Easiest Way To Move WordPress Site To New Host

By December 15, 2017WordPress
how-to-migrate-wordpress-website-new-host

You just woke up, and it’s the morning you have planned to launch your client’s new website. Your anxiety and stress increase as you hope that your delivery of this website goes smoothly and doesn’t result in downtime for your client’s site. When your client’s site is down, it can create negative impressions on their potential customers that negatively impacts their business. Not good!

We have heard horror stories of web developers building an amazing new site just to mess up the actual launch and then lose out on word of mouth referrals, testimonials, and other benefits that come with a superior website experience. The goal of this post is to show our simplified DNS propagation and WordPress website launch process that can ensure greater website launch success.

If you are launching the new site on a different server or hosting plan then your next step is planning out the DNS propagation. Many of our clients have insufficient shared hosting plans that create continual issues with their website, slow and inconsistent performance, regular downtime, lack of capabilities/customization to their needs, and are NOT set up for maximum online success.

Your website’s hosting is your websites home. Just like you wouldn’t park a Ferrari in an old barn shared by hundreds of crappy cars, you don’t park a powerful new website on a cheap hosting plan. That is why a majority of the time we need to relocate our client’s new website onto a more powerful solution.

Disclaimer: This is our process that we are sharing. There are many ways to launch a site but this process is what we have used to launch over 100 successful websites. We recommend building a fake/test site and practice launching it before applying this to your own client’s website launch to make sure there are no issues.

What is DNS Propagation?

DNS Propagation is simply the process of telling your domain where to find your new website, email, or other online assets. There are two major ways which you can implement DNS propagations. You can do a full nameserver change which will change all elements associated with your domain or you can change just the “A record”.

A full DNS propagation will impact email so that is something you need to plan separately on top of planning for the launch of the website. This is why we try to refrain from doing full nameserver changes especially if the email is run through the website’s server. We instead like to focus on first launching the new website and then focusing on the email component separately.

We are not going to cover the email portion of DNS propagation as this post is focused specifically on WordPress website propagations. I will say though, that we recommend not running your email through your website server for many reasons and instead recommend investing in a premium email solution such as Google Apps or Microsoft Outlook 365 both of which are cloud-based and far superior. Email is the heart of your business and not a good area to cut corners.

Some DNS setups are more complex than others but usually, that doesn’t matter as long as you are only changing the A record.

To change the A record you must have access to the client’s domain registrar where they purchased their domain and their existing hosting plan if they did change nameservers from where they purchased the domain. To find out this information we use whois.net but if you type in “DNS lookup tool” or “DNS propagation” and you will see there are quite a few tools that do something similar based on your specific needs. Do keep in mind if there have been recent DNS changes then whois.net may not be the best tool as they tend to take longer to update their database.

Whois.net will show you where the domain was purchased from and what nameservers the domain is using. Sometimes a Google search for the nameservers can show you what hosting company they are using but we like to just ask the client for the domain and hosting login as often times they have this information readily available.

Once you have the login information, all you need to do is log in and find “Manage DNS Records” or “Zone Editor”, view them, then note down the A records current IP address it points to. This is the IP address you will be updating to the new servers location – that is if you are moving the website to a different server. Of course, if you are launching the new site in the exact same spot as the existing site then DNS propagation is not necessary.

If you have any issues finding the A records then you should contact support and they will point you in the right direction. Just beware some support reps are incompetent so be ready to have some patience. That is just one more reason why we love InMotion Hosting as they have the best support hands down but even with them you once in a while get someone who isn’t as helpful. Granted even the worst support reps can show you where to change the A records so no need to sweat!

Preparing for Launch

The first thing we do is get the green light that we can launch the new site from our clients. We never launch a site without permission to do so. Once they agree it is ready to launch we take a backup of their existing site and of the new site with all the latest changes. If you built the new site on one hosting setup and are moving to another hosting setup then be ready to overcome some potential compatibility issues such as we have seen when using more advanced managed hosting solutions.

To backup WordPress websites, we utilize the premium plugin BackupBuddy as it is easy and reliable. There are many backup plugins and even server-side solutions but this is what we use. After using BackupBuddy just a few times you will see how easy it is. Keep reading to see directions on how to use BackupBuddy.

