How Proxies and VPNs Work

Originally posted on January 12, 2019 @ 6:25 am

Using proxies and VPNs can greatly enhance your online security but may also pose challenges for digital marketers. However, familiarizing yourself with their functioning and when they can be beneficial will equip you to handle any potential issues. We strive to provide you with the best insights into effective tools, and this post is no different.

However, before we can start talking about how to prepare for them, we need to lay a little bit of technical groundwork. Let’s go!

Internet 101

To understand what it is a proxy server does for you, it’s a good idea to have some basic internet knowledge (otherwise, the information is just more jargon).

The internet is a network that’s broken down into two components: physical hardware and information. Hardware is the server that houses information and the devices that we use to recieve it. Information is the data that is passed between that hardware. You’ve probably heard the term “server” before, and all that means is a piece of hardware that’s housing information and then sending it out to “clients” (you on your smartphone or computer).

Now, how do our machines know how to distinguish between different types of information? This is where “protocols” come in. Protocols are specific ways that information is transmitted and govern the way that our hardware interprets and communicates information across the network.

This explanation is already becoming a little long-winded, but there’s a final piece that’s necessary to understand so we can start to talk about proxies. An “IP address” is a protocol that each individual machine utilizes to identify itself on the network. Your IP address is routed through what are called DNS servers to get you to the server that contains the information you need. Then that server sends it back to you. It’s sort of like mailing things to addresses and then receiving a response, but much much faster.

Malcolm in the Middle

Now, there’s a lot of myths around the information that your IP address contains. Your precise location is not being shared. Most of the time, an IP address can be used to identify what internet service provider (ISP) you’re using. Sometimes, that IP address will be linked to a particular city or region. There’s some debate about this, but snoopy folks might be able to put together a picture of a person based on the websites that an IP address visits, and also this information is available to the ISP hosting that IP address.

So, now we have proxies. A proxy server is a middleman. When you utilize a proxy service, it works a lot like a search engine. You type where you want to go, and then the proxy returns your query and you can move on with your internet use. The proxy connects to the relevant server with an IP address that is not connected to yours, and then brings it back to you. Of course, there is an element here that’s important to note–you have to access the proxy service with your IP address to begin with, so the company or individuals that run it will still have your IP.

There’s another type of service that’s known as a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs are much more secure services than most proxy services, as they don’t just hide your IP address. VPNs use encryption to secure all of the data that leaves your device, and then allows you to browse the web and use other internet features in anonymity. VPNs offer a number of different services, and some are better than others, so do your research if you’re going to use either option.

Should You Use a Proxy?

Anyone who’s interested in security might want to check out VPNs and proxies.

However, as this is a marketing blog, we’ll go in depth as to why a proxy or VPN might be useful for understanding and tracking performance indicators in your digital marketing endeavors.

Utilizing a VPN or proxy can be helpful when you’re analyzing traffic data for a marketing effort. If you know what the IP address is, you can filter that out of your Google Analytics data so you can have an accurate picture of pageviews and conversions that isn’t skewed by your organization’s visits to the website. Proxy servers and VPNs can also be utilized to keep employees from visiting certain webpages and types of content, routing them instead to a landing page that tells them why they can’t visit. This can keep you protected from liability in the office in the unfortunate event that an employee is doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.

From the opposite end, it pays to educate yourself about how proxies work, especially in the context of doing local SEO. If you’re trying to serve content or get information in front of a certain segment of customers, you’re going to have trouble if they’re using a proxy server, effectively rendering the local marketing useless. Many of these services can also cause webpages to load strangely, so making sure your websites are clean and optimized can help a lot in content delivery.

Awareness is the name of the game. If you’re looking to work with some of the sharpest digital marketers in the business, get in touch with WebUpon. We’ll help you out.