Many of our clients hire us to redesign their inbound marketing websites and move them to a new CMS, for example HubSpot. Few of them understand what's involved in the physical transfer of domain (DNS) information. Here's a how-to on the final step in the metamorphosis of your new site. Details may vary - make sure you hire a competent firm that knows how to manage websites and DNS.
I'm assuming you have set up your new website on a new CMS and are using a temporary web address or trial site to build it. You have hired a good web design agency experienced with the challenges of migrating content and integrating designs on your new CMS. They have created your new design templates, developed your new site architecture and migrated (copied or created new) content to build out the new site. Now, it's moving day. What do you need to do to go live?
Tip: Don't forget to proof your copy and double check all of your page URL's, outside links and SEO on-page optimization. You want this to be perfect on Day 1.
This is often the least understood activity. Your new site is ready to go live, but your old site still occupies your primary domain, i.e. your current web address. You want to point your primary domain (for example, kunocreative.com) to the new website on the new CMS.
- Find out where the DNS (Domain Name System) information is registered and hosted. To do that go to http://www.who.is/dns and search on the primary domain name (for example kunocreative.com). This will tell you where the domain name is registered, for example Network Solutions or GoDaddy, and the Name Servers, i.e. where the DNS information is hosted. Click on the first Name Server and take a look at the list of domains and note the Registrar. This is where you need to go to change the DNS to point to your new website. Note: the DNS may be hosted at the same site where you registered the domain, but not necessarily! In any case, you need to update the DNS in the Name Servers to transfer to a new site.
- When your new website is ready to go live, login to your management portal of the new CMS, find the section on managing your domain, determine the IP address of your new site and set up the domain information of the new site. In most cases you are adding a new domain, for example kunocreative.com. This will map the domain to the new CMS hosting site and make sure that all traffic is correctly routed. Hopefully, there will be an option for redirecting the traffic for the "non-www" domain URL, for example http://kunocreative.com to the "www" version. If so, select this option. This is important, since search engines like Google may track them as separate domains, which will dilute your traffic statistics and ultimately impact your SEO rankings.
- Contact the service where your DNS is hosted (the Name Servers, the last part of Step 1 above). More often than not, you can manage the information online. Hopefully you still have this login information from your original website! Login to your DNS host (where the Name Servers are set) and navigate through your account information to manage your DNS. Select the domain you want to change (if you have more than one), and change the "A record", plugging in the IP address of your new website you obtained from Step 2. This will now route all domain traffic to your new CMS hosting server and find your new website. Ideally, you should have someone familiar with DNS and your web project handling this. Make sure you don't change MX records in particular, since this will take down your e-mail!
- Once the new CMS has been set up to receive the DNS (Step 2) and the Name Servers have been updated (Step 3), you should begin to see your new website appear when you browse your domain address (either non-www or www). If any of these versions still goes to the old site, you have not properly set them up and/or redirected them and you should seek some expert help.
- Typically the entire domain transfer takes between 1-24 hours as it propagates throughout the web. If you're familiar with this process, you may be able to reduce the transition time by setting the TTL (Time To Live) settings to 300 seconds or 5 minutes. Best practice for most businesses is to do your transfer late Friday afternoon, so your new site is universally available on Monday morning.
Now you're ready for that thrill when your brand new shiny website shows up for the first time on a search or direct website browse, but there's one more important step! What happens to your old website pages that were indexed by search engines but no longer have the same identical page URL in your new site? You get a "Page Not Found - Error 404", that's what. Not good for potential customers trying to find you online! We'll cover this contingency in my next post.
Delicious-looking photo credit: geishaboy500