Site is back up!

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 | Blog | No Comments
Sorry for the recent down time. Our blog was part of an XML-RPC Ping back attack and it brought the server to it’s knees. We believe we have some safe guards up to prevent this and hopefully we won’t run into that again in the future.

For any of you that saw my comment on .minerva, I am working on a web version of the application so there won’t be any more Adobe AIR issues that’s been plaguing it. I’m nearly completion of an initial release within the coming weeks. Right now the major hurdle left is bug testing and getting it to write and save the files from the browser. Not many browsers support this, but more will in the future so for the time being you will need a modern browser to use the web version completely.

Are Web Host Backups Reliable?

Monday, November 11th, 2013 | Security, Web Development | 1 Comment

What does it mean when my host “backs up my site”?

web host backups

Some hosting companies, including CourseVector, offer site backups as part of their customer service plan. It’s great to have this backup just in case something happens to a website. But just because you have a copy of your site doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Very few customers understand what it means when their host creates a backup. It can still cost money to reformat the site to bring it back to what it once was. Understanding what it means to back up a site is important for anyone who owns a website.

Here is something to keep in mind before we begin: Most ISPs put their backups on the same network as the website.  So, if the website server is hacked, the backups can also be hacked.  CourseVector backups are offsite, stored hundreds of miles from the web servers, and they are not linked via network connections. This means that hacking is very unlikely. Moving forward, we will discuss the types of backups CourseVector uses for our clients.

Tarball Backup

A tar ball is a zip file, created for each account, that is then stored at a remote location.  This is done daily, weekly and monthly, meaning we have 3 backups at all times.  This is an entire backup containing everything including the website, e-mail, databases, and everything contained within your online server.

This can be restored to our servers, or any server running a similar version of cPanel. But again, this doesn’t mean that your website will be everything that it was prior to the restoration without some tweaking on the part of our developers.

 WordPress Backup

We use a proprietary, third party program to backup WordPress sites that we manage and update.  Before we work on a website, we back it up.  The backup is stored on an Amazon S3 server with replication across 99+ servers world-wide. This might sound incredibly technical, but the take-away is that there are several copies of the backups to help ensure that one is always at the ready.

The backup can easily restore everything relating to a WordPress site and can even be restored to a different server and/or domain name.

Secondary WordPress Backup

In addition we have an automatic WordPress backup, for a small extra fee, that copies the entire WordPress site, at regular intervals, and stores the backups on Amazon S3 servers.  This backup is available in various configurations. Contact us for more information.

Are these backups reliable?

Just because you have everything backed up does not mean that those backups are plug-and-play. Unless you are using the proper backup software, the look, feel and functionality of websites, email, etc., may not restore properly and most backups do not provide the ability to change servers or ISPs easily. In addition, these backups are not guaranteed. They are offered as a courtesy, and the host company is not responsible if a backup is unavailable for a specific date or time or if it cannot be restored at all.

At CourseVector, we do our best to protect our customers should something happen to their website. We understand that this is your livelihood. We are there for you 24/7 should something happen. Contact us today for more information on our hosting services.

5 Frightening WordPress Theme Issues

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 | Web Development | No Comments
5 Frightening WordPress Theme IssuesWith Halloween just around the corner, frightening things are popping up all over the place. However, one place to avoid scary surprises is your business website! Read on to learn five reasons you should choose your WordPress theme carefully.

It is no secret that CourseVector loves WordPress. We recommend it to our customers and use it when we design a majority of our sites. There are a lot of resources available to help with WordPress website design, one of the most popular being the theme.

A WordPress theme is a design template for a website. It’s what the user sees when they land at your domain. While a good portion of the theme is design, they also modify the site’s functionality, features and usability. In order to do this, the theme developer uses code. It does not affect WordPress ‘ underlying software.

While some themes are monitored and inspected by WordPress developers, not all themes created for WordPress are. Many third party companies design and develop themes for consumers to use. Some are free. Some cost money. All must be researched before they are installed. Installing a theme that was not programmed well can make your website vulnerable to a number of unwanted troubles.

  1. Hackers – Many hackers look for an easy target. If a theme was built using insecure code, it is at risk for being hacked. Sometimes, hackers will attack a site just for the glory of it. Malicious code can be as simple as to promote someone else’s website. Other types of hacks are much more malicious. They can infect users’ computers without the user even realizing it.
  2. Spam – One of the biggest problems CourseVector sees with cheap themes is that forms are improperly coded. As it stands now, business websites must have a way for the user to contact them. It is great to have a form right on the site so the user doesn’t have to go through their email account to ask a question or request information. However, hackers often take advantage here. Forms are begging for input. Hackers provide that input, blasting your inbox (and host server) with thousands of emails. If the attack is bad, it can shut down a server.
  3. Lack of support – If the developer does not offer any type of support, and you are unfamiliar with making modifications to a theme, you might be stuck when the latest version of WordPress comes out or a security update is pushed.
  4. Slow Running Site –  Some themes can use excessive system resources slowing down the presentation of your pages.  This is normally caused by poor programming and  improperly sizing graphics. If a site runs slowly, users can get bored and leave without even viewing the content!
  5. Horrible SEO – If your site happens to be attacked (either spam or hackers) you may as well kiss your search engine optimization goodbye. Google flags suspicious sites and penalizes them for being spammy. Not to mention, Google also penalizes sites for being too slow (see #4). This is the exact opposite of what you paid good money to accomplish during your SEO campaign.

