The Web For Business.com Blog

Internet marketing observations, perspectives, tips and tricks for your education and enlightenment.


Cryptocurrency Mining, Your Website, and Hackers

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cryptocurrency Mining and Website SecurityJust when you thought there wasn't anything to steal from your website, those darn hackers are a step ahead of you - again. This time, it's your computing power, and that of your site visitors.

Why Computing Power?

Cryptocurrencies can be "mined". I won't get into detail on what this entails, but fundamentally, cryptocurrency mining requires a lot of computing power. That's where your website comes in. With a little piece of code, hackers can exploit not only the computing power of your hosting company's network, but also the computing power of your website's visitors. This kind of malware has been found on approximately 1.65 million users of the Kapersky Labs's security software.

This problem isn't just limited to small business websites. Enterprise networks that aren't secure are also a prime target. It's easy to see why. A large botnet of compromised computers engaged in cryptocurrency mining can make tens of thousands of dollars every month with little to no effort on the part of the hackers. Clearly, when one can make this kind of money anonymously, doing mostly nothing, there's a significant incentive for hackers to get hacking.

What's the Problem?

If your website gets hacked, you can expect to see significant performance hits as your host's server CPU resources get diverted to mining activities. Additionally, you'll be responsible for potentially distributing the mining malware further to your site visitors. In short, the only benefit to this is to the hackers.

Pay attention to your website security. There are plenty of resources available to help secure your website, most of them available for less than $1 a day. It's easy to do and can help protect you against existing and emerging threats to your online presence.

Don't Discard the Old Stuff

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, October 05, 2017

QuestionsRemember MySpace? Yeah, it's sort of lost the social media spotlight to Facebook, but it's not dead. 28 million users still use it. That's more than Pinterest (at 25 million users). Is it dead? Not quite. It's just not "cool" any longer.

The same can be said for other online marketing channels that a lot of people are writing off. However, there are still lots of businesses making lots of money using "old" techniques, so don't discard them yet. Here are a couple of thoughts to consider.

Email Marketing

With the rise of CASL and other anti-spam legislation around the world, marketers have to be more careful when it comes to marketing via email. While it's not new and shiny, email is still one of the most cost-effective ways marketers have to reach their prospects and customers. It's highly targeted, customizable, personalizable, and the tools to measure its success are easily available and understandable. You can also scale it up as needed. Email marketing's not dead. If you think it is, you should probably be asking yourself how you can use it more effectively.

Blogging

Content will always rule online. While social media is being used to get wider distribution, the content often still comes from blogs. It's just been re-posted to a social media channel. If you're going to participate at all in content marketing, you need to have content on your website. Guess what? It's probably going to wind up on your blog instead of on a static page of your website. Blogging is far from dead. If it hasn't worked for you, start asking yourself what you can do to improve your results.

Everyone has the potential to their own independent media company. Video blogs (vlogs), podcasts (audio blogging, so to speak) and other technologies are giving creators more choice on how to deliver their message. The challenge for you now is to create useful content that your audience will find helpful. That's the cornerstone of any online marketing campaign. Don't get seduced by the latest sexy technology when the old workhorses are still doing a great job. If they're not, then it behooves you to figure out how to do things better. Or, call a professional.


When Was Your Last Website Update?

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, October 04, 2017

QuestionsFor small business owners, updating your website's probably not your first priority. I get it. I'm the same way. However, I'm here to remind you that updates are your friend for a number of reasons.

SEO

Let's face it. Google's the main game in town when it comes to being found in search. What does Google like? Current information, among other things. If there's no new information on your site, it may slide in the SERPS until one day you wake up and realize you're not on the first page anymore. If you want to have a better chance of top rankings, update your site regularly.

Humans

How do you feel when you visit a site that's advertising a sale from 3 months ago? Does it give you the warm-fuzzies about that business? Chances are it doesn't. If you've created a website with no dates, that's fine. It probably won't hurt you, but it may not help you either. If you want to stand out from the crowd, update your site regularly with useful information and perspectives. Chances are you'll be one of the few in your industry who does.

Creating Content

Don't worry so much about being a creator. Most of the topics you can think of have already been talked about elsewhere. Fortunately, your customers and prospects probably haven't done much reading on those topics yet, so your information will still be new to them. Another thing you have going for you is your experience and perspective. You will likely convey the same information in a different way than your competition, and it might just strike a chord with your reader in a way that someone else's article on the same topic didn't. Being creative often just means being you.

