Stuff happens. When it does, you need to adjust to the new circumstances sometimes quickly and with little notice! Of course, the trick is to smoothly make necessary changes without risking the gains you’ve made. In the investment world, any adviser worth their fee will tell you that preservation of capital should be your most important consideration. After all, if you lose all of your money then you have nothing to invest. For you and me in the search engine game, it’s preservation of rankings! However, if the engines have not yet picked up the new site, then it’s best to wait until they do before you shut down your old web hosting account. A few years ago we watched this process take up to 90 days but, today, the major search engines are pretty fast and it’s reasonable to expect they will update a new site’s location quickly within a week or so.
- Clean-up: Delete Sensitive Info Before Closing an Old Account. Once you are satisfied that the new site location has been found by the search engines and your traffic has shifted to the new host, it’s time to turn the old hosting account off. Remember first to delete all old information that may be on the old host’s FTP server. This includes data such as email addresses, customer contact info and any left-over databases such as those used by forum software. Once you have these tasks completed, you’re clear to tell your old web hosting service to shut down the old account.
In the real world, smart people have contingency plans. That’s why businesses have fire insurance, people do estate planning, and hospitals have backup generators. Well, in the online world we all depend entirely on unbroken functionality provided by our web hosting service. Clearly it makes sense to plan portability into your overall website strategy so that, in the event of an unexpected crisis, you can move in a hurry. In fact, the success of your online business may depend on it. Because success is where opportunity meets preparedness! First and foremost, you should always avoid doing anything that could potentially cause you to lose your hard-earned search engine rankings. Yet there can be circumstances beyond your control that become cause for moving a site. And, if you do it wrong, you seriously jeopardize those rankings and, potentially, your entire business could fail as a result. In case you’re asking, why would I need to move a site? Here are some of the main reality-check reasons that we’ve encountered over the past ten years. Maybe your current web host…
- has unreliable connectivity,
- has placed restrictions on your operation,
- can’t keep up with your online business needs,
- is financially struggling or going out of business,
- is hosting sites that are banned by the engines (i.e., bad neighborhoods).
Be forewarned: Moving a Site is Serious Business! From looking at our tech-question correspondence, it’s clear to us that moving a website is considered to be a major event for online businesses—as it should be. Unfortunately, we see that many times it has to be done in a hurry due to outages or technical difficulties with the current web host. Being prepared to move, and knowing what steps to take prior to moving a site, will smooth out the bumps in the process and reduce the effect of Murphy’s Law (the concept of ‘whatcan go wrong, will‘). So, here’s our step-by-step basket of Red Flags for you to consider in advance. Anticipating these steps will enable you to quickly pull the trigger on a site-move if ever it becomes strategically advisable.
- Research: Who actually owns your domain? Frequently we’ve encountered situations where the domain name registration is not in the company name. Instead, the web site developer registered it in his or her name. Many entrepreneurs who are new to doing business online have been stymied by this snag when they’ve discovered that someone else actually owns “their” domain name. Usually it’s not a problem as long as the business owner and the developer remain in good standing with each other. However, we have seen some businesses experience difficulty when there is a falling out in the relationship. A lot of times it’s simply a case of the business owner being ready to move on and work with someone else while the rejected site developer uses the domain name ownership as their trump card to force an owner to remain loyal.
We advise you to be certain that you actually own your domain name. Fortunately this is easy to check and to monitor just go to Domain Tools and enter your domain name, then read the area directly under Whois Record (about half-way down the page). The information at the top of that area should contain your company name and address, not your web site developer’s.
- Whois Record
- Domain Name: getfoundnow.com
- Michael Stankard
This section of the record is also sometimes listed as REGISTRANT or REGISTRANT CONTACT. That tells you who actually owns the domain. Below that section you will normally find an administrative and technical contact section. Although these setups can vary, it’s important that you are in control of at least one of the listed email addresses (and preferably both registrant and administrative) in order to easily attain authorization to move your website. Bear in mind that, even if you are not planning to move your website at this time, you should review this information anyway. Doing so will help resolve ownership and contact information details BEFORE you need to move a site. It can truly be a mess if the web site developer registered the domain name in their name and has control of all of the listed email addresses. If that’s the case in your situation, get it resolved as soon as possible.
- Registration Ownership: Anticipate: Setting Up the New Site. Prior to shutting down your old site and moving to the new web host, you need to get the new site up and running at the new location in order to provide a seamless transition for your site’s users. Ideally the new web host will run on the same type of server software as your current site either UNIX-based or Windows. It’s also helpful if the new hosting server has all of the needed options to operate your website, such as the ability to run scripts, etc. similar to your old site. If you’re not familiar with the technology being used on your site, now is the time to review which elements are a crucial part of your online operation. We’re talking about items such as a MySQL database for your forum or shopping cart, PHP support for website programming, etc. The more advanced your site, the more challenging it can be to make a smooth transition. Choose your new web host wisely while remembering that cheaper isn’t usually the best choice.Your goal should be to have the new site become a mirror of the old site. That means that you’ll be duplicating the URL structure (i.e., same file names and directory paths). Also remember that any scripts you have running on the old site will need to be reconfigured when moved to the new host. When purchasing the new account, tell the new web host that you’re going to be transferring a domain and they will go ahead and setup your domain name in their DNS servers and send you the DNS information you’ll need when you’re actually ready to move the site.Ideally your new web site will have a dedicated IP address so that you’re able to access it with a browser for testing purposes, for example http://255.255.255.255. Or, if you don’t have a dedicated IP, the web host will often provide a URL for you to use so that access can be tested via a temporary domain name, like http://server.host.com/acctname. If this is the case, be aware that it’s very important that you do not link anywhere to this temporary URL you don’t want a search engine to find this URL and have it show up as duplicate content of your old site. That could result in a ranking penalty. Also, search engines track web-surfing behavior through their browser toolbars, so turn off search engine toolbars that may “phone home” the URL that you’re visiting. That means turning off the Google, Alexa, Yahoo and any other similarToolbar when accessing the new site.Here’s a valuable tip: Make at least one change to the new site that is not on the old site. By doing so you’ll be able to easily identify which server, new or old, you are looking at in your browser. We recommend adding something to the title tag on the home page like a period, comma, hyphen or some other insignificant typeface character. This subtle difference will also help you determine when the search engines have the new location indexed. All you’ll need to do is search for your site and look at the title listed in the search results. This is a quick and easy way to mistake-proof the process of determining when your move is complete, and is a step that should not be overlooked.
