Transferring a WordPress Site to HostGator

Have you thought about getting new web hosting for your site but hesitate because you’re not super tech-savvy and you’re not sure what’s involved in making the switch?

If that’s you, you’re in the right place.

I migrated my WordPress site from Bluehost to HostGator in order to bring you this post. Here’s how it went for me and what you can learn from my experience.

Deciding to Switch Hosts

Why switch web hosts? Some people do it because they’ve found a better deal, want a different type of hosting, or have multiple sites hosted by different companies that they want to consolidate with one hosting service.

In my case, I wanted managed WordPress cloud hosting to better optimize my site’s mobile performance, which was consistently scoring in the 30s out of a possible 100 on Google’s PageSpeed Insights test, even after a few rounds of optimizations.

mobile website

And I wanted to see the process firsthand. (Disclaimer: Although HostGator pays me to blog, they didn’t pay for my new hosting plan.)

Getting Ready to Transfer Domains

I knew that switching domains from one host to another was going to be a multi-step process, because there are safeguards to keep rogue domain poachers from simply moving unsuspecting people’s sites away from their hosts. To get ready, I ran through HostGator’s pre-domain-transfer checklist.

Pre-transfer checklist

My domain was

  • more than 60 days old
  • not expired
  • not in redemption (expired for more than 30 days)

so I was good on those counts. My WHOIS info and my contact information were up to date, and I knew how to disable my WHOIS privacy setting so the transfer could happen.

Some of the pre-transfer steps were unfamiliar. I wasn’t sure how to unlock my domain, request an EPP (authorization) code for the transfer, or update my nameservers. I quickly found that I could unlock my domain and request EPPs from my control panel at Bluehost.

But I still wasn’t 100 percent sure what to do about the nameservers yet, even though I had access at the control panel, and I forgot to request my EPP when I unlocked my domains.

This turned out not to be a big deal. The most important thing I did before transferring my domain was to back up my site. I used UpdraftPlus to send everything to a folder in the cloud in case I ran into any issues during the process.

Setting Up My New Hosting Account

There are a couple of ways to start transferring domains to HostGator.

transfer domains page

The first is to use HostGator’s domain transfer service. This is the easiest way, as long as you plan ahead. I tried it with my domains the same day I unlocked them at Bluehost, and I got a message that my sites were still locked. I didn’t know then that it can take a couple of days for sites to show as unlocked after you unlock them.

If the domain transfer service tool says your domains aren’t eligible to transfer yet, you can wait until they show as unlocked or just call HostGator customer support, which is what I did the day after I bought my new hosting plan online. Don’t be shy about calling, especially if this is the first time you’ve transferred a domain to a new host. Three short calls got the process going for me.

First, a call to HostGator to ask if my domains were finally showing as unlocked. The rep recommended I double-check with Bluehost to ensure my unlock request had gone through and to see if there was anything else I needed to do to free up the domains for transfer.

Second, a chat with Bluehost confirmed that my domains were unlocked. He also checked that my contact information was up to date, especially the email address, because without a way to reach you the new host can’t complete the transfer. And those EPP codes I’d forgotten? He sent them via email.

Third, I checked back in with HostGator to find out what to do with the EPP codes. I talked to a rep who essentially acted as my domain-transfer concierge. He checked the status of all the domains and let me know that it can take up to 72 hours for domains to show as unlocked. He emailed me while we talked so I could forward him the EPP codes. That way I didn’t have to wait and call back in a couple of days when the domains finally showed as unlocked. Then he let me know what to expect during the rest of the transfer process, which I didn’t realize could take up to 7 days.

His most important recommendation? Check my email.

Watching My Inbox for Domain Transfer Verification Emails

The key thing to look for was the verification email that I had to respond to so the domain transfer could begin. Mine arrived soon after I got off the phone with customer service.

If you don’t see yours soon after you start your transfer, check your spam folder, and if you don’t see it within a day or so, check back in with customer support.

Over the next few days, I kept tabs on my inbox for follow-up messages. I got emails when my domain registration transferred and when my transfer was successfully completed. Then it was time to move on to setting up in the new place.

Post-Transfer Web Hosting Checklist

Just like moving into a new house, getting in the front door doesn’t mean the move is over. You’ll still need to take care of a few security and setup issues for your new online home. You’ll need to…

1. Migrate your site content.

This is a separate process from transferring your domain to your new host, and it can take a few days to complete so it’s best to start your content migration as soon as you get your welcome email. I got an email from HostGator that included a link to start the migration process and set up my new domain-based email account. I set up my email in just a couple of clicks but got interrupted before I started the migration process.

When I realized a couple of days later than my content hadn’t made the move because I’d been distracted, I used the Migration add-on in UpdraftPlus to quickly restore my previously backed-up site content to my domain.

2. Save your new nameservers.

In the customer portal settings for managing each domain on your account, fill in the nameservers on your account summary page.

3. Set up your email accounts, again using your customer portal.

If you use Gmail to fetch your domain-name emails, you’ll need to update the settings to ensure it’s checking the correct server.

4. Activate WHOIS privacy for each domain and lock them.

You can do this on the Domains tab in the customer portal.

5. Buy an SSL certificate or activate the free one that comes with your new hosting account.

You can use a WordPress plugin like Really Simple SLL to enable your free certificate.

6. Set up and activate any other plugins you want to use.

7. Check out how your site looks and performs on mobile and desktop browsers.

8. Run some test emails with your domain-based email accounts to make sure everything’s working as it should.

9. Finally, get to know your new cPanel.

Click on the settings icon on the hosting tab to manage your site security, settings, email, and WordPress installation.

10. Compare your site’s performance at the new host.

Once all my housekeeping was done, I ran another PageSpeed Insights test. Now my mobile site scores 71 out of 100 and my desktop score is 87 out of 100, and there are still more tweaks I can make to improve those numbers even more.

pagespeed insights new desktop
pagespeed insights new mobile

I’m satisfied with that improvement, and now that I’ve gone through the process of transferring a domain to a new host and migrating my site content, I feel like some sort of extremely novice technical wizard.

Your Checklist for Transferring to a New Web Host

To sum up, when you’ve decided to transfer to a new host:

  1. Decide on the new hosting plan you want. You can buy it in now or at the step when you transfer your domains.
  2. Read the pre-transfer checklist. If you’re not sure about a step, you can ask tech support or check the knowledge base.
  3. Back up your entire site to a secure location you can access easily.
  4. Remember that it can take a couple of days after you unlock your domains for them to show as unlocked.
  5. Once they do, you can use the Transfer Domains tool to start the process. If that doesn’t work for you, tech support is ready to help.
  6. Watch for the domain-transfer activation email and reply to it.
  7. Once your domain is transferred, get started on your housekeeping, especially migrating your content.
  8. Check out your site’s appearance and performance with your new host.
  9. Give yourself an award for novice wizardry.

Ready to get started? Check out HostGator’s WordPress cloud hosting plans now.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention