birds flying in V formation

If you’ve decided to change your web host, moving your WordPress website may seem a little daunting. If your site is fully active, you might be wondering how to do this without disrupting the user experience. You might also be worried about losing important data and harming your search engine rankings.

Fortunately, these are problems that you can solve through adequate planning. By doing sufficient research and following a WordPress migration checklist, you can put your mind at ease and ensure a smooth migration process.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at website migration and why it’s important. Then, we’ll walk you through the migration process by looking at what you can do before, during, and after. Let’s get started!

What Is Website Migration?

Website migration is when you move a site from one host to another. This involves the transfer of your files and databases to a new server. 

Switching hosts might be necessary if your business grows. For instance, your current hosting plan might have limited resources, and the server may be unable to meet an increased demand in traffic.

Likewise, you may have become dissatisfied with your server’s performance. You might be experiencing slow load times and frequent downtime.

Migrating your site to a new hosting provider can be a delicate process. If you don’t do it correctly, you might lose some of your content, as well as your rankings in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

The Importance of Website Migration

Website migration has many benefits, depending on your circumstances. When you started your business, you probably opted for an affordable hosting service.

However, your website is likely growing along with your business. A more advanced hosting solution can help you handle larger traffic volumes and offer a better User Experience (UX). 

For example, you may wish to move to a host that offers managed WordPress hosting for businesses, such as WP Engine:

WP Engine homepage screenshot

Our WordPress-specific hosting plans make it easier for you to run your online business. We handle several tasks for you, including backups, updates, security checks, and more.

Tips for a Successful Website Migration 

Many of the problems you might face with website migration can be avoided through good planning. Therefore, it’s important that you do some research before switching to your new host. For instance, you’ll want to make sure that they offer a better package than your current provider.

Additionally, you might want to check to see if your new host can help you with the migration. Some hosts will offer to do it for you. 

For example, WP Engine has partnered with BlogVault to create an automated WordPress migration plugin:

WP Engine "Easy, free WordPress migration from any host" landing page

You could also migrate your site manually. Before you do this, you might want to make a complete list of links on your site, using a tool like Screaming Frog:

Screaming frog homepage

This can also help you identify crawl errors and redirects, and fix any broken links. You can then save this data to ensure that you don’t lose it during the migration. 

What to Do Before the Migration 

To help you prepare for your migration, we’ve put together a list of steps to take before you begin.

Step 1: Pick the Right Time

A well-planned migration should have minimal impact on your site’s performance. While a dip in traffic is unavoidable, you can minimize this effect by migrating your website during a quiet period, such as late at night or in the early hours of the morning. 

You can use a tool such as Jetpack Stats or Google Analytics to determine the best time for your migration:

Jetpack homepage

Remember to take time differences into consideration. If you’re based in Europe but your traffic comes from Asian countries, you might need to carry out the process when the majority of your users are asleep. 

Step 2: Clear Your Schedule

Next, you’ll want to make sure that your content and marketing schedules are empty. You might want to avoid migrating around the time of promotions or sales, as these are likely to be busy periods.

Additionally, you’ll want to pause all content creation for the time being. Any content published during the migration process will not be transferred to the new host. This means you’ll lose any site changes made during that period. If you have an online shop, you’ll also need to pause your orders.

Step 3: Inform Your Customers

Your website migration will likely cause some disruption to your service. Therefore, it’s a good idea to let your customers know that your site will be undergoing scheduled maintenance and that you’ll be unable to process orders during this time.

If customers are unable to access your content, it might make your business look unprofessional. However, displaying an important notice along with an apology can show customers that you care about them. You might also want to contact them via email and put up a post on your social media page. 

Step 4: Set Up Your New Hosting Account

If you haven’t done so already, it’s now time to set up your hosting account. It’s a good idea to do this a few weeks in advance. This way, if there are any issues with your new account, you’ll be able to sort them out before you migrate your site. 

Additionally, this will give you time to explore the features offered by your new host. You can familiarize yourself with the available tools and settings, and ask your provider any questions you may have about the migration process.

You’ll also need to create a WordPress installation with your new host. Many hosting providers offer one-click installations. 

Step 5: Back Up Your Website

Before you migrate your site, it’s important that you make a backup of your files and database. This way, if something goes wrong, you can restore your site to a recent version.

Many web hosts offer backups as part of their packages. You can also use a plugin such as UpdraftPlus

UpdraftPlus homepage

Alternatively, you might perform a manual backup using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client like FileZilla. You can then store your site’s files in a safe place.

