opinion

The Ins and Outs of IP Addresses: What Website Owners Should Know

The Ins and Outs of IP Addresses: What Website Owners Should Know

Think about your home address, the place you live. It is unique. That’s important because when you decide to invite someone over, they will need directions to find you. It’s even more important if you want a lot of visitors.

Your website’s IP (Internet Protocol) address is like your home address. Being numbered with an IP address means that the rest of the world — internet service providers, web surfers, potential clients, subscribers and fans — can route themselves across the globe via fiber optics and beam right to your website.

The distinction between shared and dedicated IP addresses carries significant implications for SEO, security and legal considerations.

Dedicated Versus Shared IP Addresses

Your IP address is assigned by your web hosting company. There are many different types of hosting accounts: dedicated servers just for your use, VPS (virtual private servers), cloud servers, shared hosting with “neighbors,” and other variations such as SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions. This wide range can obfuscate whether you have a shared or dedicated IP address. If you don’t know, simply ask your host.

Like shared hosting plans, SaaS solutions — think of Wix’s website builder or Shopify stores — usually share IP addresses with other website operators. Dedicated, VPS and cloud hosting traditionally assign you your own dedicated IP address or addresses, which may be shared by other websites that you own.

If you own multiple websites, you don’t need a different IP address for each, especially since there are associated costs and problems with availability. I’ll get into that more later.

Does it matter if you have a shared or dedicated IP address? Yes, in most cases it does.

When deciding which option you need, your primary consideration should be whether there is competing content residing on the same IP address, such as two different websites in the same niche. If you own two domains with duplicative content or intent, having them share an IP address might impact your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

Other considerations might include insulating your website from neighbors with negative behaviors such as unsolicited email origination, malware or hacked websites, as well as whether there are both adult and non-adult domains resolving to the same IP address. If there are, this may impact who can see your non-adult website in situations where filtering is in place, such as in-flight Wi-Fi, offices, libraries or devices with filtering enabled.

What Is IP Scarcity and How Does It Impact Business?

As mentioned above, using multiple IP addresses can incur costs and problems. One reason is IP scarcity.

When IP addresses were conceptualized in 1978, the world population was 4.29 billion. At that time, nobody imagined that 4,294,967,296 IP addresses — the number possible using the original 32-bit identifiers, known as IPv4 — wouldn't be enough. 

Our brightest nerds therefore came up with a technical solution: IPv6. It was rolled out in 2012, but for many technical reasons, it was not completely successful as a replacement, so IPv4 addresses continue to be important for website owners today.

Why does this matter? To support your various online ventures, you might want not just one but several dedicated IP addresses — but the unfortunate reality is that web hosts and cloud service providers have a finite supply of IPv4 address space. World governments and older companies control a lot of IP address space, leaving web hosts with an expensive resale market where acquiring IPs can cost them as much as $45 apiece, plus annual fees.

Because web hosts overall simply do not have a large inventory of IP addresses, many offer only one per customer, or require sharing IP addresses, or charge monthly fees of $1-10 per IP address.

Those owning dozens or hundreds of web properties must therefore consider how to source IP addresses, and whether a dedicated IP address for each is justifiable. 

Options for Hiding and Protecting IPs

Because websites are subject to DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks, hacking attempts and other malicious activities that could compromise their availability and integrity, website owners often use web application firewall (WAF) services like Cloudflare or MojoShield to hide their IP addresses. Routing traffic through a WAF masks the actual IP address of the server hosting the website, making it more challenging for attackers to target it. WAF services also provide additional benefits such as traffic filtering, automatic threat detection and blocking, thereby bolstering the website’s defenses against a wide range of cyber threats.

Unfortunately, these strategies can also cause problems for our industry community. Obfuscating IP addresses is very convenient for websites hosting content that might be in a legal gray area or subject to copyright disputes. Masking the server’s IP address makes it more difficult for parties to directly associate a website with a specific hosting provider or legal jurisdiction, which can complicate efforts to enforce DMCA takedown notices or similar regulatory actions.

That is why, as a host who respects copyrights and regularly fights for content owners and producers, recommending WAF usually gives me heartburn. But it can be necessary, helping to protect against abusive behavior plaguing websites’ join forms, for instance. For more users, however, a smart combination of choosing a host with DDoS protection along with CDN (content delivery network) service is adequate.

If you do opt to use a WAF service, then the question of dedicated versus shared IP addresses will not matter so much, because nobody will know where your website is hosted except your WAF provider. Just remember that they can have outages or de-platform clients, if they wish, so this does make your WAF a single point of potential business or technical failure.

Navigating the IP Address Landscape

The distinction between shared and dedicated IP addresses carries significant implications for SEO, security and legal considerations. The evolving scarcity of IPv4 addresses adds another layer of complexity, prompting strategic decisions regarding IP cost and assignment. Meanwhile, WAF services offer ways to mask IP addresses, balancing security concerns with potential drawbacks.

My goal in this article has been to provide a basic primer on these issues so that you, as a website owner, can make practical decisions for your online business. By staying informed and proactive, you can manage these choices for yourself. However, navigating these complexities requires a nuanced understanding tailored to your needs, which can vary quite a lot from the needs of the next business owner. So if you get lost along the way or would like expert feedback, don’t hesitate to seek out a pro.

Brad Mitchell is the founder of MojoHost and has served the adult industry since 1999, winning 19 XBIZ awards for corporate and professional excellence. He serves on the boards of Pineapple Support and ASACP and enjoys sharing his industry experience with everyone. XBIZ readers may contact brad@mojohost.com anytime.

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