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Blogger Clamping Down on Malware and Spam

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Last week, Blogger was branded the number one host for malware across the internet in a report by security company, Sophos. Then on Friday, Blogger began a major initiative to identify and lock down potential spam blogs hosted on its’ servers in which many innocent blogs were caught in the crossfire.

The result? A damaging blow to Blogger’s reputation as a reliable blog host, and many frustrated users moving their blogs over to WordPress.

But what’s the real story behind these damning headlines? Is Blogger really such a bad host?

Why is Blogger the No#1 Host for Malware?

Blogger is a free blog hosting and publishing service which allows users complete access to their template code. This means that Blogger users are able to fully customize their templates, which includes adding JavaScript: an option restricted by most other free hosting and blog publishing services (including WordPress.com).

This option has proved to be a double edged sword: on one hand, most Blogger users are happy to have full access to their template code and publish perfectly innocent blogs which are no danger to the internet at large. But on the other hand, malicious hackers are able to take advantage of this loophole to host malicious code.

A recent trend has seen innocent blogs corrupted by malicious links posted as comments to their posts. As Sophos points out:

Hackers both set up malicious blogs on the service, and inject dangerous web links and content into innocent blogs in the form of comments (Source)

Graham Cluely of Sophos explains that Blogger hosted sites are a prime target for hackers because of the close relationship with Google:

The attraction for the bad guys in targeting Blogger is that things pretty much get spidered instantly into Google, because it [Blogger] is part of Google

In total, Blogger hosted content accounts for 2% of malware on the Internet. As one of the world’s leading free blog services, Blogger has a duty to it’s users to ensure a reliable and trustworthy service which is free of malicious exploits and undesirable content. As a Google spokesperson pointed out:

Google takes the security of our users very seriously, and we work hard to protect them from malware. Using Blogger, or any Google product, to serve or host malware is a violation of our product policies. We actively work to detect and remove sites that serve malware from our network. (Source)

Sophos says it doesn’t blame Google for the situation and that the company is proactive in weeding out malicious sites from its search results. It also claims pre-scanning blogs for malicious content simply wouldn’t work.

The sheer weight of legitimate traffic makes that unworkable. We see 16,000 malicious web pages added every day – that’s one every five seconds. (Graham Cluley, Sophos. Source)

Blogger does have a system in place to detect blogs which host malware or which are suspected of spam. Bloggers whose blogs are identified as sources of these problems are notified and suspended from posting until they remove unwanted content and request a manual review. However, this system can also cause problems, particularly when innocent bloggers are caught in the crossfire.

False Positives in Blogger’s Spam Detection System

At the other end of the scale, many Blogger users have been angered by the false detection of their blogs as potential hosts of spam.

On Friday, and also in previous months, the official Blogger Help Group was awash with protests from members who were locked out of their blogs due to the suspicion of spam:

Dear Blogger user,

This is a message from the Blogger team.

Your blog, at http://welovetemplates.blogspot.com/, has been identified as a potential spam blog. For an explanation of what spam blogs are, please see Blogger Help.

You will not be able to publish posts to your blog until we review your site and confirm that it is not a spam blog. To request a review, please fill out the form found here: link was here.

We will take a look at your blog and unlock it within four business days. Please note that if we do not hear from you within 20 days, we will remove your blog. If this blog does not belong to you, then you do not have to do anything. Any other blogs you may have will not be affected.

Since you are an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not spam. We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog is flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this erroneous result. By using this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to users like you instead of to spammers.

Thank you for your understanding and for your help in our spam-fighting efforts.

Sincerely,

The Blogger Team

After Friday’s incident, Blogger restored all innocent blogs which had been locked in this manner and apologized to all affected in an official statement:

We want to offer our sincerest apologies to affected bloggers and their readers. We’ve tracked down the problem to a bug in our data processing code that locked blogs even when our algorithms concluded they were not spam. We are adding additional monitoring and process checks to ensure that bugs of this magnitude are caught before they can affect your data. (Source)

It’s no surprise that bloggers affected by this issue were infuriated by the accusation and inability to post on their blogs. Many had already vowed to export their blogs to a different host, hoping to safeguard their content against further occurrences of this issue.

Is Blogger a safe host for bloggers?

This is the million dollar question, and one certainly asked by thousands of bloggers in light of these recent revelations about the blogging giant.

Surely, the initiative to remove spam and malware from the system is working. Fewer (if any) splogs appear when using the “next blog” browser on the Blogger toolbar, and it certainly seems many have been removed from Technorati’s index.

