The Crossing is Closing

Hello Readers – at least any of you who might still be around.

I have to admit, I’ve let The Crossing languish over the past year. This is mostly due to other priorities that have come up in my work and personal lives. These are good things, but they have crowded out my ability to keep this space going.

Over the next couple of months I’m going to shut this site down in favor of a relaunched elmerboutin.com. There I will still write about digital marketing and leadership, but also add some personal thoughts on other topics.

Stay tuned!

A New Chapter

It’s been just a little over 4 years since I joined Rockfish and moved to Austin, Texas. To say that it’s been an adventure would be an understatement! During this time I’ve gotten to work with several great clients, refine my search optimization skills and bring them to a new level, and help start and lead a brand new online reputation management practice. I am very, very grateful to all the wonderful people at Rockfish with whom I’ve had the privilege to work over the past few years.

Rockfish LogoI realize that this sounds like I’m leaving Rockfish. In a way I am, but not really. I have accepted an opportunity to be assigned to our WPP sister company GTB. While I will still be a “Rockfisher,” I will be working with GTB in their Dearborn, Michigan, office as Director, Organic Search (SEO). This is another tremendous opportunity for me, not only professionally but personally, too.

GTB Logo

As many readers of The Crossing know, I am originally from the Detroit area. If you go look at my Google+ profile, you can see a picture of me standing on a mountainside in Germany wearing a WRIF t-shirt; WRIF being the radio station I listened to in my youth. Even though I’ve lived in Texas most of my life now, in my heart I’ve always been a Michigander. I still follow the Tigers, root for the Red Wings and cheer for Michigan and Michigan State. Having the opportunity to move back to my home town is fantastic.

So, as I pack up my home in Austin and get ready for this new chapter, I look forward to reconnecting with family and old friends, make new friends, and take on new challenges.

Onward!

I Was Hacked!

It happens to the best of us sometimes.

I have 5 sites that I manage or help manage that were compromised. It was actually quite a clever hack in that the sites all worked as normal when I browsed directly to them, but if I came in from a search result on Google or Bing, I was automatically redirected to a porn site. For those of you who came in and saw that mess, I do apologize.

I’m not sure exactly how they got in, but I suspect it was due to one or more of the following:

  • Old or outdated plugin that hadn’t been updated in a long time
  • Old or outdated theme that hadn’t been updated in a long time
  • Old test sites that were left running and WordPress hadn’t been updated in quite a long time

 

It’s a good thing I had a fairly recent backup because I ended up wiping the sites out and starting over.

Pay attention to your sites. Don’t let them sit totally unattended. Delete old test sites. And most of all, keep your software updated!

Now, it’s on to working on getting the site restored with a new theme and getting all the content back up and running.

20 Years In The Business

2016 marks a significant milestone in my career as a marketing technologist. It was 20 years ago, in the Spring of 1996, when I built my first website. From the time I strung together my first HTML up to now it has been a fascinating, interesting, fun (for the most part) and challenging career …

2016 marks a significant milestone in my career as a marketing technologist. It was 20 years ago, in the Spring of 1996, when I built my first website. From the time I strung together my first HTML up to now it has been a fascinating, interesting, fun (for the most part) and challenging career.

In 1996 I was a non-commissioned officer in the Army. I was coming up on a year left in my contract and had already made the decision to leave military service for a civilian career. The problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was trained as a Czech linguist and an intelligence analyst. While that in itself was a great career it didn’t really translate directly to a job on the outside.

Flashback
Moving with a family while in the military in those days was a challenge. Most military communities didn’t have enough on-post housing available for the growing number of families. That made it necessary for many to seek homes off post. What would normally happen was that one member of the family would get to the new area, talk to their new coworkers and get a referral for an apartment community or a property management company. Then came the days- or weeks-long schlep around looking for a place to rent. It was very tedious and stressful.

One day, as I was helping a new arrival to our unit, the conversation turned to the challenge of finding a place to live when moving with a family. As Dave and I talked he said something that inspired me: “There must be some way for people to use this new Internet thing to help soldiers find a house before they move.”

Up to that point, I’d been trying to look for a business I could start from home with the idea of potentially building it large enough that I could transition from the Army to that business when I got to my discharge date. Nothing that I tried, though, had really gelled. What Dave said, though, got me thinking about putting together something that could provide an income as well as fill a real need.

I got on my brand new PC running Windows 95 (a brand new OS at that time) and started looking for rental referrals. I learned two things:

  1. There were rental referral companies out on the web. The largest of them were Apartments.com and Rent.net.
  2. The existing rental referral companies were mostly centered in larger metro areas and were very expensive to get into.

I realized that many military communities were not in or near major metropolitan areas, and, because of that, the rental managers likely didn’t have a budget to get onto the online rental referral programs running at that time.

In the meantime, I started taking apart websites (learning how to do “view source” in those first web browsers). With my very rudimentary command of BASIC, I figured out it was pretty easy to put websites together. I got a copy of “Teach Yourself HTML in 10 Days” and really got into the code. I learned to put together form actions with CGI and purchased my first domain. Thus, GeneralRent was born.

Screen shot of GeneralRent circa 1999

We started in Central Texas, signing up apartment communities and property management companies. If they didn’t already have a website (and most did not), we built one for them. Property managers would fax (and later email) their vacancies to us and we’d update their listings weekly. Those who were really forward-thinking would ask us to come pick up pictures of the places for us to scan and include with their listings. There were several occasions where I would go and take photos myself … for an extra fee, of course.

