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How to Migrate Emails (the stress free way)

Just in case you were thinking: Yes! This website has a new look to it (at long flipping last!). It also sits on a new and more reliable server. As a result I have had to go through the whole migration procedure.

The last time I had to migrate servers was back in 2005 and I believe this was a task during my maternity leave (my son is now 15).

A website migration for a web developer is pretty straightforward, but 15 years worth of emails is anything but. In the days of POP mail accounts, where mail was received from the server for you to keep forever, it was easy but a majority of email is now set up as IMAP which syncs to your PC, tablet and/or snartphone. This means that once you move servers, the emails sitting on that server are lost forever. So it makes sense to back up everything you value.

I have read a lot of how to guides over the years and even directed a few of my customers to use these guides, all with mixed results, but I found this method the easiest (and less stressful) to backup and restore my emails across servers. It will be a bit time consuming, but for argument’s sake, so is any website migration.

So let’s delve into what I have found to be to be the best way to seamlessly migrate your emails between servers.

1. Make sure you have an overlap

By this I mean make sure that both your old and new servers are active for about 7 days. This allows you enough time for the migration process (which takes up to 72 hours) and also allows for checking and double checking for anomalies.

2. Set up your new email settings alongside the old

You do, of course have to set up your email addresses on the new server. Make a note of the password and the new mail settings (these can normally be found under email and client configuration on your new server or your web/I T person can provide you with this). Add these new accounts to your email browser.

I tested this method using Outlook 2016 and I was alerted that I was setting up a duplicate email address. I got around this by adding the suffix ‘(1)’ which was accepted. This apparently also works in Mozilla Thunderbird and other popular email browsers. But I can say from experience that this doesn’t work on Windows Live Mail.

So now you have both your current email address and your new email address, sitting side by side. So lets get onto the third stage:

3. Get Organised.

And what do I mean by that? Two things really: First of all create new folders in your new email account for everything that you would like to keep. So for example, you might create a folder to keep all your new customer enquiries together; or a folder to collate all emails from your accountant, and so on.

Now would also be a good time to remove all the emails that you do not want to keep. This just makes things easier, as does Shift and click or Ctrl and click.

4. Get dragging and dropping

This is the fun part: basically select the emails that you want to move and then drag and drop them onto the folder on your new account.

This will take time, depending on how many emails you have, but keep vigilant, for example when you drop the email into the wrong folder.

Ideally you should be left with no emails in the old account and everything you need in the new.

5. Test a few emails

So now we have all the new emails ready to view in your email browser. But just to be sure, test a few random emails to ensure that they appear and haven’t been mislaid or deleted.

Last step: switch the Domain

When you are ready, change the nameserver (DNS) address. Your hosting provider will be able to give you the necessary information. And then sit tight for 3 days while the new server details update across the globe.

A word to the wise on that last bit: For up to 72 hours, your website will look weird:

you may see both the old and new versions of it; so will other people (who won’t hesitate to inform you about it); Email will struggle to verify; you may not receive email straight away or you may get a constant alert that your server identity cannot be identified.

If any of this happens to you, the best advice I can give to you is either sit it out or pick the migration over a long weekend or a time where you are away from your PC.

Conclusion

So there we have it! Migrations are unavoidable and also advisable if your current hosting provider has gone downhill or if you are upgrading or moving to a more affordable or better managed hosting provider. This guide is a more user-friendly and non technical way to retain your vital emails when you do have to make the change.

I do welcome any feedback as I would like to perfect this guide and use it as a resource, especially for my customers.

6 Questions to ask your Hosting Provider

Peanuts and MonkeysSetting up a website can be daunting enough for anyone, and it’s not made any easier by the added hassle of finding a suitable hosting provider.  Web hosting is essential for any online business and if your provider isn’t up to the job, it can prove detrimental.

So here’s 6 questions to ask your hosting provider (or the designer setting up the hosting on your behalf) to make sure they are up for the job.

