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.

When it Comes to Negative Reviews – Have a Plan

I’m going to go out on and limb and guess that most businesses have heard over and over again that you NEED to have a strategy when it comes to responding to reviews.  Most of the time, your reviews are great.  You hand pick some goodies to show case on your website and hope that those out there on Yelp, TripAdvisor and the like aren’t so bad.  And hey, don’t the positive typically stand out over the negative?

The way we function online has completely changed how consumers operate.  More and more, customers will visit those online review sites to see what your past guests have to say.  This is a great way to gain additional business or lose the reservation to your competition.  Online travel reviews give customers a place to lodge their complaint or praise and be heard in a big way.

Monitoring what is out there about your business is a very important part of garnering feedback and making improvements to keep yourself competitive in the game.  Negative reviews are something that you should not let slide and how you address them is important to your future success. By promptly replying, you can minimize the damage and hopefully sway future guests into booking their reservation with your business.

Here are a few good tips when it comes to monitoring and responding to those negative reviews:

  1. Write your own response and definitely don’t have someone outside the business reply.  Include your name, your business telephone number and TRY your best to use actual grammar and good spelling.
  2. Address the legitimate concerns of the reviewer.  Don’t make a deal out of something that you can’t truly fix like they didn’t appreciate the décor of the rental they stayed in.  You can pass that information along to an owner and if they are so inclined, they can make changes to their rental.
  3. Definitely explain what changes you have made or intend to change.  Or, make an offer to the guest that they can’t refuse.  You can make that an online response or private response.  Either way, letting the particular guest know those adjustments you are willing to make will get passed along or read by others.
  4. Remember to be patient, and let your feelings settle before you make any response publicly or privately.  Keep it professional!

Developing a strategy makes it easier whenever you have a negative comment or review to respond to.  By continuing to address your guest concerns and comments, you are acknowledging the human side of your business and encouraging more customers to book and past guests to return.

Reviews come in all shapes and sizes.  Read this story about a bizarre and sexist review on Yelp and how the business owner made the best of the situation.  Just make sure that you have a strategy and respond to reviews, both negative and positive.

Blizzard University – July 24 & 25, 2014

Blizzard University - Glenwood Springs, July 2014 - Get signed up today!

Doesn’t a trip to the beautiful mountain town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado this summer sound like a wonderful idea? Why not make it a learning experience as well! Join us July 24 & 25, 2014 for another Blizzard University Workshop. Learn from the internet marketing specialists in this 2-day informative workshop geared toward beginner to intermediate internet marketers and vacation rental managers. Book Today or visit our workshops page for more information.

Why the Miley Thing Mattered

Miley during the VMA's

Miley Cyrus

I think Miley Cyrus taught us all a valuable lesson on Monday. Your eyes aren’t fooling you. You read that right.

Miley Cyrus lit up the social world with her antics on MTV’s Video Music Awards. When CNN.com led their news with the Miley story on Tuesday (a day when a new war is on the brink, fires are out of control and more) some questioned CNN’s judgment of newsworthiness. Meredith Artley, Managing Editor of CNN.com, explained the decision in simplistic fashion and her reasoning aligns perfectly with what we tell our clients about their posts, contents, and traffic drivers.

Simply put, Artley explained that we as media consumers don’t click on stories about fires and wars. We do click on stories about our celebrities though – especially when there is a picture of Hannah Montana in lingerie. In order to get the click on the web, you have to get the reader’s attention. It doesn’t have to be risqué like the Miley thing, but it should be valuable. For instance, if you want to get people to spend more time on your website, you need to provide content for them to navigate through.

In the news world, the main goal is just to get people – and it doesn’t matter who – to spend time on a website and get you to view a bunch of pages so they can sell advertising. To advertisers, each set of eyeballs is another cheeseburger, pair of shoes, car, etc. In general, any traffic is good traffic in the retail world. All this traffic is driven by:

Content, oh content! We’re not saying to post photos of scantily clad women all throughout your website. That’ll get you traffic, but it won’t be the kind you want. Those visitors aren’t interested in booking a room or a tour, they’re interested in skin. You need to have relevant content about things to do during a stay, tour information, neighborhood information, descriptions of the area, places to eat, where to rent a boat or skis, or a service you’re providing your guests that your competitors are not. Spend some time to make your content more interesting than your competitors. That content will get people to spend time on your website.

When people spend time on your site, people spend money on your site. That’s a proven fact and that’s why McDonald’s and Nike are what they are and why they don’t care if the content is about Miley (or Britney or Bieber or Boo Boo…). They care about getting eyes on their advertising – and you should too. Your job is much harder because you need to make sure those eyes are interested in your product, but the right content will get you the eyeballs.

See, now you can’t say Miley hasn’t taught you anything.

