The .htaccess file is a concatenation of the term “hypertext access”. Used to enable high-level configuration of a website, a.htaccess file allows the website administrator to make changes without the need to edit the server configuration files. As such, the .htaccess file may be a valuable tool for SEO purposes, when used appropriately.
In technical terms, a .htaccess file is a distributed server configuration file, which means that it can have an effect on the server’s configuration only within the directory in which the particular file resides. This means that using a .htaccess file allows the user to set server configurations for their chosen directory only, which could, for example, be the website’s root directory, or its downloads or images directory.
Typically used in an Apache environment, .htaccess files may also be used for configuring directories in other servers such as Litespeed. In Apache, the access to the .htaccess file is usually located in the public_html folder of the website, and reached through the cPanel file management feature, or via a client such as sFTP or FTP.
Caution must be used when attempting to modify htaccess files, as mistakes can prove extremely damaging, leading to server misconfigurations and costly downtime for the website in question.
Using the .htaccess File for SEO
Configuring a .htaccess file can be a powerful means of improving SEO, if carried out correctly, influencing a wide range of factors affecting the website’s Search Engine rankings, such as indexing, crawlability, and boosting page loading speeds, as well as helping to deconflict ranking signals.
These .htaccess files can also be used to build in redirections for selected URLs, automatically load customised error (404) pages, and prevent hotlinking. There are also security benefits to be gained through the use of .htaccess files, such as ensuring that the website adopts https rather than http protocol, and allowing password protection for selected server directories.