Category Archives: Newsworthy

Asymmetry Can Be Aggravating

If you have even a little bit of a nerd in you, it’s likely that you’ve run a broadband speed test at some point in your life. Maybe you were troubleshooting an issue or maybe you just wanted to find out if you were getting your money’s worth from your ISP. Either way, you almost certainly kept your eye on one result: download speed. After all, that number is directly related to the functionality of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Almost everyone simply ignores the anemic “upload” number that comes later (on a “Gig” connection, for example, upload speeds are often around 20 Mbps). For most of us, the only thing we upload is a microscopic instruction telling a server what to download next. Even video games work on roughly the same principle – the download is what counts, the upload is secondary (for the most part).

That is, unless you try to back up any meaningful amount of information to the cloud. I found that out recently as we started to push forward with a plan to get our backups offsite without having to carry around hard drives (usually in a small lunch cooler designed for grade schoolers). Services like Egnyte and Dropbox are useful, but inelegant for backing up. Instead, we thought it would be simple to just “back up to the cloud.” Boy, were we wrong.

Asynchronous broadband – that is, a large download pipe with a small upload pipe – is great for 90% of applications, but really, really limits your ability to send information quickly to a remote server.

Want proof? I was stunned to hear that backing up our data to the cloud for the first time would take many days. Even more frustrating, we tried this process several times, and it would fail at the 11th hour, waving the “too much data” flag and sending us back to the start. We are now using some workarounds to accomplish our goals, but my experiences with backing up in the cloud has somewhat dimmed my confidence in the unlimited potential of the web.

Of course, you can acquire a synchronous internet connection if you have the resources, but few of us do. Instead, I suppose we’ll just need to wait until the information superhighway adds so many lanes that we can travel freely in both directions. Until then, we’ll count on physical transactions and incremental backups to accomplish our goals. The results may be the same, but the process can be a chore.

The future, it would seem, isn’t quite here yet.

Staying Out Of The Responsive Weeds

There’s an old saying when it comes to creating content for a responsive website: content is like water. In other words, it’s important to present it in a way that is flexible enough to “fill up” and appropriately fit whatever “container” the user chooses, from a smartphone to a laptop.

Back in the day, developers would sometimes build two entirely different websites, one for desktop viewing and another for mobile. Content would be repeated on both sites, but creating and managing that content was often a chore.

Now that we are able to create websites that simply conform to the user’s device, we only need to add content once. However, that convenience comes at a cost. Designers, writers and photographers all need to make compromises in the interest of responsive content, and sometimes it can be hard.

Here’s an example: Anyone who grew up working in the world of print media can tell you about the idea of “orphans.” I’m not talking about musical theater here, I’m talking about a single word hanging out by itself at the end of a paragraph. It creates weird spacing issues and it is considered one of the cardinal sins of typesetting.

Unfortunately, orphans are sometimes a necessary evil in the world of responsive web design. That’s because an orphan on your screen may very well not exist on your friend’s. The text flows to fill the space (remember the water analogy from the start of this blog?). If you try to force a bunch of line returns into copy on your device in an attempt fix orphans, you almost always create different orphans (and other problems) on other devices.

Think of it this way: pour water into a glass and mark the top of the water with a marker. Then choose another glass that is a different size or shape. Now pour the water from glass one into glass two and mark the top of the water again. The two marks will be at different heights, and that is how you should look at responsive content. The exact same content looks different depending on the container / device used to hold it.

So what can you do to make your content look as appealing as possible. I have two basic guidelines for you. First, target the most popular sizes / devices and test your content on them. If content looks appropriate on the screens that the lion’s share of your target audience uses, then you should accept that you did your best and call it good. Which brings me to my second guideline: don’t get too focused on creating content that is a perfect fit for every device. Creating modern web content takes a little bit of a laissez-faire attitude. Do your best, then let it go and do its job.

The internet will change the rules next week anyway.

Want to learn more about creating responsive content that works? Our team here at Code Roadies / Anchor Marketing can help. Give us a call.

