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You're not alone! Many people are bound to the old web host they've used for years because they're afraid of the hassle of switching. Customers will pay rates three or four or even ten times greater than what they have to, just because they're terrified that switching will be too complicated or that they'll end up losing their site altogether.
New customers just coming online and setting up sites for the first time may automatically assume that expensive prices and brand names, such as Yahoo or MSN or MasterCard automatically mean better service.
While you should never base your hosting choice on price alone, you should certainly make your return on investment a priority. You can easily find plenty of space for your site with all of the features you need (and many you don't) for less than $10 per month - with discounts for paying quarterly or yearly.
So what should you look for when choosing a hosting company?
SPACE: Most websites use less than 100 megs of space. Unless you're planning to build a large community or upload entire albums of photos, 50 - 100 megs is probably plenty. Start there - you should be able to upgrade at no additional charge should you need more.
EMAILS: Your new host should offer Pop3 emails. If you're running a home based business, you want at least 10 - more if you have staff under you or family and friends who would love to use your email address and effectively advertise for you every time they send out an email. Your new host should also offer web-based emails, so that you can check your emails when away from your home.
SUPPORT: Can your new host answer your questions within 24 hours? If not, look elsewhere. Your new host should offer some sort of live chat capability during regular business hours as well, and a 24-hour a day help desk where you can email in questions. If you don't have a contact email and some way to reach someone during business hours - look elsewhere. Email their support or use their chat live capability before agreeing to their service - you want to see if you'll be treated rudely or gently. These are the people you'll be dealing with if you have snags - you don't want the support to make life MORE frustrating!
USER FRIENDLY RATING: What kind of control panel do they offer? Do they offer a demo? What options do you have on the panel? Do you have free 24-hour FTP access so that you can make those 4 am site edits? What about a site builder, bulletin boards, or chat rooms - how easy will it be for you to interact with your customer using your new host's services? Will you have access to popular features such as PHP, CGI, ASP, Java scripts, Perl scripting - can your new host handle it if your web page incorporates these things?
Now that you've decided to make the change and you've found the host you love, HOW do you go about it?
First, make sure that all of the files that have created your current site are on your computer so that they can be moved. If you created your own pages using something like FrontPage or SiteBuilder or Dreamweaver, you have these files. If you used a web based builder, you'll need to download each and every page of your site along with their dependent files to a folder on your PC.
This probably sounds harder than it is. You can either use an FTP tool to download files or download them using the "File - Save As" method outlined below. Should you choose to FTP your files down to your computer, you'll need an FTP tool. TUCOWS.com offers a free version at http://www.tucows.com/preview/195136.html
Should you choose the "File - Save As" method, simply follow these steps. First, go to your browser - most people use Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, or Mozilla. Find your toolbar and look for the "File" button - you'll need this. Now go to the first page in your website. Once it has fully loaded, click on "File" then "Save As" and save the file and all dependent files to a folder on your website. Do this for every page. You'll then have possession of your website. It's always a good idea to keep your site backed up to your computer in a separate folder, as well.
Once you have your files, you'll need to make sure any other files on your web host are backed up. If you use web-based mail, forward your emails to an 'off-network' email address or archive your emails to your computer's hard drive. Once you change hosts, all those emails on their mail server will be deleted. Now, upload all of your new files to your new host's servers. Your new host should provide you with the FTP info needed to do this and/or live support should walk you through the steps in case you get stuck. The next thing you need to do is create an email account to match each email account from your old web host. If you had three accounts named info, sales, and support, make sure you have matching accounts on the new servers. This way you won't have bouncing emails later when the switch goes through. Now, change your domain name's name servers. Your new host should give you the information for this, as well. You will probably have a primary and secondary name server.
If you registered your own domain name, your registrar should have a management area. If you registered your domain name through your current host, make sure that you have access to change these items once you've moved. You never want to lose control of your domain name!!
The name server change will take 24 - 48 hours to propagate so that your domain name is pointing to your new servers rather than the old ones. You may wish to initiate the change earlier in the week rather than on a Friday because then you'll have to deal with a longer waiting period. Allow at least a week before canceling your old host so that you can make sure everything works properly on your new host, that you didn't forget any email accounts or old files and that your new host is living up to your expectations.
If you want to leave your host before your next billing cycle, be extremely careful. If your cancellation date falls after your normal monthly billing cycle date, you'll be billed again for that month's service and most hosts do not give refunds for less than a month of service.
Now that you know what to expect and have a better handle on changing your name servers, check out what the web has to offer - your bottom line will be glad that you did!
About The Author
Danielle Bailey created The Chayton Group at http://www.ChaytonGroup.com to be a complete, affordable online business solution. Whether you need web design or web hosting you won't find a company more committed to helping you get it for less.