Why you should avoid HostGator

Today I got a tweet from a user of WordPress SEO who had their site disabled by HostGator, without any prior notice. They said that while they had a cache plugin running, their caching wasn’t working, and HostGator blamed it on two plugins, our own WordPress SEO plugin and WordFence.

Why would these plugins prevent caching?

They said that these two plugins prevented caching based on a grep through the source for DONOTCACHE constants. These DONOTCACHE constants are a method for a plugin or theme to prevent W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache from caching the current page because sometimes you have to.

In the case of my WordPress SEO plugin, it’s to test whether title rewriting works, which is only done on installation of the plugin. In the case of the WordFence plugin, they do it when they’re locking out users for security reasons, but don’t want the caching plugin to serve that “lock” to everyone else. Both are entirely legitimate reasons for not wanting to cache a page, but of course it does mean that when you search for DONOTCACHE constants in the source of the plugin, you’ll find them.

The admin at HostGator should have, of course, bothered to look a bit deeper. Instead, he opted to send this email:

Email from Hostgator

He did a search through the source, found the constants and stopped looking. Also, he didn’t email this customer saying he had a concern, no, he disabled their site and then emailed them. Know that this was a personal site, with very little traffic. Calling this extremely poor customer service is probably still taking it too positively.

I wish it was the first time this happened, but it wasn’t. Which is why I decided to dive deeper and see if it could be solved. It pains me to have to write this post and I have reached out to HostGator to see if they’re willing to change their ways. For now, the only honest advice I can give you is to switch hosting if you’re on HostGator. Not just because they dislike my plugin, but for disabling a site without any notice…

So where should you host your site?

I have an article about WordPress hosting, filled with advice. On top of that, I know that WP Engine likes our SEO plugin, so much in fact that they use it on their own site and they offer decent hosting. Also, DreamHost, who are awesome if only because they employ the fabulous Ipstenu, have never done anything weird like this.

So, if you’re on HostGator, vote with your wallet. Get away from there.

Disclaimer: I make a bit of money for referring you to each and every host I mention, but since they all offer me money that doesn’t really affect my thinking on any of them. Synthesis, my current host, pays me the same as WP Engine, as does VPS.net, etc.

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

The future of SEO plugins for WordPress

I find myself becoming more and more defensive of WordPress SEO plugins, my own in particular. When people make jokes about them I tend to get angry, which is perhaps a stupid reaction, but it made me think: why would people make jokes about them, are they that stupid? What does the future hold for those plugins and what do they really do?

So I went and installed and played with a ton of SEO plugins. My conclusion: hardly any of the new ones are original or truly add value, but they all promise heaven. The more well known free SEO plugins, including my own, have mostly overlapping feature sets, with some of them having features that others lack completely, and code quality varying highly. Some WordPress hosting companies complain about SEO plugins in general, having seen quite a few of them now I understand at least where they got the idea that SEO plugins are slow. I guess the burden is on me to show that my WordPress SEO plugin doesn’t suffer from that slowness.

Luckily, I know some hosts make people move over from other plugins to mine, and I know for a fact that this migration guide on my blog is highly visited because people get complaints from their host about All in One SEO using too much resources and wanting them to move to my WordPress SEO plugin. Some other people still swear by AIOSEO though, which is, of course, fine: to each his own.

Squirrly

I was truly in shock when I saw some of the newer kids on the block though. Squirrly, notably, posted about the best WordPress SEO plugins two days back and wrote:

It should, first of all, be all white-hat and be up to date with the updates that came up post Panda and Penguin (Yoast and SeoPressor for example, are outdated from this point of view).

That’s quite a bold statement to make. When I asked them on Twitter to back up their statement, as it’s close to libel in my opinion, they didn’t really come up with a suitable answer, instead referring to my page analysis functionality recommending 300 words whereas “only 80 where necessary for Google News”.

It’s obvious what the difference is between me and them, just from that statement alone: I don’t just read Google’s guidelines, I actually optimize content and I know that you need a certain bit of content in a post to be able to rank well, even in Google news. How I know? Well I’ve worked with some of the biggest newspapers in the world to optimize their content, in fact, I’m currently working on a project for the Guardian involving a lot of Google news optimization. When asked, they couldn’t tell me what they are basing their analytics on, instead answering me with this:

But… Of course, I had to look at their plugin. Seems they’ve built a snippet preview (how original, it’s not like I didn’t add that to my SEO plugin like 2 years ago):

Squirrly snippet preview screenshot

It doesn’t even match the look of Google’s search results even in how it looks, second, it doesn’t highlight the target keyword, which they make you put in. Funnily enough, they then do a kind of analysis on your content that looks remarkably similar to what my WordPress SEO plugin does:

Squirrly SEO assistant

The difference between that plugin and mine is that they do this “live”, which is something I’ve been pondering for a while, but the way they do it is by sending all of your data to their server all the time. Now, if they did something on their server that added value, that’d be cool, but they don’t. And after 14 days of doing this for you, they make you pay for the pleasure of doing this. Now you can get the same kind of analysis, for free, by using my WordPress SEO plugin. As far as I know, only Copyblogger’s Scribe actually adds value in what they do by sending stuff to their server, this, on the other hand, is pure nonsense.

The plugin also adds an XML sitemap. Funnily enough, you’d think that if they want to sell something they’d at least have feature parity with what the free plugins do. But their XML sitemap doesn’t even contain custom post types, nor does it support images in the XML sitemap, both standard features in my plugin.