The Key To Keywords

If you are a businessperson and you deal at all with the internet (so, pretty much everybody), you have heard a lot of talk about “keywords.” You probably did a little amateur etymology the first time you heard the phrase and determined that these “key words” are simply important words for you to include on your website (or even social media posts). And you wouldn’t be wrong.

But do you know why keywords are so important? Do you know how or when they are used? And by whom? Here’s a short primer on keywords, and a brief “how to” for putting them to work.

First of all, it’s important to understand that a keyword isn’t always a word. It is often a phrase. For instance, “car detailing” would be classified as a keyword, even though it is actually two words. As you’ll see a little later in this story, that can make a world of difference.

Keywords are utilized by search engines like Google (and search algorithms on platforms like Facebook). These complex computer programs try to simulate how a human seeks out information online. When you type in “car detailing,” the search algorithm does its best to analyze what you really want and deliver a result that you will click on.

This can be harder than it sounds. Is somebody who types in “car detailing” actually searching for details about cars? Does the word “cars” really mean all vehicles? Search algorithms do their best to make judgement calls on questions like this, “learning” from past experience to improve their chances for success.

That’s why it is so important for us to use keywords appropriately on our websites – to make it easy for search algorithms to find our content. Let’s say you have a car detailing business. Consider these two sentences:

Bring your car in to get detailed today.

VS

Joe’s Auto Cleaning is your headquarters for car detailing in Omaha.

In the first sentence, the specific keyword “car detailing” doesn’t truly exist. A search algorithm is pretty smart – and it may guess that your website has something to do with detailing cars – but it would prefer a sure thing. And if it treats “car” as a keyword itself, it is essentially useless. Keywords that are overused and ultra competitive make for tough sledding. It’s likely that your puny use of the word “car” on your site would be overlooked by search engines as they are instead attracted by car manufacturers, car dealers, etc.

In the second sentence, the keyword is used precisely how we want it interpreted (“car detailing”) AND we manage to get the location in as well (Omaha). Both sentences are grammatically correct, but the first assumes that the search engine is as smart as a human, while the second does not.

One more thing about keywords – don’t get carried away. This might seem like a contradiction after what I’ve just written here, but bear with me. Back when internet search was just getting off the ground, the algorithms were much more primitive. Essentially, the logic went like this: If a website using a keyword once is good, then a website using a keyword fifty times must be fifty times better. Good-intentioned (and not-so-good-intentioned) web designers across the internet sought to exploit this by “packing” their sites full of keywords (often wedging them into every sentence or simply pasting them twenty times on the bottom of a page). The results were terrible (they are any time that humans are able to manipulate results), so the engineers at Google changed the rules. Today’s search engine algorithms do their best to look for things like context. And they penalize black hat villains who are trying to game the system.

The key to keywords is to use them in a way that would appeal to a human who was evaluating your web pages. If a human could identify the point that you are trying to get across, then a search will too.

When we write content here at Code Roadies / Anchor Marketing, we do our best to put good keywords into all of the places that search engines look. If you’d like help making sure that your content is search engine-friendly, give us a call.

Why So Many WordPress Updates?

It has been a busy winter when it comes to updates for WordPress users. Not only did we finally get the long awaited 5.0 update to WordPress, many users were also asked to update PHP (the programming language on which WordPress is based) to version 7.2.

As is often the case with a major software update, the months following these changes have been filled with a plethora of incremental update releases, starting with 5.0.1 up to version 5.1.1 (as of this writing). It seems like we get an email from our hosting partner every other day with information about an incoming update.

Why so many updates? Currently there are about 20 million websites on the internet using WordPress. To provide functionality and flexibility to all of those websites, there are roughly 50,000 WordPress plugins, and they have been downloaded more than 1 billion times.

Simply put, it isn’t easy to predict how all of those plugins are going to work with all of those websites once they are using a new version of WordPress. The WordPress development group does their best, but inevitably it takes a little bit of experimentation to fine tune things. And it’s not just fine tuning by the folks at WordPress, mind you. All of those app developers need to make updates to accommodate the new version of the platform as well.

