Improve Search Engine Ranking by Fixing Dirty IPs and Other “Bad Neighborhood” Issues

By Bruce Clay

Knowing the IP address of your site and monitoring it to make sure that it remains clean are good ideas for SEO. It’s like renting an apartment: Just because the neighborhood was quiet and peaceful when you first moved in doesn’t mean that it won’t change over time and become an undesirable place to live.

IP addresses come in two flavors: virtual and dedicated. If you’re using a virtual IP address, it means that multiple websites (as many as your server allows) use the same IP address as you. If you’re using a dedicated IP address, you’re the only site on that IP.

You should use a dedicated IP for your site, if possible, to provide maximum site performance. Even so, you still need to monitor it to make sure it stays clean because you can also be affected by bad behavior of other IPs within the same C block.

The second-to-last set of digits in an IP address, such as the 179 in the IP address 208.215.179.146, identifies the C block, which is similar to an area code for a telephone number, except that unlike your area code, you can change C blocks. You can move your site to a new IP address and C block if you have trouble with the one you’re in. Call your hosting company and tell it you want to be moved.

If you do share a virtual IP with other sites, which is often the case with small or brand-new websites, it’s like being in an apartment building. Similar to living in an apartment building, it’s important that the IP isn’t full of bad neighbors, even though that’s pretty much out of your control.

If the search engines find out you’re next door to a spam site, for example, your site could be tainted by association. Google has indicated that it is difficult to be tainted by surrounding sites, but why take a chance? You should be in clean IP blocks whenever possible.

The other drawback of using a virtual IP is that, occasionally, a search engine or a user navigates to your website by your IP address, rather than your URL (usually, only if your server is configured incorrectly). If you’re on a virtual IP, they may not be able to find your site. Any of the various sites located on that IP could come up; it’d be the luck of the draw. And do not forget that shared IPs may mean that your server performance will slow down based on the traffic load of your neighbors.

After you have an IP address, you can find many tools on the web that can evaluate whether it’s clean. “Clean” means that the IP is not on any IP blacklists, which are lists of sites suspected of illegal acts such as child pornography, email spam (sending unsolicited email indiscriminately to tons of people), or hacking (attempting to break into computer networks and bypass their security).

You may have never done anything unethical on your website, but your IP’s history with previous sites (or other current sites, if you’re on a shared IP) could still haunt you.

Being blacklisted is bad news. Most major email services (Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, Gmail, and so on) block any email coming from a blacklisted IP address, so being blacklisted seriously affects your ability to communicate with the outside world. For instance, it harms your ability to reply to sales inquiries and thus can cost you money.

Being blacklisted also puts you in hot water with the search engines. Search engines refer to these IP blacklists for purposes of website crawling, indexing, and ranking. It’s unclear how much the IP blacklists influence the individual search engines, and Google indicates that it should not, except in severe cases, impact your rankings.

However, the search engines do flag your site and watch it closely because they assume that a site involved in email spam has a high likelihood of being involved in other types of spam. Simply put, you become guilty by association.

To find an IP checker tool, do a search on Google for [“ip blacklist” check]. One you might try is MX Lookup. Alternatively, you can use the monitoring reports at DNSstuff, which are available for a paid subscription only.

When you run an IP check, it shows you the status of your IP with many different blacklists. If you see any red flags, you need to take steps to get off of that blacklist ASAP by following these steps:

  1. Contact your ISP (Internet service provider) and request a change to a clean IP.

    Better yet, try to move to an entirely new C block. You want to get as far away as possible.

    Alternatively, ask your hosting provider to clean up the neighborhood, and then to petition the search engines to have the IP marked as clean. They can do that.

  2. If your hosting provider won’t cooperate, then cut your losses and change hosting providers.

    However, this problem should never occur. There is no excuse for an ISP operating blacklisted IP ranges.

  3. Run an IP check on your new IP address when you get it.

    Confirm for yourself that you’re moving into a good neighborhood. If you can, try to check the target IP before you’re moved to it.

The diagnostics available through Google Search Console are extremely helpful. After you sign up your website (which is free), Google verifies your site and then sends a spider to check it out. You receive a report that quickly tells you if it found anything wrong. Hearing in Google’s own words that your site is A-OK is reason enough to celebrate, but you get the added bonus of lots of cool tools to try.