What is a Bad Neighbor and why should you be concerned?

Bad Neighbor is actually a vague term referring to many situations, mostly with reference to shared web hosting. However, the term can also refer to a link to a “less than honorable” website. We are referencing the bad neighbors related to e-commerce websites hosted in a shared hosting environment.

Clearly there are a great many things to be concerned with regarding the other websites which share a server with you. I am going to point out some of the bigger pitfalls and give you some free tools to help determine your “neighborhood” so you can better manage your online store and business reputation.

Bad Neighbors Affecting Site Performance

This is really the most common issue for most site owners on shared web hosting. The issue is rather deep, but in essence some or many of the “other” websites hosted on the same server as your website can be very “load hungry”. Basically, other websites sharing the same server can cause your website to be slow or unresponsive by sucking up too much of the servers resources. Reputable hosting companies effectively monitor and manage resources and have rules in place regarding excessive usage to prevent overloading the servers Central Processing Unit (CPU)and Random Access Memory (RAM). The biggest problem is that most lack the proper data to actually police the load mongers and shut them down.

I recommend you monitor your own website response time including your mail server and secured https:// connections. Monitor.us has a great free performance tracking solution. The tracking and performance monitoring offered are quite robust and should suit this task perfectly. Set up your IP, domain, secured domain url and email server information. Leave it running and monitor your results. There are also a number of great applications available through the Apple App Store or Google Play.

When reviewing your results look for large spikes in response time and then associate the spikes with time of day. Obviously, too many spikes or less that 99% up time is considered unacceptable. But there’s more even data. What about that guy running a gigantic indexing script everyday at 5pm? This is the type of information you are seeking. Many times web hosts will respond by logging the abusive account and perhaps shutting them down when you report your findings, alas, sometimes not.

Bottom line: Up time of 99% or better, good response time and web host takes action upon abusive hosting neighbors.
If not, find a new web host- This is your business, right?

Sharing a Server with Spammers

This is a bigger issue than most ever realize. Did you know that EVEN if you have a dedicated IP address another website hosted on the same server can cause your own email to become blacklisted?

Yep, its true. You see your email runs through the server’s SPF, IP and mail server. Responses are communicated using the shared host server information even if you are using proper domain keys for you own email. The problem is not actually this process, but rather the ISP and web mail services who send unsuspecting IPs to the Realtime black-hole Lists (RBL), which is a DNS Blacklist.

So some companies we know are just too sensitive or reactionary with these issues. One example is the fiasco a year or so ago when ATT basically banned every domain based email address on the web. Don’t get me wrong, they were in fact trying to do something good. They just failed the execution of the entire thing, causing site owners and web hosts to go through a terrible re listing experience. Which to further add insult to injury was moderated by a velocity filter requiring that the same IP only submit 1 every hour. Pretty big deal when you have 10K sites to clear.

So how do you check if you or a neighbor is blacklisted?

Just pop the server IP in this blacklist checking tool and check the server, then you can even check individual IPs as well. If you find your IP, server IP or other IPs are in fact blacklisted, then you should report the issue to your web host to repair the problem and submit a IP removal request.

Neighbors with Bad Content

This is really a problem for site owners on shared hosting. What about the guy with adult content, malware, viruses or just plain crap spam sites hosted on the same server?

This is of genuine concern as even if you have a dedicated IP address you are very likely to have others hosted in the same C-Block as you. IP addresses are the addresses the unique numerical protocol used to access the Internet. Domain names are only associated with the IP addresses, like an Alpha numeric representation of the IP numerical address. IP addresses can be shared (same as the server IP) or dedicated (your own unique IP). If you use a shared IP address, there will be many websites that use the exact same IP address as your website.

This is an IP address structure for example. So if you have a dedicated IP address your IP as a whole is unique to your domain, BUT on a shared host you will still be sharing a c-class or c-block which is the third set of numbers above. Sharing a c class with bad neighbors can be extremely problematic for your own website and how the search engines treat it.

You can use this IP tool to check your own site’s IP for bad neighbors, however a dedicated IP will not show the others on the same box. So use this DNS tool to find the Host IP for your server and check it as well for bad neighbors. This will tell you if your neighbors appear to be hosting adult or otherwise illegal content. Many times you will just have to open a few up and have a look for yourself. Sites you find and are suspicious for malware or viruses can be checked using Google’s Malware Checker. Use this URL appended after the = with the domain name http://google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=domain.com. Once again you should report issues you find regarding the content your neighbors are hosting to your web host for resolution. If they have no rules regarding this type of damaging content, then finding another web host may very well be in order.

The right web host for your online store can make or break your business. Be tough, shop around and expect that your choice of web hosting treats your business as an important asset.

PRO-Webs original published June 2009by Melanie edited and updated for republication by Internet Market Consulting.