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

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, 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.

71 thoughts on “How Web Hosting Affects Your SEO and How To Take Advantage Of It”

  1. Graham Lutz says:

    I’ve always thought the “bad neighborhood” thing was a bit elementary for googles algorithms. I figure they are a bit more sophisticated than that.

    1. PPC Ian says:

      I agree. I think the author makes a really great point that bad neighborhoods can move and that a good site on a shared server shouldn’t get penalized.

      1. Kevin Kimes says:

        Google does use a number of techniques for ranking which can be unfair to many innocent folks. If you manage to “appear” too similar to anyone they’ve banned before, you’re doomed. They will assume you’re that person trying to circumvent the banning.

      2. Virtual Tour says:

        Great response to this. I think this is something not many people cover.

  2. Mark Chauvin says:

    I have an issue with the wording of the first paragraph of point #1. It says,

    First cPanel and Drupal are not the same thing. cPanel is a *nix GUI for hosting account management. Drupal is the PHP based CMS application that is your website. So to say that they are both backends is not correct. Also, Mac and Linux are very similar in the underpinnings.

    However, I do agree that when you compare CMS’s such as Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. Each has their rabid fanboys. I, in fact, was a rabid Joomla fanboy, until I started experimenting with WordPress. It just depends on your needs.Just depends on how much do you want to get under the hood. WP=Oil? Im supposed to change the oil?; Joomla!=So, how many HP’s that there engine have?; Drupal=You should check out the huge cam I just put into the hemi!

    1. Mark Chauvin says:

      oops forgot to close the quote thingy. . . . 😉

        1. Kevin Kimes says:

          The paragraph in question seems internally conflicted. The bullet point mentions backend UI, which cPanel is, and drupal is not. Then CMS is brought up, and the references are reversed, but still don’t fit.

          So, whether Mr. Murton is talking about a CMS or a backend interface, the comparison is akin to one between ASUS and Intel, rather than AMD and intel or ASUS and Gigabyte.

          If one were using Drupal in a cPanel environment, they could probably utilize both of those tools mentioned, since they work at different levels.

    2. Kirk Taylor says:

      John, would you chime in on this one? The Drupal/CPANEL doesn’t add up to me. Why would I use the automated installer inside CPANEL just like I would with other CMS’s that I have used (Joomla and WordPress)?

      Why would I go into CPANEL and any other SEO functions when they can be performed easily with quality plugins that are proven (Work extremely well for me and obviously you”John”) inside WordPress?

      Looking forward to your thoughts John… Too many people are left scratching their heads based on what the author wrote.


      1. Kirk Taylor says:

        First paragraph above: Why would I use the automated installer inside CPANEL to install Drupal like I do with WordPress and Joomla? I don’t see Drupal and CPANEL as performing the same functions.

        Additionally, You don’t need to use CPANEL to install Joomla or WordPress, I’m assuming the same with Drupal. Still, I use it because it’s so damned easy to do!


  3. elenalee says:

    Nice info given about Web hosting

  4. Abhik says:

    Awesome writeup, David.

  5. KitKupon says:

    There is a food to think about of after reading this and make some changes. I don’t remember that John pointed it out in “Learn How I Went From Zero To $40,000” book
    please correct me if I’m wrong 🙂

    1. May be these are latest updates and John will add these points in his part II book.

      1. Kevin Kimes says:

        Is he writing another edition of that book? There are indeed some out-of-date items in there.

        1. And he is still getting new subscriber by offering that old book …

          John … time to re innovate it.

  6. Sadia Komal says:

    My 2 websites got PR 4 in recent google pr update but I missed google PR update for one of my website due to server down time (did goodSEo then others), agreed hosting really effect SEO

    1. Yes and for that reason we and John also recommend Hostgator as hosting service provider.

      1. Sadia Komal says:

        My 5 websites are already hosted on hostgator :), have plan to move all of them

        1. Great Sadia … Move them to Hostgator … This is certainly one of the best hosting service provider at the moment.

          1. Graham Lutz says:

            I’m loving Hostgator! I’ve got some there and some on BlueHost. Hostgator just seems to work better, the cpanel is quicker, phone and online support is better. HG is just all around awesome

          2. PPC Ian says:

            I’m really happy with HG. My blog is on HostGator VPS thanks to John’s recommendation.

          3. Kevin Kimes says:

            I know this site is a hostgator fan club, but I can also recommend Liquid Web as a great host.

            I use their Storm on Demand product, which is fantastic for those getting started. You can start with the smallest configuration, and with a few clicks upgrade to more power. Add memory, CPU cores, disk space instantly, without any need to wait for a transfer to a new piece of hardware. You can also downgrade as needed, so you could temporarily upgrade to handle a traffic surge, and move back down to save money.

          4. @ Kevin

            These are some cool features.

            Hostgator is using perfect marketing and with that they are also providing quality service. So success is quite obvious.

            Thanks Kevin for providing other name “Liquid Web” for hosting.

