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Private IP Address? Do I really need one?

Private IP Address:  The Gold Standard in Hosting.  Or Is It?

Recently I was looking for specialized Web hosting services, and when I asked at one company if their price included private IP addresses, the response I got was that “there is no benefit at all from having a private IP address, so why would you want one?”  For a long time, a private IP address has been the standard for high-quality Web hosting, and it’s still promoted as such by many hosting companies.  In this post, I review the reasons in favor of having a private IP address, and give you a concrete best-practice recommendation that can save you money while not subjecting you to SEO or other risk.

What Is a Private IP Address?

An IP address is a 32-bit number that identifies an interface to the Internet.  Every connection to the Internet has a unique IP address; routers on the Internet use these addresses to forward information back and forth between machines on the Internet that communicate.

Your Web site is a collection of files that are delivered in response to requests that arrive over the Internet by a program called a Web server.  That server program runs in a computer that’s attached to the Internet, that has an IP address.  The server can be set up so that a number of Web sites share a single IP address, so that the server distributes information based on the domain name.  It can also be set up so that each site has its own IP address, and the server distributes information from one site or another based on the IP address it is given.

A site hosted at a shared IP address is not necessarily slower to load than a site with a dedicated IP address.  It’s true that the Web server for the shared IP address has one more step to perform when delivering pages, but that step happens so fast that it’s not a significant factor in the load time of your site.  The important determinants of load time for your site are the total capacity of the computer hosting all the sites and the number of sites it hosts (with either shared or dedicated IP addresses), the computing demands placed by the sites, and the limits on computer resources placed by the hosting providers.  Note that the reason $5 a month hosting is available is because that comes with low limits on resources used by the site.

What Are Potential Google Problems?

The Web server works just the same in either case.  The questions about private IP addresses revolve around what actors other than the Web server might do in various circumstances.  For example, suppose one of the sites hosted on an IP address is penalized by Google for something that Google doesn’t like.  Suppose this is something extreme such as buying incoming links.  Will Google penalize all the sites that use the same IP address?

Matt Cutts, who is still in charge of the ranking effort at Google, told us back in 2010 that Google treats sites on shared hosting the same way as sites with a dedicated IP address.  Here’s a video with Matt Cutts explaining the situation.

From what he says, you don’t want to share an IP address with thousands of spammy sites, but under normal conditions, using shared hosting will not get you into trouble with Google.

Google tends to do its ranking based on domain names and not IP addresses, so their first intent will be to not be influenced by other sites at the same IP address, except in extreme situations.  You need to be protected against those situations, but that doesn’t mean that you need a dedicated IP address because of Google.

What Are Other Potential Problems?

While Google doesn’t classify based on IP address, there other services on the Internet that do.  Very much so in all the services associated with email.  Estimates are that as much as 86% of all email is spam, as many as 400 billion spam emails per day.  Because of this volume, email providers are under pressure from their customers to control spam email.  .  There are active exchanges of email addresses and IP addresses that are identified as distributing spam email.  If your IP address ever gets put on one of those lists, even if the spam isn’t from you, you’ll have a significant amount of work to do proving that you’re legitimate, possibly to several different organizations.

During that time, your email or your customers’ email is blocked from delivery!  Imagine the impact on customers if they can’t get or send email because of a spam blocking problem.  This problem can damage the reputation of a company and make customers less interested in doing business with them.

Avoiding Problems

First, check to see whether your site has a dedicated IP address.  You can find out by clicking  here and entering your URL.  While you’re at it, you can see how big companies manage their IP addresses.

It’s interesting to use the tool to get a sense of IP address management of other organizations.  Look up gm.com and you’ll see that this IP address has the home sites for GM’s major brands, a logical approach.  That IP address is shared by XX domains.  If you look up ge.com, you’ll see less discipline–their IP address is shared by more than 1,000 domains, many of which do not appear to be associated with GE.  It appears that GE simply bought inexpensive hosting service, without addressing the IP address question.  Another interesting domain to check is ibm.com–you’ll see that it shares an IP address with amazon.com.

If your firm has multiple Web sites, it’s OK for them to share a common IP address, presuming that your firm has control over what’s done with those domain names and the associated email behavior.

A Caution About Email

My friend Tim Brady makes the interesting observation that a dediated IP address for Web hosting does not guarantee you a dedicated IP address for email!  That is, you could pay extra for a dedicated IP address for your site, thinking that you were protected against the actions of others, only to find that your email is being shepherded through mass servers with many domains sharing an IP address for their email.

If you decide that you want a dedicate IP address, be sure to clarify with your hosting provider vendor that your email will be sent from your dedicated IP address.  Another approach is to have your company’s email processed by Google, whose gmail service is economical and very dependable.

The Bottom Line

Use a dedicated IP address for your company’s sites.  The market value for a dedicated IP address is about $5 a month; you can afford it.  The cost is a lot less than the direct and indirect costs of having your IP address blacklisted.

As an alternative, you can use Dave’s Super Hosting Service, which offers high performance, dedicated IP addresses, frequent backup to the AWS Cloud and special security protections.

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