Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Critical 'Backdoor Attack' Warning Issued for 60 Million WordPress Users

Just spotted an article in Forbes that caught my attention: Critical 'Backdoor Attack' Warning Issued for 60 Million WordPress Users; (credit Davey Winder, Senior Contributor).

The article highlights an ongoing, escalating hacking campaign targeting WordPress websites. In progress since July, it started out pushing sketchy ads and has evolved into something much more nefarious.

According to Defiant Threat Intelligence, "the campaign has added another script which attempts to install a backdoor into the the target site by exploiting an administrator's session." With admin access, the bad guys can basically run wild.

I won't go into the technical minutia as to how this hack is engineered but here's a link to the Forbes article if you want to read more of the gory details: Forbes Article

Whether your site is running on WordPress or not, there are several steps you should take now to keep your website as safe and secure as possible:

1) Update your site's software with the latest patches, including updates for any plugins. (Side note: WordPress claims over 50,000 plugins are available. However, many of them are old and may not be supported or patched at this point. This is why most WordPress vulnerabilities are related to plugins.)

2) Use a web application firewall; this will help block cross-site scripting attacks.

3) Set up two-factor authentication for your admin access. (We suggest two-factor authentication for all of your logins but especially for admin access.)

4) Stay alert to new threats; the bad guys never sleep.

If you think it's only the big name websites that are at risk, the Forbes article made a very important point: "Don't think that just because you are a little fish in a big pond that the cybercrime sharks won't bite you; they will. Criminals are always probing sites for ways to compromise them, either to use for serving malicious adverts, redirecting to other malicious websites or to get a foothold that can be leveraged as part of a bigger attack plan."

We couldn't have said it better.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

ICYMI: Google Changed its Search Algorithm 3,200 Times Last Year Alone

In the course of our ongoing SEO research we recently came across this little tidbit from Google on their Search blog: 

"Our search algorithms are complex math equations that rely on hundreds of variables, and last year alone, we made more than 3,200 changes to our search systems." 

Letting that number sink in, Google is adjusting its search engine criteria at the rate of over 8 changes per day! Keeping up with this torrent of tweaks is a formidable task. This is a significant increase to the rate of change in Google's search algorithm. 

Further complicating matters is the reality that some algorithmic changes are far more meaningful than others in terms of search ranking results. It requires careful analysis to prioritize the work done on each website to truly put the "optimize" in SEO. 

Now more than ever, search engine optimization isn't easy. (And it's never been fast.) But when done properly, it can still deliver outsize results: More visitors, actively searching for your company's products or services, delivered to your website where you can tell your story and start the process of turning visitors into customers. Sweet. 

Here's a link to Google's post for additional context.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Reuters Article: The Impact of China Tariffs on Consumer Spending

We were recently contacted by a reporter from Reuters to comment on the potential impact on consumer spending from the 25% tariff on furniture sourced from China. After some qualifying discussion we made the case that the impact could be significant. Here's the example we proposed to illustrate the point:

Imagine a piece of furniture that had cost a retailer $400 prior to the tariff. That item would likely have been priced at about $799. This is a 50% gross margin that's fairly is typical among furniture retailers but with wide variations from one store to another, depending on competition, market position, local rent, wages, warehousing, taxes, cost of capital, et al.

Adding a 25% tariff tacks another $100 on the cost of the item, bringing it to $500. For the retailer to maintain their GMROI (Gross Margin Return On Investment) ratio, they now need to price the item at $999; that $200 price increase is not insignificant to many people.

Given that a furniture purchase is generally "postponable" and based on my experience in the home furnishings industry, I expect the impact of this tariff to be meaningful once the higher costs work their way through the supply chain. 

Here's a link where you can read the story in its entirety : Reuters Article on Furniture Tariffs

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

B2B E-commerce Exceeds $1 Trillion; Manufacturers are Leading the Way

Recently published Forrester reports project B2B e-commerce sales in the U.S. will exceed a trillion dollars in 2019, for the first time ever. And this is by the narrowest definition of B2B sales, i.e. transactions Forrester calls employee-initiated purchases conducted on their suppliers' websites. For context, B2B e-commerce is about twice the total revenue of B2C sales generated by all retailers combined. (Including Amazon!)

Manufacturers are leading the way in B2B e-commerce with almost 70% of manufacturers selling online in one form or another. The trend is clear: E-commerce is the fastest growing sales channel for manufacturers that have embraced it accounting for over 50% of B2B sales including EDI, e-procurement, and e-commerce websites.

Working with manufacturing clients in multiple industries we see confirmation of Forrester's findings: B2B e-commerce is increasing in importance, especially for clients expanding into new markets, introducing new products and connecting directly with potential customers. This is not to say manufacturers are giving up on trade shows, distributors, field reps and call centers.

