Internet domain and hosting conundrums – by Erez Benari

Internet domain and hosting conundrums – by Erez Benari

The availability of cheap domain and website hosting services like Wix, HostGator and GoDaddy have made website ownership as common as cellphones. However, if not managed carefully, owning a domain or website can make you a target for hackers, and in some cases, things can get ugly.

The main challenge with domain ownership is that it’s managed by companies which employ regular people like you and me. Some of these companies are well-managed and secure, while others are more susceptible to various types of attacks. Using different techniques, from cracking a user’s email through advanced social-engineering attacks, crackers have been hijacking domains for years, often causing huge damages to the original domain owners. For example, this story describes the battle Diigo had to go through when their domains was hijacked for ransom.

Even when a domain registrar has strict and secure policies regarding domain transfers, this doesn’t guarantee our safety. For example, in the case of one of CreateHive’s own customers (who shall remain anonymous), a Canadian company used a legal loophole to forcefully and secretly take over an American domain named owned by a former-partner.

The big question, of course, is what can we do to prevent this from happening. Well, ultimately, if the hijacker is willing to go to any length, not all attacks can be prevented, and that is a risk we need to learn to live-with (similar techniques can and have been used to hijack phone numbers, and even mailing addresses). However, there are a few best-practices we should all follow to make us lesser-desirable targets.

First, for any account that supports it (especially email), enable two-factor authentication (2FA), as well as any other security features that are available. For example, Gmail supports two-factor authentication, so that’s a no-brainer, even if it does make life a little more complicated. When setting up accounts, make sure you use long and complex passwords that can’t be easily guessed. Try to avoid using similar or identical passwords across multiple services, and avoid setting your account-recovery questions to something that’s easy to find (that’s how the Fappening happened!).

Another thing to avoid is using your domain for your email, or at least, use an external email (like gmail) for the primary and administrative accounts. The reason for this is because if someone hijacks your domain, that gives them control over your email as well, which would allow them to harvest sensitive business data, block major operational work, and even use the account to crack other services.

When buying domains and setting up hosting, make sure you use a well-known and large provider which is in your own country, and prefer one that has a good reputation for customer support. I know that it’s tempting to choose a 10$/year hosting instead of $100/year, but those 90 bucks could be the difference between sleeping well at night and losing thousands of dollars while your domain is pawned. Also, try to avoid sub-registrars and hosters (those are companies that pretend to be a hoster or registrar, but actually just re-sell a service by someone else). Yahoo does this, for example, as well as 1dollar-webhosting.com. Another thing that could help is buying a domain-privacy, if the registrar allows it (most do, and it’s not expensive). This isn’t a real blocker for any serious attacker, but it will deter many who are looking for easy prey.

Finally, one thing that may be harder, but worth considering, is trying to design your business in a way that doesn’t make you too dependent on your digital assets. It’s the classic idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket. One step could be using multiple email addresses and making sure customers know them all (as well as your phone number). If you sell online, offer your products through multiple venues like eBay and Amazon, instead of only via your site. Also, if you do have multiple online presence points, make sure you monitor them all routinely (for example, if you are listed on google maps, check the listing at least twice a month).

In closing, it becomes apparent that in today’s world of cyber crime, owning a domain and website is not as simple and trivial as it may seem. However, the answer is not to shy away from the internet, but to realize that security planning needs to be part of our routine. Just like we install locks on our doors and alarm systems in our offices and stores, so must we invest thought, time and money in securing our digital assets. With some clear thinking and planning, most of us will never fall victim to cyber hijackers.

How We Boost Creativity

How We Boost Creativity

Everybody has their own way to boost creativity. Some read, others watch movies, walk outdoors, enjoy delicious foods, explore museums, etc. I enjoy all of those, but mostly I need my puzzles, those are my brain food.

Why puzzles you may ask? I crave the challenge that forces me to think outside of the box. As a designer it is good practice, as they require a clear and analytical approach. That practice is what helps me to bring new ideas to the table and to effectively manage the design process.

In a world overly branded, it is not enough to get inspired by our surroundings, hoping to improve existing concepts. We, designers, need to INNOVATE!

Lucky me, Sunita keeps bringing me new puzzles. This one has the right balance of fun vs challenge.

Now, what boost your creativity?

Copyrights Common Sense

Copyrights Common Sense

First I must admit, this blog post, in particular, is being written not only from my professional designer’s point of view but from a very personal place as well. Copyright matters affect me on both levels and evoke strong feelings about honor and courtesy, even before consideration of the legal aspects.

In the follow, I won’t get into the laws and formal regulations, as there are enough articles written about that. Instead, I will try to appeal to your common sense.

Copyright Concept:

To simplify the concept of copyright into a few words is very simple: “I create it, therefore it is mine.

Most of us are very familiar with the concept of ownership:

  • If someone takes something from us without our consent, we consider it theft.
  • If we want something that belongs to someone else, either we buy it or we will ask for permission to borrow it, take good care of it, and return it to the owner as agreed.

