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WP Engine Ending Support for .htaccess

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WP Engine Ending Support for .htaccess

WordPress managed hosting provider WP Engine announced that it is ending support for .htaccess directives. WP Engine has started End-of-Life (EOL) processes for winding down the use of .htaccess on their servers and have set a date of October 2022 for full removal of support.

The use of .htaccess as a tool for managing websites is so deeply ingrained that the idea of no longer supporting .htaccess may sound like a deal breaker.  Some may rightly think that if customers can’t have a custom .htaccess then the web hosting service might not be suitable for how modern sites are created.

But a closer look at what WP Engine is doing shows that the decision makes sense and more surprisingly, this may in the future be a common feature of high performance web hosting.

Why WP Engine Deprecating .htaccess Support

The reasons WP Engine gave for leaving .htaccess behind were about achieving performance gains from removing .htaccess from the site-level and also being able to take advantage performance gains from newer technologies.

The announcement stated:

“WP Engine will be deprecating the .htaccess file in order to increase website performance and match industry trends.

If your site is using custom .htaccess directives outside of the default WordPress rules, we have put together a list of recommended alternatives.”

WP Engine estimates that this change will not affect most websites that it currently hosts because most sites are only using the default version of .htaccess that WordPress generates.

“By our analysis, most WP Engine websites will not require any extra changes to the .htaccess as they are using a default WordPress version of this file.
Default WordPress rewrites will be handled by WP Engine automatically at the server level.”

.htaccess and Site Performance

.htaccess is a way to control certain aspects of a website, like redirecting a request for one URL to another URL, redirecting requests for insecure HTTP URLs to secure HTTPs and for blocking the IP addresses of malicious hackers and scrapers, among many other uses.

.htaccess is a file that is used on servers that run the Apache open source server software (as well as, for example, Nginx servers that run as a reverse proxy for Apache).

The use of .htaccess files is a longstanding and established practice for managing websites.

However, something that may not be commonly considered or discussed is that the use of .htaccess files is not an efficient way of managing activities like blocking IP addresses or redirecting URLs.

When .htaccess files become very large they can have a negative impact on SEO and conversion-related metrics such as the Time to First Byte (TTFB), a metric that measures how long it takes for a server to begin downloading web page resources.

According to a test by  StrategiQ that quantified the impact of .htaccess on performance, they discovered that .htaccess files can have an impact on both server performance and scalability.

What they discovered was that a large .htaccess file had a measurable and significant impact on CPU usage. Testing also revealed that an .htaccess file with as little as 1,000 lines could have a “significant” impact on server memory usage.

They noted that the extra strain was not enough to bring down the website because the server still had enough resources to handle the strain.

“It’s worth noting though that during our tests, we didn’t see any huge impact on overall page load time on anything but the 50,000 line file. This is probably because, even though significant resource was being used in handling the requests, we still weren’t hitting peak capacity.”

Yet one can imagine that a server with multiple websites with large .htaccess files could cause an impact on the server.

Secondly, what may come as a surprise to many, is that according to the official Apache Software Foundation (the developers of the Apache server software that runs .htaccess), the only time .htaccess files should ever be used is when access to the server configuration file is restricted, such as one might find on budget shared servers.

The Apache Software Foundation documentation advises:

“There is, for example, a common misconception that user authentication should always be done in .htaccess files, and, in more recent years, another misconception that mod_rewrite directives must go in .htaccess files.

This is simply not the case.

You can put user authentication configurations in the main server configuration, and this is, in fact, the preferred way to do things. Likewise, mod_rewrite directives work better, in many respects, in the main server configuration.”

What WP Engine is proposing is actually a best-practice according to the Apache documentation and in the short and long run it will benefit their user base by creating an environment that may make their websites perform faster, which helps sales, advertising clicks and has a small SEO benefit.

Will WP Engine Users Be Inconvenienced?

WP Engine offers ways to get around using .htaccess files by the use of what they call Web Rules. Web Rules allows users to manage IP-based allow/deny rules and for setting header responses.

Redirects can be applied three ways within the WP Engine managed hosting platform:

  1. Bulk imported into WP Engine’s Nginx configuration
  2. Bulk imported into a WordPress plugin called Redirection
  3. Bulk imported into the Yoast SEO Plugin redirect manager

I use the Redirection WordPress plugin on some of my websites and have found it to be an easy way to manage redirects and headers.

