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Empowering Voices, Shaping the Future

Anne McCarthy: Empowering Voices, Shaping the Future

Anne McCarthy is a Product Wrangler at Automattic and a long-time WordPress contributor, especially on the Core team.

In the last quarter of 2023, she led WordPress 6.4’s Core Triage Team – a major release spearheaded by members of underrepresented genders. Now, she is reprising her role as Core Triage Lead for the upcoming release, WordPress 6.5.

Since she works in a technical role, it was pretty surprising to learn that Anne started as a psychology student. But looking back at her life and its trajectory, it truly makes sense how her educational background shaped her tech career and her passion to connect and support people.

Read on to learn how Anne uniquely uses her psychology background for her career, her experiment with the Full Site Editing (FSE) outreach program, and how she pushes inclusivity awareness into action.

From Instructional Tech to Embracing Open Source

Anne’s journey with WordPress began in college. As a freshman, she landed a job as an Instructional Technologist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Little did she know this role would ignite a passion that would define her career.

Her day-to-day tasks revolved around answering questions, creating resources, and assisting students and professors to migrate to WordPress. Soon enough, Anne fell deeper into the world of WordPress, captivated by its power and flexibility.

“Very quickly, I fell in love with what WordPress is capable of,” Anne says. She started creating her own personal websites, which was a chance to dive deeper into the intricacies of how WordPress works.

But her time in college was a race against the clock. Due to financial constraints, she must graduate in three years.

This juggling act, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise. Balancing studies with work forced Anne to sharpen her skills with laser focus. By graduation day, Anne found herself wielding a stronger skillset than she realized.

Anne’s first WordCamp experience in WordCamp Raleigh 2013 solidified her love for WordPress and the vibrant community surrounding it. “It was a small, intimate, and wonderfully nerdy event filled with folks who really cared and wanted to talk in detail about WordPress,” she recounts. There, she started connecting with like-minded individuals who shared her passion for technology-based problem-solving.

But the full breadth of the WordPress community didn’t fully hit her until she attended WordCamp San Francisco in 2014. Witnessing the sheer scale and energy of the event opened Anne’s eyes to the global movement she was now a part of. From that moment on, her path was set. WordPress wasn’t just a platform anymore – it was a community, a family, and a calling.

Tech With a Human Touch

From her first role at Automattic as a Happiness Engineer to her current role as a Product Wrangler, Anne’s professional journey is a neat mix of technical expertise and fondness for human interactions. This fascinating blend finds its roots in an unexpected place: psychology.

“I feel like I use my psychology background both every day and not at all,” Anne says. She uses her psychology knowledge in a non-classical way – it serves as a silent compass, guiding her in approaching people, sharing information, reviewing an in-progress feature, and more.

“It grounds me in the truth of what we’re doing,” Anne asserts, “and that is building software for people to share whatever they want.” This “for people” mantra imbues her approach with a warmth often absent in the fast-paced world of tech.

Anne McCarthy giving talks on stage on Wordcamp Europe

As a Happiness Engineer, Anne championed positive customer experiences. After that, during her Developer Relations Wrangler days, she focused on fostering a positive experience for WordPress.org developers. These roles let her work with both sides of a product – the users and the creators. These experiences equipped her with a balanced perspective that now shines in her role as a Product Wrangler.

“I think of myself as embodying three roles: dot connector, accelerant, and doer,” Anne explains, describing her ongoing work. She aims to do this within Automattic at large and across the WordPress community.

Her efforts in creating Source of Truth since WordPress 5.8 and the FSE Outreach Program are testaments to her dedication to building a well-connected ecosystem.

Always on the pulse of innovation, she tries to get as close as she can to the latest advancements. Then, she goes the extra mile to share, gather feedback, and ensure it reaches the right hands.

WordPress 6.4 source of truth that Anne McCarthy wrote and published on her blog

Anne tirelessly empowers community involvement by identifying and figuring out roadblocks, sharing summarized updates, and facilitating insightful Hallway Hangouts. Her goal is to keep everyone connected, informed, and excited to participate in the ongoing evolution of WordPress.

But how does she stay organized with multiple projects progressing simultaneously? “By narrowing my focus. I don’t try to keep up with everything all the time, only the right things at the right time,” Anne responds.

