VPS Servers – For more than just Web Hosting

April 16th, 2012 @ 9:30 am

When discussing servers and hosting we often immediately put it within the context of hosting websites, but a VPS hosting plan is actually flexible enough to do a whole lot more than that. A Virtual Private Server has much of the same functionality of a dedicated server without the need for extensive technical knowledge to setup and maintain it, making it an attractive option for webmasters, but also an obvious choice for other server-reliant activities.

VPN

A VPN or virtual private network allows you to use a VPS server like you would a desktop computer via an OS and GUI (such as Linux Ubuntu), essentially giving it unlimited functionality. One popular reason for implementing a VPN is the anonymity it provides when using the internet- in fact in many countries where the internet is heavily censored and monitored VPNs provide citizens with a way of accessing otherwise forbidden parts of the net safely. With the growing trend of politicians and corporations both in America and around the world wanting to force ISPs to monitor your web use and punish those who deter from their approved sites, getting a VPS server to browse anonymously seems like a very smart idea.

Game Servers

When gamers come together online to perpetually murder each other, they need to connect to a server that hosts the game and handles all the information being transmitted. This can easily be done using a VPS server- in fact chances are if you’ve played Counter Strike before you’ve probably played on someone else’s VPS server. Owning and operating your own server for your favorite online game can be a rewarding hobby for you and your friends to enjoy or a lucrative community building venture, it all depends on what you want out of it.

Backup and Disk Space

Since a VPS server can be used in much the same way as a home computer can, it makes sense that we are able to store files on the disk space that’s available to us. The cool thing about storing your files on your own server is that you can access them wherever you can connect to the internet, which makes it very convenient for sharing files amongst your friends or collaborating on a project with a group. This might also come in handy when you have big files that need to be transferred but don’t have a USB stick big enough to handle the job.

VoiP

While there are a myriad of VoiP (voice over IP) services out there, hosting your own can have plenty of benefits. Sure, you can pay to rent space on someone else’s server to use Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, but there’s much more security and reliability in owning your own setup – not to mention that there isn’t any arbitrary limits on how many clients/users can be chatting together, the only limit is the resources.

Other Stuff

VPS servers have loads of different functionality and can be used almost any way imaginable, chances are if you need to use a server for something then a VPS hosting plan should accommodate you. Keep in mind that things like proxies, IRC, and P2P/torrents/filesharing are technically possible but against the terms of service of many providers, so always double check before doing anything that might get you banned. Other than those few exceptions, VPS servers really are the Swiss army knife of the web and are capable of much more than just hosting web sites.

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Keeping Your Domains and Websites Private and Secure

April 12th, 2012 @ 9:12 am

While webmasters are proud of their online creations, it’s often not in their best interest to reveal their identity as a site’s owner or other details about the technical aspects of the site. A lack of proper privacy measures for your sites can mean opening vulnerabilities for your competitors to exploit, so on a whole for most projects it’s best to minimize footprints and stay as anonymous as possible. Fortunately this isn’t as difficult as it may seem and as long as you use some common sense and avoid getting lazy, everything should be secure and safe.

WHOIS Records

All domains have an entry in the WHOIS database which anyone can access that contains the identifying information that you provided to your domain registrar. This is obviously not exactly a boon for us as webmasters and it’s preferable that we keep this information private. Luckily there is an easy way to do this- most registrars offer an option to hide your real WHOIS information for a small fee. Royalty Networks actually offers domain security for free when you register a domain. You can couple this with a CDN to further obfuscate your WHOIS entries.

Themes and Designs

Using the same or very similar themes across multiple sites is a no-no, it’s a very big clue that can tie together several different web properties and make it easier to track down their owner. This should not be an issue as there is an abundance of themes available from a variety of different designers for next to nothing. If you really want to be efficient and have fine-control over your designs but don’t want to learn the subtleties of a coding language then you can try using a WYSIWYG program like Artisteer- it lets you design site-wide themes with a user-friendly editor that lets you drag and drop everything into place, which makes it very easy to make a myriad of different-looking themes with just a few clicks.

IP Addresses

We made an entire post about the importance of diversifying IP addresses between your sites, and it’s really as easy as scaling up as you need more of them- you can buy additional IPs no matter what hosting plan you use. Anyone can see the IP address of the server where you sites are hosted, so if you have multiple sites on the same IP it is relatively easy for someone to notice this and take advantage of it. Spread your sites across as many IPs as possible and don’t be afraid to scale up as you build more websites.

