Web Advertising part 3

Web Advertising Part 3.

In this installment I will try to describe what is perhaps the most important step you can take to get search engines to favor your web presence; keeping it alive and relevant in the electronic eyes of those search engines. This is important for numerous reasons but let us focus on this one aspect first. The search engines preview content continuously so they can instantly show you relevant responses to your queries; in doing so, they visit web pages (remember when we registered our page(s) with the search engines) to verify that the page is still relevant and to see if it has changed. A couple of impacts occur as a result; if nothing has changed, the score for the page is reduced based on, among other things, how long it has been since the page was changed. If it has changed, the search engine will re-score the page based on the new content and then on its over all content including words, tags, descriptions and so forth.

This score I am talking about is a measure of what sorts of things the content of the website is relevant to. The search engines are completely mechanical in their scoring; no human interference, no human intuition, simple brute force data collection and tabulation combined with a measure of how fresh that data is, and how well the website embodies certain measures of accessibility (does it optimize for different devices, does it provide alternate text for non-text items, does it contain multi-media content and other factors are valued). Now, each search engine is a little different, each one scores differently; but, the intent is the same. The search engines provide quick direction to websites that are most relevant for the search criteria provided by a user; in addition to websites that have paid to be included in searches for some or all of the search criteria. Exactly how important each aspect is varies with different search engines; but, that freshness is always an important factor. You don’t really want to be shown websites that haven’t changed in five years (is that company still operating if their website hasn’t changed?) and this is one part of the score we can influence easily.

Over time, what you provide or how much you charge for products and services may change; updating your website to reflect that is a great idea if only for this reason. Bonus, updating that website also creates new interest on the part of the search engine and serves to potentially increase your score simply because your website is showing life, growth, freshness! As time goes on, you may get new improved media items to replace old ones or think of better ways to describe your offerings; don’t be shy, this is all positive in terms of increasing the score of your website. If you join a new organization pertinent to your offerings, add a link to that organization, get them to link back to your page, add a post or a paragraph to your page describing how this relationship improves your offerings. All of this keeps your website alive and interesting to the search engines and consumers alike.

I wish to offer a cautionary note at this point; particularly if customers use your website regularly for reference or their commercial or personal activities. Changing the overall structure of your website, which may keep it fresh, may also cause some frustration for your customers. Adding and enhancing content is one thing (a positive thing); but, making major changes on a regular basis can prove frustrating to folks for whom your website is a regular resource. Keeping the navigation of the website consistent and the type of content consistent can go a long way to maintaining customer loyalty. If you are thinking about providing an entirely new type of content, this is a good place to create a new website and then provide a link to it (the new website) on your current website (remember to provide an obvious return link on the new website). A quick tip; most hosting plans allow for free subdomains which can be a great place to test new content, new business ideas, with only your time as an investment as far as web presence is concerned. If you need help with this concept, your hosting help line or favorite consultant is likely to be very familiar with this and related topics.

Keeping your website and other web offerings up to date is one of the easiest tasks you can undertake and it offers numerous advantages related to why you created a web presence in the first place. I recommend that you set aside time each month to review all of your web assets with an eye to making small improvements on a regular basis; and remember the web itself is constantly changing, growing, and adapting to the demands of a huge audience; you can grow with it and prosper.

Web Advertising Part 1

Web Advertising Part 1.

This will be a multi-part project from me; this week, in part 1, I will discuss building up the base or basic infrastructure. There are some assumptions I will make; some familiarity with web browsing, links, basic navigation on the web, and an understanding that web pages represent one form of inexpensive advertising. Many of the tools or features I will discuss are available at no charge or you can choose to pay fees to enhance their impact; I mostly recommend the “at no charge” part of these tools. I will leave it up to the user of such tools to calculate whether or not paid advertising is of positive value for them.