Frequency

So many people want to know what the "right" frequency is for posting new material. The short answer is it depends on who your target audience is. If you're in the wine business, posting every 30 minutes about a different bottle of wine is going to overwhelm your audience. Similarly, posting once a week when you're running an entertainment website isn't going to be enough. Professionals can probably get away with once a month, or even once a quarter, as long as the information is solid and useful. Of course, keep in mind that if you're going for some SEO frequency benefits, you'll want to post more often than quarterly.

Your website is your digital storefront. Keeping it updated shouldn't be considered a chore, but rather, a necessity. Be engaged with your website to be considered more relevant to the robots and humans who visit you online. If you're not relevant, what are you?

Ripples

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Ripples In the SandYour actions online matter. Every post, tweet, share, every opinion you express leaves a lasting impression about you and your business. As a business owner, your goal is to ensure the consequences of your actions are positive, or at least aren't going to harm your business.

This is more important for small business owners. In general, a small business' fortunes are tied to the relationships they've built in their community. Those relationships are your business' assets, so when you damage those relationships, you can potentially damage your business.

If you're a restaurant owner with very liberal political views that you share frequently and passionately online, you run the risk of alienating your conservative customers. If 40 percent of your customers are conservative and you annoy 50 percent of them enough that they never come back, that's a 20 percent drop in your customer base. It probably won't happen all at once. Worse, it will happen over time and you'll probably miss it. They have the right not to patronize you, of course, and they won't if they've been offended by what you've said about conservatives online. What does a 20 percent decrease in your customer base look like to you, or your accountant?

Thanks to the internet, we can dig up years of information on businesses and people. What you say now can come back to be used against you a year, two years or even five years from now. With every word you type online you're creating a legacy. My suggestion to all small business owners is that they carefully shape their online presence to be leave a positive impression upon everyone. 

I'm not suggesting that you don't express support for the things you believe online. Just do it in a civil, respectful way. This takes more work, but you're creating a legacy so I think it's worth it. When it comes to what you say online, your words don't just fade away, like ripples in a pond. Your digital footprint isn't permanent, but it's effects are long lasting, so choose your words wisely.

Calling Bullshit on Bullshit

Mark Kawabe - Monday, October 02, 2017

Manure spreaders onlineYou don't see large brands sabotaging their online marketing efforts. Messages are carefully vetted in order to preserve the brand image. Small business owners aren't nearly as careful about this, but it might be in their best interests do pay more attention to what they post online. Here are some thoughts.

Credibility

Posting information that is demonstrably false or, at the very least can't be proven true will lead some people to question your judgement. After all, if you're not aware you're spreading lies, what else don't you know? Your credibility is one of your most valuable personal and business assets. You should be jealously protecting it.

Connection

Business is built on connections and a perception of shared values and trust. Posting information that's not true will lead people to trust you less. Every message you post has the potential to weaken or break the connections you've made with the people who choose to spend their time and money interacting with your business.

Small business owners are more connected with their customers and communities than big brand stores. If your personal social media presence is available to your customers and prospects, you may want to keep in mind the potential downsides posting erroneous information can bring. While nobody expects perfection, a simple fact-check before posting / re-posting / sharing a meme / infographic / statistic can be a serious credibility saver.

As a small business owner, you have enough issues to worry about. Lazy posting on social media can have unintended consequences for you when the information you're sharing is wrong, either by accident or design. Just remember: whatever you post is a reflection of you, which is in turn a reflection of your business. Accuracy matters.


What Hackers Want From Your Website

Mark Kawabe - Monday, January 30, 2017

What hackers want from your websiteSmall business owners often downplay the risks of their websites being hacked. Yet, thousands of sites are hacked every day. Here are a few thoughts about what hackers might find valuable beyond your website itself.

Server Resources

There's a lot going on behind the scenes to put your website online. The computer that hosts your site (web server) has internet connectivity and resources beyond most personal computers. If hackers can place their software into your site, they can use the server's resources to launch more vulnerability scans, hacks and attacks against other sites. You've probably heard about Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS) that take down large sites. They do that by using thousands of computers (botnets) to flood another site with traffic, ultimately overwhelming it. Your website's server resources has value to a hacker, thus giving them a reason to want to hack your site to access the server.

Compromising Your Visitors' Computers

If a hacker can put some software into your website's code, they can surreptitiously infect computers that visit your site. If your site receives 100 unique visitors a day and 10 of their computers get infected, that's 10 opportunities for hackers to retrieve sensitive data from your customers. You may think that because your site doesn't store sensitive data that it's not a target. Hackers think of your site as a means to an end. 

