WHERE is your data and WHY it matters

Interconnectivity is now the driving force behind the world economy, but it can also be one of your greatest threats. Your data is the key to your clients’ fortunes, and any threat to its privacy is a risk that you have to manage.

Depending on where your servers are located you could be putting the privacy and security of that data in peril. With the advent of cloud computing, authorities have increased difficulty identifying where offending data is stored. The laws of each country or jurisdiction determine how protected your data and hardware will be.

The recent leak of two million emails and other documents about company and personal accounts of nationals in 170 countries has shocked the offshore financial industry. Some experts feel that if industry acceptable storage and encryption methods were used, the risk of such a leak would have been minimised.

There are many security risks that are at play in today’s digital economy and you need to know how to mitigate against them.

Data Residency

With the advent of cloud computing, organisations may be storing their data outside of their home jurisdiction, thus exposing themselves to a new set of regulations and policies that govern data privacy.

A recent Gartner report title ‘Five Cloud Data Residency Issues That Must Not Be Ignored,’ states the following:

“Many countries have passed national laws to provide authorities with access to enterprise data; this may conflict with the legal protection rights of data in the originating jurisdiction, and may grant secret access to data via cloud service providers without the enterprise’s knowledge or permission.”

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How to Choose Domains for Development

Let me share something with you that might not be obvious. Suburbs of big cities are good candidates for domain development. I’ve found that they are generally under serviced which means businesses are more likely to consider internet advertising, there are less competitors for the advertisers and you need to use less resources to market to a suburb versus a big city.

So for the rest of us guys who don’t own NewYork.com, SanFrancisco.com or Chicago.com the market is still wide open to develop geo domains. Get out there and buy some suburb domain names and develop them!

Here’s my checklist of what I look at for domains with development potential.

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Thank you David Castello

In my continued series about domain development, I’d like to take a few minutes say THANK YOU to David Castello for everything he is doing for geo domain owners.

David has more than a decade of in-the-trenches experience in the geo domain space. He doesn’t TALK about doing it, he’s done it! He’s tried everything and he’s found a good formula to make money on his geo domains.

I’ve learned a lot from David. Perhaps he didn’t know that until now. :D

Ron recently wrote about one of our geo domain sites - Oakville.com. I kept David’s advice about developing generics and monetization strategies in my mind when we built this site.

Beware. All geo domains are not created equally. We are killing it with Oakville.com because we’re the premier brand. As David always says, businesses want to be associated with the city.com not the mycitysite.info and they’ll pay the advertising dollars to work with the top brand.

If you didn’t believe David about this, you can add my name to this list as well. We’re working with the RCGA to promote the 2009 Canadian Open - the only Canadian stop on the PGA tour. Do you think they would have even had a meeting with us if our domain was mycitysite.info ? ;-)

The next post in my series is going to cover the factors that makes a domain a good candidate for development. This may sound simple and obvious, but you’ll see that it’s not.

I like to think that we’ve taken geo domain development to the next level with the technology, features and monetization strategies that we’re using with Oakville.com and I hope that you consider the rest of my posts in this series as a how-to for developing and making money with geo domains.

I expected more from Property.com

At one of the sessions at TRAFFIC New York 2008, Brad Geisen and Rick Schwartz talked about the sale of Property.com and how it was a perfect fit. If you missed the announcement, please read Rick’s press release.

I’ve got to admit that the sale to Foreclosure.com sounded like a perfect fit. I was looking forward to seeing Property.com turn into a super-charged version of Foreclosure.com

Geisen said this about the acquisition of Property.com:

I’m going after the 98 percent of the real estate market outside of the foreclosure business.

Sorry Brad, you’re not going to get anything close to 98 percent with the current site!

Fast forward eight months

TRAFFIC NYC was in October 2008, and here we are in June 2009.

Geisen also revealed the new Property.com will be unveiled sometime in 2009.

I’m not sure if the current version of Property.com is the “new” one but the site looks like 12,000 parked pages to me. :-)

I think the boys can do a much better, and here’s how.

Site Strucuture

The site structure is a train wreck. There are several changes that could make things much more SE friendly and SEO’d. This would lead to higher ranking in the SE’s and more visitors, of course.

1. Property.com has a duplicate content problem that will always hold the site back from ranking. Both www.property.com and property.com resolve to the same content. Just do a 301 redirect of property.com to www.property.com and the problem is solved forever.

