PA in our Pocket or Marketing Tool?

As technology surges forward, mobiles shrink and mankind busies itself getting connected, the world continues to grow smaller with every passing day. Now, wherever we turn, we see people talking, texting or completely oblivious to their surroundings, engrossed by the latest download.

Of course it’s good to talk – or so they say. Everyone and their brother are now happy to be ‘friends’. They post, comment, and tweet, happy to share their life and divulge their souls. Yet should they one day pass in the street, they’d probably just walk on by.

Yes, the world may be talking, but what, if any, conversations are actually taking place?

Not long ago mobiles were such a simple tool; used to catch up with family or make a quick call. Today, in many ways, they help to run the world. They are our lifeline and motherboard rolled into one.

We rely on them to bank, shop, travel, and date. To track down, meet up, and break up. They tell us what time to wake up and where we need to go. They can be our secretary and our salvation. For the foolish, who use them to cheat and deceive, they can also be our downfall.

As this market grows and mobile advertising looks set to explode, you have to ask yourself this – are phones really designed to help us manage our everyday lives, or are they just a marketing dream – a tool designed to sell, and therefore, in turn, control us?

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How to play in 2010

Nothing probably highlights how dramatically the world has changed, more than when you watch your kids play – and see the toys they now play with.

As a child, playing was something that took real hard work, it was never just handed to us on a plate. Games had to be invented and imagination put into overdrive, and of course, if we ever looked like we were bored for a millisecond, we were sent out to weed the front drive.

I played with dolls that cried and wet themselves. I climbed up trees and galloped around the field next like a horse. I had a hand puppet called Spit the Dog and a bin called Dusty. I remember being wowed by the revolutionary Rubik’s Cube and simply blown away when we got our Commodore 64. Amazing thing that was, it had a cassette deck to rewind the games and a whole 64kB of RAM.

Now that may seem unimaginable to techies in this decade, but you’ve got to remember that this was at a time when the microwave oven was only just becoming part of the kitchen scenery, and having a Soda Stream was the very height of cool.

These days most dolls have a better wardrobe (and car) than I do. Hell, my daughters Barbie has her own private jet and a tour bus with a built-in spa. Go into any toy shop and everything now seems to walk, talk or dance. Batteries are a given and an Internet connection more often than not a necessity.

Light years in development since the humble Commodore 64 , computers of today are small enough to fit in your pocket and powerful enough to launch a space shuttle.

Technology has certainly gotten out of control. You know that for sure when you can play 18 holes of golf in your living room, buy a pair of shoes from someone on the other side of the world and spend every spare minute caring  for a 1 dimensional pet – though seriously, what is the draw of looking after a puppy on-screen?

Change isn’t a bad thing of course, it’s just what happens. I know at the age of 8 I’d certainly rather have been able to jump around on an interactive dance mat with my ‘Bop It’, than have to sift through tonnes of gravel looking for another weed.

The other day I was watching my kids at play, spreading small plastic toys across the floor and building cubbies. Then the zoo animals came out, and my son decided to use a book to make a small tent, so that a pair of cheetahs and a goose could have a sleep – or so I thought.

But this is 2010 and the cheetahs had no intention of sleeping. Instead they were in there with Barbie’s laptop, staying connected to the world.

“Cheetahs are talking to Nana Dee on Sky”, my son informed us. That would be Skype to you or me.

“No they’re not”, responded my daughter, “they’re reading an email, then they’re going to watch Eastenders that Mummy downloaded last night.” Yes, it’s a very modern world our children are being brought up in.

God only knows what toys the next generation will have to play with, but I’m sure by the time I’m shopping for my grandchildren they will need a degree in mechanical engineering, a V8 engine and a litre of environmentally friendly rocket fuel.

Bluesnarfing – Are you under attack?

First it was your computer and now it appears that even your mobile could be under attack.

It started with ‘Blue Jacking’ which allowed users to send a message to Bluetooth phones without authorisation. Now a new phenomenon has emerged called ‘Bluesnarfing’ (not to be confused with the harmless blue Smurf).

According to AL Digital, a networking and security firm, phones that were vulnerable to such a bluesnarfing attack include: Ericsson T68; Sony Ericsson R520m, T68i, T610 and Z1010; and Nokia 6310, 6310i, 7650, 8910 and 8910i. In such an attack all contact details, along with other information, are downloaded from a vulnerable phone whilst leaving no trace of the intrusion or theft.

