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11/21/2014 9:17:57 AM

This Week in Social

This Week in Social

As we steam towards the end of the year, social media shows no signs of slowing down. From promising startups to the latest updates, here are just some of the biggest news items that caught our eye over the past week…

Twitter to debut Facebook-style feed

Earlier this month, Twitter announced a flurry of imminent changes to the popular micro-blogging service, with perhaps the most controversial indicating the permanent removal of the existing real-time timeline, making way for an algorithmically-sourced timeline instead. Twitter has since opened up on their plans, confirming: “We’re experimenting with better ways to give you what you come to Twitter for. We can use information to surface highlights of what you missed and show those to you as soon as you log back in or come back to the app. We’re also working on ideas such as an instant, personalised timeline for new users who don’t want to spend time cultivating one on their own.”

It is worth noting that Twitter has, so far, implied that these changes will only affect new users, with current users expected to be able to simply opt-out of any unwanted adjustments. However, existing users won’t be able to escape the changes unscathed, as Twitter has already detailed plans to surface relevant tweets based on user’s interests, which means we may all eventually see tweets from those we don’t follow. At time of writing, there is no confirmed timeframe for when these changes will roll out, but the company has suggested that these changes will be made sooner rather than later.

Facebook tightens privacy policies

At the end of last week, the team at Facebook HQ laid out an updated set of privacy terms and guidelines for their users. The new policies don’t suggest that Facebook will actually be changing how they collect or use any obtained personal information, nor do they state how users can control exactly what information is available to third-parties. The optimised policies have mainly been spruced up, edited and presented in a way that Facebook hopes will entice users to read and pay more attention to them, particularly in light of recent events. The team has also launched a new feature for users concerned about their privacy when engaging with the network: Privacy Basics is essentially an interactive slideshow that presents users with a basic snapshot of who will see published content, what information is collected from publishing and explaining the journey that information will then go on. Users in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK will also gain access to advanced advertising preferences, a feature that came to the US earlier in the summer.

Snapchat inks money transfer deal

In unsurprising news, Snapchat has branched out into the digital world and is no longer just another anonymous messaging service. Thanks to a freshly-signed deal with digital payments company, Square, the social network is now ready to begin offering instant in-app money transfers to those willing to sign-up to their new service, Snapcash. Upon creating a Snapcash account, users will be asked to attach an appropriate payment method, and from there they can fire off as many payments as they wish – it’s as simple, and perhaps as worrying as that. For those concerned about the safety of their information, particularly in light of Snapchat’s recent content leak, both companies have confirmed that it will be Square that stores and secures all of your payment information for the foreseeable future. The new application will launch on Android in the US over the coming days, with a wider rollout across the globe and for iOS users expected in the coming months.

Twitter co-founder launches SUPER!

It would seem that with each day that passes by, a new social startup emerges from the digital woodwork. The latest, from Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, is a social networking application that allows for social commentary on a range of different topics. The new application, SUPER!, isn’t too far removed from Twitter, borrowing a number of stylistic choices and influences from the popular social network. The app will fundamentally allow users to broadcast their opinions and thoughts on a diverse range of topics to their eager followers. When users are ready to begin sharing their innermost thoughts, they can pick from default captions that allow followers to identify what exactly their newest post is all about. The creator can then input additional text and imagery, before signing off with their signature by-line, or opting to post their content anonymously. SUPER! is available for iOS and Android users now.

WhatsApp rolls out advanced messaging encryption  

The latest update for WhatsApp for Android has brought perhaps the service’s most surprising, but pleasing feature yet: end-to-end messaging encryption, enabled for all users by default. The advanced encryption is the strongest security any major messaging application has offered so far, beating out tools from Apple, Google and Microsoft. Partnering with Open Whisper Systems for the launch, WhatsApp has used open source code to build the new features. The encryption fundamentally means that WhatsApp doesn’t have the power or the tools to decrypt messages, even if the company is asked to do so by law. The company sets up the exchange between users, but only those two users will have access to the conversation itself. The update should have already been pushed out to all Android devices, and it remains unclear if this update will make its way over to iOS. Regardless, this update signifies an impressive step forward for everyday encryption use.

11/13/2014 3:15:15 PM

This Week in Google

Like its multiple search algorithms, keeping up to date with the latest goings-on at Mountain View can be quite a difficult task. With each new week comes a significant update, refresh or product launch that is almost certainly bigger and more important than the next. Here at Connect, we have rounded up the latest titbits from Google HQ so you can keep stay pressed with the emerging trends and stories. This week, we’ll be talking mobile ads, music subscriptions and why you need to be prepared to install yet another messaging application if you wish to keep the conversation flowing. So, without further ado, here are this week’s biggest Google news items:

In The News rolls out to users across the globe

In early October, Google quietly launched a refreshed news box within its search engine results pages for a small number of users. This new format has now been rolled out across the globe, with users able to keep track of current events directly within SERPs when they make a relevant search.  The company will begin to pull timely content from across the web in order to present users with a range of articles and stories that should, in theory, add value and additional information to their query. The content displayed by Google may come in the form of a video, press release, blog post, photographs, a social media post or a traditional news article. However, the changes have come under fire from the wider online community, with site owners concerned that the short snippets displayed by Google could potentially lower the amount of traffic sent to third-party sites, as users are presented with the information required from the get go.

Mobile ads now present additional information to users

Earlier this week, Google quietly announced via their Google+ profile that some branded search queries may now display a mobile advert with one, two or three business locations for users to choose from when the searcher is within a specific mile radius of their queried company. The change, whilst perhaps an obvious and overdue one, will now allow business owners with multiple premises to ensure their precise locations, contact details and service descriptions are displayed appropriately within mobile ads. The user will be presented with the exact address for the business and the approximate distance from their location at time of searching. This minor update is yet another in Google’s recent shift in promoting local businesses and ensuring they are fairly represented across their SERPs, with the help of Google+ and Google My Business. 