2. The category slugs could be much more SE friendly and user friendly as well. Instead of using /properties.php?state=FL&cno=086&city=Miami to link to your page for property in Miami, FL, use this: /US/Florida/Miami/

3. The listing slugs should also be changed from /details/1848858/ to something more descriptive like: /US/Florida/Miami/1848858/ or: /US/Florida/Miami/8911-N-Bayshore-Drive/

[NOTE: Most of the category slugs are not ranking at all in google right now because they are not SE friendly]

Page structure

I’ve written about page structure before. The site is getting no SEO power right now. But with some simple changes to the headings, titles and descriptions, everything can be fixed.

1. There is an H1 heading of “Property.com” on all pages on the site. Most likely the SE’s are not giving any weight to this heading on the inner pages of the site. Instead, use an H3 of Property.com on every page and then on each listing page use an H1 of the category such as “Property for sale in Miami, FL” and then an H2 of the listing title such as “8911 N. Bayshore Drive - Miami, FL”. This tells the SE’s that your single listing page is about property for sale, in Miami, FL and what the address is. And with the H1 of “Property for sale in Miami, FL” on many listing pages (but not the whole site) it tells the SE’s that your site has relevance for “Property for sale in Miami, FL”. Neat heh?

2. The page title tags should be changed from “8911 N. Bayshore Drive - Miami, FL Property For Sale - Property.com” to something more user friendly and SE friendly such as: “Property for sale in Maimi, FL - 8911 N. Bayshore Drive”

3. The meta-description tag is the same for all the listings: “Add your property for free on Property.com. Find real estate properties for sale at Property.com”. Whoops! I’d recommend changing it to something unique to each listing page, and also something informative for the visitors. The first 120 characters of the listing description is a good choice because it has relevance to the listing page content and also gives the SE visitors an enticement to click the link when looking at all the other SE results on the page.

[NOTE: To see how mangled the titles and descriptions are in google, try this google search and look at the listings about half way down the page]

Internal linking

As noted above, the category and listing pages do not have SE friendly slugs, so the internal linking of Property.com is not as strong as it could be.

Once you’ve fixed the slugs, you should link to new slugs of /US/Florida/
/US/New-Hampshire/ etc from the bottom of your pages. For example, I’d add navigation at the bottom of all the listing pages for “Florida” with links to /US/Florida/ /US/Florida/Miami/ /US/Florida/Tampa/ etc. And I’d use anchor text of “More Florida Properties”, “More Miami Florida Properties”, “More Tampa Florida Properties” etc.

[NOTE: The homepage of Property.com shows 624,000 listings, yet google is only showing about 12,000 pages, so 600,000+ pages are missing. There is lots of room for improvement on the internal linking side of things!]

User experience

Finally, I can stop bitching about stuff!

1. The site navigation is sparse but it works. The “golden triangle” is being followed nicely.

2. The search features of the site are good. They’re pretty easy to use and there are several ways to access them. (It’s a good plan to give your visitors several ways to do the same thing)

The only user experience improvement that I would do is to add links to “popular searches” and “recently added listings” to the top of the page or the navigation. For a site like Property.com the visitors would be more likely to click and browse a lot more than use the search functions.

That’s all. Enjoy!

;-)

I’m in the process of researching a series of articles on mass and mini site development services.

If you follow me on twitter you might have seen me talking about it already.

Why my opinion matters

Why bother reading my posts? You’re being paid or something right?

That’s a great question. Nope, I am not being paid. I’m sharing my thoughts and opinions based on my own experiences.

We’ve been developing geo domain sites for some time now in the .com and ccTLD space. Geo domains are some of the hardest sites to rank and build traffic for.

We’ve gotten pretty good at to the tune of sites being thousands of pages in size, generating thousands of visitors a day and tens of thousands of top 10 rankings in google. Yes, I said tens of thousands.

Put up or shut up

Another good point. Let’s talk facts for a minute. One great examples of our geo domain work is a site about Oakville Ontario that we built.

This is a site that we took on last summer and took it from no rank in google to position #3 behind the Town’s own sites. The site gets 1000 visitors per day now and 60% are from unique organic search phrases. They’re highly targeted people looking for a business or service in Oakville Ontario. It’s an advertisers dream to buy traffic like this!

The site is about 3,500 pages, completely automated and has unique content added every day. We have engaged the community through social media and by posting their articles and photos on the site.

