2_2_3a_7yr

Mourning Squidoo

The day before yesterday I was banned from Hubpages. That day was about shock.

Yesterday I archived my stuff and wrote about Hubpages as it exists in our world now.

Today I find myself mourning the Squidoo that was. Not the Squidoo that gave up last year, but the Squidoo that was fun, and fresh and where I learned writing, online networking and SEO.

Not that Squidoo taught any of those things. In hindsight it is clear that Squidoo was successful not so much because its owners knew what they were doing, though to an extent they did. No, it was mostly successful because they started at a good moment in webtime.

In 2010, when they did their big redesign with monsters, I started collecting images from the site. This post shares some of them, as well as images from all over the web – charting the Squidoo that was.

The homepage

This is how they drew me in. Everyone is an expert on something!

squidoo-expert

Some more screenshots of the homepage:

This must be pretty early: its still the old logo and a white background. However, the images as teasers look pretty modern.
This must be pretty early: its still the old logo and a white background. However, the images as teasers look pretty modern.
The Squidoo home page in 2010. All that text!
The Squidoo home page in 2010. All that text! and remember the Answer Deck?

This must be just after that when they invented the monster-badges (also in 2010):

squidoo-home-20xx

In the end (2014) this was the banner they used. You can see, it’s a totally different look. The Squid is gone:

670px-Make-a-Squidoo-Lens-Step-1

Janet’s profile in 2009:

squidoo-profile-2009-janet21

How profiles looked around 2010. They didn’t change much after that.

squidoo-monsters-profile-2010-sept

My dashboard in 2010:

squidoo-monsters-dashboard-2010-sept

We had a lot of fun at the forums:

squidu-squidoo-forum

Some of the banners:

banner_gifting-2010

This one feels particularly cynical in hindsight: banner_hqbanner-holiday-giftsgoodveg-banner-okt-2012

Monsters and Trophies

The first strophies were really the Giant Squid and Citizen Squid Badges.

100club

However, what they turned into in 2010 was quite a shock. Suddenly Squidoo was officially a game with monsters.

squidoo-monster-banner-sept-2010

I think this is where I started to tune out a bit. I turned off the monster activity popups for instance. But not before taking a screenshot:

squidoo-monsters-activity-popup-comment-2010-sept

However, don’t think I turned down a ‘turboboost’. Lensrank was money after all:

squidoo-monsters-activity-quests-turboboosts-2010-sept

Lots of people had fun with Halloween. It was also a good money spinner. Here are my Halloween trophies:

halloween-trophies-squidoo-2011-2012

In 2010 they used the forums to get us to give us ideas for new lenses. I took part in the Jenga Quest:

jenga-quest-2010-2011

We got to know the activity stream. Another distraction.

squidoo-monsters-activity-stream-2010-sept

In 2010 they wanted us to create lenses and turn people into lensmasters so bad, they had us ‘gift’ them. I don’t think it ever caught on much. I like how this screenshot includes some of the templates available back then.

create-a-gift-lens-dec-2010

 

I really liked the debate option of Hey Monkeybrain.

btn_hey

heymonkeybrain_400

Squidoo lenses

I can hardly find screenshots of Squidoo lenses themselves. It seems hardly anybody posted screenshots of them online. However, I did find this one from 2008:

squidoo-lens-2008

Here’s one I created for one of my help lenses. You’ll have to ignore the lines I added:

new-intro-2

Yes – however quant it may look. Lenses did used to look like this. Note the advert for creating a ‘Squidcast’. We could tell our fans (yes, we had official fanclubs) all about our stuff back then. Again, how disappointed we were when that feature disappeared.

result-new-introd

Squidflix was apparently quite popular: I found several screenshots online:

squidflix

 

The old Squidwho design
The old Squidwho design
I did a lot of quizzes. In part because the SquidQuiz homepage practically guaranteed a decent internal backlink.
I did a lot of quizzes, mainly because the SquidQuiz homepage practically guaranteed a decent internal backlink.

Gift lenses circa 2010:

squidoo-gifts-guide

We used to get stars for our lenses. In fact, it was quite an uproar when they were replaced with thumbs up:

stars2

Here’s a 2009 screenshot of a very popular lens:

Color-Meaning-squidoo-lens

 

Here’s one from Greekgeek – a reasonably late screenshot with one of the themes:

squidoo-lens

Blueprint-squidoo-theme

goodveg-lens
This is a screenshot done by a very spammy website I’m therefore not linking to.