Third-party HTTPS support grows by 300% in 2014

On Wednesday, Google’s Web Performance Engineer, Ilya Grigorik shared some particularly interesting statistics on the ongoing adoption of HTTPS across the top 300,000 sites on the web. The most prevalent statistic showed that HTTPS adoption for those top 300,000 sites has grown by 300%+ over the last two years, from a surprisingly minor 4% to a somewhat healthier 13%. Google has routinely pushed for unified encryption across the web, calling for “HTTPS everywhere” at their annual I/O conference earlier this year. The 9% jump may seem insignificant to many, however, with Google's recent decision to make HTTPS/SSL a positive ranking factor within its many search algorithms, the number is expected to rise dramatically as site owners scramble to bolster their security in order to reap the rewards of a potential ranking boost.

OK Google voice search feature now works in-app

Many are yet to fully experience the hard work and dedication put in by Google in order to deliver the latest update to Android OS, but Google’s developers remain hard at work to ensure your experience is consistent across devices for when you do choose to upgrade to Android Lollipop. The latest in a very long line of Android applications to undergo restoration is Google's Search for Android. Cosmetic changes aside, the update now allows you utilise the infamous ‘OK Google’ voice search feature within the application, allowing you to search with ease. Functionality is expected to be limited in the short term, as developers have to specifically enable the feature within their applications, followed by a formal update submission to Google Play. In addition to refined voice searches, the application can now explore and analyse your upcoming plans and schedule and communicate the details with other on-board applications in order to create a more fluid and intuitive experience for heavy users.

Standalone Messenger app released for Android devices

Not content with just one major messaging application in the shape of the often overlooked, Hangouts, Google has now released another standalone messaging application, with very similar features to the aforementioned social platform. Messenger can be used to send SMS, MMS and audio messages to your existing contacts, with video support expected to be introduced in a future update. The material design-inspired application will come pre-installed (along with Hangouts) on all new devices running Android Lollipop out of the box, but all other users can download the application for free, providing their device is running on Android 4.1 or higher. If you do own a compatible device, Messenger is available to download from the Google Play store now.

YouTube Music Key cranks up the volume

After months of speculation and conjecture from rivals within the streaming field, Google finally unveiled its paid, ad-free YouTube music service this week. The service aims to capitalise on YouTube’s current position as the largest online streaming service in the world by offering tools for both free and paid users. YouTube Music Key will allow early subscribers to use the dedicated YouTube application on their iOS or Android device to watch music videos and listen to songs of their choosing, without ads interrupting playback. A subscription to Music Key will also include all of Google’s existing Play Music features, as well as being able to save songs to your device for offline playback. The service will open to beta testers next week, with UK pricing and a wider released expected at the beginning of next year.

11/4/2014 2:24:43 PM

Safeguarding your online privacy

With each single click, we unconsciously expand our digital footprint by an additional few bytes. If you wish to participate and engage online, you have two general choices: simply accept that your information is floating around in the online ether and push aside doubt and concern, or arm yourself with a digital toolset that can help safeguard your personal information. Should you choose to opt for the latter, this collection of products, services and applications should help you in attempting to win the fight to protect your privacy.

Before we begin, you must remember that there are many other products and services available, and many other steps to take in order to strengthen your privacy. This blog post is intended to present a small number of targeted strategies that we feel can help protect your online privacy. This is not an exhaustive list, and the flippant and developmental nature of the web ensures new advancements are made regularly, so please fully research the methods that you believe could bolster your security before progressing.

 

Tor is a free piece of software, available for Windows, Mac and Linux, that allows users to effectively browse the web anonymously and defend themselves against intrusive traffic analysis. Users can also download a dedicated Tor-enabled browser, which, when paired with the accompanying free software, is considered by many to be perhaps the best privacy tool available online at this point. The majority of individuals that use Tor do so in order to keep websites from tracking their routine online activity. The platform’s network allows users to browse and publish sites without having to reveal their exact location at any point of their journey. Another particularly useful feature of the service is the ability to connect to sites and services that have been blocked by your ISP.

When you visit some of the web’s most popular search engines, your search terms are generally stored by the engine and also passed on to the site that you have clicked through to. So, if you wish to search for something private, and you head to Google or Yahoo, you can essentially leave your privacy at the door. In addition to this, when you visit any site via search engine, your device automatically sends, what it deems to be, relevant information to it. This information can often be used to identify you with frightening accuracy. DuckDuckGo prevents this by default. Instead, when you click on a link displayed on their engine, they will redirect your request and prevent your search terms from joining you. The site you visit will still know you were there, but they won’t know the context behind your visit.

Adblock Plus is, at this point, the world's most popular browser extension. The extension actively works to remove annoying adverts from your recurring online experience. An open source project, created by Wladimir Palant in 2006, the extension itself has no functionality, in the sense that it does not actively block any unwanted on-page elements until it is told to do so by its accompanying filter lists. These lists are essentially an extensive set of rules, which indicate which elements of websites Adblock Plus should actively block. Those behind the extension have expressed their desire to keep the web a safe and secure place, having previously stated that they “do not specifically collect any user data” with the majority of the data available never reaching their servers to begin with.

When browsing the web, you'll have no doubt noticed that a significant amount of URLs typically have the "http://" prefix. However, the majority of sites online are now opting for the more secure version: "https://". Google themselves have backed the advanced encryption, calling for “HTTPS everywhere” at this year’s I/O event. The company is taking things so seriously, that over the past few months, they have been running tests in order to factor in encrypted connections into their search ranking algorithms. If you don’t want to wait for the rest of the web to get on board with wider encryption, you can download the HTTPS Everywhere browser plugin for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. The plugin will automatically attempt to switch any HTTP web address over to HTTPS, ensuring your connection is protected at all times.

