DEF CON 26

I returned home yesterday from DEF CON in Las Vegas. I attended with my teammates from Defiant. As we are a remote team, this is our annual get together for some face-to-face meetings, hacking escapades, and some fun. I knew there would be a lot of people there. I was woefully unprepared for the sheer crush of humanity.

I brought my kids. After living in Mount Shasta, they haven’t traveled a ton lately. They had never seen Las Vegas. Mark took them around to sightsee while I did work things. We also got a badge for Max to attend DEF CON. Of course, Claire was jealous and wanted to see too. So we swapped badges for a bit so she could visit the R00tz Asylum village and play. Both of my kids had a BLAST. And I had fun, too. Claire wore her Pen Tester for Hire t-shirt to school today. I hope it is well revered.

Max and I attended a talk on hackable touchscreens that ended up on Wired before we even left the room. When the webcam intrusion lit up the screen during the talk, Max’s eyes lit up, too.

Meeting my teammates and bosses for the first time was great.

I felt a little torn having both family and work at the same event — I wanted to spend time with everyone — but it all worked out. I had some heart-to-heart talks with my friends and laughs with my family. And the crescendo of them all together on the last night was amazing. 

There may or may not be video of me dancing to Michael Jackson. (Spoiler: there is)

Ceasar’s Palace was lovely. Until the last night. Others have written about the hotel security checks more eloquently than I ever could. We had a visit, and I just let Mark handle it. If I was alone, I probably would have been much more upset about the visit. If I was alone with the kids, I would have been freaked out.

They had said that we had not had our room serviced, and that meant they had to inspect the room. Problem is, we DID have our room serviced. There was no valid reason for the visit from Ceasar’s Palace security, even though it got sorted out quickly. No one else on our team had a visit. All in all, it was weird. 

It’s over, though, and so I have turned my attention and focus to the good memories.

Not nearly as long as I thought it would be.
DEF CON Patrol included golden retrievers. (Not sure these folks were here for DEF CON.)
Send your USB drives to North Korea. 
Mr. Bean (at least the cardboard cutout of him) came along with us.

That all being said, I’m fairly certain it will be my first, and last, DEF CON. 

 

Recovering from Negative SEO

Negative SEO is really a thing. I’ve spent a good portion of the last year helping people recover from Google penguin penalties. One person had hired a bad SEO person who built spammy links to his site. The other company was under attack from a competitor who was attempting to get them removed from the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Losing rank from the SERPs can destroy a business. And I imagine that this is what happens when someone finds out that they’re not in the SERPs anymore.

remove all the links

It’s not good.

Recovery requires a laborious process of researching links, determining what was a bad link versus a good link, contacting the site owners of the bad links, and creating both a spreadsheet to send to Google and a disavow file to upload to Google Webmaster Tools.

It’s a lot of work. More importantly, it took expertise to know which links to remove and which ones to leave alone.

The Emails

This morning, I awoke to an email from a company I had linked to on this post about resources for remineralizing teeth. They asked me to remove links to their site from mine because of a Google penalty.

I removed the link as they asked, but I had to wonder who they had hired to do this process. They lost a link from a customer, on a site that is a far cry from spammy, on a page that ranks for the problem their product solves.

This site is not a spammy site. It’s just my personal site, a site that often languishes as I work on other projects. The metrics on this site are pretty good for a site that has languished as long as it has. It has longevity and decent enough trust flow and low citation flow. I’ve never built links to this domain, and I know where every link comes from.

They lost out on something that was benefitting them, not something that was hurting them. Of course, I replied to them that they were hurting themselves. But I am sure that email will not make much sense to the person doing the link removal. She was told to “remove all the links” and wasn’t given any sort of guidance about what links to remove or which to leave alone. As such, she’s further damaging her company’s commerce website and their bottom line.

The Spreadsheet

I’ll end up as a “removed” notation in the spreadsheet that gets uploaded to Google drive. I was nice and responded. She will probably receive very little response to her email blasts to site owners, and the responses that she does receive will make Guido the loan shark seem like a nice guy. She’ll be asked for payment for link removal. If her company pays for link removal because they fear both Guido and Google, they’re making another bad decision. Never pay for link removal. But definitely make sure you keep track of the sites you contact, whether or not they respond, how they respond, and the end result of your link removal request.

