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Census 2016 – what exactly is a hack, a DDOS attack, geoblocking?

The jury may still be out on the exact cause of Australia’s #censusfail but whatever happened that fateful evening has brought up a few terms that are often misunderstood.

Hack

A hack, generally speaking, is when someone gets into places they shouldn’t on a website or server. This can be by exploiting a security weakness in the actual site or on the server that hosts it.

DDOS attack

A Distributed Denial of Service attack is when a huge amount of requests are made on a site with the aim of completely overloading it. Sometimes these are undertaken by ‘botnets’ of infected computers from all over the world.

A website can also fall over if a huge number of perfectly legitimate people are trying to get to it at once, as anyone who’s tried to buy Splendour In The Grass tickets when they go on sale knows. This could well be what happened on Census night. 

Geoblocking

Geoblocking is a way of stopping people from particular locations accessing a website. It’s pretty effective at stopping legitimate traffic but is easily circumventable as it relies on checking the IP addresses of users which can be manipulated.

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A guide to migrating your email to Google Apps

Google Apps for Work is Google’s business grade suite of tools and is a good choice for dedicated email hosting. Splitting your web and email hosting using Google Apps for email gives you

  • 30gb of storage per account
  • the ability to access your emails through any web browser, through mobile apps, and in some cases through your existing desktop email program
  • access to Google’s full range of tools including Calendar, Drive, Hangouts, Docs and more, all ad-free
  • phone and email support 24/7

Read more about Google Apps Email →

At time of writing pricing is $5/month/email account. (Google Apps is free for non-profits and education providers).

Here’s a guide to moving your email hosting to Google Apps from and separating it from your web hosting.

What you need to do

1. Set up an account

Create a Google Apps account →

2. Set up each of your email addresses in Google Apps

Add user accounts in Google Apps →  

3. Set up any forwarders you want

Aliases (also called forwarders) are virtual addresses that send messages to a ‘real’ email address. For an example you could use an alias like jobs@yourdomain.com and when people send an email to this it is directed to real boss@yourdomain.com address.

Add an email alias in Google Apps → 

4. Work out when

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What’s the difference between web hosting and email hosting?

I’m often asked to explain the difference between web and email hosting.

Web hosting is server space where your website lives. When someone types yourdomainname.com into their web browser the elders of the internet direct their browser to a web server and your website is served to them.

Email hosting is server space where your emails are stored. When someone sends an email to you@yourdomainname.com the elders of the email world send it to an email server and it’s stored there for you to look at.

Together or apart?

Traditionally smaller businesses had their web and email hosting on the same server, while larger organisations  had them split between dedicated web and email servers. Splitting the services like this used to mean you needed inhouse mail servers and IT staff but over the past few years many businesses have been getting the benefits of dedicated email hosting by utilising cloud services like Google Apps.

It’s pretty easy using the DNS system to set your domain name up so that it talks to one server for websites and another for emails.

Why use a dedicated email host?

  • Dedicated email hosting usually offers more storage space and better options for accessing email via web browsers and mobile devices than all-in-one

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Hick’s Law and making your menus smaller

You might have noticed that over the past few years the main navigation menus on websites are getting smaller. There’s a reason for this and it isn’t because website are getting smaller too. On the contrary – it’s because when you have too many choices your brain gets overloaded.

Hick’s Law is named after British psychologist William Hick whose work in the 1950s showed that the more choices people are offered the longer it takes for them to make a decision. If you offer too many choices people are more likely not to choose any of them.

Most people understand the idea of ‘chunking’ website information into logical groupings – like having a top-level About page with subpages for History, Team, Values – but it’s also important to not have too many top-level pages. Traditional wisdom – based on cognitive load theory’s ideas about the size of people’s working memory – is that your menu should have seven items at most. I’d suggest less if you can get away with it.

The smart approach is to feature prominently the main things people are looking for when they visit your site (or the things you want them to find) and put those in your primary

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Giving website design feedback

At the risk of stating the obvious, design is subjective. Blue really works for some people but for others… meh. Same with Arial, or circles, or ‘flat design’, or fullscreen background images, or … you get the picture.

Getting something designed is an exciting collaboration between you and the designer. But what’s the best way to give your feedback? Here are a few tips I’ve learnt from many years on the receiving end…

1. Give feedback thinking about the overall aims for the project

The best feedback is specific and focussed on the aims for the project (“I think the ‘Join Now’ button should be more prominent so we can get more signups”), rather than vague (“It needs to feel more, I don’t know, relaxed”).

2. Trust your designer

Of course I’m going to say that, aren’t I? But the reality is that you’re paying someone for their advice and experience and you should trust them. Good designers care about the end result and they’ll strongly argue their case if they believe a decision is wrong.

3. Remember websites aren’t fixed

Websites aren’t like printed documents – text and images change all the time, different browsers and operating systems display things in different ways. In the smartphone age responsive designs scale and change

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What’s the deal with WordPress upgrades?