It isn’t unfair to assume that we should be in control of our personal information. However, in some cases, simply clicking through to a website allows third-parties to invisibly track our activity. More often than not, this data is sold on or analysed without your permission. Disconnect works to reduce the number of threats capable of doing so, including malware, identity scams and the unauthorised tracking of your search, browsing and in-app activity. The company also pledges to make your online experience “faster, more secure and fairer” in the long time, by blocking tracking requests and reducing bandwidth consumption. Disconnect has a number of free products available for desktop, iOS and Android.

If you’re looking to take your search for online privacy that one step further, a dedicated VPN (Virtual Private Network) is perhaps your most secure and reliable bet in the long term. Put simply, a VPN is a group of computers connected over a public network. When you connect to a VPN, your computer exchanges trusted keys with a desired identifiable server. Once both computers have established an authentic connection, your activity is encrypted and secured from prying eyes. CyberGhost is a fast, simple and efficient way of protecting your online privacy. It offers unrivalled security and anonymity without slowing down your connection. CyberGhost’s VPNs are a paid-for service, with plans available via their website.

We have written at length about the importance of password security in the past. If you value your online security, you should be doing absolutely everything within your power to ensure your passwords are strong and secure, and that nobody else has, or can gain, access to them. 1Password can provide the security and peace of mind that you need in today's online landscape, without adding additional steps to your current online experience. The application works tirelessly to boost productivity, whilst raising critical awareness and strengthening your existing credentials. All of your passwords can be saved and stored safely within 1Password, with access restricted by a unique master password that only the intended user has access to. With handy browser extensions and mobile support out of the box, it is perhaps the simplest way to protect yourself from unwanted online security breaches.  

Cryptocat is free open source software, developed by dedicated encryption professionals to ensure that our online privacy is upheld and accessible to everyone, at all times. The application is designed for encrypted chat, directly within your browser and mobile device. Perhaps the most important feature of the application, for those conscious of social eavesdropping, is that all of the content you send is encrypted before it leaves your device - even Cryptocat’s servers cannot read or access the messages you send and receive. However, Cryptocat isn’t a perfect solution to private communications. Even though Cryptocat provides useful encryption, you should never place complete trust in any single piece of software. The application won’t provide you with anonymity, nor will it mask your IP address. Your identity can still be traced, so placing all of your stock and trust into this application would be critically misguided.

10/31/2014 9:29:20 AM

You say goodbye and I say Ello?

Ello

I must offer a sincere apology before we begin; being situated in the heart of Liverpool city centre, and coincidentally, right next door to the world-famous ‘Hard Day’s Night’ Beatles-themed hotel, led to the questionable pun used for this post’s title. However, this post has nothing to do with John, Paul, Ringo and George – its purpose is to introduce and examine the much-discussed social startup: Ello.

The seemingly uber-trendy social network has been live and active for many months, but after a recent surge in well-documented sign-ups from the LGBT community, Ello has managed to make the increasingly difficult crossover into the mainstream.  Beginning its lifespan in 2013 as a private social network consisting of seven artists and programmers, the network was finally made available to the wider online community in March this year, after a year of beta testing. The site is invitation-only for the time being, so you'll have to pester an early-adopter in order to gain immediate access. You can request an invitation from the site's owners, but Ello has warned that there's a hefty backlog.

Why should I consider using Ello?

So, what makes Ello so special? What is its USP? The network’s founders are positioning it as a network of opposites - the ‘anti-Facebook’, if you will. Their manifesto offers a direct stab at Facebook’s questionable data practices and privacy policies:  “Your social network is owned by advertisers,” it says. “Every post you share, every friend you make and every link you follow is tracked, recorded and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe there is a better way.”

At this moment in time, the site also doesn't carry any advertising, those in control have assured registered users that they will not mine posts for intent and, perhaps most importantly, they have also categorically promised to keep all collated user data away from prying eyes, unless you grant access for them to do so. However, this isn’t a vanity project - the company is looking to make money in some capacity - so in the near future they will begin to sell optional advanced features to users, while retaining a certain level of base functionality for those that do not wish to hand over their hard-earned cash in order to improve their online experience.

A number of well-respected online publications have already begun referring to Ello as a serious contender for Facebook’s social throne. The sheer number of stories in recent months highlighting Facebook’s somewhat unorthodox approach to collecting data has led to many users turning their backs on the network, and left them searching for a network that fills the Facebook-sized hole in their lives. This is perhaps why many are so eager to herald Ello as the social second-coming: the demand for a secure social network is undoubtedly there. However, we must remember the mammoth digital footprint that Facebook already boasts. With nearly 1.3 billion users documenting their daily lives and keeping in touch with loved ones, Ello would not only have to maintain its current explosive rate of growth in order to present a truly credible threat to the blistering Facebook empire, it would have to potentially double or triple it over the coming months to truly begin to play the game.

Should I factor Ello into my businesses’ social strategy?

With reports that Ello is doubling in size every three-to-four days, and getting as many as 38,000 requests from users looking to sign-up per hour, it seems almost impossible to ignore the growth of the network.

Despite these impressive numbers, your best move - if you can find your way into the Ello party - may be to shy away from the network in the short term. While some businesses have already made the risky leap of faith, the network’s anti-advertising stance - which has been perhaps its biggest draw in terms of luring in disgruntled Facebook users - isn’t exactly the most business-friendly model to adopt for those looking to earn a living.