Lastly, they offer the option to add a favicon and apple icon (remember this free plugin? you might not, it’s 5 years old).

All in all, they’re trying to use a funny looking squirrel to sell something that not just my SEO plugin but several other free WordPress SEO plugins can do for you and do better. The most shocking thing? They’ve actually gotten funding, which shows you that some people will fund anything without doing research.

This is obviously not the future, so what is?

I have a whole lot of features planned for my SEO plugin, some of which I plan to add to the free core plugin, some of which will probably be more niche and I will therefore make into premium extensions, like my Video SEO and Local SEO plugins.

Scribe has been taking great steps and been adding more and more features that actually help people optimize their content properly. SEO Ultimate has some features I think people will like a lot, and though I’d implement them differently, I very much welcome competition like that: it forces all of us to move forward.

I’m looking forward to making it easier to optimize websites technically and to optimize content, as well as keep up with all the new things Google, Bing and other search engines put out there. The future of SEO is in integrating it more into all the other stuff we do, that’s exactly what my plugin aims to do.

Would love to hear what you think should be in the future of SEO plugins!

The future of SEO plugins for WordPress is a post by on Yoast - The Art & Science of Website Optimization. A good WordPress blog needs good hosting, you don't want your blog to be slow, or, even worse, down, do you? Check out my thoughts on WordPress hosting!

Why I Switched to Copyblogger’s Synthesis Managed WordPress Hosting

Last thursday, I migrated Yoast.com to Synthesis, the managed WordPress hosting platform operated by Copyblogger Media.

Previously this site had been hosted on a VPS.net Cloud Server, which was rock solid as this site grew to almost a million pageviews per month. VPS.net is fast, affordable, provides good support, and I continue to recommend them.

But there are features of Synthesis that I realized I could no longer live without.

Optimized WordPress Performance

First, I don’t want to do my own Linux optimization anymore. Now I won’t have to.

The Synthesis team developed its Linux server stack specifically to handle high traffic loads on WordPress websites. They have spent the last several years tweaking and perfecting this setup to provide the outstanding performance, reliability, and security that Synthesis does today.

Simply put, the Synthesis team knows WordPress and they know server performance. I wanted to align with a team that understands WordPress performance better than I do. Now I have.

Theme Support

The second reason for the switch is that Synthesis, as part of Copyblogger, can simultaneously support my hosting and my theme.

Yoast.com runs on the Genesis Framework, developed by Copyblogger’s StudioPress design team. Yes, I could host Yoast.com anywhere and still have access to StudioPress support, but no other hosting platform is specifically tuned for Genesis. This further optimizes performance and security, and it makes updates a breeze.

Plus, the Synthesis support staff is proactive about troubleshooting and quickly fixing issues specific to Genesis. A support question that might have taken two or three tickets to answer previously now will take just one because of the Synthesis/Genesis integration.

Cutting Edge Value

Copyblogger Media hosts its own business websites on regular plans from Synthesis. Beyond performance, Synthesis was designed to support the operational needs of the site owner versus that of the hosting company, and thus provides a few features that are unique among hosting providers.

Operations

First, Synthesis provides their customers with an uptime checker called Site Sensor.

Beyond normal uptime checks, it can actually perform WordPress-specific checks which ensure RSS feeds and sitemaps are current. A website with broken SEO and content distribution mechanics might as well be down. The sitemap checker even supports the indexed sitemaps produced by our own WordPress SEO plugin, I worked with the Synthesis team to add that functionality.

Second, Synthesis has backups down to a science.

Synthesis already backs up my server on a nightly basis and ships it across the U.S. to a second data center. They also make local WordPress-specific backups that make it easy for their support staff to replace plugins, WP options settings, and more at a moment’s notice. Beyond this, they provide a database snapshot tool that I can use to back up my database before plugin and WP upgrades.

Additionally, they are soon releasing a feature called Personal Backups for S3 that will allow me to send a backup to my own S3 bucket at Amazon. Unlike normal backup plugins, this service is actually driven by robust server-side processes and is not dependent on PHP.

Site Speed

Finally, I switched to Synthesis because I trust their technical aptitude and respect their forward-thinking mindset.

For example, some of you may have heard about SPDY, Google’s initiative to speed up the web by improving HTTP and TCP. I certainly have, and it is a feature I wanted implemented on our HTTPS forums and checkout pages.

With this move to Synthesis, I’ll have it.

SPDY requires server-side and browser support. (For a list of compatible web browsers, click here.) Synthesis is one of the first WordPress-only hosts to offer SPDY compatibility for qualified sites, having already tested it on a few of their own most valuable properties.

This is just the latest example of Synthesis consistently evolving to provide more value for its customers’ hosting dollar.

A True Partner

In Synthesis, I don’t see a hosting provider. I see a hosting partner. This is what I needed as Yoast.com continues to grow and evolve.

I’ll now have more time to spend doing what I love — writing plugins, reviewing websites, even writing Genesis child themes — while the Synthesis team will make sure that the site is up and ready to take advantage of the next development in WordPress hosting.

Why I Switched to Copyblogger’s Synthesis Managed WordPress Hosting is a post by on Yoast - The Art & Science of Website Optimization. A good WordPress blog needs good hosting, you don't want your blog to be slow, or, even worse, down, do you? Check out my thoughts on WordPress hosting!