Nokia are aware of these “security issues” and have admitted that a bluesnarf attack “may happen in public places, if a device is in the ‘visible’ mode, and the Bluetooth functionality is switched on.

The phones vulnerable to ‘snarf’ attack include the Nokia 6310, 6310i, 8910 and 8910i phones as well as those from another manufacturer”.

However some models invite attack even when in ‘invisible mode’, when the handset is not supposed to broadcast its identity and should refuse connections from other Bluetooth devices.

The 7650 phone has a different set of problems. If an attacker gains physical access to this model, then not only would the bluesnarf attack be possible, but it would also allow the attacker’s own Bluetooth device to “read the data on the attacked device and also send SMS messages and browse the web via it.”

Nokia cannot confirm if the other models are also vulnerable to this type of abuse, although so far they have been unable to recreate this “backdoor” attack on their 6310i handset.

They have, however, admitted that the 6310i is vulnerable to a Denial of Service attack, where the phone receives a “corrupted” Bluetooth message:

“A DoS attack would happen if a malicious party sends a malformatted Bluetooth… message to re-boot a victim’s Nokia 6310(i). We have repeated the attacks and found that there are some corrupted Bluetooth messages that could crash the Nokia 6310(i) phone,” said the company spokesperson. Nokia are obviously trying to play down these problems by reassuring customers that, following the crash, the phone will reset and function normally.

Nokia do not intend to release a fix for these devices for the time being. As they say, the attacks are limited to “only a few models” and are not expected to “happen at large”.

“In public places, where the above mentioned devices with Bluetooth technology might be targets of malicious attacks, at least in theory, the safest way to prevent hackers is to set the device in non-discoverable mode – ‘hidden’ – or switch off the Bluetooth functionality. This does not affect otherfunctionalities of the phone”.


Whether the problem of Bluesnarfing should be considered a great threat or not, is up to the individual phone owner. However, as with so many technology-based problems, there is always huge potential for future abuse and the possibility of becoming yet another security problem. It is unlikely to affect other Bluetooth devices such as laptops. Their systems are far more complex, making them harder to target, unlike mobiles which have far more limited resources for menus and configuration.

If nothing else, it makes you wonder if any mode of communication is safe anymore. Maybe the return to smoke signals and carrier pigeons is just around the next corner….

..

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Spam – A Global Epidemic

Spam

A steady rise in distrust and discontent has been spreading in the ranks of the Internet community and spam is at the root of this problem. Confidence, worldwide, is wavering as the cyber ways and e-mail systems are put under a steady wave of attack from ‘spam gangs’ and the viruses released on the networks on such a regular basis. But is this shift in confidence enough to put at risk the future development of Internet communications and could this, in turn, affect the development of e-commerce?

So what is spam? Most Internet users today will come into contact with spam on some level, if only as a daily irritant clogging up inboxes. As varied as the content is, spam can be broken down into three basic groups, all sharing the characteristics of unwanted and unsolicited junk e-mail.

Malicious spam Generally fraudulent or illegal in nature, the aim of these e-mails is often to deceive. They range from “miracle cures” and “get rich quick with no risk” schemes to the often laughable “sex enhancement” aids. Some scams have even gone down as Web legends, such as the infamous ‘Nigerian Letter’, which has milked many millions of dollars from well meaning, if naïve, people.

E-mails containing adult content are not only offensive but, worse still, sent with no regard for the age of the person on the receiving end. The virtual world is no longer a safe place.  It has become just as perilous for our children as the real world today.

Advertising Spam This includes e-mails from legitimate businesses, investments companies and mail order catalogues etc., which are trying to sell products or promote their services. Often the user has unintentionally  ‘opted in’ to a mailing list and then finds that it is almost impossible to ‘opt out’. Many companies who choose to successfully develop their businesses on-line use e-mails as a legitimate form of e-marketing.  Unfortunately they can now become unfairly tainted with the same brush.

Friendly Spam So called, because these are jokes, humorous links and chain letters inflicted on you by your own nearest and dearest. By continuing to forward these e-mails yourself, you are actually playing into the hands of the spammer and increasing his e-mail address base for him!

Spam accounts for half of all e-mails sent daily around the world. It is hard to escape and like a weed, it re-emerges at a faster rate than it can be eradicated. To prove the speed at which these spammers work, an experiment took place where a new e -mail address was posted on a popular Internet chat site. It took just 9 minutes for the spam messages to arrive.