If you do choose to create a profile on the network, be aware that you won’t have access to swathes of revealing data like you do on Facebook, Twitter etc. at this moment in time. This level of privacy is part of the appeal for its users, but it does make the task of pinpointing those who are currently using Ello increasingly difficult. However, it’s reasonably safe to assume from online commentary that the current crowd is comprised of two core groups: the LGBT community that raised the network’s profile so diligently, and those eager early-adopters that choose to engage with products at the first available moment, regardless of initial content, bugs or a lacking UX. 

If these groups sound like they may contain those you wish to engage with or attract, then Ello could be a good place for you to begin to reach out. If you’re looking to offer B2B services or communicate with different consumer groups, then this probably isn’t the best place for you to find them for the time being. That isn’t to say that the network won’t undergo significant UX changes that could lead to the inclusion of your audience in the future. It’s certainly possible, but if your customers aren’t there now, there is very little reason for you to be either. You should also remember that Ello’s anti-advertising stance has got it to the point it is at today. Users no longer want to be interrupted by something they deem to be irrelevant or annoying. If you are only pushing your business or brand on the network, then users will more than likely find your presence irritating.

What now?

Many have tried to reach the pinnacle and conquer the social market before. All but a few have failed – spectacularly. With this, it’s hard to tell if Ello is just the latest minor wave in a turbulent social sea. From our perspective, everything about Ello at this stage seems amateurish: the awkward and underdeveloped design, the lack of SEO benefits, the overambitious ‘freemium’ business model and their penchant for privacy is ripe for risk and attack.

Depending on your industry and the resources you have available, it may be worth devoting time to carving a name for yourself on an as-yet untested and questionable network. However, I can assure you with supreme confidence that you will find that you can reach new social heights elsewhere. Many of us like to jump onto things in the hope that we can embrace their perks and features before everybody else, and there is absolutely no shame in doing so. However, with Ello, you run the risk of doing more damage than good.

10/30/2014 3:43:12 PM

Protect your site from Penguin 3.0

Google Penguin 3.0

In late October, Google pushed out its latest algorithm adjustments, giving the Penguin algorithm its first update in over a year. The update follows Google’s incremental changes to its Panda algorithm in late September, which targeted sites housing thin content and aggregator sites.

The update, which will continue to roll out globally over the coming weeks, is expected to affect around 1% of search queries in US English, according to Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, Pierre Far. This is a significant drop from the 3.1 percent of queries initially affected by Penguin when it launched in April 2012. Google has expressed their wish for these changes to be viewed as more of a data refresh, and not a wider rewrite of the algorithm. This is expected to occur at the beginning of next year.

Google’s request has surprised the online community, as the simple denomination of the update and the extended period between releases had raised user’s expectations for a significant update. However, Google has assured users that the Penguin algorithm will now receive regular updates, allowing those that have been hit by the changes to recover quicker.

What is the purpose of Penguin?

The update aims to decrease the rankings and positioning of sites that actively violate Google’s current Webmaster Guidelines and complimentary best practices. The Penguin filter targets sites that use unnatural methods to obtain valuable backlinks, such as low-quality links, paying for backlinks from third-parties, the promotion of mass backlinks across the web and obvious spam behaviour.

Typically, most search results will contain at least one or two sites featured across the first two pages that simply don’t deserve to be there. Penguin should, in effect, knock those sites down the rankings, and because Penguin’s effects still apply to redirects, those sites won’t be able to creep back up under another guise in the future.

The refresh should, in turn, now help sites that have opted to clean up any lingering spam signals discovered in the previous Penguin iteration, and demote sites with newly-discovered spam. However, as this is a rollout that is expected to last multiple weeks, users may not see immediate results and should continue to monitor their site's analytics very carefully for any sudden changes in organic search rankings throughout the next few weeks.

Sites that actively attempt to keep a clean sheet and stay abreast of the latest SEO techniques more than likely won't see a significant impact from these changes . If you are regularly publishing high-quality content and resisting the urge to stuff irrelevant keywords into your content for the sake of boosting your rankings, then you should remain safe this time round.

Who has been affected so far?

At time of writing, experts are still combing the over positive and negative results of the deployment. At face value, sites that have practised aggressive SEO techniques previously, sites that received a penalty as a result of Penguin 1.0 or 2.0 and sites that have successfully disavowed links in compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines have received sizeable ranking boosts. However, a small number of sites have seen moderate ranking drops due to operating in highly competitive industries and competitors recovering from previous penalties.

We will begin to obtain a fuller picture in the coming weeks, but immediate evidence suggests that the update has succeeded in penalising offenders from the index. We must remember that if these adjustments are merely a small refresh, when Google does decide to push out a larger update, the results may not be so welcoming.

I think I may have been penalised, what can I do to begin recovery?

If you are the owner of a SMB, keeping up to date with Google's dynamic algorithms can be an arduous and intimidating task. You will more than likely have enough to deal with online, without  attempting to decipher exactly what each update will mean for your ongoing SEO strategy.

If you are comfortable with the techniques and terminology, and you have already begun to notice significant changes in your data, then you should take immediate measures to identify any questionable third-party sites that could be linking to your content. If contacting the original source of the links doesn't yield any positive results, site owners can use Google's Disavow Tool to try and begin the process of disavowing unwanted links from its algorithms.

Perhaps the easiest and most important step to take in ensuring your site isn’t penalised when an update is rolled out, is to ensure that you only chase quality and credible links in the future. Should you acquire any unnatural links in the interim, you will have to wait for the next update until your website can even begin to recover.

