Websites

How do you protect your website images from theft?

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Client's image I've recently completed a rebuild of a client's site at www.gel-ice.com.au. If you look at it you'll see the images on the site all sport a large watermark in the middle. My client has been the subject of image theft in the last twelve months, with his images appearing (along with all his text) on someone's else's site. His images and text have been stolen and his copyright violated. The thief had set up a site to sell very similar if not identical products. My client pursued the other company both with a local solicitor and one in the country where the thief's business is located, with pretty good results. I notice one of my client's original photos is still being used on the thief's site, but the website copy has been changed. My client isn't alone. The very nature of the internet is sharing information. In my previous post I talked about content farms, which take what's not theirs and blatantly repost it. So how do you protect what's yours? Putting the copyright symbol on every page, or even the word copyright on every page should theoretically protect you, however copyright laws vary slightly from country to country. In order to protect my friend at the Gel Ice company, I decided to put a large watermark on each image using a simple action I created in Photoshop. Watermarking is probably the most effective way to stop your images being used by the unscrupulous. I considered the following options first:
  • stopping viewers from right-clicking and downloading an image. Well, yes, you can do that, but people can still click on Print Screen and grab an albeit low res copy of your image. However as I'm using WordPress, that little bit of javascript isn't compatible with my system
  • using Digimarc digital watermarking. Again, there's the Print Screen option. And the truly devious out there know how to get around Digimarc should they download a Digimarc image
I could have put a watermark indiscreetly along the bottom of each image, but if anyone wanted to steal the image and use it, most of the images could be cropped without interfering with the key object in them - the gel ice pacs. So it was all guns blazing with the watermark. It ain't pretty by any means but if it protects my client's intellectual property, that's a good thing.  

Google declares war on ‘bad’ sites

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I read on the redoubtable Mashable yesterday that Google has declared war on 'bad' sites that are nothing more than content farms. You know the ones: you key in a search term in Google, go to a popular result and it's a page of auto-RSSed links, content lifted blatantly from other sites without acknowledgement or simply very poorly written and questionable content. You might as well not wasted five seconds you'll never get back clicking on the link and glancing at the page. War on spamWhile the changes in Google's algorithm will initially apply only to the US (but we'll get it eventually), it's great news for the rest of us who do have genuine original content on our websites. Any changes that help my clients is fine by me. We work hard to write SEO-friendly content for our client sites; when you're tweaking content every word is vital if you want to get a good search result. Google has been trying hard to rid spam sites from its search engine results, and is succeeding somewhat. If you clicked my link in the last sentence and read the article, you'll have seen this: "Google’s new classifier is designed to detect spam on individual web pages by identifying spammy words and phrases." Bear this in mind if you constantly repeat keywords on your website pages. Okay, if you're a genuine person or business you probably won't be affected by the new anti-spam algorithm, but repeating a keyword more than a dozen times on one page won't help you up the search engine rankings. I use SEO Scribe to analyse my blog posts. I've mentioned it before. Fab tool that really makes you think about what you're writing and what your keywords are. It can help you identify keywords. And it tells you when you've used a particular keyword too many times. Search engines CAN penalise you if it looks like you're rorting the system. Your keyword density should be about 5.5% of your written content, Scribe says. What would you like to see Google do next (apart from offer a proper help service, via telephone, with real human beings on the other end to help you with misbehaving Google products?)

What makes a compelling contact page?

