Must-Know SEO: Info Secrets to Maximizing Your Website’s Google Search Ranking

 

Google is the number-one search engine. It’s the one people go to when they have a question they need to be answered or are looking for a business to serve their particular needs. Google, like the terms Kleenex and Clorox, has become part of our daily vernacular. When you search for something online, you’re “Googling” it.

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

It’s the multi-discipline process of optimizing a website to rank high in organic search results.

Organic search results are those you don’t pay for.

Typically, when people search for companies or information on Google, the first few results they get are those that a business has paid for. If they say “Sponsored” or “Ad” that means someone has paid for them to be ranked at the top.

If you don’t pay for an ad, you must practice good SEO to be listed near the top of a Google search.

What constitutes good SEO?

This is difficult to pin down because It’s often-changing and always updating. Google updates their algorithms and the way that they rate and rank content hundreds of times a year. It’s impossible to keep track of every single change. However, practicing good SEO strategies, in general, will result in better search rankings.

Although it’s easy to understand, SEO is challenging to execute effectively. Here’s some information that should help.

On-Page Optimization

Optimize your entire website as a whole:

  • Increase the page speed and load times. Google will penalize your website if it loads slowly. Keep this in mind when purchasing web hosting. Make sure they have plenty of uptime, and you have enough bandwidth. If you don’t, Google will penalize you.
  • Ensure your site can be found using mobile devices. More people browse via mobile today than they do with desktop computers. Take this into account with every element of your website’s design. From your home page to your landing pages, to your contact page–Everything must be optimized for mobile searches. If your website looks great for desktop but isn’t accessible for mobile use, Google will penalize you in your search rankings.
  • Use HTTPS in your URL even if you’re not selling anything. Just having a secure website immediately gives you a boost in Google search rankings.
  • Include Social Sharing Links. Pick the social networks that are most relevant to your audience, like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Use the icons for the links on your webpage so people can find you easily and share your content. The more people share your content, the more Google finds you relevant, and the higher they will rank your business in their search results.
  • Use tools like Woorank, Yoast to test your overall website performance. These and other tools like them will scrub your page much like Google will, and tell you what your results are based on your current level of search optimization. If there are things you need to improve, these tools will let you know what they are, so you can up your search ranking.

Know your keywords and how to use them:

  • Make a list of topics relevant to your business and your intended audience. These are called Head Terms–words that are used in your industry or line of business.
  • Get specific and use Long-Tail Keywords. Think of this as the problem you want your customers to bring to you that you can solve. If you’re an attorney, this might be, “How can I save money on a divorce?” or “How do I fight a traffic ticket?” etc.
  • Do your own search for other keywords and observe user intent. See what problems people are having and which ones you can solve. The more you can solve, the better chances you’ll be a credible authority in their eyes and Google’s.
  • Scope out the competitor’s keywords. There are some paid tools you can use to do this. Or, do this on your own by visiting your competition’s website and looking at what they’re promoting, what media they use, the headlines they use, and the phrasing they publish. By doing a search for your competition, you can also see where they rank.
  • Use your keywords within the first 100 words of any of your web pages, including blog posts and videos. The first 100 words are used most heavily when Google scrubs information from your webpage. This is where you want to include your specific long-tail keywords.
  • Don’t keyword-stuff. You want to use your Long-Tail Keywords throughout the rest of your web pages, but don’t overdo it. Keep your language natural-sounding. If you keyword-stuff, Google will penalize you.

Use headers correctly:

  • H1 headers are for article or page titles. These are most important for SEO because this tells Google what your page is about. This is where you want to use those well-constructed Long-Tail Keywords.
  • H2 headers are for your sections. You should use Long-Tail Keywords here as well but be creative with your phrasing. Don’t repeat phrases over and over.
  • Include your keywords here but be creative with phrasing

Label your images correctly:

  • Include your keywords in your image file names. These will be your shorter keywords and Head Terms–terms that are broad in scope.
  • Include your keywords in your image alt text. Include your specific Long-Tail terms here as well.

Test it out.

The Right Content

Write for your audience:

  • Think of questions that your target audience would ask. Think of what people will be searching for. Think of the problems that they are looking to you to resolve.
  • Let your keywords be your guide. Phrase them as a question, then write the authoritative answer.

Go the distance whenever you can:

  • Word count matters. Aim for at least 1,000 words as often as possible. This may not always be possible for things like video descriptions or info-graphics. Don’t worry. Do the best you can.
  • Don’t sacrifice quality for word count. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t just write a bunch of needless content. Google will pick this up and penalize you. Google wants quality content.
  • Some industries will need more quality content to compete online. If there’s a lot of competition for your service or product, you’ll need to step up your game to differentiate yourself from the others. You’ll need to come up with content that is better and more creative than what your competitors are posting.

Mix it up and keep it fresh:

  • Share more than just written articles. The broader your library, the more people you will appeal to. Blog posts are great but don’t neglect other options.

Repurpose your best old content:

  • Rework your old content that performed well into a new format like an infographic, video, e-book, and or blog. Take an e-book that was popular and write an article about it. Take an article and make a video from it, etc.

Don’t forget your Meta Descriptions:

  • Meta descriptions are the “flavor text” that shows beneath the link in a search result.
  • Google says that meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor. However, the text that shows in SERPs can compel people to select your search result. If it gives you an edge, why not use it.
  • Write conversationally and aim to catch the viewer’s attention. Use 300 words max for your meta descriptions.
  • Use them on every page of your website.
  • Try plugins like Yoast if you are using WordPress for assistance writing great meta descriptions. It will rank the meta description and tell you whether or not it will be a positive influence.