Which sites do you contact? There are site research tools that will give you an overview of the link quality on each site. For the site that contacted me this morning, I linked specifically to a toothpaste that worked for Claire’s remineralization. It was a good link. Any good SEO person would have recognized that it was a good link. She was not a good SEO person.

How to tell if you have a penalty

Most companies probably don’t even know that they’ve received a Google penalty for bad links. Many don’t even know about Google Webmaster Tools. They just see that they’re out of the SERPs. Or maybe they see that their traffic is diminishing, or sales are going way down. They hire someone to figure out why.

Google Webmaster Tools tells you if you have a penalty. However, you can still have a penalty and not have it show up in GWT. The best way to tell if you have a penalty is to examine the search engine result pages yourself.

The Disavow File

The disavow file tells Google that you disavow any links from bad properties. Some people think that you can just upload a disavow file to Google Webmaster Tools and be done with your bad links. However, through my research and experience I have found that you need to show some level of attempt that you have tried to remove the bad links. You have to go through the process of bad link removal and upload a spreadsheet detailing what you’ve done to Google Drive. This spreadsheet combined with a disavow file has been proven to work. You cannot just upload a disavow file and recover your property from bad links.

The thing is, you have to ensure that you’re protecting your good links, too, unlike our friend who emailed me this morning. You have to look at the links coming into your web site and actively manage your inbound links as a part of managing the asset of your web site.

Even if you have no penalty, always manage a disavow file. Even if you are not blasted from the SERPs, you can still ask for link removal. You can still disavow links.

Penalties and Negative SEO will only grow

If you live by Google, you will die by Google. Meaning, if your business is dependent upon search traffic, when search traffic is affected you will lose your business. You have to manage your organic search traffic as an asset, protecting it from damage by anyone, including Google. How do you do this?

Monitor backlinks at all times. Use tools such as AHREFS/Majestic to see what’s pointing at your website. If you see something wonky, get rid of it before it becomes an issue.

Maintain a Google drive spreadsheet of your inbound links and any actions that you’ve taken. If you’ve contacted the site owner and they’ve asked for money for removal, if they’ve responded and removed, if they’ve not responded… just keep a record of how you’re managing your inbound link profile.

Keep a disavow file even if you don’t think you need one.

Be proactive. Penalties and negative SEO are going to be a fact of life going forward. If your web site drives your business, and organic search is a big part of where your traffic comes from, showing that you’re proactively managing your link profile can prevent being victimized by penalties.

Expand your reach beyond search. Organic search traffic is only one way to get people to visit your web site, engage, and buy. There are a lot of other ways where you’re not dependent upon Google to drive your business success. Social engagement is but one. As with living/dying by Google, you can also live and die by Facebook, Twitter, or any other traffic source. The key is to build an asset and market it in ways that leverage traffic sources but are not dependent upon it.

 

State of the Web 2015

I’ve been working in internet-based businesses for 20 years now. As such, I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve made a lot of money. I’ve gotten burned out. And I’ve gotten re-inspired. I’ve started working with a few businesses to help them take advantage of where the internet is today. And in a recent conversation with a client, I was asked what I saw as the top trends in Internet business right now. It made sense to put everything into a blog post, but where to put it… oh yeah, here is good. Might as well start blogging again, even if it isn’t about kittens, doggies, kids, or adventures in Shasta. (But yes, things in Shasta are awesome. The kids are thriving. Mark’s business is thriving. My kittens are hilarious, Alex is awesome, and I still miss Riley.)

So, the state of the Web. Here are the trends I see.

mobile-phone-usage

Being mobile-ready is absolutely critical

More and more traffic to web sites is coming from non-desktop sources. Whether your traffic is coming from iPads, iPhones, Android phones, Windows phones, or the plethora of me-too table computers, mobile traffic is dominating. If your web site isn’t mobile-ready or “responsive” yet, now is the time to get it responsive. It doesn’t matter if you’re a small business, a personal blog, or a large multi-national corporation. If you want to get found, it is critically important to have a web site that adapts to the device it’s being viewed on.