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Just found this excellent article on creating a compelling Contact Page on the Flying Solo site: http://www.flyingsolo.com.au/technology/business-websites/the-dos-and-donts-of-website-contact-pages Lots of sensible, practical, easy-to-implement ideas (which is true of many articles on Flying Solo), which I've already implemented for my clients across a number of websites. If you're unsure what to put on your own contact page, do read it. Most small businesses are very forwarding in providing contact details to their readers. But it's surprising just how hard it is to find relevant contact details for larger organisations. It's almost as if some of the behemoths only want to you contact them via Liking their Facebook page or following them on Twitter. Sometimes you only find the Contact link in the footer rather than logically in the menu. When I come across sites who don't make their contact details obvious - or worse, don't provide any contact alternative other than an email form - I'm suspicious about their commitment to customer service. The page with only an email form says, "Yes, I'll reply to your enquiry - sometime. But I don't want you, my customer, ringing me up and asking questions. That would be a bore for my staff. They're too busy to deal with you and I don't want to put any extra staff on just to man the phones." Think carefully about what your contact page says about you and your organisation and how you are prepared for people to contact you. Many of us, me included, are wary of putting our email addresses on the web as spammers harvest them and bombard our inboxes. While there are ways of obfuscating your email address so hackers can't easily grab it, one option for people editing their own site is to replace the @ sign with (at) and the . with (dot), therefore not creating a string of text that a robot can identify as an email address. Yes, it's a bit harder for your clients to simply click and send an email, but then you'll likely have a form they can complete as well. I hope. WordPress has several plugins which obfuscate email addresses and links. I'm currently trialling the Hikari plugin on this site. I've found a few little glitches but so far overall it's working well. It also obfuscates links; from praising you for plenty of links on your site several years ago, Google now punishes you in the page rankings for your links, even if you put a 'no follow' tag on them.  Why? Well, links used to be an easy way to get to the top of the tree, and spammers took advantage of this - and also harvested links from other peoples' sites. If you are still using a basic HTML site or a web builder program that doesn't give you a choice of options to obfuscate your email and other links, you might consider moving to WordPress. Contact me via my friendly contact page (which has a range of contact options), and find out how easy managing your WordPress site can be.

When hacking meant horseriding

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As a child and teen I rode horses - saying I was horse mad was an understatement. Back in those heady carefree pre-computer days hacking meant a ride in the countryside (or a trail ride here in Australia). One could buy a hacking jacket, usually in a tweedy fabric, for that very purpose. Which, as you can imagine, caused some ridicule in Aussie circles where the de rigeur outfit for a hack or trail ride in the 1970s was jeans, RM Williams boots, a short sleeved shirt in summer covered by a checked lumberjacket in winter. Now hacking means something completely different in the context of my life today. And oh heck, is there a lot of it about. One of my colleagues had not only her bank account hacked but her Facebook profile last year. Same person? Unlikely. Bank hackers try to get into whatever accounts they can. The Facebook one, which impacted on my colleague's other social accounts, could have been more personal; we'll never know as the hacker hasn't been identified. A close family member has also had a bank account hacked and as it's the same bank as my colleague's wonders if they are connected or if it's the same hacker on a rampage. Fruitlessly he's been searching online doing vanity searches with hacking terms to see if someone has bragged on a forum somewhere. I rocked with laughter when he told me what he'd been up to. Even the most private forum can be scrutinised by the powers that be and no hacker worth his binary codes is going to brag on a forum about ripping off bank accounts. And this week, one of the websites I manage was hacked into. It's not one that I control the hosting for; it was a co-development with another developer, who has it hosted overseas. All of his managed sites were hacked, with a nasty translucent skull on a black background overwriting the home page. Easy to fix, as the hacker, thankfully, hadn't changed any passwords en route. He'd just added an extra index.html page which overwrote the index.php page; a quick dash into the FTP area removed it. Because all his sites were hacked this reeks of a server security compromise. Some of the sites were coded in Joomla!, some in WordPress. My developer friend has now read the riot act to the hosting company. It really does pay to buy quality hosting, where server security is a top priority. You might think $100 a year is expensive to host a site when there are much cheaper options out there, but buyer beware, you can in some cases get what you pay for in terms of site security. If you are using a free platform such as Joomla!, Drupal, WordPress etc to host your website, try and install updates as they become available, as updates typically address security issues. Change your passwords often; don't use names of family members or pets just because they're easy to remember. A dedicated hacker has sophisticated tools that can break even complicated passwords (see paras about bank accounts being hacked above!), but making it difficult does make it harder for hackers to intrude on your online life.

