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How Web Hosting Affects Your SEO and How To Take Advantage Of It

written by Guest Blogger on June 30, 2011

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Many aspects of Web hosting affect SEO, from the choice of a backend like cPanel or Drupal, to server downtime, to shared hosting and geolocation. These four elements affect SEO to one degree or another, depending on the actions you take and don’t take. Let’s explore a few options in these categories, the upsides and downsides, and separate fact from fiction.

1. Choosing a Backend UI

Two of the most widely adopted backends are cPanel and Drupal, each with a following as diverse as that of the Linux and Mac operating systems. Most users choose to remain with either CMS out of habit or because of company policy, while a handful of vocal users religiously advocate one while staunchly opposing the other. What matters ultimately is the usefulness of a particular tool for specific circumstances; in this case, SEO.

A module named SEO Checklist is available for Drupal users. The latest stable release for version 6 is 3.0. The beta for version 7 was released May 27, 2011. This module is maintained by Volacci. The module contains a checklist of SEO-related tasks to accomplish, but does not perform these duties on your behalf. Another module named Vertical Tabs improves the interface of SEO Checklist, allowing you to expand and collapse portions of the checklist.

For cPanel users, there is SEO Tools, maintained by Attracta. Unlike the SEO Checklist for Drupal, this tool does more than make a checklist. It runs some checks, generates a dashboard report, and creates an XML sitemap. It can upload the XML sitemap to the search engines for you.

2. Effects of Server Downtime and Stability on SEO Efforts

When Googlebot tries to crawl your pages, but the site is down because of server issues, this impacts rank negatively. It only takes two occurrences before Google starts to lower a downed site’s rank. Google doesn’t know if the site saw any uptime between crawls, and that is bad news. A quick tip: In robots.txt, make sure there is no “Disallow:/” on pages you want indexed.

Server stability issues affect SEO. One technique used by malicious hackers who compromise Web servers is inserting Iframes into your pages to download malware onto visitors’ computers. Keep updated with the latest security patches, and check for such Iframes. Google’s Safe Browsing Diagnostic tallies downloaded malware, and this will harm your site’s rankings until the issue is resolved. Google’s resolution process is not very swift, so always keep on guard against tactics that could compromise your server.

Another stability issue is the improper use of redirects. Intermediate and hanging redirects can cause problems with rank as well. When moving several pages, Googlebot needs to encounter a 301 (moved permanently) code, and you can forward PageRank with basic HTML links. Also, try to avoid “hanging” redirects. This is when a URL issuing a 301 redirect points to a page giving a 404, or not found, response. Lastly, Bing especially doesn’t like redirect chains; i.e., from URL1 to URL2 to URL3, or the destination. Try to redirect in just one hop.

3. Shared Hosting and SEO – Fact vs. Fiction

A number of problems that arise in a shared hosting environment are not due to the shared hosting model per se, but to administrator choice. For example, 200 domains share the same server. The problems arise when every one of those sites crosslink to each other. That is suicidal in terms of SEO, even if the content of those sites is closely related enough to justify linking to each other. That may be unfair to those who have a legitimate reason to link those pages, but that’s just the way it is currently. This rule may change in the future.

The “bad neighborhood” argument has been around for a while. The premise is that if your website lives among spammy IPs on the same class C subnet, your rank is in danger. This isn’t entirely true, but you can use this tool to check your links at any time. Google and other search companies understand that shared hosting is a reality for a large number of people, and that condemning an entire subnet hurts only legitimate users. Why? Because, once penalized, the spammers will migrate to another subnet and continue their deeds. These “bad neighborhoods” shift among different IP addresses all the time. Penalizing the good websites along with those who flit about the system, as it were, is simply an ineffective method of rooting out spammers.

The Caffeine update Google released in June of 2010 added website speed and performance to ranking factors. Make sure the host you choose, or have chosen, can meet your website’s current traffic demands. Equally important is ensuring that your host provides the scalability that will meet future increased traffic needs. If the memory footprint of the CMSs and other processes on a shared IP is too much, then “premature end of file” errors pose a problem. Many shared hosting plans give you the option to increase memory, so that’s a good investment if you are happy with your current provider.

4. SEO and Geolocation

The argument that physical server location affects SEO states that if your site is hosted in one country, but targets the market of another country, this discrepancy impacts rank negatively. In other words, geolocation matters. Opposing arguments exist, but the truth is somewhere in the middle. You can give Google information about your site.

Two factors that Google uses in this regard are the website’s IP address and top level domain (TLD), unless you provide Google with specific information via Webmaster Tools. If your website’s TLD is country-coded (a ccTLD like .co.nz), Google relies on that instead of geolocation. If your website’s URL is international or generic, such as .com or .net, then location is indeed a factor.

To inform Google about the location of your website, open Webmaster Tools. Click on your website, then click Settings under Site configuration. Choose the option you desire in the section labeled Geographic target. Use the “Unlisted” option if you do not want your website to be associated with a specific geographic area.

One sure effect webserver location has on SEO is the “speed and performance” factors the Caffeine update added. You want to deliver content as fast as possible, so try not to host files on a slow server, no matter where it’s located.

This is a guest post by David Murton.

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