David Wins, Goliath Consults Attorney (Update)

While most Americans spent their time online Thursday arguing over dress color, or watching Llamas on the Lam, the FCC pulled the trigger on new net neutrality rules, designed to maintain equality among all content providers on the Internet.

Tom Wheeler FCC Chairman

FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, during the Net Neutrality Vote

As expected, the vote fell along party lines. Immediately, the big internet service providers (ISPs) and many government officials condemned the new rules, threatening both legal and legislative challenges, some before the vote was even taken.

At least for now, by a narrow 3-2 vote, all of our websites will continue to be treated equally by services providers; our content will not be slowed down or sped up according to any sort of tiered delivery. Furthermore, ISPs will now be classified as public utilities, much like phone companies, and will be subject to regulations to ensure that all consumers have equal access to their services.

Although not receiving as much attention as net neutrality, the FCC also ruled to lift bans and restrictions which inhibit local municipalities from building their own broadband networks, previously allowing only private cable companies to provide internet access. This ruling gives consumers a choice of service providers for their internet, something many Americans do not currently have.

This victory is historic for net neutrality activists, content providers and tech influencers, whose sustained and vocal protest was actually heard over arguably one of the most powerful and wealthy lobbying interests in America today. Said Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, in celebrating the FCC’s decision, “It goes a lot further than net neutrality. Title II regulation means oversight of bad behavior.”

Critics of the ruling were quick to point out the FCC has a habit of being over regulatory, which could hurt innovation and ultimately lead to higher prices for consumers. Arizona Senator John McCain tweeted immediately after the ruling, “This is a matter for Congress to carefully consider and correct.”

For now, we all get to keep our websites in the fast lane on the information super-highway. But keep an eye on those highway alert signs, as this is just one battle in what could end up being a very long war for control of the Internet.

Paid Prioritization; or How the Goliaths are Trying to Stick it to the Davids

At the end of this month, Washington will be making huge news, affecting every small business.

Net Neutrality Effects Us All

Net Neutrality

On February 4th, Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, announced what some found to be a stunning policy reversal on open internet. Wheeler let it be known that the FCC will be basing its soon to be announced net neutrality rules for Internet service providers (ISPs) on Title II of the Communication Act, reclassifying Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as utilities, like power companies and telecommunication providers. These newly proposed regulations would apply to both wired and wireless ISPs.  Small businesses and their websites will be directly impacted if the FCC decides to end net neutrality.

Net neutrality means that all websites on the internet are treated equally. If net neutrality were to end, some websites would be able to be delivered at faster speeds, leaving those of us who cannot pay more for additional speed in the dust. It’s also likely that the cost of paid advertising or even posting on social websites will increase, as the Facebooks and Twitters will pass down the higher fees they are paying to us. In the simplest terms, ending net neutrality will make it more expensive for everyone to be found on the Internet.  This is paid prioritization.

How did we get here?

The issue of net neutrality isn’t new. There have been grumblings on both sides of the issue since 2002 when the FCC classified cable modem service as an “information service,” and not a common carrier. Escaping the common carrier classification has protected ISPs from most FCC regulation, particularly in the area of paid prioritization. The belief was that unencumbered growth and investment would give Internet consumers a better product with more competitive pricing. In 2007, wireless broadband access was classified in the same way.

The common carrier rules in Title II are from 1934. They were originally meant to oversee industries that transported goods to the public, such as rail and freight companies as well as public utilities. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 extended the original Title II provisions to telecommunication aolcompanies. In 1996, the 20 million Americans who visited the Internet mostly used Netscape, via dial up, to spend the bulk of their 30 minutes a month reading their AOL mail.  These folks are now but a tiny fraction of the 245 million Americans who hate the 3 seconds it takes to get on Google and who spend an average of nearly 30 hours a month online, some of them reading their AOL mail (there are still over 2 million people who subscribe to AOL. Wha’?!)

ISPs have been operating under the “Open Internet” rules since 2010, rules meant to stop ISPs from forcing content providers to pay to play on their networks. Verizon filed a lawsuit to block these rules. In January of 2014, a federal appeals court ruling found in favor of Verizon’s argument against being treated as an old timey telephone network, but this ruling also cleared a huge path for the FCC to write new rules regarding the Internet. President Obama also came out in favor of maintaining an open Internet.

What does this mean to ME? 

Zoom Zoom

Zoom Zoom

If this change happens, it means that you are likely to start paying for things on the internet that you now receive for free, because the cost of doing business on the internet has increased for those businesses. It also means that if you have a website for your business, it could decrease traffic to your website.

