Hate Spam Email? You are Not Alone.

After recently reviewing our website data, we found it interesting that most if not all of the news media are focused on hacking by Russia only, when in fact it is a world-wide event.

If you have a website and/or email, you have definitely seen an uptick of spam email. It would seem that hackers and spammers like to welcome the holidays by increasing their junk/spam/irritating email messages. We get about 30 per each of our 6 email addresses per day. Those numbers are not so bad when you consider the total email sent out each  day.

According to Talos, in the month of October, 2017, there was a daily average of legitimate email totaling 78.90 Billion, up 21.4% from September, 2017.

In the month of October, 2017, there was also a daily spam volume of 454.61 Billion, up 24% from September.

That is a lot of daily email given that according to Internet Live Stats, there are about 1.2 Billion websites. What makes the amount of email seem even larger is that about 75% of those website are “parked”, meaning inactive.

Since we have had numerous hacking attempts, we started daily monitoring our website data. From our review through our cPanel account, under “Metrics”, we found that in only 3 days, hackers have been hitting our website attempting to get through using our Word Press blog files.  One type of hacking attempt can be identified by finding a specific web app attack identified with an entry ending in “wp-login.php”).

Now back to Russia. Everyone is so concerned that Russia is messing things up that they are ignoring (or not talking about other countries where hacking attempts are coming from. The countries and/or places that we identified hacking attacks are coming from included India, Indonesia,  Dominican Republic, Moscow, Beijing, Algeria, Poland, Lithuania, Spain, Pakistan, New York, Sweden, Morocco, Italy, Chicago, United Emirates, Thailand, Serbia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Dallas. A number of these had multiple attacks listed over several days.

If you want to check and see who is attempting to get into the back door of your website, log into to your cPanel account, go to the Metric section, and open the “errors”. If you see any entries ending in “wp-login.php”, then you have had an attempted attack on your website.

Talk to your webmaster about screening the IP addresses and blocking them. Just be sure not to block any search engine bots that want to index your website.

That Magical Word in Search Engine Optimization

Keywords.

Mention keywords to anyone who has a website and they start getting a glazed look in their eyes. It is the expression that drives thousands of dollars into SEO businesses, drives people mad in an attempt to insert just the right keywords in their website text so that they can be number one in a search engine result.

In the early years of the Internet of Things, there was a specific website code you would put into your website called a metatag labeled “keywords”. When it was realized that this one metatag could boost your website to the top of the pile, many started inserting every word or phrase into that one little space to the point where it became pages upon pages of “words”, most of which were not relevant to anything on the website. It worked for a time, until the Google search engine came along.

Then in 2000, the Google algorithm kicked in. In the 16 years and several hundred changes to the algorithm, Google said, “meta tags for keywords will no longer be used”. Note that Google did not say keywords would not be used, just the meta tag.

Suddenly everyone panicked although even now, many technical and non-technical people believe the metatag is still used.

The algorithm continued to be fine-tuned and then the word finally sank in that if you wanted your website to be at the top of the search engine results, you had to have quality related content on your website. What does that mean?

Obviously if you are in the business of selling shirts, you aren’t going to have your website talk only about pants, except you could write it in such a way as to how the specific shirts matched specific pants. Then you have two major keywords, shirts and pants. They go together, “naturally”. That is rather a strong point to all of this – naturally.

To figure out search engine optimization can be very complicated if you try to learn everything there is to know about SEO and weed out all of the hype from people trying to sell you their services.

To some degree it is rather simple. We’ll keep the analogy about shirts for a while longer. If you want to be found in your area so that people come into your shop to buy shirts, then you want to do a number of things:

  1. Tell people who you are. Given all of the scammers in the world today, people want to know who you are before they will do business with you. Frankly, if your shop is 15 miles from where I live, I do not want to waste the time and gas to go somewhere to be disappointed.
  2. Tell people specifically where you are. If they don’t know where you are, how will they find you? As an example, run a search for “Seattle shirt stores”. You can get over 77,000 search results. Which one are you?
  3. Description is key, or in this case, the keywords. Write your descriptions so that people will know specifically what you are selling. If I search for “Seattle blue shirt”, I get over 10,100,000 results. When I add “checkered”, I get 8,900,000 results. I add, “long sleeve” and the results dropped to 6,520. See how this works? Remember to write the text naturally, not with the sole intent of SEO, because there is no magic formula. The better the content search, the better the results you get because the website page has better content. Note that I used website page. That is because you have to look at every page on your website to make sure there is good solid content.
  4. Contact information is key as well. If I search for something and I think I found what I want, I might need to call or email you with questions. If I can’t easily find contact information, then I might suspect your website as being one of those that is just trying to get my money with little or no support with problems (Customer Service, right?).