Web Traffic

Some common hacks involve redirecting visitors to one site to another. One customer came to me to let me know their site (created by another developer) had been hacked and that it was intermittently redirecting visitors to a porn site. It's also possible for hackers to redirect visitors to a webpage that tries to install malware on the visitor's computer. Gaining access to your website gives hackers easy access to visitors they wouldn't otherwise get.

You're Not Paying Attention

Small businesses generally don't pay as much attention to their sites as do larger companies. As a result, small business websites are often easier targets for hackers. Especially when it comes to self-managed WordPress websites which may not have core components, themes or plugins updated regularly. I did some checking on WordPress-based websites to see what version they were running. Out of 13 sites checked, 6 were running current versions of WordPress (4.7+). 3 were running version 4.6.3. The others were versions 4.5 and earlier, including one running version 3.5.1. If you think nothing's changed from a security perspective since WordPress 3.5.1, you're mistaken and your site is a sitting duck unless you've taken other steps to secure your site.

Your website by itself probably isn't that valuable. Hackers aren't going to deface your website and make it obvious they've been there. Instead, they'll rely on stealth and subterfuge to get access to the information and resources they're after.

How Do I Secure My Website?

If you have a static website, assuming your host has done a good job of security the web server and all of its software components, you will have somewhat fewer vulnerabilities than a dynamic, CMS-based website. Access passwords for FTP and any scripts you run may provide opportunities for hackers to get into your site. With a CMS-based site, your usernames and passwords to access the CMS are common ways to access sites. Make sure your passwords are strong. Additional approaches for all sites is to use a service like Sucuri to filter visits to your site so those trying to access it improperly are taken out of the mix. With WordPress specifically, ensure the WordPress core, themes and plugins are all updated regularly. You can add additional security plugins like iThemes Security Pro or WordFence to help bolster your site's defenses.

Websites get hacked every day. You can help secure your site and protect your visitors by being aware of the risks and taking the appropriate steps before you get the call saying your site's been hacked. It's the best thing you can do for your business, and it could even protect you from being sued by a site visitor because you didn't take appropriate steps to secure your website. I'm not sure if that's possible, but it's a question I've posed to my LegalShield team. I'll have an answer in an upcoming post.

And So It Begins

Mark Kawabe - Monday, January 09, 2017

The Most Valuable Real EstateToday's the day most of us find ourselves back in the office after a well-deserved holiday break. Welcome back! For your new year's pleasure, I present a few thoughts on what will be important to think about when it comes to your business' online presence.

Security

I spent a lot of time over the break helping a former client deal with their hacked WordPress website. Resolving the hack required professional help beyond my level of expertise, and in the end, the site is now clean. While we weren't able to discover the root cause of the hack, I discovered many things that were troubling.

  • There was no license for the theme used for the site, so there had been no theme updates since 2015.
  • The theme came with a number of bundled plugins. These had also not been updated since 2015.
  • Many non-theme-related plugins hadn't been updated.
  • Backups had not been done on a regular basis.
  • Yada yada . . .

My Suggested Resolution For WordPress Site Owners: Make security a priority. Here's an action plan.

  1. Check to make sure everything's been updated. Themes. Plugins. Verify you have licenses. Many are good for a year. If they're only good for a year, make sure they get renewed.
  2. Backup your site regularly. I use BackupBuddy, but it doesn't really matter what you use, as long as you back up. By regularly, I mean a full weekly backup of your database and files at a minimum. If you have a site that changes daily, then do a full daily backup. Store your backups on a different server than your website is on if possible.
  3. Install security software. I use iThemes Security Pro. Wordfence is another one that seems to be good.
  4. Change your passwords. If you don't know what a strong password is, then you probably don't have one. Get one. WordPress will make one for you. I suggest you use it. Call me if you have questions.
  5. Stay on top of things. WordPress, themes and plugins are updated regularly. Hacks evolve regularly as well. Vigilance is important.

If you have a WordPress website and you're not sure if it's secure, contact me and I'll be happy to help.

Here's wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous and hack-free 2017!

The Simple SEO Success Formula

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Most Valuable Real EstateIf you want to achieve your SEO dreams, my advice to you is to stop dreaming and get a grip on the reality of what SEO entails.

Top rankings in Google don't just happen. If you get them, you got them for a reason. Let's look at some of those reasons.

