Inexpensive shared hosting is wonderful when you’re starting out, if you find the right hosting company. Unfortunately, it also increases your risk of having your site show up on a ban list for malware, even if that malware isn’t actually on your site.
Having visitors warned that your site may host malicious software is NOT a good way to get more traffic…
Why Shared Hosting Increases The Chance Of Your Website Being Blacklisted
Here’s what happens. When you buy shared hosting, your website files are on a portion of a server that is also shared with many other websites. If those other websites aren’t diligent about website maintenance or updates, or use poor security hygiene such as weak passwords, they can get infected with malware AND you can be associated by proximity. This becomes worse if your shared hosting company crams too many
How To Find Your Website’s IP Address
Your website is associated with an IP address. If you don’t know what that address is, you can use a free web tool to find out. Just go to https://www.ultratools.com/tools/ipWhoisLookup and enter your domain name, and the IP address associated with your domain name comes up.
Unfortunately, with shared hosting, that same IP address can be associated with many other sites. Just one or two sloppily maintained or insecure websites can put you in a “bad neighborhood” when it comes to getting blacklisted for malware or spam.
How To Find Out If Your Website Is Blacklisted
Today I used the new GravityScan tool to check on some of my sites. Sure enough, one of my oldest sites (not this one!) was showing that it had been blacklisted by three sites.
While one was a false positive, and no longer showed my site as a problem, the other two weren’t so happy. It is possible to get warnings that aren’t serious… the free GravityScan tool is provided by a company that sells malware removal, after all. However, it’s a really useful scan, and tells you what to do next when you get a spam warning that your website has been blacklisted:
You don’t want to necessarily call and give them money yet. See the click “here” link? Go to the site that is reporting the issue and check both your domain name and IP address there. Putting in your site name isn’t enough – you need to check whether EITHER the name (such as outcomemarketing.com) or the IP associated with that name are blacklisted. I mentioned above how to find your website’s IP address.
When I looked at my site’s IP on http://www.abuseat.org, I got details about the problem, and clear instructions that it was beyond my power to fix. I needed to call the hosting company to get them to clean up the offending neighbor site. I’ve obscured the offending site, but here’s the relevant part of the very detailed report I received:
“If you do not recognize the hostname www.xxxxxxx-xxxx.com as belonging to you, it means that some other account on this shared hosting site has been compromised, and there is NOTHING you (or we) can do to fix the infection. Only the administrator of this machine or the owner of www.xxxxxxx-xxxx.com can fix it.”
What To Do If You Are Blacklisted Because Of Shared Hosting
I called my hosting company, and they were surprised that I could give them the exact name of the offending site on my shared hosting, but promised to clear up the issue within 24 hours.
I also ran a check of my WordPress site with the free WordFence malware scan to make sure I hadn’t picked up anything contagious from my unsavoury neighbor. Unfortunately, shared hosting puts you at a bit more risk of catching malware. It’s important to be vigilant about website updates such as WordPress versions, themes and plugins when on shared hosting.
Why Is My Website Traffic Down?
Then I remember that one of my clients had mentioned that her traffic was down, rather inexplicably. She thought it was a new plugin she’d added, but I didn’t think so, so I did a GravityScan run on her site. Sure enough… She’s on the same three blacklists. Although she’s on a different server, she’s on the same shared hosting company, so I wasn’t really surprised.
Upgrading Web Hosting
Since her business is growing quickly, I think it’s time for her to get on a semi-dedicated server or managed WordPress plan. It’s a little more expensive, but when the loss of a single client can cost you hundreds of dollars, it pays for itself quickly. Shared hosting can be okay in some cases for a new business just starting out, but when the revenues start to roll in, it’s time to upgrade.
Be aware that managed WordPress can limit your options in terms of the plugins and even themes you use, and is generally for one site only. However, everything is normally kept up to date for you, which can save you on maintenance costs. If you’re looking to host more than one site, semi-shared hosting could be a better choice for you. There’s still a small risk of a “bad neighbor”, but because these plans cost a little more, they tend to attract more professional businesses who take site updates seriously.
Website speed is also a huge factor in getting traffic and conversions – and inexpensive entry-level shared hosting can be pretty slow. No amount of speed-tuning a website makes up for a server that takes too long to respond at all.
My client needs to find a hosting company that is diligent about PHP updates (the one we’re on is notorious for running out-of-date software on their servers). GravityScan also told me that the hosting company we’re using is running PHP 5.4.19 software that has 77 known vulnerabilities… and is not even supported any more. WordPress offically recommends you use a web host that provides PHP 7 or higher. HTTPS support is also recommended, but how to specifically choose a hosting company is a topic for another day.