Step one (perhaps already done by most) acquire a name (domain or domain name) for your primary website and arrange for a place to host it. For a commercial website, this might entail registering a catchy name (benediktson.com for me) and buying web hosting (maybe $8.00 / month – perhaps less or at no charge). I prefer web hosting that includes email service so I can set up equally catchy named email addresses (help@benediktson.com, john@benediktson.com) that help with company recognition and simplify the whole branding part of advertising. A quick word about these names; my example is a ‘.com’ (top-level-domain) but many others exist for improved identification and name recognition. For example ‘.biz’ for a business, ‘.net’ for networking providers, ‘.org’ for organizations, or the very common ‘.com’ for commercial. If you are looking to avoid annual fees, you may choose a sub-domain provided “under” someone else’s name (john.computer4u.com, or john.mt.gov).

Step two is to identify services that already are providing websites or web-presence’s for you, or would if they knew you existed, and claim or take control of these sites or presences. This can require some research and some luck; but, trust me, it is worth the effort on your part. Google provides a contact page or website for every business (sort of); find yours and take ownership of it so you control the content on it and can link it to your website from “step one” above. Facebook, Yahoo, Bing, and a host of special interest groups and service providers also provide similar services. Yellowbook provides a range of services, many at no charge (in the hopes you will also buy some of their advertising products); this is one way to get your business phone number (assuming you have one and want it to be easy to find) published so that it appears in web searches. As much as possible, you want to add references from all of these back to your website and to each other (remember to try and put consistent information on each of these).

Step three is to contact organizations that provide recommendations or assistance in the field you provide service or products for. If you are an attorney, for instance, there will be numerous professional groups that you could join and many of them will assist you in being easier to find for those interested in your specific offerings. There are also a few commercial groups who provide lists of specialists, referral services, etc.; you may wish to exchange links with some or all that you can find. In each case, you want to get accurate information about you and what you offer (including your website address and email address maybe) in their listings.

Step four is to go to each of the major search engines and register your webpage with them. There are services that will do this for you (usually for a fee) or you can spend an hour some evening and learn about all the other services these engines can provide to you while you describe your offerings to them. These are designed to be used by non-technical people and should represent no unusual challenges. Okay, there is one challenge involved, you will need to think about your offerings and how your would-be clients view those offerings so you can tell the search engines which kinds of queries they should recommend you (your webpage) as a response.

With these four steps initiated, you should have several “pages” displaying your name, desired contact information, and information about services, products, or whatever that you offer. There may be opportunities to improve these as time and feedback suggest or add new ones as you become aware of additional services. As much as possible, all should link to your website and you may choose to link your website back to some; particularly if they provide additional information or incentive regarding you and your offerings.

In part 2 of this series, I hope to explain how to make your web presence more attractive to the search engines and help you advance up the list the search engines provide.

Web Advertising Part 2

Web Advertising Part 2.

I have been told that it is an arcane art getting your webpage selected for prominent display by the search engines (getting the first listing or on the first page) and that it requires the efforts of a highly paid professional. I reject this notion; my experience has shown that a few straightforward and common sense tactics can get any web page favored by the search engines. The various search engines are sufficiently open about what they “score” highly for selection. Recently, Google and Bing posted notes regarding changes to their scoring schemes; both now favor pages that include content for the vision challenged in addition to favoring “living” and “dynamic” pages.

This is good news all around. The web has become very visually oriented; to the extent that, until recently, the sight impaired, and those with limited motor control (and a vast array of other situations that create challenges to experiencing web content) experienced the web in an extremely reduced quality. Whatever the reason you are building a web presence, providing your message to the maximum audience is desirable. Being mindful of the newer guidelines for the search engines not only helps you get higher on the page but also allows you to include more of the potential audience. A marketing specialist can help you get a higher percentage of reached individuals to engage with your content, while building pages that the search engines favor helps you reach a larger audience; both factors are extremely important in forming a successful campaign.

