Now running on Kinsta WordPress Hosting

Yesterday I moved this blog over to Kinsta WordPress hosting. Kinsta is a premium WordPress provider that utilizes Google Cloud Platform containers. You shouldn’t see any changes to the blog. But if you see anything missing or links broken, please let me know…..via contact form, twitter, or leaving a comment. I also moved from MaxCDN over to KeyCDN for all static content. That’s an under the hood change which should be 100% transparent.

If you are in the market for a premium WordPress experience, I highly recommend Kinsta. I did extensive research, trials, and digging to find the best platform. Several other providers I tried just didn’t cut it and performance was terrible. Kinsta checked the boxes for all of my requirements and comes in less expensive than my previous provider (WPEngine).

Top WordPress Plugins You Should Use Pt. 2

In Part 1 of this series, Top WordPress Plugins you should use, I covered the first batch of what I think are useful plugins. This post is the second and last installment covering plugins that I use and might help you out. Of course each WordPress site is unique, and may not benefit from all the plugins. 

​Top WordPress Plugins

​1. OneSignal Push Notifications - You know how some sites ask you if you want push notifications in your browser for updates? Well this is a plugin that can do that for you. This is becoming more popular, and instantly lets your readers know when you have a new post. It is very customizable and easy to configure. 

​2. Print, PDF & Email by PrintFriendly - You know when you find that blog post you need to print? Well if you just use a browser's print function the result can be less than pretty. This plugin removes the excess 'junk' like sidebars and many ads so the printed result is nice and clean. You can also print directly to PDF, or send the blog post in a nicely formatted email. 

​3. Really Simple SSL Pro -  Want to enable SSL on your site, check for mixed content, conifigure HSTS, then this plugin is for you. There's a basic free version, then a Pro version with even more features. The author is extremely helpful and responsive, should you have any questions. Highly recommended. 

​4. Schema Pro - Schema Pro is a plugin by the same company that created the Astra theme and other WordPress plugins. It helps your SEO by enabling search engines to better consume your content. They have a number of schema available, such as review, article, product, recipe, etc. Installation and configuration is super simple. 

​5. Simple Social Icons - There are a bazillion social media plugins, but this one is clean, simple, and free. It allows you to add low-key social icons to your site. Many, many options which are highly configurable.

​6. Social Login - If you want to enable social media logins for your WordPress comments or your WordPress admin login, this is the plugin for you. I first tried another plugin, and it was slow, buggy, and just very poorly written. This one, on the other hand, is easy to configure and adds minimal bloat to your pages. it supports nearly 30 social logins (e.g. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

​7. Social Media Widget - Social Media Widget lets you add social media icons on your site so that readers can easily follow you on various platforms. Quite configurable and easy to use. Free. 

​8. Social Warfare (Pro) - Social Warfare Pro is an amazing plugin that adds icons to let your readers share your content via Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other platforms. The bar can float over your page, or be configured in a number of other ways. Top-notch technical support, and I'm very impressed. Top pick! 

​9. Thrive Architect - Thrive Architect is a visual editor for WordPress that lets you construct visually rich content with drag and drop ease. I'm using this right now to write this blog post. I recommend it for blog posts over Beaver Builder or Elementor Pro. If you want a page builder for constructing a new site, I recommend Elementor Pro. Thrive is very flexible and has a lot of modules.

​10. Updraft Plus - Everyone needs a WordPress backup and restore plugin. Even if your hosting service does backups, you still want an 'off site' copy in case your provider goes belly up, gets hacked, or suffers a catastrophic data loss. This plugin also can migrate your WP site to another hoster with just a few clicks. Highly recommended, and connects to a number of cloud providers such as DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Amazon S3, etc. 

​11. WP Retina 2x Pro - Today many devices have ultra-high DPI screens, or so called "retina" screens. This is particularly true on phones, tablets, and those lucky enough to have 4K screens. This plugin makes sure high res images are served on those devices. Easy to use and configure.

​12. WP Rocket - An amazing top-rated plugin to speed up page loads on your WordPress site and also performs deep page caching. Minifies CSS and JS, as well as many other functions. Significantly improves GTMetrix, Pingtom, and other page testing results. Well worth the money. 

​13. Yoast SEO - Last but not least, is Yoast SEO. It's a must-have plugin for optimize your SEO and improving your ranking in search results. Free and Pro versions available. 