It is a team effort, but the rewards are already worth the work. The new content management system is much easier to use for novices. The new API helps developers create more feature-rich apps. Custom themes are easier. And without the security updates provided by these new versions, hackers would find WordPress websites to be much easier targets.

As they say, the only constant is change. As our mobile devices change, websites need to adapt in order to keep up. As websites change, WordPress needs to evolve as well. To do our part, we’ve worked with the majority of our customers to update their versions of WordPress and PHP, as well as the apps used by their websites – and we’ve made arrangements do so on an ongoing basis. So far, the results have been very encouraging, with few problems and lots of advances.

It’s in all of our best interest to look at this new spate of WordPress updates as the “new normal.” After WP5, updates won’t just happen a couple of times a year, they’ll be smaller but happen much more frequently (a method pioneered by Google with Chrome and Microsoft with Windows). Thankfully, most of these updates won’t be disruptive to apps or websites.

Remember, your website is a living thing. Unless it evolves based on the changing environment it lives in, it cannot thrive. If you haven’t already, contact Code Roadies / Anchor Marketing today, and let’s talk about how we can keep your website up to date and on top.

Time To Add An S To Your HTTP

Everybody has family members who point out their flaws. They may do it in the nicest way possible, but it’s irritating nonetheless. “How is the job hunt going?” they ask, forcing you to describe the career challenges you’ve been facing. It may sound like a question, but it’s really more of an accusation: “Explain why you don’t have a new job yet.”

Google Chrome is filling a similar role on the internet nowadays. If your website isn’t equipped with an SSL certificate (see an explanation here) and your URL still starts with HTTP (and not HTTPS), Chrome now calls it out with the words “Not secure” in the left side of the URL bar.

Google’s browser used to just show a small icon there that indicated that something was amiss. It was like your snoopy aunt whispering “I heard he’s been under the weather” to someone in the kitchen – not great, but easy to ignore. Chrome’s new “Not secure” message is much harder to overlook, and much more concerning to users. It’s like that same aunt standing on a chair and shouting “he’s got a terrible rash under that ugly sweater and it’s probably contagious!”

You see, Google has been whispering about unencrypted websites for a long time, and in the last year or so it decided to take its security shaming to a new level. In fact, there are times when Chrome won’t let you view an unencrypted website at all without clicking the web equivalent of a liability waiver. And all I can say is “it’s about time.”

SSL certificates are essentially internet security 101, and while they won’t stop all of the miscreants on the internet, they’re a simple – and sometimes free – way to slow down hackers and malware. SSL certificates are like turn signals. They’re so easy and effective at preventing accidents that we’ve started to take them for granted. That is, until we catch a driver who forgets to use them. Then we say bad words and ask questions like “who gave that guy a license?”

You do not want people asking questions like that about your website (“Why do they even have a site if they aren’t going to keep it secure and up to date?”). If your site doesn’t use an SSL certificate, it’s time to put one in place. The basic versions are easy to install and the industrial strength ones are challenging to install, but they’re all worth it in the end.

You can read about the process of adopting this change in Google’s own words here: https://www.blog.google/products/chrome/milestone-chrome-security-marking-http-not-secure/

3 Reasons Not To Send Bulk Emails On Your Own

It’s so tempting. Like the dessert bar at the Golden Corral, it just takes seconds to grab your entire address book and send out a bulk email to all your contacts. But just like that cheesecake that’s been sitting on the shelf since 9:30 AM, it’s not the right choice. Here’s why.

You Don’t Want To Be On The Blacklist

I’m not talking about the James Spader TV show that people keep trying to convince me to watch, I’m talking about the naughty list of internet emailers that get designated as spam. If enough recipients feel like you are spamming them and identify you as a spammer (I’m beginning to feel like a Monty Python skit), it can mess up your ability to send regular old email. “But I know them,” you might say. I would ask you this: are they really paying close attention to all of their emails? It doesn’t matter if you are inadvertently identified as spam, the consequences are the same: a massive headache as you try to get yourself out of internet “time out.”

