15
May

Obfuscate email, but make your self email-able

Using a simple obfuscating script on your website’s published email addresses can reduce the amount of email spam by 90% or more. Email spam primarily comes from email harvesting bots, similar to search engine bots, that scour the internet looking for email addresses to spam. There are several ways to obfuscate email addresses.

Common methods to obfuscate email addresses:

  • Encoding
  • Javascript
  • Flash
  • Using an Image instead of text

Javascript and Flash obfuscation basically create a text version of your email that cannot be read by all but the most complex email harvesting robots. These methods work well at stopping email harvesting (Flash is far better than Javascript), but your visitors must have flash installed or javascript enabled for these to work or they too cannot see your email address.

Example of what a Javascript email would look like to a computer. (From: seowebsitepromotion.com)
<script type="text/javascript">
//<![CDATA[
var email = "questions"
var domain = "ecommerce-blog.org"
document.write("" + email + "@" + domain + "")
//]]>
</script>

These can also be called externally or through an action script which is even more effective.

Images of an email address can be used in place of text. While this is probably as effective at stopping spam as flash and Javascript, it completely prevents copying the text. This makes it very annoying to try and email the site owner as contact addresses are often long and can be complex. Users are very prone to mis-entering email characters and this generally leads to frustration and annoyance by everyone. I recommend not using this method.

Encoding is by far my preferred method of email obfuscation. While it is not as effective as the other methods, it stops the majority of spambots. It does not create browser compatibility or usability issues. It is as easy to use as copying and pasting some html onto a web-page when it is being created.

Encoding can be done with a hex, decimal, and others. HTML interprets these encoded characters as the ones we see and read. This way your visitors sees an A while a computer sees an &#x41;.

Some good encoding tools:
http://www.ianr.unl.edu/email/encode/ – This is a simple and very effective encoding generator.
http://www.seowebsitepromotion.com/obfuscate_email.asp This script offers a variety of encoding and javascript obfuscation techniques.

Email Obfuscation Comparison:

Method Usability Effectiveness Difficulty
Flash Bad Extremely Good Hard
Javascript Ok Very Good Medium
Image Bad Very Good Medium
HTML Encoding Great Good Easy

24
Mar

Google Introduces Google Checkout Shopping Cart

Google released a beta service today called Google Checkout Shopping Cart. The cart is a very simple javascript based cart that integrates into websites and the Google Checkout payment service. The entire cart uses a new shopping cart API and only needs a few lines of code on a website.

Google Checkout Shopping Cart

The checkout process uses the existing Google Checkout system.

Google Checkout Page

This cart looks to be an extremely easy way for websites to add shopping cart and payment functionality. It looks like it could be customized as much as a website would want, but seems to be a better fit for websites wanting to sell only a few items.

I think that this could really help Google push their checkout service, as it has all but died since they gave up their free incentives.

Some Google shopping cart links:
Google shopping cart demo
Getting started with Google shopping cart
Shopping cart API documentation
Shopping cart customizing
Shopping cart FAQ’s

14
Feb

Enterprise open source firewall appliance software!

I needed to setup a content filtering firewall a few weeks ago for an office of about 50 people. The existing firewall was a Sonicwall Pro 4060 which is a very solid firewall and is more than adequate for 50 computers. Sonicwall also has a content filter application that installs on the Pro 4060. The drawback to using Sonicwall’s filter is the price. Their filter is billed on a recurring yearly subscription, and would cost about $2,000 per year to use. $2,000 per year was far beyond the budget for such a project, so I went to look for an open source or lower cost setup, hopefully without any annual fee. My first thought was a custom Linux-Debian computer made only to function as a firewall. After some research and a few recommendations, I found a great out-of-the-box Linux operating system, Untangle, that is designed specifically for dedicated firewall applications. This was a much better solution that custom configuring a Linux server.

The following is a quick guide on how to setup a Enterprise class firewall for a small to medium sized business. How good your firewall performs is dependent on the hardware that you use, but if you copied the specs of the one that I setup, it should easily handle 100+ computers and servers.

Tyan transport GS14

Click to continue…

11
Feb

How to properly use promotional products

Promotional products are something that many businesses use, but few use effectively. I get bags full of pens at conferences, but rarely do these ever incline me to deal with that company ever again. Chances are most promotional product use, ends with similar results.

There are a few key factors in making promotional products work.

  1. Give people something they want!
  2. Don’t skimp out!
  3. Design them properly!
  4. Quality targeting is more important than quantity!

1.) Give people something that they want and need!

When I go to trade-shows, I all to often come away with fifteen lanyards, hundreds of stickers, folders, and other stuff I don’t need and will never use. Not only is the ineffective marketing, but it’s a waste of material.

The best promotional products are going to be ones that people use every day. Sticky pads, note pads, and pens are the most effective promotional products for most businesses. People need them, use them daily, and they are relatively cheap. Unless you have something very unique that people will use very often, or you have a budget that allows you to purchase really cool promo products like USB memory cards, go with pens, notepads, and sticky pads.

