operates internally, clicking links (and especially payment path return pages) often lands you back on your existing host.
By far the best way to really check your migrated site, is to update the hosts file on your computer to match your domain with the IP address supplied by your new host. This enables your computer to look at the site on the new host, whilst the rest of the internet sees your site on the current host.
Then, if something did go wrong in the migration, you get to fix it before anyone else sees it.
Updating Your Domain Pointers
Once you are sure everything has migrated properly, it’s time to send all traffic to your new host.
Simply log in to your domain registration account and update the DNS details to the values provided when you signed up to your new hosting (they’re normally listed in your hosting account dashboard as well).
Note that it can take up to 48 hours for all traffic to be directed to the new host, so don’t shut your old hosting account down for a couple of days (just in case).
What About Emails
Unfortunately, this is the part of changing hosts that causes the most problems.
Migrations managed by hosts will normally not include any email accounts you have on your domain. And migrating a site manually will certainly not bring your emails across.
If you don’t specifically address this as part of the migration you’ll likely find that all of your emails disappear when you change your domain to point to your new host. Not only that, but all new emails will just disappear into the ether, never to be seen again 🙁
Thankfully, avoiding this disaster is not hard – it just takes a bit of planning.
Before Updating Your Domain Pointers
Make sure you replicate all active email accounts onto your new host.
This generally involves logging on to your hosting control panel and clicking through to the Email Accounts area. Once there, create new email accounts with the same name as your current email addresses.
Make sure you take note of the password(s) and connection details, as you’ll need them later.
Then, just before you’re ready to repoint your domain to the new host, move all of the emails in the affected account(s) out of your inbox and into a local folder in your mail program of choice. This will make sure you have access to the emails once your existing host is no longer available.
After Updating Domain Pointers
When your domain points to the new server (remember, it might take some time to settle out), you’ll need to update your email program to connect to the email accounts you set up on the new host.
Make sure you test that you can send and receive emails. I generally send a test email to and from another email address I know is working.
When your test emails have proved everything is working, you can go ahead and copy the emails out of the local folders you set up, and back into your inbox. Mind you, you might want to take this opportunity to cleanse some of those emails 🙂
And that’s it
If you’ve followed the directions above, you should now have your site files on your new host and all your emails working.
Once you know you can see your site coming from the new host and all your emails are working, you can cancel your old hosting account.
Please make sure you ask for a refund for any time left on your old hosting account. They may protest, but it’s worth being firm to get the refund.
To save you from continually referring back to this post as you go through the migration process, we’ve got a convenient checklist for you. Simply enter your details below and we’ll send it straight to your inbox.
Need Some Help?
What I’ve outlined above is a broad overview of the migration process.
Every host will have some minor (and in some cases, major) differences – it’s not possible for me to list every detail of every host in an article like this.
If you’re having trouble working out how some of these steps apply to your chosen host (or if you’d just rather focus on your zone of genius and let someone you can trust handle all of the technical details), then I’m here to help.
Simply sign up for a Tech Rescue and select the “Site Migration” option. Make sure you provide the access details requested (don’t worry, the form is secured so no-one but me can get access to you logins).
Then sit back and relax while I make it all happen for you 🙂