Yahoo! has just announced that it is closing GeoCities, a free web host that been around since the early days of the Internet. At the time I write this, on 26 April 2009, the exact date GeoCities will be shut down has not been given, although it is mentioned that it will be some time in 2009. If you have a website still hosted on GeoCities, this article describes what you need to do to move your site somewhere else.
Incidentally, you should not wait till they give an official date for closure to move. There are numerous things that need to be done, and some of these things, such as getting the search engines to recognize your new website, need a lot of time to resolve, so you need to act now.
Update: The date is official. Geocities is set to close on 26 October 2009.
Here's what you need to do to shift your website to another web host. Note that the following steps are relevant even if you are moving to Yahoo!'s own commercial web hosting services.
The first thing to do is to get your own domain name. Once you have your own domain name, you will no longer be a hostage of any web host, free or otherwise. When they close, and close they all will eventually, all you need to do is to transparently move your domain to another host, and you don't have to worry about your website changing URLs (web addresses).
This step is not really "compulsory" or anything like that. After all, you've survived all these years on GeoCities without doing it. Indeed, you can simply choose to move again to another free web host without a domain name, and use their URL for your site. But think of what will happen if that host closes too. Yup. You'll have to go through all the hassle again.
If you're not convinced, or are not sure what I'm talking about, please see the article Is it Possible to Create a Website Without Buying a Domain Name? The High Price of "Free". where I discuss this issue at length. Not getting my own domain name when I started my very first website counts as one of my deepest regrets.
Log into your GeoCities control panel. Click the "Manage" tab in the control panel. On the page that appears, click "File Manager". Make sure the "Show" radio button is selected, and all the checkboxes beside it for "html", "gif", "jpg" and "other" are checked. Click "Open File Manager". A list of all your files will appear.
The files that have names ending with ".html" are your web pages. For each HTML file, one at a time, do the following:
Select that HTML file by putting a check in the box next to the filename.
Click the "Edit" button.
A page will appear with a huge box in the middle. The box contains the code for your web page. Click somewhere within that box, select everything in that box and copy it to the clipboard. To do this, click your right mouse button while the mouse cursor is in the box. In the menu that appears, click "Select All". Then right click your mouse again and select "Copy".
Open an ASCII text editor on your computer. For Windows users, you can do this by running Notepad. (For XP users, Notepad can be found in the "Accessories" folder of your "Program Files". For Vista users, just click the start menu button and type "notepad" followed by the ENTER key.) If you use some other operating system, make sure you invoke a real ASCII text editor and not a wordprocessor or office suite.
Paste the contents of the clipboard into the editor. If you use Notepad, just click the "Edit" menu, followed by the "Paste" item in the menu that appears. Save the file with the same filename that you saw in GeoCities' file manager. If you don't know where to save it, create a folder on your Desktop, call it "website", and save the file in that folder.
Repeat the procedure for all the other files that have names ending with ".html".
The files with names ending with ".gif", ".jpg" or ".png" are image files. To get each of these pictures, check the box beside the filename, and click the "View" link on the same line. The picture will appear in your web browser. Save the picture on your computer. One way to do this is to click the "File" menu in your browser, followed by the "Save As" item in the menu that appears. Then supply the same filename that you saw in the GeoCities File Manager for that file.
Do this for the rest of the image files.
When you have finished downloading all the files, look for any subfolders in the File Manager. Subfolders have a folder icon next to their names. They typically have no extension (that is, they don't have ".html", ".gif" or anything like that). If you see one or more subfolders in the File Manager, you will need to click the subfolder name to open it. A new page will load with a list of files in that subfolder. Repeat the above process with all the files in the subfolder, but save them in a subfolder of the same name on your computer. For example, if you have a subfolder called "images" and the folder on your Desktop is called "website", save the files from that folder into a new sub-folder in your "website" directory called "images". When you're done with the subfolder, click the "Up one level" link to go back to your main website directory. Repeat the entire process for every subfolder you see, whether it is in your main web folder or any subfolder below that.
If your website has pictures, but you don't see any picture files (files ending in "gif", "jpg" and "png") in the "File Manager", it may mean that you've created your website using Yahoo!'s PageWizard or PageBuilder (or whatever they call their site builder nowadays). In such a case, the pictures do not belong to you but are the intellectual property of Yahoo!. As mentioned in the article Is It Better to Use an Online Site Builder or a Standalone Web Editor?, this is one of the problems about using online site builders to make your website. You end up with a site with parts that belong to your web host. When you need to change web hosts, you are not allowed to take the site design along with you.
In such a case, even though you've downloaded the web pages to your computer, those web pages are not complete. They may not even show up correctly in a browser when you transfer them to your new web host. Your best bet is to recreate those pages using a proper web editor like Dreamweaver or KompoZer. See the Dreamweaver CS4 tutorial or the KompoZer tutorial for more information on how to do this. (Dreamweaver is a commercial editor while KompoZer is free.) Since you have a copy of your old web pages on your computer, you can simply copy the information from your old page to your new pages without having to re-think everything. Of course the design and layout of your new page will have to be redone from scratch, since Yahoo! owns your old design.
While it's certainly possible for you to save your web pages by directly going to your website itself with a browser, there are side effects when you do that. When you save in such a way, your saved copies will end up having all of GeoCities advertisements embedded in it. When you upload them to your new web host, your page will continue to contain GeoCities' adverts and other hidden tags inserted into your page by their web server.
The next step is to get a new web host (obviously).
Those looking for commercial hosts can find a list on the Budget Web Hosting page. For those who are curious, the web host I'm currently using for thesitewizard.com is mentioned and reviewed in the Which Web Host Do You Recommend? article.
