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Do You Need a Dedicated IP Address?

Today, for nearly all small businesses, you don’t need a dedicated IP address. This may not agree with what you’ve read and it may not agree with what I’ve told you in the past. Please, bear with me.

What is an IP address?

An Internet protocol address is assigned to every computer interface to the Internet. One form of these addresses is four decimal numbers, such as 213.54.125.33.

An Internet service called the domain name service translates domain names (such as webmarketingadvantage.com) into its assigned IP address. This translation happens as part of the process to access a website from a browser, or to send email, as well as applications that use other Internet protocols. You can think of DNS as a sort of worldwide phonebook for the Internet.

DNS allows the use of names that make sense to people, rather than IP addresses that are purely numeric, to use the Internet. It’s a lot easier to use webmarketingadvantage.com than having to enter the IP address every time you want to send email or access the website.

Dedicated IP addresses

If your website has a dedicated IP address, then it is the only site that is reached through that address. DNS will have just one domain name entry that gets translated into that IP address. A good analogy to this is the private telephone line, that has a phone number that only you use.

Shared IP addresses

Because there is been a shortage of IP addresses, various techniques were used to stretch the remaining supply. One of these techniques is to assign several website domain names to the same IP address. It’s easy to see that this practice can conserve on scarce IP addresses.

In the past, I have cautioned against shared IP addresses. If you share an IP address with other websites, and those websites engage in spammy behavior, that IP address could show up on various blacklists that are maintained by a number of different companies who provide various Internet services.

In addition, there was the risk that behavior of other websites who shared your IP address might cause all of you to get poor rankings in Google search results.

Some cases of shared IP addresses occur because a large number of websites are hosted on the same server. Depending on how much traffic the sites receive, and the capacity of the server, that could mean that your website doesn’t have enough CPU resource to give quick performance. That’ll make your visitors unhappy and it will also make Google unhappy enough to give you lower rankings in search results.

Shared IP addresses and website security

We all know that Google has led the charge toward universal use of SSL and HTTPS so that communication between your browser and a website is secure. Google’s Chrome browser, now the industry leader, shows a “not secure” warning if your site doesn’t use SSL, and Google also threatens lower position in search results. As a consequence, SSL has been widely adopted.

At one time, a dedicated IP address was required in order to use SSL. With the development of Server Name Identification (SNI), however, that need has disappeared. Essentially all browsers in current use support SNI, so it is not a security reason to favor dedicated IP addresses any longer.

What about shared IP addresses and SEO?

It’s important to remember that with regard to SEO, Google doesn’t tell us how they decide where your website winds up in search results. What we know is what’s been learned through experience and what has been shared in the community of people who work in the SEO field.

Google does offer a set of webmaster guidelines to follow, laying what they do and don’t want to see in a site, and shared IP addresses are not in the list of don’ts. This tells us that a shared IP address by itself won’t hurt rankings in Google results.

Quality hosting

One of the first checks I make as part of a new SEO engagement is for shared IP addresses. I usually find one of these three situations:

  • A dedicated IP address
  • An IP address that is shared by a relatively small number of legitimate sites
  • An IP address that is shared by hundreds or thousands of sites, some of which look suspicious

If I find either the first or second case, I’m not concerned. The second situation even occurs for some of the largest companies; they will have several of their sites sharing an IP address.

Often, I find the third situation. There are hundreds or thousands of domain names sharing the same IP address. Usually, just a quick scan of the domain names reveals that these do not all belong to legitimate businesses. This is a sign that my client has purchased the least expensive hosting service, that just throws huge numbers of domain names on the same IP address.

Websites can be hacked and misused, or the hosting company could just be hosting sites that are used for illegitimate activities. In either case, the IP address can wind up on blacklists maintained by various Internet providers, and it can be difficult to get off these blacklists. Trust me, that’s the voice of experience.

The hosting service that I offer has recently transitioned so that all websites are hosted on Amazon AWS, in order to provide the utmost in availability. Along with that change, and the complete virtualization of the service, now shared IP addresses are used. This takes place in an environment where the behavior of all the sites is carefully monitored.

The bottom line

If you use a quality web hosting service, you don’t need a dedicated IP address.

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