Common sense plays a role in promo product selection. If you sell something that requires upkeep or supplies, make sure you send out a sticker or magnet that has your information on it and that supplies can easily be reordered from you.

2.) Don’t skimp out!

When you purchase 20,000 crappy no-name pens that work once before running out of ink or clogging, it doesn’t project your business in a positive manner. Like employees, promotional products are a direct representation of you. Make sure that people associate you with quality and value and not cheapness.

You don’t need to go out and buy $20 Cross pens for every customer (If you sell very high-end products, this may not be a bad idea though), but make sure you get something that your customer wants to use. If someone was to give you a pen and they wanted you to remember them for it, would a plain white bic pen do the trick, or maybe a super smooth gel pen that helps prevent fraud.

Using pens as an example, you should buy and distribute the kind of pens that people will get upset about if they lose them. The kind that write well on most surfaces, that don’t smear, and that feel good in your hand. You want to provide the type of products that are better than what your customer is used to using. This way, when they look for their pen, they look for your pen first.

3.) Design your promotional products properly!

Like a good website, your brand and information on your promotional products should be organized and usable. You can’t possibly fit your entire address on a pen. Sometimes you can’t even fit your logo on them. Make sure your business name or logo is on them clearly, and make even more sure that your website is on there. Chop-up your logo if you need to, but try to get a distinguishing business mark and your website on even the smallest product. On sticky pads and notepads, your information and logo should be on every page, but should still allow the product to be used. An effective way of doing it, is to place your logo in the center of each page, and your website and phone number at the bottom of each page. The logo should be about 80% transparent, and the text about 60%.

You need to be absolutely sure that your information is very clear and professional. Use vector based logos for print. Jpeg and other pixel based images are for the web and computers, and should never be used for print. If you need to, hire a graphic designer to convert your logo to a vector format. Make sure that you choose clean fonts that are easily readable.

4.) Quality targeting is more important than quantity!

There are two groups that you should be giving promotional products to. The first is your current customers who are likely to make repeat visits. The second is non-customers who may make a purchase from you in the future. Not everyone is going to shop with you, and you need to minimize your potential loses by not sending your promo material to the wrong people. Unless you brand is very strong, non-targeted promotional product spam is only going to lose money for you.

Actually figuring out who you need to target can be difficult. For repeat customers, you can use web analytics programs to find who your repeat customers are. You can find trends like purchased products, title, location, etc. You can mail out promo and light marketing material to customers who make similar purchases, or send your promo material with orders when they meet certain criteria. Also, just use some common sense. If someone makes a purchase for a product that requires continuing upkeep or additional supplies, make sure you are getting them promo material. If someone makes even a single repeat order make sure you include them as well. If they made a second order, they are even more likely to make a third.

Trade-shows are going to be tricky, because it would be rude to deny people products and targeting would be nearly impossible. In this case, you need to target only selective trade-shows. Something that many business owners don’t consider is the size of the trade-show. The larger the event, the less likely it will be that someone remembers you. Small trade-shows can be significantly more valuable than large ones.

The important thing to remember is that getting promo products to everyone is going to lose money. But, getting the promo material to the right people will increase your sales and hopefully for a lot cheaper than other forms of marketing.

30
Jan

Oh my stock, photos that suck

Almost every website with any resemblance of professionalism uses stock photography. Although it is usually very high resolution, it is so often very low in realism.

Do people actually respond to fake, photographs? Only your own testing can tell for sure, but one thing’s for certain, if the images on your site are actually unique and speak to your customers, you have an advantage over everyone else.

Here’s my favorite examples of the too-stock photography that we see everywhere!

The collaboration

Great ideas come from conflict and discussion, not cooperation. If everybody’s happy, then chances are nothing is getting done.

The corporate team

When you take a picture of a bunch of models in business suites, you end up with… A bunch of models in business suites!

The business professional

Hmmm. Just out of college and standing around dreaming. My advice is to stop standing around and get to work.

The customer service rep

If it were this much fun to work in a call center, they wouldn’t have the highest turnover rate of any job.

The grunge factor

Nothing says professional like a scruffy face or a crumbling wall…

However, You shouldn’t take this as a recommendation to put a bunch of low quality pictures on your site. But, trying to find some realism isn’t a terrible thing.

Do this:

  • Show realism!
  • Connect with your visitor!
  • Don’t choose a photo just for a pretty face!
  • Choose photos that have some relation with your service!
  • Use only clear, sharp, and high quality photos!
  • Take time when choosing any stock photo for your website. Make sure you can easily explain why you chose that image!

Here’s an interesting article about how people in photo’s can affect your website’s conversions.

15
Jan

Starting a new business, 5 reasons to avoid Microsoft now!

If you are a new online business owner, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to not become a whore to Microsoft, their high cost, and their ludicrous licensing system.

