The main shared function of both Virtual Private Network (VPN) software and Proxy services is to give you, the user, control over your IP address while online. It’s not uncommon for many VPN service providers to also offer a proxy service as standard, however there are a plethora of standalone proxy services that can be used at a lower cost than most VPNs - even for free.
With that said, it’s important to understand the main differences between a VPN and Proxy service — especially for use in the SEO world. When does it make sense to use one service over the other?
To answer this best it is first worthwhile to quickly run through the two different “types” of Proxy services most commonly used nowadays — HTTP and SOCKS:
As you can expect, HTTP protocol deals with traffic that begins with “http://“ and “https://“, which is essentially all website pages. The benefit of using a HTTP proxy is since you’re only dealing with HTTP requests, you get very fast speeds - especially compared both against SOCKS proxy and VPN services.
SOCKS Proxies (currently referred to as “SOCKS5”)
SOCKS proxies basically deal with all other internet traffic outside of network traffic, which includes emails (SMTP), website file management (FTP) and torrent file management. This gives more flexibility of use, but is not as fast as HTTP proxy since the level of traffic dealt with is much larger.
A general rule of thumb to go by when considering using a Proxy is to go with private Proxy servers (rather than public ones) as these are the most reliable and effective of the two types.
Now that we have an understanding of what Proxies are and the different variations available, let’s give a breakdown on what a VPN is and how these differ from Proxies, specifically in the SEO world.
Virtual Private Networks
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) works by generating a highly encrypted connection between your online device and the host server. This encrypted tunnel means that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) only sees that you have connected to the VPN server, which thus keeps your IP address and all online activity hidden from prying eyes.
The only thing to consider when using a VPN, is that the VPN provider can see all your online activity and connect it to your IP address (and thus your personal identity and location), so I highly advise that you choose a VPN provider that clearly states to keep “zero logs” of all users.
So when it comes to SEO, what are the main differences you should take into consideration when deciding which IP address-changing service to use?
Well, if you simply want to check the rankings of a client or website in different countries around the world from your one location, then you can quite easily just find a proxy server (private or public) that will change your IP address accordingly. Same goes for the all-too-common SEO headache of Google throwing up CAPTCHAs after you conduct too many search queries at one time. With that said, you can also use a VPN to solve the very same issues.
Ultimately though, the main differences between a proxy and a VPN come down to the following:
A proxy is slower than a VPN in actually flipping between multiple server locations around the world quickly and in the configuration you need to go through on each web browser you use. Using a respectable VPN service will give you immediate, easy access to worldwide server locations with one click (once you have the software downloaded and installed on your device, which usually takes just a few minutes.)
- Privacy protection
You can use a SOCKS proxy on a SSL connection to get some level of privacy protection, however this is restricted to file uploading/downloading and does not protect your website browsing anonymity. In additional this really doesn’t compare to the “military grade” level of all-encompassing online encryption that you get when connected through a legitimate VPN service.
As always, you get what you pay for. So with a VPN you essentially pay for convenience and performance consistency, along with top-shelf privacy encryption. VPNs can vary in price from as little as $2/month to upwards of $15/month - compared to Proxy services that are either much less expensive or completely free to use.
Ultimately it really comes down to this: if you are OK with sacrificing more time and privacy to change your IP address for SEO tasks and reporting, then using a Proxy is the way to go. Definitely use a private proxy, though!
If on the other hand you can budget a few dollars a month and want to save precious time, then a VPN is your best bet. The added bonus of solid privacy protection is a very nice cherry on top.
NOTE: Reducing the trace between your online activity and your personal identity has great benefits beyond the SEO world, namely in protecting your own most sensitive online personal information. Check out this ReputationX article on the notorious Ashely Madison Affair hack to see just how important it is to take care of your online data.