You Might Be Breaking The Law

You may have noticed that privacy has once again become a hot topic on the web. Now that Facebook’s shadowy policies have led to European lawmakers overreacting and implementing overly strict online privacy laws (nice job, Mark), everybody is on high alert. You do not want to get busted sending promotional emails to people who have not explicitly opted in for them (that is, they haven’t checked a box that says, “I understand that I will receive your promotions via email”). Those kinds of shenanigans can also get you blacklisted – or worse.

Your Emails Will Look Bad (Really Bad)

It’s hard to send out an attractive, effective, modern-looking email blast from your personal account. It’s like using a screwdriver to open a paint can. It will work, but the results can get messy. Links tend to break, graphics rarely load and once in a while, the whole thing turns into a giant mass of code that looks like a programmer’s worst nightmare.

So How SHOULD I Send Out Bulk Email?

Use an email marketing service / platform like Mailchimp, Constant Contact or Campaign Monitor. These services allow you to upload a list of email users that you want to send to (don’t forget to make sure that they have opted in), create a great-looking email blast using nifty graphics (we can help if you want it to be extra attention-getting) and then manage the proceedings and view results. Campaign Monitor, for example, includes a fun interactive map that shows who is opening your email across a map of the world (in real time). Best of all, people can easily opt out of your email blasts. Why is that a good thing? Because they will often choose to do that instead of tagging you as spam. That keeps you off of the Blacklist.

Want to learn more about sending out effective email blasts to your customers and prospects? Drop us a line here at Code Roadies.

Why Classical Music Drives Me Crazy

My wife and I recently ran into one of those summer “binge draughts” that everybody seems to stumble across now and then. You know what I’m talking about – you have a show coming up in a few weeks on Netflix that you really want to watch, but in the meantime you don’t want to make a commitment to another series that you’ll have to put aside. Usually it results in our family sort of poking around at the streaming services, trying out new shows that seem safe – if we like them we can watch, if we don’t we can stop and nobody will ever know.

That’s how we came across Mozart In The Jungle, a program on Amazon’s Prime Video Service. I had avoided it for years, mostly because I simply do not “get” classical music. For some reason I like metal, rock, jazz, ambient and even some rap, but I have no tolerance for classical, which I find either too safe or too dissonant.

It’s surprising, then, how much I liked this program. In particular, I enjoyed the talents of Gael Garcia Bernal, Bernadette Peters (can she really be 70?) and Malcolm “any second he’s going to snap like an insane supervillian” McDowell. The series is light and fun, and I fell in love. I even started to warm up to the classical music featured in each episode. That is, until the episode called “Not Yet Titled” (how droll…) in season 3. In this episode, the charismatic maestro takes the orchestra to Rikers Island prison to perform several pieces by French avant garde composer Olivier Messiaen, once a prisoner himself (in World War II).

Call me a Neanderthal, but I’m not sure you can really call Messiaen’s work “music.” While I am sure that it takes tremendous skill to play, even performed perfectly it comes off sounding like a preschool music class armed with croquet mallets and garbage can lids. Imagine that you took the most accomplished group of classical musicians on the planet, gave them the best instruments ever made, had them warm up for an hour, then asked them to play as loud as they could while you pushed them all down a flight of stairs at the same time. It made me want to smash my Roku into tiny little pieces. It was that bad.

Why should you care? Well, first of all, I still suggest you watch Mozart In The Jungle – just skip the “Not Yet Titled” episode completely. You won’t miss a thing except the most excruciatingly un-musical cacophony you’ve ever heard. But more importantly, I believe that Messiaen’s songs represent a prime example of an artist writing for himself instead of his audience. Each mess he put into music was probably deeply cathartic. But like that boor at the dinner party who only wants to prove how smart he is, very few people want to listen.

It stands to reason, then, that when you create your website, your social media posts and every other bit of branded communication on your calendar, you must put the users – your customers – first. They come before the writers and the programmers and even the people who are paying for everything. Create your symphony for the listeners, not for the musicians.