What do you know about mass development

We built a custom CMS for Oakville.com from the ground up. All pages, titles, slugs etc are created in an SE friendly way with all the SEO goodness built in. Some content is generated automatically while other content is user generated by our visitors and social media interaction is done automatically.

It took us 3 months to build and tune the CMS and add 1,000 pages of content to the site. It took us 2 weeks to rank in the top 10 in google for hundreds of organic phrases.

Now, we can build out new domains in about 5 days with all the SE friendly and SEO bits automatically built right into the content.

There’s a lot of magic going on the background on our CMS that no one talks about. Yes, I am going to continue my 12 part series on geo domain development and, yes, I am going to share all the magic with you guys.

We’re building another 100 sites out this summer and you’ll hear more about them in another series of blog posts. :-)

Conclusion

So there you go, I’ve set the bar pretty high, I think you’ll agree.

This should be a fun excercise, I hope you follow along !!

:-)

Influence is the new trust ranking

Deep back links, using relevant anchor text, from trusted sites, used to be all you needed to get ranked and stay ranked in the SE’s.

There’s a new trend rising to the top of the bucket these days.

Ranking with trust

It has widely been believed that the SE’s would trust your site and rank your pages based on the number, and velocity, of back links you achieved - preferably in a natural way. haha :-)

This is open to gaming and of course the SE’s don’t like to be gamed so there’s a new ranking trend that is emerging. It’s called Influence.

What is Influence?

Think about your friends, your circle, your group. You’re good at something. The people that are a part of your circle are either good at the same thing you are or else they are interested in the what you’re good at.

Now let’s apply this to the internet.

One guy who “gets it” is Gary V. Gary is fun to talk to, his videos are great and he’s very engaging. If you drink wine or are interested in wines, then Gary’s your guy.

Gary has 20,000 followers on his Facebook page. That’s 20,000 possible customers to buy wine from him. AND 20,000 people telling their friends to buy wine from him.

If you’re not sure what wine you want or you want to try something new, Gary does a daily wine video blog , hopefully influencing you and then engaging you to buy wine from him.

And wait, Gary’s got a book coming out too. It’s on PRE-ORDER. He’s got 1000 fans on his facebook page for the book. If you’re a fan of his videos and his wine, surely you would be interested in his book as well, right?

Gary’s got half a million followers on twitter. I bet lots of them are interested in wine or his book!

Gary GETS IT. He understands how to be the best in his field. He understands branding. For anything related to wine, he has Influence.

Gary is also using linkedin, tumblr, myspace, the list goes on.

How to build your Influence

So you’ve got a niche and you’re doing pretty well. If you don’t start building your own influence, your competitors are going to beat you to it and eat your lunch.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Decide what “phases” best apply to your niche. Presumably you’re already using good phrases in your back links because you’ve read my post on how to make a keyword matrix. You’re going to use these phrases for your profiles and branding.

2. Get social media profiles on sites like twitter, linkedin, myspace, facebook and use your phrases for your profile names. If you want to make connections and build influence around your niche, then use profile names that are easy to understand and follow like “carexpert” instead of “jsmith3462″. Make sure your main site URL is on your profiles.

3. Use the search features in the social media sites and find people talking about your niche, and reach out to them. Friend them, answer their questions, offer advice if they ask for it. Don’t be pushy, be helpful. Once you’ve made some friends, share your latest articles with them, give opinions on the latest product in your niche, start to build your influence as the “expert” in your niche.

4. Get profiles on bookmarking sites like stumbleupon, digg, sphinn, delicious and use your phrases again in your profiles. Search for pages that are related to your niche and start bookmarking them. Bookmark your own stuff every once in a while too. Don’t be spammy. Make sure your main site URL is on your profiles.

5. Update your profiles regularly (i.e. weekly) with useful content, related to your niche. It’s important to keep your profiles active so that your sphere of influence stays interested in you, keeps following you and is sharing your tweets or articles or bookmarks with their sphere of influence.

What does all this mean?

Let’s say that you set up 10 profiles. You used a phrase of “carexpert” as your profile name. Your main site URL of “carexpertforum.com” is shown on all 10 profiles. And you’ve got tweets, articles, bookmarks galore on all your profiles about car-related phrases. You’ve got 5000 twitter followers, 1000 friends on facebook, people stumble and tumble your stuff all the time, you get the idea.

When the SE’s spider your profiles (and the profiles of others in your group) and see all that great content about car-related stuff, and your main URL of “carexpertforum.com” shown on all 10 profiles, they’ll understand that your web site an influencer for all things car-related.