Technical Security

There’s always the constant threat of a hacker taking advantage of a vulnerability in your site’s code and wreaking havoc, so you should take some precautions to make this harder for them. The golden rule of defending your sites is to keep everything up to date all the time, check your back-ends often and install updates whenever they are available. Only install plugins and themes from trusted sources, and if you can accomplish something sufficiently without using a plugin then don’t be lazy and add yet another plugin to your installation when you have the option not to. If you’re on WordPress install something like Secure WordPress to automatically manage common vulnerabilities.

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How to Build Authorship with rel=author and rel=me

April 9th, 2012 @ 9:06 am

In some of your recent Google searches you may have noticed certain entries that stand out because they have a mugshot of the author adjacent to the link, like so:

 As you can see the benefits of having this enabled are obvious- anything that makes your site stand out from the rest is going to increase CTR (click through rate) and help you rise in the rankings, so there’s no reason not to set up authorship, especially since it’s not an overly technical process.

First we need to understand how Google goes about verifying authorship, how does the algorithm know which pages belong to who? This process relies heavily on your Google+ profile, so if you haven’t already created one and fleshed it out, now would be a good time. Keep in mind that the avatar you use will be the one that shows up in the SERPs, so use a presentable one (yes, it should be a shot of your face).

Let’s go over how the ‘rel’ function works before diving into implementation. We can use rel=x when making links to specify what type of link it is and how it behaves, in our case rel=author ties our identity to the content and tells Google that a specific account is responsible for all pages linked to it, which gives us those more prominent search results. In order to use a rel tag, you can add ?rel=author to the end of a link- or if you have access to HTML you can use rel=”author” tag before the href part. By using a combination of rel=author and rel=me tags, we are telling Google to enable Authorship for certain sites and articles.

There is essentially 3 links involved in this process that Google uses to complete the handshake between your site/article and Google+ to verify that you are the owner of both. First, each article that you write must link to an author profile page on the same site using rel=author, which can be a page of your choosing but is most often either your profile page or the About page. This establishes a connection between your articles and your author profile page, but now that profile page needs to be connected to your Google+ page. To do this you should have a link to your Google+ profile from your author page using rel=me, and your Google+ profile should link back using the Contributor section.

So to summarize:

  • A link from your blog posts or articles to your author page using rel=author
  • A link from your author page to your Google+ profile using rel=me
  • A link from your Google+ profile to your author page in the Contributor section

This may seem a tad confusing if you aren’t technically inclined, but thankfully there are several options for those of you that want to make this a tad easier. Google has an alternate method using email addresses and a form that you can submit, but there are some reports of this taking longer to aggregate. There is also a WordPress Plugin called Authorsure that pretty much does all the work for you besides linking back from your Google+ account, it really streamlines everything and makes it very easy to implement properly.

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On-Page SEO in WordPress for Beginners

April 5th, 2012 @ 9:42 am

Search engine optimization is a multifaceted and complex pursuit, but it’s very easy for beginners to implement SEO best practices on their pages using WordPress because of the user friendly interface and myriad of helpful plugins- but of course these tools will do no good unless you know how to use them effectively. Today we are going to be running through the essentials of how to implement on-page SEO on your pages using WordPress and the best tools to do it with.

Basics of onpage SEO

Before we get into the specifics on optimizing pages in WordPress, we should do a quick rundown of the most important on-page factors that you should be paying attention to.

Your keyword should be present in the title, a few times in the content, and ideally in a subtitle or header as well. A lot of people overdo it and end up stuffing their keyword unnaturally, but this isn’t necessary and search engines are getting a lot smarter about this. Keyword density doesn’t have to be above %1 or so, anything above %2 is overkill. The best way to optimize for your keywords in the content is to make sure the writer is knowledgeable about the topic and uses industry terms- Google reads through your pages for certain words related to specific topics and niches and uses them to determine what your page is about. If your writer is using a lot of ‘fluff’ in their articles that isn’t on-topic or just doesn’t produce helpful content in general, you should consider getting a new one. When it comes to your money site, quality is much more important than quantity.

Choosing an SEO plugin

There is a monolithic selection of SEO WordPress plugins to choose from, but for a beginner it’s a good idea to choose one of the most trusted and reliable all in one packages that streamline the process. Here are few plugins that can serve as a complete on-page SEO solution for your web pages:

Yoast SEO – Yoast is one of the best choices for beginners because it makes the entire process very easy to understand. The presentation is very clear and it even gives you some very helpful metrics in real time as you compose your article (or paste it in) so you can constantly keep track of keyword density and whether you are following best practices (keyword in first paragraph, etc.)

