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.

Showcase Your Vacation Rental or Real Estate Listing with a Floor Plan

Adding a floor plan of your vacation rental to show potential guests generates a measurable improvement in your number of bookings.
TruPlace, formerly Mouse on House, commissioned an independent study of over 1,400 vacation rentals that demonstrates a 97% increase in revenue from bookings for properties using their interactive floor plan tours. The amount of time it took to book the property also was measurably shorter. Likewise, at Blizzard, we find that properties with interactive floor plan tours on their property pages generate more revenue.
floor plans increase reservations

The reservation revenue per property for properties with interactive floor plan tours was 97% higher than for those properties without floor plan tours.

virtual tours and floor plans

The booking lead time for properties with interactive floor plan tours is 12 days shorter than for properties without tours.

What the study could not measure was the cost savings in phone calls. The number of phone calls that it took to book the property was presumably smaller, because anyone with questions about the layout of the property was able to find out the answer to their question online. Let’s look at why this is the case. Your goal is to get reservations. Once someone finds your website, how can you turn a looker into a booker? The websites that anticipate the traveler’s questions, and answer them, get more reservations.
Travelers’ questions:

  • Where is it located, exactly?
  • What’s the place like?
  • How much is it?

When it comes to what is the place like, getting a bird’s eye view of the floor plan answers that question in  a split second. In a glance, your potential guests can answer such questions as:

  • How noisy does it look like it will be?
  • Where can I watch TV in the middle of the night without waking up my family?
  • Where will I be relative to the kids? The other people we are staying with?
  • Does my room have a view?
  • Where is the balcony/deck relative to my bedroom? Relative to the kitchen?
  • What is the kitchen like?
  • Are there stairs?
  • How many bathrooms are there and where are they?

Real-Estate-Floor-Plan-Vacation-Rental

What’s the difference between an interactive floor plan tour and a 360 virtual tour?

An interactive floor plan is a floor plan that is clickable. It combines still photography with a floor plan of the entire property so that the visitor can have a high level view and navigate through the home. A 360 virtual tour combines videos or still images in order to provide a simulation of walking through a location.

Interactive floor plan tours can be made just from architectural floor plan renderings; the property does not need to be built yet. Also they are mobile friendly and load more quickly than 360 virtual tours.

360 virtual tours, on the other hand, can provide  a full 360 degree view of the rooms, and if when done correctly, are more entertaining content to put on your website.

Unlike videos and 360 virtual tours, a floor plan gives the traveler a great deal of information in a single glance. That is not to say, however, that videos and 360 virtual tours do not do well. Everyone likes to be entertained. However, if you have videos or 360 virtual tours, make sure that they are actually entertaining; or your potential guest will quickly grow weary of watching them!

Having entertaining content on your website, such as videos and 360 virtual tours, can increase your website traffic and the amount of time that people spend on your site. These are good indicators for Google and can increase your website’s position in search results. Having floor plans and interactive floor plans on your website can help potential guests decide whether to book a specific property. For that reason, interactive floor plan tours can generate more revenue than 360-virtual tours, because the potential guest can click on the floor plan and quickly answer many of the questions that they have.

Do you have a property owner who wants more bookings? Ask them if they are willing to pay for an interactive floor plan tour.

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!

Google AdWords Remarketing Campaign Best Practices – Part 3 of 3

A remarketing campaign, when set up well, can cost less than a regular pay-per-click campaign. Here are some best practices to follow for remarketing campaigns:

  1. Know your remarketing campaign’s objective. Is it for general branding or to facilitate a purchase? If it’s for a purchase, remarketing ads are ideal to offer special pricing to customers who have already visited your site and to motivate them to take action now and buy! Also, we recommend using cost-per-click bidding for most campaigns, except for the most generalized branding campaigns, which could use cost-per-impression.
  2. Set up specific bids.  Use the features in AdWords to segment or target your display campaigns based on interests, remarketing lists, or demographics.  In the case of remarketing, you’ll want to set bids based on specific audiences, it increases the chance of your ad displaying properly. Each audience segment will have a specific bid assigned to it that you can manipulate in order to accomplish your goals.  Follow your campaigns and adjust bids as necessary to achieve conversions on your website.
  3. Use remarketing tags. Remarketing tags are specific Google analytics scripts that when implemented, allow you to target website visitors that have been to specific areas of your website.  By using a single code throughout the website, you can build lists within Google analytics based on actions, pages visited, and goals, and use them in AdWords to build your target audience.    When putting together the audience, you will have the ability to exclude people who have completed certain goals or have already purchased from you.  
  4. Use contextual targeting. Contextual targeting matches your ads to those sites on the Display Network that are relevant based keywords or topics, among other factors.  You have the ability to allow Google to choose these sites for you with Automatic Placements or you can manually add websites or pages by using the Managed Placements option.  After your campaign has run for a while, you also have the ability to block sites that aren’t performing or don’t match your goals. 
  5. Limit the frequency that your ad is shown. Don’t be creepy or annoying.  Put a frequency cap on how often your ad is shown to certain users.  We suggest capping your ads at 3 views per 24 hour period.
  6. Measure what works. Review your placement reports and nurture the campaigns that perform the best.  Follow your statistics and keep your goals in mind.

Remarketing can be a very successful endeavor for many goals in your advertising campaigns.  It sends a highly targeted message that should result in a substantial ROI.  Following these basic standards will help you to achieve your goals.