"How to Switch Web Hosts" — Transfer a Website in 5 Steps (No Downtime)

How to Switch Web Hosts Guide Image

If you’re not getting what you need from your current web host, it might be time to pick up and find a new one. Moving a site to a new web hosting service doesn’t have to be as arduous as moving to a new house or apartment. It can actually be fairly easy if you take the right steps.

I know a prominent lawyer who publishes her law firm’s website on WordPress. Stephanie’s current host’s support is superb, but there were a few things she felt were lacking. She wanted unlimited inbox storage because the limitations on her current email package were making it hard to keep important documents and messages easily accessible. She also wanted to move to a cloud-based server to increase the flexibility and customization of her server settings.

Datacenter and managed server services graphic

If it’s time to switch web hosts, you have two choices: Do it yourself, or have the migration done for you.

It took Stephanie a few months to make the decision because she was worried about the effort it would take and having downtime on her site. When she just couldn’t wait any longer, it turned out that switching web hosts was a painless process. With some advice from her local web hosting expert (yours truly), she was able to switch within a week. You’ll find that same advice in this article on how to choose and move to a new web host without breaking a sweat.

Option A: Choose a Host That Will Migrate Your Website For Free

Web hosting is a competitive industry, and as such, many hosts offer free assistance with switching to one of their plans from a different hosting service. This means you can transfer all of your files and databases to the new host, without doing the heavy lifting, free of cost. In most cases, all you need to do is request a migration after signing up for an account with the new provider, and they’ll take care of the rest.

Migration experts at your new web host may be able to transfer your data by creating a new account on your web server control panel – if your new host uses the same control panel system. If not, they’ll likely have to do it manually, which is more work for them but can be completed within a few days, depending on the size of your site. Regardless of the method, you’ll want to go with a provider that can guarantee a seamless transition with zero downtime.

Here are our top picks for hosts that offer hassle-free migration assistance:

InMotionHosting.com

InMotion review

Monthly Starting Price $2.95

  • SSD hosting
  • Zero-downtime website transfers
  • FREE data backups
  • Choice of datacenter
  • Multi-language support, including PHP, Ruby, and Perl
  • Get started on InMotion now.

BEST OVERALL
RATING

4.9
★★★★★

InMotion: Our Expert's Review

Setup time: 4 minutes
PJ Fancher (HostingAdvice.com): Offering a wider range of services than most — including shared, dedicated, VPS, and even WordPress-specific hosting — InMotion features a great combination of industry-leading hardware, always-there support, and mass scalability for all hosting... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Best Overall Hosting Plans
90 days Unlimited FREE (1 year) www.inmotionhosting.com

SiteGround.com

SiteGround review

Monthly Starting Price $3.95

  • FREE site transfer or new site setup with 1-click install
  • FREE automated daily backups, CDN, email, and SSL
  • 24/7 expert support with no wait time on phone or live chat
  • Recommended by WordPress as a top WordPress host
  • Ideal for business email hosting, with 99.9% uptime
  • Get started on SiteGround now.

BEST OVERALL
RATING

5.0
★★★★★

SiteGround: Our Expert's Review

Setup time: 6 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): With an impressive breadth of overall hosting services offered, SiteGround is a leading innovator in the hosting space — from custom software solutions to premier customer support. They offer the full range of web hosting features, including a free... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Best Overall Hosting Plans
30 days 10 GB - 30 GB New or Transfer www.siteground.com

LiquidWeb.com

Liquid Web review

Monthly Starting Price $29.00

  • Heroic Support® and fully managed hosting services
  • Sonar Monitoring™ team detects and treats issues
  • Consistently recommended by customers to colleagues
  • Storm® Platform touts cloud flexibility with custom add-ons
  • 100% uptime guarantee
  • Get started on Liquid Web now.