Google – what a lack of customer service!

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I'm cross at the moment - not a good way to start the working year. I have a problem with Feedburner that the FAQ can't fix - so why can't I contact a real person? I've tried to transfer an RSS feed for a client from my Google Feedburner account to his, and Feedburner has conveniently lost the feed. Google's customer service means I can only access a forum (in which no Google staff member ever seems to respond) or read a list of FAQ. There is no contact form for people like me to request assistance with a real problem. I tried phoning Google in Australia but of course they don't offer help via the telephone, as a pleasant voice told me in a recorded message. Unless of course I want to spend money on Adwords or other paid products, in which case they'll be only too pleased to help. I realise that a massive global organisation is going to have to spend a bomb to man a real live help service; but it's something they need to do if they want to keep their customers satisfied. Google is where Microsoft was a few years ago - dominating its own part of the IT industry. It has a plethora of free products, it is growing exponentially, almost everyone uses at least one Google product - but it WON'T OFFER A PROPER HELP SERVICE AND THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. Not to mention short-sighted. How long before a competitor who can offer live help starts capturing the market? In perusing Feedburner's Help Forum (and adding my own problem there) I noticed several people had my issue. The feed they were trying to transfer from their Feedburner Account to someone else's had gone into limbo. (In my case my client clicked on the "transfer" link and was provided with an error message saying there was a problem and Feedburner would fix it. Well, it's not fixed and now the transfer link has expired. The feed has left my account and is in limbo; still working, still providing feeds, but we need to access it and fix the feed's title and do some more tweaking to it.)  What was noticeable was a complete lack of support from Feedburner staff - many forum posts were followed up by the author wondering if anyone was there at all and complaining, as I'm doing now, of a lack of customer service. Feedburner is introducing a new interface and thankfully there was a feedback form I could complete, so I put my problem into it and sent it off. I'm not confident that anyone from Google Feedburner will bother to contact me. It seems all Google want to do is pump out software, get users committed to their products and services and provide third party help through FAQ and help forums in which the blind have to lead the blind. I'll be tweeting this post and sharing on Facebook in the hope that someone can help me find a solution or at the very least some kind of contact point to talk to a Google customer service rep by email or phone. Google, lift your game. Listen and RESPOND to people like me who have problems. You want to be the biggest in the world? Then offer a proper help service.

Does your website work well on a mobile device?

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A mobile phone isn't just a mobile phone any more. Smartphones and other mobile devices give us tools and abilities to enhance our daily life - we can check our email from anywhere, surf the web, pay bills, use social media... add an iPad or other tablet to that, with its word processing and other office apps, and you have a device that can, for the most part, be a notebook/laptop replacement when you're out and about. These devices are growing in popularity so quickly that website design technology now has to take them into account and change to allow for the limitations and capabilities of these devices. There is an excellent article here by Siobhan Ambrose on making your WordPress website mobile-friendly. The advice in here is quite applicable to any website, not just one driven by WordPress. Siobhan cites some big predictions from Gartner Research on the rapidly increasing use of mobile technology. These include: "By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. According to Gartner’s PC installed base forecast, the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter."  Wow! And also, "Mobile Web users are typically prepared to make fewer clicks on a website than users accessing sites from a PC. Although a growing number of websites and Web-based applications offer support for small-form-factor mobile devices, many still do not. Websites not optimized for the smaller-screen formats will become a market barrier for their owners — much content and many sites will need to be reformatted/rebuilt." Websites that use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) rather than tables have the advantage. CSS can expand and contract as you zoom on your mobile device. Tables can look awful on mobile devices, so if you've got a site you designed yourself a few years ago using FrontPage or similar software, it's time to think of updating and moving to a Content Management System (CMS) site driven by Joomla! or WordPress or similar software.  (There's also SquareSpace, but I don't believe it offers the same value as WordPress as there is a monthly charge to use it and limited templates at this stage.) IoS for WordPressWordPress makes it easy to update on the go with a free WordPress app for iPhone and iPad.  There are also versions available for Nokia, BlackBerry and Android from Automattic. I've been testing IoS for WordPress and find it easy enough to use on both an iPhone and iPad. See the website here for IoS WordPress. This app works whether or not you have a blog hosted on WordPress or your own website. If you manage multiple blogs, you can manage them all from your mobile device - how easy is that! The pic at right shows it in action, courtesy of the IoS site. I'm still investigating a Joomla! mobile editor, but if you want real flexibility for updating anywhere, anytime, head for WordPress and its mobile editing apps.