 

There were some weird ad-experiments:

This is from 2013. It didnt last.
This is from 2013. It didn’t last.

What we’d love to forget, the scorecard.

670px-Make-a-Squidoo-Lens-Step-3

Modules we loved

The various plexo’s were great while they lasted. Here’s an amazon plexo:

Squidoo-amazon-plexo

Didn’t we love the bubble module?

oldtalk-buble-squidoo-up-to-2010 newtalk-bubble-squidoo-starting-2010

Somehow that seems like a fitting sentiment to close with.

Sources for my images

Schermafdruk 2015-04-01 10.07.54

What I learned from being banned by hubpages

I was flabbergasted last night: it turns out my account was banned. I’ve calmed down a bit. I’ve saved my content and stats and am moving forward. Here are a few take-away’s. The main one is obvious: don’t trust Hubpages!

  • Set your Hubpage earnings to go directly through amazon/ebay/adsense. That way if they shut you down, you’ll at least get paid what you earned on the site. In other words: don’t sign up for the internal hubpage ad program. I’m missing out on about $300. See below for a short how-to.

NOTE: I just got an email from hubpages. It says:

I just checked your account and see that it was banned, so you will be issued a payment for the unpaid balance on or around May 28th.

  • Hubpages will NOT tell you when you’re banned. It won’t even have an announcement at the backend of your account. Here is what will happen:
    • Dead give away: your profile will say you’re banned, if you click on it. [Yes, it feels a bit like a mystery where you have to find clues about what is going on. Hubpages is certainly not up front about this stuff.]
    • You won’t be able to post in the forums.
    • Your hubs will all turn red in the backend. However, they will stay there. It looks like they’re staying there for a long time.
    • All accounts associated with your paypal (or adsense) account will be banned at the same time. [It’s a TOS violation to be active on hubpages once you’ve been banned on one account, so any other accounts are automatically in violation once one account is banned.]
    • About adsense: the hubpage backend will tell you: ‘Association Disabled by HubPages for past violations’. Don’t worry, Google doesn’t care.
  • Hubberscore nor hubscore will save you. My spirituality account has a hubberscore of 79 as I write this. Still – banned.
  • Quality won’t save you – not even hubs edited through their own HubPro program.
  • Traffic won’t save you either. One of my accounts was doing very well (the green icons show that these are hubpro-hubs:

traffic-hubs

  • This is a gigantic clean up: I had all sorts of stuff in my account that I would no longer put online. The web has changed. On Squidoo I did a lot of experimenting: throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. In republishing material from Squidoo/Hubpages I will only repost what fits my main niches or was reasonably successful.
  • Evernote is a life-saver. I’m using its webclipper to archive all my hubs.
  • Google Drive is useful too: I’m using it to archive my hubpage stats.

So how do you set up your earnings settings to op OUT of the hubpages adprogram?

The order of these steps matter. Nothing works in hubpages till you’re signed up for adsense.

  1. Click on the ‘earnings’ tab.
  2. Configure adsense (if you haven’t already)
  3. Make sure you opt OUT of the Ad program.
  4. Under Amazon use the link at the bottom to enter your own amazon affiliate ID.

amazon-program

Conclusion

Perhaps most importantly: Hubpages is in a bind. They can’t just accept any content, because that means that Google will see the site as low quality. However, they also have to keep their writers happy. The sort of content I wrote, and bought, and practiced my writing on… it’s the sort of thing anybody would write. Nothing special, but also not spammy.

I’m not sure a middle ground exists where authors can trust that their content will stay up and make a bit of money, but where Hubpages also avoids low quality content coming into the site or staying there.

In other words: if you have a niche you’re most interested in, do invest in your own website.

Post Script (added April 3rd 2015)

I asked why I was banned. This was the response:

Your HubPages account has been permanently banned as a result of serious rules violations.

I did have all kinds of former hubs that were flagged for Violations. This is the email I received to one of those. I bolded what I had in fact done on many of my hubs, linking them through to other hubs I still think that’s good SEO as long as the hub in question has enough original content of its own.

Hi religions7,

As you are part of the HubPages community, we want you to succeed, so we want to let you know that your Hub has been unpublished because it is Overly Promotional. If this is the first time you’ve gotten an email like this, don’t worry! You’ll have an opportunity to fix it.