All-in-One SEO – This is another full SEO solution for WordPress that many webmasters rely on- the layout is very simple and it’s easy to customize the parameters of each post individually. It also supports e-commerce sites and automatically generates META tags, it’s extremely customizable for advanced users but is still great right out of the box for beginners.

Keywords, Titles, Meta Description, and Density

Each article that you add to your website should be targeting a profitable keyword that you find during keyword research (using a service like Google Keyword Tool), preferably a long-tail that you can easily rank for. This keyword should appear in the title of your article, the URL, the Meta description, and throughout the article itself. This can be very easy or fairly tricky depending on the keyword, get creative but don’t make it obvious and force the keyword where it doesn’t seem natural. The Yoast plugin makes some great SEO suggestions under the ‘Page Analysis’ tab while it actively scans your article, which is very helpful if you aren’t perfectly clear on what search engines like to see.

If your keyword appears in all of these places and your article is authoritative and helpful, the on-page portion of your SEO is complete. Now your focus should be on link-building and outdoing your competition, try to offer your visitors something that the other pages are missing- Google pays attention to the pages that users most often click on and don’t bounce from.

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Web Hosting and IP Addresses Best Practices

April 2nd, 2012 @ 9:53 am

The best practices of IP addresses for websites are lost on many beginners because a certain amount of experience with computers and networking is assumed to wrap your head around it and it’s easy to get lost in the lingo and industry terms. Properly assigning IP addresses to your websites really isn’t rocket science and it’s absolutely critical if you plan on building multiple sites. The main rule to remember is that you should spread your websites over as many different IPs as possible, so if your host offers more dedicated IP addresses as an add-on be sure to snap them up as you make new sites.

One of the most oft-recommended tips of web development is to eliminate the trail of clues that connects your network of different websites together. Failure to do so makes it obvious that these sites are all owned by the same webmaster or are at least hosted on the same server- which is information that can be used by your competitors or search engines to your detriment in a variety of ways. This principle is true throughout every facet of web development, it’s imperative to leave as little footprints as possible between your sites that might link them together whether it’s the theme and design of your sites or your WHOIS entries or even your analytics provider (hint: putting all your sites on the same Google Analytics account will likely tie them together in the eyes of Google), you need to be proactive at diversifying your sites as much as possible if you have a large amount of them.

Luckily it isn’t very difficult or expensive to ensure that each of your sites has a correctly configured IP, but you need to be willing to go through this process every time you make a new site- if you slack off then your whole network of sites might be ‘outed’ (a term web developers and SEOs use that means private information has been revealed).  Fear not, anyone with a big portfolio of sites can rest assured that their IP’s are done right if they follow just a few basic guidelines.

Types of Hosting and IPs

Your IP address is an identifier for the server that your site is hosted on, so the type of web hosting you have will determine how you need to manage IPs. The main goal of this is to spread your websites over as many IP addresses as you possibly can, some types of hosting are better at this than others and there are many things you can do to further diversify IPs other than their initial configurations (CDNs are one thing to look at), but for now let’s just get everything set up properly.

Remember that for each of the below plans you can purchase more IP addresses as an add-on for a monthly fee, so you can always scale up as needed when you make more sites. Keep within your budget but also remember that you need to be spreading your websites out as much as possible.

On a shared hosting plan, you are sharing a server and IP address with a number of other users, hence ‘shared’ hosting. While this isn’t very friendly when it comes to diversification, it does offer a limited amount of identity protection because there are bound to be many sites on the IP that don’t belong to you at all, which can throw a spider/bot or competitor off of your trail depending on what they’re looking for. Shared hosting is fine if you don’t have many sites, but once you start building a large network of them you’ll need to upgrade so you can spread your site over more IPs.

Reseller hosting plans are great for diversifying and assigning IP addresses because you can treat each site like it’s under the control of a client account instead of your main account if you want to. All you need to do is create a separate account for every site you create as they are made- this gives each site its own H-sphere panel as well. Try to create the accounts at least 24 hours apart from each other, or at least not all at once.

VPS hosting plans are very flexible and expandable, adding more IPs and scaling up your plan’s power and resources is a snap and you don’t need any advanced technical skills to do it, keep track of what each of your sites is using and scale along to fit it.

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