SEO: Will Changing Servers Affect My Website’s Search Rankings?
If you’re planning to move your website to a different server, you might be wondering whether this hosting transition will affect your site’s search rankings. Google looks at hundreds of on-page and off-page signals when assigning search rankings. While no major search engine will penalize your website for changing servers, you may still experience a decline in search rankings under one or more of the following circumstances.
Incomplete Transfer of Files
When changing servers, you must move all your website’s files from the old server to the new server. Assuming your website’s code remains the same, any files you don’t move will be counted as a broken link. Your website’s code will still link to the file, but visitors won’t be able to access the file because it no longer exists. Failure to transfer an HTML file, for example, will result in a broken link on any pages linked to that file. Failure to transfer an image, on the other hand, will result in a broken image icon being displayed as a placeholder.
Search engines frown upon broken links. Each broken link drives down your website’s user experience a little further. As a result, changing servers can affect your website’s search rankings if you don’t transfer all the files.
New Geographic Location
Another instance in which a server change can cause your website’s search rankings to drop is when the new server is located in a different geographic area than the old server. Search engines will assess the location of your website’s server to determine the region or regions in which it ranks. Generally speaking, you should host your website on a server located in the region in which your target audience is located. If your website’s server is located in Canada, Google and Bing may increase its rankings for searches performed within Canada’s borders.
If you switch to a server located in a region outside of your website’s target audience, you may notice a drop in your search rankings and, therefore, less traffic originating from Google and Bing. Search engines may increase your website’s rankings for searches performed in the region where the new server is located while subsequently lowering its rankings for searches performed elsewhere.
Slower Loading Speed
While dozens of factors affect the time it takes visitors to load your website, few hold as much weight as the server on which it’s hosted. Servers are comprised of hardware, including CPUs, RAM and hard drives, that process the digital requests sent by your website’s visitors. When someone attempts to visit your website, his or her web browser will request your site’s files. The server will then process these requests by transmitting the appropriate files to the visitor.
Switching from a fast, high-powered server to a slow and weak server means it will take visitors longer to download your website’s files. Google’s algorithm has applied loading speed as a ranking signal for nearly a decade. According to Google, visitors don’t spend less time on slow-loading websites than on fast-loading websites, indicating a correlation between a website’s speed and its user experience. If you switch to a server that’s slower than your old server, it may cause shorter visits as well as lower search rankings.
Spam IP Address
When you change servers, your website will likely be assigned a different Internet Protocol (IP) address. Consisting of a string of numbers and periods, IP addresses are used to identify devices connected to the Internet, including servers. It’s not uncommon, however, for a single server to host a dozen or more websites, meaning all the websites on that server will have the same IP address.
Normally, sharing an IP address with other websites won’t have any ill effect on your site’s search rankings or performance. The only exception is if you are sharing an IP address with one or more spam websites. If a search engine flags a website as spam, it may impose a penalty on all websites sharing that site’s IP address, believing they too are engaged in spam. Unfortunately, this can result in legitimate websites being penalized. To avoid this scenario, you need a clean IP address with no current or past history of spam.
Increased Server Downtime
Finally, if the new server is down, whether for scheduled maintenance, technical problems or other reasons more frequently or for longer than the old server, your website’s search rankings may be affected. Search engines want to provide a positive experience for their users, which isn’t possible if their search results are filled with listings for inaccessible websites.
It’s normal for web hosting providers to occasionally take their servers offline, but this shouldn’t be a recurring activity. If the new server is frequently down, search engines may rank your website lower than other websites with less downtime.
How to Retain Search Rankings When Changing Server
The potential for lower search rankings shouldn’t stop you from changing servers. Maybe your website has outgrown its current server, or perhaps you’ve found a better deal with a different web hosting provider. Regardless, changing servers can help you achieve your online goals, and you can retain your site’s search rankings by following a few steps.
First and foremost, you must choose the right server for your website. Don’t base your decision on the cost alone. Rather, choose a server with high-powered hardware or a decent amount of allocated resources if it’s a virtual private server (VPS) located in the region of your website’s target audience. You should also choose a server with at least 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime as well as a dedicated IP address.
And during the actual hosting transition, be sure to transfer all your website’s files to the new server. You can typically copy and paste the entire contents of your website’s root directory to ensure all files transfer. If your website also has a database, you’ll need to migrate that separately. By taking these precautions, your website’s search rankings should hold steady and preserve your SEO.