Don’t know if your site is mobile ready? Here’s a great tool from Google that gives you an idea. If you’re not sure how to get mobile ready, talk to your web developer. If your web developer downplays the importance of being mobile ready, find a new web developer.

Ensuring your site is mobile ready will even determine whether or not you rank in the SERPs (search engine result pages). If you like organic (free) traffic from Google, being mobile ready is critical for your business.

Social media marketing dominates

It’s no secret that social media is the place where people congregate online. What’s growing is how businesses engage with their customers and prospects on social media. Facebook is definitely the top dog at the moment. Untethered by Twitter’s 140-character limit, Facebook allows people — and businesses to engage at a deeper level, interacting in a way that is most comfortable to consumers. While Facebook advertising has been a point of contention for many users, it is one of the most effective and non-intrusive methods of connecting with prospects. Facebook’s depth of targeting capabilities and awesome return on investment makes it my favorite choice for growing businesses.

Of course, other social networks know this. And they’ll also allow for increased ability to target and market to consumers. Advertising is the dollar that drives the internet and makes it possible for us all to enjoy social media without paying for it. Watch for the other social networks to consistently improve and innovate in the advertising space.

Engaging your customers on social media also feeds into your search placement. So even if you’re only focused on ranking in the SERPs, your social media participation is incredibly important to your rank.

But there are still billions of searches performed each month. Search is still incredibly important, and social media involvement supports search.

Retargeting creates assets.

What is retargeting? Say for example you find some great shoes on Nordstrom’s web site. Then, you go check on Facebook and see an ad for those same shoes. Boom, you’ve been retargeted. If you do any online marketing at all, setting up retargeting is very important. It basically creates a list of people within either Google or Facebook that you know are interested in whatever you have to offer. You can set up retargeting for your site as a whole, or your can set up retargeting for each individual content area. If you do it by content area, the segment or “custom audience” becomes incredibly targeted. And it has value. It becomes a method of targeting your marketing quite effectively to each segment’s specific interest.

google-inbox

Email marketing is evolving.

Have you tried out Google Inbox? It’s a nifty little tool for your mobile device that segments your Gmail based on the type of mailing. If you’re an internet marketer, it might be kind of depressing to see your mail grouped in with the latest in spam-related pitches.  If you’re looking to develop a long term relationship with your customers, you’ve got to be very strategic in how you develop and manage your email list. Here are things that are out:

  • Sending out mailings pitching Clickbank garbage every single day. If you’re looking to churn through users and bleed them for cash, go right ahead.
  • Offering lightweight “bonuses” to entice people on to your list and never providing any value to your customers.
  • Using your email list to sell sell sell without ever providing any valuable content to your users.
  • Thinly veiled affiliate offers for garbage products/services (I’m looking at you, affiliate marketers pushing Hostgator accounts. Shame on you.

I’m sure you see some familiar activities that are out. These activities destroy your deliverability, destroy customer relationships, and destroy your business. Your customer’s inbox is the most important piece of internet marketing. It’s the place where you come into their experience most intimately, and it requires a level of respect that most internet marketers fail to grasp. So what’s in?

  • Creating value. Send your customers things that will genuinely help them — sporadically.
  • Respecting your customer’s inbox. Don’t inundate them with emails every day.
  • Use email to invest in your relationship with your customers and prospects.

If you’re having issues with deliverability and low open rates, look at managing your list more efficiently. If your customers don’t find value in what you send them, it has an affect on your deliverability (e.g., the big email service providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, etc. watch these things).

Manage SEO

Manage your SEO as if it were an asset.

Search placement is no longer something to take for granted. Negative SEO is definitely a real thing, and being targeted by unscrupulous competition happens. It’s going to happen more frequently. And if you shot yourself in the foot with bad link building, it is still possible to recover from negative SEO. If you’re not aware of how and why your rank is where it is, there are tools I can show you that will give you an idea of what metrics go into your search rank. If you’re not ranking at all, there are things you can do to rank again. Negative SEO and penalties are here to stay, and it’s very important to watch your rank and manage your search placement as the asset for driving business that it is.

Content marketing will continue to dominate.