So, try to follow these three simple steps in order to keep your head above the water:

  • You should protect your site by conducting a detailed analysis of your current backlink profile using one of the many tools available online.
  • Begin to filter all external links to your site and determine those that are of a high quality. Remember, not all backlinks will add value to your site. Pay attention to the relevancy of a link, its provenance, their sourced domains and the pages they lead to.
  • Try to build an impenetrable Penguin-proof fortress for the future using some up-to-date link building techniques, such as implied link usage, credible social citations and competitive backlink analysis.
10/28/2014 2:20:21 PM

This Week in Social - October 24th

Welcome to the first edition of a new feature we are developing here at Connect: ‘This Week in…’

Each week, we will be exploring the latest industry news in a way that helps you #GetConnected and keep up to date with the very latest developments.

This week, we are shining our spotlight on social media. Here are just some of the biggest news items that caught our eye over the past week…

Facebook debuts ‘Rooms’

Facebook introduced a new application to its ongoing roster last week. The new application, ‘Rooms’, allows users to create personalised virtual places, designed for anonymous discussion on an infinite range of topics. Each unique room will consist of a feed of photos, videos and text, with the topic determined by the room’s creator. Early adopters have already created rooms for everything from international sports to international cuisine. ‘Rooms’, a Facebook Creative Labs application, is available now on iOS.

Twitter aims to win back disgruntled developers with ‘Fabric’

On Wednesday, Twitter announced a new modular mobile platform that aims to make it easier for third-party developers to incorporate the network’s features and services into their own native applications. The new platform, ‘Fabric’, is made of three modular kits that seek to address some of the most common and frustrating challenges that developers currently face: stability, distribution, revenue and identity. The platform combines the services of Crashlytics, MoPub, Twitter and many others to help developers build more stable third-party applications, generate stronger ad revenue, promote distribution and simplify the existing log-in process. ‘Fabric’ will be released to the wider mobile community in the coming weeks.

Ello signs no-ads charter

Social media’s latest craze, Ello, gained serious ground last month, appearing almost out of the blue as the much-needed antagonist to the increasingly controversial, Facebook. The social startup has previously assured users that it will remain advertisement-free and never sell users' data to persistent third-parties. Last week, the company legally sealed the deal and became a public-benefit corporation, with a charter prohibiting it in "the strongest legal terms possible" from making any money by selling ads or personal user data. The charter also requires that any company that may choose to acquire Ello in the future must adhere to the same rules.  

Twitter attempts to ditch lengthy logins

Twitter has also announced a new development tool that aims to do away with user's lengthy login credentials. The new tool, ‘Digits’, offers a personalised replacement for the traditional username and password log-in process. ‘Digits’ will allow users to log into websites with their mobile phone number - an identifier that each user is seemingly more likely to remember over time. Instead of creating a unique password for access, users will be sent a text message with a short code that they must use in order to log in.

Tsu pledges to share revenue with content creators

Emerging social startup, Tsu, has made a daring initial promise to its audience. The network will allow users to effectively “own” content housed on the site and share a percentage of the revenue gained.  The network’s core features include; peer-to-peer merchant services, fair content ownership and personalised sign-ins. Due to the increasing popularity of content creation across the Internet’s many social networks, allowing full content ownership could play a significant part in determining which creators commit to uploading their content onto certain networks. Tsu’s founder, Sebastian Sobczack, pledged to offer ongoing support for new and existing users. He said: “With Tsu, users can maintain real ownership of the content they have created, and they will be rewarded for it proportionally.”

Snowball’ unifies the multi-social process

Snowball’, a Google Ventures-funded application is looking to remove the need for multiple social applications to access your notifications. The application, which remains in beta testing for the time being, allows users to skim their incoming messages from Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and SMSs in one place. The application doesn’t remove the immediate need for multiple accounts, and you will need to visit each unique application in order to respond to any received messages. However, it should at least, make tracking social notifications that little bit simpler in the long term for the majority of users. The application is Android-only for the foreseeable future and the beta is available to users worldwide now.

10/9/2014 3:21:23 PM

Why blog?

Why blog?

The blog is a curious beast. Perhaps at the true peak of its social popularity at the beginning of the decade, blogging is viewed by some as irrelevant in today’s digital marketing environment. However, if we look a little closer; a blog is ultimately one of the most important ways for a business owner to showcase their business and develop an intricate connection with their customers. A static and faceless platform is essentially an online brochure – a virtual blank canvas that does little to entice the consumer into investing in what you have to offer. In the current digital climate, where engagement is almost viewed as a necessity, blogs can provide a practical and dynamic way to market your business online.

I’m not a big believer in regurgitating pointless statistics in a bid to hammer a point home, but for the unassuming business owner, these blogging statistics almost speak for themselves:

  • 23% of time spent online is spent viewing blogs and social networks.
  • 77% of users actively read blogs when they venture online.
  • Small businesses with current and active blogs generate 126% more leads compared to those without.
  • 61% of consumers questioned admitted that they had made a purchase after reading a blog post.
  • 70% of those questioned prefer to gain insight into a company via self-published content rather than being bombarded with intrusive online ads.

Are you still a little apprehensive about the power and benefits of blogging? Think about this hypothesis: You’re the owner of a local business - consider what happens when a prospective customer finds your website thanks to a fateful Google search. Upon entering the site, they are greeted by a stagnant website that offers limited information about the business and what you can offer them. On face value, which is often enough time to influence decisions, there is very little that sets you apart from a no doubt, bustling list of nearby competitors.

Now, consider what happens when that same prospective customer refers back to their initial search and chooses to visit a competitor’s site. Their site offers the basics in the same way you do, but they are also greeted by a link to a company blog, where they discover a wealth of additional personality-driven textual and visual content. A 5-minute browsing session allows them to gain a deeper understanding of what the competitor can offer them, their core values and the blog will also present them with the opportunity to engage with the company and spark the conversation that could potentially lead to a conversion that you could have been considered for.