There are simple things we (as builders of the website or blog) can do to achieve favor within these new guidelines. When posting a photograph, try fully describing both the photo and its association with the text or other materials surrounding it; often this can be entered as text in the “alternate text” field associated with the photo. Similarly, when embedding a video or a table of numbers, or a graph, fully describe it and how it applies to the material it is meant to enhance or exemplify. If you are using WordPress, media items (photos, videos, sound recordings, charts, etc.) can easily be annotated as you place them from the media library with a title, a caption (visible to all), alt text (used by screen readers, search engines, visible to those requesting text mode or whose browser settings prevent picture loading), a description (available to same group as alt text). All of these can assist in getting search engine favor and in helping to identify the importance of that media to both the search engines and all viewers. A quick hint for WordPress users; if you will use a media item multiple times and want different annotation, create multiple copies because the annotation stays with the library entry, not the “instance” on the page.

As you format the “page” remember that we want the page to be dynamic; in this case I refer to the ability of WordPress and other page layout products to format the page differently to optimize its appearance and function for various kinds of viewing devices (smart phone, tablet, PC, Mac, etc.). This can involve choosing larger fonts (14pt and above recommended for the small displays and the visually impaired); avoiding hard to read fonts (artsy but more difficult to read for all), and good white-space balance (this is many things but it amounts to adding white space to make paragraphs easier to spot, photos, tables, and graphs easily identified with the text they enliven but not jammed into, and more). Understanding that the page will be reformatted based on the viewer’s device might lead to using larger or smaller elements (media or text); but, generally the use of a moderate sized and easy to read font for all text will go a long way here. Breaking up parts of the page to separate different thoughts you are expressing may also assist the reader (particularly after the dynamic page layout engine shapes it for small displays).

In addition, you want to include “tags”; this is your chance to give the search engines words or phrases that you think your content explains or is the answer to. If someone was searching for “this tag” I want my page provided at the top of the list or prominently in the list. This makes “tags” an important consideration and a powerful tool to get your page presented to those searching for your offerings. Depending on what tools you use to create your pages, “tags” will be available in different ways; in WordPress, each post and each page has a field that you can paste your tags into. A quick step back; when we were filling in the alternate text and description fields for media earlier, we would like to include (smoothly, artfully) those same tags in the descriptive text for those media. Back to “tags”; these are not sentences, the search engines are looking to match a key word or 2, maybe, 3 word phrase and the “tags” themselves are primarily here for the search engines. It is extremely rare for a viewer of a page to dig in deep enough to ever see the tags associated with it.

Now that we have some content on our webpage, hopefully very attractive to reader and search engine alike, it will help to go to the various search engines and “register” our page. In this step the search engine is, once again, informed of the “tags” for our intended content and audience and you may choose to pay for higher placement or for advertising space. Some of the engines will allow you to enter a description or even a lengthy briefing designed to grab attention to your link(s) and provide business and or personal information (address, hours, phone numbers, email address, etc.). This is a process you can do or have a service or even an app do for you; I prefer doing it myself as it often gives me hints about what the search engine is looking for and what other entities are doing that might be in competition with me.

In part 3, I hope to discuss keeping your page alive; strategies and the need for updating the content on your page.

Alert – SSD lovers w/ Windows 10

So, 2 weeks back Microsoft started pushing out their anniversary update to Windows 10; if you have a real fancy install on an SSD (solid state drive) where only Windows or mostly windows is on the SSD, you might be experiencing freezing, or lock ups in boot up or in normal operation. If you are affected, Microsoft is investigating the issue; in the mean time they offer the following advice: http://answers.microsoft.com/…/5a60d75d-120a-4502-873c-8bfe…

Please note, “small number” should be taken with a grain of salt; if it affects you, that is all that matters. If you have the opportunity, I recommend refusing this upgrade until MS gets it fixed.