Quarterly reminders help her maintain a broader perspective, but it’s ultimately the human connections that form the bedrock of her organization. Others’ input helps ensure nothing slips through the cracks, making for a thriving community.

Building Together: Inside FSE Outreach Program

In 2020, Anne spearheaded the FSE Outreach Program – an experimental program to encourage feedback culture and knowledge sharing around the then-developing full-site editing feature in WordPress.

Now, with FSE firmly cemented in the WordPress core software, the program has concluded its outreach function. It then transformed into a vibrant hub for focused discussions and collaborative exploration.

the full site editing outreach program handbook page in Make WordPress.org website

In its heyday, the program proved to be a magnet for a diverse spectrum of participants, from seasoned WordPress contributors to casual users.

By the end of the program, 140 individuals obtained a Test Contributor badge. This influx of curious newcomers showed that the FSE Outreach Program was more than just a feedback channel – it was a catalyst for community growth.

But navigating the tide of feedback could be dangerous. The potential for a feedback tsunami was a constant concern for Anne. “I actually pitched it as a private group before I got feedback to make it public,” she recounts. Data overflow occasionally occurred, especially with lengthy videos that were recorded multiple times.

“I only have so much time in the day, so I try to do my best to empower folks to report issues they want to see fixed and ensure I don’t become a “middle person”,” she explains. Her mission was to equip participants with the tools and channels necessary to report issues directly, fostering a collaborative feedback loop that could bypass intermediary bottlenecks.

In the process, the FSE Outreach Program not only built the platform, but also the community around it.

When asked about maintaining engagement and keeping the project on track, she acknowledges that her psychology background might come into play, especially during the program’s pandemic-stricken infancy.

With the Site Editor in its embryonic stage, six months from public testing, Anne had to improvise.

“I started by sharing early looks to get folks excited, holding Hallway Hangouts for more real-time dialogue, and doing larger Q&As to flush out early questions,” Anne says. These initiatives blossomed into blog posts like So You Want to Talk About FSE Part III, which showed Anne’s dedication to unearthing and amplifying hopes and fears regarding the development as early as possible.

By actively listening and responding to the community, she helped transform people’s aspirations into meaningful conversations. This ensured the program remained focused on what truly mattered. “To get people engaged, you must speak to what they care about,” she affirms.

As an open-source project, WordPress is built up by contributors from around the world, regardless of their skill level, socioeconomic status, and other identifiers. Therefore, it’s important to have an empowered, inclusive community, so that everyone can continue making the most of the collective effort.

Anne herself is a consistent advocate for diversity, equality, inclusiveness, and belonging (DEIB) issues. She believes it’s important to create a safe space for everyone. As a part of the LGBT community, Anne knows firsthand the challenges faced by marginalized voices. Even though many spaces have become more inclusive, people from minority groups may still find it challenging to join a community and speak up about their needs.

Instead of urging forced participation, Anne offers a gentler approach. “Speaking from a minority perspective, I’d recommend trying to find someone from another minority group and asking about their experience,” says Anne.

Anne stresses that while it’s important to raise awareness about minorities’ needs, it’s also essential for them to have the right to decide if they feel safe speaking up or not.

She’ll happily put herself out there for people to reach out to, or to connect them with someone else who can speak more directly to one’s lived experience. “I will never, ever just tell someone to “speak up” – we need to do more to help folks feel safe and to have avenues to “speak up” anonymously,” she affirms.

The WordPress community has a #deib-working-group in the WordPress.org Slack channel, which Anne recommends as a good starting point. This act of acknowledging individual comfort levels creates a welcoming atmosphere where open communication flourishes on its own terms.

For companies or organizations seeking to implement effective DEIB practices, Anne emphasizes an alignment with their core mission. “Align with the company or organization’s mission and offer your unique value,” she says. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, support the voices of those already doing the work.”

For example, support organizations already dedicated to diversity within tech. Allocating resources, whether through time or funding, allows existing DEIB initiatives to reach their full potential.

One of Anne’s proudest moments within the WordPress community happened to be in the DEIB space itself. Collaborating with Google, she ran the Accelerate.lgbt event series that helped LGBT non-profits and small businesses with online tools and knowledge.