You’ll also need to back up your database. To do this, head over to phpMyAdmin in your hosting account and click on the Export tab. Then, select your preferred export method and click on Go:

screenshot of FileZilla

That’s it. Once the database has been downloaded, you can store it in the backup folder of your site. 

What to Do During the Migration 

Now you’re ready to start the migration! Let’s break down the process into simple steps. 

Step 1: Put Your Site in Maintenance Mode

Putting your website into maintenance mode prevents other WordPress users from making changes to your content. For example, if you run a multi-author blog, writers won’t be able to publish any posts during this time. Additionally, your site visitors won’t be able to view or interact with your content. 

You can use a plugin such as WP Maintenance Mode to do this:

Screenshot of WordPress site in maintenance mode

This tool enables you to customize your maintenance mode message and add interactive features, such as a countdown timer and chatbot. You can also include a subscription form so that users can be notified once your site is up and running again.

Step 2: Migrate Your Site Files and Databases

This is the main part of the migration process. Before you begin, you’ll want to make sure that you have a backup of your site.

If you’re doing a manual migration, you’ll need to log into your hosting account and use the File Manager. Alternatively, you could use an FTP client like FileZilla.

Start by locating the root folder of your WordPress site. This is normally called public_html. Then, upload the files you backed up into this folder:

Screenshot of how to locate the root file for WordPress site

Next, you’ll need to upload your database to your new server. Head to the cPanel in your new hosting account, navigate to the Databases section, and choose MySQL Databases:

MySQL Databases screenshot

Here, you’ll need to create a new database and add a user. Next, you can upload your old database via the Import tab. 

Finally, you’ll need to edit your website’s wp-config.php file so it directs to the new database. You can find this file in your site’s root folder.

Open the file and locate the following lines: 

define(‘DB_NAME, ‘db_name’);

define(‘DB_USER, ‘db_user’);

define(‘DB_PASSWORD, ‘db_pass’);

Now, simply enter your database name, username, and password in the placeholders. These are the same details that you created for the new database.

Step 3: Direct Your Domain to the New Host

Domain Name System (DNS) records are data that connect your domain name to the server that hosts your site. These include your host’s nameservers, which may look something like this:

  • ns1.hostname.com
  • ns2.hostname.com

You’ll need to update these nameservers to point to your new host. WP Engine does this automatically through Domain Connect. This is an open-source tool that lets us update DNS records on your behalf.

Alternatively, you could do this manually. If you used a domain name registrar for your domain, you’ll need to log into that account to update your DNS records.

Note that you’ll have to wait for your DNS records to propagate worldwide. This may take up to 72 hours.

What to Do After the Migration 

You can now begin essential checks to ensure that your migration was successful.

Step 1: Check Your Site’s Front and Back Ends

Firstly, you’ll want to check your website’s front end to make sure everything works as it should. For instance, you can test your contact forms, comments section, and checkout process. 

It’s also a good idea to check the back end. You can make sure that your plugins are activated with the correct settings, and that other users on your site still have access to the dashboard. 

Step 2: Test Your Site’s Performance

You can also check your site speed, using a tool such as GTmetrix:

This will give you a detailed report on your site’s performance, including page load times. If you’ve upgraded to a powerful hosting solution, you should get a high score. If your scores are poor, you might want to contact your new web host to see if there are any issues with the server. 

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your website is being indexed. You can use Google Search Console’s URL inspection tool for this.

Once you’re happy with your new hosting plan, you can close the old account. If you have other domains registered with the same company, consider migrating them to your new host.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

If something goes wrong with your migration, you can contact your new host for assistance.  Most problems occur as a result of poor planning. However, so long as you have a recent backup in place, you should be able to retrieve your content.

You might also encounter some issues with your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), including canonical tag changes, loss of schema markup or metadata, and broken links. If that’s the case, you might need to ask Google to recrawl your URLs

You might also need to set up 301 redirects, using a plugin like Redirection. Moreover, you can use a tool like Broken Link Checker to fix any broken URLs on your site. 

Conclusion

Website migration is a job that requires plenty of planning, but moving your WordPress site to a new host doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Doing some research and following a migration checklist can help make the process easier.

Before you migrate your site, you’ll need to set up your new hosting account and create a backup of your content. Then, you can put your site in maintenance mode and transfer your files and databases to your new host. Once you’ve migrated your site, you’ll need to update your DNS records and make sure that everything is working as it should.

Our WordPress migration plugin provides a quick way to migrate your WordPress site to WP Engine. Check out our plans to get started!