Overly Promotional means that one or more of the following is true about your Hub. It:
*Solely or excessively promotes another site, product, or service
*Over-uses words or phrases that disrupt the Hub’s readability, which may include repeated emphasis of phrases with bold or italics
*Links more than 2 times to a single domain
*Gives a short teaser and a link to “read more” or “continue”
*Links to a page that contains largely the same content as your Hub
*Has excessive Amazon or eBay capsules

When you are finished editing your Hub so that it complies with our Terms of Use, please click the “Submit for Publication” button. We will then review your Hub and publish it if it is no longer in violation.

Please note that repeated violations will result in the banning of your account. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with our Terms of Use and our Learning Center before publishing again:

http://hubpages.com/help/user_agreement
http://hubpages.com/learningcenter/publishing-standards#txtd_22732854

All my accounts & all my hubs unpublished! @hubpages

I was going to post this on the forums but it turns out that I’m not allowed anymore. So here is to all former squids – so you know what hubpages is turning into.

Over the past few days ALL my hubs on three of my accounts have been unpublished. Without explanation. While some of them may have been outside the current hubpage-guidelines, others were improved by the HubPro program.

I’m not even sure my pending earnings will be paid out.

I’m flabbergasted.

To be clear – although I had been cleaning out my accounts of content that was already unpublished or unfeatured for traffic or ‘quality’ topics like the following were still on my main (formerly spirituality) account:

  • Best ethics movies, ready for debate?
  • How to prevent ear infection in adults
  • Little known facts about The Netherlands
  • Vegetarian Health Tips
  • Severn Suzuki – a famous environmental video: where is she now?
  • What is an Ashram? Spiritual Retreat Centres!
  • Quiz: Religion facts and trivia
  • Karma and Reincarnation: are we reborn?

How to use Thesis Multimedia Box in Thesis 2.*

I have been using Thesis to design my sites for years now. I love the flexibility of Thesis 2, and have now compared it to Genesis as well – and Genesis just doesn’t do what I want it to.

However, there is one thing in Thesis 1 that I wasn’t able to replicate on my newer Thesis installs: the multimedia box. I have used it, on several sites, to show affiliate code in the sidebar. In the new Thesis this option is hidden.

So here is how to get that affiliate code there, customized per post.

First: make sure to show ‘custom fields’ in your WordPress (post) edit screen. Go to screen-options and then click ‘custom fields’:screen-options-wp custom-fields-options

Now in your post edit screen, somewhere at the bottom, you will have an option to add custom fields. It will show a dropdown with available custom fields: that is, custom fields that plugins or theme have already created for you. In the case of Thesis there are several. (#) You will need:

  •  thesis_custom_code – this is your Thesis multimedia box.

That’s great: you now have the place where you can add custom code to individual WordPress posts. However, it won’t show up yet. The easiest way I have found to add that code to your theme is through widgets, specifically, the Advanced Custom Field Widget plugin by Athena of Delphi (yes, a woman coder :))

What do you do next?

  • Install the plugin (duh)
  • Go to appearance > widgets
  • Add the ‘Adv. Custom Field’ widget where you want your field to show up in your theme.
  • Put the name of your field in the settings for the widget. In our case that name is: ‘thesis_custom_code’ (without the quotes). You need to be precise. One letter wrong, and nothing will happen. (*) That is: your field still won’t show up on the published site. It will remain in the WordPress database though.

acfw_ver0_9_controlpanel4-500px

NB: this is a widget with a LOT of options. All you need however is the first field in the widget: where I put in the thesis_custom_code field name in red for clarity (it will of course show up in black on your own site). That’s all. Scroll down to the bottom of the widget settings to the blue save button and click it.

That’s it. Now previously created content for the thesis multimedia box will show up in your theme where you want it to go. In addition, you can add new content or change the content in the multimedia box through the custom field.

 

(#) You will see that the Thesis post image is also available here.

(*) WordPress allows for creating your own fields. You will still have to make sure that the name you use in the widget is the same one you use when creating a field through the WordPress post interface. I won’t show how to do that here.

How to move a hub?

Someone asked:

So question for you all, when you move your hubs, where do you move them to and do you need to ask for the hub to be unpublished? I’m so confused, I have just let my sqhbs sit there……..

Since this seems a common question these days – or at least each of the subquestions is common – I will attempt an answer.