The sheer volume of these unsolicited e-mails which flood the Web comes at a very high price on many levels. It has been estimated that it costs EU and U.S companies more than $11.5 billion a year in lost time and productivity. This, from time spent reading them and the increased bandwidth required, to the storage costs to deal with them.

Spam can also have serious ramifications on a company’s reputation. When transmitting emails with inappropriate content to company resources, be it racist or sexist, employers are exposed to offensive material. This has given rise to a huge number of lawsuits.  27% of Fortune 500 Companies have been forced to defend themselves against claims of sexual harassment as a result of inappropriate i.e., pornographic, e-mails doing the rounds within the office environment.

But perhaps the most worrying emergence for companies today and the virtual weapon of the future, are the viruses that piggyback in on this spam. Over the past few years there have been one after another, attacking systems around the world – from the largest networks to the single PC.

The LoveLetter. The Blaster Worm. The SoBig Virus. The MyDoom.  Each virus worst than the last and causing chaos and devastation for the world communications network. It is estimated that 51% of all corporations have had a virus disaster, not only costing many millions but also causing considerable unease about the use of e-mail as a secure communication mechanism.

So why and how, do these ‘spammers’ do what they do? As with many things, the answer is pure and simple – monetary gain.  As with many things that operate on the wrong side of the law,  it can be highly profitable. Profit is made on a commission basis for products/services sold and, although the response is often low, so are their overheads. For example, if a profit margin for a product is $1 and they only get a 0.1% response rate on 10 million messages sent, they can still make $10,000.

How do they obtain and then target these 10 million e-mail addresses? The answer is cheap and easily obtainable mailing lists and tools. E-mail addresses are harvested by spammers in numerous and often highly unscrupulous ways. Spammers are skilled at interception, using infiltration techniques or simply buying cheap e-mail lists on CDs. Spammers can randomly trawl through the millions of accessible addresses, using spambots to crawl the Web for any @ signs, going through company servers and even taking addresses from user newsgroups and chat sessions.

Not only does this contravene all rights to privacy, it sets a whole new precedent for security risks. The many publicised cases of credit card number theft and e-mail fraud scams are causing growing uneasiness and are a public relations nightmare for on-line banks. Likewise they are causing considerable distrust amongst on-line shoppers.

A survey published by consumer group Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) revealed that 52% of respondents, wary about the spam they might receive were as a result, either shopping less on-line or not at all.  This has an obvious knock-on effect to those bona fide businesses which are losing money and, as a result, customers.

A further survey showed that only 17% of respondents thought that existing spam filters worked well and 21% didn’t even know if their email had a filter. This shows that users can already do a lot more to help themselves, just by utilising what they already have available to them.

So where does the responsibility lie and who will have to pay the price? The Paris based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, speaking in Brussels this week, called for all governments around the world to come together in a unified international effort. They stated to the hundreds of delegates attending that:

“Spam is not the problem of a single country… It is a worldwide problem… It is increasingly clear that domestic efforts must be supplemented by internationally coordinated strategies to address the cross-border challenges posed by spam…”

It is indeed a global issue, a plague that leaves no e-mail user or country untouched. It is estimated that only about180 people working in ‘spam gangs’ are responsible for all of the spam generated in the US and Europe today. Yet they have a whole world in which to hide and are, therefore, incredibly difficult to locate. Often based in countries unregulated by current laws and legislation to deal with spam, they certainly do not adhere to any current Codes of Practice.

The EU and the US to this date have already passed a number of anti spam laws. The EU has taken the “opt in” approach, making it illegal to send unsolicited emails unless specifically user requested.  The US has taken the less aggressive  “opt out” approach, where the user must be the one to inform the sender they no longer wish to receive their e-mails.

Neither option have the clout needed and only half of the EU countries have incorporated these ideas into national legislation. Even if where laws exist only small fines are given when flouted. It is obvious that not only is a much tougher approach required, but all major players must come together. Only a global crack down will defeat this spam and leave no place for the spammers to hide.

The first line of defence must surely lie with service providers and software developers as they step up their efforts to develop better filters and defences and rewrite their systems to work against spam. In Davos, Switzerland, Bill Gates, the founder and Chief Software Designer of Microsoft announced, “In two years’ time spam will be a solved problem”.

