How to tell when an IP address is in a “bad neighbourhood”

I’m again hearing about the need not to host your site in a “bad IP neighbourhood” and not to link to sites hosted in a “bad IP neighbourhood”. How can you know where that is? It’s not like you can drive up the street and see the junkies on the footpath or the car bodies stacked in the yard.

“Bad IP neighbourhood” is a controversial concept. Google says it understands shared IP hosting and having bad neighbours is not going to impact your SEO. It qualifies this statement around issues like malware and severe spamming. Many websmasters say it has no impact, but others are so insistent it does that they will always spend the extra money for a dedicated IP address.

I think I understand the principle of a “bad IP neighbourhood”. Name-server web hosting is the preferred model for IP wholesalers – ie, shared web hosting environments where many sites (usually 100-200) share the same IP address. If one or more sites in one of these name servers becomes very spammy, it can impact the SEO on other sites on the same name server.  Not much we can do about that as IP address space is running out. Dedicated IP addresses are hard to get and cost a lot more than typical shared web hosting.

But are there tools out there that will tell you when a name server or shared IP address has “gone bad”? Short of looking at every site sharing the IP and checking its ranking in Google, how can you know when an IP address is in the virtual badlands?

A useful starting point is “Google Safe Browsing” tool (http://www.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=yourdomain.com). Google will tell you if any malware or other nasties have been detected in your site or in sites you link to within the past 90 days.

I got a clean bill of health for my website, but the tool also allows you to look at your shared IP hosting environment and get the same kind of data.

Google’s safe browsing tool reports many potential problems

When I analysed my shared web host environment, I found that 6134 sites in the same hosting network (Hawkhost) had “served malicious content” in the past 90 days. It also found that 261 sites on the same network “appeared to function as intermediaries for infection of other websites”. Finally, it told me that 347 hosted websites in my hosting network had actually infected 1407 other websites in the past 90 days! So I am definitely not hosted in a good IP neighbourhood.

Perhaps this is not as bad as it looks? Presumably this is not in my shared IP address space, but across all the IP addresses owned by Hawkhost, which is a pretty large hosting provider. But are any of these malware distributors sharing my IP address? That would be a concern.

YouGetSignal web neighbourhood report shows I do have bad neighbours

Using “http://www.yougetsignal.com/tools/web-sites-on-web-server/”, I am able to see that I share my IP address with 198 other websites. This is pretty heavy and might increase my risk of being penalised for the infringements of my neighbours (like to trying to be a good citizen in a council highrise). I can also see that at least one of my neighbours is apparently hosting explicit pornography and quite a few seem to be at the very least Exact Match Domain sites, which are currently on Google’s hit list.

Where to from here? Sorry, but I don’t really have the answer to that yet. I’d love to know how others are evaluating their “shared IP neighbourhood” and deciding if their web hosting environment or their inbound/outbound links are contributing to negative SEO.

There is a website called “websiteneighbors.com” that claims to test this for you, but it seems to also possibly be distributing malware so I’d stay away from that. MajesticSEO offers a “Neighbourhood Checker” tool which produces some interesting info covering the exact shared IP address and it’s broader subnet neighbours. But the free version only shows you 10 of each. Axandra.com also has a tool, but it was broken when I looked at it.

Is it an issue worth being concerned about? Are there tools which will tell us how serious the issue really is for our IP neighbourhood? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

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