DIY: 3 Great Website Tools to Check the Speed and Health of Your Pages

With the dawn of the mobile revolution, it has become more critical than ever to have a website that is not only responsive by design for multiple devices, but also fast and mobile friendly.  Statistics show that in the hospitality world 30-40% of users are increasingly using mobile devices to research and book vacation rentals.  It is clear that Google rewards websites in both organic and paid search placements with higher rankings when a user does not use the back button after getting to a landing page.  While this is only one small factor in consideration, it makes a big difference from a usability standpoint when a customer is using a phone or tablet to open a website over a cellular network.  Gone are the days of testing page speed with your desktop computer as T1, T3, Cable, and Fiber connections are much more commonplace in urban areas.  So how can I really tell if my website will open fast for all my users?  How do I isolate the cause of those problems?

If I were you, I would not rely on just one tool to test my website.  Keep in mind, you will get varying results depending on server locations, bandwidth being used, time of day, etc.  So make sure to test a couple of times and get an average.  As well, in this example we will only test the homepage of a website.  I strongly encourage you to test new landing pages used for your AdWords campaigns as well as any that may have extra functionality, forms, widgets, or just a lot of pictures…All of these below are free tools!

1.  WEBSITE OPTIMIZATION For many years, I have referenced this tool as a starting point to get a quick glimpse of how the different objects on my webpage are being seen by crawlers.  http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/

The 2 main things I look at are:

dowload-times

page-analysis

Check out the red highlights in the analysis tool then ask your webmaster how they will address these items.

2. Pingdom Pingdom is great in many ways as you can sign up to get alerts when your website goes down via email or text message.  I use tools.pingdom.com to get even more in-depth with what objects are slowing my website down in addition to THE ORDER that they load.  Sometimes just having some objects load at the end allows a user to see the important stuff and gives time for the other secondary style sheets and .js calls to load.  You can drill down to see specifics, get a “performance grade” and it will also keep a history so you can see how well you have improved over time.

http://tools.pingdom.com/

performance-grade

 3.  Google Page Insights - Lastly, I will check Google’s Page insights to see what score they provide.  It is out if 100 and theoretically the higher the better.  The nice thing about Insights is that they break down all the links, server calls, and objects and let you know where your biggest opportunities are for optimizing for page speed.

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/

google-pagespeed

Remember, most times you can tackle 2 or 3 biggies – usually image size, caching, and order in which objects load to make a dramatic difference in your website’s page speed time.  In the end, the effort is worth it because it will result in a lower bounce rate, higher rankings, and a better overall user experience.  Many have said for years…you only have 8 seconds to make that first impression!  Now go OPTIMIZE!

Where to Stick that Nav: Best Practices in Website Navigation

Confession: my colleague Julia and I are left-leaning web designers.

That’s not a political statement; it’s a best practice in design that acknowledges what scientific research has learned about how readers view your website.

fpattern

This hotspot map shows the F-shaped eye movement pattern. The color is generated by heat – where people looked longest, the color is hottest. The pink hot spots are concentrated in the top left-hand corner of the page. Image courtesy of usability.gov, a US government website devoted to internet usability research.

Eye tracking research has revealed that visitors scan your website in an F-shaped pattern like the one shown at right. That’s not surprising, considering that since the time of Gutenberg, publishers have laid out their text moving from top to bottom and left to right. (Nay, it was earlier! The monks who hand-transcribed English, Germanic and Romance language scripts during the Dark Ages were following this already-established cultural pattern.)

What is surprising is how fast readers’ eyes track through these patterns. The majority of people leave a web page after about 10-20 seconds. Given that people read about 250 words a minute, or four words a second, that means that you are going to be able to communicate only 40-80 words.

If you’re trying to make sales, they had better be good words, and they had better be in the right place. So what’s the right place? Eye-scan research by the Nielsen Norman Group found out that:

  • Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half.
  • Only 1% of viewing time was spent on content to the right beyond the initially-visible 1,024 pixels on a standard monitor.

As designers for Blizzard Internet Marketing, we design with these findings mind. We use best practices such as those below to keep visitors on your website longer, communicate better, and ultimately, improve your website as a sales tool.

Best Practices for Locating Navigation

  • Locate your main navigation horizontally, near the top of the page.
  • Avoid horizontal scrolling. Keep the type big enough to read (at least 14 pixels high) and not more than 980 pixels wide.
  • If you need secondary navigation — or insist on having your main navigation in a vertical orientation — place it on the left side of the page.

Best Practices for Locating Content

  • Keep the main content near the left, indented from the main navigation.
  • Showcase your most important content between one-third and halfway across the page. This is where readers focus most.
  • Keep important content “above the fold” – high enough on the page so that people don’t have to scroll down to see it.
  • Have a clear center of attention. (If you try to make everything important, nothing will be.)
  • Place less important content to the right.
Telluride Rentals website by Blizzard Internet Marketing

Best practices of navigation and content are applied in Blizzard-designed websites such as the one shown above for Telluride Rentals. Although the website is “responsive” and resizes to fit huge monitors, as well as tablets and smart phones, the main navigation is about 980 pixels wide. The main navigation and secondary navigation form the F scan pattern, and the important quick search button is located on the viewer-preferred left side of the page.