The term “bad neighborhood” is one that is frequently applied to link building, but it can also be very relevant to host providers and in some cases, may even be a two-word explanation for an unfair penalty levied against your site by Google or another search engine.
No one wants to be a bad neighbor, but most of us will have experienced one at some time or another – those who play music too loud for example or those who lack consideration for others living around them. This same lack of consideration for others is one of the determining factors in creating a bad neighborhood in hosting terms.
An undesirable virtual address with a bad reputation may be one reason you were offered such a great price on your hosting package. In the same way as sharing a zip code with problem neighbors can cause realtor problems, websites that have flouted the rules of the internet and upset the search engines with black hat or spam practices will lower your own stock if you share an IP address. Sharing an IP address with a number of other sites is common if you’ve opted for a shared hosting provider.
While you can visit with neighbors and spend time in the area to get a feel for the street you’re considering buying a property on, the same can’t really be said of a virtual neighborhood playing host to your website. All the search engines will see is a number, and in cases where the contravention of the rules has been particularly bad, may simply block that IP from their results pages. If your hosting provider shares the same IP address among different clients, your own site can be tarred with the same brush as one that is persona non grata in the search engine’s own virtual community.
It may not matter to you what your neighbors do in the privacy of their own home or workplace, but a search engine has no such moral compass and a site blocked because of explicit content or similar (such as retailing unlicensed medication) can cause your own site to be barred right along with it.
If you suspect that you have been subject to a Google penalty, blaming your hosting provider can be a convenient outlet for your frustration, but playing the blame game won’t get your site reinstated. To do that, you need to produce a compelling case for the search engine, demonstrating to them that your site is of a good quality, of a good standing and can provide a legitimate user experience to fairly won traffic.
You may suspect a Google penalty if rankings drop sharply with no warning. Before calling your host to complain, be certain that your site really is an innocent victim. You can do this by working through Google’s quality guidelines, being aware that its algorithms have changed, and its criteria for judging a good quality site from a poor one have changed along with it. Google’s guidelines are broadly separated into three areas: 1. Design and Content, 2. Technical Guidelines and 3.Quality. You need to be sure that your site satisfies each of these requirements before reaching the conclusion that a poor host neighborhood is to blame.
You can of course change hosting providers if you determine that a bad neighborhood has gotten your site penalized, but if you take this course of action, be sure that you choose wisely this second time round. If you can afford to purchase a hosting package with a dedicated IP address, do so. This will ensure your site is judged purely on its own merits. If a dedicated IP is not in the budget, ask any company you’re considering doing business with how many other sites are hosted on the same IP as the one your site will be placed on. Check if they have any restrictions or internal best practice guidelines that stipulate a maximum number of sites per IP. Ask if they have any company-wide policy regarding hosting sites that show explicit content or other content known to cause search engines concern.
Taking a few simple precautions will help you ensure that you don’t locate your valuable online real estate in a questionable neighborhood, which in turn may make all the difference in your budding relationship with the search engines.