UPDATE 04 December 2017 – I have a new post up aimed at helping solve five big challenges involved in transferring away from Vistaprint. Check it out here & let me know if it helps!
Stephen sent me the message below after building a Vistaprint website that didn’t turn out the way he hoped. He wanted to bail, but discovered Vistaprint doesn’t quite operate the way most website hosting companies do.
I created a website with Vistaprint that I am not happy with. I want to change the website to a CMS version but keep the domain. I don’t have a clue where to start or what to do. Can you help please?
Normally when you decide to create a website, you purchase a domain and obtain hosting on your own. Even if you opt to buy your domain name from the same company you host with, there isn’t usually any question about who owns the domain name. You do.
Vistaprint is different. They offer what seems to be a good deal if you don’t know any better. But when you sign up for a Vistaprint website you aren’t paying for your domain. At least, not directly.
When you sign up for a Vistaprint website package, Vistaprint registers the domain name you specify. This means they own it, as you may have discovered. Vistaprint will release it to you so you can use it to point to another site, but they require an “administrative fee” from you.
As of the last time I checked (27 Nov 2017), that fee was $19.99. A bit more than you’d pay at Namecheap or Hover, but not highway robbery.
If the domain name is important to you (and it should be if you have even a little traffic) there is really not much you can do but pay the fee. Once the domain is released to you, you can then change the records so that you are the official owner. That will then allow you to start the transfer process. Vistaprint outlines that process here.
If you’re not familiar with domain names, DNS and web hosting, it may seem a bit much. Just take it step by step. Get on the phone with Vistaprint as many times as necessary to get through the process.
Vistaprint doesn’t make it easy to get help transferring away. A client I recently helped through the process was required to be on the phone with the company at the same time the customer service rep placed the administrative fee in his online account shopping car. They told him he had to complete the transaction while on this call. Once we got him through that, he gave me his login info and I helped unlock and transfer the domain to a proper registrar.
Before you can actually transfer the domain away, you’ll need at least one account elsewhere to receive the domain name. I say “at least one” because after having experienced the ups and downs of various web hosting companies, I prefer to register all my domains with a service that handles only that. Then when I have a site ready for a particular domain I can just point the domain to the new site. It is an extra service to deal with, though.
I have been very happy with Namecheap for domains. They do offer hosting, but I cannot vouch for that service.
It is really hard to get professional results using site builders like those provided by Vistaprint, GoDaddy, etc., and if the site is to be used to bring in business, a professional appearance is extremely important.
A reputable, experienced web consultant could handle this for you, save you a lot of hassle, and provide you with a quality website that fits your needs.
If it’s important for you to build the site yourself, I suggest starting the new site using WordPress or Squarespace, and doing so before you’ve cancelled the Vistaprint site. This way you can easily pick up and use any text or images you used on the Vistaprint site.
Once you are satisfied with the new site, go to the new domain registrar and change the DNS settings to point to the new site.
Every domain registrar and website host is a little different, so I can’t tell you the exact steps you’ll need to follow. But if you search using the specific service you choose (e.g., “transfer domain from Vistaprint to Namecheap” or “change DNS at Namecheap”) you should find step-by-step instructions.
Thanks for writing in.
UPDATE 23 Jan 2019: Since originally writing this post, an absolutely wonderful service called The Modern Tradesman has launched. This service will do it ALL for you – including building the site and hosting and updates – for less than $50/month. It’s perfect for busy small businesses. Details are below.