Links and How to Use Them

Internal Linking:

  • Link to other pages, articles, or media within your own site. If you are the authority in your area of expertise, one article you write will surely have relevance to others on your site.
  • Try to get 2-3 internal links per page. This gives people a reason to stay on your site. It will give them a reason to stay on your page and click thru to other pages. This is important for good ranking results.

External Linking:

  • Link to authoritative, quality pages outside your website that have relevant information. Use links to news articles, Wikipedia, or other well-known websites. Be selective. Don’t link to blogs. Remember, anything you link to reflects the quality of your website. If you link to reputable sources, Google will consider your site reputable as well.
  • Be selective as the links you choose as this will reflect on the quality of your site.

Backlinks

  • These are the “Holy Grail” of links, and the most difficult to obtain. Backlinks are where you link to an outside page, and they link back to you. Here are some of the things you can try to get quality backlinks:
  • Write case studies on the products or services you use, especially if you’ve had spectacular results. Share these with your vendors and partners.
  • Write reviews for the companies and products you would recommend to others.
  • Build genuine relationships online and off.
  • Become a resource for the media.
  • Volunteer to speak to groups in your area.

How to Gain an Edge

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews:

  • Positive user reviews influence SEO ranking. Google Business and Yelp are the most popular and widely used.
  • Search for your business type in your location to see what other review sites are used by your target audience. Some of these might include Nextdoor, Angie’s List or TripAdvisor.
  • It’s okay to ask happy customers to leave a positive review, but don’t overdo it.

Location, Location, Location Reviews (and other ways to be relevant):

  • Don’t forget to include your location in your keywords if you serve local clients. If people are searching for businesses like yours in your location, Google will be able to find you and post your information in their search. Even if the person doesn’t include your city in their search, Google knows where they are and can find you to answer their query.
  • Consider other ways to signify that your information is relevant and current. Include the year in your title when relevant. If you’re talking about products, consider using a title like “The 20 Best Products in 2018.” People will see your post as relevant, and Google will see that your posts are current and give you a better ranking.

Be the Expert in One Area:

  • If you find a keyword that gets lots of search action without a lot of competition go deep with your strategy. Be the authority on it and use your internal links to your advantage. When doing your research on your keywords, if you find one that gets a lot of search activity, but there’s not much competition, use those keywords and write in-depth on the subject. You’ll rise the top of Google searches very quickly.

Optimize for Mobile:

  • This is worth repeating because the percentage of non-desktop searching is going to continue to increase. If your site isn’t easy to navigate on mobile devices, you’ll lose business.

Optimize for Voice Search:

  • The #1 thing that will set websites apart in the future is the ability to have your web properties appear in voice searches. We are using more Artificial Intelligence functions on our computer devices like Siri and Cortana.
  • Think of the questions people will ask via voice search and answer them. Again, if you serve local customers or businesses, make sure that you list your location in your keywords.

Use These Great SEO Tools:

  • The Google Search Console provides great insight into how your site is performing in Google searches. You do have to take some steps to enable access, but it’s very user-friendly. You can see which keyword searches on Google were used most often that lead to your site, and what your click-thru rate was of these listings. It will tell you what people are searching for, when your site came up in their search and how often they are clicking on your link as opposed to others. (It’s free)
  • SpyFu spies on your competitors. Use this to see what keywords they are using and how well their site performs.
  • SEMrush provides valuable insight into the world of search. It will show your competitors’ best keywords, help you find competitors you didn’t know about, and reveal how much money your competitors are spending on search advertising. It’s one of the best resources for this.

Utilize Great Resources:

  • Neil Patel (neilpatel.com) provides great daily information on SEO and search in general.
  • MOZ (moz.com) has a wealth of great information for businesses that want more from their SEO.
  • Search Engine Journal (searchenginejournal.com) is loaded with great free SEO resources.

Advanced SEO

Schema.org:

  • Schema –The semantic web, is the next frontier for SEO. Schema.org defines the best-used terms to use for keywords. This is a definite list of codes that should be used for best practices. If Google sees you using old codes, this will hurt your ranking.
  • Rankings reviews, ratings, product descriptions, and schedules are now starting to influence rankings.
  • Speak with your website developer or SEO company to ensure schema.org elements are part of your website.

Rich Snippets:

  • Rich Snippets are search results that include ratings, reviews, images, video content, and more.
  • They stand out from all other search results because the search engine has more data about the site. It uses images, ratings, and reviews that can be pulled into the search results.
  • Setup using structured data found in the Google Search Console.

People Also Ask:

  • This is often featured with popular search terms. If Google gets the same requests over and over again, they post additional sites with information. The more expert advice you provide for frequently asked questions, and your content answers these very specifically, Google will consider adding your site you to their “People Also Ask” prompt. So, again, think of the questions most people will ask about your product or service and answer these in your website content.
  • Searches can get immediate answers here and may never visit your site.
  • It reinforces the need to ensure your website and content solves people’s problems, answers, questions, and offers advice.

Social Media:

  • Social media does play a role in SEO, and social content will affect your ranking.
  • The more shares or “social indicators” found, the more relevant Google will consider your content. When someone shares an article from your website, this is called a social indicator. This tells Google where the poster found this information and how many times it’s been shared. The more you get shares, the more Google will find your website valid and increase your rankings.
  • Reviews from social sites matter.
  • Social media channels are their own search engines.
  • Extended reading: “Social is the New SEO” by Neil Patel. This will tell you more about SEO and how important it is in Google rankings.

