A favorable Google search rank placement is good for business. The higher up the list you go for a specific search term, the more likely it is that someone will visit your site and buy your products and services. Of course, you can pay for Google Adwords to get on the first page of Google, but the holy grail is getting on the first page without significant investment.
In a bid to achieve this goal, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts have looked at every aspect of Google search in a bid to deconstruct its algorithm and figure out exactly how it works, and what exactly is and isn't beneficial as far as getting up the rankings are concerned. Over recent years there has been considerable discussion regarding the impact of IP addresses as far as SEO is concerned. Specifically, the SEO community have debated to what extent changing your IP address has on SEO.
What is an IP address?
An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a number - it's a 4-number code that looks like this: 188.8.131.52, or something similar. Each number in the address has three digits which start at 0 and can go up to 255. All computers and servers have their own IP addresses if they are connected to the Internet - that includes your PC and laptop and other mobile devices (tablets, etc.).
An IP address identifies each device and differentiates it from other devices. This is necessary as the IP address facilitates devices being able to connect and distribute data between each other. The Internet would not be able to function without IP addresses.
So what does this have to do with my website?
As we mentioned earlier, all devices that are connected to the Internet have IP addresses including the server that hosts your website. This server is usually managed by the web host you have a web hosting account with, unless of course, if you have your own machine. If for any reason you have to change your web host - because your site is too big for the account you have or you are not happy with your web host's service - you have to change web hosts, and that, of course, means that you need to change your website's IP address.
So what's the problem with changing IP addresses?
Obviously, people want to get their websites as high up Google's ranking as possible, and to do this they generate links from other website, they tidy up their text so it is Search Engine Optimized, and employ a huge range of techniques designed to get Google's notice. The fear is that all of that activity is generated around a single IP address, and the concern is that if you change IP addresses, you are in effect 'starting again' as far as Google is concerned?
Do you start again with Google if you change IP addresses?
While Google gives precious little feedback on this issue (as they do with other issues that impact SEO), the SEO community is split between two hostile camps who believe that changing an IP address is virtual suicide as far as SEO is concerned, and others that suggest it have very little impact.
Fortunately, some bigger companies that changed their IP addresses logged the impact of the change, and most of these 'studies' suggest that changing IP addresses isn't as serious as some people suggest. Generally, the web hosting foot soldiers on the ground - people like me and you - suggest the same thing... beyond a few issues, the impact is nominal.
What do you mean by 'beyond a few issues'?
Many of the issues caused by changing IP addresses are more related to changing webhosts rather than SEO per se. For instance, if you are in the United States, and your customers are in the United States, but you move to a cheaper server in Asia, that might impact your Google rank.
If a server is on the other side of the world, then access to a website will be slower, and speed of access is one element Google uses to determine the quality of 'user experience' - a key element used by Google now to determine search rank. In addition, if that cheap hosting package on the other side of the world is cheap because the web host uses inferior hardware and network connections, this again will impact access speeds and rank.
Worst of all, perhaps that dirt cheap web host can offer such special prices because they install all manner of malware on your website. This sort of problem can completely remove your website from Google's rankings. More importantly, don't mess up your migration! if for whatever reason your site is down because you didn't manage the IP address migration process, the longer your site is down, the more the potential impact.
How do you change IP addresses without any problems?
Before you change IP addresses - and that means web hosts or servers - add some pages to your new account before the full migration takes place. This will let Google know the account is active and going to be used. Some people suggest that you keep your website content on both your old account and your new account for a limited period.
When you change your DNS to the new server, reduce TTL timeouts to around 4-5 minutes. Keep an eye on what is happening with the traffic to your two accounts. When the old account has nominal levels of traffic going to it, you can assume the change has taken place and traffic is being sent to the new destination. At that point you can jettison your old account safely.
Others suggest a more staged transition - rather than move all of your website over, move key sub-directories one at a time and examine how Google responds to the move through your ranking. Either way, key is keeping an eye on what is happening - there is no use getting a new account and transferring everything if for some reason Google isn't picking up on the change.
Changing web hosts - and therefore IP addresses - is very often the sort of thing your new web host will help you with. Obviously, they benefit from a smooth migration, so ask them for their help. If you transfer all your files, etc. in good time, and avoid downtime, you can rest assured that changing IP addresses in itself will have nominal impact on your search rank position.