0) (implicit) Which hubs should you move?

Hubs that are unfeatured will not be found by Google. This means they’re dead in the water. If you think they’re high quality, move them. This is the main reason to move hubs.

featured

Featured‘ means Hubpages is showing your hub to search engines.

Unfeatured‘ means Hubpages is hiding your hub from search engines.

Unfeatured for engagement‘ means that Hubpages has determined that your hub is decent quality, but it’s not performing well enough. This may be fixed by getting traffic, sales, people commenting in the guestbook or adding a poll. Personally I don’t bother. If Hubpages unfeatures a hub, it will simply get moved at some point. Unless of course I think it isn’t good enough.

Unfeatured for quality‘ means that Hubpages has determined that your hub is low quality. Remember: you don’t have to agree. Hubpages uses both automated and manual criteria. In other words: chances are no human saw your hub when it was decided it was low quality.

Another reason to move hubs is very simple: if you have a site that ranks in Google, any hubs within that niche can be moved there. For featured hubs that get traffic, I would probably wait till after Christmas. However, after that they are safer on your own site than on Hubpages. After all: you know what you’re doing with your own site and if Google agrees that your site has merit, there is really no reason to keep content in that niche on any site but your own.

Personally I am moving all my spiritual content, all content that I think is at all interesting and all content that I think will do better elsewhere. However, the place to start (and I’m still working on this part) is hubs that aren’t featured.

1) Where to you move your hubs?

I move most of my content to my own niche sites. In some cases it’s easy: the site gets good Google traffic and the new content will probably rank there.

It gets more tricky when you have niche sites that don’t rank – the new content may help Google to reevaluate that site. That is: more quality content will make Google take the site more seriously, which will in turn help all content on that site rank.

If you don’t have a niche site to move your content to, there are several options:

  1. Leave it where it is. This is only reasonable if you don’t think the content is very good, or if it’s featured on Hubpages and doing as well as you think it likely to.
  2. Move to a new personal blog. Even blogger might do. Create a niche site, or even just a general purpose blog. Blogger will not unfeature your content – though Google may still not be interested.
  3. Move to another article site. The pickings are getting slim, but Wizzley is still up and running. I notice that most of my high traffic articles on wizzley get more traffic from Bing and Yahoo, not Google. But hey – they’re featured and they’re getting traffic. That is still a lot better than hidden from search engines.

2) How do you move your hubs

Now we come to the nitty gritty. And yes, this is a several step process.

a) Make sure the content is really no longer visible in search engines AND not indexed in Google.

1) Find the url of the published hub. Save it in a text-file or something.

2) Then click on the ‘unpublish now’ button in the edit-screen for that hub.
Schermafdruk 2014-12-05 13.57.46

3) Go to Google Webmaster tools Removals. Copy paste the URL of the original hub there and follow instructions.

Voila: the hub is no longer visible to search engines AND you’re sure that Google will de-index it within the next 24 hours.

Note that step 2 is unnecessary if the hub is already unfeatured.

b) Move them somewhere appropriate

 

Linking myths – post Panda and Penguin

Google has been making life harder for those of us who make a living online. With sites closing left and right – because Google stopped giving them traffic – authors are getting a big paranoid about what linking practices are ‘allowed’ and/or considered ‘spammy’.

I can’t really blame people: common sense just isn’t enough anymore. However, some things floating around the online forums are just plain nonsensical.

So here are some questions I have been asked recently, and my answers. Continue reading Linking myths – post Panda and Penguin

Squidoo is dead, Long Live Hubpages

squidoo-trophiesOn August 15th, Seth Godin announced that the website I have long been making a living on, Squidoo, is going. The content and it’s authors are moving to Hubpages (and therefore the money making opportunities as well). It was a stressful day, so I had to process information quickly. I decided within half an hour that I liked this news. While I once loved Squidoo, I had come to distrust its management. Hubpages was always slightly annoying, and boring, but it is run by competent people. The kind who actually know how to build a site.

Was it really that bad at Squidoo? Yes, it really was.

I’ve been silent on Squidoo’s many mistakes in public, over the last year, because I was still making money there and it was becoming clear HQ wasn’t listening to feedback anyhow. The only thing I did was advise people to stay out of Squidoo if they weren’t already in.

