The debate about shared web hosting has gone on for years. Now, I have conclusive evidence that shared IP hosting has the potential to ruin your website’s rankings. What you are about to read is my first-hand account of not one, not two, but three of my domains losing their rankings because of shared hosting. I will show you how I discovered, and recovered from Google IP blacklisting.
I remember when I first started doing SEO professionally some years ago I read some opinionated articles where SEOs were advising against using shared web hosting. This theoretical advice was issued on the grounds that Google was in the mode of discriminating against websites based upon their IP address. The argument was that if an IP address had been linked to dubious activities of some sort, search engines would blacklist it and all websites hosted on it.
Having read up thoroughly on the matter, I found plenty of compelling counter arguments; Search engines would not bias in this way because they had enough intelligence to realise shared hosting was a reality for millions of businesses worldwide. It would therefore be nothing less than pure stupidity to blacklist 500 websites because one site on the same IP was a rotten apple.
I fell into this latter camp of SEOs. I gave search engines credit for being fair and intelligent. Wrong move. Search engines are not fair or intelligent.
I ordered an SEO web hosting package from Ideastackhosting.com and received WHMCS access with 10GB disk space, 100GB bandwidth and access to 10 C class IP addresses. They effectively set me up as a reseller whereby I could set up, manage and designate an IP address to any number of domains with different CPanel accounts.
I bought the hosting because I wanted to make a mini blog network using three different PR 4 domains that I aquired some months earlier on GoDaddy Auctions. The aged domains had strong, natural backlink profiles. I’ve taken a snapshot from Majestic of one of my sites just as an example.
Before setting up the SEO hosting, my domain’s name servers were pointing at Knet Hosting, a company I have used for years and trust greatly.
After I set-up the three new Ideastack SEO hosting accounts, each with unique C class IP addresses, I changed the name servers and migrated the sites over to their new homes.
A couple months later I noticed that new content was not being indexed by Google from any of the three sites. In fact, most of the previously indexed content was no longer appearing in the SERPs even if searching for the URL itself through the search bar.
Having checked all the obvious things like robots.txt and .htaccess I decided that I should submit Google sitemaps for each of the sites. Shockingly Google was unable to verify any of my websites using either the header tag or file upload method. Google simply wouldnt access the sites, insead throwing upan error.
The DNS method worked in so far as verifying ownership but Google still refused to crawl the website throwing up the following error ”URL timeout: DNS lookup timeout”.
At this point it dawned on me that something was seriously amiss.
I attempted to force Google to look at my sites by inputting the URL into Google Translate and making it translate the site into a foreign language. Instead of getting a foreign translation, I got another error; “Sorry, we are unable to access the page you requested:”
To eliminate any possibility of the issue being location specific I tried to use a bunch of other online crawlers/spiders such as W3C to access my site. There were no problems what so ever. The finger remained squarely pointed at Google.
Submitting a support ticket to the hosting company, I made them fully aware of the issue. In response they changed the hosting server and switched off the firewall. From my WHMCS I checked to ensure IP blacklists were empty and chose new C class IP addresses for each domain.
None of the above had any impact. I concluded that Google had not just blacklisted the IP address but at least six of the IP addresses that I had been issued with my SEO hosting account!
I threatened Ideastack that I would going to take my business elsewhere. They were helpless because they too couldn’t make Google crawl the site anymore than I could.
As a final point of enquiry, and to confirm my conclusion I did a reverse IP lookup to see what other sites were sharing web space with mine. I discovered a real mixed bag including some porn sites! In case you want to check this yourself, you can. Here’s the IP: 126.96.36.199
Conducting my Google translate test on other sites revealed by the revearse IP lookup, I realised that the vast majority, like my sites, were inaccessible by Google Translate. The few that were accessible or should I say ‘translatable’ were using CDNs like CloudFlare which essentially means they share more than one IP addresses and more than one hosting company.
My next test was looking at the subnet. I wanted to find out if all websites on the entire subnet were experiencing this issue too or if it was limited to IP addresses exclusively. Many sites on the subnet had no issues what so ever. This simply confirmed the blacklisting was IP address specific.
While still trying to combat this very strange issue, Google’s PR update swept through, reducing each of my PR 4 websites to PR0, probably on account of them not being accessible.
Ultimately, I abandoned Ideastack and migrating my three websites back to their original hosting with Knet where I has a VPS. Within 48 hours all three sites were fully indexed in Google. Not only this, but I was also able to verify their ownership in webmaster tools and also Translate them immediately after the domains resolved. Rankings bounced back 100% and I’m confident my Page Rank will return upon the next PR update.
In conclusion, “Bad neighbors” really are an issue that deserves serious consideration when it comes to choosing web hosting for any website.
Although my experiences were specific to “SEO hosting”, it doesnt necessarily mean that the problem lies in SEO hosting per se. SEO hosting is really no different than any other shared hosting except with SEO hosting you get to choose our IP address while with standard shared hosting you don’t.
Why the IPs are blacklisted we can’t be certain. Could it be the porn sites or some other dubious SEO related activities that Google doesn’t agree with, we’ll never know. All we can know for certain is that Google is actively blacklisting IP addresses for one reason or another. And as this is the case, we all should approach shared hosting with caution.