As stated in the terms of service, Blogger does not own the content hosted on its servers:

Your Intellectual Property Rights. Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.

Like all reputable hosts, Blogger has policies in place to protect itself from malicious content and reserves the right to remove such content from its servers if it violates these terms of service. Indeed, any reputable host should have similar terms in place and will exercise the right to remove content which violates these terms.

Those affected by false positives in Blogger’s fight against spam should feel reassured that their privileges will be restored after review. While this is incredibly inconvenient and upsetting for those involved, let’s hope Blogger will win the fight against spam and ensure a better environment for those using it’s free service.

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Amanda is a freelance blogger and web/blog designer. She writes about Blogger at www.BloggerBuster.com and maintains several other blogs on various subjects.

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Oh, Now I Get It! How to Explain Complex Topics to Your Audience

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Technical writers have a great number of skills, but perhaps the most important is the ability to adapt your language to the level of comprehension your audience has. A highly technical and complex article can overwhelm readers or even bore them.

“But it’s impossible to delight my readers and keep them engaged when I’m talking about the

IEEE 802.11ac principle of broadband technology,” We hear you cry. And, we get it. Turning a technical article into a sexy piece of content can feel like a daunting task, but it’s not mission impossible.

Here are a few content creation tips that will help you explain complex topics to your audience in a delightful manner.

Imagine That You Are Explaining the Subject to a Non-Tech-Savvy Friend

One of the most important things when creating technical content for a more broad audience is consistency. So, as much as possible try to use the same tone, level of knowledge, complexity of vocabulary, and so on. The easiest way to calibrate your writing style is to imagine that you are writing for a friend or a relative that has nothing to do with your area of expertise.

Imagine you are trying to explain a particularly complex topic to them, in a friendly and light discussion. How would you approach the subject? What elements you think would bore or frustrate them?

What helps you in the real world is adapting your style and vocabulary to the other person’s knowledge. You know that you don’t have to explain what an Internet browser does, but you might have to tell them more about the coding behind it when discussing responsive web design, for instance. Use common words and keep them engaged with a lighter, friendly style.

Adapt Your Vocabulary and Structure

Let’s take a look at how you can flip your technical writing to be more approachable. First of all: use concepts that your audience is familiar with or at least has a general idea about them.

A good start is to check what search words visitors use when browsing your website. You will identify commonly used terms that are related to the technology that interests them. Use those keywords yourself to keep visitors on your page.

Also, be careful about the structure of the text when writing online, especially when you are trying to explain something complex. Make sure to split your text into readable chunks. You can also help the reader understand the subject better by using titles and subtitles to separate the main ideas of your article.

Build up the Knowledge of Your Audience, from General to Detailed

Once you have established a common language and vocabulary between you and your target audience, start methodically presenting your topic, from general level information to more detailed aspects. Applying this rule will help you readers understand the topic better without wasting too much time. Online readers tend to ignore content that is, irrelevant or hard to understand.

While it is important to get the basics straight before getting deeper into your subject, make sure to summarize the purpose of your article at the very beginning, as it will let your audience know what they will learn about after going through it.

Use Style Tools That Help Your Audience Relate to the Topic

The fun part of writing about technical topics for a general audience is getting creative with it. Because you can’t use the “boring,” “stiff” technical jargon, you must come up with expressive comparisons, examples, and analogies. You can even evoke anecdotal evidence to support the facts since they are highly relevant for many of the users.

Helping them relate to the topic you are writing about is the key to grabbing their attention. Use day to day examples for the systems and processes you are describing, or mention the best-known similar thing. Give them examples of possible situations when they can come across the topic you are writing about and enable them to talk about it themselves.

Ultimately, is all about correctly identifying the level of knowledge your audience has. Encourage them to comment and ask any questions and keep the conversations alive.

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IT Management Solutions: What is the Key to Improving Employee Efficiency?

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There are many ways you can improve your employees’ efficiency. From decluttering the workspace to encouraging a stress-free environment, there is a whole range of things you can do to make your work life run smoother. One such technique you need to adopt for your company is an IT management solution.

What Does It Do?

An IT management solution such as SysAid takes all of the day-to-day programs that a business will use and consolidates them into one easy-to-use package. Every employee should be able to log on and complete all their work without having to leave the initial program.

It can contain such subsections as project management, customer relationship management, billing and invoicing, and a whole host of other features.

Why Should Employers Implement Such a Solution?

A system such as this allows managers to have better visibility over the company as a whole. They will be able to tell if an employee is completing their daily tasks to the best of their ability and will also allow them to see where they are lacking.