In Conclusion

The Most Important “Take Aways”

  • The days of a long list of your services are over. Optimize your page and your content for today’s audience.
  • Solve people’s challenges
  • Answer their questions. Use keywords intelligently and accurately, so you’re answering people’s question.
  • Become a valuable resource online and off.
  • Become more social.
  • Find a great web marketer who can help.

Questions? Send an email to us!

Make All Your Dreams Come True In One Easy Step!

Believe it or not, the primary purpose of technology is to improve our lives. Making your tech work to increase productivity and efficiency is the ultimate goal of every CEO – so take your first step today!

Technology can be fantastic! With the push of a button, the average person can:

  • Make a single cup of coffee
  • Toast bread or warm something in a microwave
  • Wash an entire load of dishes in a dishwasher
  • Adjust the temperature in a room or a car
  • Call someone on the telephone
  • Power a television on or off, and the list just goes on.

The push of a button can turn on a computer or smartphone, and the push of mouse or trackpad button can open an Internet browser or desktop application. You get the idea.

Microsoft wants to help and has pushed boundaries in technology over the last few decades. Today’s Microsoft is a far cry from the company that “started in a garage” in 1975. Based on the idea that technology could make using technology easier, Microsoft designed the predecessor to current-day operating systems. Since then, Microsoft has brought us the Microsoft Office Suite and a myriad of productivity software applications, as well as numerous desktop and laptop computers, tablet and smartphone devices, and gaming platforms for the consumer market – but you already know this. Today’s Microsoft is responsible for revolutionizing the workspace and mobilizing workforces around the globe. So long as we can connect to the Internet, we can connect with each other and communicate. Professional continuity is now 24/7, and productivity doesn’t stop.

From Word to Excel to Outlook, the staples of global professionals, Microsoft has brought us software applications that offer a promise of improving our lives with technology. The word processor replaced the typewriter, and the spreadsheet replaced the adding machine. Fast forward to Microsoft Office 365, the subscription-based service that supports absolute continuity with access to files from anywhere, unlocking professionals from their physical workspace or office-with-a-desk and opening up endless possibilities.

Enter OneDrive, SharePoint, Teams, Flow, and the variety of other applications that Microsoft has introduced in the last decade or so, and we think you’ll agree that Microsoft’s position has truly solidified into simplifying our lives with technology.

Have you tried OneNote?

Microsoft OneNote is a handy app that caters to the crowd that makes scribbles on little slips of paper or the corners of sheets in a notepad during meetings or while on calls. If your desk, wall, or any flat surface is covered with sticky notes, Microsoft OneNote was designed just for you. The simplistic nature of the app is deceptive – the app is designed to function in one way: collect your notes in one place for organized and cohesive thought collection. But what’s really cool is the open environment which Microsoft encourages! There are about 100 add-ins that OneNote users can access, or users can create their own add-in.

One of the developers over at Microsoft, in his spare time, created a cool add-in called Onetastic. Onetastic is a free add-on for Microsoft OneNote that extends – or adds – functionality for users in OneNote. What we now call add-ins would be considered hacks just a few years ago, but because they are designed with usefulness in mind, rather than malice, add-ins are a welcome addition to an application.

In the case of Onetastic, the add-in was designed by a Microsoft developer as a side project outside of the Microsoft realm. To get the Onetastic add-in, follow these steps:

  • Check for the most recent update of OneNote 2010 or OneNote 2013
    • You must be using the PC desktop version
  • Verify which version of Office you’re running:
    • Click “File” -> “Account” -> “About OneNote”
    • The first line of text, at the far right, will indicate 32-bit or 64-bit
  • Visit https://getonetastic.com/ and download the corresponding version of Onetastic
    • Documentation for this application add-in is currently available in about ten languages to support global productivity
  • Once the add-in has fully downloaded, restart OneNote
  • Users will see the add-in in the upper right of the ribbon

If you’re interested in Onetastic, there are several features that are favorites highlighted throughout the Onetastic portal. From calendars and quick tools to macros and shortcuts, here are a handful of features we think you’ll like best.

OneCalendar

The Onetastic add-in scans all of your Notes and organizes them for you in chronological order, and in a calendar view. Users can hover over each entry, and a modal will pop up with additional information and details about each Note.

This is an especially handy feature if you’re trying to remember a specific Note but can’t recall the exact date of the Note. Yes, you can search for the Note, but if you don’t have the search string to help you hunt the Note down, this is another way to discover it.

Pin to the Desktop

Ah, Pinterest – the innovative invention that digitized the concept of “pinning”. In OneNote, with Onetastic, users can pin a Note to the desktop or a Favorites list.

Custom Styles

OneNote doesn’t have the out-of-the-box built-in functionality of Styles or customization. Users have one set of Styles for headings and page titles, etc., but with Onetastic, users can create Styles very simply:

  • Select text
  • Save as “Custom Style”
    • Name the Style
    • Choose the attributes and formatting you’d like applied with the Style

Universal Adjustments

One item of caution with universal adjustments is that users will get a pop-up message with an alert that you won’t be able to undo a universal change or edit across multiple Notebooks. Universal adjustments will only apply to open Notebooks, and the user can select which Notebooks for these universal adjustments to apply.

  • One cool trick of Onetastic is the ability to slightly increase or decrease every font size on the page at one time. This is helpful and saves time given a user’s only other option is to select each section of text, one at a time, to increase or decrease the font size.
  • Users can search and highlight or replace text across pages or Notebooks.

Images

Microsoft gives users lots of tools and options for images in Word and Outlook, but extremely limited functionality in OneNote for images. Onetastic helps users with manipulation options.