If any of these problems require you to rebuild your site, the financial impact will be great. Backups only provide so much help, often only with content rather than look, feel, and settings.  It is better to vet your themes carefully prior to using them to build your business’ website. WordPress does have a Theme Authenticity Checker (TAC), which will scan a theme’s code. If any portion of the code is deemed potentially malicious, it is flagged. This plugin can help, but what do you do when you find potentially harmful code in your chosen WordPress theme?  Also, many themes pass the test, but are still poorly written and contain security flaws, improper coding, etc.

If you do not have someone on your team with the technical expertise to research themes and other security issues, CourseVector would love to help. Our technical team has experience with a whole host of themes and their issues. Put our experience to work for you.

Change is for the Birds

Monday, October 21st, 2013 | SEO | No Comments
Change is for the BirdsGoogle has updated its entire algorithm recently. The Hummingbird update, launched at the end of August 2013, was designed to improve more complex, conversational search queries. It generated some buzz, but it doesn’t seem to have the impact on individual sites that Google’s Panda and Penguin updates had. Here’s what you should know:

                • While Panda and Penguin updated components to the algorithm, Hummingbird was an overhaul.
                • Hummingbird affects individual queries more than entire websites.
                • Hummingbird is not the most recent Google update; the latest was the Penguin update, which was pushed October 4, 2013.
                • Google is not going to stop “improving.”

Instead of worrying about the next update and how it will affect rankings and traffic, consider doing things right the first time. Don’t use black-hat SEO techniques. Google updates are partially spurred by those abusing the system. Don’t contribute to that nonsense. Create solid content and a meaningful user experience. Remember that content, links, social media, tags, and authority are all important attributes to your SEO campaign. As long as you do each honestly, you should not have much to worry about the next time that Google pushes an update.

Should I Ditch My SEO Provider?

Monday, October 14th, 2013 | SEO | No Comments
SEO Cost Versus BenefitLet’s face it, SEO firms are EXPENSIVE. There’s no two ways around the fact that a business must shell out a considerable amount of many every month to receive services that they may or may not understand.

How can you tell if your SEO campaign is worth the investment when any ROI can seem so small? There is no easy way to justify spending the money if you’re not seeing the results you thought you would. However, this doesn’t mean that your campaign is not working or not worth the effort. I get it; you’re frustrated. But there are a few things you should examine before pulling the plug on months of hard work.

Where did you start and where are you now?

When you started the campaign, there was a baseline measurement. Was it traffic? Was it rank? Was it conversions or sales? Compare the numbers from when you started to where you are now. It is not fair to think that numbers will jump unrealistically if you’re a small business with a limited SEO budget, in a very competitive market, or if you’re in a market with very few searches. SEO takes time. You’re building your brand on-line. You wouldn’t expect to build a brick-and-mortar brand in a few weeks so don’t expect that of your online marketing campaign either. If the numbers haven’t improved after six months to a year, it’s probably time to switch providers or rethink your original marketing strategy.

What were your company goals? What are they now?

Evaluating your company goals should be the first steps in any marketing campaign – including SEO. Take a look at your goals when you began your SEO campaign? Were they aligned with the SEO efforts?  What are your goals now? Are they still aligned with your SEO efforts?

Just because you answer no here does not mean you should drop SEO altogether. It might mean that you can adjust fire with your online marketing. Your marketing efforts should always line up with your company goals. Perhaps your business has changed. Perhaps the market has changed. Maybe the goals you set up in the beginning were unrealistic. Either way, it is important to reevaluate your goals every so often to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.

What were your KPIs? Do they still match the company goals?

When you begin an SEO campaign, you should have a clear set of indicators that you’d like to measure through the life of the project. Perhaps you wanted to measure sales. Perhaps you wanted to measure conversions. These indicators must line up with your company goals. When you reevaluate your goals, take another look at these key performance indicators (KPIs) as well.

If you haven’t seen growth in the areas that you hoped, it might be time to find another provider. However, you might also adjust fire here. If your KPIs were unrealistic or misguided, it might be time to brainstorm new KPIs that will better measure the success of the campaign. You might be having more success than you think, but the picture is unclear because you’re measuring the wrong things.

Was your SEO plan a multi-phase process? If so, have you moved on to the next phase?

Sometimes, an SEO plan must be multi-phase. If you’re starting with a new or obscure brand, it will take some time to get visitors to even see your site. It is unrealistic to think that these visitors will automatically be customers each and every time. With increased visibility will come increased conversions or sales. However, you must take it one step at a time.

If you feel it’s time to move on to phase two, simply talk to your SEO service provider. They are there to serve you. They can help you come up with new KPIs to measure the success of the next phase of your campaign.

Are you happy with your service provider’s customer service?

In my opinion, there is no explanation necessary here. You must trust the people you work with. If you are not happy with the service you’re receiving from your SEO provider, it is time to take action. You can start by having a discussion, letting them know that you’re uneasy or unhappy. Don’t attack them or make them feel as if they have done nothing for you, especially if you’ve been working together for any length of time. Just let them know that you have concerns, spell out these concerns, and indicate that you’d like to have a conversation about making a change. If nothing changes, there’s no harm in switching service providers. If someone else is a great fit with your company, you’ll probably see better campaign results.