Current research involves authentication and the identification of e-mail senders.  Yahoo! is presently developing a concept to “secure mail” with an open source platform called ‘Domain Keys’. The idea behind this involves a secure private key being inserted into the header. The recipient system then checks whether the public key corresponds to the apparent sending domain using the Internets Domain Name System. If the public and private keys correspond then the message will be delivered, if not it will be destroyed.

Another approach is to have an e-mail solve a ‘quiz’ or ‘puzzle’ to determine whether or not it is legitimate, i.e. sent by a human and not a mass spam generating machine.  To get around this problem, spammers would have to invest in hugely expensive equipment to handle their mass mailings.

Gates believes there is a more effective way to eradicate spam in the form of an e-mail postage plan or a “spam tax”.  The research project goes under the code name ‘Penny Black’. This is derived from the name of the first postal stamp used in Britain in the 1830s (check) and the turning point when the sender started to pay for the cost of the postage instead of the letter recipient.

This postage plan is already in its development stage at Goodmail in Silicon Valley and is seen as the way forward by Microsoft and Yahoo!, although neither are yet ready to commit to the plan.

This plan would be implemented in the following way. The recipient of the e-mail decides whether or not it is a legitimate message. If it is, then the sender will pay nothing. If the recipient decides that it is spam, then the sender will be made to pay the ‘postage’. To set this system up would involve many changes to the one already in operation today. It would require secure management of e-mail and an even more secure payment system.

So with these new technological standards that would identity the sender and charge high volume mailers, spamming would no longer be free or anonymous – two of the key reasons why it has become such an extreme problem.

But while an e-mail postage plan could indeed be a viable solution, could it ultimately result in the loss of free e-mail access for all surfers? Not surprisingly this idea has resulted in harsh opposition from those who believe that the access to free e-mail should remain a fundamental concept and idealism of the Web.

So what is the answer? Governments, the technology leaders and developers and even the daily Web surfer will have to work together and assume the burden of responsibility and the cost of clearing up the chaos that spam has created on the Web. Ultimately this epidemic will only be stopped with a unified global effort.

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Phishing – Don’t take the bait

To succeed in any line of work you have to be inventive and stay ahead of the game. It is no different for Internet scammers. They have been seizing their rods and ‘going phishing’ and this phishing rarely allows the big ones to get away. Here we see the Bonnie & Clyde versions of the digital age and some of the biggest multi-national companies like Citibank and Visa International, Ebay and PayPal have all been targeted.

The FBI called phishing one of the “hottest and most troubling scams on the Internet”.

Many scams are started by small time hackers, just flexing their muscles on the Web. But phishing has moved into the ‘big boys’ league, as more and more of these attacks are now being linked to highly sophisticated criminal syndicates, in areas as widely spread as Europe and Asia.

“Phishing is motivated purely by financial fraud and gain. And organized crime is now just using the Internet as one pillar alongside gambling and human trafficking,” said D.K. Mata, founder of mi2g, a British-based security firm.

What is Phishing? It is a high-tech scam where hackers (the phishers), posing as legitimate companies, send out spam e-mails (the bait) and try to fool the e-mail recipient, (the fish) into volunteering passwords, personal and financial data and other sensitive information.

If the recipient responds with the requested information, he has unwittingly become the victim of fraud and has then been ‘phished’. The information goes not to the legitimate company, but straight into the hands of the scammer. This is then used to raid bank accounts, obtain new credit cards, order goods and services online and play havoc with personal credit ratings. Bottom line, these scammers are stealing identities.

Those banks, credit card companies and e-commerce sites already targeted so far, have dismissed the costs of these phishing scams as negligible. But mi2g, estimated that total costs to companies back in 2003 ran to as high as $5 billion. This takes into account customer and productivity losses, business interruptions and damage control to reassure the millions of apprehensive customers and victims already targeted.

So how do they do it? According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these phishers target customers of businesses which deal with online payment, i.e. Internet service providers, shopping sites and banks.

The e-mails sent out appear to be 100% legitimate but, as ever, appearances can be deceptive. Both the initial e-mails and sites to which they try to link you are only dummy copies – perfect look-alikes in every way. Easily achieved by those with the know how, everything can be forged, from a company logo to a replica site with an apparently authentic return address.

Even the address you see in the window can be made to match a legitimate URL. This is made possible by a bug in the Internet Explorer browser and the way in which URLs are displayed in the address bar.

Simply put, the browser is unable to display the special character ‘%01’, or anything that follows the web address. So, where as previously you would have been able to check the authenticity of the address in the bar before you entered sensitive information, this bug has made that impossible.

