Easy Website Migration With No Downtime!

website migration

There are hundreds of web hosts to choose from. If you’re not getting what you need from your current provider, then it’s time to consider a switch.

Does your website run slow? Then find a host with better hardware to improve performance. You have a goal to attract tons of traffic, and as your audience grows, you may need a host with higher bandwidth. Security is also a significant factor in the digital world. A host should offer firewalls and other features designed to keep your site from becoming a target. Check out our side by side WordPress hosting comparison.

Do you want to migrate your WordPress site to a new host? Then follow the helpful tips below: 

Back Up Your Files

Back up all your site files before you attempt to migrate your site. You should be backing up regularly anyway, and a backup procedure should be routine any time you make major changes to your website. With a migration, you never know what might happen. It’s best to have all data safely stored away in the event of an issue.

There are several ways to back up your website’s files. Most WordPress-friendly hosts can automatically backup on a regular schedule, and these back-up files should be downloaded and saved off the server, or to a third party cloud storage service.

Use a BackUp Plugin

The easiest way to back up your WordPress site is with a plugin. UpdraftPlus is a popular and well regarded plugin which makes it easy to download backups to your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox and more. While the free version of this plugin is useful, the premium version has the most powerful features. In the event of a problem, UpdraftPlus also makes it super easy to restore your site to a previous version from your backup.

Another popular backup plugin is VaultPress. VaultPress is made by Automattic (the company behind WordPress), so unsurprisingly it requires a JetPack subscription. The plugin allows you to back up and restore files with the click of a button. VaultPress is good, but if you have multiple websites the subscription costs can add up, so we err to the free version of UpDraftPlus.

Choose a New Host

Now it’s time to look for a new host. Some, like Siteground and GreenGeeks, offer free migration, which will make your life 10 times easier.

When choosing a new host, estimate how much traffic you expect your site to receive. Host providers typically charge based on storage and bandwidth size. If you only plan to target local customers, bandwidth may be low. If your goal is to reach the top of Google’s search results, your bandwidth requirements will increase. 

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You should also research the type of server you need. The cheapest hosting options use shared servers, which typically run hundreds of websites. If another site is putting out a heavy load, it could affect the performance of your website. If you don’t want to share space with other sites, look for a dedicated or VPS hosting option which is designed to handle more traffic. 

Install WordPress

If your new host does not offer free migrations, you will need to install WordPress on the new host yourself. Most hosts offer one-click installation that simplifies the set-up process. This is usually available via the hosting control panel, with most hosts offering Cpanel or Plesk for easy administraion of your hosting account.

If one-click installation is not available, fear not because WordPress is famous for it’s ease of installation.

NB: If you want to make the switch so there is no downtime you must leave your current site running on the existing host at this stage. You will be able to decommission this later, but for now leave it running.

Update your computers Host File

Updating the host file on your computer allows you to access your site on the new hosting before your have officially switched your domain to point to the new server.

Updating your hosts file will direct your computer to the new host while regular visitors will still see your site on the old host until you are ready to point your domain to the new host’s IP address. This way you can get everything up and running on the new host before you switch, so your site visitors will see no downtime at all.

How to update your hosts file

Copy down your new server’s IP address

Your new host will provide you with an IP address for the server where your site will live. You need to note this down so we can add this to the hosts file.

Open Notepad as an administrator

Nnavigate to your computer’s accessories. Right-click on the Notepad application and choose “Run as Administrator”. You must run Notepad as an administrator to edit the hosts file

Open Hosts File

In Notepad, select “File” and then “Open.” Select the “C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc” folder. In this directory you will find the hosts file. Open it. 

Add your domain and new IP address to the hosts file

At the bottom of the hosts file add a new line with the IP address provided by your new host, followed by your domain name, e.g. 123.456.789 yourdomain.comOnce done, save the changes. Now you can access data on the new host using your domain name.

This change only affects your computer so at this stage all your site visitors will still see the old version of your site.

After the migration is complete you will need to update your hosts file again to remove the line you just added. We only want to have this added to the hosts file while your domain is still officially pointing at the old server.

Log Into WordPress on your new host and install the backup plugin

Now that WordPress has been installed on the new host, and you alone can access your site on the new host, you can log in to WordPress and install your preferred backup plugin. Whether you are using UpDraftPlus or VaultPress you will now be able to upload the backup file you previously downloaded from the old site.

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If everything was backed up correctly, including the themes, plugins and database, this step should come with no challenge. 

Restore Your Website on the new host

Using UpDraftPlus or VaultPress, do a complete restore on the new website using the backup files you’ve just uploaded. This will replace the default WordPress theme and content — like the “Hello, World” blog post — and replace it with your website. 

A complete restore should mimic your original site. Now you can test to make sure everything is in proper running order. 

Check the Details and Test Your Site

Run through every page on your site to ensure everything looks right. A simple mistake, like broken links, can cost your business time and money to fix.

After the migration, download a plugin like Broken Link Checker for WordPress. It can scan your website for non-working links. If any are found, you can repair them in seconds. 

Update Your DNS

Your website now exists entirely on your new host server. Your domain, on the other hand still points to your old web host. You will need to update the Domain Name Server (DNS) nameservers to ensure your domain name leads to the right place. First, find the nameserver information of your new host, typically it is something like “ns1.newhostname.com” – you’ll usually find this in the onboarding email you received from your new host. 

Now go to your domain name account and open the domain management console to edit the nameservers. Replace the current nameservers with the new ones and click “Save”. DNS changes can take up to 24 hours to propogate around the web, but once this is done your domain will be pointing to the new host and none of your visitors will even realize there has been a change. We’ve written more about the basics of domains and DNS before.

Schedule Regular Backups

We can’t emphasise this enough, BACKUP YOUR WEBSITE REGULARLY.

A backup copy makes it easy to migrate your WordPress site to a new host. Backups can also save your website in the event of an accident or catastrophic failure.

Schedule regular backups using UpDraftPlus to ensure you have a copy of all new updates. If you make an update you want to revert, backup copies make the process simple. We backup daily. Some sites who add content multiple times a day will backup multiple times a day too.

Sit Back and Enjoy Your New Host

If you follow the steps above, the complete migration process to a new host is simple. Take advantage of third-party apps to keep your data, including your links, secure. 

Plus, remember to keep a separate backup of your website’s files in the event of total catastrophe. If an issue occurs, you’ll never lose valuable information.

Kayla Matthews is a technology journalist and writer, as well as an avid WordPress blogger. You can check out her personal tech blog at ProductivityBytes.com

4 thoughts on “Easy Website Migration With No Downtime!

  1. Regex SEO says:

    Oh, thanks for posting such an informative article!
    By the way, how do feel about SEO?
    Many people say “I’ll first migrate a website, then I’ll optimize it”. But I read that it’s needed to involve an SEO person before you have a full migration plan. They actually should take part in defining this plan. Then you’ll have the redirect map, the right URL structures, no forgotten pages, and no major losses after the website migration.

  2. Umair says:

    Thanks Kayla for the tutorial.

    This host file method does not work for websites that have HSTS enabled. Because the browsers do not allow an HSTS enabled domain to be loaded without properly setup SSL.

    Do you know of a zero downtime solution for websites that use HSTS?

    1. Hi Umair, good point. Give you are from securitygladiators.com I’m guessing you do know a solution. Feel free to share it here 🙂

      1. Umair says:

        Hi Charles,

        Nope, I haven’t found it yet. For now there is downtime for me when HSTS enabled domains need web host change.

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