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Strategic Site Migration: Planning For Success

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An analytical approach to moving an existing business web site from one Internet Service Provider (ISP) to another will increase the likelihood of a seamless transition.

This is especially critical for retail sites and sites that contain large databases of products, customers and other business-related information.

A Common Mistake

Site owners rely on site administrators to ensure the smooth, continuous functioning of their on-line businesses. The importance of the role of a site administrator is often underestimated by site owners. Typically, owners select a hosting company based on a simple cost vs. features comparison. This may be fine for small sites marketing a single product, sites that don’t require a secure checkout or sites that aren’t required to maintain a great deal of data. However, retail site owners must prepare to move their sites with military precision. That preparation will lead to a successful move.

Moving the Domain: Four Critical Issues

As the number of hosting companies grows, site owners have available to them more standard features, more options and lower monthly hosting costs – all positive results of greater competition among Web hosting services. However, there is also a downside to site migration, even if cost savings are realized.

Site owners face several critical issues when planning to change from one ISP to another. These issues must be resolved before the actual move takes place to ensure site continuity and uninterrupted access to the site by visitors.

These concerns should be a part of the site owner’s initial discussions with any potential administrator. Solutions must be developed by the new administrator to avoid any negative consequences created by the move. Thus, site owners will be well served to address the following issues during initial discussions with a new site administrator.

Down Time

During the move, a site may be unavailable to visitors. Of course, this presents serious problems for owners of retail sites. If customers do not have access to the site, they will likely go elsewhere rather than wait until the known site is once again operational.

A site may be down (and therefore inaccessible to visitors) for between 12 to 72 hours during the transition phase. If, during this down time, the site is spidered by a search engine, the site’s previous SE history may be severely compromised. Many site owners are willing to accept some down time in order to lower the business’s hosting expenses. However, few of these site owners recognize that the positive record they have established with search engines is in serious jeopardy if the move is not coordinated with precision.

Many ISPs maintain that down time is necessary during the migration of a complicated, intricate site. This is not the case. In fact, even the most complex site can be moved from one host to another seamlessly, i.e. without any down time. To accomplish this, the new site administrator most perform a detailed analysis of the site’s underlying architecture, the structure and scope of the site’s database, checkout operations and special features such as Flash animations, a blog/forum or email capabilities.

Site owners should not switch hosts without a careful analysis of the consequences, not only in lost sales, but in positioning on search engine results pages, or SERPs, caused by down time.

Lack of SE Recognition

Many site owners are reluctant to move to an ISP offering more services at lower prices because of their concerns about loss of page rank (PR), or worse, a complete lack of recognition by the three major search engines – Google, Yahoo and MSN – during the transition to the new service provider.

These concerns are well founded. There are many examples of established domains that have fallen off the SE’s radar during a move to a new host. The problem stems from the SE’s inability to “follow” the site to the new hosting service.

Once again, a careful strategy must be developed to ensure that SEs identify the site in its new location in order to maintain adequate visibility on SERPs.

Loss of Data

Sites that contain a great deal of product and/or customer data run the risk of losing key information or having information appear in two databases – the existing and the new database – during site migration.

For some period of time, both databases may be operational, requiring the development and implementation of a secure, synchronization link. This link, sometimes called an S-Tunnel, ensures that all data is transferred securely and that the data contained in both the old and new databases is virtually identical.

Incompatibility

Complex retail sites typically contain a secure checkout, email functionality, in-site links, in- and out-bound links and other features that may or may not be compatible with the new ISPs hardware and software. All of this can and should be determined before affecting a site migration to ensure a smooth transition from old host to new.

Strategic Transitioning

The new site administrator should prepare a detailed, written strategy describing the steps in seamlessly moving a site from one host to another. Part of this strategy requires pre-move testing and analysis of site metrics.

During the pre-move examination of the site, compatibility issues will be identified and solutions to rectify these issues presented by the administrator.

Data loss and/or duplicate data will be eliminated through the careful transitioning of site elements from old to new host server. This may require that the site be active on both servers for a short time. This dual-server activity should be kept to an absolute minimum to avoid SE confusion or the appearance of impropriety.

The questions surrounding the lack of SE recognition of an established site can be addressed prior to site migration by way of a site simulator. These software programs provide a view of the site as it will be seen by search engine spiders. Gaps can be identified, in-site problems rectified and the site’s architecture modified to ensure continuous search engine recognition.

Further, pre-move analysis will enable the administrator to reconfigure site structure to ensure that the site will not lose its good SE history during the move.

Finally, the question of down time. There is no reason for it. In fact, the knowledgeable administrator will perform the pre-move analysis, make adjustments to site structure and skin as required and move the site with virtually no down time.

Conclusions

Site migration is not something to be taken lightly – especially in cases of sites with an established SE history. To simply “move” a site from one host to another can lead to numerous problems, both large and small. Therefore, it is a decision worthy of careful consideration.

Site owners should recognize the risks in switching from one host company to another. They should prepare their virtual stores for the move, just as they would prepare for a move in the brick-and-mortar realm.

A new hosting service administrator should be able to compile a detailed, pre-move site analysis. Problems should be identified and remedies provided by the new host. This analysis is the site owner’s best assurance of a smooth transition.

Finally, the ISP is the site owner’s link to the retail marketplace. As such, site owner and ISP are, indeed, partners. The decision to move from one host to another should not be based solely on monthly costs. Site owners should seek ISPs with a lengthy record of migration success and the highest levels of service reliability.

To successfully move a site from one host to another, site owners should expect the new host to make the transition seamlessly – without down time, conflicts, loss of data or SE recognition. Anything less should not be accepted.

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Frederick Townes is the owner of W3 EDGE Web Design. W3 EDGE specializes in custom web design solutions that are built to convert your traffic into conversions. For more information you can view their portfolio or read more of Fredericks web design articles.

Strategic Site Migration: Planning For Success
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