In the hands of a hacker with knowledge of URL obfuscation techniques, it is easy to change an obvious fake address such as ‘www.lookalikes’ ‘www.citibank.com%01@211.239.150.170/login/login.htm’ into the undetectable counterfeit ‘www.citibank.com’.

These e-mails warn that fraudulent activity has been detected in connection with the company’s accounts. You are urged to click on a link and check your account balances, to ‘update’ or ‘validate’ their billing information in order to keep your account active. With a heavy dose of irony, these bogus e-mails may even urge you to report any signs of fraud.

The following is an example of a phishing e-mail that arrived in my inbox even as I was writing this. This is a simplified format compared to others, but a hoax nevertheless and not hard to spot as I do not own a Visa credit card!


Subject: Visa Security Update

Dear Sir/Madam,
We were informed that your card is used by another person or stolen. It could happen if you have been shopping on-line, and someone got your “Billing information” including your card number. To avoid and prevent any billing mistakes and to refund your credit card, it is strongly recommended to precede filling in the secure form on our site and applying for our Zero Liability program. Program is free and it will help us to investigate this accident as soon as possible. Sincerely yours,

Visa Support Assistant, Alwin Desagun.


This particular e-mail plus many others can be found at www.antiphishing.org/apwg.htm. A good place to check if you unsure.


If these hoax e-mails are so sophisticated how will you be able to spot them? By now the alarm bells in your mind will be ringing and you might be thinking that Money Plus The Internet Equals A Dangerous Equation.
Generally if an e-mail doesn’t sound right, look right or smell right there is a good chance that it isn’t right. Common sense can go along way here.

Stick to some basic guidelines and you should have less chance of falling hook, line and sinker for these scams.

  • Remember that NO reputable business would ever ask you to update or change sensitive and private information via e-mail or online. It would be done in person or over the phone.
  • E-mails that bear dire warnings and request sensitive information, right down to your inside leg measurements, are scams. Do not reply via the e-mail, instead contact the company by phone or by personally typing in the genuine URL address.
  • Never send personal or financial information via e-mail. If you are submitting financial information on a Web site, check first for space the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar. It indicates that your information is secure during transmission.


• Check credit card and bank account statements for any discrepancies as soon as you receive them. Call your credit card company immediately if something looks amiss. Likewise if your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call to confirm your billing address and account balances.

How are companies fighting back? EBay and Citibank have posted tips and examples of fraudulent e-mails on their Web sites, to help customers identify them. PayPal, one of the first targeted, are offering an extra level of security through a verification system.

Visa International is going one step further. Not only are they buying all Visa-related domain names in the regions in which they operate, but by using Web crawler technology, they are hunting out and shutting down hoax sites carrying their logos and text.

Visa International has also set up the site www.mymoneyskills.com to inform and educate consumers.

Who is going to stop it? The IE bug was discovered, not by a Microsoft security expert, but by a British 18 year old Graphic Designer, alias “Zap the Dingbat”. He publicly ‘outed’ it on his personal website on 9th December 2003.

It took scammers a full week to begin taking advantage of the bug and from then on the problem snowballed. One month after its discovery it was still a free-for-all, for every hacker in the cyber world. Microsoft have since released a patch (a virtual plaster) to resolve the issue, however it does not seem to have contained the problem, as the Web is still rife with phishing e-mails.

To make matters worse, many people tend not to keep their software up-to-date. This leaves their computers exposed and vulnerable to hackers. Using pirated software gives the user even less or no protection at all, as many of these illegal copies are unable to benefit from the updates released.

Anti-virus and anti-spam companies are also adding additional filters to their programmes in an effort to target these e-mails. GIANT, an anti-spam software company, claims that ‘Spam Inspector 4.0’ has ’a unique ‘Phishing Hole Filter’, preventing these potentially fraudulent e-mails from making it to your inbox.

One step towards solving the problem, says Jevans, Chairman of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, is to use digital signatures on e-mails, as they are harder to fake. Further down the line, tougher, biometric security measures might well be called into play. Combinations of fingerprint or iris scans, with a password or Smartcard, might well become the norm when accessing accounts and conducting online transactions.

Sweeping changes will need to be developed first and then implemented, and this will take both time and money.

