Once again we see the importance of web security. Criminals and hackers are always trying to break into systems. CNN is reported on Sept 27 2012 that most of the major banks have been hit with the biggest cyber attacks in history!
What do small business or independent website owners do about this? How do we protect ourselves against such attacks? We do not possess the network security resources that large banking institutions have at their disposal. So what do we do? Well it turns out there are some basic things we can do to protect our websites. Of course we can’t be immune to large scale Denial of Service Attacks or other large scale collaborative attacks. But we can at least plug the holes that are evident to hackers. In the coming weeks we will be focusing on some simple strategies. Please check back.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — There’s a good chance your bank’s website was attacked over the past week. Since Sept. 19, the websites of Bank of America ,JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and PNC Bank have all suffered day-long slowdowns and been sporadically unreachable for many customers.http://money.cnn.com/2012/09/27/technology/bank-cyberattacks/?source=cnn_bin
Web design trends come and go the same way like fashion. With businesses and individuals wanting to look better at the eyes of their audiences, many websites change the way their websites look on regular intervals while incorporating new functionality.
The most recent facelift has taken place on Gmail and other sign in pages of Google products.
If you don’t remember, this is how Gmail looked earlier.
The trend today for web layouts is clean and uncluttered. It makes a lot of sense when you consider the information overflow that we are seeing today across many platforms and media.
Research shows that most people scan web pages before settling on an element for further exploration. Therefore, a lot of emphasis is put on optimizing important web elements that a webmaster wants to promote. However, this is a hit or miss thing. Your audiences may like or hate your user interface (UI) elements depending on their preferences, gender, etc. This is not an easy thing to overcome and on top of that, getting UI elements right is a huge affair. Have you ever heard of the $300 million button? If not, that article should be the first thing for you to read after reading this.
One of the biggest challenges in web usability is keeping people on a web page. The balance has to be perfect on content, usability and interactive elements. At the best of times, this is a tough task. Since it is very challenging to strike a good balance, what most designers tend to do is crowd too many elements on a web page. This leads to a web page that looks very busy. A busy web page is not one of the best places for conversions.
The new way of design thinking is driven by wanting to make a website look simple. This involves a lot of things. For example, some web pages have multiple objectives to achieve. In such instances, ‘simple web process’ calls for re-evaluating and prioritizing these objectives. The design process is driven by these re-evaluated objectives.
The Gmail sign in page is a perfect example for the ‘simple web process’. When you compare the two layouts it’s perfectly clear that Google evaluated what’s important for their audiences. In fact, the number of elements on the page has increased; yet it’s hardly noticeable. A good design should be like that. People have to see it only when they want to see it. This design philosophy is something that’s going to drive our web design work in the future.
If there are any websites that you like, share those on the comments section. We’d love to see those websites you like and get your feedback.
Writing a blog post is one of the most painful things that a small business holder might have to do during their already limited work time. But in the current context small businesses rely heavily on their online presence and on SEO for being visible, blogging becomes an essential tool for staying ahead of the competition.
But with limited time being utilized for 1000 different things, how can somebody write a blog post, much less a great blog post?
Well the trick is simpler than you think! Are we talking about hiring somebody to ghost write? Absolutely not. Ghost writers don’t share the same passion as you do about your business. Writing something on your own is something that can give you immense satisfaction and it can also be a good way for you to identify weaknesses of your business and marketing approach.
OK let’s get down to business. The ideal length of a blog post is about 400-500 words. If you are wondering, this post is already 180 words long. One thing that can help you with blog post writing is writing about something you are passionate about. Take me for example. I specialize in Search Engine Optimization and whatever I write about it comes to me naturally.
Don’t try to write about really complex matters in a blog post. A blog is hardly the best place for something like that. If you have a great subject topic, break it down to manageable bits. You’ll find it easy to write, you are going to find more topics to write about and your audience will love you for an easy to read and easy to remember post.
Try to make your blog posts interesting and to the point. It is always a good idea to try to engage your audience in the first paragraph and build your case from that point on. If you know anything about the inverted pyramid model of news reporting, I’m talking about that.