Writing blog posts, creating infographics, and placing articles on web sites that also link back to your own web site will continue to create value both for search engine placement but also for engaging customers and prospects. However, there is a lot of crap out there on the internet. I hope I am guilty of very little crap content generation, but the awareness of how much crap is out there should do one thing for us: make us commit even more towards creating content of value. Make people laugh. Make people inspired. Make people feel good. All of that value does one thing: creates brand recognition and brand loyalty.

 

 

Gmail Oh Noes

I’ve received about ten emails from those I follow about Gmail this morning. The emails go something like this:

“Hey Gmail user, oh noes! Google has changed everything so that you aren’t getting my emails! Drag my email to primary!”

Uhm, no. Not really. There’s nothing you can send me that is going to make me want your email in my primary inbox. It’s not that I don’t want your emails. I do. I signed up for your email.

However, I don’t want you in my primary inbox. I want things that are important to me getting things done in my primary inbox. I leave gmail open on my computer in a tab, and I’m usually working in other tabs or applications while gmail is open. If something I need to look at arrives, I might stop what I am doing to look at it. Most of the time, I’m stopping what I am doing so I can DELETE your emails because it is cluttering up my workspace.

I’ve deleted lots of emails I would have looked at otherwise if I wasn’t so busy. Your email ends up as a distraction that I do away with.

After having the triaged inbox for a week or so, I am actually reading more of the email newsletters I receive because I can set aside time to read them. They might not be in my primary inbox on my computer, but they’re still in my inbox. When I go to my tablet for reading time, your email is still there. I can read it when I have time.

When I get interrupted by something that is not relevant to my current projects, there is an unconscious irritation, even if I like you. Even my friends can be the recipient of irritation when they show up during my busy times. I’m sorry, friends. I love you.

So no more worries, dear internet marketers of the world. If I’ve subscribed to your newsletter, I’m okay with you being in my inbox. And you’re better off in my promotions tab. Really.

 

Trends in Sales and Marketing

Fundamentals never change. But what are the fundamental aspects of sales and marketing, and what are the fads?

The fundamental basis of sales and marketing is relationships. Obviously, no one gets paid until something is sold. There are two ways you can sell: you can manipulate a “prospect,” or you can connect with a human being and explain how your product and service will meet their needs.

The internet has changed sales and marketing. However, they don’t change the fundamentals of sales and marketing: a relationship must exist between the product creator and the consumer. This lack of attention to the fundamental relationship between seller and buyer is the key to the problems in our culture.

The internet is just another method of connecting people in relationship across geographic distance. Because the internet allows people to connect with others who are more suited to their mindset, it exposes the reality of the sales process much more. It makes it more apparent when someone is deepening a relationship, and it makes it more apparent when someone is ripping a customer off.

We see it. We can see the company that only wants the sale who does not stand behind their product that breaks 2 weeks before its warranty. We see the company that sells us a product that doesn’t work unless you buy something else. We can see straight through the marketer who charges too much with the attitude that he’s doing great work if he can convince people to pay more than something is worth.

A recent article noted that tablet users (iPad, etc.) are a very important demographic. The early adopters, tablet users are showing us the way the internet (and internet sales) will be going. And tablet users are more discerning. They research more, they dig deeper, and they become very informed about the products they purchase.

They are leading the way… and the rest of the internet users will follow. It will become harder for the rip offs to continue finding victims.

Psychology Today recently ran this article about The Business of Manipulation. Within the article is a graphic, a matrix of different types of marketers. Unfortunately, many of the marketers in this country don’t know how to be anything more than “dealers” (selling a product they don’t believe in and don’t use themselves) and cannot fathom what it is like to be “facilitators” (selling a product they use themselves).

To the person focused on their own profit above serving customers, the goal of the sales and marketing is money. The mailing list exists to get sales. If a marketer of this ilk talks about relationship marketing, the relationship exists only to create sales.

Markets are made of people

Last week, I ran some metrics on our mailing list. We’re getting XX% opens on our newsletters, and I wanted to learn more about our list. As I am writing the scripts to run comparisons, I realized how wrong that attitude is. In this list made up of thousands of email addresses, there are individual emails… these trees in the forest. These email addresses are PEOPLE. There are a core group of people who open every single email we send out. And there are others who open most of them. We have relationships with those people. They are customers, but they are also friends.

In the internet marketing world, I am encouraged to find ways to manipulate the list to get more opens and clicks. I am encouraged to become a dealer, to focus on improving metrics, and “get the money out of the list.”

