We’ve switched to a green web host and we’d like to help you do it too

Hi everyone, Sarah here, Unlimited’s General Manager and UNSA’s Space MOM (Mission Operations Manager). Undeterred by recent events, over the last couple of months I’ve been planning a change of web host and domain names – and this week, it happened!

We’ve moved to Green Hosting, a UK based green web host powered entirely by renewable energy. You may also notice a few of our website URLs and all our email addresses have changed to ‘.earth’ instead of the well known ‘.org.uk’ ‘.com’ and so on. The aim of this blog post is to tell you about our experience of moving to a green web host and, by sharing the expertise/advice picked up along the way, hopefully give you the confidence (and a head start) to do the same!

Before I go into any detail about green web hosting and the change of domain names, I must stress, I’m no expert. Rewind a year and you’ll find a Sarah with very limited understanding of what a domain is, a small amount of experience with websites and little to no knowledge of what a ‘web host’ even is – overall, I had a nervous disposition with most things web-based. I’m still a long way off a sudden career change into web hosting and server maintenance, but I now have enough of a basic understanding to encourage and help other switch to a green web host too!

Why green hosting and .earth domains?

Data centres and cloud computing is said to be the second largest contributor to carbon emissions (just behind the aviation industry). The average website has been calculated to produce 4,500 pounds of CO2 a year – that’s the equivalent of charging over 260,000 smartphones! Our new host, Green Hosting, uses 100% renewable energy generated by wind farms. They’re also a partner of The Green Web Foundation, and support charities such as Renewable World and Green’s Windmill with income from sales and pro bono services.

We also took this as an opportunity to join the expanding .earth tribe. Our .earth domain pledges and celebrates our commitment to protecting the planet AND it fits perfectly with who we are and what we do as a theatre company and space agency.

What’s the catch?

It’s truly as great as it sounds, though you should be prepared to cover some set-up costs and spend a little more per month/year than you perhaps do now. In comparison to our previous web hosting package, we’re actually paying the same amount but it really depends what you have currently. The extra costs we’ll face will be in domain name renewal – ‘.earth’ domains tend to be in the top price bracket. To keep everything in one place, we’ll be moving all our domain names to Green Hosting whose prices for domains are higher than average. If this is a barrier, you can continue to buy and renew domains elsewhere – hosts like IONOS 1&1 also sell .earth domains among others.

Are there other green web hosts?

Yes, lots! We’d REALLY recommend Green Hosting as they’ve been fantastic throughout this whole process. In the early stages, we also considered Kualo and A2 Hosting. I found this article handy on highlighting what to look out for, though be careful, I believe there are some American companies listed and I’d suggest making sure the web host has a UK contact centre.

Where do I start?

Start the process with research. Take a look at your current package and cPanel, making a note of what services you’re using currently. You may just have one website, or have multiple like us. All providers will have different packages designed to suit your needs. I’d suggest making a note of the following (most of this information should be on the right hand side in cPanel):

  • What you pay per month/year
  • How much disk space you’re using
  • Bandwidth usage
  • Number of domains you own
  • Number of MySQL databases
  • Number of sub-domains you have
  • Number of add-on domains you have
  • Number of email accounts you have

(I found this article helpful for a few definitions)

Identify 3 or 4 green web hosts and, using your notes, pick out the packages that cover all the services you need. In addition to this, make a note of their transfer and add-on costs, support services, their domain prices and finally, what makes them ‘green’ – many green web hosts are not only powered by renewable energy but also support specific causes that you may feel strongly about.

Once you’ve chosen your host, get in touch with them. Tell them what you’d like to do and ask any questions you may have. REMEMBER: There is no such thing as a silly question. I really mean that. Ask them to run through and explain the process with you, clarify any interruptions to services (website/email) and put any worries you may have at ease. If they start using any confusing technical language, ask them to switch to plain English and make no assumptions of what you do and don’t understand.

Set a date for the switch with the new provider. If possible, this should be a day with minimal website traffic and one where your colleagues are off/busy. Avoid the end of the week, as you may need the next day or two to resolve any issues. Also, give yourself a cross-over period between hosts – I timed it so we had two weeks left with the previous host after the switch date to sort any problems that may arise. Don’t forget to let all the people who might be affected by the switch know the date(s) when the work will happen – this includes any necessary announcements on social media. If they’ve not told you already, I recommend asking your new web host to run through any tasks they’d like you to do ahead of the switch date – let them guide you through the process rather than trying to guess.