Hi, Microsoft has received a small number of reports of Windows 10 freezing after installing the Anniversary Update on systems with the operating system stored on a solid-state drive (SSD) and apps

Updates and Security

Next week I will start a 3 or 4 part series of articles on how to get the most out of your website as an advertising tool; however, this week I am focusing on updates and security concerns.
I get a skewed view of personal and professional computers because I see them when they are having trouble. The ones that don’t have any issues aren’t brought to my attention. Regardless of whether your computer represents a delicious target for hacking or contains nothing of interest for anyone or anything else, you have a fairly similar risk of being hit with a virus, malware or even a directed hacking attack. As a result, the usual tactic of abstaining from updates until you have an issue may not be the best choice (if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it is more like sticking your head in the sand).  Yes, I share the pain of the almost daily updates and the disruption they can provide.  Some updates simply cause the machine to take a long time to start up (while I wait to use it when I was, naturally, in a hurry) and some disable “features” that I or some software package I use depend on; and still others reveal sloppy programming on the part of the authors of some important (to me or the user) product.  All of this and more are real frustrations associated with “updates”.
The complexity of modern operating systems, whether it be IOS, OSX, Windows, Android, or Unix (linux), has created a need for constant patching and updating to stay ahead of the virus and malware industry. The update may not seem to be important to what you do on your computer; but, odds are it, or an update that relies on it, are quite likely to improve your computer’s odds of rejecting some malicious code your machine encounters. If you ignore the updates (or reject them), you are leaving the door (your computer) wide open.  Because of the variety of potential attack vectors, the simple anti-virus packages that were adequate a decade ago really aren’t adequate protection today. Today, you need a good firewall, a continuously vigilant anti- virus and anti-malware pair or package and one or more auxiliary on demand protection packages.
Even the best Anti-virus and anti-malware products combined with a good firewall and up to date operating system (with all patches, etc.) will occasionally suffer an intrusion or infection; this is where an auxiliary package becomes important. These are usually stand alone products (scanners, security helpers, etc.) that can be run on demand when you suspect an issue or just prophylactically. I always choose one from a trusted vendor that is unrelated to the other products that routinely maintain the computer and its security. Each provider seems to have their own specialty and, occasionally, spotting an issue and removing or correcting it is the result of choosing a tool from the right provider. Since I don’t keep up on who’s tools are best at which problems, I often resort to trying a couple until the problem is resolved.
Choosing your security tools is very important because not all security products are on the up and up; some are traps designed to get your system infected while others are more aimed at gathering information for some advertiser than protecting your security. Often I will run into an advertisement or popup claiming to be the next super tool to fix various issues or protect me from all threats; most of these turn out to not be what they claim and instead make things worse. This is where I have a luxury most computer users don’t have; I have a sacrificial computer that I can try these products on and learn about them. If they turn out to be trouble or make a mess out of my computer, I can simply reformat and reload Windows or Linux and be right back where I started.
So, what can the everyday computer user do? First, I recommend going with the tools built into your operating system; most have adequate firewall products and these form your first line of defense. If you want something stronger to protect several devices, I recommend a firewall appliance (a small box that goes between your devices and the internet and filters your traffic before it gets to your devices). Next, a good combination anti-virus and anti-malware product (windows 10 comes with Windows Defender which is adequate for most situations but several companies including Sophos, Norton, McAfee, and Trend Micro also provide adequate products.). Third, I recommend products like the demand scanners from any of the above mentioned companies (most of these are available on their websites at no charge) in combination with products from LavaSoft, Malwarebytes.org, Piriform.com, Auslogics.com, and a host of others to try and spot anything that sneaks through the regular lines of defense. I want to be clear, at this point, that it is extremely important to have good recent backups (more than just one or two and preferably in a series going back days and weeks in case the bug(s) have impacted data back that far.); often, recovery from an infection will require restoring some data from a time prior to initial infection (backup media is extremely inexpensive and software to perform automatic backups is inexpensive or included with your operating system or security system).
As with many other things about your computing devices, if you have valuable information at risk, please consider contacting a professional before you have issues to help you setup appropriate defenses and maintenance routines, and once you believe you have an issue. The professional is likely to encounter these kinds of problems daily and have lots of practice resolving them (greatly improving the odds of good outcomes; and it may not take them near as much time to get you back fully functional).