The Impacts of Switching Web Hosts on SEO

Web hosting providers, with tasks including choosing a new host, migrating content, setting up redirects, and monitoring website performance.

Changing web hosting providers can be a nerve-wracking endeavor for any website owner. As you prepare to migrate your site to a new host, concerns about possible impacts on search engine optimization may creep in. However, with careful planning and execution, switching web hosts does not have to disrupt your SEO or organic traffic.

Minimizing Downtime During the Transition

One of the biggest threats when changing web hosts is extended periods of downtime during the migration process. Google and other search engines expect websites to be consistently accessible and may penalize sites that are offline for long stretches. Here are some tips to minimize downtime:

  • Set up the new hosting account in advance and pre-install any required software, themes, plugins, etc. This allows you to sync content and settings ahead of the cut-over date.
  • Develop a detailed migration plan and timeline, with contingency bandwidth in case issues arise. Outline all steps role-by-role and identify any dependencies across teams.
  • Schedule the migration during low-traffic hours, such as weekends or nights, to reduce visitor impact.
  • Use migration tools to automate the transfer of files, databases, etc. Manual migration is error-prone.
  • Have technical staff on standby during the cut-over to quickly address migration issues.
  • Configure permanent redirects on the old host during DNS propagation to avoid errors reaching site visitors.

With attention to detail in migration planning, downtime can be reduced to just a few hours in most cases.

Maintaining URL Structure

Another vital aspect is ensuring your site URLs are not altered when switching web hosts. Search engines use URLs as unique identifiers they associate with all metrics related to a specific page. If URL structures change during a migration, search engines must re-index those pages from scratch, forfeiting any rankings equity earned over time. Here are some tips around URLs when changing hosts:

  • Carefully map old URLs to new hosting paths to recreate identical permalink structures. Use CSV exports/imports to update databases with proper URLs.
  • Use find-replace database scripts to update any hardcoded links pointing to old URL paths.
  • Include the domain name in any links rather than using relative linking. This avoids context issues.
  • Set up 301 permanent redirects on the old host for any orphaned URLs to redirect to the most relevant new locations.

With some strategic upfront planning, you can maintain the exact same URL architecture when switching web hosting providers.

Monitoring Site Performance

As part of a web host migration, it is wise to closely monitor how the website performs on the new hosting infrastructure. Factors like server response times, bandwidth allocation and uptime can influence how quickly pages load for visitors. Google has explicitly stated site speed is a ranking factor, so performance is imperative. Tips for monitoring site performance when changing hosts include:

  • Use Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom Website Speed Test to measure page load times from key locations before, during, and after cut-over. Compare metrics to establish a baseline.
  • Set up uptime monitoring via a service to receive notifications if the site becomes unreachable during or after the transition.
  • Monitor site performance metrics like PHP memory, MySQL connections, server response times, etc. using available tools. Check for abnormal resource usage indicating configuration issues.
  • Set Google Analytics alerts for sudden drops in traffic around the migration period which could indicate problems.

By keeping a close eye on site performance, you can catch any hosting-related issues early and preserve your organic visibility.

Factoring in Server Locations

The physical location of web hosting servers can directly impact site accessibility for local searchers. Having servers closer to your audience reduces latency and improves speeds. When switching web hosts, consider opting for providers with server locations suited to your users. For example, if most of your traffic comes from Canada, choose a web host with servers based in Canada. Tips around server proximity include:

  • Analyze Google Analytics Audience reports to identify countries/regions that generate the majority of site traffic and target those areas.
  • Use web host reviews and provider websites to research the geographic locations of their data centers and servers before deciding.
  • Conduct speed tests from various locations to compare different hosts’ ping times and load speeds. The closer servers have an advantage.

If migrating to a host with only overseas servers, local site speeds could suffer. Factor location into your web host selection process.

Preserving Historical Analytics Data

Valuable search engine optimization insights can be gained from analyzing trends in historical website analytics data over extended periods. When changing web hosts, preserving your existing analytics data from platforms like Google Analytics allows you to:

  • Maintain continuity in reporting during and after the transition. Metrics can be compared properly to earlier periods rather than starting fresh.
  • Retain crucial benchmark data around traffic sources, conversions, etc which is key for measuring success.
  • Identify seasonal trends that may inform future strategy. Long-term data is more useful.
  • Avoid losing attribution details on sales/leads that convert after site migration occurs.
  • Segment users who engaged with the site pre-migration vs post-migration.

Work with your analytics provider to ensure existing analytics data is retained properly through the web host change process. Do not start tracking codes from scratch.

Choosing the Right Web Host

While a thorough migration process is crucial for minimizing SEO disruptions when switching web hosting providers, choosing the right host is equally important. The underlying infrastructure and services can affect site speed, security, and scalability. Factors to analyze when evaluating new hosts include:

Reliability – Check reviews and uptime history to determine reliability and prevent downtime.

Speed – Faster overall performance and page load times keep visitors engaged.

Support – Knowledgeable 24/7 customer support is vital when issues arise.

Scalability – Easy resource scaling prevents growing pains.

Security – Robust cybersecurity protections prevent attacks/outages.

Affordability – Balance cost savings with quality service.

Do your homework to determine which hosts best align with your site’s goals and priorities.

Switching web hosting providers may feel like a daunting SEO task, but need not be with the right strategy. Minimizing migration downtime, preserving URL structures, monitoring performance metrics, and comparing multiple hosts will help avoid site issues impacting organic visibility. While some ranking fluctuations right after changing web hosts are expected until site data is re-crawled, your SEO can fully recover within months with a smooth transition.