BEST OVERALL
RATING

4.8
★★★★★

Liquid Web: Our Expert's Review

Setup time: 7 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): We've gotten to know a few key members of the Liquid Web team personally, and let us tell you: the passion they put into just talking about their products hints that this is a company worth checking out. Liquid Web boasts supreme uptime, always-there-for-you... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Best Overall Hosting Plans
N/A 50 GB - 1.6 TB SSD 2 - 5 Domains FREE www.liquidweb.com

Option B: Move Your Website to a New Host Yourself

If your new web host doesn’t offer migration assistance, or you would rather handle it yourself, you can move your website files independently. This is a good time to employ the skills of your in-house IT staff, who likely have experience with backing up and transferring files. Many web hosts also have documentation with step-by-step guides on how to migrate your website. Read on to discover the best practices for moving your website to a new host safely and quickly.

1. Choose a New Web Host (Before Cancelling Your Old Account!)

There are as many reasons to switch web hosts as there are features in a hosting package. It’s a matter of what aspects of web hosting are most important for the individual or company, and whether those are being achieved with their current host. For some people, the level of customer service is a high priority. For others, the price point is a top consideration. It’s wise to consider the range of your web hosting needs when thinking about switching hosts.

If you find yourself weighing your options, pinpoint those things that make you want to move your business elsewhere. Some aspects organizations usually consider include security system performance, server storage space, mailbox and email features, uptime, and the availability of controls panels, website builders, and shopping carts. Many web hosts have comparable offerings, but some hosts invest more into certain features than others. Ask yourself which features you can’t live without and which ones must perform the absolute best – then make your decision based on those answers.

Collage of web host logos and server rack

Options abound for your next web hosting provider and service choices.

If you know you want to switch hosts, but you’re unsure of which provider you want next, consider our recommendations for the best shared host, VPS plan, and/or dedicated servers below.

Recommended Shared Hosting

If you’re looking to shop around for inexpensive providers, shared hosting is a good place to start. With shared hosting, you’ll share your server with other websites and storage space will be divided among the sites. Shared hosting can be a good option for small businesses with low-traffic websites, and is economical to boot, with most plans costing less than $10 per month. Check out our recommended shared hosting providers below, which carry many of the benefits of shared hosting such as effectiveness and responsive support.

Bluehost.com
Bluehost review

Monthly Starting Price $2.95

  • Known for high-performance, low-cost shared hosting
  • FREE website builder with 1,000s of templates
  • Endorsed by the WordPress.org team as a top WP host
  • FREE CDN accelerates your site’s page loading
  • Usually $7.99/month, but our visitors pay $2.95/month
  • Get started on Bluehost now.
SHARED
RATING
5.0
★★★★★
Bluehost: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 4 minutes
Ryan Frankel (HostingAdvice.com): If you’re looking for an affordable host, Bluehost is a solid, reputable choice, but their low cost coupled with their supremacy in the shared hosting arena is what makes this provider such a value deal. The Bluehost name is listed toward the top of many of... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Shared Hosting Plans
30 days Unlimited FREE (1 year) www.bluehost.com/shared

See more shared hosting providers »

Recommended VPS Hosting

For businesses that want to maximize their site’s performance without breaking the bank, VPS (virtual private server) hosting offers the best of both worlds. On a VPS, each website has its own server space. The servers for each website on a VPS are housed on the same computer, but unlike shared hosting, companies can purchase as much space as their website requires. Pricing for a VPS is higher than shared hosting but lower than having your own dedicated server. Our top picks for VPS hosting are notable for their reliability, tight security, and customization options.

InMotionHosting.com
InMotion review

Monthly Starting Price $19.99

  • 50% off the first month with added discounts the first year
  • Real-time redundancy powered by a cloud infrastructure
  • FREE cPanel/WHM licenses with enterprise-grade CentOS
  • FREE server management for patches and updates
  • FREE SSDs and SSL certificate for faster, secure hosting
  • Get started on InMotion now.
VPS
RATING
4.9
★★★★★
InMotion: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 4 minutes
PJ Fancher (HostingAdvice.com): Boasting market-leading VPS hardware, slick management software, and free SSD drives and backups, InMotion offers the most attractive VPS plans you'll find anywhere.Each VPS plan comes with free SSD storage arranged in RAID 6, which is incredibly fast and... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name VPS Hosting Plans
90 days 75 GB - 260 GB SSD New or Transfer www.inmotionhosting.com/vps

