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How to Change Hosting Providers Without Losing SEO Rankings

November 22nd, 2023

Have you decided to change hosting providers due to technical issues, costs, or customer service problems? This process can lead to issues with your rankings if not done properly, and we want to help you ensure that your new hosting platform improves your overall website performance not just for you but also your users. Follow these best practices to minimize the impact of moving your website to a new host and improve your search rankings in the process.

Website Migration

Decide on a New Hosting Platform

We have worked with many hosting providers over the years, and each of them offers benefits and drawbacks depending on the type of site you have. The first decision you need to make when choosing a hosting platform is the type of access you want and the nature of the website you’ll be moving. Some hosting providers offer CMS-specific hosting platforms, providing ease of use benefits. However, this can also result in a lack of overall website control. On the other hand, other hosting providers grant full access to your server, including cPanel. For those who are not experienced in the intricacies of web development, this can be daunting at first.

CMS Specific Hosting Providers

Here are some hosting providers we recommend if you are moving a specific CMS based website such as WordPress or Drupal:

  • WP Engine – Best WordPress Specific Hosting Provider. “Our platform provides brands the solutions they need to create remarkable sites and apps on WordPress that drive their business forward faster.”
  • Pantheon – Recommended by Drupal. “Build, host, scale, and manage Drupal sites with Pantheon. All in one secure, flexible, high velocity environment with up to 99.99% uptime & 24/7 support.”
  • Rochen – Joomla Hosting Recommended by the Community. “We have built our platform to ensure Joomla sites loads at lightning speeds.”

Hosting Providers for All Types of Websites

When we work with our clients on a site migration we always run into the questions of cost, security, and customer support. So here are our recommendations for hosting providers that we use everyday for a range of clients depending on their needs:

  • SiteGround – Best Overall Hosting. “Our web hosting is trusted by more than 2,800,000 domains for its top speed, unmatched security, 24/7 fast, and expert support!”
  • A2 – Low Cost Shared Hosting. “A2 Hosting has a hosting plan for everyone. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, our plans are created with our customers’ specific needs in mind.”
  • BlueHost – Most Recommended. “Shared hosting is the easiest, most economical way to get your website connected to the Internet so you can start building it.”

Preparing to Move Your Website to the New Host

  1. Backup Your Website: Before making any changes, back up your entire website, including databases, files, and configurations. This ensures that you have a safety net in case anything goes wrong during the migration.
  2. Set Up Your New Hosting Account: Create an account with the new hosting provider and configure the basic settings. Take note of the nameservers or IP address provided by the new host.
  3. Move Your Website to a Staging Environment: Set up a staging environment on your new hosting account and duplicate your website. This allows you to test the migration process without affecting the live site.

These are the three basic steps to take in order to start the move to your new host. Let’s get into these steps in more detail:

Backup Your Website

We will focus on three different methods of backing up your website depending on your current hosting setup.

cPanel Backup

cPanel Backup:

  1. Log in to cPanel: Access your cPanel account through your hosting provider’s dashboard.
  2. Navigate to Backup Wizard: Locate and click on the “Backup Wizard” icon.
  3. Choose Backup: Select the “Backup” option to initiate the backup process.
  4. Select Full Backup: Opt for a “Full Backup” to include all files, databases, email forwarders, and configurations.
  5. Choose Backup Destination: Select the destination for your backup. You can store it on the server, download it to your local machine, or save it to an FTP server.
  6. Initiate Backup: Click the “Generate Backup” button to start the backup process. This may take some time depending on the size of your website.
  7. Download Backup: Once the backup is complete, download the compressed backup file to your local machine for safekeeping.

CMS Plugin Backup (e.g., WordPress):

  1. Log in to CMS Dashboard: Access the admin dashboard of your CMS (e.g., WordPress).
  2. Install a Backup Plugin: If you don’t have a backup plugin installed, choose and install a reliable one. Popular choices include UpdraftPlus, BackupBuddy, or All-in-One WP Migration.
  3. Configure Plugin Settings: Configure the plugin settings, specifying what elements to include in the backup (files, database, themes, plugins, etc.).
  4. Initiate Backup: Start the backup process through the plugin. Depending on the plugin, you may have options for a manual or automated backup schedule.
  5. Download Backup: Once the backup is complete, download the backup file to your local machine or cloud storage.

