If you’ve never had to endure the aggravation and inconvenience of dealing with an unsavory Web host, I — and many others — envy you. It happens subtly, at first, though it might seem to spring forth suddenly. There are always warning signs. A minor, low importance support ticket takes a few weeks to close. Perhaps you’d forgotten about it entirely. Your site goes down a few times in one week, but it happens early in the morning, so you figure it’s not a big deal. Then it goes down during peak hours and you can’t reach anyone on the phone. Maybe you’ve gone over your allotted bandwidth with nary a message of warning or offer to upgrade. Maybe the server itself crashed and the host is “working on it.”
It’s easy to overlook a few hiccups, but if you’re with a less-than-scrupulous Web host they’ll progress beyond the occasional annoyance. By the time you realize you need to switch hosts, you’ll probably be in a rush, but the one thing you shouldn’t do is barrel through that kind of decision quickly. Take your time, and make sure everything is in proper order before you flip the switch on your old server. Here’s some handy advice for getting through the process. It’s not a comprehensive guide, but it does paint the necessary broad strokes.
Back up your Site
The very first thing to do when you realize your current host has failed miserably is to make sure you back up all of your data somewhere else, preferably in multiple locations. Copy your entire server hierarchy and store it on an external hard drive, your computer and an online backup service. Then you can move on to the next step.
Find a New Host
Unless you want to repeat this whole process, look for a reliable Web host before you even consider prices. Check out reviews, ask for referrals and scrutinize each host’s service level agreements. What’s the company’s backup policy? How does it handle service outages? What are your responsibilities and what is your host responsible for? Is someone at the company available at all hours? Don’t skimp on hosting, especially if your business relies on its website to thrive. You wouldn’t rely on a camping tent to store inventory for an art gallery, so why choose a flimsy, cheap hosting service?
Migrate to the New Server
After you’ve found a new host, copy your data onto your new server. Then, check your TTL settings with your domain name registrar and set your DNS information to expire after 1-2 hours instead of the day or more that’s set as default. That’ll help ensure that people trying to visit your site soon after you switch will reach your new server. Wait a few days after changing your TTL settings to finish the switch.
Test your Site
Before you go live and point your domain name to your new server, test out your site. Make sure all your links work and, if you have a store, add a few items to your cart and start the checkout process. You don’t have to actually checkout, unless you really want to, but make sure you don’t get any weird errors. Once you’ve verified that everything works, go ahead and point your domain name to your new server.
Wrap it up
After a few days, it should be okay to turn off your old server. If you want to be completely sure that everyone will get to your new server, though, check your traffic logs to make sure Googlebot is fetching data from your new host. Once you see that, go ahead and shut off your old server and cancel your old account.
Don’t endure poor Web hosts. If you notice a trend of unresolved problems and unsatisfactory service, find another company that will value you as a customer instead of seeing you as a paycheck. Don’t pay for mediocrity.