The world of website, hosting and search engine optimisation is constantly changing with different trends and different strategies. While many subjects come and go, the buzz surrounding dedicated IP addresses and shared IP addresses is one which continues to be a hot topic of debate. As you might have guessed, there are opinions for and against dedicated IP addresses. So we thought it best to take a look at the best hosting UK services and whether you should incorporate dedicated IP addresses into your plans.
What is an IP address?
Before we go into great detail about dedicated and shared IP addresses, what exactly is an IP address? The term itself stands for Internet Protocol and is a sequence of numbers which are assigned to any device that is connected to the Internet.
In simple terms, it is the address for your computer, server, etc. Here for instance, we are looking at shared and dedicated IP addresses for hosting servers. In layman’s terms, your IP address is in effect similar to the postcode of any building. This building may have one person living there or a number of people living there, akin to dedicated hosting/shared hosting.
Examples of shared IP addresses and dedicated IP addresses
There is sometimes a tendency to confuse the term shared hosting and dedicated hosting with shared IP addresses and dedicated IP addresses. There are many occasions where it is possible to mix and match shared/dedicated hosting with shared/dedicated IP addresses. We will now take a look at some of the more common scenarios which involve shared/dedicated IP addresses.
Shared web hosting
Shared hosting is for many the best hosting UK option available especially for relatively young and developing websites. It offers the opportunity to reduce hosting costs by sharing resources and sharing software. In this instance, the server used to maintain all shared hosting accounts will have its own dedicated IP address. As a consequence, under normal circumstances, each of the shared hosting accounts on that server will share this IP address.
Dedicated server hosting
When you upgrade a website hosting account to a dedicated server (or VPS option) this often means the website, or websites, are growing and traffic is building. There is a need for total focus on the website rather than sharing resources with other accounts on the same host server. In many cases, although not obligatory, the majority of dedicated hosting websites will also have their own dedicated hosting IP. However, as you are in control of your IP address, you can choose to serve different sites from the same IP address. Learn more about Dedicated Servers here.
As touched on above, perhaps the best way to look at IP addresses is as a postcode for a building. The building may house one of more people. In a similar fashion, mail being delivered there through a filter system ensures that the correct post is given to the correct person. The filter system with a host server is a piece of software which interprets individual requests. Then, it directs these requests to the relevant website on a server. We live in a world where we automatically expect websites to appear instantly. So, how does this filtering system impact webpage load speeds?
The time taken to direct the request to the relevant website on a shared host with a shared IP address is literally milliseconds. Under normal circumstances you would not realise whether a website uses its own IP address or a shared IP address. However, this is not the whole story.
3 Scenarios when might you need a dedicated IP address
There are specific scenarios where you will need a dedicated IP address (and ones where it would be preferable) but there are also some common misconceptions regarding the benefits. The most common reasons for requiring a dedicated IP address include:-
1. Need to install an SSL certificate
Website security is paramount these days and it is now an integral part of the Google algorithm ranking system. The world of e-commerce is obviously an area where maximum security is required and as a consequence SSL certificates and an upgrade to HTTPS protocol are commonplace. It is only possible to install an SSL certificate if you have a dedicated IP address.
2. Dedicated resources
This is where the potential benefits of a dedicated IP address become a little confusing. In theory, having a dedicated IP address for your website/server should increase response speeds and enhance customer experience. In practice the benefits of dedicated IP addresses may not be as widespread as you would assume. However, if you consider them as one of many elements going towards search engine rankings, they can certainly assist.
3. Regular FTP access required
Many website developers will require regular FTP access which is safer and more secure under a dedicated IP address. Again, the growing obsession around online security, for both customers and website owners, has led to many people taking out dedicated IP addresses in this scenario.
4. View your site via IP address
While not the most common way to view your website, there are some instances where a website owner will need to view their site via the IP address. Obviously, if this is a shared IP address this can cause difficulties. In general, this is of more use to developers testing systems and new website designs.
To confuse matters, there are scenarios where you can have a dedicated IP address on a shared server and shared IP addresses on a dedicated server.
5. Dedicated IP addresses and SEO strategies
As we mentioned earlier in this article, over the years we have seen many changes with regards to IP addresses and SEO strategies. If you were to Google the advice given by companies such as Google, you will see that it has varied over the years both officially and unofficially. So, what do we know today with regards to dedicated IP addresses and their value in relation to SEO strategies?
6. Spam and shared hosting
In theory, you might assume that all websites on a shared hosting account will be impacted where one website has received spam penalties. It makes sense; the Internet looks at IP addresses and uses these as the physical address of one or many different websites. However, if this worked in practice then millions upon millions of innocent website would be impacted because of one rogue website on a shared server. So, we can assume that this is not the case…..
7. Website speeds
That said, Google will look at the page load speeds of different websites and consider these when calculating search engine rankings. So, there would be no blanket penalty for other websites on shared hosting account. However, in theory, if the spam website’s traffic is high, then, it can impact the page load speeds for all sites. As a consequence, this would have the potential to reduce the ranking power of “innocent websites”. As ever, Google never gives a definitive answer!
8. Guilty by association
As if Google, and other search engines, are looking to muddy the waters even further, there is the potential of guilt by association. Effectively this means that innocent websites which share a range of IP addresses associated with spam websites could be negatively impacted. To what extent is uncertain but what we do know is there can be no positive impact.
So, do you really need a dedicated IP address?
In the vast majority of cases there is no 100% case for a dedicated IP address. None-the-less for successful high traffic websites it may be more preferable. If you achieve a slight improvement in webpage load speeds via a dedicated IP address, this may be enough to tip the balance. It could significantly increase search engine rankings. There is also the matter of SSL certificates and HTTPS protocol with SSL certificates in particular certainly requiring a dedicated IP address.
You’ll also hear many SEO experts talking about “best practice”. Especially for e-commerce websites and those which transfer private and confidential information. If you are serious about an online business, protecting your clients and building for the future, does the introduction of a dedicated IP address reflect better on you than a shared one?
To say that the benefits of shared/dedicated IP addresses, considered aside shared/dedicated server hosting accounts, are confusing is an understatement to say the least. The bottom line is that online security is now vital to the success of any website and this means the introduction of SSL certificates which do require a dedicated IP address. It is worth noting that dedicated IP addresses are not expensive and will often be part of hosting account/SSL certificate packages.
If Google and other search engines are tipping their hats (even unofficially) towards a benefit in using dedicated IP addresses, then serious online entrepreneurs should listen.