“We’d partner up with a combination of local WordPress communities, small business associations, and various co-workers I’d drag in to speak and offer a combination of talks and one-on-one sessions. It was hard work but so rewarding. It’s something I can’t believe I ever did,” she says. This initiative, born from passion and dedication, exemplifies the positive impact individuals can get through targeted efforts.

If you’re interested in WordPress but still unsure about how to give meaningful contributions to the platform, Anne has a simple answer: “Jump in!”

Anne encourages everyone interested in WordPress to join the WordPress.org team on Slack. Just announce that you’re a new contributor in a relevant channel and share your interest.

“Inevitably, fellow contributors will chime in,” she assures, “I have alert words set up for “first contribution”, so if you’re contributing to the Core team, I can personally guide you towards your first stepping stone.” Regular contributor meetings are also another entry point into the welcoming and vibrant WordPress community.

In the WordPress community, everyone lifts each other up. People like Anne not only help WordPress grow with their expertise – they also sustain a sense of belonging so that the community can continue to thrive.

Author

Maya is a Content Writer and WordPress Contributor. With years of journalistic experience under her belt, her main goals are to help people understand complex processes in a simpler way, and tell the stories of people who thrive thanks to technology. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching sci-fi movies while eating ramen.
Follow her on LinkedIn.


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wpadmin January 25, 2024 0 Comments

Keeping Your Website Secure in 2024

Keeping Your Website Secure in 2024: Five Lessons Learned From Last Year and Helpful Tips

Hostinger has been keeping your websites safe and secure since 2004. Each year presents new challenges for website security, and 2023 was no exception. Last year was famous for the rise of artificial intelligence, which is also used by cyber criminals.

Discover how Hostinger thwarted attempts by malicious actors to compromise the websites of over 2 million customers in 2023. Together with the five lessons learned, we will also share some insights to help you avoid cyber threats.

Sales Attract Malicious Actors

The Hostinger malware scanner, powered by Monarx, identified and cleaned nearly 500 million instances of malware throughout the year. The number of cleaned malware is twice as low as it was in 2022, mostly because we have learned how to deal with Phoenix, an uploader delivering other malware to systems. 

After excluding the influence of Phoenix, there’s actually been a significant increase in the number of unique malware pieces over the past year, a trend likely to persist. 

Malicious activities peak during sales periods when more people are online, spending money, and may not be as cautious about security. Our malware scanner was working tirelessly during major sales in November and December, and minor spikes were observed in May and August. 

Additionally, generative AI is increasingly contributing to an arms race with hackers by making malware more sophisticated and destructive.

Enterprise Raiders Target Small Businesses

Webshells, uploaders, and adware continue to dominate website malware charts, but new threats are emerging for small businesses and mom-and-pop shops.

First, ransomware is increasingly targeting them by encrypting data and demanding a ransom for recovery. A year or two ago, it primarily targeted large, solvent businesses.

Second, cryptocurrency miners are intensifying their activities, particularly when bitcoin prices fall and the number of traditional miners drops, making mining on web servers lucrative. 

Finally, redirects are gaining popularity and pose a significant threat due to their rapid mutability, often infiltrating both good files and databases. The wp_posts table is particularly popular, but they can be all over the place.

Dealing With 500 DDoS Attacks per Day Is the New Normal

In 2023, our infrastructure faced over 185,000 distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, averaging 500 attacks per day. Data centers in the US witnessed the highest number of attacks, followed by Brazil and India. 

Our advanced traffic filter efficiently thwarted the majority of DDoS attacks, automatically activating within seconds and diverting malicious traffic to the filter instance. This method allowed us to reduce the use of remotely triggered black holes by up to 95%, resulting in a better uptime for our services and clients. 

The traffic filter has handled some really powerful attacks. Several of them took place just before the major holidays, on December 21 and 24, in our Singapore data center. The first one persisted for over 6 hours, hitting customer websites with 2.3 million packets per second (Mpps) and 18 gigabits per second (Gbps). A few days later, another attack unfolded, peaking at 3.6 Mpps and 1.3 Gbps.

The good news is that neither these nor the myriad other attacks had any impact on our infrastructure or your websites.

The Power Struggle Between Botnets and CDNs

Botnets, notably Mirai, represent another type of malware that saw a rise in tandem with improvements in content delivery networks (CDNs). To simplify, the better CDNs become, the larger botnets you need to flood websites successfully, and vice versa.

