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SEO implications of changing your web host

The SEO implications of a website hosting move

This is a useful question - how exactly will moving to a new host affect your site? In general, web page addresses and most other factors remain the same when changing hosts. This means that implications for search optimising are reduced to zero in most cases. However, it is possible that there will be a change in one or more of the factors that affect search - and therefore a search engine's reaction to changes at your website - and so we'll work through the list of those factors.

These are the areas to consider:

Server configurations
URL changes
IP change
Domain name
Host change
Physical location
Search engine reaction
Check off all items in SEO hosting list (Part 1)
DNS changeover speed
SEO implications
Additional points: email

And in addition:
SEO implications of changing domain name
Multiple sites on the same server

Server configurations
We have to assume that the website is being moved to a host with equal or better servers in the areas of server outages, server speed, facilities, and support. If by some chance these factors worsened, then search success might be affected.

When changing hosts, assuming that the URLs (web page addresses) will stay exactly the same, you won't lose your links. A typical URL on your site might be in the form of:

This page address would be identical when you move, and therefore there is no negative impact.

Again, you won't lose any PR if your URLs stay exactly the same. Note that exactly means precisely that: even the smallest change will mean the address is different.

URL changes
If your site's page addresses change for some reason, then depending on the scale, you will lose out. It depends on precisely why the URLs would change. If a root directory address changes, then every URL on the site will change - and that's bad. You lose everything, the whole shebang. On the other hand a simple htaccess redirect will fix that - so no need to worry.

If some URLs will change, but not others, then you should redirect the old pages to the new pages with a 301 (permanent) redirect in htaccess. If you do this, then the backlinks to the page will keep working, and the PR will transfer to the new page (this takes time but eventually transfers across).

Note that search engines don't like a chain of redirects. The critical number is two, so that if you redirect from old page to new page, that's one hit. If you then want to redirect for another reason, perhaps to do with your CMS internal workings (which often affects the index page URL), or because you want to change the page title or something - that's two hits and you're out: you can't do that. They really don't like it. In some cases (with some applications, in some circumstances) if you redirect from a raw dynamic URL to a SEF URL that will count as an iteration as well. There are cases where you will escape with two redirects - but three is most definitely out.

IP change
Your IP will change, even if you have your own dedicated IP at present. IPs are not (normally) transferable between hosts. However, this is of no consequence as the domain name is much more important.

If you currently share an IP, but on moving will gain a unique IP, then in some circumstances you will receive an SEO boost.

There are huge numbers of people who will argue this, both for and against - including the search engine operators, who would most likely deny any effect - but we can show you the results. In any case, for a cost of $20 or thereabouts, you'd have to be mad not to take a punt.

Domain name
Your domain name is independent from your hosting. A domain is best retained separately at a domain registrar. Then, you simply point the DNS at whichever host you wish. If by some chance you were unaware that domains should not be held by your host, then when you come to move you may well find problems; though these will not be in the SEO area.

Physical location
Assuming the host is in the same country, there is no effect due to a move. If the host is in a different country, that is an entirely different matter - there will certainly be an SEO implication here. It may be that the hosting is being changed for this very reason, in order to improve matters.

A website should normally be hosted in the same region the business operates in. Therefore, if you are not hosted in the geotargeted location currently but intend to move your hosting there, the website SEO will definitely receive a boost. And vice versa of course.

Search engine reaction
The reaction from search engines, when all factors remain the same except the IP and the name of the host, is zero. If there are changes to other factors, then the nature of those changes will affect the SEs' reaction.

Check off the points on the SEO hosting list
In addition, of course, you will need to check off all items in SEO Hosting 1. Those items clearly set out what you need from a host.

It is reasonable to expect that this will be a good time to make changes. Try to make these for the better, not for the worse. However, this is a very bad time to do any testing - or for making changes that you need to look for a reaction to, for site tuning - as it may be difficult to pull the result out from the background noise.

DNS changeover speed
There is a wide variation in the speed that your new IP will be recognised when the DNS is changed over to point toward it. This is called propagation - the new IP needs to propagate through the network, and be available at all the domain name servers. This process is automatic once started but can take place quickly or slowly.

With a good domain registrar, the transfer can occur within 5 minutes. Less efficient domain registrars have an extended timeframe to input changes into the system. Google will see your domain change within 15 minutes if you are with a good registrar.