Another important thing you can do is linking back to your older posts. This works for you in several ways.
So these are a few things that you can try when you are confronted with writing something for your blog. The best blog posts that I’ve written came off within 60-90 minutes like this one which has taken me about 66 minutes now. So get cracking and share your experiences with the world (me included).
Image Courtesy – PhotoSteve101
With Google’s Matt Cutts admitting that Google is using website speed as a minor ranking factor, there had been quite some noise about page speed among the web design community. Now with the latest stats positively showing the page speed as not so significant as many believed it to be, can it actually affect a website negatively?
Not considering any SEO implications, page speed is an extremely important web usability element. Consider the following example originally published on Master New Media .
The slideshow occupies 23% of the page and the user who had to endure the download delay spent only 1% of her total viewing time within this space.
In contrast, the user who in effect received instantaneous page rendering (because he didn’t look until it was done), spent 20% of his viewing time within the slideshow area.
So in essence if the page speed has been optimized, the marketing team would have seen some more traction with their well planned advertisement. But in this case, all that effort was spent in vain.
The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to website speed is “let the audience be in control”. Remember, it’s the audience who interact with the website and it’s them that matters to you or your client. Every second of delay in website speed is a negative impact on the audience and lead them to realize that they are no longer in control. In such case, you or your clients are going to lose credibility which is not helpful at all.
So it might be a good idea to start looking at page speed. There are many free tools to check speed. We use a Firefox plugin called ‘Yslow’. Google is going one step ahead and offering a Page Speed tool for free http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/
Check out this video from the Google dev team.
Google updates its indexing and ranking algorithm quite regularly. In fact, they release about 400 new updates typically every year. Most of them are minor tweaks, but once in a while they release updates that are really huge like the Panda update they rolled out recently (early March 2011).
According to Matt Cutts, the head of the Google Web Spam team, the Panda update is in fact an algorithm update geared at taking down low quality content made specifically to rank well for important keywords. Such pages are often monetized using various advertising platforms getting the publishers millions of dollars in revenues in some cases.
With the Panda update, Google believes that it can deliver better search results for searchers and improve their search experience which had come under fire in various instances for not being consistent. For a long time, Google rankings were good for the first page for a given search query; hence the drive for ranking well in the first page of Google results.
So with the Panda update, Google is trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in a bid to improve their search quality. With low quality content given less value in their search index, Google believes that it can provide better web page results.
The Panda update is a blessing for websites that host valuable content for humans, not robots. Most of the sites that are affected are content farms or sites which contain scraped content from all over the web. With the initial roll out of the Panda update in the US, content networks such as Mahalo, Ezine articles and Wisegeek found themselves in hot water with ranking changes from -70% to -94% in some instances.
At the same time, websites with good user generated content have seen their rankings improve. So what’s the bottom line with the Google Panda update?
Well, if you have good content that is not specifically targeted at search engines, you are probably ok. To make sure, check out your Google Analytics to see whether there has been a dip in traffic from US visitors (as the Panda update is currently for US search results, but soon to be rolled out internationally). If so, you might be a victim of the Panda. Even Google has admitted that their new algorithm is not without faults and if you think that your site is a genuine victim, head over to Google Webmasters Tools and submit a reconsideration request.
If you think that there might be a problem with your website, correct any issues and send a reconsideration request and always remember that SEO is all about improving the value of your site for your visitors, not for search engines.
To our international readers, Thanksgiving day kicks of the season of holiday sales. The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. Quite a morbid name for a Friday. But the name makes perfect sense – it is the day that retailers turn a profit (black ink on their books) for the year.
BlackFriday sales or BF sales are the big thing for large box stores and large online retailers. Small businesses are usually not a part of the big BF day sales. This year there has been a push to make Saturday the day for Small Businesses to turn a profit for the holiday season. It has been aptly named “Small Business Saturday”. Then there is Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving and was primarily the big sales event for online retailers.