Getting started

If you believe you’re ready to delve into the world of blogging, you’ll need to speak to your existing provider, or research another, in order to establish whether or not your current platform will allow you to branch out into blogging. If not, there are a number of external options available to you, with WordPress providing perhaps the most reputable blogging solution on the market. You should seek help if you’re unsure how to proceed from here, as a blog set up under a different domain from your main website won’t benefit from any increased traffic and will only cause unnecessary confusion for your existing customer base.

From here, you must ensure that you are happy with your decision, committed to making the leap and that you understand your goals and aspirations for the future of the blog. It is incredibly important to know exactly what you want to accomplish and how you’ll eventually measure any success. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what you would like to achieve from publishing content, you will end up disappointed in both your published output, and the insightful data that stems from it.

Housing a blog on your site doesn’t have to be an all-consuming feature, but it will require an element of patience and planning. To keep your existing audience engaged and to begin targeting prospective customers, you will need to offer up dynamic content twice a week, on average. The content should be of inherent interest to your audience and it should make them want to come back for more after each piece is published. If you proceed without assured knowledge of your ideal customer or follower, there is a strong chance your content is going to be bland, indirect and inoffensive. If you take the time to pinpoint your ideal demographic, you will be able to create content that will communicate your message far more effectively.

You should also ensure that you can frequently take the time to research and identify new topics within your industry or realm of interests (and those shared by your audience) and vary the content on your blog based on these topics. As a rule of thumb, and regardless of your industry or set-up, you should consider providing the latest news from the business itself, helpful tips, wider industry news, customer testimonials, visual content, informative how-to guides and commentary that offers a fresh perspective on relevant discussions. Ultimately, your blog should reflect your brand’s values and beliefs and showcase your flare and personality.  

Schedule and promote

Consistency and promotion are perhaps, two of the most fundamental aspects of blogging. Consistency first, you should be looking to establish a set blogging schedule, with regular posts published at set times. If you are already using an analytics platform to gather data about your customers, you should examine the time at which your site is receiving the most traffic, and then adjust your content schedule accordingly.

Remember, you don’t have to push out content and updates on a daily basis – you can leave that level of interactivity to your wider social media output. After all, blogging is an intensive investment, and it will take up some of your time, so don’t rush content out for the sake of sheer visibility. However, it is important to maintain a level of regularity, in order to help you retain your existing audience and gain new followers. A consistent output will also help in meeting expectations and establish an element of trust between your brand and your customers. These relationships are invaluable and can be very difficult to re-establish so proceed with care, attention and respect for your audience if you wish to maintain the crucial link.

Blogging should also be at the heart of your wider ongoing social media strategy. Have you yet to take your business social? Check out our guide to establishing the appropriate network(s) for your business here. Each time you publish a new blog post, you should be looking to share the title, an interesting quote or visual aid from the piece and a link to the blog post across your existing social networks. Providing your follower count is at a reasonable level and you’re willing to put in the time and effort required, your followers will hopefully then share the content and effectively drive traffic to your site for you. Opportunities like this don’t occur online very often, so grab this one with both hands and capitalise on the current digital marketing techniques now.

Sharing your published blog content on social media is something that requires a little bit of trial and error, particularly if the concept is new to you. As with many things in life, sometimes it is best to approach the situation with care. Don’t be afraid to play things safe to begin with – it is worth taking the time to establish which approach works best for you and for your followers. If you follow this plan of attack, you should be able to build sustainable traffic from social media to your blog, and over time you’ll learn how to adapt your strategy to fit your unique goals and desires.

Looking ahead

From a practical standpoint, and for those looking to get ahead in this ever-changing digital landscape: blogging simply makes sense. Despite hesitance from some, blogging continues to represent one of digital marketing’s core techniques, and with a little extra effort and very little expense, you can build and cater for an audience unlike ever before, boost your credibility within your industry, boost search engine rankings, increase website traffic, and match or out-do your competitor’s online efforts. These benefits are too great for any adapting SMB to pass on. Is blogging right for your business? The answer is almost certainly; a resounding yes.

10/3/2014 2:33:12 PM

The importance of data security

Data security

Last week, we wrote about the importance of continuous password management and informed online security. It seems that no matter how many catastrophic online threats we hear about in the media, somehow, passwords still remain a serious chink in our digital armour. However, passwords aren’t the only online credentials you should be actively looking to protect. On December 4th, Google expects search queries from mobile users to overtake the number of searches made by desktop users. The number of mobile searches is expected to reach into hundreds of billions per year. At the beginning of 2013, mobile traffic accounted for 22.75% of total website visits in the UK. This share increased significantly throughout 2013, resulting in mobile’s share edging closer to 40% of website visits. If this figure is to increase, which the majority of experts predict it will, we could potentially see a mobile share of close to 60% before the year is over.

These figures offer conclusive proof, should you really need it at this point, that the overall balance of the multi-channel world is constantly changing. It is safe to say that ‘mobile-first’ is no longer a meaningless mantra tossed around by those ‘in the know’ – it is now part of our daily make-up.

Mobile devices have always come with an attached stigma surrounding security concerns – how can something so small and portable contain all of our information safely and securely, many ask. The more we rely upon these devices to help us carry out basic and advanced tasks, the more experts warn us of potential threats to our online privacy, and as part of the traditional domino effect, the more we panic about our data, and rightly so. Online threats, such as the Heartbleed security bug and the recently discovered Shellshock bug, shouldn’t be glazed over. The threat surrounding them is very much real, and incredibly worrying. However, if, as the aforementioned figures suggest, we’re not going to be retiring our devices any time soon, we need to break the cycle and get on board with secure practices and techniques in order to protect our data for the long haul.