* Important bit: if we host your website we deal with upgrades for you.

From time to time you may have noticed info in your WordPress admin dashboard about upgrades – ever wondered what that’s all about?

What are upgrades?

Upgrades fix bugs and security vulnerabilities and sometimes add new bells and whistles. There are so many nasty people out there that it’s essential to keep everything running your website up to date because otherwise it may be at risk.

What type of upgrades are we talking about?

There are upgrades to WordPress itself and to the plugins that add extra functionality to your site.

WordPress upgrades

Major new releases come out two or three times a year. These bring improvements to the way WordPress runs and sometimes new features and/or changes to the admin interface.

Since late 2013 the WordPress core now updates itself automatically with what are called maintenance releases, on average once a month or so. These are usually fixes for small things and won’t even notice them.

If you want to get technical major releases have two digits (WordPress 3.9) and maintenance releases have three digits (3.9.1). In 2013 there were three major releases and six maintenance releases.

WordPress updates are generally well-tested and if there are important changes we know well

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What is responsive design and why should I care?

Did you know that at some point in the next year or two there will probably be more people viewing your website on a mobile device than on a desktop computer?

You might have noticed lots of websites relaunching of late – SBS, Commonwealth Bank, Yellow Pages – and the huge growth in mobile web browsing is why. The message, from big business icon Forbes to tech mags like Mashable and The Next Web, is the same: get a responsive website or get left behind.

A responsive website is one that dynamically adapts and changes depending on the size of the screen/the device it’s being viewed on. Logos and menus will change, text and graphics will scale like magic. (And unlike building a costly standalone app you’ll only need to update your content in one place).

It can be a tricky concept to get your head around – if this is all going over your head the very cool Reponsinator might help you understand. (This is showing the Bodyflow website – try entering your url in at the top to see how it performs).

If you’d like to have a look at your options why not request a (no-obligation) evaluation and quote here.

Here’s a

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Should I register lots of domain names?

The short answer to this question is: no.

Background

In the ‘old’ days of the internet there was definitely benefit in having blueshoes.com as your domain name if you sold (you guessed it) blue shoes. Search engines ranked you higher if your domain name matched a term someone searched for.

As you can imagine this was very easily rorted – someone owning blueshoes.com didn’t have to have a particularly useful or popular blue shoes website to come up at the top of the search results when people were looking for blue shoes (their website didn’t need to have anything to do with blue shoes). So people ran out and registered domain names related to their product or service. Many businesses created exact duplicates of their websites and launched them using these types of domains alongside their existing websites.

As search engines evolved and got better at giving people relevant results – in the early 200s -they tweaked the way they calculated their rankings and started paying little or no attention to the domain name. Google – who were starting to leave the older search engines eating their dust – then started penalising people for having duplicate content. Penalising as in drastically dropping the ranking for …

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Watch out for unsolicited domain registration invoices

You receive an invoice in the mail. It’s something to do with your domain name and you know it’s important not to let this expire so you reach for the cheque book/credit card… STOP!

For many years unscrupulous organisations have been sending misleading invoices to people offering to take over managing their domain name or to register additional domain names they don’t need. It works like this…

  1. They use a freely available lookup service (called a WHOIS) to find the names and addresses of domain name owners, including you
  2. They create a nice professional looking invoice for either your domain name, or a domain name that’s very similar to yours (for example yoursite.net.au when you use yoursite.com.au)
  3. …and pop it in the mail to you
  4. You receive it and if you’re not careful you end up paying an inflated price for a domain name that you don’t need.

What to do if you receive an invoice for a domain name and you’re not sure if it’s legit

  1. Check who the invoice is from (these companies are often called something legitimate sounding) and
  2. Check if it’s actually for your domain name, not something similar (remember .com.au is different to .com)
  3. Check the fine print (these often say things like ‘domain

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4 easy things to help secure your website

In the past month a number of high profile organisations have had their websites hacked or customer data systems compromised. In early April the customer email database of Dell (and several other companies) was exposed when email services provider Epsilon’s systems were breached. Not longer after that Monash University’s homepage was hacked, and now we hear that the account details – including credit card numbers – of more than 70 million of Sony’s PlayStation Network members have been accessed by “malicious forces”.

These are all large organisations with massive resources at their disposal and – we would assume – serious security regimes.

The lesson? If they can be compromised then so can you.

Here are some extremely simple things you can do to lessen the risk…

Use strong passwords

You’ve heard this before but I’ll say it again: the easiest way for someone to access your website (or email or Facebook or…)  is by guessing your password. Studies have shown that lots of people use ridiculously guessable passwords (with 12345 and 12456789 the most common, followed closely by people’s names). If your content management system’s password is one of these log in and change it now.

Keep passwords safe and and don’t save them on

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