How To Move Your Sites To Cloudways Hosting (Step-by-Step Tutorial)

A walkthrough on how to migrate your sites to Cloudways web hosting. Including managing your domain and moving your email (if necessary).

I use Cloudways web hosting.

I talked about my transition to Cloudways from WPX and why I did it. I also wrote a review of Cloudways.

As part of the technical services provided here at the Academy, I've also brought several clients over to Cloudways so that I can help manage their sites for them. I've migrated numerous sites to Cloudways.

Cloudways is a solid web host. But, if you're used to "all in one" hosting like Siteground, you could find Cloudways confusing.

So, what I am going to do is provide a simple step-by-step breakdown of how to transition your site(s) to Cloudways. There's a few things to keep in mind about it if it is a move you want to make.

Should You Use Cloudways?

I'm a big fan of Cloudways. But, I'm not going to sit here and tell you they're the right fit for everybody.

There are 2 groups of people who might need to consider things before blindly jumping in:

  1. "Newb"s who don't understand anything about hosting, don't know how to use Wordpress, etc.
  2. People who want the hand-holding and convenience of an "all in one" web host.

If you're one of those people, it doesn't mean Cloudways is a poor choice for you. It just means you need to understand what you personally want and know the pros and cons.

Cloudways has good support, however it is not necessarily geared toward newbies. The target market for Cloudways tends to be people who have a little more knowledge of web hosting than a typical newbie. They're not there to walk you through how to use Wordpress, for instance. Support is there to help get you out of a bind, but they're not there to hold your hand through basic stuff.

Secondly, Cloudways is not an "all in one". An "all in one" would be a host that can manage your domains, host your email, and basically do everything in one place.

Cloudways ONLY hosts your website(s). They don't provide email service. They don't manage your domains. You've got to use outside services for that.

What you WILL get with Cloudways is typically faster, more powerful web hosting for less money. It is dedicated resources (since you're using a virtual private server) rather than the shared hosting typical of almost every cheap consumer web host.

Getting Ready To Switch To Cloudways

Moving your actual Wordpress sites to Cloudways is the easy part. But, if you're using the "all in one" aspects of your existing host, there's some legwork to consider.

Domain Management

As I said, Cloudways doesn't help you manage your domains. You need to use an outside registrar for that.

I personally use Namecheap. You may manage your domains someplace else. If you manage your domain on your existing host, in all likelihood you can leave it right where it is. As long as you can manage the DNS settings of your domain without using their hosting, you're fine.

You simply need to be able to make your domain point to your Cloudways server to make it work. As long as you can do that, you can buy and manage your domain anywhere you want.

Email Management

I have never been a fan of using your web host to manage and store your email. I generally recommend that people avoid that. However, there's a lot of people that do it.

When people want domain-based email for their site and their host offers it, they often use it. If that's you, then we're going to need to move your email someplace else.

If you're already managing your email someplace else, you're fine. Some people just use Gmail. Many even run their domain-based email through Google. In that case, you don't have to do a thing. There are also a number of other outside services. I personally use and love Fastmail for my email and I run ALL of my domain-based email through it.

Many people don't realize that the domain name settings (DNS) for your domain controls where everything goes. And you can most certainly direct your email to one place and have your site someplace else. Heck, you can even set up different sub-domains and have them all on different web hosts. You definitely don't need to have everything in one place.

Moving Your Email

If you're in a position where your domain-based email is controlled by your existing web host, you will need to move the email someplace else before you can switch to Cloudways and turn off your existing host.

You COULD keep your existing host just for your email, but that's usually a waste of money. πŸ™‚

Here is the basic process of how to move your email:

  1. Sign up for a service where you'd like to manage your email. 
  2. Create whatever email addresses you want to use.
  3. Use their account import process to download all your email from your web host and onto your new platform.
  4. Re-route your domain name settings so that your email is routed to the new location.

As I said, I am personally using Fastmail. In their case, they have import options to grab your email from existing locations:

To move your email from your web host, you'll likely need to use the "Other" option. Specifically, IMAP. You will enter your email address and password (essentially your login information to your existing email account) and Fastmail will log in and download all your email. Folders and all.

If you're not moving to Fastmail, most likely whatever you are using will work the same way. It will log into your old account via IMAP and download all your emails and folders.

After your email has been downloaded to the new location, you'll need to change the settings on your domain so that new email comes to the NEW location and not your web host. The service should provide you whatever changes you need to make.

You will need to change the MX records on your domain. An MX record is the "Mail Exchange" record and it is the part of your domain name settings that says where to point your email.

