A reverse proxy is a server that intercepts and routes traffic between a client and your website. Implementing reverse proxies has many benefits including additional security, load-balancing, and performance optimizations such as lossless compression and caching which are fundamental for SEO optimization.
What Is a Reverse Proxy?
A reverse proxy is a type of server that sits between a user (like yourself) and a web server (where the contents of the site you want to access are located). This type of proxy (different from a standard proxy, as we will see) sends your requests to the backend server. It then processes the responses (for example, it can compress certain parts of the response) before returning them to you.
A reverse proxy server is a broker between you (the client) and the server. Since all your client requests are routed through the proxy server, this allows for implementing advanced security features, compressing the data for improved performance and even SEO optimization.
This article will explore what a reverse proxy server is, how it compares to a standard (forward) proxy, and discuss the best SEO benefits it can give us.
The Benefits of a Reverse Proxy Server
As we will see, reverse proxies provide enormous benefits for SEO purposes, website acceleration, and other benefits like load balancing, increased security through SSL encryption, protection from DDos attacks, and load balancing.
For most SEO experts, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “reverse proxy” is its performance benefits, which can boost your search result rankings. And while (as we’ll see next) it is true that reverse proxies can help boost our page loading times, there are other powerful advantages to implementing a reverse proxy.
Our favorite advantage of implementing a reverse proxy is that we can intercept incoming requests and route them to the appropriate service while keeping everything under the same domain.
As an example, let’s consider our main site, m8l.com. We designed and host the site and blog with Webflow, but we also use Framer to fast prototype and launch simple product pages like this one. As you can see, both the Webflow pages and the Framer ones appear to be in the same domain (m8l.com), which is excellent for SEO purposes. We could’ve hosted our product page in a subdomain like slack-broadcast.m8l.com, but most search engines would treat that subdomain and our main domain as separate entities lowering our potential SEO scores.
As mentioned above, using a reverse proxy allows us to implement a wide variety of web acceleration techniques that will help boost your SEO rankings.
By intercepting the incoming client requests, a reverse proxy can route traffic to cached pages and static assets hosted on content delivery networks (CDNs), giving us two quick wins. First, the content will load faster for the user. Second, by not routing all requests to our origin servers, the reverse proxy can help mitigate potential cyber-attacks such as denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
Traditionally, reverse proxies have been implemented for their security, load balancing, and scalability features.
One of the main benefits of a reverse proxy is acting as a middleman between the outside world and your origin servers. By intercepting all incoming traffic, a reverse proxy can implement load-balancing logic to ensure that traffic is evenly split between data centers to ensure high availability of your services.
While not common nowadays, you will benefit from load-balancing capabilities even if you run everything on a single server. As we saw in the previous section, you could use CDNs to cache your most-accessed content.
A typical example of reverse proxy and load balancing are Kubernetes Ingress Controllers. When you deploy a Kubernetes controller, you usually deploy an array of microservices to serve all your content and requests. An Ingress Controller implements a load-balanced reverse proxy that, other than splitting the incoming traffic evenly among your microservices, acts as a firewall and, through integrations, can provide additional functionalities such as authentication.
Secure SSL encryption
As we’ve seen so far, a reverse proxy acts as a web application firewall that intercepts all the traffic to our site, allowing us to add an extra layer of security to the incoming traffic.
Regarding SSL encryption, most reverse proxy implementations have security features such as automated HTTP to HTTPS upgrades. Such features ensure that all incoming traffic will be encrypted using SSL and TLs standards.
By implementing automated SSL encryption, reverse proxies help us mitigate potential vulnerabilities and protect us from cyber attacks such as man-in-the-middle attacks.
Protection from DDoS attacks
A DDos attack happens when our servers are bombarded with so much traffic that our servers can’t keep up, freezing our servers to a halt.
Implementing a reverse proxy is one of the first and best lines of defense against these denial-of-service attacks. Since by centralizing and routing all the incoming traffic, we can filter malicious traffic automatically, split traffic amongst our different servers and CDNs, and ensure a smooth user experience at all times.
Global server load balancing (GSLB)
The last helpful feature of reverse proxies that we’ll cover in this article is “global server load balancing,” or GSLB. As the name suggests, this load balancing helps us route incoming traffic to servers worldwide.
In general, we route a user’s traffic to a server closest to them to minimize latency, improve loading time and ensure a great user experience.
Other use cases for this type of proxy server include geo-tagging or geo-location. By reading the user’s origin IP address, we can get the user’s origin country code and perform location-based personalization. Our proxy servers will redirect them to whatever server best serves them and provide them with location-specific content (for example, an offer only available in a particular region).
Forward Proxy vs. Reverse Proxy
So far, we’ve only talked about reverse proxies since they are the most important ones regarding SEO. But the standard type of proxy is a forward proxy.
A forward proxy is also a middleman server that intercepts requests. Still, clients use it to forward their requests to the Internet instead of being used as a way to protect and load balance the origin servers of a website or service.
We commonly use forward proxies to bypass geo-fences and access sites that implement location restrictions and protect the client’s identity. They share similarities with VPNs but are not to be confused with them. A forward proxy just forwards requests and responses between a client and the Internet.
At the same time, a VPN establishes a secure connection between the client and a private network, allowing the client to access restricted resources such as corporate servers, file shares, etc.
How to Setup a Reverse Proxy Server?
Now that you understand how a reverse proxy can help you optimize your site for SEO, it is time to implement one.
To implement a reverse proxy for your site, you must first gather all the requirements:
- Where will it be hosted?
- Which features do I need (security, compression, caching, etc.)?
- Do I need to redirect all requests or a portion of them?
Based on your needs, you will then need to choose between the different existing providers.
While there exist traditional solutions like NGINX, which ban be self-hosted, we usually recommend opting for a hosted and low-code solution like Cloudflare.
With Cloudflare, you can set up a fully functioning reverse proxy with little code by using Cloudflare workers, and by proxying all your traffic through Cloudflare’s servers, you can, with just a few clicks, get most of the benefits we mentioned throughout this article.
If you must use NGINX, you might find this guide useful.
Regardless of the implementation you end up with, a reverse proxy will give you more flexibility and security as you grow your site. Don't hesitate implementing one!