What to consider before changing your Wordpress website host

February 8 2020
Andy Green Andy Green

Just as you would with your Utility provider or any other service provider, it’s a good idea to periodically review your web hosting provider. With the rapid pace of technology, it’s easy for web hosts to become outdated and depending on what matters most to you and your website you may find a different hosting provider that offers more value. Or it may be that your current hosts have let you down one too many times because unfortunately, that happens a lot. Whatever the reason, before you jump the gun it’s important that you read this checklist to ensure you can transfer your WordPress website – whether it’s to us or any other web host – otherwise you could land yourself without a website.

We’ve written this guide for WordPress specifically, as this is the content management system we specialise in. If you use a different CMS then there may be different things to check, so please check any documentation you have access to and ask the developer of the website. If you’re looking to move your website to us please do get in touch and we’d be happy to provide tailored advice.

Your domain name

Before even looking at your website, you’ll need to ensure you have access to your domain so that you can change the domain name server (DNS) records. DNS records tell hardware and software where to look for different elements of your website as well as how to handle emails and other features. Once you’ve moved your website to a new web host, you’ll need to update at least one of the records.

To do this, you’ll need access to your domain name registrar. If you can’t remember who you registered your domain with, you can usually find out by going to whois.domaintools.com and searching for your domain.

It may be the case that your current web host or the person that built your website for you looks after your domain. If this is the case, we’d advise following the rest of this checklist to make sure you can transfer your website to another host. You can then ask them to transfer the domain to you. Depending on your domain name, the registrar you transfer it to may need you to pay for another year and you may also be asked to pay an administration fee by the person currently looking after your domain.

Downloading your website

You’ll need to download a copy of your website so that you can then upload it to the new hosting server. Like most content management systems, WordPress uses a database (typically MySQL) as well as a file structure so you’ll need both. There are multiple ways you can download your website:

Duplicator

By far the easiest way and as such, our prefered method, is to use a plugin called Duplicator if you have access to the WordPress dashboard and permission to install plugins. This a free plugin (with an option to pay to upgrade) that does what it says on the tin. In most cases, the free version works pretty well however there are some limitations. Additionally, some hosts may blacklist this plugin because they offer the same functionality themselves.

The biggest factor to consider is storage space. Because Duplicator creates an archive of your website, you need just under the same amount of space available as your website currently uses. For instance, our website uses around 315 MB so we’d need to make sure there was roughly 315 MB available on the server. The archive is compressed, so depending on the type of files you use on the website you may not need quite as much space available. The Pro version of the plugin does provide you with the option to send the archive somewhere else so that you can overcome this limitation, however, if you have access to FTP or your hosting control panel (see below) you can avoid upgrading.

Depending on how large your website is and the resources available on your current server, Duplicator may struggle to complete the backup even with sufficient storage. This happens because after a period of time the server will stop any process to avoid a negative impact on performance; the period of time after this happens is set by your web host.

The final thing to consider is that Duplicator will only back up the WordPress installation it is running on, so if you have files outside your WordPress installation you’ll need to download them another way.

FTP Access

FTP stands for file transfer protocol and allows you to access all files on your web server. Your host may offer FTP instead of FTPS or in addition to it. The extra S stands for secure and means any data transferred is encrypted, so we always recommend using FTPS where available.

To use FTP you’ll need a username and password, and an FTP client like FileZilla. Your current web hosts will be able to provide you with a username and password if they allow access. FTP accounts can be restricted by directory, so you’ll need to make sure you have access to everything you need.

One thing you can’t download over FTP is the database, but you can either back up the database-only using Duplicator (see above) or by logging into your hosting control panel.

Hosting Control Panel

Depending on who you currently host your website with, it’s likely you’ll have access to some form of control panel. cPanel and Plesk are two of the most common but a lot of web hosts now offer their own.

The first thing to check is whether there is a backup functionality available. This is common on web hosts that are WordPress optimised and may able to provide you with a copy of your website is one-click. Not all control panels with have this feature but it’s still possible to download your website without – it will just take a little extra work.

You’ll need to use the File Manager to download the files. A tip here is to create an archive of the public_html or htdocs folder if you can so that you can then download everything in one file.

You will then need to export the database. The easiest way to do this is by using Duplicator (see above), but you could also use phpMyAdmin (which is usually available through the control panel) or sometimes there is a dedicated export database function.