Make no mistake, well-made smartphones and their respective operating systems actively encourage us to offload our sensitive information – mainly for ease of use and familiarity. We’ve now reached a point where we are inputting our bank details, payment information and addresses into our devices for use across the plethora of applications available to us. But do we truly understand how difficult, or not so as the case may be, it would be for an attacker to gain access to this slew of delicate information? If you’re a mobile user and you would like to feel more comfortable using your device, or if you’re a business owner looking to provide a secure and safe environment for your customers to interact with, here are a few simple, yet effective steps to ensure your data is protected in the best way possible.

Individual safety measures  

  • Set up a pin on your device: This is perhaps the easiest, yet the most commonly overlooked step you can take to securing your device from prying eyes. A memorable pin that only you are aware of ensures your data’s safety should the worst-case scenario occur. If your device boasts biometric features, you can choose to add an extra layer of personal security that is truly unique to you, and you alone. 
  • Manage your passwords effectively: We spoke about this step at length in our previous blog post, ‘Is your password secure?’. Passwords are our digital passport. Without them, the web would be a dangerous and uneasy place. With them, and with developed privacy knowledge, we can work together to create stronger and safer passwords that will help shape our future on the web.
  • Encrypt your sensitive information: If you have data housed on your device that is sensitive or that matters most to you, you should be taking the steps required to encrypt it. The majority of devices on the market will provide built-in encryption should you wish to activate it. If you do wish for your device to encrypt your sensitive information, you must remember that, in most instances, encryption is completely irreversible, which means you will lose all information, if that information is not backed up.
  • Back-up your data: You can also very easily back-up your information via the pre-packaged software that came with your device, or store it on your own portable storage equipment for easier access. There is also the option of backing up to cloud storage, however, recent stories within the media have perhaps tarnished this method slightly, suggesting that it could put your data at risk, rather than safely contain it.
  • Secure your networks: This step may not apply to the majority of users, as many of the bigger network providers in the UK now force password-protection onto new routers by default. If your router doesn’t require a password to connect to the Internet, you should ensure that a password is set up immediately. A strong password not only keeps your data safe, but it also allows you to control the number of users and devices connected to the network at any given time. A final tip for public Wi-Fi usage, do not login to personal applications whilst connected to these networks, particularly those that do not require a password to connect – you do not know what is happening with your inputted data, so it is better to be safe than sorry.

Business safety measures

For business owners, this reliance on mobile usage creates a unique set of granular privacy concerns. How do you know exactly who is visiting your site across multiple devices? How do you deliver the content they want, in the manner in which they want it? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you continue to make money as this propensity surges?

  • Follow legislation to the letter: If you hold and process information about your customers, employees or suppliers, you are legally obliged to protect that information. Under the Data Protection Act, you must:
  • Only collect information that you need for a specific purpose.
  • Keep it safe and secure.
  • Ensure it is relevant and up to date.
  • Only hold the amount of detail you require, and only for as long as you need it.
  • Inform the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) exactly how your business uses any personal information.
  • Allow the subject of the information the opportunity to view collated data upon request.

By keeping consumer data safe and secure, you can enhance your own reputation, increase customer confidence in your brand and move forward with a pro-active and cost-effective stance. If you knowingly withhold or misuse any personal data, you could be given a fine or made to pay compensation to those involved.

  • Nail down the sign-in process: At this moment in time, tracking multi-device users with Google Analytics isn’t anywhere near as easy as it should be. So, in the interim, you need to ensure that your sign-in/sign-up process is safe, secure and working effectively for users across multiple devices. If a user finds it difficult to login or register, they may simply choose to shop elsewhere and you will continue to lose out as many more follow suit. You can also enable social sign-ins that allow customers to login using their already-trusted credentials from a social network of their choosing, providing a safe and familiar bridge if you don’t have the time or recourses to redesign your existing setup.
  • Display your privacy practices: Irrespective of whether or not you sell products via your businesses’ website, you should be actively notifying your customers of how you plan on protecting their data privacy, what you may or may not do with any collected data and how you will be storing it, safely or otherwise. In terms of industry-leading standards, a best practice is to display a pop-up or dialog box when any detailed communication is made between the consumer and your server. You should be doing this any time you ask your customers for thorough or sensitive information about themselves.
  • Allow the user a choice: During the registration process, you should be allowing your users the opportunity to fine-tune and customise the information they receive from you, via newsletters or targeted emails. In an age where customers can customise their experience, add promotional codes from email campaigns and checkout using a method that suits them, you must allow for freedom of choice in order to reflect the positive aspects of your brand.

In an age where our daily activities are featured across numerous social networks, applications and online sites, our data is potentially more at risk than ever before. Our online information and identities will continue to expand and develop as new products are released, new networks are launched and new experiences are to be had online. We all have a responsibility, as either an individual online or as a business owner with an online platform, to embrace these changes and ensure that the data contained within them is stored safely and securely within the digital realm.

9/26/2014 10:59:25 AM

Is your password secure?

Is your password secure?

Passwords can often by the bane of our online lives. Almost every site we interact with asks us to create and remember a unique 8-30 digit password in order to gain access to our information and personal interests. These requests can be irritating and cumbersome, but make no mistake: passwords are fundamental to our online privacy and security. Your passwords are essentially the keys to your online home, without them you cannot access the things that matter most to you and if they fall into the wrong hands, the situation can spiral out of control very quickly. If you value your online security, you should be doing everything within your power to ensure your passwords are strong and secure, and that nobody else has access to them.

In recent weeks, it has been almost impossible to escape the barrage of stories relating to online hacks. Earlier this month, it was reported that hackers posted, what they claimed to be, the email addresses, usernames and passwords of five million Gmail users; potentially leaving them open to identity theft or being locked out of their own private email accounts. Google later confirmed that of the five million logins leaked, only 2% currently worked. At first, this figure seems reassuring, but that is still, a worryingly large, 100,000 accounts that have now been comprised, with the correct login details floating around the web for anybody to see.