This is just some of the pieces that go into search engine optimization. There are more, of course, but this will get you going in the right direction. Keep in mind that you need to keep your website current. The search engines like change but current relevant change, not just for the sake of change.

The One Question to Ask Before Building Your Own Website

By Sarah Haas

As a millennial, I’m part of a unique generation gifted with the context of growing up in a pre-tech world while coming-of-age in a global, tech-savvy landscape. As a result, millennials are the last generation to remember life without reliance on technology, and the first generation to intuitively weave it seamlessly into daily life.

However, I’ve come to realize that being able to use tech doesn’t mean I’m any good at creating it.

Why A Website Matters

Growing antsy in my current job last year, I decided to browse other opportunities. Given my varied background and the overcrowded market, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue but I knew I had to sell myself easily and effectively – within about 10 seconds.

I perfected my elevator pitch and made my resume pop, but it wasn’t enough.

I didn’t know how to tell my professional narrative cohesively, and sending multiple attachments via email was time-consuming and ripe with anxiety over whether the larger files ended up in junk mail.

I knew as a brand I had real potential, but I didn’t know how to leverage it.

I needed a website.

Having a website is now not only common, but it’s totally trending as a professional differentiator, even among people who work in fields not traditionally associated with needing one (e.g.: nannies, bakers, yoga teachers, etc.).

With one URL, I could organize my materials, carve out appropriate categories and effortlessly send any potential employers a relevant deep link accordingly.

Visually Defining My Brand

So I did what most of us do – I made myself a free WordPress page.

The plan was to create a one-stop-Sarah-content-shop with a cool domain name, streamlined design, ample white space and gorgeous visuals. I’d use a simple color scheme with easy navigation between my career highlights, volunteer experience, writing samples and visual portfolio. The best part, I rationed, is that it would be free.

I had worked in digital media for years and was a casual consumer of online content since I was a kid in the 1990s. I knew what made a good website, and so I assumed I could easily handle spending a few hours designing one. I didn’t have the cash to spend on hiring a professional, and – true confession — I didn’t want to be incapable of doing what seemed so easy for my peers.

After all, I wasn’t trying to promote my web design skills – I just needed a digital space to highlight what I was trying to promote: Me.

What Is My Time Worth?

It’s a difficult question. Free rarely means easy, but easy usually costs money.

I knew my time was valuable, but I didn’t realize just what it was worth.

After deciding on a platform and selecting a free template, I spent hours trying to master it, swapping it out, then building pages only to find that they refused to look how I wanted. (Sometimes due to code restrictions, and other times thanks to my own amateur skills.)

Annoyed, I cut my losses and activated a free trial for a paid platform which promised it would be much easier for me to make the website of my dreams. It wasn’t. And then it charged me.

Eventually I lamented my troubles to a designer friend of mine and naively asked if he could just, “You know, make me one?”

He gave a hearty laugh, and then told me his rates.

Turns out that even with a generous “friends & family” discount, time is still money. As it should be.

Both are valuable, fleeting and necessary investments to get results.

It’s up to me to invest wisely.

Lesson Learned

I knew I could make a website — in fact, I think I made about four during my trial-and-error efforts – and I knew I understood what a good one should look like.

But after endless hours of trying fruitlessly to create something up-to-par, I still couldn’t make my site resemble what I envisioned. Try as I might, it just didn’t look like I wanted it to, it didn’t work the way I needed it to and it didn’t tell the story in way that supported the whole purpose of its existence in the first place.

So now my website idles disjointed and unfinished. I am depleted – lacking creative gusto, and in need of renewed energy if I ever want to populate the site with actual content.

I was so burned out devoting my time to perfecting my amateur skills as a web designer, coder, information architect and expert HTML color palette-picker that I didn’t have any energy left for what I actually wanted to be my focus: My brand.

Invest Your Time Wisely

Anyone can build a website, even me. However, I want to focus my attention on my brand, not teaching myself how to build the website to promote it.

By hiring a professional designer, I can narrow my focus to creating the best content I can to fill its pages.

I accept that my cash-flow is limited, but so is my time. It’s an investment, and if I’m going to invest in myself, I need a site that’s as extraordinary as the person being promoted.

So before deciding whether to design your own website (which can be quite a fun adventure … or a massive time-suck), just ask this question first: How can I best invest?


SarahHaas
Sarah Haas is a marketing professional for a Fortune-15 tech company in the Pacific Northwest. She’s also a freelance writer, performs with the local LGBTQ theatre company Fantastic.Z and volunteers with the nonprofit animal rescue group Motley Zoo.

She holds a Masters in Media Studies from The School for Public Engagement at The New School in NYC and lives in Seattle with her two dogs, two cats and multiple streaming media subscriptions. She still believes that the truth is out there.