As far as the rest of the network goes, it's down to individual DNS server owners, especially ISPs. OpenDNS will have the changes almost instantly. Local ISPs can take up to 3 days to show DNS changes.

Therefore if you are with a good registrar and use OpenDNS on your router, then you will commonly see a DNS change almost instantly, and almost always within 15 minutes. However there will be occasional glitches that extend this to 2 hours.

With some registrars, and if using a local ISPs default DNS IPs in your router, you might find it takes up to 3 days to see a DNS change, although the average is 12 hours. Since the DNS service provision of your ISP affects the result you see locally - they provide the DNS server setup for your own router - you will see a 'localised' version of the world DNS situation. This is no good for webmasters (or SEO consultants) of course, and so we recommend that you delete your router's ISP-installed, ISP-hosted DNS server addresses and install a real DNS service. This also has the advantage that you will avoid the sort of advertising-based rubbish results that ISPs are now introducing on their DNS service. Go to this web page:

...and follow the instructions. Go back one page for specific router instructions if you are not technically able. Go back two pages to see more options. Because OpenDNS changes their website arrangements occasionally, you might be better off simply with the OpenDNS server IPs:

[copy the first IP to the 3rd slot, to avoid the 'OpenDNS workaround' scam that some ISPs employ, where they remotely fill slot 3 and then use that instead of the first two slots, to try and ensure you see their ads]

Just replace the ISP-installed ones in your router with these. Make a note of the old ones before you delete them. These servers are updated lightning-fast and have new DNS data the instant it is available. Sometimes your ISP ones are 3 days behind.

Be advised that Google will have your new IP within an hour or less, irrespective of the time it takes to filter down through the rest of the network. They will be spidering the new IP much sooner than you think. This may affect the way you arrange some matters. For example you need to be running live on both IPs or you will get 404s, which you don't want.

After a maximum of one week you must switch off the old site - you can't have duplicate sites running (even though the old site is theoretically invisible). Don't be tempted to run one site on a .com domain, another on a national domain (such as .co.uk) - that will count as a duplicate site. You must redirect the additional domain. Your SEO consultant will explain this - and check that your site hosts have set this up correctly, as they often don't. It's yet another reason why you never let hosts hold domains, as you need to be able to check the DNS configs yourself. It is no good allowing hosts to do this just because it is Greek to you - it is beyond some of them too, and they will sabotage you with Google.

SEO implications

It's fairly clear, then, that if the new hosts are very similar then it's all much of a muchness. Nothing changes enough to worry about, and the impact on search optimising is zero.

The most likely factor to affect website hosting SEO when moving is the location, if the host is in a different country. If your page addresses (URLs) have to change, there is usually a way to mitigate this by redirects. An htaccess file can contain several thousand lines if necessary, for a short time at least - although this is certainly not good practice.

Other points:
Lastly, don't forget your email. This is an important part of a site's function, though many forget this subject when planning a move. All holders of email addresses on the site domain will have to reset their email clients for the new access details (and ditto for FTP). Don't arrange anything for the time of the move that involves detailed email conferencing - things might be delayed here.

Test your new email server by sending test messages to and from it. After the changeover, access your old email server via webmail and get any last messages off it (by this time you will most likely have changed your email client access details to the new server, so you may not be able to use POP3 easily). Also check everyone's old accounts there before you shut down and wipe the server.

SEO implications of changing domain name

The answer here is very different to the previous one: essentially, if you change your domain name, you lose everything and there are few ways to mitigate it.

The domain name is the business; it is the license to operate a website in that name; and it is the identifier that search engines know you by. If you lose it or change to another, you may be starting from scratch again.

There are two ways of looking at this:
  • 1: It's a disaster and all is lost.
  • 2: We can start out with a better name and concentrate on regaining our position; long term prospects should be better.
Starting with viewpoint (1), it's hard to argue - you'll be starting from Day 1 again. Page rank transfers to new pages that are redirected to, but loses some value across domains. There is a value transferred but not normally a direct equivalent. Also, you completely lose other domain factors such as TrustRank, which cannot transfer across domains.

That is why everything possible should be done to protect your domain name. Of course, if it was a bad choice in the first place, then you might well be better off rid of it. The domain name is a vitally important part of the SEO equation; and the points you can pick up by choosing the right one are normally lost, because that's far in the past by the time you come to speak to an SEO advisor.