Manual Backup:

  1. Connect via FTP: Use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) software to connect to your website’s server.
  2. Download Files: Navigate to your website’s root directory and download all website files to your local machine.
  3. Export Database: Access your database through phpMyAdmin or a similar tool provided by your hosting provider. Export the entire database as an SQL file.
  4. Copy Configuration Files: Copy any configuration files, such as .htaccess, located in the root directory.
  5. Store Locally: Save all downloaded files, the database export, and configuration files in a secure local folder.

Remember, the specific steps may vary based on your hosting provider and CMS. Always refer to the documentation provided by your hosting service and CMS for accurate and tailored instructions.

Set Up Your New Hosting Account

  1. Understand Your Needs: Assess your website’s requirements (e.g., traffic volume, resource needs) to choose an appropriate hosting type (shared, VPS, dedicated).
  2. Check Features and Resources: Ensure the hosting plan offers sufficient storage, bandwidth, and features like email accounts, databases, and one-click installations.
  3. Select a Hosting Plan: Choose a hosting plan that aligns with your website’s needs.
  4. Configure Plan Options: Customize your plan by selecting add-ons or configuring options like server location and PHP version.
  5. Check SSL Availability: Confirm whether your hosting plan includes a free SSL certificate. Many providers offer this as standard.
  6. Uptime Guarantee: Look for providers offering a high uptime guarantee to ensure your website is consistently accessible.
  7. Backup Services: Check if the hosting plan includes backup services or set up your own regular backup routine.
  8. Research Promotions and Renewal Rates: Be aware of any promotional rates and understand the renewal rates after the initial term.

Move Your Website to a Staging Environment

Moving your website to a staging environment is a crucial step in ensuring a smooth transition when switching hosting providers. Here are the general steps to move your website to a staging environment:

  1. Set Up Staging Environment: Create a subdomain or a subdirectory on your new hosting provider to serve as the staging environment (e.g., staging.yourdomain.com or yourdomain.com/staging).
  2. Access Staging Environment: Use FTP or the hosting provider’s file manager to access the staging environment.
  3. Duplicate Files: Use the backup files you created in the steps above to move them to your new hosting environment for testing.
  4. Update Configuration Files: If your website relies on configuration files (e.g., wp-config.php for WordPress), update them to reflect the staging environment’s database details.
  5. Update URLs (if needed): If your website uses absolute URLs, update them to reflect the staging environment’s domain or subdomain.
  6. Set Permissions: Ensure that file and directory permissions are correctly set for the staging environment.
  7. Test the Staging Environment: Visit the staging environment’s URL and test the website thoroughly. Check for broken links, missing images, and other issues.
  8. Check Functionality: Ensure that all website functionality, including forms, e-commerce features, and any interactive elements, works as expected.
  9. Verify Database Sync: If your website is database-driven (e.g., a CMS like WordPress), verify that the staging environment’s database is synchronized with the live database.
  10. Perform SEO Checks: Check for any SEO-related issues, such as URL structures and meta tags. Ensure that the staging environment doesn’t negatively impact your SEO.
  11. Test Performance: Assess the performance of your website in the staging environment. Check page loading times and overall responsiveness.
  12. Review Third-Party Integrations: If your website integrates with third-party services (payment gateways, APIs), test these integrations in the staging environment.
  13. Backup Staging Environment: Once satisfied with the testing, create a backup of the staging environment. This serves as a restore point in case further testing is needed.

Launch Your Website on the New Hosting Platform

Launch Website

Once you’ve tested and approved your website on the staging environment, it’s time to launch it on the new hosting platform. Here are the steps to make a smooth transition:

  1. Final Backup: Take a final backup of your website on the staging environment, ensuring that you have the latest version.
  2. Update DNS Records: Log in to your domain registrar’s website. Update the DNS records to point to the nameservers or IP address of your new hosting provider. This change directs traffic to the new server.
  3. Propagate DNS Changes: DNS changes may take some time to propagate globally. Monitor the propagation using online tools to ensure that users are directed to the new hosting server.
  4. Verify DNS Propagation: After DNS propagation is complete, verify that your domain is resolving to the new hosting platform.
  5. Check Website: Visit your website using the domain name to ensure that it’s loading correctly on the new hosting platform.
  6. SSL Configuration: If you are using an SSL certificate, confirm that it’s configured correctly on the new hosting platform.
  7. Monitor Website Performance: Keep a close eye on your website’s performance, especially during the initial hours after the launch. Address any issues promptly.
  8. Update Configuration Settings: If your website relies on specific configurations or settings, ensure they are updated on the new hosting platform to match the requirements.
  9. Check Internal Links and Paths: If your website uses absolute links or paths, ensure they are updated to reflect the new server structure.
  10. Test Functionality: Thoroughly test the functionality of your website on the new hosting platform. Check forms, e-commerce features, and any interactive elements.
  11. SEO Checks: Perform SEO checks to ensure that the migration has not negatively impacted your search engine rankings. Monitor key metrics using tools like Google Analytics.
  12. Email Services (if applicable): If your email services are tied to your hosting provider, update the email settings to ensure uninterrupted communication.
  13. Verify Database Sync: For database-driven websites, verify that the database on the new hosting platform is synchronized with the latest data.
  14. Final Checks: Conduct final checks for any issues, broken links, or missing elements on your live website.
  15. Monitor Post-Launch: Keep monitoring your website’s performance, user feedback, and any issues that may arise in the days following the launch.