Valuable Content On Site

It is "common knowledge" that Google's algorithm prefers pages that have at least 300 written words. If you are in a market where there is more than one company like yours that offers the products or services you do, you need to go beyond the minimum requirements if you want to achieve top rankings. You need to offer valuable content.

I define valuable content as content which meets or exceeds the informational needs of visitors to your webpage. That will often take more than 300 words, which is absolutely fine. You don't achieve maximum results with minimum effort when it comes to SEO except in a few special situations which I'll talk about later.

Case Study: A customer of mine sells telecommunications products. So do thousands of other companies. A search for one particular model of headset showed that it was sitting at the 135th position in Google's search results. As a test, I added some valuable content answering common questions about the headset. 514 words, to be exact. That page jumped to the 2nd page of search results within two weeks and it has held that ranking since April 2016. I should also mention, the site is not responsive, doesn't have SSL, and doesn't meet a whole bunch of Google "best practices". That's okay, because the content about that headset is more valuable than the content on other websites that sell the same headset.

MARKET YOUR CONTENT Off Site

"Content Marketing" is a phrase being used a lot by people like me to explain why blogging is so important. A lot of people distill the idea of content marketing down to the notion that if you create great content, search engines will notice and then people will take notice. This is true, but it's not the whole story.

You will get more results for your great content if you proactively market it rather than passively hope the search engines will take notice. Marketing your content can take many forms, but it's relatively easy to do. It just takes time. Send a link to your customers and ask them to post it on their blog or link to it from their Facebook page. Link it from your own social media platforms. Ask people to talk about it. If you don't, chances are they won't. These mentions on other sites are all examples of inbound links, which Google's algorithm analyzes for quality and quantity. If you pay for thousands of links from link farms to your great content, you won't get great results. However, a few links to great content from credible websites like your Chamber of Commerce or customers' sites will be more likely to give your content a ranking boost. If you do that regularly, you'll eventually build hundreds of quality links to your website which will in turn, be picked up by Google's algorithm and will likely result in better search engine rankings for your site overall.

The Special Situations

I alluded to some situations where you can get top rankings in Google with minimum effort. Here they are.

  1. People search directly for your business by name. If someone does a search for your business name, they'll probably find you. If they narrow it down by city, (i.e. Joline's Hairstyling Niagara Falls), they'll probably find you at the top or in the top 10. Why not #1? Sometimes the folks at the Yellow Pages or other directory sites have done a better job at SEO than you.
  2. People search for your brand. The good people at Despair.com have trademarked the term "Demotivators". If you forget their website but remember their brand name, you'll find them in the #1 spot for that term. If other folks are outdoing you in the SERPs for your own brand, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
  3. You build a better resource before anyone else. I have a website that has a list of Niagara wineries. It has consistently been ranked in the top 10 Google results for over a decade. The page does not follow Google's best practices guidelines for SEO, but it was one of the first listings of Niagara wineries and it has a good number of inbound links. It may not stay in the top 10 forever, but it's done well over the years, even being the #1 result for a few years. It was built first, it was marketed, and it has remained. You could do the same with your content.

Synopsis

Successful SEO involves creating valuable, user-focused content on a regular basis which is then marketed through blogging, social media and other outreach methods to build inbound links. In other words, it is work. It's not hard work, compared to digging a ditch, but it takes effort. The steps I've outlined above aren't rocket science. Lots of other people have talked about them for years, as have I. What I hope you'll take away is that if you want your site to have great SEO, you have to be better than the other websites in your market at providing and marketing your valuable content and creating a great user experience.

The Most Valuable Real Estate

Mark Kawabe - Monday, December 12, 2016

The Most Valuable Real EstateMention the words "real estate" and most people think about a house, or a building, or land. For anyone involved in online marketing, the most valuable real estate isn't any of these things. It's something much smaller, more personal. One could even use the word "intimate" to describe it. With the rise of the mobile device, the screen of your target audience's smartphone or tablet is now the hottest real estate property.

A few thoughts to consider:

  • The first thing more than 50% of smartphone users do in the morning is - grab their smartphone.
  • 80% of internet users own a smartphone
  • 90% of time spent on a mobile device is spent using an app like Facebook or messaging. 10% is spent in the browser.

People are spending more and more time looking at their smartphones and tablets. While more complex decisions seem to require the larger screens of desktops and laptops, many searches are started online. Decisions aren't made in a device vacuum. One screen just gives way to another, depending on what your visitors are trying to accomplish.