The plugin also has a convenient log file that shows you visits that result in 404 responses which can alert you to inbound links that are misspelled (which can be fixed by creating a redirect for the misspelled URL to the correct URL).

WP Engine End-of-Life (EOL) Process For .htaccess

While at first it may seem like a radical idea to end support for .htaccess, considering how the Apache Software Foundation itself recommends not using .htaccess at the website level, the approach that WP Engine is taking makes a lot of sense.

There are clear benefits for their users and for website visitors as well.

Will other web hosts follow their lead?

Citations

Read the WP Engine Announcement

.htaccess Deprecation and Alternatives

Read The Apache Software Foundation’s Advice on .htaccess

When (not) to use .htaccess files

WP Engine Web Rules

Redirects on WP Engine



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Google Updating Cryptocurrency Advertising Policy For 2024

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Google Updating Cryptocurrency Advertising Policy For 2024

Google published an announcement of upcoming changes to their cryptocurrency advertising policies and advises advertisers to make themselves aware of the changes and prepare to be in compliance with the new requirements.

The upcoming updates are to Google’s Cryptocurrencies and related products policy for the advertisement of Cryptocurrency Coin Trusts. The changes are set to take effect on January 29th, 2024.

Cryptocurrency Coin Trusts are financial products that enable investors to trade shares in trusts holding substantial amounts of digital currency. These trusts provide investors with equity in cryptocurrencies without having direct ownership. They are also an option for creating a more diversified portfolio.

The policy updates by Google that are coming in 2024 aim to describe the scope and requirements for the advertisement of Cryptocurrency Coin Trusts. Advertisers targeting the United States will be able to promote these products and services as long as they abide by specific policies outlined in the updated requirements and that they also obtain certification from Google.

The updated policy changes are not limited to the United States. They will apply globally to all accounts advertising Cryptocurrency Coin Trusts.

Google’s announcement also reminded advertisers of their obligation for compliance to local laws in the areas where the ads are targeted.

Google’s approach for violations of the new policy will be to first give a warning before imposing an account suspension.

Advertisers that fail to comply with the updated policy will receive a warning at least seven days before a potential account suspension. This time period provides advertisers with an opportunity to fix non-compliance issues and to get back into compliance with the revised guidelines.

Advertisers are encouraged to refer to Google’s documentation on “About restricted financial products certification.”

The deadline for the change in policy is January 29th, 2024. Cryptocurrency Coin Trusts advertisers will need to pay close attention to the updated policies in order to ensure compliance.

Read Google’s announcement:

Updates to Cryptocurrencies and related products policy (December 2023)

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SEO Trends You Can’t Ignore In 2024

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SEO Trends You Can’t Ignore In 2024

Most SEO trends fade quickly. But some of them stick and deserve your attention.

Let’s explore what those are and how to take advantage of them.

If you give ChatGPT a title and ask it to write a blog post, it will—in seconds.

This is super impressive, but there are a couple of issues:

  • Everyone else using ChatGPT is creating the same content. It’s the same for users of other GPT-powered AI writing tools, too—which is basically all of them.
  • The content is extremely dull. Sure, you can ask ChatGPT to “make it more entertaining,” but it usually overcompensates and hands back a cringe version of the same boring content.

In the words of Gael Breton:

How to take advantage of this SEO trend

Don’t use AI to write entire articles. They’ll be boring as heck. Instead, use it as a creative sparring partner to help you write better content and automate monotonous tasks.

For example, you can ask ChatGPT To write an outline from a working title and a list of keywords (which you can pull from Ahrefs)—and it does a pretty decent job.

Prompt:

Create an outline for a post entitled “[working title]” based on these keywords: [list]

Result:

ChatGPT's outline for a blog post. Pretty good!ChatGPT's outline for a blog post. Pretty good!

When you’ve written your draft, you can ask to polish it in seconds by asking ChatGPT to proofread it.

ChatGPT proofreading my content and making it betterChatGPT proofreading my content and making it better

Then you can automate the boring stuff, like creating more enticing title tags…

ChatGPT writing enticing title tagsChatGPT writing enticing title tags

… and writing a meta description:

ChatGPT writing a meta descriptionChatGPT writing a meta description

If you notice a few months down the line that your content ranks well but hasn’t won the featured snippet, ChatGPT can help with that, too.

For example, Ahrefs tells us we rank in position 3 for “affiliate marketing” but don’t own the snippet.

