In Search of Sir Spamalot

By Carl Weiss

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, originated f...
The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, originated from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Everyone remembers the 2005 musical comedy Spamalot along with its irreverent send up of the Arthurian legend.  Directed by Mike Nichols, the Broadway production garnered three Tony awards and grossed more than 175 million dollars.  Flash forward nearly ten years and the term can be applied anew, only this time without coconut shells substituting for horses or the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.  What I am referring to is online spam.

What Constitutes Spam?  (And I’m not talking about the kind that comes in a can.)

Ever since the Internet was begun there have been a number of individuals who weren’t willing to play nice with all the other children.  Spammers have been the bane of many people’s existence online, especially in terms of using the worldwide web as a kind of email assault weapon,.  How big of a problem is spam mail? 

According to as of August 2013:
·  The percentage of spam in email traffic in August was down 3.6 percentage points and averaged 67.6%.
·  The level of phishing increased tenfold compared with July, and averaged 0.013%.
·  Malicious attachments were found in 5.6% of all emails, an increase of 3.4 percentage points compared to the previous month.

Add to this the fact that not only have malicious emails increased during the past year, but spammers have become much craftier, using everything from “Back to School” themes during August and September, to other lures relating to everything from popular holidays, sports, lifestyle, age and gender slants. 

Recent spam trends have included fake airline ticket offers, cruise ship deals and other inducements targeted toward people looking to take a vacation.  A number of these emails were even made to look as though they had been sent by legitimate companies such as Delta Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line or shipping companies such as FedEx, UPS and DHL.

“Fake notifications often utilize the names of popular international delivery services such as FedEx, UPS and DHL. They tell recipients that a courier failed to deliver their parcel due to an incorrect delivery address. To get the parcel, the recipient should print out the attached document and call the company's office or confirm specified data, including the delivery address. Malicious files can also hide in fake documents supposedly containing detailed information about the parcel, which does not in fact exist. Spammers try to make their fake notifications look legitimate and typically use not only an apparently real sender's address but provide non-existent order information, genuine contact details from official websites and a copy of a privacy notification letter.”

There Ought to Be a Law

While there are indeed a number of laws on the books in the US, the problem begins with trying to determine where the spam originated.  In fact the preponderance of spam originates from foreign shores.  A number of spammers also use proxy servers, slave drives and other forms of subterfuge to cover their trail.  There are a number of state, national and international laws in effect to prosecute these crimes. However, this type of subterfuge not only makes it difficult to prosecute the offenders, it makes it nearly impossible for the average citizen to seek any sort of redress should their system be compromised by malware.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

The first line of defense in the fight against spam is to never open an email from an email address with which you are unfamiliar.  This doesn’t guarantee success either, since email addresses can be pilfered and/or spoofed.  So if your best friend sends you an email that goes something like, “Check out this blog/offer/link,” don’t go there since your friend’s address has in all likelihood been compromised.  The quickest way to infect your system with malware is to get you to accept a link.

Also look for odd word choices or misspelling since people to whom English is a second language frequently have a hard time getting a fluent grasp on our native tongue.  If the message tells you that you have either won some contest that you never entered, or are about to be penalized due to an implied negligence, don’t fall for this trick. (Note: The IRS does not notify you by email.)  When in doubt, call the company from which the notice was purportedly sent or talk to an expert such as your business partner, accountant, or attorney if you need to check out any offer’s validity.  Never click on a link due to any emotional response.

Do not fall for an unsubscribe that requires you to enter your email address.  This is just a ruse designed for you to verify that your address is active.  There are dozens of ways for a spammer to get your email.  They can purchase a list or they can use a bot to trawl your site looking for contact information.  Don’t make spammers lives easier by signing up to win a free iPad.  Guess what, the only winner is going to be the spammer.

Need to leave your contact info on your website?  No problem.  If you use Gmail, you can create a number of subsidiary email addresses that you can use and eventually change once the spammers get hold of them.  Here’s a tip from WikiHow:

Have one main account, and then make a separate account for different purposes (one for friends, one for entertainment sites, one for your financial websites, etc.).
·         In gmail, you can add a "+" button to your email address. For example, you can signup for newsletters like if your email address is
·         Set all those addresses to forward the mail to your main account so that you do not have to check multiple accounts.
·         If you start receiving spam through one of your alternates, you can trace it to one of your disposable addresses and simply delete that account.