To date, only one U.S. federal case of ‘phishing’ has been settled. A teenager posing as AOL, sent hoax e-mails to the company’s customers, asking for their billing details. Using the information gained he went on an online shopping spree and opened accounts with PayPal. When brought to court in July 2003 he was ordered to repay the $3,500 of his ‘ill-gotten gains’ and barred from sending any further spam.

Today, the FTC is working alongside the FBI and the Justice Department on a number of other phishing cases, although no others have yet been settled.

With every new advance in technology there will be those who hijack this progress and use it for their own means. The struggle to maintain Web security will be an on-going task, whether aired in the public arena or behind locked doors. It is, therefore, imperative that Web users acquire a little more Internet savvy and learn to take more control.

After all, the first line of defence for a computer is its user.

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SEO = ROI

There are two myths that prevent many online companies from pursuing Search Engine Optimization. One is that a successful company with good sales and a solid customer base will not benefit from this strategy. The other is that if you buy a domain, build a site and sit back, then your customers will appear. Neither is true.

The Web is as infinite as the universe, with an overload of information competing for the visitor’s attention. Users now surf with tunnel vision, blocking out the banners, pop ups and advertisements seemingly produced just to annoy.

This means that those companies who are serious about making their online business a success have to turn to methods that will not only attract the visitors, but also ensure that their website is being fully utilised as a marketing tool.

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So why is Search Engine Optimization so important? The aim of SEO is to achieve a high listing on search engines. If carried out properly, SEO can make a website more ‘visible’ to search engine users, increasing the traffic and ultimately resulting in a higher ‘Return on Investment’ (ROI) than any other method of acquiring sales leads.

It is perhaps the most beneficial and profitable form of advertising available, strengthening a company’s online presence in a number of ways, such as promoting their brand and product and broadcasting the corporation’s message to a larger target audience and by generating higher sales and tracking the ROI. It achieves a smaller financial outlay than any other form of advertising.

In an offline world, a website that is not marketed would be similar to a shop tucked way in a deserted back street, with no signage, blacked out windows and a padlock on the door. Without promoting itself, it would stand little chance of attracting customers.

How do Search Engines hold the power? Internet Search Engines have become the “Yellow Pages” of the digital age. They are the magnets that can pull out the right ‘needle’ from the virtual ‘haystack’ and place it at your finger tips.

With the sheer volume of information available online and the speed at which it can be delivered, it is, for example, now cheaper and faster to search the Web for a hotel telephone number, rather than call a Directory Enquiries service.

Search Engines cater to a technologically conversant generation, who are constantly sourcing and researching, purchasing and promoting, as part of their everyday lives. This makes them a very powerful and influential tool of the Internet.

When starting a search online, the user enters key words and phrases applicable to the search and then relies on the Search Engines to return a list of sites which are considered relevant and of a required quality. At this stage, the user is not biased and is unlikely to discount a company because its name or product is unknown. The user is now a potential customer.

If the user can find what he is looking for, is given the information he needs to make a judgement call and then given clear instructions on how to contact the company, then that user immediately become a good sales prospect.

This change in attitude means that, for the first time, companies of all sizes and profit margins can compete for the same client base. Even the smallest business can achieve success online if it produces a good quality site with relevant content and then employs SEO techniques.

So a family run bakery, producing cookies for a local market, might believe that selling on a global scale is only for the bigger players. They would of course agree that they cannot afford to lose sales’ leads obtained from web searches, but be under the impression that it is too competitive a market to break into and that it would be too tough for them to gain a top Search Engine ranking. This is, of course, not the case.

In the democratic world of the Internet, all websites, regardless of their content or credibility, are automatically given a place on the Web. Whether a site receives a good placement, however, depends on the marketing strategy used. It is this precise placement which is the make or break factor which dictates the success of a website.

Low ranking and you will pass under the user’s radar – as effective as a neon sign without the plug! Climb to the top of the Google tree, be ranked alongside the leaders in your industry and you will, by the power of association, gain instant credibility. While anyone can pay to advertise on a website, to gain a high ranking through a Search Engine, you must first earn it.

Online companies should also make sure that they are listed on those trade publication’s websites which are relevant to their industry. Often there is no charge to be listed on these online buyers’ guides. Links to other related websites should also be obtained. The concept of the Web is based around networking, to increase the flow of traffic. Without links, the Web would be nothing more than a static telephone directory.

So to answer the question, does Search Engine Optimization equal Return for Investment? Yes, it does.