We joined the local apartment association and set up a booth at a Texas Apartment Association conference in order to attract more clients. We soon had listings in San Antonio and El Paso. Things were really coming together.

During that time I was also building websites for auto dealers and an art gallery. The art gallery owner didn’t even have email. I would get questions from customers via the online form on his site and call him during afternoons so he could dictate responses to me to type in and reply to them.

After about a year of tremendous growth, we hit a wall. The first sign of trouble was getting funding for expansion. We came to where we needed more equipment and operating capital. I didn’t know anything about getting investors or funding, so I went to the bank to see about getting an SBA loan.

The folks at the bank were nice, and they humored us. Online businesses were still so new, that they didn’t consider intellectual property and a business with few physical assets a good risk for a loan.

The other shoe fell when several of the larger rental referral sites merged. Their combined forces commoditized listing space, brought the prices way down and virtually eliminated the bar to entry for most rental companies. I had not yet mastered the programming and database skills to build a dynamic website that could scale enough to compete with them. After several months of losing clients I made the tough choice of getting a “real” job.

I ended up working as a temp worker at Wilsonart International working on a project to upgrade workstations from Windows 3.x to Windows 95. Thankfully, I’d had to rebuild computers at home enough that I had some great troubleshooting chops. That eventually led to a “regular” job doing tech support, and later to being promoted to Webmaster. I held that position for 12 years doing everything from application programming to database admin, to server admin, SEO, social media community management and more.

For nearly 4 years now I’ve been with the Search Team at Rockfish where I am fortunate enough to be able to work on SEO and Online Reputation Management projects for clients both large and very large.
Humble beginnings have led to a great career for me. I’m looking forward to another 20 years working in this amazing and dynamic field.

The Saturday Summary – 7/25/2015

This past week, there was some interesting online reputation management (ORM) news as well as several stories about Google. Here are the items that caught my eye during the week of July 20-24, 2015 …

This past week, there was some interesting online reputation management (ORM) news as well as several stories about Google. Here are the items that caught my eye during the week of July 20-24, 2015 …

The Saturday Summary

Monday

Recently, Mitsubishi apologized for its role in using American POWs as slave labor during World War II. Tim Bower and Lucy Hooker at the BBC used this as a jumping off point for an article looking at good and bad examples (mostly bad) of corporate apologies. Bottom line: There are ways to apologize without putting yourself into legal hot water. “I’m sorry” can be the two most powerful words in ORM, and can often lead to diffusing what, otherwise, could be a very negative impact on a brand’s online reputation. Check out the full story: Sorry: Is it too hard for ‘macho’ company bosses to say?

Tuesday

For the most part, I don’t believe lawsuits are the way to deal with negative online comments against a brand. Many times, following a well thought out online reputation management strategy can help forestall negative content posted by users. Of course, there are times when legal action is warranted, but normally that would be only in extreme circumstances. This week came news that Herbalife has filed suit against Twitter in order to learn the identity of someone who “… posted defamatory tweets against the weight-loss and nutritional products maker … ” and “… vilified the the company and its management as ‘thieves, pill pushing frauds and bullies.'” It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out. Check out the details on this Reuters story from Yahoo News: Herbalife files petition to seek user information from Twitter

I get lots of questions about the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Google does, too, and they shared out how they handle them in search results in this Google Webmaster Central Blog post by John Mueller: Google’s handling of new top level domains. Bottom line: Google treats those gTLDs as they do other TLDs such as .com and .org. I don’t recommend using them for a business’ main website just yet because the public is still stuck in .COM for now. There will come a day when gTLDs will be very commonly used. For now. though, most businesses will find it best to stick with a good .COM.

Wednesday

Many website owners have been pondering switching their sites over to SSL encryption across the board. I think it’s a good idea, but I recommend waiting until a website redesign is being done. Switching over from HTTP to HTTPS takes a lot of planning that’s likely going to be easier when the site is being redone anyway. At any rate, it’s not a good thing to do only as a tactic to rank higher. Google’s Gary Illyes announced this week that SSL is used as a tiebreaker for ranking only when two sites are equal in all other ranking factors. Check out the details shared by Matt Southern on Search Engine Journal: Google: With All Else Equal, HTTPS Gives Sites An Edge

In more ORM news comes an announcement that Microsoft will start honoring requests to remove content from their search results related to revenge porn-type websites. This is a great move that follows on the heels of Google making a similar move several weeks ago. Check out the details by Amy Gesenhues on Search Engine Land: Microsoft’s “Revenge Porn” Reporting Page Helps Victims Get Photos & Videos Out Of Search Results

Thursday

People involved in local search, pay attention to this: Google announced this week that they will start deleting Google+ pages for businesses that have not verified their accounts. It’s important to get the details on this and learn what you have to do to avoid losing this very strong local search signal. Mike Blumenthal shares details on Blumenthals.com: GOOGLE REMOVING ALL NON VERIFIED LOCAL PAGES FROM PLUS?

Google algorithm update watchers will be interested to know that Panda 4.2 launched last weekend. Funny thing is: most of those who generally pick up on these types of things didn’t notice. Check out Google Releases Panda 4.2 & You Didn’t Notice on Search Engine Roundtable by Barry Schwartz.

Friday

In more Google news comes an observation by Mike O’Brien on Search Engine Land that the search giant is testing updates to the Google Knowledge Vault. It looks like answers to questions are starting to take up more real estate at the top of page 1 SERPs. This just reinforces the idea that natural language search is here to stay and that website owners need to think about optimizing their content to answer those questions their customers are likely to ask. Details here: Is Google Testing a Knowledge Vault Update?