You Need More than One Line of Defense

While most email systems come with a spam filter, this is not nearly enough to protect your system from malware.  I recommend you not only invest in a first rate virus and malware protection system, but you should also invest in a secondary adware/malware system such as Malwarebytes or Advanced System Care.  Today one level of defense is insufficient to protect your system and your data.  Better to pay a few dollars now than many thousands of dollars should your security be compromised.

If you haven’t realized it already, spam is not going to go away.  If anything, it is becoming ever more prominent, effective and insidious.  While laws will continue to be created, these will have little or no effect slowing much less stopping those who wish to spam a lot.  Unlike the Knights of the Round Table, the call to arms when it comes to spam is not ‘One for all and all for one.”  It’s more like, “Every man for himself.”  That being said, it is up to every individual to defend themselves against this ilk since the courts are for the most part stymied by the international nature of this techno crime.  Where’s the Holy Hand Grenade when you really need it?

When Carl Weiss isn’t tilting against technological windmills, he helps clients learn how to start working the web to win.  He is also co-host of the weekly online radio show of the same name that airs live every Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern.

Are You Ready to The Win BIG Game Online?

By Carl Weiss

When Fall is just around the corner and anyone mentions the big game, most people immediately think of the Super Bowl.  And why not?  With a viewing audience of a hundred ten million for a game that commands nearly four million dollars for a 30-second TV ad, this is one game that’s hard to beat.  Well, at least it is on TV.  When it comes to that other big game, the online marketing game, we’re talking about a whole other arena.

With a worldwide audience of nearly three billion, Internet marketing is in a league of its own.  Unlike pro football, this is one game where literally every business owner on the planet is forced to play.  The problem is that most businesses are still sitting on the bench when it comes to online visibility.  Statistics show that 95% of businesses in the US have little or no presence on page one of the major search engines.  This is primarily due to the fact that this is one game where the rules constantly change.

Time to Get Off the Bench and Into the Game

Most businesses have a website.  In the past this was all you needed to get off the bench and into the 
Quarterback Shaun Carney rushing Français : Le...
game. That’s because before 2005, the Internet used a website-centric architecture.  What this means in plain English was that back then all you needed was a properly optimized website to get into the game.  This was in the time before such things as blogs, social networks and online video.  Once these online elements became commonplace on the Internet, the rules of the game were changed forever.  So much so, that by 2014, your website only contributes 25% to your overall ranking.  The other 75% consists of activity related to your blogs, social nets, podcasts and videos.

Sad to say but the days of set-it-and-forget-it online marketing are over.   If you want to succeed online, you need not only to embrace the off-site elements of your web presence.  You need to feed them.  More importantly, before you spend a lot of time and money playing the game of online marketing you need to start off by taking a look at your current strategy.  More precisely, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
    1.     How many page one positions does your       site currently have and under which               keywords?
   2.      How much traffic are you now generating? 
   3.      How many sales per month are a direct result of your website?

If your answer to these questions is either none or “I don’t Know,” then you need to head back to the locker room and rethink your strategy.  Because if your current game plan is not scoring, the only solution is to make some changes. 

If the name of the game is to score, then the first thing that every business owner needs to do is define what is meant by scoring.  I mean, are you trying to generate leads, sell your products and services, or simply brand your business.  If you can’t define your online goal, how are you going to be able to achieve it?

The Starting Lineup

The Patriots defense rushes the Eagles offense...
The Patriots defense rushes the Eagles offense during Super Bowl XXXIX. The Pats D had 4 sacks costing the Eagles 33 yards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Once you determine what you are looking to achieve on the playing field, then you need take a look at both your offense and defense.  Where most people consider their website to be the quarterback, in today’s online arena it is really only an eligible receiver ready to move the content you create.

You really need to look at your blog as the quarterback, since it is responsible for passing on timely information regarding your business.  Face it, once you create or refresh a website how often do you change it?  Once every year or so?  I you want prospects and clients to stay current with your business weekly blogs are the best way to move the ball down the field.  Of course, there are a number of other positions that are vital to your offense. 