Now that the take-over is official, I can finally open my pen. This is mainly about the stuff that happened after the panda update that penalized Squidoo late 2012, early 2013. Continue reading Squidoo is dead, Long Live Hubpages

Duplicate content on WordPress – hey, Google indexed my tag pages!

On Facebook I’ve recently seen people ask about duplicate content on WordPress blogs. People are panicking. It’s logical to panic, unfortunately, because Google has been acting strangely lately. However, no-indexing ALL your tag and category pages is a mistake. You do want normal links between pages of your site. You do want Google to FIND your older posts. 

So here’s my recipe:

  1. Pick one way of categorizing your posts that’s most important: tags or categories. 
  2. Make sure this one is visible to users and search engines. In 9 cases out of 10 you do NOT need both.
    Having categories (usually your best pick) visible to search engines means that not only are all your posts visible to Google – as it crawls the category pages – you have the added advantage of on topic pages your users may particularly like. And – as a bonus – if you have a theme like Thesis you can add unique content on top of these category pages (explaining the category, for instance) to make these pages more attractive to search engines. 
  3. No-index and Follow the date based archives (never useful) and the tags/category system you’re not using. In many cases you also want the Author archives to be invisible to search engines. The easiest way to do this is using Yoast’s SEO plugin
    You do want to ‘Follow’ all links, btw, because that way when someone links to one of these pages, at least the pages it links to will get seen. 
  4. Have one big sitemap for your whole blog. Like this 
    That way you’re sure all your posts and pages are visible for Google and have top access to whatever pagerank your homepage has. Unfortunately I use a custom version of an old plugin that’s no longer being developed on this blog, so I can’t help you actually DO this. On some blogs I simply go with Simple Yearly Archive
  5. Use some plugin to interlink related posts. Right now I prefer nrelate.
    This is another way to make sure Google knows what your site is about and get individual posts to rank. 

Now here’s my explanation

I understand worrying, as I said. However, that doesn’t mean we have to avoid the most basic common sense approaches to website  building and WordPress blogging. Google has given us some very clear guidelines about how they want us to build websites. Here are a few:

Build for visitors first. Show visitors and search engines the same thing.

This means that if you have useful categories and tags, do show them to your users and do show them to search engines as well. If in doubt: make them MORE useful. (See the bonus with point 2 above). 

Links are the fabric on which the web is built.

The only links you have legitimate control over these days are the links WITHIN your website. Hiding tags and categories from search engines means that you’re saying to Google: don’t trust my site. In effect you’ll be linking from your homepage ONLY to the pages/posts visible on your homepage. That means only your last 10 posts and whatever posts and pages you have listed in your menu. The rest will be INVISIBLE to Google. NOT a good idea. 

So how about duplicate content?

Let GOOGLE worry about that. Seriously. Yes, the snippets from your posts will show up on your category and tag pages. As long as your posts are generally longer than that, the original post is still likely to be seen and indexed by Google. After all, the category and tag pages LINK to that original post. 

So how about duplicate content?

Still worried about that? Well, with tag pages there is some reason to worry. If you have posts about gadgets and they’re all tagged both ‘gadget’ and ‘electronics’ the tag pages for ‘gadget’ and ‘electronics’ are going to be pretty much the same. Assuming Google sees that – and was going to rank one or the other TAG PAGE for something – it would be a problem for them to be identical. You’re splitting pagerank between the two TAG PAGES which makes it less likely either is going to be seen by search engine users. This is a problem with your tagging. Most people tag very inexpertly anyhow (which is part of why I recommend most people to use categories instead) and yes, if you tag like that, you probably need to hide your tag pages from Google. 

So I should really NOT hide all my tags/ categories etc. from Google?

Really. You should at least have EITHER your tags OR your Categories visible to Google. Google can figure it out. Most (genuine) blogs online don’t worry about this stuff. Out of ignorance. A few are still getting bucketloads of traffic from Google or wherever. And yes, we do have Matt Cutts’ word on this. He notes that 25% of the web is duplicate content. And that’s normal. More from Matt on this issue: rel=canonical and duplicate content won’t hurt you, unless it’s spammy.

Post Script: what about the date archives?

Well, I did say in a byline above that you should hide them from Google and Users. Honestly, I forgot about them. The first thing I do when setting up any WordPress site is deleting the date-based-archive widget. Unless your blog is purely personal, I don’t think organizing by date is EVER as useful to readers as by organizing by topic. I mean, who – except perhaps my mom – would be interested to know what I wrote in August 2013? You’re interested to know what I wrote about Squidoo, or WordPress or SEO recently. If you have any readers at all, they’re interested in your topic. Even the New York Times organizes by topic first, date later. And WordPress is organized by date by default anyhow, you don’t need specific date-based archives. So hide them from users and search engines. And that means no-index / follow. 