See more VPS hosting providers »

Recommended Dedicated Server Hosting

Dedicated server hosting is typically the most expensive option. It’s ideal for larger, high-traffic websites and can provide greater flexibility and security. Compared with a VPS, a dedicated server hosts one website only and thus allows for maximum resources to be available for that site. It’s a bigger investment than either shared hosting or a VPS, but as websites grow and businesses expand, it can become a more viable option for sites that need the space.

Read on to find out which web hosting providers offer the most comprehensive dedicated server plans, including fully managed services and premium email offerings.

LiquidWeb.com
Liquid Web review

Monthly Starting Price $96.75

  • FREE incoming bandwidth and choice of operating system
  • Custom configurations with SSDs and instant provisioning
  • Auto-migrations, backups, and 24/7 Sonar Monitoring™
  • Storm® Block/Object Storage and Load Balancer Add-Ons
  • Our visitors pay $96.75/month! (usually $129/month)
  • Get started on Liquid Web now.
DEDICATED
RATING
4.9
★★★★★
Liquid Web: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 8 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): Liquid Web's strong suit is their managed dedicated server hosting. They own and operate three state-of-the-art datacenters in the US and have over 50 developers working tirelessly to build and maintain custom solutions for added performance and... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Dedicated Hosting Plans
N/A 211 GB - 1,775 GB SSD New or Transfer www.liquidweb.com/dedicated

See more dedicated hosting providers »

2. Back Up Your Website Files and Databases

After you’ve purchased your new hosting plan and before you cancel your old one, you’ll need to back up your website in its entirety and move it over to your new server. Download all of your files from the old host – they should have specific instructions for doing this in their platform – and then migrate them to the new host via FTP. Databases must also be backed up by downloading the files, uploading them, and then restoring the database using a control panel or SSH. Emails can sometimes be transferred but at the very least should be archived so they can be preserved. This step is crucial to maintaining the integrity of your site just as it was on the old host.

3. Switch Your Domain’s DNS Record to Your New Host or Registrar

When you switch to a new web host, your DNS (domain name system) server also changes. The DNS tells a user’s internet service provider (ISP) where the site files are located and directs the connection to your site so it can load in their browser. After your website files and databases are migrated to the new host, you will need to ask the provider from which you purchased your domain name to make the change. Be sure to contact your new host to get the new DNS information to give to the old host. This change typically takes 48 hours (two days) to take effect, at which point your site will load from the new web host.

4. Once the DNS Change Request Goes Through, Conduct a Final QA

So, you’ve fully migrated your site and changed your DNS name – now what? Don’t take it for granted that everything came over in one piece. Do a thorough quality control check to ensure no files are missing from your site. Once you cancel your account with the old host, there’s no guarantee you’ll get those files back, so be certain everything is as it should be before pulling the plug on the old host. Go through each page of the site and review all the files and databases you transferred over in fine detail.

5. Cancel Your Old Account!

Like closing on an old house when moving to a new place, the last step of switching hosts is to close out your account with the old web host. Once you’ve made sure you have all of your files and databases and have switched your DNS record, you should have no worries about checking off this final task. If you originally purchased your domain name with the old host, remember to keep the domain name registration, but your hosting account can go. Don’t look back – you’ve done everything you need to do to move on to the next chapter in the life of your website.

Switching to a New Web Hosting Provider Doesn’t Have to Be Daunting

Switching web hosts should feel like an upgrade, and what that looks like for your website might be different than for another. Keep in mind those key web host features that will make your site perform better and make your life easier. When Stephanie, the lawyer who switched to a cloud-based host with unlimited email storage and mailboxes, decided to make the move to a new host, she did so with full knowledge of her options and priorities. Use these host-versus-host comparisons to determine which web hosting providers carry the features you care about most.

Jennifer Young

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