There are a number of reasons to switch your web hosting company: outgrowing your initial data package, not getting the up-time service you were promised, or wanting to save money with another provider. When you do decide to make the switch, it’s important to follow some critical steps to ensure the transition is smooth and doesn’t negatively affect your website’s SEO rankings. To help you make that changeover without hurting your rankings, I’ve put together this ultimate checklist for switching hosting.
Changing hosting providers may not pose the same SEO risks as moving your site to a new domain or redesigning your website, but it’s important to handle the move correctly to avoid any problems. You also need to carefully consider which hosting company you choose as your new home as choosing the wrong host can have negative consequences for SEO. Three of the biggest factors that can affect your ranking are uptime/downtime, speed and location of the hosting company, and are important to consider when making the switch.
Ready to make the switch? Let’s get started…
Choose a good hosting company that meets your needs
Finding a hosting company that meets all of your needs requires a bit of research. But taking the time to choose one that displays your website properly, meets your technical needs, and won’t negatively affect your SEO is critical. Start by getting references from other businesses on hosting companies that they use and research as much as possible about the top options. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind:
- Make sure the new host is compatible with the technical specifications of your website – Consider the operating system, supported web technology, and coding to ensure that you will be well supported.
- Check the available bandwidth of the hosting pack, as well as services and limitations, and physical characteristics of the server. Some hosting servers may not allow websites to use unlimited amounts of bandwidth or may set the limits very low. If the web host denies access to your site because you’ve reached your bandwidth limit, this could result in lower SEO rankings because a search engine bot may not be able to access the site.
- Choose a hosting company that offers great technical support and quality services. Steer clear of cheap solutions, which can attract spammers and sites that distribute questionable content. You could be penalized for being on the same host as these bad neighbors.
- Select a company that has great speeds and minimal downtime. If a search engine bot tries to access a very slow website or one that has high incidences of downtime, and unsuccessfully tries to access the site during those times, it may penalize your site for being inaccessible.
Select the location of the new hosting company carefully
The physical location (i.e. the country) of the server is used as a GEO location signal by most search engines, particularly Google. The location of the web host will determine which geographical version of the search engine will yield the best results. Customers located in the United States will likely be looking for businesses in the United States (unless otherwise specified), and if your US business is hosted on a server in another country, Google may show your website further down the page because it may assume you are not a US based company.
The best choice is to host your website with a company that is located within the same country as your target audience. Some hosting companies offer you the chance to select the location of the server, so take this into account when buying your hosting pack. Note: While this is still a small factor, it is not something to lose sleep over. Also, in time Google may completely get rid of this server location signal.
Make a backup of your site at the new web host
The best way to check the compatibility of your website with your new hosting company is to test it first and make sure that it works normally before proceeding to the full transfer You can do this by uploading your database and files on the new host and test its functionalities using a temporary URL. This is fairly easy to do if you have a static website, but can require a bit more work if you have a blog or an e-commerce site that has to have its database kept in a sync’ed state, in which case you’ll want to be sure that you get help with the transition.
Update the TTL of your DNS records
This part may seem a bit technical, but is highly recommended to make a smooth changeover and avoid disruption to your SEO rankings. To make this easier to understand, here is a little background: The DNS, or Domain Name System, is the service that maps the domain names to their IP addresses. The IP addresses are the network addresses of the servers that host your website. So, the DNS is a service that helps us find out which server hosts your website. When you change hosting companies, you are transferring your site from the old server with one IP address to the new server with a new IP address. And to make the change successful, you need to update the DNS records and notify the world that the IP address has been changed so search bots and people know where to find you.
Where this can become difficult or problematic is when the DNS record update can take more than 24 hours to become visible globally. That’s because DNS records are cached for a period of time, also known as Time-To-Live or TTL) to avoid generating excess loads on the systems. Because of this visitors to your website may continue accessing your site via the old server for that period of time. If your site is static this isn’t a big issue, but if you post regular updates (blogs, forums, etc. this can become problematic
If your domain registrar allows you, you can speed up the DNS update process by changing the value of the TTL from 24 hours to a shorter time such as an hour or even five minutes. By doing this one day before you actually transfer your site, you will ensure that once you update your DNS records, visitors and search engines will access the site directly on the new server. (Just remember to change it back to 24 hours once the transition is complete.) If you’re not able to update your TTL, you may want to change the configuration of the old site and change the database server address to the new one to avoid losing content during the transition.
If none of the above is possible for you, fear not, the transition will become fully updated after the 24-hour period with relatively minimal disruption.
Change your DNS records
To complete the transfer you need to update the DNS records and redirect them to your new host. Depending on your new web hosting company, you may need to update either the NameServer records of the A records. This can usually be done in your account settings and is pretty straightforward. Also, keep in mind that if you change the DNS records of your domain, it will also affect your emails. So, if you are switching your email accounts to the new hosting company, be sure to set up the email accounts now as well.
Keep both servers live for 1 or 2 days
As some browsers and other applications often store the DNS records for longer than the TTL value, you need to give the world time to adjust to your transition. It’s recommended that you keep the old server live for 1 to 2 days after the transfer to help ensure that you don’t lose any traffic or emails. Search engines also tend to update DNS records every 24 hours or less, so while they’re usually good at handling such changes well, this will ensure that you’re playing it safe for SEO. After the 2 days have passed, you can remove your website from the old hosting company and close your account. If you want to triple check, you can check your logs. When you see that Google and other search engines are fetching from the new host and no more visitors are in your logs at the old location, you’re in the clear.
By following this checklist and testing everything thoroughly throughout the transition, you can help ensure that your SEO rankings will not be affected by the update. Keep in mind, however, you want to avoid switching hosting companies too often, as this can look suspicious to search engines and you may get flagged.
Are you planning to change hosting companies or have you already? Let us know your experience in the comment section below.
- “Moving to a new web host” (Matt Cutts)
- “SEO tutorial: How to change your website’s host without affecting your rankings” (Web SEO Analytics)
- “SEO Basics: Will moving or changing my site hurt rankings?” (Top Rank Blog)
- “How to move domains without losing SEO value” (SingleGrain)
- “Does changing your nameservers affect your rankings or SEO?” (SEOblog)