Using SSL on WordPress? Not All Hosting is the Same

Introduction

I'm a huge fan of WordPress, and I've had this blog hosted on WordPress for many years. Given my security background, I always try and make my site as secure as possible, while not breaking functionality. One important feature, both for SEO and security is SSL. All you need a SSL certificate, right? Nope! And that's the basis of this post.

Not all SSL Configurations are the Same

Under the hood of SSL are a number of configuration options that you are probably not even aware of. Most of these relate to the supported protocols and cipher suites that can be negotiated with your site. These are generally web server back-end settings. A lot of SSL protocols and cipher suites have not lasted the test of time and are deemed flat out insecure or weak. For example, RC4, is pathetically insecure and should never be used. 

Most quality WordPress hosting companies provide free SSL certificates. So many people think it's just a single click (or even automated) to get your site secure with SSL. Not so! Your hosting company configured which protocols and cipher suites are available. And if your hoster isn't security conscious they can leave your website vulnerable and degrade your site's security. Never for a second think just because you have a SSL certificate that you are secure! 

How to test your SSL

Fortunately, it's dead easy even for a non-techie to test the SSL security of your site. All you need to do is go over to SSL labs and run a test against your domain. After a couple of minutes it will give your site a letter grade, and a lot of tech details about what it found. For example, on my WP Engine hosted WordPress sites I have an A+ rating. With a shared hosting plan with another company I got a poor B score with numerous security warnings. Take a minute and check your site now so you can see a full report.

The "A+" SSL Lab Report

First let me start with a site that passes with flying colors, this blog site. As you can see in the graphic below, it scores an A+ and also uses HSTS. HSTS is a super-strict form of TLS/SSL that you can read more about how to configure in a blog post I wrote here. This test result is from my current provider, WP Engine, using their managed WordPress offering. It's not cheap by any means, but frankly you get what you pay for with hosting, in most cases. 

As you scroll down the report you also get a list of protocols and cipher suites that your site supports. Looking at the report below, you see that none of the cipher suites are tagged as insecure or weak. That is good! Looks exactly like what we want it to. Thank you WP Engine! 

The "B" SSL Lab Report

Recently I got an economical (entry level, shared plan) WordPress hosting account with InMotion hosting, just for experimentation purposes. I could try out new tools, check out another hoster's performance, and see if there was any compelling reason to consider a future move away from WP Engine to something less expensive. 

I stood up a new domain, got their free SSL certificate, and then ran a SSL Lab report scan. I was horrified to see the results. Overall it got a "B" which may not sound bad, but digging into the details really made me uneasy. And I had to contact their tech support, but more about that later in this post.

Looking into the details of the "B" grade you can see that RC4 is supported (very, very insecure) and that forward secrecy is not supported. But let's dig deeper into the cipher suites to see what's going on.

Right off the bat you can see three cipher suites are enabled that use RC4. Really bad! And another three cipher suites are labled 'weak'. Also not good, but not as bad as 'insecure'. Clearly, this is significantly worse than the WP Engine scan. 

Fixing the Issues

Because the protocols and cipher suites are back-end configuration settings, I contacted InMotion tech support to see what they could do. And there was bad news, and good news. Firstly, for the shared plan I was using NOTHING could be done. As the TLS/SSL configuration is set across numerous customers. However, if one went with their VPS plans, individual sites can be configured per customer requirements. If I was on a VPS plan, then the hoster would take care of all the configuration. You should then re-test, and see if the security holes were plugged. An A+ rating is not to hard and doesn't require techie level skills. 

Summary

Even if you have an SSL certificate on your site, that does NOT mean you are optimally configured. Your hoster could be using very insecure settings, but you'd never know without testing it. So if you have never tested your website's SSL, do it immediately. You may be shocked with what is lurking in the results. On the flip side, most of the work is done by your hosting service so you don't need to know what files to configure. I'd just send them a screenshot of the 'bad' results and tell them to fix it. 

You also need to be conscious of which plan you are using with a provider, and how that impacts security. For example, my shared plan with InMotion doesn't allow them to tweak the SSL security whereas their VPS plan would. Whether you want to spend the additional money for VPS (or find another provider that's more secure by default), that's your call. 

Knowledge is power, and knowing where your site's SSL stands is important. It's up to you whether you want to fix it and get an A+ rating or not. If you are running any type of security sensitive transactions like payments or storing personal information, I'd urge you to configure your site for an A+ SSL labs rating.