  • Users can re-size an image by a percentage
  • Right-clicking on an image gives the user more options
  • A cool feature for users is the ability to select text from an image, copy just the text, and paste the text – for other documents, emails, etc.

Macros

What is a macro? A snippet of code or programming that takes adds on to an existing application by taking existing functionality or a series of existing functionalities within an application and perform these tasks very quickly.

“Super” users – users of any application that are very experienced with advanced tools – love macros. Users in OneNote have likely experimented with tables and other advanced functionalities, but the macro options that users have with the Onetastic add-in offer an entirely new universe of options.

  • Click the “Download Macros” button
  • Users are taken to a part of the Onetastic website called Macroland
  • Search and discover pre-made macros

Popular macros include:

  • Insert Monthly Calendar – create a quick calendar with a table in OneNote that adds a 7-column table with just a few options and the macro inserts a perfect calendar. Users can customize the physical size of the calendar.
  • Add a Table of Contents in the current Notebook, and your tabbed screen will have links to each page so you can quickly click from one OneNote to another using hotlinks for every tab in the Notebook
  • A macro called “Where Am I?” adds breadcrumbs, which are helpful in large Notebooks

Microsoft certainly tries to make all our dreams come true by simplifying our lives with technology, but where they leave gaps there are add-ins to help out. Check out the free tier of Onetastic today and try the features we list – and discover your new favorite ways to use OneNote!

MIcrosoft OneNote

Under Armour’s “Armor Gets Penetrated”

How Would It Cost Your Business If This Happened To You?

Under Armour Data Breach

Have you read the news? According to Reuters, Under Armour Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, recently suffered a breach of the private information for their 150 million MyFitnessPal app users.

This is the largest breach this year according to experts. It included account usernames, email addresses, and passwords. Lucky for them, Social Security numbers, driver license numbers, and payment card data weren’t stolen like they usually are in data breaches of this kind.

Once again we learn that keeping up to date on cybersecurity, changing passwords often, and using an IT support provider to implement a layered approach to security is essential if you want your business to stay safe in today’s digital world.

Perhaps, if Under Armour had used these services, they could have prevented this breach. Now, their reputation has been ruined.

Would you trust your private data to them?

I wouldn’t.

With so many data breaches today, they should have known better and considered the privacy of their customers. How can they salvage their creditability now?

As a business technology professional, I know that data protection costs much less than what I’d face from a breach – legal liability, fines, and lost customers.

With the rising number of cyber thefts, numerous lawsuits have been filed against businesses like Under Armour. In the last few years, data breaches have become so prevalent that it’s almost commonplace to hear that a company has been breached.

Learning that all their personal information is in the hands of thieves causes a significant change in the behavior of customers. One study found that consumers who learned of a data breach at their favorite retail store significantly cut back on their purchases.

With over 1,500 data breaches in 2017, consumers responded in this way:

  • 84 percent said they might not consider doing business with a retailer who had experienced a data breach.
  • 57 percent of holiday shoppers felt that identity theft and data breaches would be a significant threat during the holiday season.
  • Four in 10 consumers said they believed businesses aren’t doing the best they can to protect them.
  • 38 percent said they weren’t sure all companies were doing everything possible to stop data breaches.

I know that my business has the best cybersecurity and IT management that money can buy. I take full responsibility for this and all my customers’ private data.

After what I’ve learned, this is what I would tell the CEO of Under Armour, and others to do from now on:

Protecting your security isn’t only a job for your IT support provider but one for you as a CEO as well. You must understand that any interruption in your information systems can hinder your operations, negatively impact your reputation, and compromise your customers’ private data.

Many CEOs don’t fully understand this. They spend their energy developing new products and services and managing current ones. Security comes in second. Maybe they’re unaware of the risks or feel that it’s solely an IT concern. Some may not be very technical and fear to discuss what could be an intimidating topic, but this isn’t wise.

The Department of Homeland Security recommends five questions that CEOs should ask themselves to lower the risk of cyber attacks:

1) What is the current level and business impact of cyber risks to our company? What is our plan to address identified risks?

2) How is our executive leadership informed about the current level and business impact of cyber risks to our company?

3) How does our cybersecurity program apply industry standards and best practices?

4) How many and what types of cyber incidents do we detect in a normal week? What is the threshold for notifying our executive leadership?

5) How comprehensive is our cyber-incident response plan? How often is the plan tested?

We also need to train our employees on cybersecurity practices like recognizing phishing attacks and using secure passwords. The folks at OneSource handle this for us. Here are some of the topics they cover:

Lesson 1: Ignore Ransomware-Threat Popups and Don’t Fall for Phishing Attacks.

These threats look like they’re from an official entity like the IRS or FBI. If a screen pops up that says you’ll be fined if you don’t follow their instructions, beware! If you do, the criminal will encrypt all your data and prevent you and your employees from accessing it.

Watch out for messages that:

  • Try to solicit your curiosity or trust.
  • Contain a link that you must “check out now”.
  • Contain a downloadable file like a photo, music, document or pdf file.

Don’t believe messages that contain an urgent call to action:

  • With an immediate need to address a problem that requires you to verify information.
  • Urgently asks for your help.
  • Asks you to donate to a charitable cause.
  • Indicates you are a “Winner” in a lottery or other contest, or that you’ve inherited money from a deceased relative.

Be on the lookout for messages that:

  • Respond to a question you never asked.
  • Create distrust.
  • Try to start a conflict.

Watch for flags like:

  • Misspellings
  • Typos

Lesson 2: Always Use Secure Passwords.