To make sure that your company stands out above the rest, you must be pro-active and promote your website. When done correctly, SEO can help a website achieve the visibility and presence equivalent to that of a High Street storefront the week before Christmas, with your target audience standing in front of the window, money in hand.

Now what business would say no to that!

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A little CONTENT can go a long way

Since man first learned the need to communicate, words have been used to record, predict, influence, educate and create. They have helped to shape society into what it is today and been used as a powerful tool by some of the greatest (and most infamous) political, religious and human rights leaders in history.

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We shall fight on the beaches. Six little words that uplifted a country.

I have a dream“. Four little words that changed the lives of millions.

Yes, we can. Three little words that rallied a nation.

In much the same way (though obviously not on quite the same historical scale) using engaging, relevant and well-written words on your website is crucial if you want to succeed – which obviously you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this article.

Having great web content is so important, it probably ranks up there as the top 3 priorities to be taken into consideration when building a successful website – way ahead of flashy intros, arty photography and complicated navigational systems. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that ‘content’ is as essential on the Web as ‘Location’ is to the property market. And we know how important that is don’t we. Just ask Phil and Kirsty.

So why are the ‘words’ so important?

Whilst the initial ‘wow’ factor of a well-designed site can still grab a surfer’s attention, it is the ‘words’ that might provide enough of a lure to prevent them from moving swiftly on. Or at least they will if they are written in such a way as to provide is easy to find, relevant and interesting information – something that is sadly missing on so many websites out there today.

When the Web was first ‘born’, flashing logos, rollover graphics and animated icons were often enough to impress. But times and expectations have changed and Internet users are now a much more sophisticated and tougher audience to crack. They’ve all seen enough dodgy sites to know that appearances can be deceptive and many fancy websites really are only ‘screen deep’.

So now if you have a hope of succeeding, not only must your content be king, it must be the country and whole continent to. Web content needs to be provided and written with two very different kinds of audience in mind.

The first audience is the surfer, the Web window shopper and the potential customer. Gaining customer loyalty goes along way in this game. It can take years to establish trust, but only a minute to lose it, so whether you are there to sell, to service or just to inform, you must not only meet the visitor’s expectations, you must surpass them.

So if, for example, your sites sole purpose is to sell ‘the worlds smallest, most technologically advanced fishing rod’ then make sure that your content gives the visitor all the information they might need.  If you’ve managed to get that interested fisherman to your site, now is not the time to be burying the technical specifications in 3 page of irrelevant sales spiel. Or having an animated Billy Bass greeting them as they arrive and singing along in the background. This is it the time for guessing games and complicated menus. A site that is too hard to fathom or simply lacking in the expected content will quickly be left with a click of the mouse and replaced with a hundred others all selling ‘the worlds smallest, most technologically advanced fishing rod’.

Whenever you decide what content you’re going to put on your website, its important to remember that the right ‘words’ can lead to your visitor feeling interested, educated, inspired by whatever it is that you offer. And if they are impressed with your website they are more likely to bookmark and return to buy.

The second audience to bear in mind when writing content for the web are the search engines. They send out their ‘spiders’ to give your site the quick ‘once over’ before deciding on its suitability to be ranked. Now anyone who’s ever used Google will know that achieving a high place on the first few pages of the major search engines is like stumbling across the Holy Grail. It can certainly open you up to a whole host of new possibilities be instrumental in supplying you with a large percentage of your client base.

Years ago web designers tried to trick the search engines, by overloading the meta keyword lists or repeating relevant keywords in the background colours. Needless to say, these methods no longer work and such tricks should never be employed. And this brings us nicely back to that question of why the ‘words’ so are important.

Search engines are now heavily influenced by the content of a site. They are looking for quality and relevance over ‘copy fodder’ and excessive linking. Of course clever patter or witty play on words won’t sway these visiting robots. They won’t even care whether you go for the hard sell or the emotive soft sale. What they do care about however are the right combination of words and phrases that reflect the purpose of your site. They are looking for effective SEO – Search Engine Optimisation.

So to sum up: To achieve a successful website you need to provide well-written content that appeals to both human visitors and search engines a like. The ‘words’ must attract and sustain attention. They must interest, inform and engage. They must satisfy the requirements of search engines. They must portray the product or service with persuasive sincerity. They must position the company in a positive light. They must send out a convincing call to sales.

And one last thing, just remember you only have one chance to make a good impression, so if in doubt, use spell check. Or better still, ask a copywriter to give you a helping hand…

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