So as far as (2) goes - you may be right. If the name was wrong and holding you back, then by all means start from scratch again if it means that long term prospects are better. Ideally, the old domain will be linked to the new one, so some benefit may be transferred. There are ways of managing links and redirects in this situation for maximum benefit. Sometimes, of course, the old domain name (and therefore any kind of web presence) has been relinquished for some reason; here, you really do have to start from scratch.

Another valid point is that the PageRank versus Page Relevancy seesaw that determines a webpage's SERPs position may be weighted toward page relevancy, at any given search engine. That is to say if your pages are good, links are less important with that SE. If your site is really good - and fully deserving of the position - you can place at #1 on the largest search engine within three months, ethically, and stay there.
We have proved this and don't have anything to lose by stating this openly, as it is easily checked. In very tough markets it would be optimistic to hope for such a high position - but page 1 is certainly possible. In effect this means that a domain name change (especially if an improvement), when combined with first class search optimising skill, might only impact a few months' operational results.

Securing a rapid high position in the SERPs for a new domain is not a cheap option since a lot of time needs to be expended on optimising. There are no shortcuts here because this task demands skill and manhours (and also the freedom to develop the site to its maximum potential, which is not always easy to get).

Again, a PageRank of PR4 is achievable within 6 months, and this will allow you to compete strongly in many markets, provided the site is optimised correctly.

You could therefore take the view that, with sufficient funds available to improve the website beyond the normally-expected level for a new site, then good results are achievable quite rapidly. Especially with the new, improved domain name.

Normally, the last thing you would want to do is change your domain name; but nevertheless there can be one or two compelling reasons for doing so.

SEO implications of multiple sites on the same server

This is an issue that concerns the owners of dedicated servers who have several websites on the same server.

The answer to this question is quite simple: do you mind that search engines know that the sites all belong to you? If not then it doesn't matter. If it does figure for some reason, then you would need to distribute your sites physically. The same applies if the sites are on a different server but still with the same host, as the C-block IP section is likely to be the same. Search engines assume that sites with similarities of some sort, on the same C-block IP, belong to the same owner.

Here is an example IP:  This can be split into A.B.C.D blocks. If two sites have the first three blocks identical, they are said to share C-blocks.

If you want to avoid this form of link, you could take measures to avoid it. However you should bear in mind that if you start to engage in activities such as this, you are probably crossing the line from white-hat to grey, or possibly beyond, and the consequences of failure are quite severe. There are many ways to connect sites with owners, and you would have to be very sure you'd covered all the bases - so it is hard to advise such a course of action. In particular you will lose your TrustRank, if discovered, and that would be difficult to replace.

For instance, when we write a new page - on virtually any subject - it goes straight in at Google #1, just two weeks or so after publication. As an example, at the time of writing this additional paragraph (mid-February 2009), we just published a page on January 28th titled 'SEO Legal Requirements'. On February 11th, two weeks later, that page was at G.com #1. If we don't link to it then it will gradually slide down the SERPs. This demonstrates the factors we call NewsBoost + TrustRank.

Mostly we don't bother to link or promote it - but there may be times when that is a very useful thing to have. We certainly wouldn't like to lose the ability to do that and so such ploys as 'distributing' sites are not really in the mix.

You would only need to worry about sites being connected in this way if you are running a microsite network or an interlinked site network. Both of these are expressly prohibited by all search engines, so unless you are willing to take big risks then this area isn't something you should be investigating. There are other, honest areas to spend your time and money that will bring reliable gains. However this does not prevent you having one or two different brands under your own name of course. For example if you have two types of product that need promoting under different brands (and therefore the sites have different content), then this is not an issue. It becomes one when you expand that to multiple sites. A parallel site of this type might be expected to be interlinked, and on the same C-block - and in any case there is no point in trying to obfuscate that in some way. Problems would occur if you tried to run an interlinked site network. Such things are fairly obvious in most cases and if you had them on the same C-block IP then even more so.

The best advice we can give you is this: if you are at the stage where you need to ask what a C-block IP is, then don't set up more sites to plug your main one. Don't do that in any case. If you cannot yourself improve your site and its search results, then find the best people you can afford to do it for you. If you can't afford to do that, and don't know how to do it yourself - then why exactly do you think you ought to top the SERPs?
Web Business Managers