While you can break down customer demographics, group them, and learn about them in segments, the primary element marketers seem to forget is that markets are made of people.

Sales and marketing are changing

I can think of a few internet marketers who will think I am insane. They’ll tell me I need to create a syndicate and work with other internet marketers to extract money from lists of targets. I think they’re wrong.

And I think that’s going to change. People are wising up. Savvy consumers are more discerning about where to spend their money. People are researching more before they buy, and they’re demanding more than a product shipped on time. They’re demanding your attention to their needs.

Smart marketers are providing more value. Smart businesses are solving problems that we never knew we had.

Smart marketers are being honest. Truthful. And they’re connecting on a deeper level.

People are changing

As people, we’re changing. We’re becoming deeper and more aware, and the businesses we deal with are being asked to become deeper and more aware. We’re meditating more and exploring more aspects of our consciousness. We’re learning more about our multitudinous aspects of consciousness through deeper dreaming,

The simple act of meditation makes us more aware of subliminals. We’re not as open to manipulation as we were before. We are making conscious decisions based upon what we really need and want, not based on emotional appeals and high pressure sales tactics.

We’re demanding deeper connection in our relationships, in our entertainment, and in the communication that arrives in our home. That goes for all sorts of businesses.

How to succeed in the new landscape

Marketers are scrambling. People are watching less television, reading fewer newspapers, and less magazines. People are turning to online venues for their news, information, and connection.

To succeed means to get back to fundamentals. It means to look less at viewers, subscribers, and readers as a number and more as what they really are: people. It means looking beyond the metrix, beyond the matrix, and connecting with people in a relationship that actually improves their lives.

To develop those relationships, get to know your customers. Find out who they are. Find out what makes them happy, what challenges them, and solve their problems.

Along with finding out who your customers are, find out who YOU really are. What makes you happy, what challenges you, and solve your own problems in an interdependent way with your customers.

You are not that unique. The problems and challenges you have are the problems and challenges your customers have. Solve your own problems and extrapolate those solutions towards other human beings experiencing the same issues.

In The Wealth Diet, I provided some exercises that have worked for me to determine what things make me feel wealth from the inside out. Those also translate into methods of finding business solutions that make you happy as well as your customers.

But above all else, when you start to explore your heart and the energy within your being, you cannot help but expose who you really are. Allow that to flow, and the customers you were meant to serve begin to show up.

 

Sponsored Sharing vs. Sponsored Spamming

Most of the people I know are on some form of social media somewhere. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, blog networks of all sorts. I love social media. It’s helped me reconnect with friends from years past and keep up with family and friends that live too far away. These online meeting grounds do not charge for their services, and most of them have advertising on sidebars or elsewhere. I know that there is great cost associated with managing such a deep network, so I don’t mind the advertising. Sometimes I even find the advertising interesting.

Of course, as more eyeballs turn to social media for their distractions, more advertisers are looking for ways to “monetize” social media. There are internet marketers, spammers, and scammers galore looking for ways to get your attention and into your mind and wallet.

One of the recent trends in the field of social media marketing is “sponsored sharing.” There are companies out there that are looking to use your newsfeed to get to your friends, and they’re willing to pay you for the privilege.

I would be very careful using such a service. Not only will it negatively affect your audience, it will negatively affect your friendships.

Think of it this way. An advertiser buying space on a sidebar next to your newsfeed on either Twitter or Facebook is akin to an advertiser buying a 30-second spot during your favorite television show. It’s a trade off to your enjoyment and connection, and you allow the interruption.

When you post something in someone’s newsfeed (in other words, when you post a status update) you are visiting them in an intimate space. You are sitting at their home telling them what’s new in your life or what is important to you.

A sponsored link in that space is like being invited to dinner and spontaneously being possessed by a random arbitrary advertiser at someone’s dinner table. It’s the first step towards being asked to leave, and perhaps even being permanently ostracized.

Don’t do the sponsored links.

I don’t mind if you talk about your own products or projects. For example, if you recently launched a new product, I don’t mind hearing about it. But if you’re an affiliate promoting someone else’s product, keep it off my newsfeed. Otherwise you’re a spammer.