  • Never use words found in the dictionary or your family names.
  • Never reuse passwords across your various accounts.
  • Never write down your passwords.
  • Consider using a Password Manager (e.g., LastPass or 1Password)
  • Use password complexity (e.g., P@ssword1).
  • Create a unique password for work.
  • Change passwords at least quarterly.
  • Use passwords with 9+ characters.
    • A criminal can crack a 5-character password in 16 minutes.
    • It takes 5 hours to crack a 6-character password.
    • 3 days for a 7-character one
    • 4 months for 8 characters
    • 26 years for 9 characters
    • centuries for 10+ characters
  • Turn on Two-Factor Authentication if it’s available.

Lesson 3: Keep Your Passwords Secure

  • Don’t email them.
  • Don’t include a password in a non-encrypted stored document.
  • Don’t tell anyone your password.
  • Don’t speak your password over the phone.
  • Don’t hint at the format of your password.
  • Don’t use “Remember Password” feature of application programs such as Internet Explorer, Portfolio Center or others.
  • Don’t use your corporate or network password on an account over the Internet that doesn’t have a secure login where the web browser address starts with http:// instead of https:// If the web address begins with https:// your computer is talking to the website in a secure code that no one can eavesdrop on. There should be a small lock next to the address. If not, don’t type in your password.

Lesson 4: Backup Your Data Onsite/Remotely and Securely

  • Maintain at least three copies of everything.
  • Store all data on at least two types of media (one offsite in a secure enterprise cloud solution).
  • Keep a copy of your data in an alternate location.

If you haven’t backed up your data, and you’re attacked, it’s gone forever.

Lesson 5: Secure Open Wi-Fi with a VPN.

  • Don’t go to sites that require your personal information like your username or password.
  • Use VPN whenever possible. Limit your access to using sites with: https://
  • Don’t connect if all the Wi-Fi networks you have ever accessed appear as “Available”.

We have our tech support professionals train our employees a few times a year because the threats keep changing. Plus, we have them conduct Vulnerability Assessments to make sure our cybersecurity “armor” stays strong and intact.

Don’t risk your data. Keep your data secure and your employees educated. I recommend that if you’re in an area they serve, that you should contact us immediately.

This CEO Has The Coolest Tech Toys – Take a Look!

It happens to all of us at some point – you’re sitting by someone who whips out this über cool gadget, and you can’t take your eyes off of it. You have to know what it does… and where you can buy one! Read on for eye candy just like this.

CEO Tech Toys

We’ve all been there: Gadget Envy. We want the smartest phone, the thinnest tablet, the fastest Internet speeds, the strongest network connection, the battery that never dies – the list goes on. Part of this is due to our busy lifestyles, and part of this is from our never-ending quest to get more done in less time. The best gadgets combine advanced technological features with enhanced productivity.

The options are endless, but we’ve narrowed our list down to 5 categories with the top tech that today’s savvy CEO will have – along with the envy of everyone nearby!

Sound

We know you get perturbed with the pathetic volume coming from your laptop speakers. Amplification is impossible in atmospheres where white noise is loud, like airports, and while the settings on newer laptops and tablets are growing in sophistication, they still lack in sound quality. Here are a couple of solutions to help.

  • The ICE Harmony Floating Bluetooth Speaker packs powerful sound in a colossally cool package. The spinning speaker floats above the base with concealed (read, secret) magnets to maintain the floating position. The design results in a 3D sound effect and can be used separately from its base giving the user portable and potent sound, connecting to smartphones or tablets via Bluetooth.
  • Simple-to-use Startech USB Stereo Audio Adapter helps your laptop with the addition of SPDIF digital output. Designed for Windows-based machines (sorry, Mac lovers), functions as though users add a 5.1 sound card, and is quite compact but also has a set of two headphone jacks.

Secure Storage

So, you need to bring files along for the ride, but live in fear of losing your thumb drive? We have a couple of cool ideas for you.

  • The Aegis Secure Key 3Z is a super-tough USB storage device made from sturdy metal and uses top-of-the-line technology for encryption plus a physical keypad for which the user can set a custom PIN for secure entry.
  • PIN-protected storage is a popular choice these days. DiskAshur Pro is another option to secure up to 500GB of data with a customizable PIN, between seven and 15 characters.
  • Aegis makes this list with not one, but two options, with its Apricorn Secure Key USB 3.0 480GB Flash Drive. Using a 10-key alphanumeric keypad with a dust-proof and waterproof enclosure, this storage solution means business. This one is on the list has received accolades from NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a U.S.-based entity that oversees government IT security.

Power

The perennial power problem: your power capability does not match your mobile lifestyle or needs. In other words, your battery dies faster than the mother in a Disney movie and you need a backup solution.

Have you checked out the Orico SC28 Mobile Power Bank? With promises to power you all day, this one is designed for laptops instead of smartphones – for which power banks are everywhere. Recharging via USB or the old standby (wall plug-in), up to three devices at once can benefit from this baby.

  • The Jackery Titan S is a stylish portable battery charger whose claim to fame is its flexibility: it is also friendly to the MacBook.
  • The feature-filled Sandberg Laptop Powerbank charges quickly, supports (and automatically detects) multiple voltages, and comes with a dozen charge tips.

Mobile Hotspots

Our addiction to data is endless, and with the growing number of wireless providers offering unlimited data, we find ourselves using our smartphones as hotspots. Our ultimate battle is the need to connect versus the need to preserve smartphone battery life. Enter the mobile hotspot device!

