Why Do You Need an IP Address?
There are lots of things that can separate one hosting company from the rest. Unfortunately, since hosting services are often cloaked in both marketing catch phrases and indecipherable tech speak, it's often difficult to tell the difference between one hosting company and another. Nevertheless, when choosing a hosting company, there is one thing that just about everyone needs, few people ask for, and very few hosts offer: a dedicated IP address.
First, a quote:
"About 3% of all web sites 'own' a private IP number, with the remainder being on virtual, or name-based, servers. Although only 3% are dedicated IP's, we have seen that in many instances well over 90% of the top-50 results in the search engines are sites having dedicated IP numbers."
So, what exactly is an IP address? It's the numeric address which computers use to locate Web sites, servers and other computers throughout the Internet. If you're connected to the Internet, you have one. The Web site you're surfing has one.
Though IP Addresses work well for computers, most people would have a hard time finding there way around the Internet using seemingly random numeric sequences such as "188.8.131.52". For this reason, the domain name system was developed. Domain names like "c4.net" and "google.com" are more user friendly addresses. When we type these into the address bar of our browser, our computers look up the corresponding IP addresses for us.
Think of it like longitude and latitude coordinates. Though we could find our way across the country using longitude and latitude, we usually go by place names (e.g. Cape Cod, New York, and Interstate 95). However, when we ask MapQuest to give us directions from Cape Cod to New York, it's going to use longitude and latitude (among other things) to pick a route.
So, what does all of this have to do Web site hosting? It used to be the case that every Web site and computer on the Internet had its own addresses. However, as Internet growth exploded, IP addresses became a scarce commodity. It seems the original inventors of the IP address scheme didn't foresee a time when 4.29 billion IP addresses wouldn't be enough. Go figure.
Some clever people figured out ways of sharing IP addresses amongst multiple computers and multiple sites. As the quote above notes, only 3% of Web sites have their own, dedicated IP addresses. The rest have "virtual" IP addresses. This means that, unless you are hosted with c4.net, chances are that your site doesn't have its own IP address. There are several reasons, both technological and practical, why your Web site needs an IP address.
First, though the vast majority of applications connected to the Internet support virtual IP addresses, there are still a few browsers, search engines and tools that will not be able to see your site at all if it doesn't have a dedicated IP Address. However, this number is getting so low that it's not a reason in and of itself anymore.
There is strong evidence, such as in the quote above, that sites with a virtual IP address will have a difficult time getting to the top of the search engines. Of course, these numbers, though very convincing, are inconclusive. We simply don't know for sure that search engines weight sites on a dedicated IP address more than sites that share IP addresses. In fact, a Google engineer denied that virtually hosted sites were treated differently than sites with dedicated IP addresses. Nevertheless, the incongruity between that statement and the reality of the situation is overwhelming.
However, the most important reason to have your own IP address is that your site will not suffer the punishment meant for another site. If another Web site sharing your IP address sends spam, you will get blacklisted even if the spam didn't come from your domain. If a search engine determines that a site sharing your IP address is trying to artificially push its way to the top of the results, you will get dropped from the search engine with them.
c4.net has a strict anti-spam policy, so it is unlikely that any c4.net IP address would get blacklisted or remain blacklisted for very long. Nevertheless, we give every site its own IP address (both for mail and for Web) with even our basic hosting package. In fact, we believe we are the only hosting company in this region that does so -- the rest certainly don't advertise it if they do.
Unfortunately, differentiating between one host and another is very difficult. You can't always assume that the more expensive host will include features such as a dedicated IP address. However, you should be wary of hosting in the $15 or less range. Such hosts are usually taking short cuts, and spammers often target cheap hosting outfits. As tolerance for spam drops, the tolerance for collateral damage in the war against spam rises. This is just one of many reasons why your Web site needs its own IP address.