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New web hosts for the year

By Staff

There are many reasons why you may decide it is time to change your Internet Web hosting provider.  You may have outgrown the provider you started with, or developed a new web page in a technology your current Internet Web hosting provider does not support.  One of the other reasons frequently given for change providers is that the service and support did not measure up to expectation – or provide what was advertised.  Again, this could just be a function of the fact that your business has grown versus that your provider is not performing.  If you were unhappy with the service and support you were getting, ask the new providers lots of questions.  Sometimes it is even a good idea to talk to current customers (aside from testimonials on the Internet Web hosting provider’s site) to see what their experience has been.  It is helpful if those customers have businesses similar in size and scope to your own – or even a little bigger.  Make sure you can contact the provider 24/7 by phone or email if you believe you will need this level of service.  You can test the quality and efficiency of their customer service and support by sending them an email pertaining to some question you may have before you sign up.  Given the sheer numbers of providers out there and the features and functions price wars, you may just have found a better deal.  Be sure to ask about transfer fees.  The last thing you want to do is go through the rigors of moving and end up having it cost you money.

If you are going to switch, this is a good time to figure out exactly how much space you will need.  It is not unusual for people to discover that they are paying for space they don’t use.  A rough rule of thumb is that 20 pages is about 3Mb.  If you are not sure how big your site is, right click on the root folder – this tells you how many files you have as well as total size.  Chances are you are using an editor – if you use FrontPage for example, you can click on the site summary in the reports view to get this information.

Contemplating a move is also a good time to make sure you have the right type of hosting service.  Prices will range from free to $5 - $50 per month for a package that is 20 – 50 Mb in size.  If you are thinking about changing hosts you are probably too large or handling too much traffic to consider free.  Free sites work for small, non-technical business sites.  More than likely you are using virtual hosting (a.k.a. domain or shared hosting).  If you anticipate a lot of growth, check out deals on dedicated servers.  Again, the competition in the current market works in your favor and there are some great deals to be found.

Most of what is involved is common sense.  Overall, you will want to make sure that you have backed everything up.  If you have a database, start there.  The best approach is to have at least two copies, one that you can work on and one that you will put in safe keeping with your archived versions.  Label it carefully!  The last thing you need during a move between providers is to have made inspired changes to your database and not be able to identify which one of the oh-so-similar version names is the current copy.  Don’t count on remembering dates and remember that the most recently dated version might be something you were fooling around with versus the database you plan to use in production.  The other thing to consider when you make backups is what kind of control panel you will have at the new site.  Get as much information as you can before hand.  Manually backup by downloading all of your files – be sure to find out if the transfer type if ASCI or Binary - and take whatever notes you need about the old server configurations so you have it handy.

You will also need to make sure that the critical logistics – for example, your new Web hosting account and DNS number – have been taken care of.  When you set up the new Web hosting account, you will of course get the numeric URLs for your primary name and secondary name servers – you will give these to your old provider.  Make a list of other questions you need answered and utilities you will need (that FTP program you love).  Other items include installation guides and installation scripts, server paths and the home directory on the new server.  Do you have a custom error page for the new host server as your starting point for moving day?  Also have a modified copy of your old site’s error page that will let visitors to your site know that you have moved and give them address change information if appropriate.  It is hard to remember everything, but the more you write down, the less likely you are to omit something that is really important.

The same goes for the main event.  Start with the most visible or most trafficked pages first to reduce the disruptions in your customer’s experience.  Check early and often, make sure that navigation works and go through the navigation path as you upload different sections of your site, especially if you have a large site with lots of divisions.  The last thing you will do once you are finished checking everything over is to change your DNS.  There is a time lag here so if you find something nasty you overlooked the first time, you can change it.

 You will need to give your customers and others who frequent your site plenty of heads up before, during and after the transition.  Finally you will want to have a period of overlap between the new service and the old service.


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