So you've decided to hire a SEO company, and they are asking you for FTP access. You may be a bit concerned about the privacy and security of your website data. Maybe you don't even know what FTP is in the first place. In this article, we'll explain everything you need to know, plus some tips for keeping your data secure.
FTP, otherwise known as File Transfer Protocol, is a means of remotely accessing a server to see the files and data that is stored within that server.
As an example, think of your computer that you use every day. If you are on a Mac, you are probably aware of the "Finder" application. On Windows computers, you'll see a similar application called "File Explorer". Both of these applications allow you to gain access to all of the various files that exist on your computer.
The benefit of these applications is that they allow users to visually see and manage all of their files in an easy to use Graphical User Interface (GUI).
On the other hand, when it comes to the files that exist on your website hosting server, these files are not as easily accessible. This is because website hosting servers typically use a command line based variation of Linux. For the typical end user, this makes things much more complex.
That being said, most Linux based hosting servers also have additional software solutions installed such as WHM and cPanel. cPanel is very useful, as it adds lots of functionality to manage your server including a built-in File Manager similar to Finder on Mac or File Explorer on Windows computers. File Manager on cPanel comes with an easy to use Graphical User Interface.
There is one big problem however. If you provide admin-level access to your cPanel or your website hosting account, this will expose your website to much greater privacy and security risks.
This is primarily due to the fact that your cPanel installation also includes access to something called your database. This database (typically a MySQL database) houses a lot of very sensitive data.
If your website is running on WordPress using WooCommerce for Ecommerce, your database will typically include names, emails, phone numbers and other sensitive information about your past customers.
In the event that your SEO company gains access to this data, they could potentially export it. This in turn could cause huge headaches including legal ramifications for your business.
This is where FTP access comes in handy.
When SEO companies are performing various On-Page and Technical SEO tasks on your website, there are many ways in which website changes may result in errors, or worse, your website going down.
Although experienced SEO companies will avoid making changes that will result in these kinds of problems, there are many factors that come into play. For example, if your website is using Wordpress, installing a redirection plugin may try and rewrite a file called .htaccess. In some cases, this can cause errors that will completely take down your website.
If your business is generating any sort of significant website traffic, any downtime on your site could cause major decreases in revenue (and also major panic for all parties).
To mitigate these potential issues, providing FTP access to your website hosting server will allow your SEO company to quickly access the raw files on your server. This in turn will allow them to restore backups of files, or manually revert changes in code if necessary.
If you do not provide FTP access to your SEO company, they may need to wait until you respond to messages in the event of a major problem. If problems occur at night, this may mean waiting until the morning.
In some cases, errors will occur that may not take down your website entirely, but still require manual intervention on your server filesystem. For example, on Wordpress you can enable debug mode manually by editing a file by using FTP to log into the server. Enabling this setting will provide the SEO company with information relating to the error that is occurring in order to fix the problem.
If you are planning on working with an SEO agency or SEO consultant, there are ways to further mitigate risk when providing sensitive website credentials such as FTP access.
The first and most obvious thing is to work with a SEO agency that actually knows what they're doing. Working with an SEO agency requires a lot of trust, as your sensitive data could be at risk. Make sure that your SEO company that you work with understands how to operate a website server.
The next thing is to always ensure that you sign an agreement that protects the confidentiality of your sensitive data. At Latched, we always sign strong agreements with our clients that protect the security and privacy of all client data.
As added measures, we always ensure that we enable tw0-factor authentication (2FA) for all user accounts and limit the amount of access we provide to our own team members.
One other really useful best-practice is to use something called a staging environment. A staging environment is basically a duplicate version of your website server that allows developers to test changes before they go live.
Depending on what hosting company you are using, some providers allow for one-click staging setup. We personally love using Cloudways for this.
Cloudways is a managed hosting solution that allows you to create various website server setups in one click using Cloud VPS hosting. They also make it really easy to push your website data into a staging environment. That staging environment can be on the same server or a different one.
Once you are done making changes on the staging environment, you can push back the changes to the main website in one click. You can also isolate those updates to just the files without merging your database, or vice versa.
Ideally, you should provide the highest level of access to your SEO company. If there are very sensitive files that are stored on your website server, you can change the file permissions of those directories to prevent your SEO company from gaining access.
However, we strongly suggest that you do not store any highly sensitive information directly on your server itself. This is because web servers are often subject to malicious attacks. If the security of your server is compromised, unauthorized users may be able to access these files without your knowledge.
Using FTP allows for your SEO company to easily manage files in bulk remotely using software tools directly from their desktop. Accessing your server's filesystem via FTP is typically done on a secure connection, and is better for bulk file management compared to the web based file manager system on cPanel.
Additionally, by providing your SEO company with FTP access instead of cPanel access, it will ensure that your database and other critical files and settings are not directly accessible.
Most SEO companies use a software solution called FileZilla to access website servers using FTP. FileZilla is free to use, and provides a high level of control over settings. It also comes with a really intuitive user interface much like that of Finder on Mac or File Explorer on Windows.
FTP, or File Transfer Protocol is a highly effective way for SEO agencies and SEO consultants to access their client's website server files. It is particularly useful in emergency situations where problems occur on your website that need manual backend intervention to fix.
FTP access is also preferred by those that have website development experience, as it provides direct access to files that contain code pertaining to your website and how it looks and functions.
We highly recommend working with an SEO agency that is familiar with using FTP access. Just make sure you work with a company that takes strict precautions when it comes to the security of your data, and make sure that you take website server backups consistently. Never provide direct access to your website database unless absolutely necessary, as this could result in a serious data breach if you collect customer data.
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