You don't have to magically know what to enter as your MX records. Your new email service will tell you and you just copy/paste it into your DNS settings wherever you manage your domain.

Setting Up On Cloudways

Once your domain and email are independent of your old email host, you're basically free to mess around with Cloudways.

You can actually sign up for an account with Cloudways and try it for free for 3 days. You can do anything you want, essentially. Then, if you want the server to keep on working, just enter your credit card details and you're good to go.

The first thing to know is that Cloudways works differently than other web hosts.

How Cloudways Works

Cloudways is, in essence, a middleman. But, not a middleman with all the negative parts where they just charge a premium and provide next to nothing. Cloudways actually earns it. πŸ™‚

See, Cloudways is not actually hosting your site. They are providing the software, the control panel, and the support. But, your actual server is provided by another company.

They use cloud hosting, using virtual private servers. And you can choose to use VPS from several different companies:

  • Digital Ocean
  • Linode
  • Vultr
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Google Cloud

You don't actually deal with any of those companies directly. You're dealing only with Cloudways.

When you select your provider and the specs of your VPS, this introduces a decision that most hosts don't present: Which VPS provider should you use and how much horsepower do you need?

So, let's get into that...

Step 1: Choose Your Server

Cloudways gives a lot of options here. 5 different providers, each with several options.

Unless you know full well you need something like Amazon or Google Cloud, don't choose those. You'll know if you need/want them. You're not a newb at that point, so you make your own decision. πŸ™‚ For the rest of you, just knock those 2 off your list.

So, it comes down to Digital Ocean, Linode or Vultr.

To be clear, they're all fine and in all likelihood you won't notice much difference depending on who you go with. But, here's a few notes:

  • Digital Ocean Premium and Vultr High-Frequency are both a little higher-horsepower options. It just boils down to higher performance. A good option if your site(s) will be really dynamic (like a membership site).
  • You can upgrade your server specs later, so feel free to start at an entry-level plan to see how it works. You can always scale it up later without moving your sites again.
  • As for geographic location of your server, just choose a location closest to where a majority of your traffic comes from and where you're located.

People ask what I use. I use a Vultr High-Frequency server with 2GB RAM, 1 Core, 64GB storage, etc. Paying only $26/month for it, which is a super low hosting bill for what I'm getting. And my sites are all operating great on that. This site is a fully dynamic membership site is running fine and I don't seem to be tapping all the available memory.

For standard blogs, you will be just fine on the cheap Digital Ocean server at $10/month. In fact, that server will give you the horsepower to run several sites at a time with fairly respectable traffic numbers. For most people, just start with that.

Don't fret about which option to choose. All of them are fine. And when in doubt, feel free to start with the cheapest option. You can always scale up if needed. There's a good chance you won't have to.

Step 2: Create Your Cloudways Account

When you click the button on your chosen server, you'll proceed to create your Cloudways account.

Once that is done, you're going to have to jump through an annoying hoop. Because this is what you are likely to see:

In an email, it says:

Before we can start your free trial, we need to verify your identity. Sadly we sometimes have bots (or malicious humans) try to open Cloudways accounts, so this step helps keep our Platform safe and secure.

We know that you weren’t expecting any more questions before you could get started. We’re sorry to slow you down. 

All we need to verify your identity is an image (scan or photo) of your government-issued ID, e.g. drivers’ license or passport (photo page), AND any two of the following:
  • Your Facebook URL
  • Your Twitter handle
  • A link to your LinkedIn profile
  • Your company or personal website address
  • Your contact phone number

It is annoying, I know. And to be honest, they could do this in a more customer-friendly way. It isn't unprecedented, however. I've had to jump through verification hoops with other web hosts, too. There is a LOT of spam signups in the hosting business so these companies have to deal with it somehow.

I don't know if every new signup goes through this, if it is random, or if a certain set of entries causes it to get flagged. Either way, jump through the hoop.

The good news is... once you have your account, you can set up new servers anytime you want without doing all this again.

Once they've activated you, you'll get an email with a link to complete activation of your account. This is where you will choose your server provider, specs and the location. You'll also simultaneously install your first application (likely Wordpress).

Once you've made your selections, click "Launch Now" and it will provision your server and install your first app to it at the same time.

Step 3: Server Gets Provisioned

At this point, you're just waiting a few minutes. Cloudways will be busy creating your server and installing Wordpress. It will take a few minutes.

