Web, domain and email hosting situations need to change from time to time. The reasons can be simply that a hosting company is no longer able to provide the updates and level of support you require. It may be because their prices continue to go up, while customer service goes down the toilet. The first steps are to make sure you have access to your existing domain registration, email admin, and website admin – including hosting account. These may be three or more different companies. That’s not a bad thing, but you need to know how to get in to all of it. If you cannot, you’ll need to prove it belongs to you. I’ll do my best not to acronym too much at you in this article.  At the end of this post is short glossary to help. After you know your overall goals, you can decide if you need help with the pieces and tasks. If you do, we are here or perhaps your existing web services provider or marketing team can help you with all of this. The key is to really think it through thoroughly. Don’t rush, and make backup of all existing information just in case you have to undo what you just tried to do.

First, who has all your stuff?

Who has your domain registration? Godaddy? Google? NameCheap?
If you don’t know you can start to dig for the information by reading this article, no need for me to rewrite this:

Gain information

Make a note of your existing DNS records.
If you don’t have access, you can get them by going to: https://cloudflare.com It’s a quick way to bring in the existing records.-

  • Set up a free account.
  • Add the domain you want to move, gain information about, or change.
  • All of the records will come into your Cloudflare account.

Don’t worry, nothing will change, this is just to prepare for the switch. When you are done Cloudflare will give you two nameservers for when you are ready to change your domain’s source of all information. You don’t need this yet.

Next, look for the login to the domain registration account just in case you have that information stored somewhere. Who are the owner, admin, and technical contacts? https://lookup.icann.org/en If you can find one of those three people, it will be easier to gain control of your domain to make changes. If the people are not accessible, or the email is no longer valid, this will be trickier.

If you are without a way to login or reach a key contact you’ll have to contact the current domain registrar. Use an email within that domain to do this. This will begin to build credibility. If someone is helping you, consider setting up a temporary email account for them “techie@yourdomain.com” or something, if you are able to manage email. If not, use your own email that works for the domain. If you don’t have email for the domain that is working, this will also be trickier, but not impossible. It will require patience and proof.

Contact support for the domain registration company. Clearly tell the domain support people the story,

“Our web guy closed shop. We have no access to move our domain and control the DNS for our domain, (domain name). I am the (your position) at (x company). We need assistance gaining control to our domain. Can we create a new account in your system and move it to that account? If not, what is the process to gain access? I can provide any proof you need that I am authorized to make this request.”

Give them your phone, your email, a back up email, too. You may need a bank statement (redacted), utility bill, etc. to show you are who you say you are. If your company has also MOVED, this may be a bit trickier. You’ll have to look for something with the past address – dated, and the new address for the full story. Have it all handy.

Let’s talk about hosting – same thing.

If you know who is hosting your site, and you have access – great! If not, you’ll need to find out who is hosting your website to contact them. The website host may also be the domain registrar – common. If not, that DNS set of records you have just brought into Cloudflare can help you with the detective work.

See the IP address? Go back here and type it in exactly as you see it – whatever the sequence is. Lookup the record and scroll down for information. This will not work so well if they have their domain running through a private account on Cloudflare or other CDNs to protect privacy. This will be a longer bit of detective work. You’d have to start at Cloudflare support with the same proof required to show it is YOUR domain and you need access to the hosting.
Media Temple has a very helpful article on this topic.

It’s a similar exercise for the mail admin. The same Media Temple article has that at step if you scroll down. MX records point to a domain for mail – mail.yourdomain.com or similar. The “Host” record, A record is set up for “mail” and point to an IP address – the mail server. You may have several MX records – Google has at least 5 if you get your mail service through them.

Mainly, you need admin access to create and manage accounts. If the technical, owner or admin contacts are within your own domain – tech@yourdomain.com or something, or a person who has left, you may be able to recreate an account to be able to reset all these passwords and regain access to everything. That would be wonderful and easy, but you’ll need mail admin access.

Here are some steps for this process of gaining knowledge and access to your domain records, hosting and mail admin. I’m assuming you have all the info and access you need for some of these steps.

1. Now you need to decide what you want to change.

  • Do you want to move your domain to another domain registrar, for example, from NameCheap to Godaddy, or Cloudflare, or Google?
  • Do you want to move your website to another hosting provider, such as Rocket.net?
    If you move the site, how will it affect your site content, database, user accounts, FTP?
  • Do you want to move the mail to another hosting provider? If you move your website and the mail is tied to it, you may lose the option of hosting mail where you have it currently. You’ll want to look into that before making a change.

2. What other records should you be concerned about within the DNS for your domain?

You will want to understand each one because some may be tied to your website hosting.

  • Are you using Google ads or Facebook ads campaigns, mail record validation to keep you out of spam, and possibly eCommerce and other elements of your marketing strategies and products.
  • Do you have a client portal that is specific to hosting your site on a specific server (IP address)?
  • Are there people that access the back end or front end of your site based on their ip and that of your website?

You’ll want to look for those notes so when you move your site, if that’s the plan, you won’t lock everyone out that needs access, or has paid for it.

3. Figure out a time to make any of these changes.

Some will be less complex or invasive. Switching a domain’s nameservers to Cloudflare is one of the least invasive. You want to make sure when it happens you can test that it has happened, then test the site on all devices. A common mistake that happens when switching to Cloudlfare is when you let each record be PROXY served rather than DNS only. This will most likely break everything. Uncheck the orange option to where it is grayed out to “DNS ONLY.” for each record. Try to set a time that you can test it with help and that you have the least amount of traffic on your site. You may be limited to daytime for this test, or on a Saturday or Sunday. Check your analytics for this information, too.

4. Be careful about deleting any records unless you are absolutely sure you know what each one is connected to, or no longer connect to.

I had a client with a complex site hosting arrangement with her brokerage, she is a real estate broker under another umbrella. That company bought another company with additional services, and blended it all together into a mess. There is so much duplication. When we tried to eliminate anything that seemed redundant some tiny element broke. We had to start fresh a few times in order to get all the records and have simply left everything in place. In 30 years of doing this, I’ve never seen such a mess of redundancies and loops. Notice they all have to be proxied or it won’t work at all. And without an additional rule to forward all going to the straight domain to the www. it also just hangs. A battle for another day. At least the site works for now.

5. When you make this change, be sure you have users that can help you test the changes within your company, on different devices and browsers.

They may have to clear cache to do this.

6. If you are changing mail hosts, you’ll have to change how your devices check for the mail, as the location (IP address) will be changing, and probably the logins.

Remember to have back ups of old passwords and settings in case you have to quickly put it back to troubleshoot. Be aware if you change it back and forth too much, you’ll not know which version you are accessing without going back to check the IP of the mail and MX records. It’s tedious, but you always want to be able to go back if you have to before you end the other mail service.

7. If you are moving your site, you’ll want to definitely have a back up of the site.

I also HIGHLY recommend setting up a dev site with the new hosting company you can thoroughly test. Is anything specific to the IP of your existing hosting? ANYTHING? Are you sure? I know Rocket.net makes it super easy to bring in existing WordPress sites to test and then you can flip the switch and make it live when you are ready. They are super helpful and make it easier than any company I’ve dealt with in 20 years. The process to move a site is too detailed to all be included here and there are a ton of variables. And what if your site is not WordPress? How do you move other types of content management systems/sites? We can help. Same thing that I said for domains – go slowly. When in doubt don’t delete.

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