The Web For Business.com Blog

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


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.



It's All About the Leads

Mark Kawabe - Monday, November 14, 2016

Lead GenerationIf you're contemplating getting a website or redeveloping an existing site, you're probably trying to justify it to yourself. After all, it's usually not an inexpensive proposition. You're going to put some serious cash on the table. For what?

There are a lot of business owners who invest in a website because they feel they need one. "It's expected that a modern business will have one". This is true, so if you're going to have one, then you should really be asking yourself how you're going to make it "work".

A "working" website is one that converts site visitors into leads. It doesn't matter if 100 people arrive as a result of person-to-person networking or from Google, as long as the site converts.* Conversion of visitors to leads is pretty much the only important metric that matters to the health of your website. A site with a 1% conversion rate needs 5 times as many visitors to achieve the same results as one with a 5% conversion rate.

Business owners need to ask questions based on lead generation. Questions like:

  • How are we going to get new visitors to our website?
  • How is our new/redeveloped site going to convert visitors into leads?
  • What content do we need to have on the site to help us achieve that goal?
  • What processes do we need to have in place to convert leads into sales?
  • How will we track our results? How will we change if we don't get the results we'd hoped for?
If you're going to invest in a website, you're investing in a lead generation tool. Consider all the ways a site can work for you. Then work with your developer and your marketing team to make it a reality. Or, if you'd like, drop us a line and we'll be happy to talk to you about how we can build you a site that converts.

*Actually, it DOES matter, but that's a topic for another article.

Lights Out Today

Mark Kawabe - Monday, November 14, 2016

Lights Out TodayToday, the lights are going out at The Web For Business.com. Thankfully, the sun is still shining. Even better is having a battery backup for my modem.

We are very fortunate to be going through some renovations. One of them is an upgrade of the electrical panel. This morning, some skilled, talented and surprisingly personable electricians from Datawise Solutions showed up and shut off the power to my office. Hydro will be here soon to shut off the power to the building to facilitate the panel change. I'm told the power will be off for much of the day.

This of course means two things. One: our phone lines will be down. We have internet-based telephony so without power, we're unreachable at the main office number. Two: I might be forced to hang out at The Grounds, or at On The Front. Worst case scenario: Starbucks :)

Just wanted to let you know in case you're wondering why I'm MIA.

No Finish Line

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, November 09, 2016

There is no finish line in marketingMarketing is not a race. If you are in business, you should know and understand that marketing is a continuous process. If there is an end to marketing, there is also an end to revenue growth, new customer acquisition etc.

When it comes to marketing online, I've met a lot of business owners who have an online presence, but who aren't happy about it. They have "tried everything" from SEO to social media and nothing's worked, from their perspective. They're tired of the cost, and they're frustrated by the lack of results.

To be fair, that's a very reasonable outcome. If I asked you to spend $5000 and not have any measurable return on investment (ROI), you'd probably walk away. I would too.

The word "measurable" is important though, because you CAN measure many, many things when people are interacting with your online presence. On your website, you can use your analytics to see what people are clicking on and how they're coming to your site. You can use heat mapping to see where people are focusing their attention. Any reputable email marketing software will tell you your open rates and track what people click on in your messages. Social media tools give you metrics showing you what posts got the most attention.

Then the hard work begins. Analyze. Investigate. Uncover reasons. Ask questions. Tweak your site, your content, your next post, and then do it all over again. If you want better marketing, you need to have a better system.

Nobody can say for certain that creating and implementing a robust inbound marketing plan is going to be a goldmine of lead generation. However, it is true that not doing anything will very likely be worse for your business' lead acquisition. Even if you put together a plan and start implementing slowly, you'll be better positioned a few years from now.

Another Facebook Change to Adapt To

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Crying Baby Being Fed Food They Don't WantFacebook and Google. Two of the most powerful companies in the world. If you're an online marketer, you tend to pay attention to what they do.

Facebook announced a change at the end of June 2016 that will probably impact your business. Personally, I like the change because it favours humans over businesses. That being said, businesses may not be happy about it.

Simply put, the change is in Facebook's news feed, where there will be more focus on news from friends and family and less on news from pages you like (i.e. businesses). For businesses, this means you'll probably get less exposure for your posts. Oh joy.

Lots of business owners will be crying about this. Posts from pages have been getting less and less exposure since Facebook started. Advertising is an important revenue stream for Facebook, so this move has been seen as yet another way for Facebook to encourage businesses to pay for more exposure. Get people hooked on the platform, then take away what used to be free and make businesses pay. Perfectly logical move.

In their defense, Facebook did say this change will impact your business less if your content is shared more. In other words, if you craft wonderful content that people find immensely useful, entertaining, stimulating or enraging, if those people share your content then you'll likely continue to get decent exposure. Otherwise, chances are your reach will diminish.

This is nothing new. If you've known me long enough, you'll have heard me rant about how businesses rely too much on social media and the latest-greatest platforms to get more exposure. From my perspective, companies should be working diligently on creating an online presence that is under their control. Namely, building great, content-rich websites that serve the needs of their customers and prospects well, and building and leveraging their own email lists. Focus on the things you can control and improve the most, then use social media tools to further broadcast what it is you do.

I believe there is more inherent value in this approach. What do you think? Please let me know your thoughts.

If you liked this article and think others would benefit from reading it, please SHARE it on Facebook instead of liking it. Content that is shared will be seen more than content that is liked. Creating content that is share-worthy is how businesses will continue to get organic exposure on Facebook. There's your takeaway. Now go do something awesome!

Want to Reap? Sowing Comes First

Mark Kawabe - Monday, July 25, 2016

I didn't need to write this post. This is stuff people should just know. It's almost an insult to the reader to write it.

And yet, here I am, writing it.

Why?

I'm writing it for the same reason the dentist tells you to floss every time you visit. Everybody knows flossing contributes to good dental health. That doesn't mean everyone does it.

There are lots of reasons people don't update their blogs, Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter streams. I know. I've done it too.

Maybe you don't feel you need to pay any attention to your online profile. Perhaps your business is running smoothly, as profitable as you want it to be, without any need for online marketing. It's wonderful to have a business like that. Congratulations. I bow before you. 

If you're reading this post, I suspect you need more results from your online efforts. So, this is your reminder to keep on making those efforts. Plant more seeds.

Create more value the only way it can be done: one post, page, photo, video, tweet or comment at a time. If you want people's attention and trust, you have to earn it. Assuming you're creating value, your work will pay off.

Are you going to get new business right away from your efforts? Maybe. Never say never is my motto. However, for most businesses, keeping your website updated, blog fresh, social media populated is an investment in your brand. It's a way for your to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise and by doing so, a way to get more exposure, create more awareness and increase the potential of getting new clients in future.

Whether the business comes right away or in future, one truth remains: you gotta plant.