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Last week, one of our WordPress clients got some disturbing information from a family member:

“wordpress had been hacked into and thousands of people were getting viruses and losing their websites if they logged into their wordpress site “

After a week of fretting and not updating their blog, they emailed us to ask if their site was OK, and is it safe to log in?

Advice point 1: Don’t panic and don’t leave it a week before doing anything!

After an hour’s investigation I’d found very little, so I asked for the source of the information. The link was to a blogger who produces fairly light-weight blogs about WordPress, and uses his site as a source of income through a multiplicity of affiliate links.

His blog about the hacking was a mere 180 words with a link to an original source and, not surprisingly, affiliate links to paid-for security products. It mentioned two problems which our client’s source had muddled up.

Advice point 2: If you hear about a problem, check the source and cut through the rumour and speculation.

The information passed on to us was inaccurate. I’ve tried to separate out the salient points here:

  • Firstly, if you have a WordPress.com-hosted blog or site, it isn’t affected.
  • The hacking has affected CMS (Content Management Systems) written in the PHP language. WordPress figures highly as there are many more WordPress sites than (say) Joomla sites.
  • The websites don’t have a virus themselves, so visiting them or logging in doesn’t infect your PC. The hack has put a re-direct code into the pages, and there are actually two different hacking attacks at work. Typically, when you get to the re-directed site you’re told your computer is infected and they try to sell you a worthless (and probably infected) anti-virus package.
  • WordPress.com stats suggest there are over 70 million WordPress sites, of which about half are not hosted by them and so are potentially vulnerable. Although thousands of websites seem to have been compromised (30,000 was the figure quoted), less than one tenth of a percent of the total will have been affected. The blog also reported 85% of the affected sites were in the US.
  • The blog also mentioned “4800 Hacked Websites Lost With No Chance of Recovery”. This refers to a hosting company in Australia which had 4 servers  hacked in June 2011. They were unable to recover the data from the servers, didn’t have adequate backup systems in place, so the sites were completely lost. This was a specific attack on their servers and completely different to the other hacking mentioned here.

Advice point 3: Make sure you have a reputable, up-to-date anti-virus and Internet security package on your PC.

There are free anti-virus and Internet security packages, but a paid-for package with frequent updates is likely to give you better and more consistent protection (we use F-Secure which checks for updates every 2 hours). And be cautious when surfing the Internet and following links.

Advice point 4: Check your website provider and/or hosting company are backing up your site, and storing the backups securely.

We backup all the websites we host and manage, independently of the backups the hosting company takes. Our Backup Smart system runs every night, and downloads the backup files so a problem at the hosting company would not compromise our backups. We use an industry standard algorithm which keeps a mix of daily, weekly and monthly backups.

In conclusion

Sherlock Holmes would certainly know what to do. He’d advise you to investigate and get to the bottom of the problem. Once you’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, you can take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your business.

If you’re still in any doubt, you can always send us an email or give us a call – we don’t charge for our advice.

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One of our clients has a couple of mirco-sites … mini-websites with their own URL … and this is one of them: http://www.stratford-avonsecurity.co.uk/

If you conduct a little research using Google, you’ll find there’s quite a lot of information about micro-sites, but it can be confusing and inconclusive. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. Some of the information is several years old, and Internet search has moved on
  2. All of it is based (or even biased) on the opinions of the writer
  3. No one knows the search engine algorithms

Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask why anyone might want a micro-site.

Link-building

This is NOT a good reason for having micro-sites, and the search engines (Google in particular) don’t like link-building schemes which try to artificially improve results. Thumbs down for this one.

Chasing keyword optimisation

Why not have a website dedicated to a particular search term or keyword? Perhaps, but is there a reason for not just having a dedicated page on the main website? There could be genuine reasons why you might want to separate out different aspects of your business (and thus your keywords). But it should be more than just targeting search terms … think about the benefits (or otherwise) to your human visitors.

Product or service differentiation

Picking up on this point in the previous section, if you are launching a new product or service you might want to consider a separate domain and website. If you are moving into a new geographic area, it can be important you’re seen as a company with local connections (in which case you may benefit from a local office too).

Special offers and promotions

This is used by big businesses as part of large promotional campaigns. It could be used to launch a new car, breakfast cereal, or movie.

Making it work

OK. So you’ve decided a micro-site fits with what you want to achieve, how do you make it work? Just building the site and hoping the search engines and visitors will find you isn’t going to work any time soon.

We often find websites left dangling in the ether because they are not integrated into a marketing campaign or strategy. So, create new incoming links from relevant sites to relevant content, but make sure it is relevant. You’ll also need to perform all the other marketing activities associated with a new product or service offering.