Hacking – it could happen to you on Facebook

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One of my clients phoned me, rather distressed, on Saturday. Someone had hacked her Facebook page and also her Hotmail account...and her email account associated with her own website. Like many of us, remembering a dozen complicated passwords is a pain, so my client had used one password for all three and admittedly it was a relatively low security one. I've now given her a new email account for her website with a mother of a password, but she's still unable to access her Facebook page and her Hotmail account, which she uses for business. The ramifications of the Hotmail account being hacked are pretty serious. This person is a consultant with high-level professional clients. She has had to go into damage control mode and send her clients a note stating that her account has been hacked and to disregard any messages sent from her Hotmail account effective last Friday night. What's making it hard for her to get back on track and get her Facebook and Hotmail accounts back is that the hacker has changed secret questions and answers, and now she is having a tough time proving she is who she is. Facebook can send you a new password via text message, but my client got a new mobile phone earlier this year and didn't update that in her Facebook account. And it's pointless Facebook sending her a new password to her email account, because the account linked with Facebook is, you guessed it, the Hotmail account. We don't know whether this has been a random hacking attack or a deliberate attack from someone she knows, but my client has called the police and reported it. Facebook is a hotbed for hackers. We've all heard about tribute pages which have been hacked into, to the distress of the friends and family of the person the page was a tribute to. This is the first time someone I know - let alone a client - has been hacked on Facebook. All of us think "It won't happen to me", but be vigilant, and change your FB password to something a lot more difficult for hackers to guess. Your security is your identity.

SEO Scribe – a must for bloggers

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As of 2009 there were 120 million blogs in the world (as tracked by BlogPulse). That was last year - so this number will have grown exponentially. So how do you make an impact with your blog? How do people find you as a blogger? You need to tweak your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and the best way to do this is with SEO Scribe. This tool is a brilliant addon for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla!. It's not free, but then if you want to get your blog posts up in their rankings it will be the best investment you've ever made. It is particularly good for novice bloggers, because it makes you think about how you structure your posts: using keywords effectively, the length of each blog, how many links you include. When you use SEO Scribe to evaluate your posts, it provides a thorough list of what's good and what's bad, and provides suggestions to tweak your copy for ultimate SEO. It will teach you to write well. To quote from the SEO Scribe site, here's the methodology it employs: "First, the Scribe keyword research tool tunes you into the right language before you write. Once your content is created, the Scribe keyword suggestion service shows you keyword phrases you might have missed. Second, Scribe analyzes your natural, reader-focused content, and tells you how to gently tweak it to spoon feed search engines based on 15 SEO best practices. Third, Scribe’s link building tools help you build back links from other sites, crosslink the content within your own site, and identify influential social media users who want to share your stuff." That's a powerful tool, and it's very easy to use. I use it on this blog and it has certainly helped me focus my writing. I love to digressthis software shakes its digital finger at my (its digital digit, perhaps?) and keeps me on track with my chosen post topic. If you wish to try it for yourself, a free 30 day trial is available. By the way, I'm not employed by SEO Scribe or in any way connected with the company. I simply think this is a fantastic tool and too good not to tell people about.