Ahrefs showing featured snippets that we don't own, despite ranking in the top 3Ahrefs showing featured snippets that we don't own, despite ranking in the top 3

If we check Google, the snippet is a definition. Asking ChatGPT to simplify our definition may solve this problem.

ChatGPT rewriting a definition and making it betterChatGPT rewriting a definition and making it better

In short, there are a near-infinite number of ways to use ChatGPT (and other AI writing tools) to create better content. And all of them buck the trend of asking it to write boring, boilerplate articles from scratch.

Programmatic SEO refers to the creation of keyword-targeted pages in an automatic (or near automatic) way.

Nomadlist’s location pages are a perfect example:

Example of a page from NomadListExample of a page from NomadList

Each page focuses on a specific city and shares the same core information—internet speeds, cost, temperature, etc. All of this information is pulled programmatically from a database and the site gets an estimated 46k monthly search visits in total.

Estimated monthly search traffic to NomadListEstimated monthly search traffic to NomadList

Programmatic SEO is nothing new. It’s been around forever. It’s just the hot thing right now because AI tools like ChatGPT make it easier and more accessible than ever before.

The problem? As John Mueller pointed out on Twitter X, much of it is spam:

How to take advantage of this SEO trend

Don’t use programmatic SEO to publish insane amounts of spam that’ll probably get hit in the next Google update. Use it to scale valuable content that will stand the test of time.

For example, Wise’s currency conversion pages currently get an estimated 31.7M monthly search visits:

Estimated monthly search traffic to Wise's currently conversion pages (insane!)Estimated monthly search traffic to Wise's currently conversion pages (insane!)

This is because the content is actually useful. Each page features an interactive tool showing the live exchange rate for any amount…

The interactive currently conversion tool on Wise's pagesThe interactive currently conversion tool on Wise's pages

… the exchange rate over time…

The exchange rate over time graph on Wise's pagesThe exchange rate over time graph on Wise's pages

… a handy email notification option when the exchange rates exceed a certain amount…

The email notification option on Wise's pagesThe email notification option on Wise's pages

… handy conversion charts for popular amounts…

The handy conversion charts on Wise's pagesThe handy conversion charts on Wise's pages

… and a comparison of the cheapest ways to send money abroad in your chosen currency:

The useful comparison table on Wise's pagesThe useful comparison table on Wise's pages

It doesn’t matter that all of these pages use the same template. The data is exactly what you want to see when you search [currency 1] to [currency 2].

That’s probably why Wise ranks in the top 10 for over 66,000 of these keywords:

Wise's keyword rankings for currency conversion pagesWise's keyword rankings for currency conversion pages

Looking to take advantage of programmatic content in 2024 like Wise? Check out the guide below.

People love ChatGPT because it answers questions fast and succinctly, so it’s no surprise that generative AI is already making its way into search.

For example, if you ask Bing for a definition or how to do something basic, AI will generate an answer on the fly right there in the search results.

Bing's search results for "definition of mental health"Bing's search results for "definition of mental health"
Bing's search results for "how to add drop down list in google sheets"Bing's search results for "how to add drop down list in google sheets"

In other words, thanks to AI, users no longer have to click on a search result for answers to simple questions. It’s like featured snippets on steroids.

This might not be a huge deal right now, but when Google’s version of this (Search Generative Experience) comes out of beta, many websites will see clicks fall off a cliff.

How to take advantage of this SEO trend

Don’t invest too much in topics that generative AI can easily answer. You’ll only lose clicks like crazy to AI in the long run. Instead, start prioritizing topics that AI will struggle to answer.

How do you know which topics it will struggle to answer? Try asking ChatGPT. If it gives a good and concise answer, it’s clearly an easy question.

For example, there are hundreds of searches for how to calculate a percentage in Google Sheets every month in the US:

Estimated monthly search volume for "google sheets percentage formula" via Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerEstimated monthly search volume for "google sheets percentage formula" via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

If you ask ChatGPT for the solution, it gives you a perfect answer in about fifty words.

ChatGPT's answer to the Google Sheets percentage calculation formulaChatGPT's answer to the Google Sheets percentage calculation formula

This is the perfect example of a topic where generative AI will remove the need to click on a search result for many.

That’s probably not going to be the case for a topic like this:

Example of a topic that AI shouldn't impact too muchExample of a topic that AI shouldn't impact too much

Sure. Generative AI might be able to tell you how to create a template—but it can’t make one for you. And even if it can in the future, it will never be a personal finance expert with experience. You’ll always have to click on a search result for a template created by that person.