If you decide to move to .earth domains

Firstly, if the idea of changing all your website URLs and email addresses to .earth initially fills you with dread, it’s OK. When Jon first mentioned the idea to be, my brain went into complete overdrive thinking about all the accounts we have that are linked with our current email addresses and having to change these. I mean, yes, eventually these will all be changed, but it doesn’t have to happen straight away. I’ll touch on this later.

The process of moving web hosts is slightly more complex with the decision to also move websites and email addresses over to .earth. Green Hosting advised it was easiest to do this all in one go, but if you decide to do the same, I’d recommend letting your new host determine the best course of action – they may choose to complete the process in two separate parts.

First, you need to check availability and purchase your new .earth domain names, pointing these to your new provider’s nameservers (they will tell you what these are). As these domains have no website or email accounts linked with them, you can do this ahead of the switch date, giving them time to ‘propagate’.

For changing our website URL, Green Hosting reconfigured WordPress for us and set up redirects from old domains. For example, any traffic heading to unspaceagency.com web pages will automatically redirect to unspaceagency.earth (new website coming soon by the way!). This thankfully means any links to your website posted elsewhere on the internet will also redirect, though it’s still worth trying to update the links wherever you can.

Setting up new email accounts requires a bit more work. We wanted to transfer the contents (mailboxes and individual emails) from our current email accounts to the new .earth ones, and ensure any emails sent to the old accounts are redirected. This process varies depending on whether you have POP3 or IMAP accounts. If you have POP3 accounts, this means your emails are saved locally on one device. At Unlimited, a couple of us use multiple devices and mail clients so we have IMAP accounts which instead saves emails to the mail server and enable us to use across multiple devices. We still have the option to save emails locally to a computer if disk space is limited, but perhaps this is a blog post for another time (and better-informed person!). In order to move the contents of one email address to another, this requires the involvement of a third party mail client. We decided to pay Green Hosting for this service, though it is absolutely possible to do yourself. This article from A2 Hosting describes the process with Mozilla Thunderbird well. Warning: If like me you have an intense email filing system with multiple folders, be aware that this will increase transfer times considerably.

I’d recommend recreating some of the old email accounts with your new web host provider (this will not affect your forwarding systems, though you will need to empty out the inbox every so often). When it comes to you changing contact information with your various service providers, you’ll find that some will ask you to send the request via the original account – this is a little tricky if it no longer exists! With the forwarding in place, this process can happen gradually.

A few more pearls of wisdom

  • – I got pretty deep into my research (and panic) before I realised that most hosting companies use cPanel as part of their packages. This was a big relief as it makes the transfer process a whole lot simpler and hands-off.
  • – Try and clean up your cPanel before the move – this is for technical reasons, but it’s also nice to have a fresh start! The host will talk about ‘transferring’ files between cPanels, this process actually involves creating copies and moving these across. In order for them to make a copy of the larger files, you will need to have a few GB* available in your disk space limit.
    * this depends on what your largest files/folders are
  • – If you’ve got a web designer, let them know you’re switching. We work with the wonderful Maraid Design and they were a massive help in cleaning up (removing unused WP themes, image compression etc.) our cPanel just before the switch. They were also happy to be on hand during switch day should any issues arise.
  • – Keep your schedule relatively free on switch day(s) – the new host will have questions/tasks for you and in any case, you should make sure you’re in regular contact with them throughout the process.
  • – Allow for the switch to take longer than expected – most web host moves will require a day, though be prepared for it to take longer. With our domain name change on top, it took twice as long as we expected.
  • – If you’d like to put your website(s) in maintenance mode and they’re WordPress, I’d recommend using this plugin from SeedProd.
  • – If you’re creating new email accounts and would like to forward mail from the old addresses I’d recommend taking the time to set up individual forwarders for each account – strangely full domain forwarders didn’t work for us.
  • – Try not to worry about the switch too much – the host knows what they’re doing and will do as much as they can to ensure the process is smooth.

I will update this blog post with anything that arises as we settle in with our new host and domains. If you’re thinking of moving hosts/changing your domain and have a specific question that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch – you can reach me on my sparkly new email address: sarah[at]unlimited.earth

Good luck!

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