How to change your WordPress admin username without going into the database – WordPress security

The blogging web was roughly awakened to the security issues around running a (self-hosted) WordPress blog last week as a botnet with 90.000 ip adresses at it’s disposal tried to hack all WordPress sites it could find. 

Matt Mullenweg has three tips – and this post is about the first and hardest one to implement:

  1. Change your ‘admin’ username (default username on older WordPress installs) to something less common. 
  2. Make sure your password is labelled ‘strong’ by the software itself.
  3. Make sure WordPress is updated to the latest version

So how do you change the admin username? Well – you go into the database. 

Actually, once you feel comfortable doing that, changing the username in the database is not really all that hard. However, getting in and not feeling intimidated are perhaps not for everybody. On most hosts it involves going to a separate URL, using different login info than you’re used to using etc. 

I’ve just done it on most of my blogs, as WP Engine makes it easy to access the databases of the blogs I have installed with them from their primary dash. However, on most hosts it’s way more hassle. 

Here’s what I did on the few of my blogs that are NOT hosted with WP Engine:

  1. Log into WordPress with my admin account
  2. Add a new user with a not so generic name. All you’ll need are:
    1. Username (doesn’t matter which – as long as you make sure you keep track of it. Anything is less common and harder to guess than ‘admin’)
    2. Password (do use a tough one to crack. ‘password’ is definitely off, for instance. Again: keep a record for yourself)
    3. A different email address from the one you used for your admin account. Personally I have several email addresses that all end up in my gmail account, but your mileage may vary. 
  3. Give that user administrator privileges
  4. Log out as the ‘admin’ user
  5. Log in as the new user
  6. Go to ‘users in your dashboard
  7. Change the privileges of the ‘admin’ user to anything other than ‘administrator’. 

To make things look good on the front end, make sure your new user has a display name that makes sense, probably the same as the previous one. 

Note that this method only works when you don’t really care that your posts will now be assigned to two different users. You may want to delete the former admin user altogether. WordPress will ask what you want to do with the posts and you can reassign them to the new account. 

WP Engine WordPress Hosting experiences 2013: my review

When I got into hosting trouble last year, I found help with Anne Corcino at SEO Praxis to carry me over the busy months before Christmas. I told myself that March next year (that was last month) I’d decide on a permanent hosting solution. I had figured out just how tough WordPress hosting can be if you’re a stickler for details and I was seriously considering going for dedicated WordPress hosting. However, I did not want the hassle just when my sites were making me more in a month than they do for the rest of the year. That’s a slight exaggeration, because make most of my money on Squidoo, but you know what I mean. 

Fast forward to march this year and I had found out that Anne’s idea of how to host a WordPress blog and mine were not exactly compatible. We both wanted a secure fast blog, but I had never had security plugins on my sites, while Anne had done away with caching plugins on hers. Over the past months we found out there is good reason for not doing both: caching plugins and security plugins crash each other regularly. In fact – I had pages that loaded empty, RSS feeds that didn’t work and redirection problems as well. We were debugging my sites almost weekly. 

Come march I took the plunge and once again researched hosting on platforms devoted to exclusive WordPress hosting. The name that comes up again and again in that field is WP Engine. Runner up: the new Synthesis, recommended by fellow Dutchy Yoast. However, Synthesis – while a bit cheaper – is run by the people who created the Genesis theme. Since I don’t run that theme, I thought it was probably not a match for me. (Hey, you have to decide based on something, don’t you?) 

WP Engine is 5 times more expensive than I was paying at SEO Praxis and 10 times more expensive than Hostgator. Still, I took the plunge for 20 of my WordPress blogs, this one included. Ultimately paying a bit over $10 per blog per month is reasonable – even if way more than what you’d pay on ordinary shared hosting. 

I loved the following WP Engine features before signing up and will give you the run-down on my impressions over the past weeks after:

  • Security built in
  • Fast, with caching built in
  • Great helpdesk (but see on that below)
  • Dedicated to WordPress, with personnel that knows the platform

Security and speed, WP Engine Review

Let’s tackle those in one go, as they’re related.

