Re-Post: Why and How We Left GoDaddy

When we quit writing our tech blog Tag Team Tech last year, it was always interesting to see what posts continued to get traffic. This one was easily our most popular right up until Posterous shut down and Tag Team Tech was no more. While ostensibly co-written by both of us, you can definitely tell it’s mainly Tom, especially his expertise and wicked sense of humor. And, while GoDaddy commercials have gotten better since they hired James Hinchliffee as a spokesperson, we still are glad we made the change.

We had been using GoDaddy for both our domain name registration and web hosting for a very, very long time. We started using them way back before there was such a thing as a GoDaddy “girl.”

This was a time when most web hosting was done with small local companies who couldn’t afford to provide things like guaranteed 100% uptime or weekend tech support. Sometimes, not even any tech support. Go Daddy had those features and many others in addition to very competitive pricing. Sure, it was a long distance call to tech support, but you always got a knowledgeable person who wasn’t in India. During our time with GoDaddy, we frequently would request the post-call survey so we could let the company know how great the tech support person we talked with was.

Then, the television ads started. And they kept getting worse. Can you say sexist? Can you say misogynistic? Every time one of the ads came on, you couldn’t help but feel dirty giving money to a company that objectifies women that way.

And then there was the elephant hunt video. If you missed it, GoDaddy CEO Bob Parson posted a video of himself hunting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe. Parsons has since responded to the not-surprising outcry by saying that each year he goes to Zimbabwe and hunts “problem” elephants. Problem elephants? Really? Is the problem really with the elephants? He claims that it’s “one of the most beneficial and rewarding things” he does. We’d really hate to know what he does that he thinks is less beneficial and rewarding.

So more and more, we kept talking about moving off GoDaddy and last weekend we made the move. For the record, we went with Hover.com for our domain registration (Thanks Leo Laporte for telling us about them) and we chose Media Temple for our web hosting because Tom has used them on other projects. We decided to separate hosting from domain registration so hosting is a bit more portable. Plus we like to support TWIT’s advertisers.

So here’s what you see when you log in to GoDaddy with your account information:

GoDaddy My Account

Here’s what you see when you log in to Media Temple with your account information:

Media Temple Account Center

Any questions?

Remember there are at least three parts to moving from one web hosting company to another:

  1. Getting all of your content from your old hosting company and putting it on your new hosting company
  2. Getting the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) to understand that you’ve moved
  3. Getting everything to work

Fear, rage and the eventual loss of hope in both God and Man are all optional steps.

Now here’s the deal: you want to do them in that order. Move your stuff first. Get things working as best you can (more on this in a minute), then do the DNS work. When that finishes, clean up whatever doesn’t work.

The trouble for Tom was that step two was the most psychologically satisfying part of the whole exercise, at least at first. Every time he told the Internet “No, we’re not using GoDaddy for that anymore” it felt good. Real good. He was going to do just one domain just to test things out, but then couldn’t stop himself. He did all of them. And it felt even better.

Right up to the point that nothing worked anymore

You see, he was using the fabulous tutorial that Hover.com has written to assist you in transferring your domain registration to them. The very first thing it says is that GoDaddy will shut down all your DNS services beyond the bare minimum as soon as the domain transfer is final (and you can make it final in less than an hour). You know what? They aren’t kidding. All of our sites, except for our main domain, were suddenly invisible to the Internet.

Oops.

It wouldn’t have been so bad had Tom been more prepared to move the domains. Here’s a tip: write down all of your old DNS information before you start. Then write down what your new DNS information is going to be. If you can’t write out both things, you’re not ready for do Step #2. Since Tom was a moron and didn’t do this, he failed to notice all of the DNS records were still pointing at GoDaddy long past the time GoDaddy considered us a customer. It took an incredibly nice and helpful support tech from Hover.com to point that out. Had Tom done this correctly, this blog would have been inaccessible for an hour or two. As it worked out, it was most of a day. All due to Tom getting in a hurry.

So copy all your content over to your new web hosting company and then do the DNS changes. This blog and a couple of others we have are hosted on Posterous so there was no need to copy anything. (Posterous isn’t active any more.) Our blog Hoperatives is self-hosted on WordPress and there are a couple of other domains that have a number of static pages along with a separate WordPress installation. All that stuff got downloaded from GoDaddy to Tom’s local machine, then uploaded to Media Temple. It is possible to send files directly from GoDaddy to elsewhere, but he wanted the assurance of a local backup.

WordPress was surprisingly easy to migrate. The fact that the WordPress Codex documentation site has a wonderful how-to about moving your site doesn’t hurt. The necessary databases from GoDaddy were backed up and copied to Media Temple. An empty database with the same name was created on Media Temple, then a database restore was performed from the backup. Media Temple has an extensive documentation center that has articles on just about every aspect of this. Once that was done it was a matter of editing four lines in a configuration file in WordPress to tell it to use the new database instead of the old one. The blog came back as if it hadn’t moved.

The thing is, you can move and partially test a WordPress installation before you change your DNS settings. Tom didn’t, but if he had, we’d not have had any downtime. The trouble is that you can’t fully test everything until you throw the switch on the DNS changes. You see, your self-hosted WordPress blog likely thinks of itself as www.yourhost.com (or whatever domain you use). Until you let the Internet know what IP address www.yourhost.com uses, it’s going to have a hard time finding things like CSS files and such. In our case, before he made the DNS change for www.hoperatives.com, Tom could only see a version of our main page that had no styling whatsoever. That was enough, though, because it told him the database migration worked just fine.

Tom didn’t know about this tool when he was actually doing all this, but he wishes he would have known about viewdns.info. Things would have gone much smoother. The thing about DNS changes is that they take time to spread across the Internet. It’s kind of like the “Twilight Barking” system in 101 Dalmations where messages are passed from dog to dog. It takes a while, but the message does eventually get there. It’s always important to check your work, and the tools at ViewDNS.info help you do that.

The last step of migrating is making sure everything works. That part has been pretty painless because nearly everything came over flawlessly. Tom had to make a change in the WordPress control panel to change the path of the directory where images are stored, but that might not happen to you (ours was funky to accomodate GoDaddy). There were a couple of other minor issues that took a grand total of five minutes to fix (and were related to plugins we use). All-in-all, that part went really smooth.

A couple of things to keep in mind. GoDaddy isn’t going to give you any money back for any domain registrations you’ve made with them unless it’s within five days of registering them. We’ve asked for a pro-rated refund of our hosting fees and we’re still waiting to hear. Hover.com doesn’t staff a call center on the weekends or late into the evening, but they do respond to e-mails and tweets very, very quickly. Tom sent an e-mail with some questions and just a little while later our phone rang and it was a tech from Hover. It was pretty clear that she was willing to stay on the phone for as long as it took. She said that, but it was pretty clear from the way she was talking that she meant it. Did we mention that this was on a Sunday morning?

We left GoDaddy because we decided it wasn’t a company we wanted to give money to anymore. We chose two companies to replace it for equally personal reasons. Our reasons may not be the same as yours, but if you choose to leave your hosting company for another, take your time and research prices and features. If something isn’t clear, pick up the phone and call. How that call gets handled is probably going to be a pretty good indication of how things will go for you. Make a step-by-plan with all the information you’re going to need to make the switch, then plan for it to take some time. If you prepare in advance, it’ll all work out fine in the end.

And you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror again.