Because of the proprietary system, it takes more work to move a website from SBI than moving a site between conventional web hosts.
This article does not address the pros and cons of moving your site. It’s a brief overview to help you understand what steps to take once you decide to move.
Here are some tips to help you make the move with a minimum of downtime and frustration.
Before you move your SBI site…
The most important tip I can give you is to build your new site at the new host BEFORE you change your nameservers at SBI or transfer your domain name. If you don’t, your site will suffer downtime while you learn how to use the new hosting and site building platform.
No matter what site format you choose (regular HTML site or WordPress), there is a learning curve. I can’t stress this enough. It took you time to learn how to use Site Central, it is going to take time to learn your new host’s dashboard AND if you select WordPress, time to learn that, too.
Depending on the size of your SBI site and how many of the proprietary tools you use, it can take weeks or months to move your content to WordPress. So the decision to move your site is best made with a clear head. Don’t just yank your domain name away and then try to figure out what you are going to do. Your site could end up being down for months, and if you don’t have a backup, you could even lose your whole website.
The first big decision you need to make is whether you want your website to remain an HTML site or change it over to WordPress.
There is some misinformation about WordPress floating around the SBI forums. You can completely reproduce your SBI site in WordPress before the domain name is transferred, including keeping your file names with the .html extension.
Some people are concerned about combining a site move with converting it to WordPress at the same time. It is safe. Google won’t penalize you for doing both at the same time. Just make sure to test your pages for errors before going live. A new site full of errors won’t make a very good impression on the search engines OR your visitors. Also, if you change any page names or the domain name, make sure to create 301 redirects so you don’t lose traffic to the new pages or website.
Once you decide on a platform, you are ready to begin preparing for your move. Here are the steps I recommend to minimize risk, headaches, and downtime. Remember, this is a brief overview, not step-by-step details on how to do a complete move.
1. Select a template or theme
Research then select an HTML template or WP theme. If you like your SBI site the way it is and want to stick with HTML, it can moved as is with some code changes using the transitional template.
Before buying a theme or template, read the reviews. Do people complain about code errors or lack of updates and support? If so, skip it and find something else.
If you want a WordPress site, make sure the theme you select allows the type of customization you want. For instance, can you create a custom header or menu? Can you change the colors or fonts? And if it allows customization, do you have to alter CSS or PHP code to do it, or can you customize it through the Dashboard?
My favorite theme is the Genesis Framework which is the theme I used to redesign my site. Genesis is an excellent theme from a reputable company but it does require CSS to alter the look and feel.
One theme family that I’ve become familiar with while working on client sites is Elegant Themes. You can customize quite a bit in the dashboard without using CSS. The Divi2 theme is especially popular.
I do not recommend using a free theme for a business website. Many are not updated and have security problems. Also, most free themes do not allow very much customization. Spend the money on a good quality theme from a developer who offers ongoing support. The exception to this is the Weaver II theme or GeneratePress theme which you can find in the WordPress.org repository. (GeneratePress free version is not very customizable, but the premium add-ons are inexpensive. You can get the whole package for $40.)
2. Purchase web hosting
Selecting a web host is a very important step. You want to choose one where you will be comfortable for a long time. Don’t just go for who is offering the cheapest deal at the moment.
Most web hosts have shared, virtual private, and dedicated hosting packages, as well as a variety of add on options. It can be pretty confusing if you’ve only used SBI where you don’t have to make that kind of decision.
Many people ask what I recommend. I used GoDaddy and HostGator as well as many other hosting providers over the years. However, I recommend Siteground for shared hosting. In the past when I hosted my site there, I was been very happy with their services. Many of my clients host on SiteGround and they continue to impress me with their service and being on the front line of innovation. Sites run faster on SiteGround than on cheaper hosts and their support it top-notch. If you can afford it, choose the GoGeek plan to get upgraded hardware and fewer accounts per server.
If you are looking for a cheap host, I like InMotion. Their service and support isn’t as good as SiteGround, but they are still a decent low-cost host.
Many web hosts use the cPanel system. This is the preferred system because you can move a site from cPanel host to cPanel host using backup and restore. You can even move your cpanel email.
You can expect to pay about $100 a year or more for cheap hosting, $300 or more for business-grade hosting. If you compare that to SBI, you may think that’s expensive. The savings come in when you host more than one site on your account, which is possible with most conventional hosting packages. At SBI, if you have two sites, you pay double, triple with three sites, and so on.
I’ve compared the costs and found that if you are moving sites because of finances, you will not see much of a savings moving just one site unless you do not add any third-party software, such as tools for publishing your ezine or doing keyword research.
What domain name should I use on the new host?
If you are transferring a site, you can either use your SBI domain name or use any other domain name for the main domain on your account. The primary domain on your account DOES NOT have to be your SBI site domain name – this is just the “name” on your account. (That said, it is often easier to use an alternate domain name. Just make sure you select a hosting plan that allows add-on domains!)
Set up email at the new web host – don’t skip this step!
Your email will not work until the nameservers are changed, but set it up beforehand so you don’t have interruptions in email service. This is especially important if you are using Google Apps for your email. Most web hosts allow you to create email addresses for addon domains.