However, the emphasis (and investment) is shifting to support their online initiatives. These forward looking manufacturers understand the importance of having robust, secure, easy-to-use websites, supported by online marketing to help them reach their target markets, quickly and cost-effectively.

So while B2C e-commerce gets most of the hype, B2B e-commerce is where the real action is. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Why SEO is More Important (and More Strategic) Than Ever

Working with clients in a dozen industries we've seen firsthand how strategic, persistent search engine optimization (SEO) provides a clear competitive advantage for businesses of all sizes. First, in the form of search visibility and second, by providing that targeted visibility at a lower cost than than by other means.

This point what just reinforced by a March 8 article in Bloomberg titled, "Google Search Dominance Has Businesses Paying for Their Name". The article points out that Google's share of the search market gives them potentially damaging power in the area of branded keywords, where a company's competitors can bid on the company's name, to show up above them in search.

Google's guidelines allow this, so a company may need to bid on its own brand to be listed above its competitors. One business owner quoted in the article said "You have to buy the ads every day." He said they tried not buying Google search ads for their business and the slot was immediately purchased by other businesses. He added that they "had to bid more to get back on there after we stopped."

This is where consistent SEO work can help a business insure they will show up prominently in organic search. (Organic results are shown below paid ads, but many consumers prefer and trust organic results more.) 

Our experience over the last 20 years is that SEO continues to be an important tool in the online marketers toolbox that should not be neglected. Properly implemented it has long-term value and is a natural compliment to PR, paid (Adwords) ads, email, video and social media.

Contrary to popular opinion SEO isn't about "fooling" Google; it's about organizing and presenting content to help Google serve their customers with the best information to answer whatever they're searching for.

SEO isn't easy; dozens of variables are involved. But done right, in the context of a well crafted online marketing strategy, it provides a competitive advantage that will pay dividends now, and well into the future. In our experience, SEO is now more important, and more strategic, than ever. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Practice and Process Makes Perfect

Our latest launch illustrates the collaboration required to update a website for a client working in a highly technical field. The client is Product Design Services (PDS); they have over 20 years of experience building world-class aesthetic models and prototypes for manufacturers as diverse as Whirlpool, Intuitive Surgical, Raytheon and many others.

This is exacting work using some of the most advanced manufacturing technologies available. Getting it right requires both practice and process.

Similarly, we went about explaining and illustrating their unique capabilities using a project development framework we've refined over the past 16 years. Using this defined, step-by-step method helps to insure nothing important slips through the cracks during the design process. 

And it doesn't happen in a vacuum. A typical redesign project involves a lot of communication involving a combination of meetings, phone calls and (many) emails to select and edit the right photography, the best text and clearest design elements to insure the website tells our client's story in a clear, compelling way.

For Product Design Services, the end result of this careful, collaborative process can be seen at their recently relaunched company website. (Click through to see some of the most intricate, beautiful,  aesthetic models you've ever laid eyes on.)

As the PDS website redesign project illustrates, practice and process makes perfect. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Most Noteworthy Business Book of 2018: Measure What Matters by John Doerr

Reading John Doerr's best seller, Measure What Matters took us back twenty (short but memorable) years, when we were on Sand Hill Road pitching our fast growing e-commerce company to a couple of storied Silicon Valley VCs.* Little did we know, as we were making our rounds, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were just down the road, pitching John Doerr to invest in Google.

John's saw Google's potential and wrote a check. He was richly rewarded for his insight. His $12.5 million investment in 1999 was worth billions when Google went public in 2004. (The $25 million round included John's firm, Kleiner Perkins as well as Sequoia Ventures as co-investors.) 

But Google's success was not a forgone conclusion. John brought more than money to Google. His introduction of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as a management tool was critical to the company's ability to execute on their ambitious plans.

Measure What Matters chronicles John's introduction to OKRs while working at Andy Grove's, Intel and expands on OKR's core principles with four additional "superpowers" to help company's of all types and sizes achieve superior execution while enhancing workplace satisfaction.

And it's not just theory: He illustrates how OKRs are being used beyond Google, by Bono, the Gates Foundation, Zume Pizza, Intuit, and others. (The book's foreword by Larry Page is a bonus that's worth the price of the book!)

It's a good read, filled with practical, actionable advice. Knowing your time is valuable it's one of the few, and perhaps most noteworthy management books we're recommending from 2018.

*One of the venture firms we visited showed interest but insisted we'd have to move our company to the west coast as a condition of their investment. We politely declined, preferring to keep our operations in scenic southwestern Michigan; a decision we have never regretted.