  • The KnowRoaming Global Hotspot aims to provide seamless and simplified global connection in more than 140 countries, with unlimited data in more than 90, but only to corporate accounts at this time. The daily flat fee service is especially a bonus for those who travel to countries like Japan where connectivity is just ridiculously expensive for foreign travelers. About the size of a matchbox, the device battery lasts for up to 20 hours and supports 3G although LTE is pending.
  • Boasting speed and simplicity, the TP-Link M7650 Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot claims to be the fastest Wi-Fi router ever made, capable of streaming video to a user’s laptop or tablet and can support up to 32 devices at once – enough for an entire small office.

Just Cool Stuff

Here’s where things get really awesome! These items didn’t fit into any of the categories above, but couldn’t be left off this list. Just trust us and read on.

  • A notebook that you put in the microwave to erase everything you wrote (or doodled)? Yep! Well, using a Pilot FriXion pen, but still the Rocketbook Wave is a pretty incredible gadget. Not only can the microwave erase all your writing when you’re ready to start fresh, but you mark an icon to represent where you want your notes sent, and everything you write is then stored in your account on Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Slack, iMessage, email, and so much more. Using your smartphone and the Rocketbook mobile app, you scan your notes and voila! The Rocketbook Everlast erases with a dampened cloth instead and can be reused in the same way.
  • Moleskine, the cult favorite notebook maker, brings you the Smart Writing Set. This set includes the smart Pen+ tool that sends your writing to the Bluetooth-connected phone or tablet to display using the Moleskine Notes app, and your notes are editable within the app (highlights, scribbles, etc.).
  • Want to wow your crowd in a presentation? Logitech makes a Spotlight Presentation Remote that looks super cool when in use, including the ability to magnify and highlight selections on-screen, with Bluetooth connectivity. There is also a cool built-in timer that shows (only you) how long you’ve been talking and can give a subtle vibration at a pre-set timed interval.
  • Try the Gyration Air Mouse Voice with your presentation, which can act as a standard wireless mouse but also has built-in microphones to work with voice recognition as you get through slides. Voice commands can zoom, open web browsers, etc., with the push of a button.

This is just the tip of the tech iceberg; we know – but we’re pretty sure you’ll be as fascinated with the items on this list as we are. One thing we know for certain? You can’t wait to try them out and be the envy of someone else!

ALERT: Iranian Hackers Infiltrated 144 Universities in the U.S. Stealing $3.4 Billion. Is Your Data Safe?

According to Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Iranians connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were recently charged with conducting a massive cyber theft campaign on American and foreign universities, businesses and government agencies.

Iranian Hackers

AG Rosenstein states:

The stolen information was used by the IRGC or sold for profit in Iran. They hacked the computer systems of approximately 320 universities in 22 countries. 144 of the victims are American universities. The defendants stole research that cost the universities approximately $3.4 billion to procure and maintain.

They also attacked computer systems of the U.S. Labor Department, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, United Nations, and the states of Hawaii and Indiana.

When hackers gain unlawful access to computers, it can take only a few minutes to steal discoveries produced by many years of work and many millions of dollars of investment.

For many decades, the United States has lead the world in science, technology, research, and development.

Academic institutions are prime targets for foreign cybercriminals. Universities can thrive as marketplaces of ideas and engines of research and development only if their work is protected from theft.

The events described in this indictment highlight the need for universities and other organizations to emphasize cybersecurity, increase threat awareness, and harden their computer networks.

Every sector of our economy is a target of malicious cyber activity. Everyone who owns a computer needs to be vigilant to prevent attacks.

This type of criminal activity does not just cause economic harm. It also threatens our national security. Identifying and prosecuting computer hackers is a priority for the Department of Justice.

Hostile individuals, organizations, and nation-states have taken note of our success. They increasingly attempt to profit from American’s ingenuity by infiltrating our computer systems, stealing our intellectual property, and evading our controls on technology exports.

The FBI Considers These Individuals State-Sponsored Hackers

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich reports:

“During a more than four-year campaign, these state-sponsored hackers compromised approximately 144 U.S.-based universities and 176 foreign universities in 21 countries… When the FBI learned of the attacks we notified the victims, so they could take action to minimize the impact. And then we took action to find and stop these hackers.”

The special agent from the FBI’s New York Division who investigated the case tells us:

“Their primary goal was to obtain usernames and passwords for the accounts of professors, so they could gain unauthorized access and steal whatever kind of proprietary academic information they could get their hands on. That information included access to library databases, white papers, journals, research, and electronic books. All that information and intellectual property was provided to the Iranian government.”

Is Your Data at Risk?

The Small Business Administration believes it is. Here’s what they recommend you do:

  1. Protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious code. Make sure each of your business’s computers is equipped with antivirus software and antispyware and updated regularly. Such software is readily available online from a variety of vendors. All software vendors regularly provide patches and updates to their products to correct security problems and improve functionality. Configure all software to install updates automatically.
  2. Secure your networks.
    Safeguard your Internet connection by using a firewall and encrypting information. If you have a Wi-Fi network, make sure it is secure and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.
  3. Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information.
    Establish policies on how employees should handle and protect personally identifiable information and other sensitive data. Clearly outline the consequences of violating your business’s cybersecurity policies.
  4. Educate employees about cyber threats and hold them accountable. 
    Educate your employees about online threats and how to protect your business’s data, including safe use of social networking sites. Depending on the nature of your business, employees might be introducing competitors to sensitive details about your firm’s internal business. Employees should be informed about how to post online in a way that does not reveal any trade secrets to the public or competing businesses. Hold employees accountable to the business’s Internet security policies and procedures.
  5. Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often. 
    Consider implementing multifactor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multifactor authentication for your account.
  6. Employ best practices on payment cards 
    Work with your banks or card processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may also have additional security obligations related to agreements with your bank or processor. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and do not use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.
  7. Make backup copies of important business data and information
    Regularly backup the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly, and store the copies either offsite or on the cloud.
  8. Control physical access to computers and network components
    Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.
  9. Create a mobile device action plan.
    Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

Protect all pages on your public-facing websites, not just the checkout and sign-up pages.