Recommended Reading: Corporate Blogging for Dummies

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So, you want to start a blog and use it to gain customers and raise awareness of your products and services. Everyone tells you it's the thing to do. But how do you blog successfully? I recommend reading "Corporate Blogging for Dummies", by Douglass Karr and Chantelle Flannery. Then get some help from myself and my social media expert colleagues to get yours underway. This book will help you choose a blogging platform (including of course the wonderful WordPress which I highly recommend), and guide you through developing a strategy for your blog. Because what you post on your blog - or indeed your website or any social media platform - is in the public domain, you'll have legalities to consider such as copyrights and ownership, especially if you use material taken from another website. This book will tell you all the CYA (Cover Your Ass) stuff you'll need to know. The authors share best practice tips, as well as the all important What Not To Do. The book features successful corporate blogs as examples you can learn from. Best of all, at my bookshop prices start from around $16 (exc shipping). With the Aussie dollar almost at parity with the US$, that's fantastic; even with shipping included it's cheaper than buying it in Australia. So go forth - buy! Part of a successful blog is the look and feel of the site it's on, and that's where I can help you (as well as with actual content if you need help writing). If your blog is a standalone site rather than part of your corporate site, I can match your corporate look and feel so you have consistent branding across your sites. Contact me about getting your blog up and running as part of your social media strategy.

New Facebook features not as useful – or private – as they seem

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I've just read an interesting article here. Facebook has launched a new Groups feature which you think might help you organise your friends vs work contacts, but it's not as useful as it seems. Other people can apparently add whoever they want to your group. So much for controlling your own account and your privacy. And it gets worse. Seems that if you have an iPhone and use it to connect with Facebook, syncing may take your telephone numbers from your iPhone and attempt to connect them with users on Facebook if you set up your FB wrongly to work on the iPhone. Here's the article in full, from the Geek With Laptop website: 'Facebook have just launched “groups” on the popular social networking site, apparently so that you can have more control over the way you socialise or communicate with different groups of people. The idea behind it is that just like in the real world, there is information you might only want to share with your family or your friends or business colleagues and so on. Facebook doesn’t create these groups for you automatically; you actually get to put your own little groups together. “We’ve long heard that people would find Facebook more useful if it were easier to connect with smaller groups of their friends instead of always sharing with everyone they know. For some it’s their immediate family and for others it’s their fantasy football league, but the common concern is always some variant of, ‘I’d share this thing, but I don’t want to bother 250 people. Or my grandmother. Or my boss.’” Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post. However, as usual where Facebook is concerned, all might not be as it seems, so let me explain. What users might not be aware of is that once you create a group, other people in that group can also add whoever they want to it and you have absolutely no control over that, so it isn’t exactly your own group is it. (Mark Zuckerberg was embarrassingly added to a group earlier this month which shows just how ill-thought-out the group feature is at the moment - click here to read.) What is far more worrying though, is a report in the Guardian newspaper outlining how a syncing feature on the iPhone (and possibly Android phones too) takes all the telephone numbers of all your contacts and uploads them to the site, Facebook then attempts to match the contact data to a particular user and this information is then visible to others. “It’s very possible that your private phone numbers – and those of lots of your and their friends – are on the site” said Charles Arthur of the Guardian newspaper. (NB - the full article is here ). Arthur goes on to quote Kurt von Moos, who had earlier written about Facebook stealing contact info. “Phone numbers are private and valuable. Most people who have entrusted you with their phone numbers assume you will keep them private and safe. If you were to ask your friends, family or co-workers if they are ok with you uploading their private phone numbers to be cross-referenced with other Facebook users, how many of them do you think would be ok with it?” Not many I suspect. It would be interesting to hear what others think, have you encountered this problem?' Personally I'm wary about what I put on Facebook. Anyone who puts their full date of birth including the year on their public profile, or even makes it visible to just friends, is asking for trouble. Identity theft anyone? Be wary about how much you share with anyone on any social media platform. What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas - it stays visible on servers somewhere forever, and your privacy could be compromised.