Visualize the Internet as a two-lane highway, with a slow lane and a fast lane. The fast lane is a toll lane.

Those with lots of change in their cup holders,content providers like Netflix and Facebook, may pay to have their content streamed faster. Those with a couple of fuzzy pennies and a cough drop in their glove box, sites like Cats that Look Like Hitler and Bees Bees Bees , or YOU with your small business and small business  website are going to have to stay in the slow lane or come up with a LOT more extra change.

Who is deciding this Neutrality Thing?

Federal Communications Commission

This case for and against net neutrality has made for some strange bedfellows. On the pro-neutrality side, you’ll find Twitter and Google, teaming up with the Parents Television Council and the hacker group Anonymous. You’ll also find the 4 million Americans who crashed the FCC’s website during the public comment period, due in no small part to John Oliver (MUST WATCH, especially if you have a thing for dingoes!) On the let’s get rid of net neutrality side, the big ISPs (Verizon, AT&T, Comcast,) join hands with civil rights groups such as the NAACP and  the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council. They can also find at least one FCC Commissioner in their corner, Ajit Pai (former Verizon lawyer) who just came out against regulations on Feb 10th.  In the truest definition of neutral, tech-giant Apple has publically neither come out for or against open internet.

The FCC is voting on February 26th. One thing is certain; the issue of net neutrality isn’t going to go away and those of us without Washington lobbyists need to pay attention now or we will literally be paying a lot more to be found along the high speed information highway.

SEE UPDATE ON FCC VOTE HERE

The Password is PASSWORD

                     Highlights from the last few months in cyber-chaos

cyber security, password

  • April, 2014 – The “Heartbleed Bug” strikes, affecting as many as 500,000 websites.
  • November, 2014 – Sony Pictures Entertainment hacked by person/persons unknown; leads to a complete and total meltdown in Hollywood,  forcing people in the “biz” to actually pick up a phone and talk to their cubicle mate and for the rest of us to stream a bro-stick comedy over Christmas that we all probably would have been better off waiting for on Netflix.
  • December, 2014 – North Korea’s Internet service undergoes a “DDOS attack” (distributed denial of-service) by person/persons unknown.
  • January, 2015 – US Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts hacked by Islamic State sympathizers
  • Retailers such as Target, Neimann Marcus, Michaels, Aaron Brothers, PF Changs, UPS, Home Depot, Chik-Fil-A – ALL HACKED!!

A recent study found that 13.1 million U.S. adults are victims of fraud, with a total somewhere in the $18 billion range of fraudulent activity accounted for annually.  Earlier this month, President Obama proposed legislation that would encourage companies and government agencies to share information about security threats and vulnerabilities with each other.

Remember when you got that email from your bank, your social media website, your email server to change your password in the wake of Heartbleed. Did you actually do it? A Pew research study last year found that only 61% of those who knew about Heartbleed changed their passwords.

Just how lazy are we?

 A survey from 2012 by Research Now for CSID on password habits among American consumers found:

  • 61% of us reuse passwords across multiple websites.
  • 54% of us have 5 or fewer passwords for all of our internet usage.
  • 44% of us change our passwords once a year or less.
  • 89% of us feel secure with our current passwords and security habits.
  • 21% of us have had at least one online account compromised.

Splashdata’s annual list of most commonly used passwords found that “password” had been supplanted by the surely uncrackable“ 123456” as the most popular password of 2013.

 So what kind of passwords should we be using? 

The latest and greatest recommendations from cyber experts, including Blizzard’s own Hosting Manager, Tish Lockard, agree on the following guidelines for creating strong passwords:

  • A strong password should contain AT THE VERY LEAST 8 characters, combining upper and lower case letters, numbers, punctuation marks and symbols; there should be no inclusion of words found in the dictionary or the names of your friends and family.
  • Never use easy to discover dates like birthdays or anniversaries; you’d be surprised what is clearly visible on our personal and business social media pages these days.
  • You should have a unique password for all of your important accounts.
  • You should change your passwords every 90 days and not reuse them for different sites.

There are password generating sites that will create strong passwords for you. Tish says, “Can’t think of a good password? There are tools out there, such strongpasswordgenerator.com that will cook up a good one for you.  You can even decide the length of your password and what type of characters to use.  I use this Every. Single. Day.” Hear that? Every single day! I am listening Tish!  Some others generators  are random.org and freepasswordgenerator.com.

  How the B!33P am I supposed to remember that gobbledygook?

cyber security, heartbleed, passwords

Keep your Hello Kitty in a secure location, NOT near your computer!