Keep in mind, many of our clients go with our recommended hosting plans from InMotion Hosting and we purchase these plans days in advance to launching their website so that they are ready to go upon website launch day. We ask our clients to pay for the plan directly so they own their website’s new home and to send us over login details to set everything up for them. It is the best of both worlds as we remove the risk/exposure by separating ourselves from being a hosting company yet we still make the process simple for our clients.

We even take this a step further and give our clients instructions as to how to reach the hosting company if over the weekend when our team is not available there are any issues. This further ensures we don’t get calls on a Saturday night saying a clients website is down and they are pissed at us. We haven’t had a call like that for many years with this way of going about hosting (knock on wood).

Setting Up Website On New Server Pre-Launch

Each server’s process may be a bit different so we recommend if you have any issues to contact support as they can help accomplish these tasks. InMotion Hosting has regular support which is alright but they also have Managed Hosting Server Experts that are phenomenal. They are worth the extra money and can help with many aspects of this process if you run into issues.

Log in to the new server that the clients’ new website will live on. For InMotion Hosting you can go to their main Account Management Panel login then once logged in click on the button for cPanel to gain access to the server where you will upload your new website files.

The main domain name on the server should be the client’s website domain and thus if you click on File Manager you can access the “public_html” link to then land on where you need to upload your new website files. It is important that you click on the “Settings” button at the top right corner and check off the button to “Display Hidden Files”. We like to delete any pre-existing files other than the “cgi-bin” and “.well-known” folder before installing our website.

Keep in mind you can always set up a subdomain such as test.clientdomain.com to do a test launch first to ensure things go smoothly which can be a good way to go if your new site was built on a different hosting plan than the new server it will live on. Although, this isn’t mandatory as you will see later on in this post since we will be pre-launching and testing site well before it is ever live.

Since we use Backupbuddy, we simply upload our main website zip file and the importbuddy.php script that easily guides us through the setup process.

Remember, we have not changed the A record yet as we are just preparing for launch and getting everything in place for launch.

So that there is no downtime, you want to take a professional approach and use a host file modification to run importbuddy.php script and fully set up your new sites files before changing the A record so that a fully functional site is waiting over on the new server. I’ll talk more in-depth about this next.

Testing Website on New Server

So you should have both the backup zip file of your website as well as the importbuddy.php script sitting on your new server ready to go.

The best resources for setting up host file modifications (which is much easier than it sounds) are typing is “host file modifications Inmotion Hosting” on Google and then selecting either the Mac or PC version depending on your system.

Here is the Mac version and here is the PC version.

After following the steps above based on your operating system, we recommend installing the Chrome plugin called Website IP by Tiny Big Ideas that shows the IP address so you can make sure your host file modification is actually working. Especially if you don’t see the two files you uploaded to the new server.

The point of the host file modification is to be able to run the importbuddy.php script before your change your A record so you can have a fully functional site waiting once the propagation is complete. This is crucial to achieving zero downtime as the DNS will either pick up the old site or the new site you just tested to be sure is working and ready. Zero downtime will make so that clients are wowed by your overall website experience and is our ultimate goal with all website launches.

BackupBuddy Instructions

If you download Backupbuddy there are great instructions on how to follow the steps to quickly backup and migrate your WordPress site.

Once your site looks functional, manually click on the links and make sure things look good before starting the official propagation by updating the IP address of the A record of your client’s domain. Now that we checked the website’s functionality, it is time to go live!

Launching Your Site Live

So let’s do a quick recap before we go live to be sure we are on the same page. Then I will give you a couple tips to help you be more successful and stressfree with your DNS propagation and WordPress website launch.

  1. Purchased premium hosting solution where the new site will live days in advance of the launch date.
  2. Take a backup of the existing site and new website.
  3. Determined the domain registrar and hosting setup to find the current A record if it exists and make note of its current IP address.
  4. If it doesn’t exist then we simply will be creating a new A record when we are ready to go live.
  5. Prepped for the launch of the site by uploading BackupBuddy’s website files and importbuddy.php script to the new server where the website will live.
  6. Did a host file modification (really easy) following InMotion Hosting’s quick few steps so that we could run the importbuddy.php script before the site is live.
  7. We then went through the easy BackupBuddy steps to set up the new website on the new server and test out links by manually clicking on them.

And now, for the grand finale!

Let’s launch this new site you have worked so hard on and wow the client with a zero downtime launch.

All we need to do now is edit the existing A record to update it to the new IP address on the new server which you can easily find through Cpanel if you click on “Expand Stats” then “Server Information” when you are on the home screen. If you have trouble finding your IP address then simply reach out to support for your server.