By following these steps, you can confidently launch your website on the new hosting platform, ensuring a smooth transition from the staging environment to the live environment. Always refer to the specific instructions provided by your hosting service and CMS for accurate setup details.

SEO Best Practices to Follow During Your Hosting Migration

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind during this process to ensure your website does not lose ranking during your migration. Be sure to work with an experience SEO Company for assistance to prevent any negative impacts to your overall website performance.

  1. Preserve URLs: Keep the URLs of your web pages unchanged as much as possible. This includes page URLs, blog post URLs, and any other content. Consistent URLs help search engines understand the structure of your site.
  2. Implement 301 Redirects: If you must change URLs, set up 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new ones. This tells search engines that the content has permanently moved and helps transfer the SEO value.
  3. SSL Certificate: Ensure that the SSL certificate is correctly configured on the new hosting platform. Verify that all pages, especially those handling sensitive information, are served over HTTPS.
  4. Meta Tags: Double-check that meta tags (title tags, meta descriptions) on key pages remain consistent during the migration. This includes maintaining relevant keywords.
  5. Site Speed: Monitor the site speed on the new hosting platform. A slow-loading website can negatively impact user experience and, consequently, SEO rankings.
  6. XML Sitemap: Confirm that your XML sitemap is updated to reflect the structure of the new website. Submit the updated sitemap to search engines via Google Search Console.
  7. Google Search Console: Update your website’s property settings in Google Search Console to reflect the new domain or hosting provider. Submit the updated sitemap.
  8. Monitor Analytics: Keep a close eye on Google Analytics or any other analytics tool you use. Monitor for any sudden drops in traffic or anomalies post-launch.
  9. Crawl Your Website: Use tools like Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, or third-party tools to crawl your website and identify any crawl errors, broken links, or issues with meta tags.
  10. Check for Duplicate Content: Ensure that there is no duplicate content on the new website. This can confuse search engines and dilute the SEO value.
  11. Mobile Responsiveness: Confirm that your website is mobile-friendly. Google places a significant emphasis on mobile-first indexing.
  12. Robots.txt and Noindex Tags: Review your robots.txt file and meta robots tags. Ensure that search engines can crawl and index your content appropriately.
  13. Test Social Sharing: If your website utilizes social sharing features, test that sharing links generate the correct content previews and descriptions.
  14. Backlink Monitoring: Keep an eye on your backlink profile using tools like Ahrefs or Moz. Ensure that there are no sudden drops or irregularities.
  15. Engage in Post-Launch SEO Audit: Perform a comprehensive post-launch SEO audit, checking various elements such as on-page SEO, backlinks, and crawlability.
  16. Monitor for Penalties: Watch for any manual actions or penalties reported in Google Search Console. Address issues promptly if detected.
  17. User Experience Testing: Test the user experience on your website, ensuring that navigation is intuitive and that users can easily find the information they need.
  18. Engage in Incremental Changes: If possible, avoid making significant content or structural changes simultaneously with the migration. Incremental changes can help in isolating issues.

By following this comprehensive guide, you will be well-equipped to navigate the hosting migration process effectively, safeguarding your website from any negative impacts. Our step-by-step instructions and best practices aim to empower you in making the most of this crucial transition.

Should your team require expert assistance throughout this process, do not hesitate to reach out to our team of skilled web developers. Our professionals are ready to provide the support and guidance needed to ensure a seamless and successful hosting migration for your website. Contact our team today and let us help to simplify this process, allowing you to focus on what matters most – the continued success of your online business.

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