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Never Assume Your Database is Immune to Attacks

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While the technologies of the Internet offer a great deal of useful tools and delightful entertainment, they’re not without their particular perils. Increasingly, individuals and businesses have built robust websites that are rich with features, and many operate extensive databases to provide valuable information.

Whether you run an eCommerce website that sells goods to customers or maintain an extensive mailing list on your heavily trafficked blog, the information is stored in a database. But many website developers don’t grasp how vulnerable their systems may be.

Open-source solutions

Although open-source projects allow users to create robust sites for free, certain costs may have to be paid when you begin to use those applications. The most notable is the potential risk that’s involved with development.

There’s very little true direct support for implementing many open-source applications. They’re usually distributed with the caveat: “use at your own risk.”

Database programming availability

Because open-source databases are available for free use, many businesses and private entrepreneurs have chosen to utilize them in order to save money. But it’s much easier to hack a database when you have the source code available to you.

Open-source projects are available for programmers on the coding level. This means that it’s easier for intruders to discover vulnerabilities within open-source applications.

Content management systems

Applications such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and a vast selection of others are known as content management systems. Like the databases cited above, these pieces of online software are susceptible to easy attacks.

It was discovered last year, however, that 41 percent of WordPress hacks were committed through security vulnerabilities on the hosting platform. This kind of security leak happens outside the CMS and is the fault of the hosting company.

Testing the integrity of the database

One of the most prominent ways of finding vulnerabilities within your database protection is through the use of Ethical Hacking.” Essentially, this practice entails an organization hiring an individual or group to attack its network on purpose in order to find the security flaws.

If this is done by someone that has extensive experience in cyber-infiltration, a great deal can be learned about the security of your system.

Properly secure your information

While basic security may be more cost-effective and less intrusive to your daily routine, you may be leaving yourself open to break-ins. Even if you believe your information isn’t important enough to steal, it could still be used for nefarious purposes.

For instance, the email list for your blog about dogs and cats can be sold to third-party vendors for marketing and spam. Addresses within your eCommerce site may be stepping stones for stealing identities.

You mustn’t assume that your database will never be the target of an attack. The only true method of preventing theft of this information is to store it outside of network access.

Even then, bots could be lying in wait to send the information as soon as a connection is detected. Do what you can to safeguard your information and protect yourself, your business, and clients from being victimized.

Web:

Nine Common E-commerce Website Mistakes

Most e-commerce websites have problems when they first launch online. From large and elaborate shopping venues to simple or turnkey solutions, new sites often experience glitches. No website — and no site designer or developer — is perfect.

While it’s hard to predict the problems a website may encounter, companies can often prevent them with a little forethought and planning. Most mistakes are also easy to fix after they are discovered. Here are nine common e-commerce website mistakes, along with a few solutions.

1. Wrong Shopping Cart

E-commerce businesses should do their homework before they choose a shopping cart for their websites. With so many platforms available, it’s important to pick the right one. The best shopping cart meets all of a company’s needs regarding features, functionality, integration and budget.

2. Inadequate Site Security

Some people are hesitant to shop online due to security concerns. Many businesses, especially small ones, have a problem convincing shoppers to use their sites. In an era when significant hacks have stolen sensitive customer data, digital certificates and encrypted connections just make sense.

3. Poor Site Navigation

Customers will leave a website if they can’t find what they want quickly and easily. Companies should make sure their shopping sites are easy to navigate so customers can find what they’re looking for. Their contact information should also be easy to find.

4. No Search Function

People who can search for products on-site are more likely to make a purchase. Many turnkey systems don’t provide adequate search functions. Fortunately, businesses can use website plug-ins to integrate search capabilities into shopping carts.

5. Low Quality Photographs

The Internet is a visual world. Customers who shop online give up the ability to hold a product and inspect it. For this reason, it’s important for e-commerce businesses to provide good photographs. Professional photos are better than stock images, and photographers should shoot the products from all angles.

6. Stock Product Descriptions

Many retailers use manufacturer descriptions to sell their products. While stock descriptions are an easy way to create content, they do nothing to differentiate a business from its competitors. The solution is simple: Companies should write unique product descriptions or hire a freelancer to write them.

7. Difficult Checkout Procedure

A long or difficult checkout process can drive away customers. One-page checkouts are the best option; they take customers through account creation, billing, payments and shipping — all on the same page. Merchant account services make the process easier for shoppers and businesses alike.

