Migrating a WordPress site to new hosting is easier than many web masters think. We run through the basic technique for smooth migration without harming SEO.
Site owners often find themselves in a position of dissatisfaction with their current hosting company. Perhaps their site has outgrown the resources that the current hosts can support, or the support and performance offered by that host isn’t all that was promised. Many site owners choose to stick with an underperforming host for fear that the move is difficult to accomplish and could harm their standing in the SERPs.
For WordPress sites, neither of these worries is necessarily valid. It is, if fact, quite easy to move a site from one host to another. There is some scope for causing problems if it’s not done properly, but, by following a few simple guidelines, WordPress sites can be migrated from one hosting company to another with minimal disruption for users and almost no impact on SEO.
Moving Your Site
WordPress sites are made up of two basic components: the files, including static assets like images and theme files, and the database, which contains most of the site’s content, user records, comments, and so on. It’s important to note that the database is an essential component of the site; without the database there is no site. That might seem obvious if you’re a long-time user of WordPress, but I’ve come across many novices that just bundle up the installation directory and neglect the database.
The first step is obviously to create a hosting account with your new hosts. Once you’ve done so, you’ll need to install a fresh instance of WordPress on the server that you are migrating to. With most decent hosting companies this will be one-click process.
There are various ways to move a WordPress installation between hosts, but one of the quickest is to use a plugin called WordPress Move, which automates the whole process.
Carry out this process before you alter the DNS records at your domain name registrar.
1. Install WordPress Move on both your current site and the fresh WordPress installation on the new host.
2. On your current site, under the “Settings” menu in the sidebar, choose “WordPress Move”, and fill in the FTP connection details of the host you are migrating to.
3. Next, also on the server you are migrating from, go to the “Migration Assistant” page under the “Tools Menu”. Choose the “Migrate” option. Enter your FTP password.
4. If you are changing your domain name, you’ll need to enter the new domain name here too. The plugin will take care of updating the references to the domain name in your WordPress installation (this has nothing to do with changing your domain name records, which you will need to do at your registrar’s site.)
5. Hit the “Start Migration” button, and wait until the process completes.
6. On the new host, once again choose the migrations assistant, but this time choose the Restore option. The plugin will integrate the files and database that have just been transferred with the fresh WordPress installation.
Now you’ve moved the site to its new host, you have some tidying up to do to make sure that the move doesn’t impact the site’s relationship with Google.
New Hosting Company, Same Domain
This is the simplest case. Once the site has been migrated to the new host, you can simply go to your DNS registrar and change the authoritative DNS server for your domain. It’ll take some time for the DNS servers to update, but after it does, Google will treat the new site location exactly the same as the old.
New Hosting Company, Different Domain
This is more tricky. If you just change hosts and leave the domain name as it is, from Google’s perspective it looks like nothing much has changed. If you change the domain name, it looks like a completely different site to Google. To ensure that Google knows that the new location is the same site as the old, you’ll need to set up 301 redirects from each page on the old site to its equivalent on the new host. It’s important that you use 301 redirects, which are permanent, rather than 302 redirects, which are considered temporary. Google will pass “link juice” for backlinks to the old domain through 301 redirects, thus maintaining the site’s SEO status.
There are various ways to set-up 301 redirects; you can do it by editing the .htaccess file on the old host, but there are WordPress plugins to make the job easier. Safe Redirect Manager, installed on the old site, provides a simple interface for quickly redirecting pages.
It’s important to note, that if you do it this way, you’ll need to keep the old hosting account active for several months, so that the redirects are kept in place.
Alternatively, you can point the old domain name to the IP address of the new site, and implement the redirects on the new host. Check out the additional resources listed at the end of this article for more comprehensive information about handling redirects.
If you follow these steps, you should be set-up on new hosting without any interruption to your site’s availability and no degradation to your position in the SERPs.