Then check the stats … is it working? … what changes can you make? … review and modify.

Some of the better resources I found on line are:

B2Web: Are Microsites Effective? Microsite Best Practices for Small Businesses

Spark Report: The 7 most important principles about Microsites

They cost how much?!

It never ceases to amaze us what we learn with every new client. Actually, in this case John isn’t a new client, as we’ve worked with him several times before.

This time, John wanted an e-commerce website for his hairdressing scissor business. Did you know it isn’t uncommon for hairdressing scissors to cost over two hundred pounds a pair? The ‘Keiun Damascus R’ is over £500 … we were stunned.

With more than one website offering, the first step was to quiz John to find out exactly what he needed. One thing quickly became clear: John (a self-confessed computer beginner) wanted to manage and develop the site himself. We felt a WordPress site with an e-commerce theme would be the best choice. WordPress is quite straightforward to use, and there’s no shortage of people John would be able to call on for help in the future.

Finding a suitable theme wasn’t easy … there’s no ‘try-before-you-buy’ facility with most WordPress themes. We were guided by Alison, our WordPress expert, and she configured the chosen theme with several categories and the first 40 products.

As soon as we handed the site over to John, the phone calls and questions started. Luckily, John’s a quick learner, and within a very short time, he’d created new pages and added several other product ranges. John is just the sort of client we like to work with: he appreciates our hard work, gets stuck in, and won’t let his website stagnate.

John is known throughout the South East of England as The Scissor Man. Now he’s added the online hairdressing scissor shop to his scissor sharpening and maintenance service, he’s sure to become known right across the country.

If you know a hairdresser who’s looking for great service and quality hairdressing scissors, send them to www.thescissorman.co.

March was a month of contrasts, with website commissions from two very different existing clients.

Ann’s micro business

Ann Douglas runs a typical micro business – there’s just her. Ann’s business is will-writing, and she’s based in Wootton Bassett near Swindon.

Our first project for Ann started a couple of years ago when she wanted a small website to promote her book about training dogs. She’d already approached a number of web companies, but none were interested because she only wanted a small site. She was on the point of giving up when we got chatting at FBBC (Faringdon Business Breakfast Club). Yes, of course we could help, and the Just Bark Back website has been live for a couple of years.

It’s always heartening when a client comes back and asks you to do some more work, so we were delighted to get the call. Ann had decided her will-writing business needed a showcase on the Internet, and commissioned us to write and build a two-page website. County Wills South West has been live for a couple of weeks, and Ann is gradually adding testimonials from happy clients. Although Ann now has two sites hosted through us, there is only one hosting fee. This is our standard practice – we have three clients with multiple websites paying the same single hosting fee.

Peter’s international joint-venture

Our second commission in March couldn’t have been more different. We’ve worked with Peter Hayes, MD of Lynq plc, on a range of projects since WORD-right was started in 2006. Peter’s software company has its principal client base in North America, and we’ve provided marketing support including copywriting, newsletters, brochures and website management.

Peter’s call came out of the blue: he was forming a joint venture with a company in Columbus Ohio (USA). Everything needed to be in place for a major conference in Orlando, Florida … in less than three weeks! No problem we said, what do you need? Well actually, they didn’t even have a company name!

Three members of the WORD-right & WEB-right team had a very busy eight days. It started with coming up with a company name … one which everyone in the US and UK liked, and for which there was a matching and available .com domain name. Apart from building the website, we also re-wrote a brochure translated (very approximately) from Dutch, and produced print-ready business cards.

The website look is based on a document design package Peter had bought online, adapted to the Internet, with content mostly drawn from existing sources. There were a few last minute hiccups with the emails – Lynq is hosting the emails while we’re hosting the website, so some of the domain’s DNS settings needed to be changed.

Peter was very pleased with our speed of reaction and quality of delivery (you can read his testimonial on the WORD-right Home page), and this is how it all happened:

  • Original briefing conversation with Peter on 22nd March
  • Company name (Cohesive Operations and cophops.com) agreed 25th March
  • Website design presented and agreed on 29th March
  • Cohops.com completed and live on the 2nd April.

We’re not often asked to do so much so quickly, but we’ll always find a way of delivering on time.

I know the title will be a little controversial, but these questions have to be asked.

I can imagine lots of people reaching for their keyboards to comment. They might be saying, “The 500 million active users on Facebook can’t all be wrong.” My question to such commenters would be. “Wrong about what?”

Facebook says there are 23½ million users in the UK – that’s almost the same as every single person between 15 and 45.

Facebook says the average user spends more than 55 minutes per day on Facebook – does that include the 10 -12 hours a day Facebook is open in a browser tab on my PC?

