Do I Need a Dedicated IP Address?
Of the numerous hosting features and extras available from just about every hosting provider out there, the dedicated IP may just be the one that gives Web publishers the most pause. Is it necessary? Does it have any benefit? Do I really need one if I’m using a dedicated server? Do I really need one at all?
The debate rages on. Ultimately, whether you spring for a dedicated IP address or not is your decision, but knowing a few facts, and then throwing in a bit of opinion, may help you make an educated decision. Let’s start with the basics.
What is an IP Address?
This is completely separate from your domain name or the URL of your site. The IP (Internet Protocol) address is a sequence of numbers assigned to every device that accesses the Internet. Whereas your domain is essentially your website’s address—the location where it can be found on the Internet—your computer’s IP address is a unique label that allows the Internet, websites, (and let’s be honest, probably the NSA) to identify your specific device when it accesses a website.
In addition to computers and mobile devices, servers have their own unique IP addresses. However, in the case of shared hosting where hundreds, sometimes thousands of sites all reside on the same server, each one of the hosting accounts associated with every one of those sites will have the same IP address.
This normally isn’t a problem in any way, whether you’re considering hosting or search engine optimization (SEO) factors. But in some cases, a dedicated IP can be helpful, and in others, it’s necessary.
When Do I Need a Dedicated IP Address?
As far as hosting goes, you’ll encounter a couple of specific situations where a dedicated IP will either be helpful or necessary. The first is if you plan to attach a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate to your site.
For SSL Certificates
Say you’re building an e-commerce site. If you expect customers to enter their credit card and other personal information, you want to offer them the security of protecting that information with an SSL. You must have a dedicated IP in order to get an SSL certificate on your site. Most hosts will charge an additional fee both for the dedicated IP and the SSL certificate, but some may include the dedicated IP with the purchase of the SSL certificate. Check your hosting features to be sure.
For High-Volume Traffic
Whether it’s an e-commerce site or not, if your website sees a large volume of traffic on a daily basis, you may want to consider getting a dedicated IP. This will help increase or at least maintain your site speed while accommodating so many visitors, and will reduce the likelihood of your site crashing under the strain of so much traffic. This is the same reason dedicated hosting is preferred for large sites with a lot of traffic.
Dedicated IP Addresses and SEO
Much of the debate over whether to incur the extra expense of a dedicated IP address comes from the question of whether or not the dedicated IP offers any sort of SEO benefit. The answer has changed over the years, but there’s a good reason why that’s happened.
It’s all Matt Cutts’s fault.
OK, not really. But sort of. Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s Webspam team. He communicates regularly with many members of the digital marketing and search industry, and often speaks at industry conferences. He also releases videos on a regular basis where he answers questions people send to him, and discusses Google updates and functions.
In August 2010, Cutts released a video in response to a question about whether shared hosting negatively affects a site’s ranking. The question and response dealt specifically with the presence of spammy websites on the same server as “normal” websites. However, a lot of people took Cutts’s response to mean dedicated IP addresses were not necessary to “protect” those regular sites, and would not offer any SEO benefit.
However (You knew there was a “however” coming, right?), 2006 was a long time ago, and by Internet standards, so was 2010. Things have changed since then, including Google’s algorithm, and how rankings are determined. One of the factors Google now looks at when ranking sites is page load speed.
In an August 2013 video, Cutts explains that page load speed is a ranking factor, and that this is true across the board, whether sites are accessed via mobile or desktop. He also says Google will “…continue to look at ways to improve the ways that we [Google] find out how fast a site is, the page speed for a particular page, and then try to figure out whether it makes senseâ€¦OK, if we want users to be less frustrated, then maybe it does make sense to incorporate that more into our rankings…”
That said, a dedicated IP address is not going to magically transport your site to the number one position in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). But here’s the thing—if you’re trying to help your site rank well, don’t you want to give it every advantage possible? If there are 15 things you can do that may help your site do better in the SERPs, why would you only do 12 of them if you can do them all?
So along with creating high-quality content, ensuring that content isn’t overoptimized, building a solid site architecture, and the numerous other things you can do to make Google like your site just a little more, paying a little extra for a dedicated IP can be a good investment in your site’s future.
Should you buy one?
There’s a lot of debate around dedicated IPs and the pros and cons of using one. Let’s look at the arguments: we’ll first find out what a dedicated IP is, then discuss how it might benefit you.
What Does a Dedicated IP Actually Do?
To understand dedicated IPs, we need to understand how IP addresses work.
IP addresses route internet traffic to the right place, much like a zip code or post code. Like postal codes, different people can share the same IP.
- If you have a shared hosting account, you probably share your site IP address with dozens of other people. In some cases, you might share it with hundreds of other sites. Sharing is not a problem. The host has software to interpret requests for different sites on the same IP, ensuring that it can serve the right content to each person, and it takes milliseconds.
- A dedicated IP address is exclusively yours. You might choose to serve different sites from that IP address, but you’re ultimately in control of who’s using it.
You would think that a dedicated IP was better, right? Let’s look at some of the benefits we associate with them.
SEO and Dedicated IPs
There are two aspects to the SEO argument: ranking and spam.
Some search engine optimization (SEO) professionals believe search engines are more likely to trust a site on a dedicated IP address and give it a higher search engine ranking. There is a lot of debate about that theory, and almost no evidence to back it up.
Google does use IP addresses in some of its calculations, but mostly to determine how much to trust an inbound link. Links from similar IPs are usually trusted less. But the odds of being impacted by this are slim, even on a shared server.
In terms of spam, Google may distrust sites that share an IP range with spammers, junk blogs and other violators of their ‘best practices’. On a shared server, the unethical behavior of someone on your shared IP could result in a penalty for everyone – in theory.
But it’s not really clear cut. Google obviously understands that millions of websites use shared hosting, so blanket penalties would be counter productive.
Speed and Dedicated IPs
Can a dedicated IP address help your site load more quickly?
In some ways, you’d expect so. After all, there’s less traffic flowing to that IP.
But look at it another way. Every server has to inspect a packet, examine the request and deliver it to the correct domain. This holds true if there is one site on an IP or one thousand sites. Every server has to go through this process; the number of possible destinations doesn’t really matter.
As such, the difference in processing time is so small as to be imperceptible.
The Big Benefit of Dedicated IPs
There is one clear benefit of a dedicated IP. It allows you to do more with your server.
You need a dedicated IP address to host your own SSL certificate, for example. You can also run an FTP server off the IP address. You could run a gaming server or some other IP-based server (with your host’s permission).
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. But in some cases, the benefits are clear.
Should You Bother With a Dedicated IP?
A dedicated IP is preferable, but you’ll get by just fine without one.
The benefits are quite specialized, and the SEO angle is now largely discredited.
The only thing to watch out for is spam. Subscribe to Google Webmaster Tools and stay on top of what Google thinks about your site. If it seems to be located in a ‘bad neighborhood’, migrate to a new host, and don’t rely on a dedicated IP to solve the problem.
Page last updated: March 2015
Join our newsletter & be first to hear when we publish new posts.