Since most of us started with Microsoft Windows it’s natural to assume that they are the only viable company that can provide software for our business computers. What you will find especially if you can grow into a medium size business with several employees, is that Microsoft is truly an evil company, and your business is far better off without them. I don’t just mean that your web server should not be running Microsoft, but if you have the capacity to, I recommend not installing a single piece of Microsoft software in your entire business.

There’s millions of people that make the Microsoft sucks claim, but here’s why you should avoid them with your business: Click to continue…

12
Dec

The myth of tax free internet sales

It has been a long held belief by most online shoppers that out of state internet purchases are tax free. I have to admit that I believed this for a long time myself, but unfortunately it’s not the case.

Just to dispel any theory dissolving that old ‘Death and Taxes’ quote, internet purchases are not tax free. That’s right. As the wording goes, most internet companies don’t have to collect out of state sales tax. However, consumers, businesses and any end users still must pay a “Use Tax” on non-taxed purchases that they make through mail-order or online.

Most states currently have Use Tax which specifically requires consumers to pay their state sales tax on purchases they make online that are not taxed by the business. There are some exemptions for certain types of products and for states that do not have any sales tax, but for the most part, taxes on these purchases are required to be paid to your state government. With the exception of very large purchases, use tax is rarely if ever monitored, as it would simply be an impossible feat for any state government to handle. However, we can all be sure that states are losing out on millions if not billions in uncollected taxes, so if you aren’t paying them, enjoy the free ride while it lasts.

Here’s a Use Tax table that I came up with covering which states require it:
(Let me pre-apologize about all of the PDF links here, Government websites are about as bad as they come, and in many cases PDF’s are the only pages available.)

Click to continue…

5
Dec

Get an awesome computer for really cheap!

If you are in the market for a new computer, but you don’t want to drop a couple grand, here’s how to get a really good one for under $500.

Go to eBay (of course) and look for a Dell Precision 450, 470, 650, or 670 with dual processors. These computers can run dual hyper-threading Xeon processors and usually come with XP Pro installed. You may need to buy some more RAM but otherwise a Dual 2.8Ghz (HT) computer will run under $500, and if you have time to bid rather than buy you may find one for under $300. Dual Hyper-threading roughly equates into four processors total.

Since these computers are essentially servers with XP on them, they should last a long time. The processor / chipset combination is rock solid, and you will be hard pressed to find a comparable computer for the price.

13
Nov

Spam-proof your dedicated server!

I wrote about a great cpanel firewall add-on that I found a while back.

The same company that designed configserver firewall, has two security packages that are designed to help maintain a cpanel/whm dedicated server.

I recently purchased the “cPanel Service Package + MailScanner” package for one of the servers that I manage.

Here’s what you get for $125:

  • iptables SPI firewall (csf)
  • Login failure detection (lfd)
  • Stop unnecessary processes
  • Logcheck
  • Logwatch
  • WHM configuration check
  • OpenSSH configuration check
  • Install and configure Rootkit Hunter
  • Install and configure Chkrootkit
  • install mod_security
  • Host spoof protection
  • Operating System check
  • Name server configuration check
  • Disk check
  • Kernel check
  • Apache tune and check ***
  • MySQL tune and check
  • Enhanced log rotation
  • Day of the week backup rotations
  • Secure /tmp /var/tmp /dev/shm
  • Install and configure ConfigServer Explorer (cse)
  • Install and configure ConfigServer Mail Queues (cmq)
  • Install and configure ConfigServer Mail Manage (cmm)
  • Perl installation check
  • Delete unnecessary OS users
  • Disable open DNS recursion
  • Enhance path protection
  • Remove SUID/GUID from binaries
  • PHP hardening
  • Exploit check
  • Disable vulnerable phpBB installs
  • Initial cPanel configuration
  • Enhance MailMan performance
  • Install MRTG graphs
  • MailScanner Server service
  • One week of informational tickets

While this is all great, what really caught my attention was the improvement with the email that the server was handling. Click to continue…

2
Nov

Online business will benefit from aggressive retail cross-selling

I am sick of shopping at retail stores (Putting aside mom-and-pop stores). I like going down the street to buy something, but I can’t buy a candy bar anymore without being offered a warranty, two magazine subscriptions, and a credit card. The cross-selling situation is getting to the point where I and others avoid shopping at retail locations. I avoid going into a number of stores simply because I don’t want to deal with being offered a bunch of crap that I don’t need. I have no problem saying no, but i just don’t want to have to. I bought a laptop from Circuit City, a while ago, and I had to literally walk out of the store for the salesman to stop adding the warranty to the bill. I’ve known more than ten people who’ve been talked into several hundred dollar warranties because they were pressured into buying them. They were hardly any improvement on the manufacturer’s warranty. In the past few months I have been observing other people’s reactions to this retail mess, and I’m certainly not the only one who is sick of it.

Lets compare up-selling online and in retail.

Click to continue…

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