Three years ago I published a post based on a question sent in by a gentleman who felt as though Vistaprint was holding his domain name hostage. Although it wasn’t strictly a website matter, I had the experience to solve his problem. So I did.
Or, at least I think I solved it. He never responded to let me know either way.
As a matter of fact, even though that Vistaprint question usually gets more traffic than any other post, and despite asking readers whether it helps or if they still need more info, I get crickets.
So this post is a little experiment and you guys are in on it.
I recently helped a client go through the Vistaprint transfer process, so I figured I’d write an update. The experiment part involves linking to this post from the original.
Hypothesizing that someone coming here from that post wanted more info than what was in the original post, and didn’t just completely lose faith and leave.
At least, I think that’s what it will mean. Arghhhh…
Warning: Sorry – still a bit convoluted
I’ll tell you up front that what hasn’t changed about the transfer process is that it’s on the confusing side unless you’re a geek. If you’ll stick with me I’ll give you a heads up on the challenges so they won’t throw you for a loop.
If you think I still missed the mark, for Pete’s sake, please let me know. Use the comment form below this post or send me an e-mail via my Contact page.
If you don’t want to enter your real name and e-mail in the form then just make something up. Hell, spammers do it all the time so you might as well. Just make sure you tell me the info is bogus so I don’t reply to [email protected] or something like that.
Now let’s jump into the specific problems that make Vistaprint a clusterf**k, and how to kick ass and deal with them.
Challenge #1: Actually, Vistaprint owns your domain name
What they tell you before you sign up:
A free custom domain name is included with both our Standard and Premium website packages, as well as our Website Design Services option.
What you’ll find if you read the fine print before you sign up:
Vistaprint owns the primary domain names listed on Schedule 1 attached hereto…Customer does not have any ownership interest or rights of any kind to any of the Primary Domains.
That’s right – you do not own “your” domain name.
Vistaprint paid for your domain registration when you signed on with them. You may not have realized it, but you didn’t pay for the domain name at the time; they bought it for you knowing they’d recoup the costs.
Whether they deliberately obscure their ownership or not is up for debate. They do tell you they’re about to own you. It’s just in really small print that you have to search to find. And know about to search in the first place. Oy.
My last client to escape Vistaprint only had to pay $20, so it seems they’ve stopped charging completely ridiculous fees for allowing you to own your domain name. Now it’s about equivalent to one year of domain registration from an overpriced registrar.
The process for getting Vistaprint to release the name to you still involves multiple confusing steps. I’m sorry.
Challenge #2: Vistaprint makes a confusing-enough process even more confusing
First of all, to transfer the domain away from Vistaprint it must be at least 60 days since you signed up for their website service. If it hasn’t, set a reminder in your calendar app for the first day you’re eligible to transfer. There’s plenty you can do in the meantime to get ready.
When I’m working with someone and run into an issue that makes their head spin but isn’t a big deal for me, I’ll often step in to help. They give me a login and I’ll work with their hosting company, former website designer, domain registration service to get what we need to move things along.
Vistaprint thwarts that process by requiring the account holder to personally call, request the transfer and stay on the phone to complete the steps they require to release it.
Best I can do is tell you now: It’s going to be a pain in the ass. BUT – you can do this. It is OK if you get confused at every one of these sometimes pointless steps. I suggest you call Vistaprint every time you’re confused by something you need to do. Several times a day, if necessary.
That’ll teach them to overcomplicate things. Oh, and it’ll help you get through the crap that much faster. That’s what it’s all about, in the end – right?
Challenge #3: You must do ALL the steps – in the right order – or your transfer will fail.
If your contact info – your e-mail in particular – isn’t correct, you won’t get the e-mail you’ll have to reply to in order to confirm the transfer. I’m sure you know what happens if you fail to confirm.
Yep – not a damn thing.
So, before you start any of this, log in to Vistaprint and make sure all your contact info is correct. When they start the process to give you back (?) your domain name, this is the contact info that’ll go into the record.
Oh, yeah – there’s a record. A big, fat official record and a bunch of rules around transfers that make the process a bit complicated even without the Vistaprint nonsense. For that you can thank the losers that went around hijacking other people’s domain names.
I’m afraid to even get into those details else I’ll completely lose you. Let me just convey two important ones and you can leave a comment if you have a situation that isn’t covered.
- It must have been more than 60 days since Vistaprint set up this domain for you. That’s a hard and fast rule that has nothing to do with Vistaprint.
- It’s better if your domain isn’t anywhere near its expiration date. Transfer it now if you can; you can always point your domain back at your Vistaprint site.
Challenge #4: There’s no easy way to save text or images from a Vistaprint website
Any decent website platform will provide you with a way to, at minimum, export your text out of their system. WordPress, Squarespace – hell, even Blogger – all make it relatively easy to save your posts. WordPress provides tools that allow you to export pages, blog posts, images and sometimes other parts of your site.
With Vistaprint, you’ll have to copy the text from every page, and paste it into a corresponding page you create on your new site.