I think that maybe that is my issue with a lot of classical music: it is absorbed and self-indulgent. Nobody likes a know-it-all, let alone a narcissistic know-it-all. This is a lesson that takes a while to learn, but it really pays off on the web. For example, it’s helpful to view and read the content on your website via a mobile device because the lion’s share of users will be doing the same thing. A bit of jargon that is unique to your industry might be a valuable keyword, but it should probably come with an explanation for those who are less experienced.

If Mozart and Beethoven are the pop stars of the classical music world, then get me tickets to the concert. There is no shame in creating content that people – and, as a result, search engines – like. The more users who are singing along to the content on your website, the more likely they will be to share it. 

Why Do Spammers Spam Us?

Sometimes I listen to podcasts while I am on the elliptical machine at the gym, and one of my favorites is Make Me Smart with Molly Wood and Kai Ryssdal from NPR’s Marketplace radio show. It sounds sort of boring, but it’s not. However, it is as educational as it sounds. The two hosts choose an obscure or complex topic from the world of business or science (bitcoin, blockchain, etc.) and explain it in a fun way so that regular people can understand.

On a recent episode, Make Me Smart teamed up with a cyber security expert to track down the origins of a seemingly random piece of spam that came to the podcast via a form on their website. It wasn’t one of those “military flashlight” emails or “refinance your home” emails. It was one of those strange messages that is made up of words that almost form sentences but don’t quite make it, like somebody arbitrarily spliced together episodes of Sesame Street with no regard for the result.

Those messages always make me wonder, “who is writing this stuff and why?” The folks at Make Me Smart were similarly curious, and the findings were very interesting but hardly surprising. At the root of the scam was an Asian dating website (isn’t it always?). With this unscrupulous service, lonely users pay big bucks with the promise of finding online happiness but never get what they are looking for.

Now humans can be gullible, but eventually we catch on. That was the case with the dating website. Searches like “is [shady site domain name] a real dating site?” and “is [shady site domain name] a scam?” started to dominate Google, eventually becoming more popular than the site’s actual domain name. That presented a problem, but spammers are nothing if not industrious, so they rolled up their sleeves and developed an entire fake website devoted to “answering” those questions. It was actually called “is [shady site domain name] for real” or something to that effect, and while it provided “both sides to the story,” the verdict was, of course, that the dating site was just fine to use.

Google, however, isn’t as easy to fool as lovelorn web users. The developers still needed to get their new site to the top of the search results in order for it to help their old site make money. That’s where the spam comes in. You see, those jacked up sentences in the spam are filled with odd keyword combinations that match up with similar information on the fake “is it real?” website, and by spreading them out via spambots, they managed to fool Google into thinking that a lot of people where interested in it. Over time, the “is it real?” site became the top search result, even more popular than the original dating site it was created to support. Mission accomplished, spammers: your disinformation site has overcome all of the real information on Google.

Not only do I find this interesting from a technical standpoint, I find it fascinating from a human nature standpoint, as well as a historical standpoint. The web has matured so much that the idea of simply starting over has become inefficient for these folks. Instead, they’re working the system to maintain and build on the equity in their original (admittedly shady) brand.

What’s the takeaway from all of this? First, put Make Me Smart on your podcast list. It’s fun, and you will have cool stuff to talk about at parties. Second, don’t give up on your own brand. The rules seem like they change every day, but if you’re diligent, they can work in your favor. We can help. Drop us a line or give us a call. We won’t create spam for you, but we can leverage your brand in new and interesting ways online.

How Real Is Silicon Valley?

I just started to watch the HBO show, Silicon Valley, and so far I like it a lot (though not as much as Betas, an early Amazon Prime show that it rips off liberally). The case is full of quirky characters, and overall it seems like Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis and Butthead) has finally found a voice that leans more on good writing and less on sledgehammer gags (Parker and Stone, you’re next). It’s funny, but more importantly, it has a compelling storyline that makes you want to see what happens next.