Protect information, computers, and networks from cyberattacks. Keep clean machines: having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Set antivirus software to run a scan after each update. Install other key software updates as soon as they are available.

Provide firewall security for your Internet connection. A firewall is a set of related programs that prevent outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure the operating system’s firewall is enabled or install free firewall software available online. If employees work from home, ensure that their home system(s) are protected by a firewall.

Create a mobile device action plan. Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

Control physical access to your computers and create user accounts for each employee. Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.

Limit employee access to data and information, and limit authority to install software. Do not provide any one employee with access to all data systems. Employees should only be given access to the specific data systems that they need for their jobs and should not be able to install any software without permission.

The increased frequency of cybercrime of cybercrime incidents has raised concerns and stakes for both small and large businesses. Your IT Managed Services Provider will help you fight and prevent cybercrime of all kinds. They will be your best friend in this regard. Don’t wait to contact them.

Tired of Sending Marketing Emails That Go in the “Trash”?

Here Are The 10 Things You’re Doing Wrong

Email Marketing

Email is a very effective marketing tool. However, it’s also tough to execute properly. If you don’t plan correctly, understand what you’re doing wrong and how to remedy this, you’re simply wasting your time and money.

You aren’t getting new subscribers.

If you can’t entice new subscribers, you are simply spinning your wheels. Without an ever-increasing pool of subscribers, your open rates will suffer. If you want to grow your email list, you must clearly state the benefits of subscribing to it. Clearly state what you can offer, and how you can address people’s concerns. Your prospects need to know why they should sign on. Consider offering something for free that you believe will be of value to them like a free trial, sample product or document with relevant information.

Your subscribers keep leaving.

The best way to ensure that your current subscribers stay with you is by sending out relevant emails to the right audience. You must correctly identify your target audiences and segment your email list accordingly – this way you can address the various pain points for different subscribers. By segmenting your list, you can not only retain more subscribers but increase your click-through rates as well. All too often, an email strategy is more focused on the company’s needs rather than the customers’. Receiving too many irrelevant emails is the main reason subscribers opt out. If you want to keep subscribers, stay focused on your target audience and their needs, rather than yours.

Your email subject lines aren’t eye-catching.

This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. People are overwhelmed with the amount of email they receive and will only open the messages that catch their eye. You must grab their attention in the subject line. Craft a message that is short and to the point. Personalizing the message in your subject line and keeping your message to fewer than 30 characters should help. A carefully written subject line will entice recipients to read the rest of your email.

You’re understaffed.

Performance always suffers when resources are limited. If you’re understaffed and “burning the midnight oil” just to stay afloat, your quality will suffer. Streamline your email process and look for bottlenecks and obstacles that slow your workflow. Take advantage of software automation tools that help your email team design and code emails more quickly. If necessary, you may need to hire more staffers, both full-time and part-time, or contract with freelancers. Freelancers can also offer expertise that your team may lack.

Your deliverability suffers.

You may have the best emails and subject lines, but if they are being sent to the junk inbox, you’re doomed to failure. Your emails must get through any spam filters. When your deliverability rate suffers, you can get blocked altogether by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). How do you fix this? Don’t use spam words in your subject lines. Phrases such as “make money,” “earn cash,” “save $” will go directly to spam mail. And, of course, ensure that your prospects’ email addresses are accurate. Consider asking people who visit your website to re-confirm their email address when signing on to your list. This way you can make sure you have their correct email address from the start.

You need a new ESP.

You need an Email Service Provider that works for you. Some focus more on larger enterprises or certain verticals like e-commerce. You need an ESP that fits your brand. Try using more than one to see if this is the problem. Measure your success rates with each one. You can employ analytics tracking with multiple ESPs. Some businesses use up to four different ones to increase the odds that their emails will be delivered. Use the ones that provide you the best rates for delivery.

You need to cull your list.

You may need to remove contacts that have been inactive for a long time or those who never open your emails or go to your website. If you know that a lot of the emails on your list are no longer active, delete them. They just cost you money. You must maintain your list. You can also do this by letting subscribers manage their preferences (to opt-out if they want). Set up a way for them to change their communication preferences like what kind of information they want to receive or how often they want to receive them. This helps to build the sense of trust that they require to stay with you.

Your team is sabotaging your efforts.

You may be doing everything right, but other departments aren’t. If customer service is lacking, you’re sure to lose subscribers. If your website or mobile application isn’t easy to use, subscribers will get frustrated and go to a competitor. Keeping customers happy requires teamwork. Get together regularly with other departments in your company to share experiences, concerns, successes, and insights. Ensure your team members are onboard with your email strategy, measure your results and work together to fix what’s broken. Set up read-only access to your marketing emails for team members so they’re kept apprised. Everyone must be on the same page and working in unison.

You’re not measuring results and adjusting your strategy accordingly.

Measuring the performance of email campaigns is imperative. Unless you know what works and what doesn’t, you’re leaving money on the table. Implement a closed-loop marketing strategy to achieve the results you’re looking for. This means following a subscriber from the initial point of contact to their conversion as a paying customer. Be sure to leverage the available data from your ESP and feed your data back to them to get more visibility into your results. When making adjustments based on data, do so in increments and prioritize your changes. This way you can continue to measure the results of your changes one by one until you get it right.