This is my account screen and you can see my one server in it. Mine is a VultrHF frequency and it is hosted in Atlanta, Georgia. I named my server "BMA" just for my own purposes. You can name your server whatever you want or just leave it default.

You can run as many servers as you want from the same Cloudways account. Each server is added to your bill. Most of you will have just one. But, if you ever set up a site or app that you wanted on it's own server, you could easily do that and manage it all from one account.

Your new server is going to have it's own IP address and your username/password for server access is auto-generated.

Step 4: Set up Wordpress

NOTE: You likely created your first application above when you activated your account. But, if you ever want to install another site to your server, here's how to do it.

Every site you run on your server is called an "Application". We're going to use Wordpress, but you can run other things on Cloudways, too. 

Click on "Add Application". Choose your own server to install to. Choose what you wish to install. Likely Wordpress.

You can choose to use Wordpress Multisite if you wish, but I wouldn't recommend it.

You can install a "clean" install of Wordpress which doesn't have Cloudways's cache plug-in Breeze or the Bot protection installed. You can always install them later, so this isn't a permanent decision at all. Most likely, you'll want those things installed unless you're setting up a membership site which won't be using any caching. 

If you want to use WooCommerce, you can install Wordpress with Woo already there. Up to you since you can always install WooCommerce later.

And lastly, if you ever want to install something else, you can. They provide a couple of other content management options, or you can use the PHP "Custom App" application that means you can run anything you want as long as it is coded in PHP.

So, choose Wordpress and give it a name. Once you're done, just hit the button and Cloudways will do all the work for you.

When it is done, your new installation will show on up on your list of applications on your server. You can click on the application to see the settings specific to your new Wordpress site.

The "Application URL" is your temporary URL for this site. If you click on it, you will see a default Wordpress installation.

For "Admin Panel", that's how you can access your Wordpress admin. Your username/password was auto-generated so you can copy/paste right from Cloudways over to Wordpress so you can log into your new Wordpress site.

NOTE: If you ever change your admin account password for Wordpress, the one shown in Cloudways will no longer be accurate. I usually just leave it alone. But, keep in mind that if you change your login for Wordpress or end up using another account for admin purposes, you will not be able to use the login info provided in your Cloudways control panel to log into Wordpress.

Step 5: Migrate Your Site To Cloudways

You now have a default, brand new, empty installation of Wordpress sitting on Cloudways. It is also using a temporary Cloudways URL so you can access it.

Essentially, you can do anything you want on this new Wordpress site. Nobody will ever see it except for you.

What we're going to do, though, is copy your whole blog from your old host to Cloudways. It is actually pretty easy to do.

Keep this in mind:

  • This will not MOVE your site. It will copy it. Your existing site will remain up and running on your old host without any problem. We're just going to clone it to Cloudways.
  • You will be able to access your new site on Cloudways and verify everything is working before you actually switch your domain over. So, there is literally no way this will hurt your existing site.

People get nervous sometimes moving sites around. Trust me, it's easy.

First, log into your blog on your current web host just like normal. Then, go find and install the plug-in called Cloudways Wordpress Migrator.

Activate that plug-in on your site. You will then have a "Cloudways Migrate" option in your menu.

To get started with it, enter your email address and agree to the terms. You're using BlogVault behind the scenes to do this, so you're basically agreeing to their TOS. It is easy and free, no worries.

On the next screen, you will need to enter a bunch of info so that BlogVault knows where to send your data. You've gotta give it the info for your Cloudways server.

So, let me walk you through this...

For your Destination Site URL, copy/paste the weird-looking temporary URL for your empty Wordpress site on Cloudways.

For your SFTP Host/Server Address, you need to enter the IP address for your Cloudways server, found here:

For your database name, once again you can get this from your Cloudways account on the same screen:

Next, you need your SFTP username and password. SFTP is a secure file transfer protocol and is how BlogVault will copy files to your new server.

To get this info, you need to leave the screen for your application details in Cloudways and go back to settings for your actual server. The first screen is called "Master Credentials" and that's where you'll find what you need:

Now, in most cases, that's all you need to enter. I highly doubt you've password-protected your blog, so that's not something you'll need to worry about.

If you have any directories on your old host in addition to Wordpress directories that you want to copy to Cloudways, you can have it do that. Just select "Yes" for "Any root directories you want to migrate" and choose the folders to copy over. Some people keep images in a folder rather than the Wordpress Media Library, for instance. So, you'd want to copy those over, too.

When you're done, just hit the "Migrate" button. Then the wait begins. πŸ™‚

It might take a little while to copy everything, depending on how big your site is.