If there aren’t any A records already created all you need to do is go to “Manage DNS” (sometimes called something different but similar) and then “Add New Record”. There will be a drop-down or options that allow you to choose the record type which you want to select A record and then make sure you are adding the new IP address in. And wallah you can now sit back and relax as your site may be live in under an hour or up to 24 hours but regardless, there will be no downtime as both the old site and new site are both fully functional.

PRO TIP: On many domain registrars you can change the TTL time to be a shorter period of time like 3600. This can speed up propagation and in some cases, we see almost immediate propagation which is far superior to the standard propagation length of time which is 4-24 hours. Keep in mind, propagation is not something you can technically control no matter what settings you do but this TTL trick does speed things up pretty consistently especially when using more authoritative domain registrars like GoDaddy.

PRO TIP: Launch sites early in the week when your team and your new hosting companies support team is available so if issues come up you can tackle them immediately with all your resources available. Launching on Friday is risky and can kill your weekend plans if any issues arise.

Caching Is Probably The Culprit

If you do have any issues or the client says “I still see the old site” even after you know the new site is live, then caching is probably the issue.

This post isn’t on caching but basically caching means saving resources such as website files to a local storage so that not every file needs to be fully loaded every time. This makes the web faster and servers do not have to work as hard to deliver content. But, this also can cause issues for visitors and clients seeing old versions of files.

The main types of caching are as follows:

  • Internet Provider Cache – This is the DNS cache from your ISP. You can ask them to clear this cache if you call their support. This rarely is the issue.
  • VPN Cache – If you are using a Virtual Private Network to increase your privacy then you may need to turn this off as some VPN’s have their own internal caching. This rarely is the issue.
  • Browser Cache – Whether you use Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or another browser you may need to clear your cache. Just go to preferences and find where there is an option to clear browsing cache or clear browsing history. This is often times the issue.
  • Website Cache – We use a plugin called w3Total Cache which once installed on WordPress gives you the options to clear your website’s cache in just one click. After making changes to a website we, by habit, clear all the website caches.
  • Web Proxy Cache – Sometimes when you are using a third-party program that protects your site from brute force attacks such as Cloudflare does there can be caching on that actual web proxy.
  • Server Cache – Last but not least, server-side caching. This one is growing in popularity and was recently adopted by InMotion Hosting to unlock even faster speeds. But it can also cause issues that require logging into cPanel, clicking on the Cache Manager, and clearing all server-side cache.

This list of each type of cache is something that would have helped save me a ton of time early on when I didn’t fully understand everything that can be at play. But after launching websites for five years we have seen quite a bit. One client could see their new site from everywhere but within their own business. Their IT guy cleared the ISP and modem caches and then the new site could be seen. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you will learn something new. This little list will come in handy if you run into any issues that are related to caching during your DNS Propagation.

PRO TIP: Add a question mark to the end of the site URL and then type a random string of numbers to bypass all cache and if you don’t see a change then caching is not the issue. This will save you a lot of headaches and immediately show you whether or not you are dealing with a caching issue!

After-Launch WordPress Add-On’s

High five for launching your new site live without any downtime! Hope that was easier than you thought!

But now what?

There are many steps that we recommend doing after you launch a site live and the site truly becomes live to the public.

  • SEO Strategy & Competitive Gap Analysis
  • Keyword Mapping & Redirects
  • SEO Audit & Analysis
  • Speed Audit & Analysis
  • Setting Up With Google Analytics & Webmasters
  • Google Indexation Optimization
  • Goal & Conversion Tracking
  • Keyword & Authority Tracking
  • 24/7 Web Monitoring & Maintenance
  • After Launch Executive Summary
  • Training Videos
  • Remarketing
  • Google Search Marketing Retainer
  • Social Media Conversion Tracking
  • Advanced Google Tag Manager Setup

Assure There’s No Drop In Traffic After Launch by reaching out to our SEO expert team to implement our after-launch services. We can implement any components listed above to help you launch the most successful website possible which will, in turn, earn you more referrals and help grow your business.

After your website launch and all after-launch items are complete, we can work as a partner or a white label SEO reseller to fill in the SEO portion of your services. We drive a ton of value and have built our white label SEO program so that our web development partners can make passive income offering a new service that they know their clients can benefit from. Reach out to us today!

 

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About Jon Parker