How Can VPNs Affect SEO - Auxiliary Tech

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How Can VPNs Affect SEO

This clear trend of increasing use of VPN services presents several potential issues for web administrators and their SEO efforts.


How VPNs Work for Users

When a user signs up for a VPN service, they usually pay a subscription fee, and gain a username and password. They download a client or app for their chosen device(s) and operating system(s). Then, with the client or app running, they connect to a VPN server of their choice, in the location of their choice. Most VPN providers have hundreds or thousands of servers spread throughout many countries around the globe. VPN users are free to choose and switch servers as often as desired.
The benefits to users primarily stem from security, privacy, and relative anonymity. First, the traffic between the user and the VPN server is encrypted and sent via a secure tunnel. This means that government and ISP monitors cannot determine what is being sent, or the ultimate endpoint of the data. At the same time, the VPN server decrypts and then re-broadcasts the traffic to the desired destination. The destination server only sees the IP address from the VPN server’s pool – not the true IP address of the user. Finally, by accessing different VPN servers in different geographic locations, users can bypass geo-restrictions on content. This potent combination of security, privacy, anonymity, and added access, at affordable prices, is a powerful draw for many users.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that the impact of VPN use on SEO and web analytics is minimal at this time. There are some trade-offs in the area of geographic statistics and local search results, as well as site load times, but they, too, are fairly minor – there are viable alternatives available for web administrators that are not affected by VPN use. Users gain far more in security and privacy through using a VPN than web administrators may lose on the SEO side, at least under the current generation of VPNs and technologies that are available.

Impact – Google Analytics

Of course, there can be negative impacts for web administrators from the increased use of VPNs. Fortunately, in some areas, those impacts are minor. One such area is Google Analytics. The Google Analytics platform, which is the most commonly-used website statistics and intelligence platform in use today, uses cookies stored on the user’s computer in order to track activity and report it. Using a VPN, in and of itself, does not change this – no matter how the user accesses a site using Google Analytics, the cookie will track them and provide feedback to the platform. In this way, VPNs don’t negatively impact SEO efforts based on Google Analytics data.

Impact – Local Search Results

Local search results are another matter. For websites that offer localized services, search results, “nearby” or “near me” listings, or anything else that is based on a user’s location, the use of a VPN will definitely have an impact. Because most location-specific data is derived from a user’s IP address, through the process of geo-location, the IP address matters a great deal for local results. However, with a VPN service, the users are getting an IP address that is shared, and issued by the pool associated with the VPN server they are connecting through. It will geo-locate to wherever their VPN server is located, which can be another region or even another country. This aspect of VPN use may hurt overall site experience for users, and the accuracy of geo-located results.
Impact – Geographic Statistics and Unique IPs..

Impact – Site Load Times/Speed

Site load time and access speed can also take a hit with VPNs. Because of the encryption and decryption process, a great deal of communication overhead and processing time is involved in the traffic from a user to a VPN and on to your web server. Latency/ping time goes up, in some cases dramatically, and maximum download/upload speed goes down, also sometimes dramatically. This varies a lot by VPN, with the better providers only impacting latency by 20-30 ms additional time (virtually undetectable to most users), and only a 10-20% decrease in max download speed. Lower-quality VPN providers can add 60 ms or more to latency, and hit max download speed by 90% or more, which is most definitely noticeable.

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