Create a site content document to make the text migration process a bit easier. List the names of pages you’ll want to carry over to the new site. Add the names of any new pages you want to create. Below the new page names, add notes about what content you’d like to put on the new page.
Copy the text on each page of your existing website, then paste it into your site content document underneath the corresponding page name.
Pro tip: When pasting text into a new document or a web page editor, make sure to paste it without formatting. Otherwise you’ll carry over all sorts of junk that overrides your new site’s (hopefully) better style, making it look like crap.
Right click in the spot you want to paste the text, and see if you get an option to paste without formatting, paste as plain text or paste and match style. One of those & you should be good to go.
About images… Uh, yeah – they’re an even bigger pain.
If there are background images or other design elements in your site that came with Vistaprint’s site builder, you can forget about those. Don’t cry, though. You probably need to escape a Vistaprint design as much as you need to ditch their website hosting.
Any images you own and upload to your Vistaprint site are yours. If you want to reuse them and you have them on your computer, collect them in a folder so you can find them easily when you’re ready to create your new site.
If you lost your images in a fiery hard drive crash (or you just flat can’t figure out where the hell you stored them), you can go to each page on your site and save the images from there. Just don’t expect fabulous quality, or think you can resize them.
To save an image, right click on the image and choose Save as… from the popup menu. Might not say exactly that, but it should be close. You’ll then get another popup with options allowing you to specify where you want to save the image. Create a folder, name it something that makes sense, and save all your images there.
Challenge #5: Making a website seems complicated and scary!
Not gonna lie to you here. It’s not always a terrible experience, but when website setup is not your job it really sucks. Heck, I do it all the time and sometimes it sucks!
Update: Since originally writing this post, an absolutely wonderful service has launched that 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 this post (or you can click here to skip to the bottom).
I have suggestions about how to make it a little easier, but since I don’t know who you are or what you already know, I’m afraid I’d either overwhelm with details or gloss over something you need to know.
Let me make three very broad suggestions, and (once again), please leave a comment if you need further explanation or a suggestion for different circumstances.
Use WordPress. It is incredibly versatile and you will *own* your content. You can take it out of WordPress any time you decide to. Furthermore, there are about a bajillion and one people who use, love and are intimately familiar with WordPress (I’m one), so it’s easy to get help if you need it.
Now that I said you should use WordPress, I have to tell you that one downside is that it’s unfortunately like Windows in some respects. Very popular. Losers the world over try to crack into it and hijack your site so they can send your visitors to spam sites or infect their computers.
Doesn’t matter if your site isn’t super popular. Spammers and hackers are not picky when it comes to who they’ll use and abuse.
For these reasons, and also because cheap hosts tend to negatively impact website performance, if you’re gonna run a WordPress website you need to use managed WordPress hosting. Yes, it’s more expensive. You get what you pay for.
Fortunately, I know and use a super reasonable, über reliable, customer-centric managed WordPress hosting company called Lightning Base. I have been with Lightning Base since 2013 and personally host our three websites there. I’ve moved clients over to them as well. After several years, all of us are still happy campers.
As I write, Lightning Base’s service is $99/year for the kind of sites most of us run. For MANAGED WordPress hosting. That is huge. It breaks down to just over $8/month.
The downside of this kind of WordPress (self-hosted, where it’s in a hosting account you are responsible for and can control) can be big if you’re new to running a website. If that’s how you feel after weighing your options, I get it.
Don’t worry if you’re not up to the task of running a self-hosted WordPress website. There is a way you can experience a lot of the power of WordPress without the downside. Which brings us to…
WordPress.com offers many of the features of self-hosted WordPress. It is completely free to start, or even forever if you don’t want to use anything that requires an upgrade. You should know, though, that you can’t look professional on WordPress.com – or anywhere else – with a budget of $0.
BUT – you can pay WordPress.com just a little bit of money and look pretty damn good. For less than $50/year you can use your own domain name. Premium theme designs aren’t included, but you can buy one if you don’t find a free theme that fits your needs.
Dara and Sela are well-designed themes that are great for business or pro bloggers. Shoreditch is a low-key, more conservative theme that’d work well for a business website. These three are all free. But that’s not the best thing about them.
Shoreditch theme by Automattic
Each of these three WordPress themes is designed by Automattic, the people that make WordPress. All are solidly coded and well thought out, which can’t be said about the majority of free themes. Even better, the themes are available to be downloaded and used on self-hosted sites.
This is kind of a big deal, even if you’re not ready for a self-hosted Lightning Base WordPress site.
You see, regardless of what kind of WordPress site you have, WordPress allows you to easily export your content – text as well as images – and use it in another website.
If you want a low-tech, low-cost yet high-quality place to land after Vistaprint, WordPress.com is where you need to be. You can start copying and pasting your content into a WordPress.com site for free and upgrade it when your domain transfer is ready.
When you want to do more with your website (e.g., custom design, e-commerce and other complex features), you can move to a self-hosted WordPress site with only a few clicks.
If you’ve chosen one of the themes I mentioned above (or another theme that’s offered for both WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress), you can even keep your design when you move.