An illustrative example lies with Hostinger CDN. Launched in the middle of last year, it automatically mitigated numerous attacks, including one of considerable potency. Over a three-hour period, more than 10 million requests per second (Mrps) engulfed a client’s site. Following the incident, our experts analyzed the data and leveraged it to enhance our CDN, making it three times more powerful than it was before the attack. 

Obviously, this incident doesn’t measure up to the record-breaking 71 Mrps attack that Cloudflare mitigated last year. However, it’s important to note that our clients are not among the Fortune 1000.

Beware of Fake and Insecure Plugins

WordPress, used by 43% of all websites, including over 3 million hosted by Hostinger, stands as the most popular content management system. No wonder it continues to be a prime target for cyber threats.

Major WordPress security vendors such as Patchstack, WPScan, and Wordfence identified over 4,000 Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs), constituting around 14% of all CVEs discovered last year.

Plugins are at the core of these vulnerabilities, with fake plugins taking the lead. The details of these plugins may vary, but both their quality and quantity have been rapidly increasing. We anticipate this trend to persist throughout 2024 as generative AI makes the creation of fake plugins even more accessible.

For Hostinger clients, WordPress automatic updates and a vulnerability scanner come to the rescue. The scanner promptly notifies clients if vulnerabilities are detected on their websites and provides advice on necessary actions.

How to Keep Your Business Safe Online in 2024

While the challenges may seem overwhelming, securing your business online is within your control. Choosing a reliable hosting provider is crucial, alleviating concerns about most potential threats.

Look for SSL certificates, a malware scanner, a web application firewall, DDoS filtering, built-in CDN, automatic updates, backups, and 24/7 monitoring. Luckily, as you’re already on the Hostinger blog, the solutions you need are just a click away.

Author

Giedrius is the Chief Product Officer at Hostinger. He leads and facilitates product management teams to ensure they are creating products that deliver value to both the user and the business. Giedrius has a strong technical background, he is passionate about using technology to solve real-world problems and make people’s lives easier.


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wpadmin January 24, 2024 0 Comments

BERT & SEO: How Google’s AI-powered search works

With artificial intelligence integrating into every facet of technology, Google has unsurprisingly stepped into the arena with an update that’s changing the search engine game. BERT, which stands for ‘Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers,’ is a revolution in how search queries are processed.

This change really shakes things up for search queries that rely on the subtle aspects of language, affecting a good chunk of searches — about 1 in every 10. So, let’s unpack what BERT entails for SEO and how you can fine-tune your content for this dynamic new phase.

Understanding the BERT algorithm: What is it?

BERT is a significant leap forward for Google, designed to decipher the nuances of language in search queries. Think of it as a sophisticated system that understands language much like we do — by looking at the words before and after a keyword. It’s a big deal, and its implications for accuracy in language cannot be ignored.

This context awareness allows BERT to grasp the intent behind your searches, making Google’s search engine more intuitive than ever. What this means for computational comprehension is earth-shattering, to say the least. With BERT, Google will better understand your needs and intentions.

Illustration of a flow chart indicating complex queries

BERT’s impact on complex queries

Google’s BERT update shines when it comes to complicated, conversational queries. In particular, it is useful in searches where every preposition can alter the meaning of the query. 

For example, there’s a world of difference between “car insurance to buy” and “car insurance buy.” BERT is engineered to understand these differences, improving how users find the most relevant results to their queries.

Likewise, the technology is excellent for local SEO, as BERT can easily clump together neighborhood names, products, and intent, while providing the desired results in a matter of seconds.  

BERT and on-page SEO

For SEO specialists, the rise of BERT signals the end of an era where poorly written content could rank well. Now, the focus shifts to clarity and the quality of information presented. Clear structures and emphasis on important content are crucial.

In particular, SEOs need to turn unstructured data into semi-structured data, guide Google through our content with internal linking, and provide cues on pages where text is sparse.

However, this also means that content creators must now be more precise with language. BERT isn’t here to fix content that lacks a clear focus  — it instead elevates content that’s already well-written. 

Context around key terms becomes critical, and content that can clearly answer user questions will come out on top. Remember, BERT is here to aid Google in understanding natural language, not to interpret vague content.