Being aware of these trends can give your business a leg up. If people are spending more time on mobile devices using apps like Facebook, then you may want to evaluate and improve your Facebook marketing efforts. Additionally, ensuring your website provides a good user experience across multiple screen sizes becomes more important when you consider how many people are using their smartphones to browse, surf and search.

The rise of mobile also impacts your email marketing. A majority of email users access their email accounts from their mobile devices. Email messages are not necessarily mobile-friendly, so you may want to check what your messages look like when viewed on a smartphone. Responsive design is just as important for your website as it is for your email messages.

Ensuring your online marketing strategies take mobile usage into consideration is important. While more complex decisions are often made with the benefit of a larger screen, the entry point to the information gathering process is likely to be a mobile device. Going forward, the health of your business will depend on how well you meet your customers' needs, whatever device they're learning about you on.

How to Measure Online Marketing ROI - Part 1

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Calculate ROI for Online MarketingMarketers (and those who hire them) want everything they do to pay off in some fashion. You're making an investment in a website, or email marketing, or social media marketing, and of course you want to see positive results. Measuring the ROI of a website or online marketing campaign is getting easier, but it still takes know-how to drill through the numbers and tell your finance department what they want to know. Here are a few thoughts on calculating the ROI of your online marketing efforts.

Getting Started

Let's say you're just setting up your business and getting all your marketing materials in order, including your website. If you have a business plan for your business, you'll probably have heard that it should be a living document. While a business plan is a good start, it needs to be adjusted as your new business meets the realities of the market. A plan is great, but being able to measure and adjust as you go is a necessity.

So, how do you calculate a projected ROI for your new website? Simple. You take an educated guess, then you launch, measure, figure out what's working and what's not working, adjust and repeat. Let's look at some of the factors that could come into play with this scenario.

Assumption: New website development cost is $10,000. Website will generate 5 new leads per month. With a closing rate of 40%, website sales will result in two new customers per month. The average value of a sale is $2000, so the website will generate $4000 in monthly sales. After 3 months, there will be $12,000 in sales attributed to the website. With a 20% profit margin, there will be $2400 in profits after 3 months from web sales.

Reality: New website costs $10,000, as budgeted. Website generates 2 new leads a month. After 3 months, there are 3 new clients, representing a closing rate of 50%. The average value of those sales is $1000, resulting in $3000 in revenue. The profit margin on these smaller jobs is only 10%, so there is a $300 profit from web sales after 3 months.

What Do You Do?

Nobody's happy when a website doesn't perform. Customers aren't happy. Developers aren't happy because their customers aren't happy. People who genuinely need the product or service being offered aren't happy either, because they aren't getting what they need. What to do?

There are many things that can be evaluated and tweaked to make a website perform better. Here are a few thoughts.

  • What is the website's reach? Are enough people coming to the website? Google Analytics is your friend here. If people aren't coming to your website, you can't expect great things from it. If you're expecting your website to convert visitors into leads, you have to make sure there are enough visitors coming to it. What can you do? Buy advertising. Better your SEO. Do content marketing - and market your content through social media and other channels.
  • How is the website converting? If 100 people come to your website every month and five people make a sales inquiry, your conversion rate is 5%. What if your conversion rate's only 1%? You'll need 400 more visitors to make up the difference. What can you do? Have better website content. Improve your CTA (Calls to Action). Make sure you're reaching your target audience. Ensure your website design, or site loading times or other on-site factors aren't turning people away. 
  • How is your sales staff converting? Unless your website is purely and e-commerce site, your sales staff are the ones converting leads from the website into customers. The website has done its job and pre-sold your product or service to a prospective customer. Now it's your sales staff who need to perform. Are they doing a good job? Do they have the tools they need to succeed? Did the website do such a good job that all your staff need to do is take the order or is there still a hard sale ahead? What can you do when sales staff don't perform? Invest in better training, systems, or people.

There's another factor to take into consideration with the above scenario. What if you didn't spend $10,000 on a website? What would you have done with the money? Would that have been money you didn't have to borrow? Would it be money you could have invested in other revenue-generating activity? While it's generally agreed that most businesses need a website, it's also true for some businesses that it's really not necessary for their success. It is possible for a business to have an online presence that's completely based on social media presence and exposure, but those businesses are the exceptions, not the norm. In the above scenario, there could also be a financial and psychological cost of not having a website. These things are difficult to measure, but not impossible.

As the title of this article suggests, this is part 1 of a discussion of how to measure ROI from your online marketing efforts. If you have questions or comments, I look forward to hearing from you. Your contribution to the discussion is appreciated.