8. No Mobile Version

It’s a mistake to ignore mobile customers. According to Business 2 Community, mobile commerce made up one-fourth of e-commerce sales in 2013. That number will continue to grow as more people rely on their smartphones and tablets for research and shopping.

9. No Social Presence

Many companies underestimate social sharing. By making content easy to share on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites, companies can maximize their web presence. A social presence will drive awareness and sales.

 

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last update: October 21, 2014

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How Modern Tech has Made Home Buying a Breeze

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In the days before the Internet, home buyers had to research homes the hard way. The process was tedious and drawn out. You couldn’t just hop on a website such as GuaranteedRate.com and get your pick of the latest mortgage and loan options.

But today, with all the online, one-stop shopping websites for home buyers, the process has been tremendously simplified. With the abundance of tools at a prospective home buyer’s fingertips, many people leave the real-estate agents in the dust and do their own research from the comfort of home.

1. Easier access to comparables

It used to be standard practice to depend on a real-estate agent to run the numbers on homes in a given neighborhood that are similar to the one you’re looking at. Many home-buying websites provide you with automatically generated facts about homes that have the same features — complete with the age, number of rooms, number of bathrooms, type of construction, and even price.

In no time at all, you can access such information and generate your own comparables, thus saving loads of time, before you ever meet with a real-estate agent for a walk-through on a house.

2. The virtual walk-through

In the old days, you met with a real-estate agent and scheduled a time to do a walk-through on a promising home. This could force agents to reschedule until everyone was able to agree on a time.

More and more websites provide a digital walk-through for residences on the market. This is especially great when you’re trying to research a new home to purchase from out of state.

3. Mortgages and loans

Another area where technology has changed the process of buying a home is in locating financing. Online sites now put consumers in touch with banks that compete to give home buyers the best rate on mortgages and loans.

An example of an online trend is a hard-money loan. Instead of obtaining financing through a traditional bank, hard-money loans are funded by investors who simply want to earn a return on their money.

The interest rates on hard-money loans are typically higher than at a traditional bank, but they often don’t require the person seeking the loan to jump through as many hoops to get financing. The recent introduction of Dodd Frank regulations has made it more difficult to obtain loans from both hard-money lenders and private lenders.

4. County records

Another extremely useful move was to put county tax and real-estate records online. In the old days, if you wanted to do any extensive research on a home, you had to drive down to the courthouse or county records office and poke through the hard files.

Now a person who’s seeking to buy a home out of state can get access to a lot of important information. If you visit the county appraiser’s website for the region you plan to move to, you can easily determine the just value of a property according to the county assessment.

That will tell you if other websites are inflating local prices or a home is being offered at a significant discount with respect to the county’s assessment of its overall worth. In addition, the annual taxes on a property can be researched. And if you’re fairly adept at reading a property’s hard file, it’s also possible to perform your own quick-and-dirty title search, and make sure there are no clouds on the title that could pose a problem down the road.

No matter how you slice it, advances in technology have made the online real estate-purchasing process a lot smoother for the home buyer.

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4 Things Virtual Startups Need

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Tech startups are finally getting attention for thriving outside of Silicon Valley as entrepreneurs are wising up. Many businesses don’t require any type of physical office at all, and those that do don’t need to be in high cost of living areas such as San Francisco and New York. There are more and more small businesses and startups going old school with modern versions of garage businesses and offering telecommuting up to 100 percent of the time for most employees. Ready to find out what you need for a virtual startup?

First, make sure your business idea is a good match for this environment. Unless you need to physically see customers in person, such as if you’re opening a brick and mortar shop, you probably don’t. If your dream is to be a business owner and be able to work from anywhere in the world, there are plenty of industries where this is possible. Simply find a great storage unit deal and you can call “the office” anywhere from Minnesota to Mumbai.

Here’s what you need to get started:

1. The right cloud technology

Storing, sharing and editing documents in the cloud will keep your entire team on the same page. This also minimizes the odds of double work (there won’t be any “old copies” to mistakenly work from) and is also more environmentally friendly. Plus, you’ll save money on ink and paper, too.

2. A solid video conferencing option

There will come a time when you’ll need to meet with big shots such as angel investors via video, and scheduling team meetings on video chat can be a lot more effective than phone calls since much of the body language can still be read. Choose an affordable (or free) option that works with your needs.

