Nasty HMRC Phishing Spam

I received some very nasty spam allegedly from HMRC titled “Reminder: Please Resubmit Your Refund Payment” today, as you can see below:

Rather than open the attachment, I saved it to my PC and had a read through the source code, as it’s a web page. The HTML revealed nothing much and references various online.hmrc.gov.uk URLs, until you get further down and spot that if you actually submit the form, it will be sent to this address: http://www.radio-rocket.eu/licznik/ndex.php

The page then goes on to grab various image files (security-related mostly, e.g. credit card logos) from sites including abbyparty.com, rbsworldpay.com and argos.co.uk. I’m sure they’ll all be delighted to know their bandwidth is being used to power phishing spam…

Don’t get caught out by this phishing scam – I’m sure most of you wouldn’t, but just in case you’re tempted by a refund from the taxman, resist!

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Bing Launches UK Local Listings, But Outsourced

Just a quick one – you can now get yourself listed on Bing Local Listings (Maps) via this website: www.bingforbusiness.com

In a somewhat odd step, considering they have their own Local Business Centre in the States, Bing has outsourced the provision of local listing data to a company called 118 Information. Clicking the “get started” link on www.bingforbusiness.com takes you to a special page on their site, where you must search for your business by phone number/post code and if it isn’t listed, you can add your details and get a call within the next working day. I strongly suspect this will involve an element of sales, not least as the website professes to provide data for all these:

One other thing I noticed is that for some reason, the submission form is very broken in my browser – no tabbing, use of cursor keys or even delete! Way to go on the accessibility front…

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Driving Global Trade Through Internet Marketing

Metafocus Global Internet Marketing ForumI’m speaking at the Metafocus “Driving Global Trade Through Internet Marketing” forum on 27th May at the Novotel Nottingham, J25 of the M1. To quote the marketing:

This forum has been developed for decision makers in International & Export Companies to help them use the Internet to reach overseas markets, expand their business and drive profit.

The event starts at 8.30am and lasts until midday (slightly earlier actually, to allow time for networking). The cost is £55 inc. VAT and the itinerary is:

9.00 Andrew Schlich, AST Language Services – Successful Communication with your Overseas Customers
9.20 Anja Nelskamp, Metafocus – Why Languange and Culture Matters
9.35 Ian Lockwood, Internet Consultant – The Importance of Ongoing Online Promotion
10.05 Alan Clements, Metafocus – Why You Need a Global Internet Marketing Strategy
10.50 Panel Q&A – Joined by Thomas Schaal (International Trade Advisor for the UKTI)

As you can see, my slot isn’t strictly international-focused, but it is relevant to all online marketing. If you have any interest in marketing outside of the UK, I strongly recommend attending – Metafocus have developed a real reputation for specialist knowledge of international online marketing.

You can book online here.

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Leaders First Training Funding: New Criteria

I received an email from the nice people at Train to Gain/Business Link last Friday, informing me that they have lowered the staff requirement for businesses to be eligible for the Leaders First funding. To quote from the website:

Leaders First gives strategic decision makers within an organisation, the opportunity to develop valuable strategic skills to drive their organisation forward.

So, if you are an owner or manager in a business with at least three full-time employees (or two if you are a limited company), you can apply for funding for training and skills development in any area of your business, including online marketing. :)

The funding is up to £1000, split so that the first £500 is “free”, in that you don’t have to match the amount. The remaining funding must be matched 50/50, so you could receive as much as £1500 of training at a cost to you of £500. Full details of the programme, including a brochure, are available here on the Business Link website.

If you are interested in receiving one-to-one online marketing training (SEO, pay per click, Analytics, conversion optimisation etc.), please get in touch to discuss your requirements. If appropriate, I have a referral form I can send to Business Link for consideration.

Usually, the eligibility criteria is at least five employees and I have been told that the funding for smaller companies is very limited, so this opportunity may not be around for long.

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Adding A Facebook Like Button To Your Site

If you look closely at the header of my website, under my phone number and email address, you’ll see I’ve added one of Facebook’s new Like buttons. There are all sorts of implications for Facebook’s developments in this area, not least that it moves Facebook from a destination to a platform enabling people to find things, communicate across sites without having to visit Facebook itself and thus fundamentally changing online marketing and advertising (at some point…) You can read more about how this will impact us all on the web here (Search Engine Land) and here (Web Pro News).

This post isn’t to get all excited predicting the future though – it’s to help you engage with this shift right now, by simply adding a Like button to your site and enabling your visitors to start sharing their support for you and connecting with each other – driving word of mouth and traffic to your site.