The trouble with statistics, no one ever says on what basis they are measured or calculated – statistics can be manipulated (remember the old adage, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics”?)

Why do people use Facebook? Here are some reasons …

  • People – to communicate with other people – good
  • Young people – peer pressure – bad
  • Businesses – because their clients are there – no option

Are people happy with what Facebook offers (or delivers)? We hear comments like …

  • Its never going to be less popular.” – umm … never is a long time!
  • What you will find given a few years is that there will be 3rd party applications that will give you the experience your after.” – admission that Facebook isn’t expected to deliver for some time to come.
  • When I post something, I never know where it’s going to appear” – from a structural and workflow perspective, Facebook is a mess
  • Facebook: re-inventing the applications we’ve been using for decades in a more crap way” – from an IT professional’s perspective.
  • It confuses the life out of me” – and it’s constantly changing.
  • Not ideal but you can use the Notes app to leave longer updates” – said about the 420-character limit in some places (but it doesn’t tell you untill too late), by a Social Media Manager
  • The new group functionality is different than what we see here (old style group) but unfortunately there’s no migration path” – Social Media Manager in answer to the non-appearance of some groups

All these comments come from people who, like us, use Facebook every day for business as well as personal reasons.

Predictions about companies and technologies are notoriously wide of the mark, or even just plain wrong. Who, 30 years ago could have predicted the trouble General Motors had in the last few years (bankrupcy), or the demise and disappearance of British Leyland, Woolworths, MFI, Waterford and Wedgwood. IBM didn’t originally take the PC seriously, giving Bill gates his first opportunity. According to Tomorrow’s World, I should in 2011 have a little robot which automatically vacuums my house.

Most of these didn’t fail because their product or service was poor.

Facebook may evolve into something really good. But it has limited time to do this. How long? I have no idea.

Will one of the better products out there take over? Don’t know, and yes, there are better products than Facebook.

Will it be something completely new? More than likely.

Do I eat sliced bread? Wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

This isn’t the sort of very specific computer issue I’d write about – there are many people better qualified to do it. What prompted me was a friend who complained about the 10-minute start-up time for her netbook.

There are a number of reasons why a computer (portable or otherwise) could be slow to boot. If you’re having this problem, look down the list to see which might be affecting you:

  • It’s very old
  • Too many apps. are loading code when the computer starts
  • There’s not enough RAM

What are the solutions?

If you computer is just old, you’ll either have to get a new one, or put up with the slowness. If there are too many apps. loading code, get a utility (or a friendly IT person) to help you get rid of those you don’t need. If there’s not enough RAM (you know you don’t have enough if the computer’s spec. says you can fit some more), buy some more memory. If you are going to buy memory, shop around … people like Crucial, MemoryC and Offtek can sell you perfectly good memory at a fraction of the manufacturer’s prices.

There is one other thing you can do … which I do on my Acer netbook and my 5-year old Compaq notebook … to get going quicker after you switch on:

… ALWAYS choose the ‘Hibernate’ option when you turn it off.

Occasionally this may conflict with something Windows is doing. Sometimes you will have to do a full shut down and restart. But mostly your computer will be up and running much more quickly than it used to be.

Oh, and if you have a Mac … I guess the bullet points are still relevant, but I don’t have one, so can’t offer any further advice – sorry!

It’s here at last, the long-awaited starting date for the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) to regulate what companies say about themselves online.

For years companies have been subject to the ASA’s ruling about their paid-for advertising. The ASA regularly slaps the wrists of even the biggest corporations. Now these companies will have to smarten up their acts online too.

The news item on the BBC website this morning says:

From 1 March, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) gets powers to police the claims companies make on websites and social networks.

The rules cover statements on sites that can be interpreted as marketing, even if they are not in an advert.

Obviously someone has to complain to the ASA for anything to happen – they don’t have the brief or resources to go out looking for dishonesty. That means it will be mostly the larger companies who are taken to task over their claims.

But that doesn’t mean small companies don’t have to bother. With the ASA’s ‘enhanced naming and shaming’ policy, your business could be severely affected by the adverse publicity.

And don’t think you can escape by using a domain name which isn’t a .uk, or a site which is hosted outside the UK – the ASA will be regulating businesses with a base or presence in the UK.

Do the new rules cover all online content? Well no … it covers content on websites and social media which can be interpreted as marketing or sales. And it will be the ASA which decides, not the content owner.

If you’d like to know more (and if your business or organisation has an online presence you should), visit the ASA’s CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) website.

So, what better time to review your marketing messages and online copy. Why not contact a copywriter (WORD-right springs to mind here, and no surprise!) – they will help you get your marketing messages across, and still be legal, decent, honest and truthful.