3. Everyone having access to quality technology

It’s certainly legal to require new employees to use their own equipment to do a job, but you can’t require them to have certain equipment unless you pay for it. At the very least, ensure everyone is either Mac or PC, and if you really want to attractive better talent provide your employees with work computers and any related accessories.

4. The right crew

Not everyone is cut out for telecommuting, and some people need a boss physically breathing down their neck to accomplish things. However, everyone really wants to be a telecommuter type. Vet your applicants carefully.

Virtual environments can thrive or flounder, but you can make a huge difference starting with the setup of the landscape.

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It’s 2014 … and Yep, Content is Still King

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As we head into the downhill side of 2014, technological advances are continuing to alter the arena of Internet marketing. In addition to placing more primacy on responsive web design and mobile optimization, this year marks the era in which the design and maintenance of high-quality apps has become an integral element of effective online advertising campaigns.

Despite the perpetually evolving nature of Internet marketing, however, content remains king. This means that if you want to build their brand in the online sphere into the future, you should still place your primary focus on the creation and publication of high-quality content.

If online growth is indeed your current business objective, consider implementing the following three strategies:

1. Stop spinning

As more businesses understand that content creation and publication is an integral piece of Internet marketing campaigns and they act on that knowledge, you will likely find it ever more challenging to devise or locate blog posts and web articles that have a distinct and innovative flair. Creative, original content is uniquely eye-catching, but it may be harder to recognize amid all the noise on the Web.

It’s not even a question of avoiding plagiarism; even useful content can be lost in the shuffle if it doesn’t sound lively and interesting. So if you want to catch and keep the attention of prospective clients for your business, you need to do all you can to avoid posting content that contains phrases and concepts that are generic, trite, or derivative.

2. Guest post

In discussing the reality of guest posting in its article ”A Guide to Navigating the Politics of Guest Posting and Hosting,” Supple Solutions comments: “For the most part, guest posting and hosting are both worthwhile. They are an acceptable means of generating backlinks, for instance, and for expanding the perspective of a blog.”

In other words, if you’re interested in moving forward this year, you need to invest time in creating exceptional content that’s worthy of guest posting. In addition to reaching a new pool of potential readers and customers, guest posting gives you the opportunity to develop relationships with web domain owners who might become your business partners.

3. Make it scannable

As more people go online to do business and shop, research regarding how people analyze the content they encounter has become prominent. Among other things, it’s been found that most people who read online do not examine content in its entirety.

Rather, they skim through it to find the information that’s of greatest value to them. Since this is the case, making your content “scannable” is an effective way to ensure that people gravitate toward your blog posts and/or web articles when they’re searching for information.

To ensure that your content is as scannable as possible, remember to include textual elements that divide it up and highlight, such as headers, bullets, and numbered lists.

In order to develop a substantial reputation online, you have to enact the proven strategies that will accomplish your goal. By using some or all of the content-boosting ideas outlined above, your company should be able to build brand awareness and the dynamic, expansive online presence you desire.

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Why Local Content Matters

No matter what type of online presence you have, from a blog to managing a website, are you focusing on local? Search engine optimization (SEO) has a subset of localized SEO (LSEO) for a reason: Geo-targeting your audience can help improve the quality of your content, loyal followers/customers and also with where you appear in search engine rankings. It’s not for everyone (such as huge corporations like Amazon with zero local focus) but for many smaller websites, it’s crucial.

For example, let’s say you provide contracting services in a metro area and want to reach as many of your neighbors as possible. The content on your landing pages, blogs, social media and anywhere else you manage needs to be geo-specific but still organic. You don’t want to stuff “Kansas City” or “Phoenix” into awkward places, but a reputable content creator can do so seamlessly to ensure more locals find you online.

The local approach

There are some websites that shy away from local content because they might serve a certain region but want to appeal to a national or international audience. A good example is a florist in Houston that also ships domestically. They may or may not have a brick and mortar location (but if they do, going local is even more important). Focusing on national customers is a good idea, but ignoring the appeal of “supporting local” means they’re bypassing what is probably a very lucrative and loyal market.

More and more consumers are looking for local businesses to get their business. You can see it in the thriving farmer’s markets, and you can even ask a premium price when reaching out to your local customers. Retailers and service providers can maximize on this trend by highlighting their family owned, local, Main Street style of business. You should have two focuses if this suits you: A local content marketing strategy and a generic one.