We regard our social networks as our offensive line.  They give us the ability to run interference so that our receivers can get in position to catch the pass before the quarterback gets sacked.  Like any good offensive line, these players need to workout daily in order to keep in shape.  They need to stay healthy throughout the long season.  And they need to get off the bench and into the game.

That brings us to special teams, which is how we regard videos and podcasts.  It used to be that the Internet was text only.  Today that isn’t the case. Back in the late nineties people who found your business online would spend quite a lot of time clicking around your site to check you out.  Today you have less than two minutes to score.  Add to this the fact that people are five times as likely to watch a video or listen to a podcast than read text and you have to ask yourself if going multimedia isn’t a winning strategy you need to adopt.

Your Offense is only as Good as Your Defense

When it comes to winning, defense is every bit as offensive, right.  Think about what would happen to t
Shea Smith, the former quarterback of the Air ...
Shea Smith, the former quarterback of the Air Force Falcons, looks to pass during the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl. Español: Shea Smith, el ex mariscal de campo de los halcones de las Fuerzas Aéreas, se pase el fútbol durante el Armed Forces Bowl de 2007. Français : Le Quarterback Shea Smith juste avant de faire une passe. Suomi: Pelinrakentaja Shea Smith valmistautuu syöttämään. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
he quarterback if the ball was hiked to him and there weren’t any linemen to keep the other team’s defense at bay.  That would be either a very long day or a very short day for that QB.

Before a consumer or another business owner decided to do business with you, they need to check you out.  While your website, your blogs, your videos and social posts tell them a little bit about what you do, what it doesn’t tell them is what your customers think of you.

The main reason that prospects are reluctant to give you their contact information or make an initial purchase doesn’t have as much to do with price as it has to do with trust.  The Internet is known to be a den of scammers and spammers.  You read about it every day.  Today things like reputation management, online reviews and video testimonials are vital to giving a prospect the confidence to make an initial purchase or sign up for an offer.

That means they want to read reviews and they want to hear what your customers have to say before they do business with you.  I you aren’t cultivating positive reviews and posting credible video testimonials then don’t complain if they decide to do business with someone that does.

Worst of all is the fact that if you do not have a mechanism in place that fosters positive reviews then that only leaves what:  Negative Reviews.  I don’t care how conscientious you are then sooner or later you are bound to rub someone the wrong way.  When that happens don’t be surprised if the disgruntled party doesn’t post negative remarks and ratings about your company.  That’s just the way the web works today.  That’s also why you need to make the effort to cultivate positive reviews.  This way if you take a hit, you will be able to get back on the field and continue to play.

Gimme the Ball, Coach!

Last but not least the thing that separates the dynasties from the also-rans in the NFL is one thing: 
Coaching.  If you are still trying to put together a winning team without a coach, or are trying to coach your team by yourself, let me give you some food for thought.  Working the web to win is not a game
 to be taken lightly.  The success or failure of your business could well hinge on your company’s web presence.  Get it wrong and your website could languish in the backfield of this money game.    This also holds true for anyone you hire to manage your web presence. 

Unless you have the manpower and intestinal fortitude to lead your team onto the field week in and 
U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander, U...
U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander, U.S. Central Command, gets ready to toss the coin at Super Bowl XLIII, Feb 1, 2009, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
week out you are going to have to hire a coach.  While there are many  highly reputable online marketing firms out there, there are also a number of firms that can do more harm to your business than a wily competitor.  That’s due to the fact that there are still some people who make their money by trying to cheat the search engines in order to beat the search engines.  While black hat tactics can jump you to page one in a hurry, once discovered these tactics can cause your website to be banished from the playing field altogether.

Therefore it is important that you check out the credentials of anyone who offers to help you promote your web presence online.  Among other questions, you need to ask the following:

     1.      How many years have you been promoting businesses online?
     2.      Can I speak to some of your current clients?
     3.      What are your fees and what will I receive should we choose to hire you?
     4.      How long is the contract?
     5.      Do you offer any guarantees?
     6.      What happens if you fail to deliver?
     7.      Who do I call if I have any questions or concerns?
     8.      Have any of your clients ever been de-listed by the search engines?