But how real is it? Is life in Silicon Valley really like how it is on Silicon Valley? You might think that I am unqualified to answer this question, given the fact that I have never actually been to Silicon Valley. And for the most part, you would be right. I can’t say for certain what it’s like to work at a giant search engine company where you ride a branded company bus to work and play dodgeball over your lunch break. But I can tell you one thing that the show gets completely right: Silicon Valley is all about business.

On the show, the leader of one large search company preaches relentlessly to his cult of followers about how their job is to make the world a better place. His true colors show quickly, however, when he loses out to a rival in a bid to acquire the main character’s new search algorithm. He quickly switches to bribery, intellectual property theft and overall dirty tricks (his so-called “spiritual advisor” is hilarious, a yogi yes man who simply agrees that everything the tech mogul says is “right” and then jets off to Aspen to spend his rewards).

At the same time, the kindly billionaire benefactor who saves the day by helping our hero start his new company turns out to be a jerk in his own right, a savant with limited social skills (he never looks anybody in the eye) who demands a business plan and a cap table without any guidance or advice. A cross between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, he is clearly meant to show us what the hero will become once he has given into the dark side (they share the same mannerisms, etc). In some ways, he is Darth Vader in a bad sweater and a tiny, ridiculously narrow Tango commuter car – nerd on the outside, all business underneath.

As someone who deals every day with Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., I can tell you with 100% accuracy that the main priority of all of these companies is to make money, not to make the world a better place. Their mission statements may disagree, but their actions speak louder than words. Facebook’s lack of oversight on Cambridge Analytica illustrates perfectly where the company’s focus is at, for example.

So while I can’t tell you if the programmers in Silicon Valley are really bullies from a 1980s coming-of-age movie (they seem like it on the show), I can tell you that the business models on display seem to be rooted in real life. In many ways, that’s a bad thing, with decisions being made solely based on financials. On the other hand, however, there is comfort in knowing that even Silicon Valley bows to the mighty dollar, giving the industry a sense of predictability that helps people like me do our jobs with a degree of confidence.

I may not live in Silicon Valley, but my job is Valley-adjacent, and that makes life interesting enough as it is.

Dropping Off The Grid

I recently discovered that a friend of mine from college cancelled his Facebook account. I haven't had a chance to speak to him about it, but the timing of his move coincided with the social media platform's recent privacy blunder. It seems like more than a coincidence to me.

I can't blame him. None of us like to think about Facebook pawning off our personal information to the highest bidder, and Mark Zuckerberg's less-than-commanding performance in front of congress did little to assuage our fears.

But is the logical next step to give up your social media connections all together? There have certainly been a good number of people talking about "dropping off the grid" lately, especially those calling for Mr. Zuckerberg's hoodie-covered head. According to them, it's time to go back to the basics.

It makes me wonder, though, if that angry mob is made up of villagers who didn't really want to be on social media anyway. I did a straw poll of my college students about this topic (average age: 20 or so), and the response was a collective shrug.

My takeway was this: you're not worried about data privacy if you never expected it in the first place.

I think, perhaps it is too late to go back. I saw at my local gas station that it no longer takes personal checks. I won't be surprised on the day that they tell us that they no longer take cash (though, this seems a ways off). Likewise, during graduation party season, it has become more and more popular (and economical) to invite friends and family via social media rather than via the U.S. Postal Service. Just as insisting that you write a paper check will limit the places you can stop for gas, going off the grid will limit the number of people you connect with socially.

Doesn't anybody remember junk mail? Publishers Clearing House packed our mailboxes with garbage for twenty years but none of us asked the post office to stop delivering our mail.

How do you think that Ed McMahon and his cronies got your information? They bought it from a list broker! Ladies and gentlemen, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I'm not saying that you need to take part in social media, but I am asking you to consider that everybody who is younger than you will. You may not care about being left out, but you should understand the chances of being left behind.

Don't fear the internet. There are still a lot of good people on here. And if we work together, maybe we can make it better. Inviting Mr. Zuckerberg to Washington D.C. was probably a good first step.