The Web For Business.com Blog

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


Is this domain registrar being deceptive?

Mark Kawabe - Monday, November 20, 2017

Notice from iDNS Canada for domain renewalI think every domain owner in Canada must have received at least one of these notices from iDNS Canada. We manage a lot of domains so we get dozens of them every year. For the average domain owner who doesn't see these every day, let me tell you what they are.

First off, if you want to read along, click on the image to the right so you can see a larger version in a new window.

At first glance, when you read the headline, it looks like a domain name expiration notice. That's enough to scare a lot of people. Nobody wants their domain to expire. Now the reader is afraid. This is good for iDNS Canada and bad for the reader. When we get scared, rational thoughts are suppressed and our "fight or flight" mode is activated.

What most people do now is skim for pertinent details. The big boxes are a natural draw to the eye. Seeing your domain name in big bold letters, flagged for expiry, reinforces the fear. The date below (December 25, 2017) creates a sense of urgency. This letter is designed to create fear and solicit action.

If you asked domain owners to name their registrar, I'm betting a good number of them couldn't do it. So is iDNS Canada. Knowing this basic bit of information about your domain is key to not falling for this . . . this what?

Scam or Solicitation?

I did a quick Google search for "iDNS Canada" and the top 10 search results say these notices from iDNS are a scam. I disagree. What does scam mean? It's defined as "a dishonest scheme; a fraud". By that definition, iDNS isn't scamming anyone. I don't like what they're doing, but they're not lying or being dishonest.

The Truth Revealed by Reading

We're all busy, and stuff like this can sometimes fly under the bullshit radar. However, reading the first paragraph of this letter tells you right away what the letter is about. It's a solicitation.

"As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification of the domain name registration that is due to expire in the next few months. When you switch today to Internet Domain Name Services, you can take advantage of our best savings. Your registration for . . . Act today!"

The bold is my own emphasis, but it's clear that this is a soliciation. The third paragraph makes things even more clear.

"Privatization of Domain Registrations and Renewals now allows the consumer the choice of Registrars when initially registering and also when renewing a domain name. Domain name holders are not obligated to renew their domain name with their current Registrar or with Internet Domain Name Services. Review our prices and decide for yourself. You are under no obligation to pay the amounts stated below, unless you accept this offer. This notice is not a bill, it is rather an easy means of payment should you decide to switch your domain name registration to Internet Domain Name Services."

The bolding is part of the original text.

It would be easy to "go with the flow" and call this letter from iDNS Canada a scam. However, it's not. There's nothing untrue in this letter. Why it feels like a scam is because of how it makes people FEEL. They FEEL like it's a notice from their registrar telling them their domain name is going to expire soon. The layout elicits the "fight or flight" response and the result is that a lot of people transfer their domain registrations to Internet Domain Name Services. It's not a scam. It's not a bait-and-switch. There's nothing illegal about what they're doing.

And, that sucks, because it would be better if there were something illegal going on. That way, the police could shut them down. Instead, domain owners will receive this solicitation every year until they no longer have domains. Hopefully, after reading this article, you'll feel empowered to simply recycle notices you get from iDNS Canada in future.

If you found value in this article, please share it widely! If everyone does that, these solicitations won't work. That will hurt Internet Domain Name Services more than anything else you can do.

Keys to Content - Survive and Thrive

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Growing plantsComing up with ideas for new, relevant content that will appeal to your customers is one of the ongoing challenges of content marketing. My business coach Dennis O'Neill shared an idea with me that I thought worth passing along. It distills the essence of what your content should be geared towards.

Simply put, your content should be information that helps your customers and prospects survive, then thrive.

Survive and thrive. Clear. Concise. Simple, yet sophisticated.

What does your target audience need to know, right now, that will help them solve their immediate problems?

Once their immediate problems are resolved, what knowledge will help them grow and prosper?

You've probably heard this said a bunch of different ways. "Be relevant". "Give people what they want." "Be timely." "Be useful." These are all good ways to say essentially the same thing, but I think survive and thrive is clearer and provides more guidance. Ultimately, you can say the same thing a dozen ways, but sometimes it will be the way you say it the thirteenth time that is the Eureka! moment for your reader.

For every piece of content you think about creating, see how well your idea stacks up against the survive and thrive principle. If it doesn't measure up, work on it until it does. If you're going to take the time to write, really try to help your reader get to where they want to go.

 

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.