How are you supposed to remember these nonsensical passwords? I know I have  been  loath to use passwords like those described above because there is no way I  am ever  going to remember them. Most security experts recommend the use of a password manager such as Dashlane.com, LastPass.com or 1Password.com which have apps that can go with you from your computer, phone and tablet. YES, you will have to have a password  for these heavily  encrypted secure sites, but if you can’t remember ONE goofy  password, well, maybe this  World Wide Web thing just isn’t your bag.

DO NOT store your passwords in a public cloud, in a Google doc, in emails that  can be  hacked, on your phone’s notepad app or maybe not even in that little spiral  Hello Kitty  notebook that you carry around with you everywhere unless you have really bad  handwriting.

According to Tish, “If everyone could make these criteria a priority and truly commit to changing their passwords regularly, there would be a lot less chaos in  the world. Well, ok, chaos caused by hackers, anyway.” If we listen to Tish, at  least we all can do a little something about this cyber chaos. The hacker free-chaos, Tish and I will endeavor to deal with that another time.

Whatever method you decide upon to have truly secure passwords, remain ever vigilant as you cruise along the world-wide-web. There are hackers around every bend and it’s up to you to keep an eye on your online accounts. And don’t forget that old adage, if you don’t have something nice to say in an email about someone, maybe just jot it down in your Hello Kitty notebook.

HTML and XML Sitemaps: Why You Need Both

A well designed map can help lead the way

 

In the SEO world, the use of sitemaps is always advisable. There are two types of  sitemaps, the XML sitemap and the HTML sitemap. These sitemaps are very different with each serving its own purpose and both providing value to your website.

What is the difference between XML and HTML sitemaps?

XML and HTML sitemaps are created for different purposes, but both can help increase traffic to your website and improve its usability.

 The XML sitemap

XML sitemaps are used by search engine spiders, also known as robots, bots or crawlers. Spiders “crawl”, or follow links throughout the Internet, finding content and adding it to search engine indexes.

An XML sitemap is a file containing all of the URLs on the website that you would like to be indexed in search engines. The XML sitemap also provides spiders with the following information:

  • Metadata for URLs
  • When the URLs were last updated
  • The importance of certain URLs
  • Average frequency of changes to URLs
  • URL relation to the rest of your website

Having an XML sitemap is crucial for the proper display of your site’s pages in search engines.

 The HTML sitemap

In simple terms, the HTML sitemap gives users an overview of your website. This can be helpful if you have pages that might be difficult to find. For example, if a user visits your homepage and is looking for a “contact us” page but can’t find the link for the page easily, the user may click on the “sitemap” page. There, the contact page may be accessed a simple click on a link.

An HTML sitemap helps users navigate your website and get to the pages or information they are seeking quickly.

The benefits of using both sitemaps

Having your XML sitemap functioning properly ensures that search engines are finding your site’s information and correctly listing it in search results. This may also often lead to better search engine positioning and send more visitors to your site.

Having a well thought out HTML sitemap improves your visitors’ experience and helps them find the pages or information they want quickly.

By using both sitemaps in combination, you are helping your SEO while increasing the likelihood of visitor retention and return visits to your site.

Give Your Website the Finger

We have been saying for quite some time that the shift toward mobile devices is absolutely revolutionary across all online channels. It is no less than a tectonic movement, and is one that is shaking up the internet. Earlier this year, the number of searches on mobile devices surpassed PCs for the first time. In a world where many businesses are still struggling to comprehend the importance of mobile use, 1.75 billion consumers worldwide used smartphones in 2014.

Mobile friendly website example

Example of search result on smartphone

As you read this, Google has fully implemented the  new “mobile-friendly” label as part of its mobile search results. To qualify for this label, the GoogleBot must detect the following criteria on your website:

  • Site avoids the use of software that is not common on mobile devices, i.e. Flash or Java
  • Site uses text that is readable without manually zooming in and out
  • Site sizes its content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll
  • Site places links far enough apart so that each may be tapped easily

In a nutshell, what does this mean to design for mobile?

How would you design your website if it ONLY would appear on mobile phones?

Google also recently announced a new feature for Google Webmaster Tools that tracks common usability issues on mobile devices. The tool alerts you to problems with the criteria listed above. Google would not introduce a tool like this without the implication that, in the near future, these elements will become part of Google’s ranking algorithm. You can test your site’s “friendliness” at Mobile-Friendly Test. The test even shows you an example of how your site looks on a smartphone.

mobile friendly smartphone view

Smartphone view

When developing a website to be seen on a mobile device, simplicity is crucial. The interface must  be clean, without extraneous text, graphics or video.  These types of add-ons will only serve to      slow down your load time.  Short and sweet content, the use of conventional mobile icons, images  that are optimized for responsiveness, all of these elements are going to make the user experience  far more positive on your mobile site. And don’t forget fat fingers! Those buttons need to  accommodate ALL finger sizes, not just those that are “piano fingers.”