Last but not least you should search online to see if their firm has any positive or negative reviews.  (Having no reviews is almost as big of a red flag as having a bunch of negative reviews.)  The last thing you want to do is trust the future of your team with anyone who has not been able to deliver a winning season or who has been penalized by the league. Because when it comes to playing the game of online marketing, you’re only as good as your last season.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.   You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4pm Central on BlogTalkRadio

Turn Your Best Customers into Your Best Salespeople

Everyone thinks that being on page 1 of search engines like Google is the be-all, end-all of online marketing.  Far from it.  In fact, I have known a number of companies that were all over page one but were still failing to convert clicks into cash.  Like it or not, the biggest roadblock you have in finding the net profit on the Internet is not only related to generating a page 1 result.  The other and even more important factor is credibility.

 Face it, if someone clicks from a search engine to your website there is a 99% probability that they don’t know you.  Add to this the fact that there are more scammers and spammers online today than ever before and it is natural that most trust is at a premium online.  While things like Google reviews and rave reviews on sites like Angie’s list can go a long way toward building customer confidence, there is an even better way to seal the deal.  If you are looking for the ultimate Internet confidence booster, allow me to say two words: Video Testimonials.  Now I know what you're thinking, "I already have testimonials on my website.  Why do I need to create videos of them?"

If you want the short answer to the question, pick up the phone and call a friend and ask him or her when they look at a printed testimonials, who they assume wrote them.  Nine times out of ten the answer you will receive will be, "The website owner."

That's the problem with printed testimonials. They lack credibility.  Just like backlinks, it is all too easy to rig the game by planting bogus testimonials on a website. Video virtually eliminates the possibility of chicanery.  Since seeing is believing, by taking the time to shoot a 60-second testimonial, you automatically gain points on the old credibility meter.

The second roadblock stopping many businesses from taking advantage of video testimonials is the fear factor.  They are simply too afraid to ask a satisfied customer to stand in front of a camera.  One of our clients is a chiropractor.  When we suggested that he ask patients to drop by for an interview he was aghast.  “I can’t ask patients to tell you about their treatments.  Our relationship is too intimate.”

To make a long story short, I convinced him to humor me and ask a couple of patients whether they would be willing to be interviewed on video.  Not only did the first few patients jump at the chance, but after a year and a half more than forty of his patients and that of his partner across town have trouped by our studio to stand in front of the green screen in order to tell us what great chiropractors they are.

The bottom line is if you don’t ask you don’t get.  While credibility is a great reason to take the time and trouble to shoot video testimonials, it is not the only reason.  Another reason that I encourage all our clients to videotape their testimonials is due to the fact that satisfied customers are able to toot your horn the loudest.  Where you would draw incredulous stares by brazenly stating what a wonderful job you do, or how much your services help people solve their problems, a client can tell your audience exactly how they feel about your business.  They are not hemmed in by the constraints of humility in the same way that a business owner would be.  They can call it as they see it.

For a sample of a video testimonial, click on the link below:

The best part is that it's not all that difficult to get a customer or two to agree to tell their story via video.  In fact, it's been my experience that most customers are thrilled to be invited to participate in a taping.  Some of them are real hams.  The important thing is to tell them that they don't have to rehearse what they are going to say.  All they have to do is answer a few simple questions in front of the camera.  That's all there is to it.  Then you or your videographer can cut and paste the best sound bites together and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.

Video testimonials do not have to be long or involved to create real impact.   You would be surprised how much a happy customer can impart to your audience in 60-90 seconds.  The objective is not to program a reality TV show, but to show prospects a few choice bits of information about your business designed to goose them into taking action.

Employed properly, a couple of carefully crafted video testimonials can be some of the best sales tools you will ever have.  Once you create them don’t forget to share the wealth.  Embed them on your site’s homepage as well as your blogs.  Push them out to all your social nets.  Create a QR code that can be printed onto brochures/  As I said, for a minimal amount of effort, these videos are worth their weight in gold. 

So turn your best customers into your best salespeople by letting them toot your horn for you.  The results will be music to your ears.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.   You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4pm Central on BlogTalkRadio.