There is a simple reason why that security plugin clashed with my cashing plugin: both have to access the server to work. In other words: they’re built to do things that should really be handled by the server. 

Since most of us aren’t sys-admins, this means we’re running plugins that do things that our host should be doing. It’s that, or go the VPS route and BECOME a sys-admin. I’m too busy to learn another trade, and you probably are too. 

WP Engine and their competitors handle cashing and security on their end.

I was very impressed, for instance, that WP Engine took an old routine in my older Thesis themes and replaced it with a more secure recent one, automatically. The newest Thesis theme has an update function, so it probably handles this stuff itself, but the older ones don’t and I haven’t bothered updating them all by hand. WP Engine did it for me, without breaking the themes. 

They also have a ‘limit login attempts‘ plugin built in and guarantee that your blog will be unhacked if it should be hacked. How’s that for security? I love the automatic backups as well. 

They automatically update WordPress to the latest securest version, but they do NOT update plugins unless they’re on their security list. They also wait a bit before automatically updating WordPress on their newer versions when it’s not a security release.

I think this policy is a decent compromise between safety and keeping blogs working. After all, updating stuff sometimes breaks sites, but you do want the latest version of WordPress because it’s the most basic form of WordPress security there is. 

On speed: they handle WordPress caching, minimizing images, CSS and Javascript. Add fast servers to the mix and you have a great combination. 

My verdict: fast as hell and very secure

Great Helpdesk, WP Engine Review

Is their helpdesk as great as advertised? Well, no, not in my experience. Remember, while I make a living online – I’m not a famous pro-blogger, so their helpdesk treated me the way they would any new client. 

The fact is: on some issues they were as fast as I could have expected. On others they took over 24 hours to even respond and the result was NOT that the issue was solved. I’ll go into what I learned below – and yes, in the end the bugs I ended up with WERE resolved, but it took some thinking on my part that I don’t think every mom-and-pops blogger would have been able to figure out. 

Let’s face it: tech personnel was never known for it’s communication skills. I did not call them, as I’m in a different time zone, so we had to rely on mail and their ticket system (which IS excellent btw) which also ads a level of potential mis-communication. I think perhaps WP Engine is growing their business so fast that it’s getting hard to get enough personnel with the patience to really explain things. Still – as I said – I did get everything sorted, so it’s ultimately not a big deal. 

My verdict: GOOD helpdesk and they do help with plugins more than you’d expect from an ordinary host. 

Dedicated to WordPress with personnel that knows the platform 

Yes, WP Engine definitely delivers on that promise. I had trouble connecting Jetpack and they solved it. It turned out that I needed to re-install it on several of my blogs. I also like that on any WP Engine install there’s an added wp-engine admin, which the helpdesk will use when you get into plugin trouble. 

And yes, they do ask permission to access your dashboard in advance. And yes, despite not promising to, they WILL help with plugins. They probably don’t help with every arcane plugin out there, but you can expect help on the common ones. 

My verdict: Helpdesk personnel knows more about WordPress than on any host I’ve experienced. 

Some tips on h0w to get your blog working on WP Engine

I’m loving it on WP Engine, but it’s a very different host from what you will be used to. Here’s some tips on getting things working:

At first I had trouble uploading images and deleting, updating and installing plugins. This turned out to be the result of their SFTP (that’s SECURE FTP)  setup in combination with the fact that the blogs were new. The solution:

  1. In the WP Engine menu (added to each blog WordPress dashboard) go to > WP Engine and there reset file permissions.
    You probably need to do this after each time you upload things to your blog using FTP. I do recommend using the built in WordPress uploading system wherever possible after the first install. 
  2. In your ordinary WordPress Settings > save your permalinks (don’t change them, just save them).
    Saving permalinks is one of those things you need to do after most WordPress moves, but I guess I forgot that. 

Plugins that work on WP Engine

Most plugins work on WP Engine. However, they do have a list of about 20 plugins they do NOT allow. Think related posts plugins for instance. Fortunately they also have a replacement recommendation: Nrelate.

Other plugins they automatically delete include security plugins, backup plugins and caching plugins. Well of course they delete those: WP Engine handles that stuff themselves. I’m glad they get rid of them as well. 

Disclaimer: The links to WP Engine in this hosting review are affiliate links.

And no, I won’t be using their refund option (end the contract within 60 days and get your money back).