  7. You are comparing Drupal a CMS with cPanel, a control panel for managing server and accounts on the server?

    1. Kevin Kimes says:

      That seems to be the question we astute readers have, and this author should come and answer us. 🙂

      With a mistake this big, it seems there might be plenty of room for skilled guest authors here on John Chow dot com.

  8. Thor says:

    Wow, this is very helpful. I’m learning new things each day. Thank you for this great article. By the way, cPanel works fine for me so far.

  9. d3so says:

    I was confused with the cpanel and drupal comparison as well.
    My pr is now a 3!

    1. seems to me that PR 3 is google favourite in this PR update.

    2. PPC Ian says:

      Nice work, d3so! That is great news on your PR!

    3. Kevin Kimes says:

      My PR still zero, but my Alexa ranking jumped up into the 6 digit area (it was well over a million a week ago). Getting somewhere, I suppose. 🙂

      1. Keep providing awesome and useful content and this will be dropped to 5 figure mark.

        And let me tell you … you got potential Kevin.

  10. Add to the to do list…… consider changing webhosts…..

    1. Graham Lutz says:

      Go to HostGator

      1. Are they really that much better than everyone else?

        1. Kevin Kimes says:

          I have a hard time recommending anything but Liquid Web or their Storm on Demand subsidiary.

  11. Sometime webhost affects a lot in seo

  12. Netpaths says:

    Thanks for the posting about web hosting tips.

  13. That is very interesting topic and tips are great to explore the relationship between the web hosting and search engine optimization.

    1. PPC Ian says:

      Agreed! Another tip: Search engines care about site speed. As a result, its important to consider a hosting program that is fast. I prefer VPS hosting, for example, versus shared, especially once a site passes 1,000 visitors per day.

      1. Kevin Kimes says:

        Tip 2: Use the “W3 Total Cache” WordPress Plugin (as John recommends). Makes your WP site super quick.

  14. Needy information, Thank’s for writing.

  15. Thank’s John for sharing really important information.

  16. Very important information. Thank’s John for Writing.

  17. Please do let me know more about VPS service. It seems cool to me

  18. what about dedicated ips? they say that they can help with seo.

    1. Kevin Kimes says:

      I’d say it’s best to have your own IP address. That means get away from shared hosting, use a VPS or similar, or a full dedicated server. Most VPS and any dedicated will give you your own IP address.

  19. fas says:

    Google needs to change its algorithm big time.

  20. I think the “bad neighborhood” is affecting my website, this is really an interesting article

  21. Louie Sison says:

    Very awesome post sir. I learn a lot from this very article.

  22. fazal mayar says:

    tremendous post, i think that authority website shouldnt be penalized on a shared hosting server at all.

  23. SEO is taking shift now a day after google has made some significant changes to its search engines. This has enhanced the competition of the internet marketers with more emphasis on quality contents.

  24. Interesting post, especially the part about Shared Hosting and SEO and the link exchange between sites with same ip. Thanks!

  25. Great Article, Thank’s again.

  26. Really helpful article, Thank’s.

  27. hosting should be 24*7 supported so that make sense

  28. Paul B says:

    This has the stink of a badly researched $6 Textbroker article about it. But I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as you’re pumping out that “unique” content.

  29. Liem Saty says:

    nice sharing, but can you say that this time I use the services of Justhost. whether it qualifies as the reviews you john?

  30. Pangeran says:

    I can’t help but to praise this useful post.

    I once have a problems with my web host where my website disappear from SERP and when I check at Google Webmaster’s Tools all my urls are giving Time Out error.

    After resolving with my webhost, my pages appear at SERP again.

  31. Virtual Tour says:

    Having your hosting provider in the country you’re trying to rank for is a very large factor! Thanks for the great post!

  32. Yeah i am completely agree with you,this is an helpful article,i always prefer to SEO,
    I appreciate your hard work and this very informative post.

  33. I want to thank you for this great post,I will surely be back again to look at some other significant posts that you have in future.

  34. choosing the right hosting its the main thing

  35. Kevin Kimes says:

    Ideally, SEO will eventually go away. At the least, it will become much less useful as search engines get better.

    Sorry to all you folks working as SEO experts, but it’s really an unintended side effect of how Internet search works. SEO is not really supposed to exist. In the perfect situation, sites would be ranked on their usefulness alone.

    The problem is, we have a very hard time “teaching” computers to figure out what we want. IBM’s Watson was a great example of what the future of Internet search might have in store.

  36. we must have an option of choosing the hosting plans some plans will not work

  37. The website speed is an important factor seo wise and usability wise. A fast, speedy website is always the best

  38. Forex News says:

    Awesome writeup, David.

  39. Forex News says:

    Nice work, d3so! That is great news on your PR!

  40. Forex News says:

    That is very interesting topic and tips are great to explore the relationship between the web hosting and search engine optimization.

  41. Google will be considering the hosting of the website its necessary to have an good hosting for our site

  42. I have used Drupal for several years now and have been very happy with it. While the blogging platform is not for the beginner, the rest does a good job. One takeaway I had was the careful selection of the theme. Some are very resource intensive and can slow down the site. A good theme can make all the difference.

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