The process is pretty reliable. I've moved a lot of sites to Cloudways and I've never seen the Migrator plug-in fail.

When it is done, the screen will update to tell you it is done. You'll then be able to go and visit your site on Cloudways (using the temporary URL) and your site should look completely normal.

Remember, your blog is still operating normally on your old host. Your visitors know nothing. You can now do whatever you want to your site on Cloudways without worrying about anything.

Step 6: Verify Your Site Is Working

In all liklihood, your site is now working just like normal on Cloudways via the temporary URL.

Take the time to verify this is the case. Is everything as you expect it? Be sure to also log into the admin panel and make sure things are as you expect them to be.

Keep in mind that your login information will now be exactly the same as it was on your old host. The admin username/password in Cloudways may no longer be accurate because you essentially just overwrote the whole database with the one from your old host. 

Also, when you log in, you MAY see some weird messages from any licensed plug-ins you might be using if they don't recognize the URL they're sitting on right now. You can usually just ignore all that and it will all return to normal once you move your domain over.

Once you've verified things are as you want them to be, we can now proceed with doing exactly that. πŸ™‚

Step 7: Point Your Domain To Cloudways

Ready to make it official? πŸ™‚

All we've gotta do now is point your domain over to the site sitting on Cloudways and you'll be done. As long as you didn't publish anything new to your blog in the interim, nothing will change. Keep in mind, these are two different Wordpress installations at this point. If you wrote any new content or made any changes on your old host while you were messing around on Cloudways, those changes won't be on Cloudways.

Moving the domain is pretty easy. It is a little difficult to provide one set of instructions for how it is done because it can vary a lot depending on where and how you manage your domain. Here's the simple version, however...

You will need to put an "A Record" on your domain that points to your IP address on Cloudways. And any record that is pointing web traffic to your current host needs to be deleted.

Your existing DNS will either be using A records or CNAME records to route traffic to your host. An A Record is used to point to an IP address, whereas a CNAME record is used to point to another server address by name (not IP). 

What you'll probably find is a couple of records (either A or CNAME). One for the "root", or "@" which captures all traffic pointing to your domain... and a "www" version which captures all traffic where the "www" is on the front of the domain. And both of those records will point to the same server (your old host).

So, you will delete the existing DNS records that point to your current host. Then, you will set up 2 A records to point to your Cloudways server. 

You'll see one A record with the host set to "@" (which is the root) and the other for "www". This way it will route both www and non-www version of the domain to the IP address.

Once that is saved, the changes to your domain will begin to propagate around the internet pretty quickly. We'll check on it in a minute, but first there is more that we need to do...

Step 8: Change Your Application URL In Cloudways

Your domain is now in the process of re-pointing to your app on Cloudways, but you have to tell the app to expect it that way. 

Right now, Wordpress is expecting traffic to be using your weird Cloudways temporary URL. We need to change it to use your normal domain.

To do this, to go your app settings in Cloudways and go to "Domain Management". You then need to set your "Primary Domain".

Type in your domain name and save changes. This will set up your server to expect incoming traffic from that domain... as well as change Wordpress to expect it so that everything will work as usual.

Step 9: Wait For The DNS Settings To Take Effect

Those changes you made to your domain have to now take effect. Sometimes it is really fast and other times it can take a few hours.

You can check it using DNS Checker. Just plug in your domain and ensure it is looking for A records and hit search. It will check a bunch of DNS servers around the world so you can see what IP address is being returned. It will also show green checkmarks on the map to show which servers are resolving and which are not.

In the list of servers on the left, you'll see what IP addresses are being returned. If it is showing your Cloudways IP address, you're good to go. If not, just give it some time. It just means that server hasn't gotten the new settings yet.

Technically, once all those DNS servers are showing your Cloudways IP address, you're good to go. However, sometimes it can confuse the hell out of you because you can't tell when you're pulling up your site in your browser.

In fact, if you made any tweaks or changes on your Cloudways site, you could be in a situation where it looks like the DNS is working just fine yet you keep pulling up the OLD site in your browser. Makes you want to pull your hair out sometimes. πŸ˜‰

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Your browser is caching things. So try clearing your cache to make the browser try again.
  • Your computer caches DNS, too. It has a cache right on the computer that says what domains point to what servers. And that cache can be out of sync if you just made a domain change. You can either flush your DNS cache... or just be a little patient because eventually your computer will refresh DNS on it's own.
  • You can sometimes try a different computer or a mobile device to verify the site is working. A different device means a different DNS cache.