1. How much is the Hosting per Month/Year?

In this day and age, the cost of your hosting provider is one of the first areas to consider.  Naturally the cost of  hosting is important. An average business website should be looking at around £60-£120 per year for hosting.

If yours is lower than the above figure then well done.  However, on the same breath, are you getting what you are paying for?  Are you getting value for money?

Sometimes the hosting is cheap, because support is skimped on or the features on offer are basic or very limited.  To coin a well-known phrase, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

However cheap or expensive your hosting provider is, be sure to study the features of your hosting plan so you know what you are getting for your money.

2.  How Good/Efficient is Customer Support?

When something does actually go wrong or you need assistance, how easy is it to get hold of the support team?  Remember your website is at their mercy, so how seriously do they take customer support?

Normally an online support ticket is enough to alert your host to a potential problem (especially if your hosting provider is based overseas), but do they also have a contact number so you can talk to a human being?  0870 or 0845 are commonplace, especially for international companies and cost between 5-10p per minute.  Premium rate numbers (such as 090 and 091) were outlawed for  customer support use in June 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premium-rate_telephone_number#United_Kingdom

While we’re on the subject of support, how long does it take an issue to be resolved?  These can vary from a few seconds to a day.  If the problem is major, do they send you a polite email saying that they’re looking into the issue and will be back with you shortly?  Even better, do they go beyond your expectations?

If it does take more than a couple of days and the problem still isn’t resolved, then it’s time to look somewhere else.

3. Is the Hosting Compatible for my Website?

Websites that are built using software, for example for an online shop or a CMS website needs compatible web hosting in order to function properly.   Therefore the importance of selecting the correct hosting that’s compatible with the software goes without saying (but I said it anyway).  All software providers include a list of server requirements.  You (or your designer) should go through this list religiously.

For for ASP based websites, you would opt for Windows hosting and MS SQL database, for PHP based pages, you would opt for Linux and MySQL Database.  But be sure to check the versions of both, along with other security checks as this is vital for functionality as well as security.

Some hosting providers include one click installation of some of the most commonly used web applications, such as Softalicious or Fantastico.  This is a good indicator of software compatability.

4. What is the Server’s Uptime?

Realistically, no hosting company can guarantee 100% uptime for their servers.  You are more likely to see 99% (or similar figures containing 9’s).

Servers need regular maintenance, and updates.  So when does your hosting provider schedule their maintenance for?  Is it during the wee small hours, when no one is on the site or slap bang in the middle of your working day?  Do they notify you of any major maintenance work that will result in more downtime of the servers?  Posting a notice on in your control panel,  forum or just send an automated email to you, these are all nice touches that shows your hosting is focused on client satisfaction.

If you are fortunate enough to find a hosting company who does guarantee 100%, then read the small print as these can be quite amusing  They vary from “available 100% of the time (excluding scheduled maintenance)” to “credits off your server time for fixed amounts of downtime.”

5. What is your Security Procedure?

Security should really be included under the uptime, but remember all the potential security attacks and vulnerability breaches that have occurred in 2014?  (read http://features.en.softonic.com/the-7-scariest-cyber-security-breaches-of-2014 for a gentle reminder).  If any potential vulnerabilities are found in software, are they applied quickly?

If there’s a vulnerability in a software you have on your website (for example if you run an online shop or CMS site, are you advised to either remove it, update or do they remove it on your behalf to save you any potential attacks?

Extra points to any hosting companies who apply the patches long before the vulnerabilities were announced in the news!

6. Can I set up Email Account(s)?

Setting up email from your hosting account is an ideal setup for a small business.  Most hosting companies allow you to set up email addresses using your domain name with no problems.

But take the time to read up on what your hosting provider offers.  Some providers only allow a limited allocated of space for emails or a limited number of email addresses.

For packages meant for light use, for example a holding page or a microsite, email setup may cost extra.

So after those 6 questions, do you honestly feel that you are getting value for money from your host or is it time to look for a new host?  Please do feel free to leave a comment.

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