The Beginner’s Guide to Transferring a Website

If you decide to switch hosting providers or buy a pre-existing website you’ll need to complete a simple transfer process to get everything working under the new ownership or hosting environment. This process involves backing up the website files, directing the DNS records to the new host, and checking that everything went well with a few simple tests. Follow this guide to transfer your website to any host in just minutes. 

Backing Up Your Website

The first thing you’ll need to do when transferring your website is to create a solid backup of the entire site and all files related to the project. This includes media files and articles that aren’t yet displayed on the site’s frontend or have been archived. There are a few ways to backup your website but the two most popular are manually and, alternatively, using an automated backup system.

Manual Backups

Regardless of what platform or Content Management System (CMS) your websites uses you always have the option to create a backup copy of your website manually. This will require backend access to the current website’s server. Login to the website’s server using your hosting account and locate the administrator panel. Many modern hosts use cPanel for administrative access but your host’s admin panel may differ slightly. Locate the file manager and browse the parent folder that contains your website’s content. Choose the download option or right click and download the folder with your current website’s content to your local machine.

Next, determine if the website uses any databases such as MySQL and download the databases to your website backup folder on your computer or local storage device. This may require administrative access on the server and local devices.

If you don’t have backend access to the website you can still backup most of the content and structuring through a free utility like HTTrack. To use this tool or one like it simply plugin your website’s URL and choose a download destination folder. Make sure you have plenty of room on your storage device for all the media and content on the website’s frontend before setting up the download utility to crawl the website.

Automated Backups

If you have server access, or at least CMS-level admin access, to the website you’re transferring then you’re in luck. This process is made much simpler by the use of a website backup tool like BackUpWordPress. Simply install your chosen backup tool as a plugin in WordPress, or an ‘Extension’ for Joomla users, and configure the relevant settings to begin an automated backup process.

Upload Your Website to the New Host

Finding a new host can seem involved but it’s quite easy as most hosts today offer plenty of storage space for small and medium sized websites at economical pricing. Of course, if you’re trying to grow your site’s traffic you’ll want to choose a host with good speed and positive SEO factors. If you’re one of the billions of WordPress users then you should choose a WordPress optimized host before you begin to transfer a website on the platform. Drupal and Joomla users should likewise find CMS-optimized hosting with good speeds and positive SEO configurations.

Once you’ve found a new hosting company for your website to call home it’s time to upload your backed up copy of the site to the new server. Login with your administrator account and install whichever requisite software the website originally used. This may include MySQL, WordPress, Drupal, or other database and CMS systems. Setup your FTP permissions and any other customizations you’d like to create before uploading your data.

If you’ve used an automated tool backing up your website then install the same tool as a plugin or extension and use its automated process to upload your content. If you decided to download your backup files manually then simply locate the server’s admin panel and file manager while logged in as an administrator. Upload your files to the server’s root folder which is often labeled “Public_HTML” or an alike name. Make sure to decompress your folder if you happened to have zipped it or used a compression method to save on storage space. Some backup utilities automatically compress your files.

Changing Your DNS Settings

Once your website is duplicated on the new server it’s time to update your DNS records with the domain registrar. To transfer a website properly you will need access to these records and settings. Simple login to your registrar’s administrator panel and locate the DNS Settings tab. This is a universal feature among registrars. Gather your nameserver information from your new host to enter into the fields in the DNS settings. This information is usually apparent in the admin or control panel when you login to your hosting account.

Click ‘Save’ to complete the updating of your site’s name servers. This will allow DNS machines worldwide to locate your website’s new home when a user or machine requests data from your domain name. These changes often take 2 or 3 days to take full effect due to the way DNS machines are physically distributed.

Give the DNS server changes one to three days to finish updating and check on your website using your registered domain name. Use an online tool like Pingdom to make sure the website is loading from your new host. If the new host is displaying your website properly then you can safely delete the original copies of the website on the former server. Make sure to check out each page or function on your website so you know that everything transferred well before deleting the original site.

Using this method to transfer your website will ensure that your visitors never notice a change on the site’s frontend, except perhaps faster loading times if you’ve chosen a faster web host. You will also avoid deleting any files that can’t be recovered since you’ll be waiting until the new website is fully functional before getting rid of the original files. This process should take anywhere from a few minutes to three days, depending on the speed of your host’s and DNS server’s updates.

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