Also, don’t forget that one of the best features of mobile devices is that a potential customer may  simply call you or get GPS directions to you directly from your website as they are viewing it. That  is IF they can find your phone number and address!  Placement, font size and color of your basic  information should always be taken into consideration for mobile use.

With all of this in mind, the time has come to consider implementing mobile responsive design at  the beginning of the creation process instead of going back later to enhance a site’s mobile-ability  Simply resizing a website to fit on a small screen or assuming that the customer will pinch or  zoom the view on their device is not enough to satisfy those who may never view your website any  other way.

Stop resisting. The future and the present IS mobile. Start your design with this in mind this and you will have a clean, simple and responsive site that looks great and is easy to use, no matter what size the screen, or finger. You’ll be glad that you did.

Amazon Travel to Compete with Expedia, Priceline

Travel Photo with Orange HatOnline travel industry news source, Skift.com,  is reporting Amazon’s entrance into the travel market. So far, it’s but a toe in the water for Amazon, with offerings only near major US cities and a handful of independent hotels with good reviews reported on TripAdvisor.com. Nonetheless, for those of us in the travel industry, having a new distribution opportunity from an entity with the might and muscle of Amazon is pretty big news, and something definitely worth watching as it unfolds!

Facts:

  • Who:
    • Independent hotels with good TripAdvisor ratings, with only a few places per city.
    • By Invitation Only. Amazon Travel is inviting a few independent hotels and resorts to participate. There is no online sign up area.
  • Where:
    • near major US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Dallas
  • When:
    • January 1, 2015
  • Why:
    • 15 percent commission vs. the average 25 percent rate paid to Expedia.
    • There are about 20 million members in Amazon Prime. Hotels can give special deals to Amazon that undercut the deals that they give to all OTAs, because these specials deals are offered just to Amazon’s Prime Members.
  • How:
    • Amazon already offers local deals at its local.amazon.com website; these travel deals are supposed to be another offering in that area of Amazon.
    • Pretty rudimentary booking procedures. Booking notifications will be via email, and hotels need to update their calendars on the Amazon extranet site.
    • Amazon gets paid first, then will pay the hotel in two payments, less its 15% commission

Stats for comparison:

  • Booking.com (owned by Priceline) has over 550,000 properties, including over 210,000 vacation rentals globally.
  • Expedia has over 300,000 hotels globally.
  • According to Seeking Alpha, Amazon has
    • 20 milllion Prime Members
    • Over 230 million active user accounts
    • About 80 million people using its website to shop each month

Amazon has ventured into the travel arena in the past:

  • With Expedia in 2001, when they partnered in an online travel store. This foray ended in a nasty breakup between Amazon and Expedia.
  • With SideStep (later acquired by Kayak) in 2006 which allowed searches in Amazon’s travel store for flights, hotels, car and vacation packages.

Google Hops Down from the Carousel and Shows Off Its Three Pack

Google is dropping the somewhat controversial carousel display of local search results, which was used for hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, in favor of a “three pack” of top ranked organic listings.

The Carousel hasn’t been very popular with SEO experts who had difficulty figuring out how the Carousel could change the way users searched for businesses. It was also unpopular with the businesses themselves, as the business owners couldn’t control which image would be used for the display. The Carousel never even launched in Europe.

The new three pack looks like this, appearing BELOW the AdWords results (the Carousel appeared above AdWords):

 

Google Three Pack Example

Example of Google’s New Search Results with the 3-Pack Listing replacing the Carousel.

The three featured destinations are ranked by Google, using algorithms. Hotels will have their pricing and review results listed in the three pack listing, along with a calendar feature allowing the searcher to check on availability. Night club and restaurant results are similar, with reviews and price points. The ”More” link takes the user to a page of local results, along with an interactive Google map.

The  great improvement the three pack delivers for hotels is that by clicking on one of the featured listings, the user will be taken to a business profile page, something very similar to the Google Knowledge Graph panel. The business panel appears at the top of the new page, along with alternative photos, reviews and a Google map. If the hotel offers online booking, the user is able to start the booking process directly from that page.

For now, the three pack results will only appear in PC queries, not mobile.

This new display result gives users an easy way to navigate the top listings in the category they are searching for, while still feeling integrated into Google search; the features can make the booking process nearly seamless.

This improvement should be much more popular than the Carousel, especially for those whose organic results place them in the top three!