So why when it comes to copyright, do so many people disregard these basic rules?

The problem:

Copyright infringements have increased along with internet growth. The internet brought us closer to endless resources, textually and visually. With so much data and material within reach, the lines of ownership become blurry. Adding to the problem, is the sense of anonymity users have, that in some cases translate to a lack of responsibility of how they act over the web.

More and more I see a shift of how people perceive “ownership”. What once was “I create it, therefore it is mine,” has become “I could copy it, therefore it is mine to use.” Well, not really.

As a designer I have been asked many times to integrate images or other artwork (provided by a client) into my designs. When I ask the origin of the material I often get the answer, “From Google or Bing image search.” My reply is always, “Sorry but I can’t use it, unless you purchase the license of usage.” Then, I have found myself with very disappointed and often angry clients who have a hard time understanding why they need to pay for something that they can just copy and paste to their own computer. After all, it was there for all to see.

Copyright common sense:

After years trying to simplify a good and short answer to explain what is wrong with that scenario, I came up with this analogy:

While browsing the web you like one of their images/articles, so you decide to take it and use it in yours;

Is the same as:

While eating in a restaurant you like their chairs, so you decide to take one to use in your home.

Even then, some people can’t shake the idea of paying for something that they could so easily copy and reapply to their use for free, thinking that after all it is the internet, who will know? But ask yourself, is it committing a crime suddenly ok, because your chances of getting caught are low?

Summery:

Photographers, designers, writers, marketers… we all work very hard and put a lot of effort into what you see as a final product. Some materials may have been published independently while others may have been commissioned by clients. We are all happy that you like what we did, so much so that you would like to use it for your stuff too. What now? Ask us for permission. You may be requested to pay a one-time fee, or a licensing fee for repeat usage, or simply credit the maker. There will be times you may not receive permission to use the material at all. But there may also be times you are able to at no cost.

If you can’t locate the author, too bad. That does not mean you can use the material, it just means you need to keep looking till you do. Or try creating your own original material. In summary, I hope people will apply the same common sense on ownership ideals on the web as they do in real life.

Responsive Web Design 101

Responsive Web Design 101

Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach that is becoming more and more popular if not the way to have a site nowadays. The concept aims at designing sites to embrace the flexibility, and unpredictability of internet browsers and throw away fixed widths. The end goal is to design once and have it presented appropriately everywhere whether it be displayed on a giant monitor or a tiny mobile device.

With this new method on the rise more like routine these days, there are changes in the workflow that every designer/client should be aware of:

  • Content Priority: Info/content first. It’s best to think what info do you want your viewer to see first – especially when an average viewer has a very (very very very) short attention span.
  • Think small, then big – MOBILE FIRST. In this day and age, most check websites on their mobile devices whether it be phones, tablets, phablets etc. so be sure to cater the design more for mobile and work from there for the full-size site on a desktop.
  • Consistency is key.

Our graphic header is a great example of how RWD works showing the original graphic on a laptop and how it may translate to smaller mobile devices.

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Helpful articles:

W3Schools – CSS Intro to RWD
W3Schools – HTML Intro to RWD
Smashing Magazine – Responsive Web Design Guidelines and Tutorials

Responsive Web Design in a nutshell:

rwd-content-is-like-water-1980

WordPress Plugin Starter Kit

WordPress Plugin Starter Kit

Here is a compiled list of plugins we recommend installing to your WordPress site ranging from super helpful to bells and whistles type plugins.

WordPress sites have been a common request from clients here at CreateHive. With each site, Paula and I notice that there are standard plugins we instinctually install into each client’s site. Gathered here is a list of plugins we definitely install and some extras that have been very nice additions to sites.

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Plugins that help behind the scenes during the construction of a new site:

Database Help
To update the domain/url from the database (without sifting through code) – serves as an easy search and replace.

Plugins:
Go Live Update URLs

Under Construction
This is for when we are working on a live site and not wanting to fully launch it yet. It puts an “Under Construction” sign up as we work.

Plugins:
Coming Soon / Maintenance mode Ready!

Elegant Themes Helpers
Since we frequent the use of the DIVI theme from Elegant themes, here are some helpful plugins to help facilitate the use of the theme.

Plugins:
Elegant Themes Updater

Code
Helps implement code into posts/pages like PHP or JS.

Plugins:
Insert HTML Snippet

Child Theme Aggregate
Helps create new child theme without you creating your own on the backend side.

Plugins:
Child Theme Configurator

Security

Plugins:
Wordfence Security

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Style plugins to help the construction of a site:

Forms
Some clients want a more customized form vs. the standard WordPress one.

Plugins:
Ninja Forms
WordPress Appointment Booking and Online Scheduling Plugin by vCita

Social Networking
Different ways to integrate social networks to WordPress sites.