3. Create your new site in full
It can take a while to recreate your site on your new host. During that time, you need somewhere to build your new pages. If you are not using your SBI domain as the main domain on your hosting account, this is done by creating an Addon domain using your SBI URL. (Every host is different, but on SiteGround, this is done through the cPanel.) This creates a sub-folder for your new site and allows you to upload and test the content before you transfer the domain.
If that process seems too difficult, you can contact your new host’s technical support and ask them to create a temporary URL for you or build your site on an alternate domain. Note: Many hosts are no longer allowing temporary URLs because they can be a security risk for their servers. Some webhosting companies offer a sandbox environment for development. Contact their tech support and ask what is available.
If you are creating an HTML site, use FTP or the host’s file manager to upload pages as they are finished.
If you are using WordPress, you will have to copy and paste your content page-by-page. The first few pages take a long time, but you will soon figure out what you’re doing and it will get faster. I offer a BB1/BB2/HTML to WordPress site move service if you don’t want to convert your pages yourself.
You can get a list of the pages on your SBI site by typing http://www.your-domain-here.com/urllist.txt into your browser. (Thanks to Diane Roshon for this tip.) Note: This list often does not contain pages that are NoIndexed or blocked by your robots.txt file. Make sure to review the list for missing pages.
Should I use pages or posts on WordPress?
You can recreate your entire static SBI site using WordPress pages. You can keep your .html extensions by installing the HTML on Pages plugin. You also need to set up your permalink structure as follows in the Settings > Permalink section of the dashboard:
Custom Structure: http://yourdomain.com/%postname%.html/
If your informational content is contained in pages instead of posts, you will also want to install the RSS includes Pages plugin so your pages go out on your feed.
If you have informational articles, why not turn those into blog posts? Posts are automatically added to your RSS feed and also allow commenting. You can add categories and tags to posts so you can sort them into groups. This replaces the T2/T3 set up on SBI and creates an excellent system for visitors to find the topics they want to read about on your site. [See my knowledge base article on how to set up a 3-tier site structure using WordPress.]
Changing over to the WordPress format does require using 301 redirects to reroute all of your links to the new site. If you don’t know how, contact me. I offer this service for a small fee. Or see my article, Redirect an HTML Site to WordPress for detailed help.
4. Finished converting pages? Test, test, test!
Testing is probably the most overlooked step in the moving process. Don’t skip it!
Test your links, scripts, design elements, contact forms, everything. You do not want to transfer your domain only to find out the new site doesn’t work. If your site is your business website, this can be devastating to your income. Make sure you did everything right before making the move official.
5. Unlock your domain
Once the site is fully-functional and your email is set up, contact SBI support to unlock your domain. Try to put in your request to SBI support on a weekday even if you are waiting to do the transfer over the weekend. Support has longer response times on the weekend. You will need your original order number for the domain so make sure to have it ready when you contact support.
6. Update the links and WordPress URL
If you built your site on a temporary URL, you need to update the URLs before the site goes live. This should be done right before you change the nameservers so there is a smooth transition.
NOTE: Skip this step if you built your site on a NEW domain. This is only for updating URLs from a temporary or alternate domain.
First, install the Velvet Blues plugin. Follow the instructions on the plugin site to update the URLs in your page and post content. You may have to manually change the links, including image links, in your sidebar widgets. I’ve found that most plugins do not consistently correct those links.
Finally, go to Settings > General and change the WordPress Address (URL) and the Site Address (URL) to the new domain then click Save Changes. Once you do this, you will most likely be kicked out of the site. Don’t worry, this is because you can no longer access the site through the temporary URL. It is normal. Immediately go to step 7.
7. Transfer the nameservers
For the first step in the transfer process, transfer the nameservers only. This protects you if you have a disaster at the other end because you can easily change the nameservers back to SBI, fix the problem, then try again.
The nameserver settings you use depend on your host. They are often included in the Welcome email you received that included your cPanel username and password. You can also find the information in your cPanel or from technical support at your new host.
Usually nameservers switch within an hour but it can take up to 48 hours for the name servers to fully propagate across the internet. If your new site looks a lot different from the old one, you will be able to see when the nameservers switch over in your area.
8. Transfer your domain
Once the nameservers have fully propagated, check the website to make sure everything is working as expected. Don’t forget to make sure your email is working, too!
After 48 hours AND if everything is working, then and only then should you transfer your domain name to your new host. Keep in mind that you do not have to transfer your domain name right away. You can leave it at SiteSell until about a month before it expires.
Once the domain name has transferred, it is best to wait another 48 hours before you cancel your SBI hosting so the domain transfer has a chance to fully propagate. There is no hurry to cancel if you still have time left on your subscription.
I hope this overview this helps. Moving a large website is a lot of work but it can be done. Make sure to allow enough time to do things right. You put a lot of work into your site… don’t ruin it by being in a hurry to move.
Have more questions? Read the SBI to WordPress Site Migration FAQ.
If you get stuck or need technical help, click here to order a consultation.
Do you have comments or questions about moving a site from SBI? Please leave your comments below!