- Timing: Switching the DNS Servers Your DNS Info Name Servers:NS1.host.com NS2.host.
The next step involves transferring your Domain Name Server (DNS) information from your old web hosting account to your new one. This information is listed at the bottom of your who is record and typically looks like the information in the box to the right. The DNS information is what enables site visitors to find your website when clicking a link or typing your domain name into a browser. Global DNS servers translate domain names into IP addresses. This gives a web browser the address to find the web page being requested. When you change your Domain Name Server information, it’s similar to when you get a new cell phone. Your telephone number may stay the same, but the cell phone company changes their switch to point to your new phone, which has a different location-code within their system. In order to change your name server information, you’ll need to log into your account with your domain registrar. The actual steps vary, but typically they all have a link or option that lets you change name servers. Remove the old name server information and replace it with the set of new name servers your new web host provides you. Again, being listed as the Registrant or Administrative contact in your site’s who is info makes this step vastly easier. After completing that step, your registrar sends that information out to other Domain Name Servers on the Internet so that they all know where to look to translate your domain name into the new IP address. Bear in mind that this process doesn’t happen immediately or simultaneously in fact, it may take a few days (sometimes even up to a week) before the changes propagate throughout the Internet. In other words, expect there to be a time lag between when you flip the switch and when everyone all over the world will actually be looking at just the new site on the new server at the new web-host location. During this time, leave your old site up at its original location until you’re sure all the name servers around the world have made the switch.
- Observation: Monitoring the Traffic Movement. While the DNS information is updating, there will be a period when your site traffic will be split between the old and new site location. You can actually observe this transition via your web site logs. Hour by hour you can expect to see the traffic increase on the new site and shrink on the old one.At some point, usually within a day or two, you’ll see that the majority of traffic has moved to the new site. Bear in mind that the old site’s traffic will not typically be reduced to absolute zero. Even though the DNS system has updated, there will still be hits to the old IP address from various sources like hackers trying to compromise web sites, viruses attempting to spread, etc. Typically you’ll see about 1k worth of hits per day in your logs from such junk traffic. Don’t stress over it. When you reach this point you are almost done.
- Acknowledgment: Have the Engines Recognized the Move? As mentioned, after a few days most of your human traffic should have moved to the new site. BUT, it’s not yet time to turn the old host account off.Your next step is to monitor the major search engines to see if they are hitting the new site. There are a couple of different ways to do this:
- Watch your site logs on the new site to see if you’re getting hits from Googlebot, MSNbot, and Yahoo/Slurp along with any other search engine you’re concerned about.User Agent
Mozilla/2.0 (compatible; Ask Jeeves/Teoma; +http://sp.ask.com/docs/about/tech_crawling.html) Robots.txt Identifier User-agent: Teoma
|Name Servers: NS1.host.com NS2.host.com|
|User Agent||Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)|
|Robots.txt Identifier||User-agent: Googlebot|
|User Agent||Googlebot-Image/1.0 (+http://www.google.com/bot.html) AKA: Googlebot-Image/1.0|
|Robots.txt Identifier||User-agent: Googlebot|
|Robots.txt Identifier||User-agent: Googlebot|
|Details||http://www.google.com/bot.htmlNote: This and other Googlebots share crawled pages with each other to reduce the amount of crawling Google is required to do for their different services.|
|User Agent||Mozilla/4.0 compatible FurlBot/Furl Search 2.0 (FurlBot; http://www.furl.net; firstname.lastname@example.org) Mozilla/4.0 compatible ZyBorg/1.0 (email@example.com; http://www.WISEnutbot.com)|
|Robots.txt Identifier||User-agent: ZyBorg|
|Details||Powers LookSmart. http://www.WISEnutbot.com|
|Company||Microsoft / MSN|
|User Agent||msnbot/1.0 (+http://search.msn.com/msnbot.htm)|
|Robots.txt Identifier||User-agent: msnbot|
|Details||MSNbot is the indexing bot for the MSN search engine. MSRbot is a research bot, occasionally seen. Details from the MSN help pages.|
|User Agent||Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Yahoo! Slurp; http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/slurp) Mozilla/4.5 [en] (Win98; I) YahooSeeker/1.2 (compatible; Mozilla 4.0; MSIE 5.5; yahooseeker at yahoo-inc dot com ;|
|Robots.txt Identifier||User-agent: Slurp|
|Details||Yahoo’s indexing bot Powers Yahoo, AltaVista and others. Details from the Yahoo help pages|
Remember the earlier advice to add a character like a period, comma or hyphen to the new site’s title tag? Now you should be doing a search on each engine to see if your indexed title contains that character. If all of the big engines have the updated home page in their index, as indicated by the search results showing the modified title in the listings, you can then move to shut the old web hosting account off.