Just like Gary V is an influencer for all thing wine-related !!

Bonus Round

Here’s an interesting side bonus. If you set up good profile names chocked full of useful content, google is going to start ranking your main site URL - plus your 10 profiles - for your phrases. So it’s very possible that your site AND your profiles could rank in 5 of the top 10 positions for your niche.

Isn’t that sweet! ;-)

PS. Elliot, your wish has come true!

Domaining.com and anti-competitiveness

My pal Sahar posted about the anti-competitive madness going on with Domaining.com on his blog today.

Domaining.com is a RSS feed aggregator just like alltop, yahoo, google etc. They’re building traffic and selling ads on the backs of other people’s content. Plain and simple.

To try and tell your content providers what they can post (domain sales in your posts) or whom you can work with (other RSS aggregators like namebee or dngator or dnheadlines) is PURE MADNESS.

What do you guys think?

I believe Francois & Domaining.com have done much to further the domain industry. With that said, I cannot longer align myself with such a venue, and such beliefs. I believe the best should win, not because of blocking competitors, but because of best service.

I agree with Sahar 100%.

Wordpress Security Tips

Andrew at dnw.com had his Wordpress hacked recently. I noticed it at around 5am EST and tried to contact Andrew to let him know, without success. Ultimately, my buddy Elliot was able to get the news to him.

Wondering how I noticed dnw.com was hacked? I got the same warning in Firefox that a lot of other people did. So I fired up a my ethereal packet sniffer to see what was going on. I did a capture, and bingo, there was a .cn domain trying to run a script to do some nasty stuff. :-)

We use Wordpress ourselves and install it for clients, so we’ve seen and done a lot with Wordpress over the years.

Here’s my best tips on security for Wordpress. If you’re serious about not getting hacked, please consider every tip on this list as required, not optional.

Update your Wordpress

Update Wordpress and plugins regularly. I use SVN to automate the process, but you can do it manually if you want to. If you have 100’s or 1000’s of Wordpress blogs, use Wordpress MU so that you don’t have 100’s of instances of Wordpress to update.

If you follow the rest of my tips, updating your Wordpress often doesn’t matter that much, to be honest. If you missed an update but you secured your files, directories and login access, then that latest injection bug won’t effect you anyways. :-)

Login Security Tips

Use https (i.e. SSL) to log into the Wordpress control panel. You’re already doing this right? You don’t need to buy a SSL cert to do this, just use a self signed SSL certificate!

Use strong passwords and change them regularly. For example, H&&73r$r0cK$ is strong, p4ssw0rd is not. And don’t even think about using your wife’s name, your dog’s name, or your favourite drink as passwords.

Do not use the admin username as the Administrator of Wordpress. Instead, create a new username that is hard to guess, assign that user the Administrator Role and change your admin username to the Role of Author or Contributor. Then continue to use your admin username to post to your Wordpress and only use your new username when you need to perform Administrator functions. Then if someone gets your admin password, they will be wasting their time because they won’t get Administrator access if they log in as the admin username anyways. Sneaky heh?

If you are not allowing user registration on your site (for comments or contributions) then you should also protect your wp-admin directory with an .htaccess file. This will stop anyone from being able to reach the control panel, even if they did know the login credentials for the Administrator user.

Server Security Tips

Hide your directory contents from prying eyes by disallowing directory browsing. To do this, add -Indexes to the Options line in your Apache config file (or .htaccess file). If you don’t do this, then people can get a full directory listing of your /wp-content/plugins or /wp-content/themes and with that info, they can see if you have a buggy plugin or theme installed which they could then exploit and try to hack into your blog. Yep, people really do that.

Change file ownerships to your server/cpanel username, instead of nobody, www-data etc. The default install of Wordpress normally uses the web server user as the owner of files. This means that if there is a hole discovered in the Wordpress code, then it is unlikely that you would be exploited.

Change your directory permissions to 775 and file permissions to 644 using chmod or your sftp/scp client. By doing this, you make your Wordpress files readable by the web but not writable. So again, if a hole is found in the Wordpress code, it is unlikely that you will be exploited since your files are readable only.

[NOTE: The downside of changing your file ownership and permissions is that modification of your theme files or .htaccess will need to be done through sftp/scp and will no longer work from the Wordpress control panel. But security is more important than convenience, right?]