Pitfalls of content creation newbies

Now that you see the benefits of local content, can’t you just freshen up existing content yourself by peppering in some local language? Not necessarily, and it won’t be done as well as a professional. By utilizing keyword search technology that’s constantly changing, a professional can pinpoint the right “keyword density” to maximize your exposure while also using the most popular and trending words. You might know a nickname for different neighborhoods that are searchable, but you don’t know which are most searched.

Local content can make a huge difference in your visibility and ultimately success. Stop ignoring it.

Social:

4 Times You Should Use Social Media for Shopping

Social media sites like Facebook are really pushing the business side of things, hoping to turn SM into a platform for shopping and not just sharing cat memes. However, some industries are doing quite well with social media positioning while others are lagging behind. As a consumer, what’s important for you is figuring out when using social media for purchases is in your favor and when it’s not. It all depends on what you’re looking for and the shopping experience you want.

For example, perusing real estate agents social media sites can give you a more in-depth glimpse of properties available. It’s often easier to navigate than many websites and it’s an avenue to ask questions without feeling pressured into a sales pitch. However, shopping for real estate isn’t the only time when using SM is in your favor. Check out these other industries where social media and shopping makes the perfect match.

1. Boutique retailers

Yes, every business owner should be able to drum up a gorgeous and user friendly website but that isn’t always the case. Using sites like Etsy has revolutionized how boutiques and artisans connect with their audience. As long as you get the one of a kind, quality product you’re after, does it really matter how it happens? Seek out boutique-minded SM platforms for the best options.

2. Restaurants

This is especially helpful if you’re planning your outings in a new city. It’s great to check out a restaurant’s menu online, but if you want to see what the specials are, if there are any events coming up or more photos of what the venue is really like, depend on social media. Plus, you’ll get impromptu reviews from genuine customers.

3. For state of the art technology

Whether it’s a drone or the latest home automation gadget from a startup, not all businesses are big enough (yet) to warrant a full website. In fact, some tech-heavy startups are focusing solely on one or two devices. Instead of building a website for just a couple of offerings, they use social media. Additionally, their audience is often younger and more dependent on social media, so this platform just makes sense.

4. Car shopping

There’s only so much you can tell about a dealer’s inventory from their website. Head to their social media site for more pictures (or to request them) and to connect online without having to deal with a pitch.

No matter what the industry, it’s worth visiting their social media page to see if there’s more (different) information.

Social:

How Twitter Ruined Communication

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There’s a time and place for nearly every social media platform, but as one of the Top 5 most popular SM sites, Twitter’s influence has spread far beyond what anyone imagined. What can you do in just a few characters? It became a challenge that social media users were committed to mastering. Unfortunately, practice really does make perfect and that kind of brevity has become common in everyday speech and other written communication platforms.

Then there’s the hashtag, which has spread not just to written communication but speech as well. Hashtag annoying. What started as a way to promote trends has become a noun in itself, and some younger generations don’t see the pound sign as anything beyond a Twitter-related device. Even though Twitter’s earnings are holding stable (and it’s in no danger of being overthrown right now), maybe there’s a reason why it’s not as solid as it used to be.

Lazy communicators

People, particularly in younger generations, have seemed to develop a fear of talking in person and talking on the phone. It’s why when a crush actually calls you it’s a huge deal or why it’s so common to see people hunched over their phones at restaurants. The recent experiment of one restaurant revealed that while service has remained the same in recent years, people are taking longer at restaurants because they’re wrapped up in their phones and apps.

Everyone needs to check in on numerous SM platforms, food photos need to be snapped, and hashtags need to be used so they can show their on trend. While Twitter certainly isn’t the only SM platform making communication in general subpar, the requirement to shorten words and keep them brief is destroying the quality of written communication. Using “u” instead of “you” might be necessary on Twitter, but it’s not being used just about everywhere.

The demise of the English language

While there are still many people who understand brevities like “u” aren’t actually proper English words, there are some people who consider it valid. If you grew up in the era of Twitter and have been using “u” and hashtags ever since you can remember, why wouldn’t it seem appropriate? English teachers everywhere are #smh, but it’s a very real and sad phenomenon.

If there’s an avenue to doing things easier and with less time, humans will take it. Twitter, of course, can’t be blamed for the general falling apart of communication and the English language. It’s a symptom, not the cause.

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