For free web hosts, if you have your own domain name, look for a free web host that provides free domain name hosting. Otherwise, just check out the different types of free web hosts on thefreecountry.com. The web hosts are sorted into different pages according to the type of services they provide.
Before you republish your website on your new web host, you may want to update them to remove references to your old URLs (web addresses), if any. If you are not one of those who need to recreate all your web pages completely (as mentioned above), you can simply use another editor and point them to your existing pages. The procedure for doing it with Dreamweaver and KompoZer can be found in the article How Do I Edit an Existing Site with Dreamweaver, Nvu or KompoZer.
If you have converted your website to Dreamweaver or KompoZer using my tutorials, just use the methods given in those tutorials to publish your redesigned pages to your new web host.
If you did not need to convert or edit your website, but have managed to download your entire site, complete with pictures, to your computer, you can simply use a special type of program, called an FTP client, to publish your site to your new host. A tutorial on how to use Filezilla, a free FTP client, to do this can be found in the article How to Upload a File to Your Website Using the FileZilla FTP Client.
Once you have published your web pages and tested to make sure that your new site works, it's time to update your old GeoCities web page to link to your new website. Yes, I am talking about the pages that are currently residing in your old GeoCities account.
There are basically 2 things that need to be done.
You will need to put a special HTML tag into your old site to point to your new one. Technically, you are inserting what is known as a "META refresh tag". It serves the following purposes:
Firstly, when your visitor reaches your old web page, their web browser will automatically redirect them to your new website.
Secondly, it tells the search engines that your web page has changed location. Note that this is not a very good way of telling search engines that your site has moved, but it's the only way possible with Geocities.
You may also want to remove the content from your old web page, and replace it with a brief notice that your site has moved. In addition, put a link to your new website on the page. Even though the META refresh tag mentioned above is supposed to automatically cause your visitor's browser to load your new website, it is possible for users to configure their browsers to forbid the refresh. A visible link in to your new page in such cases will help those visitors locate your new page.
The META Refresh tag looks like this.
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0; URL=http://www.example.com/newpage.html" />
The web address (URL) "http://www.example.com/newpage.html" should of course be replaced by the equivalent address on your new website. Note that the "0" above is a zero, not the letter "o".
You will need to add such a tag to every single page on your old GeoCities website. The URL in each tag will of course be different, depending on the location of the equivalent page on your new site. You may be tempted to be lazy, and just use the URL of your main page (such as "http://www.example.com/") as the URL for all pages, but I strongly recommend that you take the effort to redirect every page to their equivalent updated version on your new site. This is not only helpful in minimizing the loss of your visitors, who may otherwise think your site is gone if they are brought to your main page, but it may also help the search engines figure out where each page has moved to and give your new page the same kind of importance your old page had.
Here's how to add the Meta refresh tag:
While logged into your GeoCities File Manager, put a check next to the HTML file that you're modifying. Click the "Edit" button in the File Manager.
The GeoCities "HTML Editor" will open, with your web page appearing in the big box in the middle of the page.
Near the top of the page, you will probably see two lines like the following:
Put your cursor immediately AFTER the word
<head> on the same line. Insert your Meta refresh tag there.
When you're done, click the "Save" button in the GeoCities HTML Editor. You will be returned to the File Manager. Proceed to do the same with the other HTML files.
If you also want to modify your web page to show a visible link to your new page, you should do it BEFORE you take the above steps. Yes, I said BEFORE. This is because the Yahoo! PageBuilder and PageWizard will overwrite any Meta Refresh tag you manually insert when you change your web pages. As such, make whatever visible changes to your web page using whichever method you're used to (whether with the PageBuilder or PageWizard or whatever), then when you've finished, insert the Meta Refresh tag with the method mentioned above.
If you can't remember how to change your web page (possibly because you've long abandoned your website and only remembered it now that Geocities is closing), either figure it out using Yahoo!'s online help, or just don't bother about making the visible changes. Instead, just insert the Meta refresh tag. It's not ideal, but then, nothing is ideal about the whole situation anyway. Putting the Meta refresh tag is at least better than doing nothing.
Note that the Meta refresh tag is the reason why you urgently need to take action now, before GeoCities actually closes. Once GeoCities closes, your old site will disappear, along with any Meta refresh tags you insert on your pages. You want the tags to be on your pages for as long as possible, giving time for regular visitors to notice your change of address, as well as search engines to find it and update their listings.
If you can be bothered, go to Google and type into the box "link:YOUR-GEOCITIES-WEB-ADDRESS". Replace "YOUR-GEOCITIES-WEB-ADDRESS" with your existing GeoCities web address. For example, if your web address is "www.geocities.com/xyx/abc/1234", type "link:www.geocities.com/xyx/abc/1234" (without the quotes) into Google.
A list of websites that link to that specific web address will appear. The list is not complete, and it's probably only for websites that link to that particular page on your website (your main page). Go to each of those websites, and use their site's contact form (or whatever method the site provides) to let them know that your web address has changed. Remember to give them your new URL.
Note: don't get your hopes up. Your chances of getting those sites to respond, or even update their link, is slim. Don't get upset if there is absolutely no reply from or action taken by those sites. It's just a fact of life on the Internet. That's why you desperately need to put the Meta refresh tag, and to put it up as early as possible. It's also the reason why you should really get your own domain name so that your URLs never change, no matter how many times you switch web hosts.
Once you've completed all the above steps, your website would have been moved from GeoCities to a new web host. Congratulations. As you can see, it wasn't as difficult a process as you feared.
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