These are the kinds of topics to prioritize in 2024 and beyond.

Sidenote.

None of this means you should stop targeting “simple” topics altogether. You’ll always be able to get some traffic from them. My point is not to be obsessed with ranking for keywords whose days are numbered. Prioritize topics with long-term value instead.

Bonus: 3 SEO trends to ignore in 2024

Not all SEO trends move the needle. Here are just a few of those trends and why you should ignore them.

People are using voice search more than ever

In 2014, Google revealed that 41% of Americans use voice search daily. According to research by UpCity, that number was up to 50% as of 2022. I haven’t seen any data for 2023 yet, but I’d imagine it’s above 50%.

Why you should ignore this SEO trend

75% of voice search results come from a page ranking in the top 3, and 40.7% come from a featured snippet. If you’re already optimizing for those things, there’s not much more you can do.

People are using visual search for shopping more than ever

In 2022, Insider Intelligence reported that 22% of US adults have shopped with visual search (Google Lens, Bing Visual Search, etc.). That number is up from just 15% in 2021.

Why you should ignore this SEO trend

Much like voice search, there’s no real way to optimize for visual search. Sure, it helps to have good quality product images, optimized filenames and alt text, and product schema markup on your pages—but you should be doing this stuff anyway as it’s been a best practice since forever.

People are using Bing more than ever before

Bing’s Yusuf Mehdi announced in March 2023 that the search engine had surpassed 100M daily active users for the first time ever. This came just one month after the launch of AI-powered Bing.

Why you should ignore this SEO trend

Bing might be more popular than ever, but its market share still only stands at around ~3% according to estimates by Statcounter. Google’s market share stands at roughly 92%, so that’s the one you should be optimizing for.

Plus, it’s often the case that if you rank in Google, you also rank in Bing—so it really doesn’t deserve any focus.

Final thoughts

Keeping your finger on the pulse and taking advantage of trends makes sense, but don’t let them distract you from the boring stuff that’s always worked: find what people are searching for > create content about it > build backlinks > repeat.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter X.



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Mozilla VPN Security Risks Discovered

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Mozilla VPN Security Risks Discovered

Mozilla published the results of a recent third-party security audit of its VPN services as part of it’s commitment to user privacy and security. The survey revealed security issues which were presented to Mozilla to be addressed with fixes to ensure user privacy and security.

Many search marketers use VPNs during the course of their business especially when using a Wi-Fi connection in order to protect sensitive data, so the  trustworthiness of a VNP is essential.

Mozilla VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN), is a service that hides (encrypts) a user’s Internet traffic so that no third party (like an ISP) can snoop and see what sites a user is visiting.

VPNs also add a layer of security from malicious activities such as session hijacking which can give an attacker full access to the websites a user is visiting.

There is a high expectation from users that the VPN will protect their privacy when they are browsing on the Internet.

Mozilla thus employs the services of a third party to conduct a security audit to make sure their VPN is thoroughly locked down.

Security Risks Discovered

The audit revealed vulnerabilities of medium or higher severity, ranging from Denial of Service (DoS). risks to keychain access leaks (related to encryption) and the lack of access controls.

Cure53, the third party security firm, discovered and addressed several risks. Among the issues were potential VPN leaks to the vulnerability of a rogue extension that disabled the VPN.

The scope of the audit encompassed the following products:

  • Mozilla VPN Qt6 App for macOS
  • Mozilla VPN Qt6 App for Linux
  • Mozilla VPN Qt6 App for Windows
  • Mozilla VPN Qt6 App for iOS
  • Mozilla VPN Qt6 App for Androi

These are the risks identified by the security audit:

  • FVP-03-003: DoS via serialized intent
  • FVP-03-008: Keychain access level leaks WG private key to iCloud
  • VP-03-010: VPN leak via captive portal detection
  • FVP-03-011: Lack of local TCP server access controls
  • FVP-03-012: Rogue extension can disable VPN using mozillavpnnp (High)

The rogue extension issue was rated as high severity. Each risk was subsequently addressed by Mozilla.

Mozilla presented the results of the security audit as part of their commitment to transparency and to maintain the trust and security of their users. Conducting a third party security audit is a best practice for a VPN provider that helps assure that the VPN is trustworthy and reliable.

Read Mozilla’s announcement:
Mozilla VPN Security Audit 2023

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Meilun

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