Plugins:
jQuery Pin It Button For Images
Pinterest Pin It Button For Images

Bells and Whistles
Some common additions clients typically like in their site.

Plugins:
Kiwi Logo Carousel
YouTube 

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Plugins that help once site is up and running:

SEO/Tracking
Helpful tools to help track stats for sites.

Plugins:
Google XML Sitemaps 
Google Analytics by Yoast
Yoast SEO Plugin

General Fixes / Help
Fixes to help the site. Often are changes made by WordPress updates.

Plugins:
Advanced Excerpt
– Duplicate Post

What is SEO?

What is SEO?

If you’ve ever wondered what SEO really means…

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a group of actions affecting your website or web page organic (not paid) visibility and ranking in web search results.

SEO most common misunderstanding:

It would be nice if SEO worked as easy as a snap of a finger. The reality of things is that having a beautiful website does not necessarily mean you will be first in line or even on the first pages on Google or other search engine results.

More than it seems:

There are a lot of considerations when designing a website that would work efficiently with SEO. Also, the build-up of a good search ranking does not end when the site is up, but is an ongoing hard work that should continue as long as the website exists.

What search engines look for?

Search engines look for relevant written information and rich content, in contrast to obvious advertisements or selling blurbs. They look for how many other sites found your site relevant by linking to it. Also, engines look at how often you update your content to keep up with the dynamic demand.

As far as ranking goes, written content will always come first, before images, before movies, before music or effects extravaganza.

As a design company, our challenge is to find the right balance between relevant content and a visually appealing results.

Here are some tips:

  • Submit your site to the search engines:
    • You will never be indexed unless you announce your presence by adding your site to the search engines.

      Google: www.google.com/addurl.html, Bing: http://www.bing.com/toolbox/submit-site-url

    • The most common search engines are Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Btw, Yahoo’s search is actually provided by Bing.
    • Submitting your site to the search engine is the first step on your way. Although most times this process takes a few days, it can sometimes take weeks or even months without any particular reason. Neither of the search engines provide an SLA for how long this can take.
  • Good written content is the most important key for success:
    •  Use relevant content as well as phrases and keywords which your target audience might type in a search engine when looking for sites such as yours.
    • Make the written text relevant.
    • Balance your content. Don’t over saturate content with unnecessary repetitive keywords. If a search engine word counter find your keyword count suspiciously high (known as Keyword spamming), it can delete that keyword from the search count altogether.
  • Keep it fresh:
    • Updating your content regularly will help your site ranking, as search engines will see your site as a living and dynamic source of information.
    • If your site has static content, you may want to consider adding a blog to it.
    • You already have a blog? Keep it coming. A good target is to post 2 times per week.
  • Use proper title and descriptions for each page:
    • A page title says a lot about its content. Even if you would prefer to use short names on the visual navigation, you should use the extended full name in the page title. For example, the navigation link can say “Services” and page title can be “Real Estate Services for the Puget Sound Area”.
    • A “description” meta-tag is an extra content your developer or designer can add to the structure of your page. It’s not visible on the page itself, but search engines see it, and it’s usually shown as the first paragraph under your page URL in search engines results.
    • Use relevant Alt text (alternative text) for all your web images.
  • Links:
    • Links will be your best friend in the Internet. Getting other sites to link to you is the fastest and best way to boost your ranking in search results.
    • Social media is good way to do increase exposure. Have a profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and any other relevant social media site related to your business. Even if you won’t keep them very dynamic, their links connected to your site will help you (still, I encourage you to keep your social media network alive!).
    • Write content and publish articles relevant to your market or industry on other known web portals, and have them link to your site.
    • Try to get relevant sites to write about you or review your company.
    • When linking to your site, try to get the links text to be as descriptive as possible. For example, it’s better to have “CreateHive graphic and web design studio” rather than “Company info.”
  • Be patient. It takes time for your site to build a history on the Internet.

Nothing that’s given for free has guaranteed results:

Let’s not forget that we are talking about “organic” (not paid) end results from search engines. None of the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) guarantees your website ranking or visibility results. Paying for ads, for example, won’t boost your organic results but will expose your site in the ads zone.

SEO investment strategy can vary in time & cost:

  • From as little as just submitting your site to search engines.
  • Up to big operations, which could be a full time person, department or a SEO dedicated outsource company generating content and working to secure cross-links with other sites.

What we, as a web design studio, can do for you?

  • We will build your site following the most common SEO industry standards, along with a visually appealing presence.
  • We can give you pointers if needed regarding your written content to make it more SEO friendly.
  • We will add your pages meta-data (titles, descriptions and content tags).
  • We will upload your site map to Google and Bing.
  • We can set-up your Google Analytics account.
  • We can help you with ongoing website maintenance and help updating its content following your lead.
  • We can help you design or add a blog to your site.
  • We can provide you with short and long strategies SEO plans.

I hope all the above will help you understand the Internet wild-west, and how SEO fits in it.

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