New website owners seldom think about the importance of their server in regards to search engine optimization. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of building a website and it can get you into deep trouble if you don’t consider the options soon enough.
You have may have heard warnings about linking to bad neighborhoods. All that really means is that the server you are on is critical in terms of who you may be (often unknowingly) associated with.
Most new website owners, and many veteran site owners, go with the cheapest hosting plans they can find. This could be hurting you. Those cheap hosting plans are often shared hosting plans, which means that you share the server with several other websites. Do you know what those websites are? Chances are, no. And your web host likely isn’t going to tell you. So what can you do?
One thing you can do is go for a more expensive hosting plan and host your site on a dedicated IP. That will ensure that you don’t end up on a server with bad sites or spammy neighbors. You should also consider your site’s security. If it is easily hacked then you might become that “bad neighbor”. The horror stories are growing, but there are plenty of websites that have been hacked and used as a haven for spam, ruining their own chances of becoming a good neighbor themselves.
Finally, ensure that you examine the sites carefully that you do link to. One of the things that often gets website owners into trouble is just linking to a site that they think is cool without really examining where that site links to and what they offer. Has that site been hacked? Does it lead to bad neighborhoods?
Even if you do all of the above, you could still end up on a server with a site that is bad. And it could hurt your reputation with the search engines even if you aren’t linking to the other site. If there are several bad sites on your server then your site could get lumped in with those other sites. If a search engine bans an IP block or penalizes a complete block of IPs then your site could be affected. If you see a sudden drop in PageRank and you know that you’ve done nothing wrong, that could be the case. Move your site to another host or ask for a dedicated IP and see if that fixes your problem.