So, what can I do about it?

It’s very easy to be worried and completely overwhelmed by the constant reports of hacking, but the web is, by and large, a safe and secure outlet and you should continue to use it - just with a degree of security and vigilance. It’s safe to say that we have all become a little too entrenched in the digital landscape to take ourselves out of the picture completely at this point.  

Firstly, it is crucial to pick strong passwords that you are not using anywhere else across the web. Ideally, the password should be 8-30 characters long (8 characters should be the absolute bare minimum) and a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Create acronyms, make substitutions and relate memorable moments to your passwords – just ensure they aren’t painstakingly obvious to those on the outside looking in.

You should also:

  • Ensure your passwords are unique, private and not easily guessed: In 2014, trying to use ‘password’ or ‘12345678’ as your password is the equivalent of voluntarily helping an intruder in your home – you simply wouldn’t do it. Mix up your passwords and create memorable nuggets of information that mean something to you.
  • Don’t share your password with those close to you: With services like Netflix and Spotify continuing to increase in popularity, it may be necessary to share your password with a loved one or friend. However, common sense suggests that if more than one person knows your password, the chances of your accounts being compromised increases.
  • You should also remember to change your passwords several times throughout the calendar year. Familiarity and taking a lax approach to your online privacy and security could easily result in loss of sensitive data, or worse.
  • We all have credentials for numerous different sites, networks and portals. Once again, it is common sense to assume that if one of your private accounts is compromised and your login details are identical or similar for your other online accounts, they will be susceptible to attack too.
  • Rely on pen and paper: Feel free to write your passwords down in a place that is secure and private to you. There are relatively safe password management products available online: 1Password and LastPass in particular require an encrypted master password in order to access your private password vault. These products have garnered particularly strong reviews online and do present a strong alternative to simply writing your passwords down. Ultimately, you should rely on instinct and store your passwords in a manner that is comfortable and sensible for you in the long term.
  • Start using two-factor authentication: Almost every major online network worth their grain of salt is now using two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is a process in which the user provides two means of identification in order to access their account; one of which is your traditional password and the other is a single or multi-use code that is unique to your account.
  • Manage your password recovery options: If you forget your password or become locked out of your account, you will need to gain access again. Many services will send an email to your recovery email address if you need to reset your password, so make sure that your recovery email address is up-to-date and an account that you can still access easily.
  • Don’t rely on obvious security answers: Try to make sure your answer is unique, but memorable, so that even if someone guesses the correct answer, they won’t be certain on how it should be entered. Also, ensure the answer is at the very least memorable to you. If you can’t remember it, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to regain access to the original account.

Passwords are fundamentally our digital passport. Without them, the web would be a dangerous and uneasy place. With them, and with developed privacy knowledge, we can work together to create stronger and safer passwords that will help shape the future of the web. You should only take as much advice from this blog post as you are comfortable with, but remember, as we strap always-connected wearables to our wrists and buy products instantly with a single-click, our privacy and security has never been more important.

9/25/2014 2:55:15 PM

Google debuts structured snippets

Google's new structured snippets

Earlier this week, Google announced the launch of a feature that has undergone vigorous testing over the past few weeks: structured rich snippets within search engine results pages (SERPS).

Structured snippets are, essentially, a refined and developed version of rich snippets that have been integrated into search results for a number of years. Upon searching, Google would push relevant and interesting nuggets of information to the user in order to enhance their search experience. With the introduction of these new snippets, users will now be greeted with embedded minute facts and details based upon their original search query.   

According to Google’s ‘Research’ blog, in order to produce this granular detail within search results, Google’s algorithms extract tabular data from live web pages in order to provide additional details surrounding inputted queries. The company also added that the quality of facts and details populated by these structured snippets will vary according to individual page content. Google has pledged to make gradual improvements to the relevance and accuracy of the information being displayed to users in the coming months.

Based on preliminary testing, the range of areas and topics covered by these snippets is reasonably broad for an initial launch. Searching for superhero stats to company profiles and in-depth product specifics to major global events produces a granular level of detail that hasn’t been seen previously. The results offer a rounded and specific view of key information. So, if a user is searching for the exact measurement of a product, or a key date in history, they will no longer necessarily have to click through to the subsequent web page in order to gain access to the information they require. At time of writing, it would appear that Google only allows one structured snippet to be displayed within its SERPS at any given time. 

These changes, at present, are incredibly fresh. It is worth noting that, as per the majority of Google’s changes and updates to search, the overall reach of these structured snippets will continue to grow over the coming weeks and months. The majority of users are currently searching for established phrases in order to make the snippets appear. However, as the structured snippets are populated to a wider user base, it is highly likely that publishers, business owners and webmasters will face challenges across the board. The natural assumption and key takeaway from these changes is the possibility that the snippets will remove the need for users to click through to published pages. Simply by playing devil’s advocate; if a user is interested in purchasing a DSLR camera and they’re particularly interested in the model’s megapixels or optical zoom scope, if Google can offer the answer to their question instantly, they won’t need to click through to the manufacturer’s web page in order to find the in-depth specifications.

Google debuts structured snippets

This is simply scratching the surface of these changes, and there are many subsequent questions that will appear in due course; will these snippets truly decrease click-through rates? Will they improve the user experience? Will sites using these snippets receive a visibility boost within SERPs?

Ultimately, Google will be hoping that these structured snippets will help organise, inform and enhance the existing search experience. There are still a significant number of sites online that don’t have a specific structure within SERPs due to minimal or complete lack of identifiable mark-up. If these snippets can help retain an element of order and organisation for these sites, then users will benefit in the long run. Also, if Google can utilise these snippets appropriately, then their penchant for focussing on user intent and answering queries succinctly will continue to develop and prosper.