Compatibility

It’s important to check the hosting provider you’d like to move to is actually able to host your website. The first check is whether they blacklist any Plugins that are utilised by your website. Generally, Plugins are only blacklisted for performance or security reasons but there are other reasons so it’s worth checking in case a Plugin your website depends on won’t work.

Secondly, you’ll need to know which versions of PHP your website can run on. This can be tricky, but a good place to start is checking the version of PHP your current web hosts are using which you can do by installing the Display PHP Version plugin. Most hosts offer several versions of PHP, so have a look to see if you can use the same version as you currently use. If they don’t, there’s no need to panic as it may be that you can actually use a more recent version of PHP. You can this plugin to check the compatibility of your WordPress theme and plugins.

At Lyke Ltd. we don’t blacklist any plugins (unless they are creating a security risk) and we offer versions of PHP from 5.1 until the current stable version.

Caching

To improve the speed and performance of your website it’s likely that some form of caching is in place. Caching can either be implemented at server-level or using plugins, or a combination of both. If your website currently utilises server-caching hosting, ideally you’ll need to move to a host that also offers this; otherwise, you’ll need to ensure you can implement the same caching via a plugin.

If your website isn’t currently on a server that does not offer caching and you’re looking to move, we’d recommend switching to a host that does offer it because it can be much more efficient. However, it’s important to consider you may have plugins that cache the same parts of the website as the server does. Keeping these plugins active can actually cause performance issues, so you’ll need to reconfigure the website once it’s transferred to the new server.

If, however, you don’t use server-level caching now and you don’t plan on there is no need to worry. Similarly, if you don’t use any caching plugins now and you don’t use server-level caching either you can move to any web host with worrying about cache.

Emails

If you have any emails associated with your domain name, there’s a possibility the email addresses could be set up on the same server as your website. This section assumes the email addresses are hosted with your website, so if you are unsure please do get in touch and we can check for you.

It’s a good idea to make a list of all the email addresses you currently have, including ones that forward to another email address, so that you can set them up again. If you store emails on the server, which is common if you use webmail or IMAP, you can usually transfer these too if you know the password or are able to reset the password for each account. At Lyke Ltd., this is something we can do for you – even if you’re not moving to us.

You’ll need to make sure the web host you want to move to will allow you to set up the email addresses, as not all hosts support email and some limit the number of addresses you can add. With that said, you don’t necessarily have to set up emails on your web host. Check out our article on custom email addresses to find out more.

Server Location

You might not think it, but whereabouts your new web host is matters. What matters, even more, is where their servers are. This is for two reasons – legislation and speed.

We’re not lawyers and none of this constitutes as legal advice, but it’s important for you to know what information is stored on the webserver and how that is perceived in the eye of the law. For basic websites, it likely doesn’t matter where you’re hosting it but even if you have a form on your website legislation could apply. It’s always best to host your website in the same country you operate out of, and that applies for speed as well.

People are often surprised to find out the further away you are from a website’s server, the slower the website is to load. You can see this in action by using Pingdom’s Website Speed Test tool. At the time of writing, our website (hosted in the UK) took almost two seconds longer to load in USA than in the UK. On paper, two seconds doesn’t sound like much but in a world where some websites load in under 1 second, it could be a difference between a potential customer looking on a competitor’s website and finding what they want more quickly. Load time is also a search engine optimisation factor that is going to become more strict.

FYI – Our servers are located in the UK, however we can access servers overseas if requested. Though as an extension to this, the majority of time the web hosting company is based in the same country as the servers and this is likely to affect when you can access technical support due to timezones.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to consider and because of this we couldn’t go into detail on how to do each one, and as websites grow and become more complex so will the list of considerations. Nevertheless we hope this checklist helps you in your next decision to transfer your WordPress to another host. Please do contact us if you have any questions about this article or if you’d like any other help. Many of our clients have transferred their websites to us, so we’re well qualified to guide and support you through the process.

We keep our hosting as flexible as possible so if you’re moving to us all you need to consider is your domain name and getting a copy of your current website!

About Andy Green

Andy is the founder of Lyke and is passionate about the potential of coding. As an entrepreneur himself, he is constantly on the lookout for opportunities and ways to help other businesses succeed.

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