The data from the completion of these daily tasks can easily be tracked and analyzed to see where employees are struggling with efficiency. With some adjustments, efficiency can then be improved in these areas.

Project Management

One of the key reasons to install an IT management solution is for the project management aspects. A good project management program lets all employees know where they are with their projects at all times. Whether you are just working on the project or a project manager, you will be able to see the stage that the project is at and all the steps and processes that still need to be completed.

This collaborative nature helps improve speed and efficiency and stops the project becoming grounded in a lack of communication. If you are not yet using a project management system, you will notice that many small but important problems like misuse of resources will be greatly reduced.

Customer Relationship Management

By having your customer service staff use one portal for all their needs, you will see a great improvement in efficiency when it comes to handling customer enquiries. An IT management solution can contain a database with all your customer’s information. This means that if a case needs to be passed from one team member to another, there is little to no chance of any relevant information being lost in the transfer. Everything should be in place in the one database.

Invoicing and Billing

Keeping your various accounts and invoices in different places can lead to items being forgotten or double-charged. By using an IT management software, your managers and accountants will be able to successfully keep track of all costs and reduce unnecessary spending. This will improve efficiency as multiple enquires are not being made to complete invoices and other reports.

There are just some of the ways an IT management solution can improve your business. If you feel you need to improve your company’s efficiency, consider implementing one today.

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7 Less Obvious Keyword Research and Content Analytics Tools

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Digital content has several powerful benefits over print content: It’s cheaper to distribute, it’s open and global (especially when it’s in English which most of the world can understand) and it offers an unprecedented opportunity to understand your audience better.

Actually, technology and digital content do wonders: Having both you can target your customers precisely when and where they are most willing to engage.

“Content and technology are strange bed fellows. We are joined together. Sometimes we misunderstand each other. But isn’t that after all the definition of marriage?”

To get an idea of how powerful digital content metrics can be, read and bookmark these articles:

Here are a few free or cheap content analytics options any blogger can afford:

1. UberSuggest

UberSuggest

UberSuggest is a free keyword research tool that offers quite a few cool content analytics features.

This tool is a bit broad but I felt it deserved a place on the list. It works by letting you put in key phrases and then gives you data on that and alternatives, including the power of that phrase on Google. You will be getting an idea of what phrases are already being cornered by competitors, as well as which ones are easier for you to target.

I also like this one as a content planning tool as I can find ideas for content related to an idea I had. I have come away from UberSuggest with my editorial calendar full many times.

2. Cyfe

Cyfe web analytics

Cyfe is not just analytics tool. In fact, you can use for anything under the sun, it’s a Swiss knife of business monitoring. And it has some cool analytics integrations that will make your analytics reports much faster and easier to access.

Use Cyfe to integrate your favorite Google analytics reports, monitor your social media growth, traffic spikes and more.

3. Tweriod

Tweriod might not be quite as relevant as it once was, but it is still a useful tool if you post a lot of content on Twitter. Find out what times your followers are most active. Discover optimal posting time. See what content was most popular and when.

All of this will help you use Twitter more effectively as a content marketing platform, as well as an engagement platform for one on one and influencer marketing.

4. Scoop.it

Scoop.it is pretty cool but the free plan is very limited. Basically you get a single page and up to ten “scoops” per day. Basically it is going to curate relevant content to give you insights into what is working well within your industry.

As an overall marketing tool, the professional version is a pretty cheap way to improve your ROI and get more bites when it comes to clicks. It is worth signing up for a free account and getting a taste of what they are about.

5. HotJar

HotJar

HotJar is a cool heat map generator allowing you to clearly see which parts of your content attract most attention.

Heat maps are pretty cool. They work by tracking what visitors to your site are spending the most time looking at and clicking on. Then it gives you a visual of hot and cold areas of your site, which can point to anything from design flaws to lackluster or thin content. You can try them out for free and get a more complete picture from both a website and content perspective.

Here are more options for data visualization which will help you understand your audience and analytics reports better.

6. Social Mention

Is your content being shared or talked about? Is your brand being mentioned? You can find out on Social Mention, which allows you to search for proof of that very thing and find out what people are saying about you and what you post.

It is a bit simplistic, but very helpful.

7. iSpionage

ispionage

Adwords and SEO keywords are a bit part of what you and other brands on competing for, not just customers. iSpionage gives you a look at what it is that those competitors are using and how it is working for them.

It is surprisingly affordable compared to many other similar tools and has a decent features list. I would definitely give this one a try.

Are there any other affordable content analytics tools except for the most obvious ones (like Google Analytics)? Please share them in the comments!

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