When uploading and changing your files use a secure tool such as sftp, scp or ssh. Standard ftp is not secure because it is not encrypted. Someone in your office could be packet sniffing your traffic, your ISP could be doing it, and even your hosting company could be doing it. So use secure tools with encryption like sftp and scp or ssh for shell access.

Advanced Security

If you have the technical expertise yourself or have a server admin, then you should install mod_security for Apache. This tool performs two very important functions that everyone can benefit from.

  1. Automatic blocking/drops of any suspicious or unusual traffic to your web server. That means if someone is trying to hack or flood your Apache, mod_security is going to block or limit the attack.
  2. Sophisticated logging allows you to receive alerts about unusual traffic in real time. In other words, if someone exploited your Wordpress and modified your index.php file, you would get an email you about it - in real time. If you missed the email and needed to check your logs to see how the hacker got into your site, you can see detailed logs to see what happened so that you can fix the hole and stop it from happening again. Nifty!

Questions? Need more details? Fire away in the Comments below!

There are some more security tips from wordpress.org here

Debt.com you FAIL

I saw a TV commercial earlier this week for Debt.com and I thought “hey great use of a generic, the guys behind that company really GET IT!”

Even though their pitch of “getting into debt was not your fault” is laughable, it still looked like someone was going to get lots of TRUST from visitors and TV watchers with this great generic domain.

Or maybe not.

After digging into the site a little deeper, red flags are going off.

Debt.com image

They’ve got three TRUST logos on their site: Verisign, Truste and Hackersafe

[NOTE: The links above are the real links displayed on debt.com]

The McAfee logo shows the site was last scanned on 31-JAN

Uh, what?

Normally you pay Verisign, Truste and McAfee an annual fee and they certify your site with their respective services and give you a verification link to display on your site.

The verification links normally go to pages with your company name and domain name like these samples for care.com and netgear.com:

Truste for care.com
McAffee for netgear.com

But in the case of Debt.com there are no links to verification pages.

And a check with McAfee and Truste shows that Debt.com has no such certification with either organisation. I guess that explains why there are no links to the verification pages!

I suspect that the McAfee and Truste people are not going to be too thrilled to see their logos displayed on a site that really isn’t certified by them, either.

PS. The Verisign ssl certificate does validate - yippee.

The Power of Developing Generic Domains

Everyone talks about generic domains being the best, buy generic domains if you can afford it, generic domains get more type in traffic, blah blah blah.

Let’s consider for a moment that the true value of a generic domain is one thing and one thing only - TRUST.

Search Engines

Ask anyone who has done full development of generic domains and they’ll tell you that the SE’s rank generics higher than their competitors. David Castello has said it time and again.

The city.com that we developed ranks #3 in google for our generic term behind the government web site and a wiki listing. We have them both in our sites and we’ll rank #1 soon.

Visitors

Visitors love to see generics in search results. If you do a search in the SE’s for “palm springs” and the top 3 web sites are: palm-springs.org, palmsprings.com and a wiki page, which one do you instinctively click — palmsprings.com of course.

The behaviour is the same for any search term - visitors instinctively trust the generic domain listings.

We get about 15,000 clicks from google every month when visitors find the listings for our geo domain. How’s that for trust from visitors?

Advertisers

Selling directly to advertisers is never going to be easier when you represent the generic term domain name. Advertisers immediately respect you and will pay more for advertising because they trust the brand.

Why charge $300 per year for advertising on a non-generic domain when advertisers will pay $300 per month for an ad on the generic .com site?

Linking Partners

Getting back links and linking partners for a generic .com is extremely easy. More often than not, linking parters are happy to provide more than one link to the generic name. Just ask for a deep link to your relevant content while you’re at it - they’re much more valuable than a link to your home page.

Free Links

And of course there are all those free links you will get from bloggers, newspapers, wiki sites etc. Every time someone writes an article about a city like, say, Palm Springs, the author instinctively thinks that the authority site must be palmsprings.com and they’ll provide a link such as “for more information on the Palm Springs area, visit palmsprings.com”.

Yep, the author won’t be listing palm-springs.org in his article even if it does rank #1 in google today!

Summing it up

TRUST me - if you are going after a niche and don’t own the generic .com domain, then the first thing on your list should be to buy that domain.

You will get more visitors to your site and make more money from advertisers in the long run.

[This article is PART 2 of a multi-part series sharing an inside look at the start to finish development of a city.com domain. Future articles will cover content generation, automation, SEO, linking, revenue, ranking and more]

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