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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.

Building Email Lists

Building an email list is still a good way to create a base for contacts, no matter what business you are in. You can use the list for simple announcements, providing offers for discounts, or creating leads for your business.

There are some pitfalls to creating the list, especially if it is from emails that you receive through your website, however.

First, there are some things you need to know about email. For simplicity, here is a rough idea of how you get email.

A person sends an email through your website. That email goes through an email server at your website host. That email server looks up the email address you are sending to and then forwards it to the email server closest to that email address. Sometimes it will go directly to the recipient, but most of the time, receiving email servers validate the email address first for security reasons. (For more specific information, you can get it at WikiBooks, Internet Technologies/Routing Email.)

Spammers like to phish, (“fish”), for valid email addresses so that can use them for their own purposes. For instance, once a spammer knows an email address of this-email@somewhiere.com is valid, they will open a domain name, establish any email account they want and then as an alias, send out hundreds of thousands of email using this-email@somewhere.com.

What effect does that have on you? Anytime an email address is marked as spam by incoming email servers, in short order that email address is shown on blacklists which all email servers refer to. Show up on a blacklist and your email starts bouncing back to you. To get yourself removed from blacklists is another subject entirely but rest assured, it requires a lot of work to get your email accepted again.

So what does all of this mean? You have to be very careful when sending email out using email addresses you may have gotten through your website. Spammers will complete your website form simply to verify the email address on your website is valid so they can start using it. Sometimes the email will bounce back and they won’t use it, sometimes it will. So if you answer an email address, you just validated it and they know it is a good one.

It can complicate things more if you do mass email. If you send out a mass email to 40 email addresses, and one of those email addresses you included happens to be a spam email address, you just contributed 40 occurrences of spam using your email address. So even if your email address is valid, and your intent was not to send out spam, you just did and risk blacklisting your own email address.

So the bottom line is this: Make sure the email address you include in your email campaign list is valid. If your website form contains a phone number, look it up and see if it matches the email address or name of the person that supposedly sent it. Do a simple Google search for that email address and see if it shows up. Just verify the information you are using and you should be safer in using it.