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  • Old or outdated plugin that hadn’t been updated in a long time
  • Old or outdated theme that hadn’t been updated in a long time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.

Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin – Book Review

Thou Shall Prosper – The Ten Commandments For Making Money has been on my list to read for quite some time now. I first heard it mentioned on The Dave Ramsey Show. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, the author, has also been interviewed on the EntreLeadership podcast. I recently got caught up to this part of my reading list and very much enjoyed taking in some “old fashioned,” but very relevant wisdom …

Cover shot of 'Thou Shall Prosper' By Rabbi Daniel LapinThou Shall Prosper – The Ten Commandments For Making Money has been on my list to read for quite some time now. I first heard it mentioned on The Dave Ramsey Show and the author, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, has also been interviewed on the EntreLeadership podcast. I recently got caught up on this part of my reading list and very much enjoyed taking in some “old fashioned,” but very relevant wisdom. As my friend Alan K’necht pointed quoted in his book, The Last Original Idea, “… there is nothing new under the sun.”

While the ideas Rabbi Lapin shares in this work are based on very old wisdom, they still translate very well into modern times. Throughout it all, misconceptions and bad ideas about business are busted and replaced with good ideas.

As the title suggests, the book is broken down into 10 “commandments,” and each one builds on the others to make it rather compelling:

  1. Believe in the Dignity and Morality of Business
  2. Extend the Network of Your Connections to Many People
  3. Get To Know Yourself
  4. Do Not Pursue Perfection
  5. Lead Consistently and Constantly
  6. Constantly Change the Changeable While Steadfastly Clinging to the Unchangeable
  7. Learn To Foretell the Future
  8. Know Your Money
  9. Act Rich: Give Away 10 Percent of Your After Tax Income
  10. Never Retire

There are some great quotes from the book, here are a few that I highlighted:

… dishonesty and loathsome behavior only pay off in the very short term. Reputation is key. Sooner or later, the cheating, dishonest, and unpleasant business professional runs out of people with whom to conduct business.

This is quite true – especially in today’s culture online. It doesn’t take long for someone’s bad reputation to spread and for people to decide not to do business with them.

If there is one Jewish attribute more directly responsible for Jewish success in business than any other, it is this one: Jewish tradition views a person’s quest for profit an wealth to be inherently moral.

Now, before images of the Ferengi from Star Trek with their “Rules of Acquisition” enter your head, keep in mind that Rabbi Lapin is not referring to avarice and greed. Rather he is referring to the fact that it is good and honorable to be able to support yourself, your family and to help those in need. Any quest for profit must be done in light of doing business honestly and being charitable. Here two additional quotes that help pull it together:

Biblical figures are almost all larger-than-life, three-dimensional personalities. Although the Oral Torah describes many of them as fabulously wealthy, this does not usually emerge directly from the text. This is because wealth is considered to be the consequence of a life well live, in the company and companionship of others doing the same, rather than a purpose of life in itself … Wealth was consequence and not a prime purpose.

Some people mistakenly assume that a transaction can only take place if one side withholds information from the other. They assume that a transaction constitutes one party outsmarting another. This is a failure to understand that when two parties sculpt a true transaction, it is one one party taking something from the other, but two parties cooperating to create entirely new wealth. The transaction is more likely to take place if both parties understand that nothing needs to be hidden. Furthermore, the transaction is more likely to be successful if each party trusts the other and feels confident that no material facts are being withheld.

“Learn To Foretell The Future” was an interesting chapter. In that section, Rabbi Lapin discusses the Sabbath and why it’s a good idea to take time out to rest and clear your head sometime during the week. In our frenetic culture, everyone is overtaxed and stretched to the limit. The ability to dial down, unplug and relax is important to help you see things that may affect your business in the future.

The “Never Retire” section reminded me of an acquaintance of mine. “Frenchie” was very active in the amateur radio club I was part of when I lived in El Paso, Texas. He was a very busy man who put in 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in his wire manufacturing business. I remember once talking to him during a workday at the club when he let on that he was nearly 80 years old. I was quite surprised as I knew he was a bit older than the 25-year-old me, but I had no idea that he was “elderly” – he certainly didn’t look or act his age. He told me that he started his business with his twin brother, who worked until he was 65 and then quit. Sadly, the brother passed away within a few months of his retirement. Frenchie told me that he was never going to retire. he felt that if he was useful and had a reason to get out of bed each day, then he would just keep on going.

Rabbi Lapin makes a similar point. Even if you “retire” from your day job and do charity work, you should never just quit. It’s good to have a reason purpose in life.

Thou Shall Prosper – The Ten Commandments For Making Money (Amazon Affiliate link – as is the cover shot link above) is an excellent book filled with some great business wisdom. I highly recommend giving it a read.

 

Pubcon Vegas 2015 – Local Search & Semantics – By Upasna Gautam

My Rockfish colleague, Upasna Gautam, rounded up a great session on local search. She shared some great ideas on how to optimize your website for local search. Here are some of the notes I took during her presentation …

My Rockfish colleague, Upasna Gautam, rounded up a great session on local search during Pubcon Vegas 2015. She shared some great ideas on how to optimize your website for local search. Here are some of the notes I took during her presentation …

  • The formula AKA The Logic Bomb
    • Google goes beyond the keyword-first mindset but gets into complex and relevant queries looking to deliver information
    • Consider intent
  • Formula: [Brand] + [Unbranded Keyword Phrase] + [Location Information]
  • Brand
    • Use your brand name
    • Boost’s authority and increasing relevancy
    • Build connections with unbranded entities
  • Unbranded Keyword Phrase
    • Look to build the contextual links to your brand
    • Consider that Google understands intent – those entity connections are important
  • Location
    • People search geographically in different ways
    • Always include city, state and zip code
  • Don’t forget long-tail keywords
    • High-intent keywords are very important
    • Think about natural language searches
    • Write content to answer questions
    • Try to understand intent and context of your potential customers

Pubcon Vegas 2015 – Local Search – By Mike Stewart

There was certainly an emphasis on local SEO at Pubcon Vegas 2015. One of the presentations I sat in on was by Mike Stewart, who shared some great tips on local search optimization. Here are some of the notes I took …

There was certainly an emphasis on local SEO at Pubcon Vegas 2015. One of the presentations I sat in on was by Mike Stewart, who shared some great tips on local search optimization. Here are some of the notes I took …

  • Local search is not black magic – don’t over-think it
  • Most people just “spin the wheel” and hope something good happens [never a good idea]
  • Local search is a lead generation strategy aimed at increasing foot traffic and phone calls to a physical location
  • Local SEO is a content strategy aimed at increasing website ranking to get the leads
  • Basic Training
    • NAP (name, address and phone information)
    • Content development
    • Content ideation
    • Social media amplification
  • Local media short cuts rarely work
  • Make sure you have access to your data
  • Yext (and other data aggregators) have some good tools to help with local search data gathering – but it does have a cost
  • Watch your categories – it’s very important to match what you do with the proper category
  • For Google My Business:
    • Consolidate locations under 1 account
    • Claim unclaimed locations
    • Verify
    • Optimize
  • Yahoo local is easiest to work via Yext
  • Bing Optimization
    • Agencies need to get written verification from the owner of the business
    • Very important to target Bing maps data as well as Apple Maps
  • It’s important that a human verify listings
    • There are no shortcuts that really work
    • Avoid spammy directories
  • Paid search is important to enhance local SEO
  • Reviews are key