Have a little patience. It'll all come together. πŸ™‚ Changing domain name settings can take a bit to take effect.

Step 10: Install SSL Certificate

There's a good chance that one way you'll know the domain is working is that your site is now generating big fat security warnings in the browser. Which is always fun. πŸ˜‰

Don't fret, though. You just need to install your free SSL certificate. Here's how...

  1. Under your application screen in Cloudways, go to "SSL Certificate" screen. 
  2. Ensure the "Let's Encrypt" option is chosen by default. That's the free one and it works just fine.
  3. Enter your email address and your domain name.
  4. Hit "Install Certificate" and it will do it for you.

When done, it will pop up and ask if you want to set up a redirect for your SSL. Say yes. Makes life easier.

Once done, you should be able to now access your blog on Cloudways, using your normal domain, and using HTTPS for it is fully secure.

You're Now On Cloudways!

If everything up above went smoothly, then congratulations! Your site is now hosted on Cloudways.

Now, if you had other sites on your old host, you're basically going to repeat this same process for each site (minus the new account activation, of course).

Once you have all your sites on Cloudways and verified that your email is working wherever you put it, you can basically discontinue your old host and stop paying for it.

Now, here's a few small remaining things to keep in mind and that you'll need to address now that you're on Cloudways...

Set Up Email Sending

In order for your site to be able to send emails, you need to set up a service for doing that. Otherwise, emails sent by Wordpress will not get sent.

In your server settings, go to the SMTP screen. Here you will set up how your server will send emails. Keep in mind that whatever you set up here will be common to all applications on this server.

You've got 2 options:

  • Your Own SMTP. This is where you can utilize any SMTP server you want to send your emails, including a number of third-party providers.
  • Elastic Email. This option is built-in. You just need to activate it as an account add-on. It will cost you a little extra money each month, but it is dirt cheap. You can send 1,000 emails per month for just a dime and it goes up from there.

The simplest option is to just use Elastic Email. You add the addon to your account then you'll be able to activate it in your SMTP settings. Keep in mind that you might not have this available to you if you're still on your 3-day trial with Cloudways. They need billing info before you can use addons.

If you'd rather use another service, you can do so. Any SMTP service will work.

It is actually simpler to just use the ElasticEmail add-on, though.

Keep in mind that this is for server-level email sending. You can set up each application to do things differently. For Wordpress, I am a fan of the FluentSMTP plug-in to set up how you want Wordpress to send outgoing emails. Whatever you set up using a plug-in like that will supersede ElasticEmail - or you can use the PHP option in FluentSMTP and it will send using ElasticEmail.

For instance, I use the ElasticEmail option for only $0.10/month just to keep things simple. But, I also have a site on this server which uses FluentCRM and FluentSMTP and sends emails using Amazon SES.

Setting Up A CDN

Many hosts offer up a content delivery network for free as part of their service. Cloudways does not. It is an add-on.

Now, you can use any CDN network you wish. It doesn't have to be part of Cloudways. You can just use your favorite Wordpress performance plug-in to use any CDN you wish to use.

For the sake of simplicity now that you're on Cloudways, I recommend the following:

  • Use the CloudwaysCDN add-on.  You can enable it on the application settings inside of your Cloudways account. It will cost one dollar for 25GB of bandwidth, then $0.04 per GB after that. To give you an idea, I barely every break over the $1 charge each month.
  • Use the Breeze plug-in provided by Cloudways. Just makes it easier since it is already programmed to work with Cloudways.

So, yeah, the CDN might cost you an extra buck a month or so. That's a little different than other Wordpress hosts. But, just set it and forget it.

Final Thoughts

Time to wrap this up!

Cloudways is a great web host. It just has a few things that are different if you're used to hosts like Bluehost, Siteground and the like which offer "all in one" service.

You just get more actual hosting power for your money with Cloudways in most cases.

No limits on traffic or the number of sites you can host on your server. Just a bandwidth cap that you likely won't ever hit anyway.

The only limits on what you can do on your server will be the specs of your server. But, if you need more power, you just scale up to get more processor cores, more memory, or whatever you need.

You can even run multiple servers inside the same account,  if you want. More suitable to agencies and developers and people who manage a lot of sites where you don't want them all on one single server with shared resources.

I really like Cloudways. And I think you might as well.

Responses

  1. Do you need another VPS for each WordPress install? For example, I am under WPX right now, and my membership site suffers much slower performance these days than it used to. But I have 4 different domains (and some aliases) under one WPX account. Would I need other VPS accounts to do it under Cloudways?

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