The big box stores or big brand online retailers have one thing in common, they have well established brand names. With this comes some well deserved credibility as well. As a shopper, I know that if I order an Xbox 360 with Kinect from Buy.com or Amazon.com – my credit card details are safe and I will end up receiving my super cool Xbox. That is, if they do not go out of stock. The big brands remove my online shopping anxiety. Unfortunately if you are a small online store, lack of credibility is the number one factor online shoppers cite as a reason for abandoning their shopping carts.
When I shop at a small business online store, the following comes to mind:
Are these guys legit?
Will they steal my credit card and sell it to the mafia?
Will my Xbox 360 actually make it?
Will it be under warranty?
Will it ship on time?
Can I call these guys?
How long have they been in business?
What have others said about their experience with this store?
Are they affiliated with any organizations?
What is their return policy?
The questions go on and on. For a small business website, answering the above can be a daunting task.
Here is a quick check list of items to help build Online Credibility
1) Toll- Free Number
Yes a toll-free number(TFN) makes a huge difference. I know almost all cellphone plans and some land line plans offer free minutes and calling a regular number is no big deal. Apart from the obvious statistics of domestic land line users, TFN numbers (preferably the 1800 ones) give the business a professional look. Keep in mind, international callers cannot dial toll-free numbers, so do keep the regular phone number listed on the contact us page or even on the footer of your site.
2) Contact Address
When people visit a brick and mortar business – they know it will be still standing a few months later, should they have any problems with their purchase (well maybe not in this economy, my neighborhood Blockbuster is closing down – who would have thought?) When I visit an online store I want to know where are they located? If you run a home-based online business get a mail box, rather than expose your home address.
3) Professional Web Design
This point is often glossed over. But it is crucial to have a professional website and e-commerce design. The entire shopping experience must have the same branding and look and feel. Imagine walking through Target and you stroll into the kitchen Isle and it has the Dollar General’s branding all over. Confusing to say the least. Select a web designer that knows how to either provide a complete custom e-commerce shopping experience or someone that understands third-party e-commerce tools and can integrate them into your site seamlessly.
4) Industry Affiliations
Display any industry affiliation logos, such as Better Business Bureau or similar reputable organisations.
5) Shipping & Handling Info
A huge pet peeve of online shoppers is lack of shipping information upfront. Let them know the shipping information as soon as they select a product. This can be done very easily by either having a popup question for their shipping zip code or have a mini cart summary on the right hand side with a button to enter their zip code.
7) General Terms and Conditions
Any additional legal conditions that must be stated up front.
8 ) Return Policy
Publish your return policy it will save you tons of time in responding to emails over and over about return policies.
9) Operating Hours
A no-brainer - important for customer service.
10) SSL Certificate
An SSL Certificate is a must have for e-commerce transactions or any other secure information transactions. If you sell more than $5000 per year of merchandise, get a Verisign SSL cert. It costs a lot more money than other SSL certs but the Verisign seal is synonymous with safe online shopping.
Testimonials show that others have had great experiences with the store and put users at ease.
12) Product Reviews
Product reviews can help buyers make informed purchase decisions. Amazon is the perfect example of how well it has used reviews to build its business. If you are confident about your product, you will get glowing reviews from customers. Occasionally you may get negative reviews if any, try to work with the customer to resolve their problems promptly.
13) Credit Card Security
Every online business has a legal and moral obligation to protect customers information, especially credit card information, social security numbers etc. Our advice to small businesses is to never store credit card information on file, either on a database online or offline at an office computer. However secure you may think it is, it is not worth the ultimate headache of admitting to your customers that their data has been hacked. Always pass on credit card details to a bank or merchant provider to process the information using their secure API’s.
14) PCI Compliance
PCI or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is a set of rules & standards outlined to help prevent Credit Card fraud. Merchants that do small volume transactions do not necessarily have to comply with PCI standards. However we recommend merchants get an website application scanner similar to Trust Guard to ensure their e commerce app is PCI compliant.
This is not a final and absolute list, there maybe other items that help improve online purchase ratios. Let us know what you’ve done to improve credibility online.photo credits