You aren’t using the right process.

Not having a plan will make your job so much more difficult. Your email process should be designed to speed up your email production and improve quality control. You need an extensive pre-sending plan. Here’s one to go by. You fill in the blanks according to your goals.

  1. Plan your marketing strategy
  2. Collect data on your target audience
  3. Construct your database
  4. Define your email plan
  5. Define your content
  6. Setup your emails
  7. Send your emails
  8. Measure your results

Goal setting is crucial to your email marketing success. It will help to guide the direction of your campaign, make it easier for you to measure results, and increase the odds that you’ll ultimately succeed in the end.

Semper Fi: Never Negotiate With Cyberterrorists

A recent report by the U.S. Marine Corps indicates an unintended data disclosure, the result of a single accidental keystroke. Never backing down from a fight, learn from Jarheads how to best defend yourself from a data breach and strengthen your position!

US Marines Data Disclosure

Have you ever thought twice about clicking “send” after drafting an email? We’re sure you have; everyone has. The most common reasons involve editing the text for clarity, context, or tone. Sometimes you verify the email addresses for the “to” field. These are all great measures that everyone can — and should — take before sending an email, especially one with sensitive data enclosed.

Yet, accidents happen. A recent accidental keystroke shared an email to an incorrect distribution list, which included the unencrypted personal data of more than 20,000 U.S. Marines, their families, and civilians. Social security numbers, bank details, credit card information, home and mailing addresses, and emergency contact information were all disclosed. Does this fall under the label of “data breach” if the disclosure was part of an “oops” and not a cyber attack?

Marine Forces Reserve spokesperson Andrew Aranda has said the Marines’ IT staff is reviewing cybersecurity and information assurance processes to update their overall guidelines and to better train team members at every level. More importantly, this was an accident without malicious intent, and a cybersecurity vulnerability was not the cause. Additionally, the United States Armed Forces branches fully understand the great responsibility to protect highly-confidential personally identifiable information (PII) stored in their records and a lengthy history of excellence in this arena.

More than 20,000 individuals will now need to diligently check their credit report on a regular basis to ensure this disclosure doesn’t leave them open to identity theft. Add to this number the family members potentially impacted, and the full amount affected could double or triple. This is a story too well-known by millions of Americans in recent years. Customers of Anthem, Target, eBay, and The Home Depot are just a few examples of organizations whose customers have been impacted by data breaches. Cybercriminals and cyberterrorists — hackers — are just waiting for a weakness to exploit. This introduces two key questions:

  • How effective are an organization’s cybersecurity protocols and training?
  • What can consumers do to protect themselves if they’ve been impacted by a data breach?

How aware are the individuals behind this incident of security protocols and risks? The basic information assurance training from as recent as a year ago isn’t current for today’s needs as a means of self-awareness and protection.

  • What is information assurance? When information is processed, stored, or transmitted (data) involving systems, there are risks. Information assurance is the effort a group takes to protect this data and these systems to ensure the security of the data and minimize risks involved.

The focus of information assurance is on the security of data. While “protection of data” may not be the first concept that comes to mind when you think of the United States armed forces, the protection of its people is an inherent byproduct of its very nature. The military does not operate in the same ways as Corporate America, with many factors contributing to the differences. One thing is certain: the military takes its duty to serve and protect American citizens very seriously and is dedicated to assisting those impacted.

How can consumers protect themselves?

Credit Reports

As we already mentioned, check credit reports regularly. Once a cybercriminal has a name, address, and a few pieces of personal information, this data can be used to misrepresent an identity online.

  • Consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year, at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
  • Anyone can add a fraud alert to their credit report with each credit reporting agency for added protection. This will prompt a two-step verification process for any attempt to open a new account in someone’s name, and is a very helpful feature to protect someone’s identity from being used by other parties.

Passwords

Aside from checking credit reports, we strongly suggest changing all passwords. Most importantly, start with changing passwords for online banking, credit cards, email, and social media accounts. After these, move on to seemingly innocuous accounts like the United States Post Office and those for magazines or local newspapers, with active subscriptions.

  • It’s worth it to keep a list of all locations with usernames and passwords. Imagine how helpful this list might be in this situation, cutting response time drastically and potentially reducing the overall impact. Just don’t store the list somewhere online, like email. If that is the first thing a hacker can access, they have access to everything after discovering this data goldmine!
  • Make sure new passwords created are complex, using a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols like ?!@#$%.
  • Change passwords on desktop systems to prevent a sophisticated hacker from accessing further personal data, or giving them the smallest access point to plant a virus or ransomware, or even mine cryptocurrency.
    • Running the most recent updates and install these packages immediately will help close any security gaps discovered by operating system manufacturers and application developers.

Credit Cards

In this case, credit card numbers were included in the disclosed data. It’s a huge pain, but it’s worth it in the long run for protection to report the accounts as compromised and have new card numbers issued.

Every day brings a story of new ways hackers use to access PII of consumers and how this information is used to their advantage – and to the detriment of the consumers affected. Consumers need to regularly assess their risk and do their best to eliminate the unknown, where possible by taking these measures to protect themselves. Maintaining a realistic perspective on this risk will be instrumental as “an ounce of prevention” here.

In modern days of digital communication, we can never be too careful as hackers are becoming far more sophisticated and staying one step ahead of consumers. Imagine if cybercriminals used their power for good!

Don’t let one mistake cause years of hassles and headaches – talk to an expert if you think you’ve been compromised in this or any other data breach, and protect yourself.