Friends don’t spam friends.

If you have a mailing list and you send me a mailing that has nothing more than links to products you found on Clickbank, you’re not telling me anything new. You’re a spammer. Cut it out, or you’re going to get unsubscribes from me.

A Prescription Better Social Sharing

To those companies and advertisers looking to *gag* monetize *gag* social media, I understand your pain. I do. We’re not watching television anymore, as there is not much compelling content that the media is putting out there in an advertisable format. The valuable viewer is turning towards HBO or Netflix to avoid your interruptions. How else do you get the eyeballs of those with disposable income?

I have some ideas.

Do something meaningful. Create something unique and powerful. Create a product that is worth talking about.

Don’t be an internet marketer. Be a content producer. Produce something meaningful. It might not be meaningful to everyone, but it will be meaningful to someone. Talk about your own products.

If you find a product that is meaningful to you, I don’t mind if you talk about it. For example, I found a coffee that I just love here in Mount Shasta. It’s great. Sometimes I rave about it on my news feed. But I am raving about it because it is a part of my current experience.

I rave about things that are important to me. Should I be paid for doing so? Maybe, I don’t know. But I don’t think we should be willfully raving about things just for money. It cheapens the experience of connecting with our friends, our families, and our fellow earthlings.

I also don’t think we as advertisers should be paying for buzz. We shouldn’t be paying for views on our videos; that’s just gaming the system.

Generating “buzz” is about doing something meaningful. Buying buzz cheapens your work. People are waking up to the marketers. They see content for what it is, and they can tell when something is worthwhile and substantive.

What is meaningful?

Meaningful work comes from the heart. It comes from you. It comes from your inspiration. It comes from seeing a problem and solving it in an inspired way.

If you’re not sure how to find what is in your heart or what inspires you, it’s time to reconnect with who you really are.

 

Dreamhost versus Hostgator

Technical difficulties threatened to nix my attempts to find sand and waves for spring break, but I emerged victorious. I had only a few days to move sites for the business to a new server. And then Dreamhost had an outage. Gah. I remember outages in the early days of Dreamhost too well, I think.

So, I decided to go with Hostgator. I had heard enough people talking about them, and they had a 45-day money back guarantee. See? It’s right there on the top of their web site. I ordered a server on Friday afternoon. By Friday night, it was set up. Except it wasn’t. After fighting with the server for an entire day — and being told by Hostgator technical support that I was being impatient and DNS just hadn’t fully propagated — I was informed that it wasn’t set up correctly. They had to rebuild it and wipe out a day of my work setting up about 6 databases.

Day two. I start the day by setting up a couple of simple sites. And I’m getting apache errors. Tech support is clueless, trying to insinuate that using Dreamweaver was the problem. When I tried explaining that it was a very simple site and that Dreamweaver was irrelevant, I was put on hold. Then told that it was probably my cache. OK, it finally gets fixed and I ask what went wrong in case that happens again. I am told it won’t happen anymore. Well, okay then. Another day of work setting up sites… and then an SSL certificate that won’t install correctly.

Jeez, I’ve been doing this kind of work for 15 years. I think I know how to manage servers well enough, but according to the tech support at Hostgator, I’m the one who is an idiot. That doesn’t help make me feel better about hosting my business sites with them.

I finally give up. Dreamhost is looking better and better. I pull back and decide to go back to the Dreamhost server. At least they apologize when something goes wrong and try to do better. At least in the 10+ years of history I’ve had with them, I’ve had better experiences. And Dreamhost’s web panel makes cpanel look like a torture device.

So I call Hostgator and tell them that I’m taking advantage of their 45 day money back guarantee. Except they won’t. I’m out $135. I could fight this, and I still might. I think they have some serious problems with their tech support, which could be mostly from my dealing with the weekend crew. But they’ve got misleading marketing, and that in and of itself creates a problem.

Dreamhost isn’t perfect, and I’ve been frustrated in the past with service outages. But Dreamhost does make managing a boatload of sites easier. The dedicated server I’ve got with them is blazingly fast. And they really do try to take care of their customers.

Can’t say the same for Hostgator. Not that they care. Every spammer affiliate on the net is offering people coupons, luring in more unwitting customers who will put up with shoddy service.