There are two methods and I’ll concentrate on the simple one – using an iFrame to add the button to your site. You could also use the XFBML method, which gives you much more control, but also requires you to be utilising the Facebook JavaScript SDK and my guess is that only the web developers amongst you will fancy that…

All you need is this page: Facebook Like Button Page. Scroll down to the form and enter the relevant details – your page/site’s address, choose a layout style (mine is Standard without Show Faces), set the width to match where you’re going to put the button on your page, choose the font to match your style and either the light or dark colour scheme. The code you will get will look something like this:

<iframe src="http://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=http%3A%2F%2Fianlockwood.net
&amp;layout=button_count&amp;show_faces=false&amp;width=200&amp;action=like&amp;
font=verdana&amp;colorscheme=light" scrolling="no" frameborder="0"
allowTransparency="true" style="border:none; overflow:hidden; width:100px; height:px">
</iframe>

All you need to do is cut and paste the code into the right place in the HTML of your page/template, and the Like button will magically appear. The astute amongst you will notice that there are some things you can play with to affect the appearance, notably the use of a frameborder and the use of a CSS style to define the size and appearance of the iFrame that encompasses the button.

I made some slight alterations to the code for my site, as the button was sitting too close to the email address:

<iframe src="http://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=http%3A%2F%2Fianlockwood.net
&amp;layout=button_count&amp;show_faces=false&amp;width=200&amp;action=like&amp;
font=verdana&amp;colorscheme=light" scrolling="no" frameborder="0"
allowTransparency="true" style="margin-top: 4px; border:none; overflow:hidden;
width:100px; height:25px"></iframe>

Notice that I have added an extra style element: margin-top: 4px; This gives me an extra four pixels space above the Like button, making things neater. In fact, you can add any relevant CSS style element to this, meaning you can position and size the iframe accordingly. I had to play around with the original code a bit, as it was pushing parts of my site’s design around and breaking it.

So, what are you waiting for? Get off and get people liking your site (right after you click my Like button!) :)

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AdWords Phishing Scam: Beware (google-rs.com)

I received a forwarded email from a client this morning, apparently from adwords-noreply@google.com (the usual AdWords notification email address), telling us that “Your Google Adwords Account has stopped running this morning.”

Obviously my client was a little worried, but a quick scan of the email made it clear that this was a phishing scam, no doubt designed to extract your credit card/bank details as you “verify” your account. Two things gave it away:

1. Far from great grammar/spelling:

Some of the ads have stopped running today (Monday, 12 April 2010).

If you want to get your ad back up and running you need to optimize the campaign to improve the CTR. The link below has some helpful tips, but, in a nutshell, you need to look at your keywords and your ad text. Make sure your keywords are jighly relevant and then make sure that each keyword in the ad group makes sense in terms of the ad text associated with this ad group (usually this means you need to create more ad groups with a smaller number of keywords). Having a tight connection between keywords and ad text helps improve CTR, which should fix your problem.

2. Hover over the links to “Click here to get your ads back up” or “verify the status of your account” and you will see it directs you to adwords.google-rs.com/ads/signin.html – very similar to Google’s own AdWords address, bar the “-rs” of course. Indeed, try to visit the site (I don’t recommend that!) and you will see Google blocks it as a suspected phishing site.

Now whilst phishing email scams aren’t rare (how many emails have you had from banks that you’ve never had an account with!?), this is probably only the second or third time I’ve seen it for AdWords. I’ve seen eBay, PayPal and various other ones over the years. Remember to check those links before you click!

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Paid Content: Google Spam Hell Approaches

Long time no post here! It’s been (and still is) very hectic, but I read this post by Aaron Wall of SEO Book today and I thought it was a very sturdy, significant comment on how “content farms” are affecting search result quality and ultimately how SEO plays out for everyone. You can read Aaron’s view on paid content here.

Without repeating the article, it boils down to sites like eHow (now owned by Demand Media) creating low quality content very quickly, which because it is hosted on an authority domain, easily gets into search results for “long tail” phrases where there is less competition. The money comes from the contextual advertising wrapped around this cheap (often inaccurate) content. Advertising that is not unlikely to be AdSense. Owned by Google. Hmm.

This is now being taken to the next level with “backfill” content on other authority domains, such as USA Today cited in the article, who will get a share of the ad revenue by hosting pages of eHow content on their website. So, you could easily end up in a situation where such cheap content becomes the de-facto monetisation mechanism for authority media sites and hey presto, the quality of search results for many phrases and subjects becomes littered with frankly useless “information”.

