Should a website buyer leave well alone or move to a new hosting company?

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You've bought a website and are now faced with whether to leave it hosted where it is and take over as administrator and billing contact for that hosting account - the smooth, easy option - or move the site to a completely different hosting company. What are the practical implications of both options? Which is better in your particular case, and why?

The advantages with staying put

If the seller recommends his hosting company highly, the history shows they've treated him well, the site has had little to no downtime (check using the Netcraft), support questions were answered promptly and efficiently, and the charges are reasonable, there is the temptation to stay put.

The status quo implies

- no stress of moving. For some sites it's relatively simple to move. For others you'll have to move not just files and pages but databases and programs ...which is a little trickier as they need to be configured to the new environment. Then there may be htaccess and conf files that need modification, php files that need to be edited to change database names and passwords, stats/traffic tracking that needs to be setup, cron jobs that need to be created, file and folder permissions that need to be set... and lots more.

- dealing with the devil the site knows. While another hosting company you know may be providing great service for a different site of yours, there's no guarantee that their setup is ideal for this new site you're acquiring. Perhaps they don't have as generous bandwidths. Or they have stricter controls on the programs and tweaks they allow you to make on their servers. Or smaller email boxes. Or fewer sub-domains. Or the lack of the option of a dedicated IP. Or shorter periods for which they store log files. Or smaller database size allowances. Or stricter limits on email you are allowed to send to your list. You could be very, very detailed with researching hosting companies and still get caught short.

- no change of IP. When you move to a new host, your site is allocated a new IP by the hosting company. Sometimes that IP is shared with undesirable sites - or has a spammy history - and that is believed by some to affect your site's reputation with search engines. There are the really paranoid who believe that just a change in IP is itself cause for an SE to reassess the quality of your site or downgrade it. Also, particularly if the site had a static IP, there may be programs or links in the site "hard wired" to that IP - and external links may be pointing to that IP too -  which could case some disruption if the IP were to change.



- continuity. With moving complex sites the rule is that if something can go wrong, it will. Files can get corrupted. The database can lose a few tables (particularly when using phpMyadmin to move a large database). And there's some downtime in rectifying the mistakes. Some oversights may not be noticed till much later. For example, configuring AWStats to record stats separately for each domain or sub domain in the account can be tricky. It may not be till the end of the month when checking traffic stats that you find all your valuable data has been merged into one sorry mess.

- cost. There may be a period of pre-paid hosting on the old server that you may lose if you move.

The advantages with moving

In my book there is one major advantage to moving that weighs the scales heavily in favour. In fact, even if it were the only advantage in moving it should be sufficient to sway the decision:

- experiencing what it takes to move the site. The importance of experience with the process cannot be over-Due Diligence And Website Buying Assistanceestimated. No matter how good the host is, a day will come when the site needs to be moved. Perhaps the host goes bust. Or you'd like to change IPs to show the search engines that the site is being hosted in a different country. Or you just need a change of life and want to sell the site (the buyer will likely expect your help to move the site).

For some complex sites with custom-coded changes this is almost impossible without the knowledge of the original owner/manager of the site. They may put a manual/guide together for you, but in every single case I've transferred such a site I've found the manual deficient in some respect or the other and had to elicit the seller's help with at least one major aspect of the move (and record those updates in my copy of the manual for future reference).

- a fresh start. Sometimes a long neglected site that the buyer starts working on and refreshing with new content may benefit in the SERPs from having a new IP as well.

- geo targeting. A site targeting visitors in the UK but hosted in Canada or Australia may be losing some of its geo-location advantages in the search engines because of its physical location outside of the target country. In these cases it may be worth moving the site to a host within the relevant country.

- getting rid of bad neighbours. If due-diligence exposes some unsavoury neighbours on the same server, it may be worth moving the site to break any potential association with those adult/illegal/spammy sites.

- cost. If the buyer already has a dedicated server or VPS (Virtual Private Server), it may be cheaper to put the site on there rather than pay separate hosting fees elsewhere.

- getting better service. Obviously if the host the seller used was under-performing or over-charging it makes sense to consider other options and point of purchase is the best time to do it. So, where do you start?