What can go wrong when moving to a new web hosting company?

Posted on June 11, 2019

 

When you decide to move your website from one hosting company to another, there are so many ways it can all go wrong, it’s almost impossible to list them all. In the last 20 or so years in this industry, however, I have experienced a number of issues that people should look out for – the most recent being this week.

First of all, why might you move your website?

You may decide to move your website because someone offers you a cheaper price for hosting. You should be wary of this, as not all website hosting is equal. Does your website hosting include backups, a firewall, email, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited diskspace, or an SSL (security certificate)?

Is your website hosting fast? This is important for rankings within Google. Is it secure? What is the support like? Do you even have support? Will your website be kept up-to-date with the latest software?

There are many more things to consider with your website hosting, but these are just some of the main ones.

You may also have decided you want to move website hosts because you want someone else to build you a new website, and it’s easier if they also host it. However, will they provide you access to this new website? Will you have FTP access? Can you get a copy if you then need to move it again? These are, again, just some of the points to consider when moving web hosts.

Now let’s look at what can go wrong.

Moving your website isn’t just a matter of moving a website. There is also the email to consider, plus the domain name. In addition to these, there is also the DNS records. How many ‘web designers’ know how to manage DNS? Very few indeed!

Start by taking a copy of the website. That should include the website files AND the database. Most websites are database-driven, so without one, they won’t work.

Once you have this, you need to set up the website on the new server. This needs to be compatible with the website, with the correct software versions running. For example, it needs the correct versions of PHP and MySQL for certain WordPress-powered websites. I have seen websites fail before because they have had specific code or plugins installed that only worked on newer versions of PHP – or, by contrast, only worked on older versions of PHP.

Once you have moved the website, which in truth should only take a few hours, you need to move the domain. How many domains do you have? What is your main domain? Is it a .co.uk or a .com, or something else? They have different ways of being moved. If you want to avoid any downtime, you’ll want your new website working as soon as possible.

The quickest way to do that is to change the A Record on the domain to the new IP Address. That should see the website on your new server working within a few minutes, but that’s not the end of it. You also need to transfer the domain, switch the Name Servers, copy the DNS records and move the email.

Moving the email can be the most difficult task, depending on how your email is set up. If you’re using a free email provider such as Hotmail or Gmail, and your domain’s email just forwards to it, then it’s fairly easy. You just need to create the forward rule on your new server.

You’d be surprised the web designers who move websites and forget to do this.

If you’re using a more professional solution, such as Office 365, then it is also fairly easy to move – so long as your new web hosting company knows how to edit DNS Zone Files. The records for Office 365, which will be present on your existing hosting company’s server, need to be replicated on your new one before the DNS is switched. If they’re not, your email will go down.

I have seen this happen so many times.

If, however, you’re using IMAP or POP as your email, then your new host needs to set up the email details on your new server and give you the logins to change on your devices (computer, laptop, phone and tablet). If it’s IMAP, then you’ll also want an extract of your previous email boxes to be imported into your new ones, otherwise you’ll lose all of your historic email. Again, very common.

Does your new website host or designer know how to do this?

We now move on to the act of moving the domain name itself. A .co.uk is fairly easy, and is moved by the current registrar changing the IPS Tag on the domain to the tag your new registrar is using. I’ve even seen huge multinational firms get this wrong. A .com domain needs to be unlocked for transfer, and an authorisation code provided. The Admin contact then needs to approve the transfer.

Be warned, this can take up to 10 days to happen so ensure you leave plenty of time to do this and don’t try to move your website on the last day of your current hosting.

Once this has all happened, and your website, email and domain have all moved, that should be it. Everything’s done and dusted, right?

Wrong.

I saw an example of this just this week, when a new web host took over a website, then forgot to update the DNS. The website was moved. The domain was transferred. The Name Servers were unchanged. When the website was removed from the previous host’s server, the DNS records were also removed, which took the website down.

The client, of course, had no idea what had happened. To be perfectly honest, neither did the new website host because it wasn’t their specialty. They didn’t know they needed to update the Name Servers at all.

So, a website that was hosted on the new host’s server, with the domain name under their control, went down because the Name Servers being used were from somewhere else. That’s one of the many ways a website can go down when you try to move it.

Darren Jamieson

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 15 years’ experience in these fields.

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