Dedicated IP addresses is a service offered by most Web hosts. If you’re on a shared host, you can expect to be charged a few dollars per month or need to use a higher-end account for the privilege. However, if you’re on a VPS or dedicated server, several addresses are usually provided for you as part of your plan.
But are they worthwhile?
Though there isn’t much debate that having a dedicated IP address is better than having a shared one, what is less clear is if it is worth even the token amount that hosts charge for it. Are the benefits of a dedicated IP address merely perceptual or is there a real plus side that makes it worth the money?
The answer isn’t clear and there is a lot of debate on the issue, but to first have any idea of the answer, we have to understand what a dedicated IP is and what it does.
What a Dedicated IP Does
Every piece of communication on the Web is routed via an IP address. One might think of it as a postal address for the Web. However, much like postal addresses, many different people and Web sites can share the same IP. For example, if you have four computers on a home network, they all share the same IP thanks to your router. Likewise, if you have a shared hosting account, you probably share that IP address with dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of sites in the same address.
If there are multiple destinations for a specific IP address, it is up to the receiving device to determine where the information goes. This can be your router on your home network or your server itself. This is like a postman dropping off the mail at the front desk and a door man taking it to the correct apartments.
A shared IP address is similar to an apartment complex with many different residents that do not know one another but share the building’s resources. On the other hand, a dedicated IP address is similar to owning a house. Though you might have roommates, other sites you host on your VPS, it is pretty much just you that owns the destination.
So a dedicated IP does make it easier to “get your mail” to follow the analogy, but does that have any real impact on your site? The answer is much less clear.
SEO and Dedicated IPs
One of the main theories as to why a dedicated IP is better is that it can help with search engines. The theory is that the search engines are more likely to trust a site on a dedicated IP address and give it a higher ranking. However, there is a lot of debate about that theory and, seemingly, almost no evidence to back it up.
Though Google does use IP addresses in some of its calculations, mostly to determine how much to trust an inbound link (links from similar IPs are usually trusted less). However, the odds of being impacted by this, even on a very crowded IP, is slim to none.
The other issue that a dedicated IP may help with is spam. Google distrusts sites that share an IP range with spam blogs and other violators of their best practices. As such, on a shared server, if someone else at your IP engages in unethical behavior, you could be penalized. However, even a dedicated IP is no guarantee as such bumps are typically done by neighborhood and even a dedicated IP could be caught up in a sweep if someone else in the datacenter is behaving badly.
In short, the SEO benefits appear to be dubious at best and the only benefits that are like, a dedicated IP address can not offer any serious protection.
Speed and Dedicated IPs
Another theory is that a dedicated IP address will make your site load faster as your server won’t have to route traffic to your specific domain. That saved step could, in theory, save a fraction of a second on your loading time.
Unfortunately, that one doesn’t play out when one looks at it logically. Every server has to inspect the packet, look at the request and deliver it to the correct domain, this holds true if there is one site on an IP or a thousand. Every server has to make this judgement.
Any benefit in the loading time would be imperceivable to humans and, almost certainly, search engines or load time checkers.
In short, there is nothing gained here as all servers have to use the same process, that is unless serious tweaks and changes are made to the server, which is a bit much for most sites.
Options and Dedicated IPs
THe one benefit of a dedicated IP is that it allows you to do more with your server than you would be able to otherwise.
For example, if you wish to use your own SSL certificate, which is helpful for ecommerce, you need a dedicated IP address. You can also run an FTP server off the IP address, rather than the domain and you can also use it to run a gaming server or other IP-based server (with your host’s permission of course).
However, most Web hosts offer shared SSL certificates at will be good enough for the vast majority of sites and very few people will ever need to run an IP-based FTP server.
In short, while there are some great additional benefits to having a dedicate IP, they are only for outlying cases, not for the vast majority of hosters.
If you are on a shared IP, there’s not much reason to worry. You aren’t missing much. Though a dedicated IP is preferable, it is not a requirement for being successful on the Web and you can almost certainly get by just as well without one.
The only thing to watch out for is any spam issues taking place on your IP. You would be wise to subscribe to Google Webmaster Tools and stay on top of what Google thinks about your site.
If you have an issue with your site living in a “bad neighborhood” it is time to change hosts anyways, it isn’t a problem a dedicated IP address can fix.
In short, there are almost no benefits to a dedicated IP and those that are real cater only to extreme cases. If you have a shared IP, most likey, you are just fine where you are.
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