How BERT is refining search queries

Imagine you’re searching for “best seats for evening games.” Before BERT, search engines might have shown you results for buying seats or choosing the best games. 

With BERT, the search engine understands that “evening games” likely refer to sports events, and “best seats” relate to the viewer’s experience in the stadium during these times, potentially considering the sun’s position and the likelihood of glare. 

It’s a subtle difference. However, it significantly refines the search results to match the user’s actual intent. There are virtually endless examples just like this one that you can think of. With BERT, you’ll wrestle less with your search parameters, getting results that actually matter to you and what you’re looking for at that moment.

What BERT does is almost human-like, using the surrounding words to understand the intent behind a single word within a query. 

This has vast implications for content creators: we must ensure that the context we provide is clear and relevant as Google becomes increasingly adept at picking up on these nuances.

Illustration of possible good and bad queries using BERT

Optimizing for BERT: Do’s and don’ts

In the era of BERT, the spotlight is firmly on content clarity and user-focused optimization. Here’s how you can ensure your content strategy is aligned with this new norm:

Understanding the user’s intent

The core of BERT’s functionality lies in grasping the nuances of language and the intent behind search queries. For content creators, this translates to an emphasis on precision.

It’s about understanding what the user is truly seeking and crafting content that hits the mark. This means moving beyond keyword-centric strategies to a more intent-oriented approach.

Content quality over quantity

Gone are the days when a scattergun approach to keywords might have reaped rewards. With BERT, content needs to be focused and relevant. It’s not about covering all bases but rather about delivering top-notch responses to particular queries.

Your content should serve as a reservoir of deep insights, offering substantial and relevant information that aligns closely with what your audience is seeking.

Incorporating structured data

Structured data becomes your silent ambassador to search engines. And with schema markup, search engines have an in-depth understanding of your site’s content. It allows them to rapidly pinpoint and grasp the different components.

This streamlined organization helps BERT to decode how various content pieces interlink, boosting both the clarity and the findability of your information.

The importance of internal linking

Internal linking does more than shepherd visitors through your website — it’s a powerful tool to bolster the thematic structure of your content. Thoughtful internal links can enhance user experience and provide clear pathways for BERT to ascertain the hierarchy and interconnectivity of your pages.

Think of it as creating a roadmap that guides both users and search engines through your site’s landscape, underlining the pertinence of each page.

Preparing for the future of AI in SEO

BERT is just the beginning. With AI advancing rapidly, Google’s understanding of search queries is only going to get more nuanced. This evolution could lead to more significant segmentation in search results, especially in local SEO. 

In the future, Google’s AI will also be able to segment search results more effectively, especially when it comes to local SEO. Even with all its advancements, BERT still has a tendency to post irrelevant content just because it was fooled by SEO trickery. In the future, for instance, even if a restaurant chain has purchased local links, they’ll still drop down in SERPs because they’re not local.

Anticipating the next steps

As AI strides forward with determination, it becomes increasingly essential for SEO strategies to keep pace. This change is quite significant, especially when you consider that the worldwide AI market is expected to balloon to around $740 billion by 2030. And SEO is at the forefront, precisely because of the amount of raw data AI can crunch.

Content must be honed with precision — every paragraph, sentence, and word is carefully chosen for clarity and purpose. A well-structured piece is no longer just about aesthetics; it’s about making content comprehensible for both AI and the end-user. The need for contextually rich content steps into the spotlight, as well. 

AI algorithms like BERT aren’t satisfied with the mere sprinkling of keywords. They’re looking for depth, the subtext beneath the main message. It’s about anticipating the user’s journey — understanding that every search term is part of a larger conversation.

Small businesses benefit from understanding Google’s BERT 

As we stand at the cusp of a new era in search engine optimization, it’s time to embrace the changes brought on by BERT. Keeping our content crisp, well-organized, and in tune with the intricate ways users search helps us stay ahead of the game, ensuring our websites keep their top spots and stay pertinent in a future steered by AI.

Remember, this is just one step in the ongoing journey of SEO — a quantum leap, indeed. But it’s one that signals a more intuitive, more ethical, human-like understanding from the world’s most powerful search engine. Prepare your content to meet these new standards, and the rewards will be well worth the effort.


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wpadmin January 5, 2024 0 Comments