This matters, not just because it affects the quality of your search results as a user, but because as a small business owner, you will be increasingly squeezed out of the place you can most easily compete in organic search – the long tail. Aaron makes the point that this paid content on authority domains is just as bad as paid links, as far as messing with Google’s algorithm goes. The issue, of course, is that unlike paid links, Google is likely to be making money itself from the content farms via AdSense, so it has a disincentive to do anything about it.

Ultimately, failure to take action could be the death knell for Google – if its search results become populated with poor quality pages, people will turn to other sources, most likely those which can combine algorithmic search with user rating, where human beings are essentially filtering out the rubbish through their comments and ratings. That’ll be social media then… You can see why Google is trying to leverage social media into its search experience, but at the moment it’s a long way from applying social aspects to search quality (indeed, it has so far only succeeded in annoying a lot of people by including irrelevant Twitter comments into search results).

It will be very interesting to see how Google responds and whether search result quality really starts to drop…

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Lavora Google Maps & AdWords Rip-Off: BT Web Clicks Mk.2?

My God, I have just come across a rip-off even worse than BT’s Web Clicks offering (you might not have thought that possible!) I’ve just seen their website offering to list you on Google Maps for a one-off fee of £99. Yes, £99 to spend ten minutes completing a form about your business for a free service from Google!

I was led to their website after a client forwarded me an email from Lavora, offering to advertise their website on AdWords using “5 specific search terms”, for £199 a month with a £20 set-up fee. Sound familiar?

That’s a very similar deal to BT Web Clicks, another fixed-price AdWords service that is just wrong, wrong, wrong for a number of reasons:

  1. Whilst a fixed cost is helpful for budgeting, there is no transparency on what you’re actually paying for, how much it’s costing (because it’s Google who are actually charging for those clicks, not the supplier) and no rollover. So, if you don’t use up your £199 of clicks, you don’t get the remainder carried over to the next month. Hardly good value. You can pretty much guarantee that these suppliers won’t be paying anything like £199 for those clicks either, and I very much doubt that they’ll let the campaign run over budget (well, budget less their profit margin…)
  2. Without the transparency, you won’t get the AdWords account linked to your Analytics either, so measuring raw traffic or campaign performance will be virtually impossible. How do you know it’s worth paying that £199 a month?
  3. You get to choose “5 specific search terms” – what do you think the chances of choosing “mortgages”, “mobile phone contracts”, “car insurance”, “life insurance” and “diamond jewellery” are? There are bound to be a huge amount of qualifiers on these things, assuming you get to make the choice at all. My guess is they will tell you what the “best” keywords are, based on their profit margin, not the volume or quality of traffic.
  4. They claim exclusivity (“we’re only offering this to two businesses like yours in your area”), but of course anyone can use AdWords, so there is absolutely no benefit to that statement.

What really gets my goat about these things is that they are profiteering from people’s ignorance. Morally wrong, but not illegal of course. I really hope nobody reading this has been duped, but having heard a number of stories about BT Web Clicks, I fear the worst…

Follow me on Twitter: @ianlockwood

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15% Off SMX Advanced London: May 17-18

SMX Advanced London May 17-18I’m pleased to announce a discount on attendance at SMX Advanced London on May 17 & 18 2010. Using the discount code IANLOCK010 when registering will get you a 15% discount on the price. Early bird rates are in operation until 28th Feb, so get in early!

The full programme hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m sure it will be packed with useful search marketing info and they have a strong “no sales pitches” policy.

Let me know if you’re going! :)

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Web Developers Available and A Junior Web Vacancy

As you might expect, I have a lot of friends who work in the web industry, from programmers to graphic designers, SEO experts to pay per click wizards. In a strange and unconnected coincidence, I have three different friends all with a pretty high degree of experience looking for new opportunities in the web development arena.

So, if you’re looking for a web developer to join your team right now, drop me an email and I’ll put you in touch. Their experience in all cases is in excess of six years, many more for some and by and large they are all front-end developers with some scripting skills, so they can do graphic design, layout, HTML/CSS and implement some JavaScript, ASP, PHP etc. They have a fair bit of management and client liaison experience too, so these aren’t techies with no social skills.

I also heard from a client today looking for a junior web manager, someone who can do a bit of graphics manipulation, HTML, SEO, AdWords etc. Some of that can be provided as training, the key is that you understand the web and have some basic skills to start with. Again, if you know someone, drop me an email.

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