One of biggest pains about having a web site is changing web hosts. I ought to know, I've changed over half a dozen times in last three years. Each time has been a step up and with each move it becomes easier and easier to change.
Why change web hosts?
In many cases, your web site is first and only thing that your customer sees (besides, hopefully, your product after they make a purchase). This is especially true if your company does not have a real-world presence such as a store or office. Thus it is important that your web site be available to your visitors (and customers if your site is commercial) twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Not only must it be available, but your web site must load quickly. If your host computer is too slow, it doesn't matter how much you optimize your graphics and HTML, cut down page sizes and perform other actions.
Other features must work properly. These include CGI routines, autoresponders, PHP, ASP and SSI scripts, and, very importantly, shopping carts and credit card services.
All of this is so important that you must keep an eye on your site. I use two services: alertsite and internetseer. Both of these ping my site occasionally to determine if it is up. Any errors are reported to my email inbox. Why do I do this? Two reasons: (a) it's critical that my site be online all of time, and (b) these services provide a third-party record of any downtime, which is useful when attempting to get fees refunded.
These two services also measure response time, which is very useful to determine how well your site responds to your users browsing requests. These two factors, uptime and response time, are most critical measures of web site performance. A consistently bad number in either measure is more than enough reason to find another host.
Of course, if your CGI routines stop working mysteriously or your autoresponders stop responding, then by all means shoot off a trouble ticket to your host. You have a right to expect these types of issues to be quickly and politely fixed. If they are not and errors continue, then consider moving to another host.
Getting Ready to Move
There are a number of tasks that you should be performing on a regular basis. You see, you cannot predict when you might have to change web hosts. It could be that they are suddenly sold and their level of service drops, or they upgrade their computers which causes a series of new problems. You can be sure that you will only find out about these things when your web site stops working or becomes unstable.
Another reason to be performing regular maintenance tasks is possibility of disasters. A hacker could deface or even destroy your web site. Your credit card could be closed, which might cause your host to close down your site until you pay. Any number of other disasters could occur, which make it very imperative that you have a continual set of procedures in place to be prepared for anything.
What do you need to do regularly?
Monitor your site - As I stated earlier, be sure you use a site monitoring service to keep an eye on your web site. That way you will know immediately if something happens.
Backup your site - You should perform all edits to your pages on your own computer and upload them to your site. Never edit your site pages directly. This, by it's very nature, ensures that a copy of your site always exists on your own computer system.
However, you may also have databases stored on your web site which do not originate from your computer. These might include mailing lists, demographic data, links and other similar things. These items must all be copied to your own hard drive on a regular basis.
You can set up your favorite FTP program to do scheduled downloads of selected databases, or you can just manually copy them on a regular basis.
In addition, your web host should be backing your site up daily. In many instances, these backups are available to your as downloadable zip files. Be sure and copy these down to your system once in a while - perhaps once a week.
Don't forget about such things as autoresponders, CGI routines and anything else which you may enter at your site control panel. You must ensure that you have a backup of everything.
Keep a log - Be sure you know everything that you've done to your site. You should list all of your autoresponders and their names, track any subdomains which you have set up, and anything else which you may do. This way if you have to change you can recreate your site quickly and efficiently.
Only use a domain name - Always reference your site via a domain name which you have purchased and control. Never, ever use URL provided by your web host, as tempting as this can be at times. I ran into a situation where my web host URL was somehow entered into a number of search engines, and I discovered I was getting tens of thousands of hits from these URLs. This forced me to keep paying for old site after I switched hosts, just to be able to redirect traffic to my new site.