Servers are often a mysterious area, even for experienced search engine optimization (SEO) specialists. A server administrator or hosting company often handles that area of websites, which can lead to a lack of knowledge about them among SEOs.
Servers play an important role in SEO and deserve more attention than they get. Here are some tips to get you started in learning more about this area of SEO.
The domain of your site is an obvious starting point. What server hosts your domain? Is it shared with other domains, or is it a dedicated server(s) for you? Dedicated servers cost more, but allow you more control.
Perhaps your domain is hosted on multiple servers, in which case you can have a load balancer sitting in front of the servers. Depending on its configuration, a load balancer can actually lead to duplicate content problems.
For example, users being to be sent to www1, www2, www3, etc., by a load balancer. This was common years ago, but less so today because these can be set to treat all requests as simply www instead.
Subdomains are another issue. Unlike directories, your subdomain can be hosted anywhere.
You can set a subdomain on the same server, or use an "A" record DNS entry to point the subdomain to another server's IP. A "CNAME" DNS entry allows you to point to another domain entirely, masking it with your domain.
For example, you may want to utilize a content delivery service such as Amazon, where you point your images subdomain to their servers. This reduces the requests coming to your server, which helps your pages load quicker.
While page speed has always been important, it's now a factor in natural search rankings as well. Speed considerations alone are a reason to consider upgrading your servers, as well as offloading content.
Another server factor in SEO is the physical location of the box. For multinational sites, it's important to give search engines as many signals as possible for them to tie the correct country to the correct site. One of those signals is the approximate country a site is hosted in.
For example, you could set up a subdomain for your German site and actually host that subdomain in Germany, or set up a .de site hosted there. (For more international SEO tips, visit our International Search section.)
Another area servers play a big role in SEO are redirects. While a 301-type redirect can be set in an individual page with server side script, site-wide redirect management happens at the server level.
This is done fairly easily with an .htaccess file on an Apache web server, but can be set in IIS as well. For IIS 6, an ISAPI rewrite plug-in can be installed to make redirects easier. On IIS 7, Microsoft has finally come out with their own URL rewrite module.
Microsoft also developed an SEO Kit for IIS, which has a number of options to make SEO a little easier -- including managing sitemaps, robots, and various reports. In addition to redirects, your web server will be needed to set up proper 404 error handling.
So take a break from optimizing title tags and alt text to take your server administrator out to lunch. You might find an important friend in your SEO efforts.