Digital 101: What is an IP address and what does it mean?

A world map showing IP address locations

To understand IP addresses and what they mean for businesses, we need to go back to basics. Internet Protocol (IP) is a set of rules governing the format of data sent over the internet, or other online networks. From these rules, the systems behind IP addresses were born. IP addresses have been around for decades, but whether you’re a digital whizz or not, the progression at which the sphere of IP addresses and their uses move is rapid – sometimes too rapid to understand. Let’s go back to digital 101, and understand what IP addresses are, and what they mean for your B2B marketing and sales teams.

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What is an IP address?

An IP address is relatively simple thing. It’s a collection of numbers assigned to your computer network interface. Whenever you access anything online, or on another network, your device needs to send and receive data. If we think of data as like an FedEx package, your IP address acts like a physical address, helping this package leave and arrive appropriately. Every online action involves an exchange of IPs, your device learns the IP of who it’s connecting with, and they learn yours. It’s like ordering a pizza; you need to know the number to call so you can place your order, but you also need to give them your home address, so they can deliver your order to the right place.

IP addresses save us manually moving data and online information from device to device with CDs, memory cards and other external storage. We all need the power of IP addresses to access a shared file, send an email or search Google. It’s easy to forget how important this little string of numbers can be! IPs are vital to computing technology, and they come in many different forms…

Static IPs vs dynamic IPs

A static IP address remains constant, meaning any device using this form of IP will have the same address every time they access the internet or connect with other networks. This IP remains in use throughout any device reboot or re-connections, making it a favorite for large businesses or home networks.

A dynamic IP however, changes every time a device makes an online connection by attaching to an external, public IP. As there are so many mobile devices in the world today, these IP addresses work well for smart-phones, laptops and tablets.

Each form of IP has pros and cons. Static IP addresses offer more reliable data transmissions and exchange information very quickly. However, they are less secure and easier to track. They are also more expensive, and often only available upon request from your ISP (internet service provider) who assign IP addresses. Dynamic IPs are far more secure and difficult to track; they are also cheaper, as ISPs can keep them in use constantly. However, only devices with a DHCO (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server can use dynamic IPs.

It’s likely most of your devices will be working with dynamic IP addresses. However, if you’re keen to know more, you can contact your ISP to learn about the IPs your devices have been assigned to use.

Public IPs vs private IPs

A public IP address can be accessed and identified online. Like your home address, anyone can learn it and send information to you. Public IPs are globally unique to your device, and every time you send an email or access a website, someone with the correct tools can decipher your IP address.

A private IP (as you would guess) is essentially exclusive, stopping your devices from being directly exposed to the internet, meaning only those you’re sharing a network with can see your IP address. Most businesses and large homes have a public IP for their internet router and opt for all devices on the network to use private IPs.

It would seem private IP addresses are the better of the two, as they withhold your IP. However, this isn’t always the case. Public IP addresses let others access them, allowing full connectivity and internet connection; as the rules of IP state, an exchange of IPs must take place to enable online activity. This is why private IP addresses need to act through a public router or similar, ensuring they can gain full accessibility and not be hindered by IP connection issues. Even if an IP is public, if it pertains to an individual (and not a business), under GDPR (and some other regulations) it counts as personal data, so should it be accessed, the legalities around using it are strict.

IPv4 vs IPv6

When any technology advances, new versions and updates are created, and IP address technology is no exception. IP version 4 made 4.3 billion IPs, all 32-bit numeric, separated into 4 collections of numbers (between 0 and 255) separated by periods. These IPs served their purpose and are still used today; however, they eventually ran out.

As other connective technology advanced, the number of devices in circulation broadened. Think of how many devices apart from computers connect to the internet today; phones, TVs, gaming consoles – and that’s just the beginning. The average person needs at least 2 IP addresses, and those created in IPv4 soon became insufficient.

So, technology advanced and IPv6 stepped in to save the day. As the 32-bit formation of IPv4 addresses left such a limited amount of differing options (and each IP must be unique), the format of IP addresses has been updated. It is now 128-bit, written in both numerical and alphabetic values and separated by colons. This expansion of the IPs available helped IPv6 create a total of 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 (340 trillion trillion trillion) IP addresses – this amount hopes to future-proof our digital world, ensuring we don’t run out, but only time can tell…

What does an IP address mean for businesses?

So, now we’re familiar with IP addresses in all their forms, what do they mean for our businesses? The answer is simple, but exciting – IP tracking and IP targeting. These processes can seriously benefit marketing and sales teams by recording the IP addresses your website interacts with, and using them to gain valuable data.

IP address trackers are popular, as an IPs can reveal some exciting information about the person using it. It can reveal their location, and in the case of business IP’s, they can sometimes reveal more, such as host-name. Depending on what website traffic tracking tools you choose to use, IP addresses can offer different business benefits:

  • Some web analytics tools can track IP location, enabling users to gain insight into geo-location and directly connecting it to a business. This offers your marketing team an advanced understanding of your online audience and helps them better plan, design and execute campaigns to suit interested and opening markets. Your website may have become vastly popular in Canada recently, offering you an exciting chance to branch out and tailor campaigns to suit that specific audience. Without a geo-location feature enabled by IP tracking, you would have had no idea.
  • With the ability to track IP location, several tools are offering marketing options personalized to IP location. Personalization is an effective and powerful tool in marketing, but audiences are expecting more than just their name. Running difficult and expensive campaigns such as PPC, marketing teams can seriously benefit from having an edge in the form of localized personalization.
  • Some tools can extract an enormous amount of data from IP addresses, providing your sales team with a bounty of fresh leads who’ve already shown an interest in your brand by visiting your website. Lead Forensics uses IP tracking to identify the businesses visiting your website. After recording the visiting IPs, we run them through our privately-owned database of business contacts, the largest of its kind in the world. We then match IP addresses to their owners, providing business name and location, contact details for key decision makers and a full breakdown of the time they spent on your website.

Revolutionize your marketing efforts and fuel your sales pipeline with high-quality new business leads with Lead Forensics.

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Lead Forensics is a multi award-winning B2B website visitor identification software that eliminates the need for on-site inquiries and instantly increases website conversion.

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