Why your website might get hacked – and how you can prevent it

As a leading North Wales Web Design specialist, we are used to receiving calls from concerned website owners looking for professional web advice after their website has been hacked.

Thankfully, this has affected very few of our clients, however we can normally can and do help even if it wasn’t a website we built.

These days, hacking is a huge risk, to put it in perspective, by lunchtime today more than 66,000 websites worldwide will fall victim to a hacker – many of them attacking from miles away, unconnected in any way to your business, attacking your website purely because they can.

How do businesses react when their website gets hacked

The first response from most website owners when their site gets hacked is disbelief. Common reactions include ‘but why would they target me? I’m just a local church/football club/small e-commerce website/local business website? I’m not NASA!”

It causes upset and disruption to your business and many people take it personally – but targeted website attacks are extremely rare. Your website is normally chosen purely because a hacker has done a worldwide scan using a specialist hacking tool and found they could get into yours.

It is not anyone’s fault, it isn’t usually down to a mistake by your website designer, it is no different to your car being stolen. There are cyber criminals out there, and anyone can fall victim, but like with your car, there are steps you can take to make you less of a target.

Why a website hack is rarely personal

While a website hack is upsetting, it is rarely a personal attack. Most hackers hail from foreign countries and couldn’t care less about your site or your business. They are often looking for a site to show off their hacking ‘skills’ to their friends, or are looking for a website to exploit for financial gain.

Here’s just some of the reasons an innocent local website may be seen as a target:

  • Every website is hosted on a server, by hacking the website they may be able to take advantage of the server resources;
  • Your website may have an excellent reputation online, so they can hijack it to use it for their own sales projects;
  • Your website may contain business or customer data they can use;
  • In some cases, hackers just want to impress each other – they have tools that highlight vulnerable websites and yours was chosen.

While no website protection is foolproof and the most determined hackers have even secured access to places like the Pentagon, there are ways to prevent your website from being an easy target. Cybersecurity experts talk about creating layers – staff awareness, best practice, strong passwords will each offer an additional layer of protection.

What happens during a hacking attack?

Unfortunately, this depends entirely on the hacker – once they have control of your website it is up to them what they choose to do.

Sometimes, a hacker will just change a picture or content on your landing page and do little else.

However, some hacks can be incredibly damaging, stealing your client data, hijacking browser search results for your website and diverting your clients to a nefarious site, utilizing your web server for cryptomining, destroying your data and more. Some hackers will lock your data and hold it to ransom (don’t ever pay, in most cases they won’t restore your site anyway).

The good news is that most websites can be recovered to some degree, but it is not always possible to fully recover a hacked site.

In many cases however, hackers will leave some kind of back door for easy future access – which is why we always recommend choosing a professional to recover your site.

However even seasoned professionals may not spot them – hackers are experts at finding ways to make their code hidden and looking innocuous. Our advice is always to avoid being hacked in the first place and to regularly scan the website after any hack has taken place.

How can I protect my website from being hacked?

Nobody can 100% protect their website from hackers – it boils down to how much time, assets and acumen the hacker chooses to invest to hack your site. Huge corporates, Government associations and financial institutions are continually investing in cyber security and many of them have still been hacked.

However, a few small steps will reduce your risk. We recommend all website owners:

Have a SSL authentication

The SSL adds additional encryption to your site, making it harder to hack. It also has a useful side benefit of helping your web ranking, as Google prefers sites with SSL certification.

Choose Secure website hosting

You can find cheap website hosting for £1 a month, or pay thousands per month. They don’t all offer the same service and you get what you pay for. Web Design specialists like DesignWeb will have spent time choosing a reliable, secure web host for their website owners and security will be one of their key considerations. Regular site backups are important too, check whether your website host includes this.

Do website software updates

While your website will have been built in line with up-to-date recommendations, both website hackers and technology are continually evolving.

For this reason, WordPress issues updates to plug ins, themes and settings almost daily. Keeping WordPress updates up to date is essential .

Once a vulnerability is uncovered, hackers usually spread the word very quickly, so it is an ongoing battle to issue updates in a timely fashion.

Most web designers will offer a premium service where they take care of things like Joomla and WordPress updates for you. It can seem like a cost saving to say no, but it’s worth the time you will save to keep your website secure. It’s certain a service we’ve found popular among our clients.

Very old custom-built websites are particularly vulnerable, as they will not have received regular patches and updates – many website designers will offer a free website review – take advantage of that and then listen to their advice.

Finally, WordPress has some good plug-ins that will reduce your vulnerability. Talk to your website designer about whether one would benefit your website.

Choose secure passwords and educate your staff to do the same

You’d be amazed how quickly a techie can guess your passwords from a quick glance at your Facebook page. Pet names, kids names, friends names all make for terrible passwords. Also common names and passwords get added to hacker databases which automatically scan your site for vulnerabilities – so avoid them, too. Most hackers use a ‘brute force’ technique which keeps trying for common words in a database… so ‘motoracing’ or ‘rugbyfan’ is not so clever as you hoped!

A secure password is harder to crack.

A good password should not include names, have a mix of capital and lower case letters, numbers and special characters, and ideally at least 12 characters long.

Change passwords when staff leave

Not all hackers are remote – and an ex-employee with a grudge is always a risk. Good practice can eliminate that risk altogether.

It’s best practice to change passwords when people leave – not doing so leaves you wide open to business disruption. Trust is great, but secure practices are a firmer guarantee.

Website security is a huge topic and of course, we can’t cover every detail in a short article.

However, these basic steps will avoid your site being an easy target. Awareness and monitoring, too, will make you able to respond quickly to any potential threat.

For more information and advice, please call us on 01745 508588 or visit our website: https://www.designweb.co.uk

DesignWeb SEO Consultant Lisa Baker discusses Google’s latest Algorithm change.

At the slightest twitch of Google’s algorithm, a business can literally drop from first page ranking into obscurity overnight.  Make no mistake, getting SEO wrong is not good for any site, but for a business that relies on web leads, or ecommerce sales, a Google algorithm change can literally halve your sales.

Many website owners may not be aware that last week, Google made some massive changes to it’s algorithm that are still being felt by the search community.  

What do we know about this Google algorithm change?

Google haven’t given any details about this update, other than to confirm it. They don’t always announce changes and only rarely do they let the web community know what the changes will be. At least the SEO community will understand why our rankings may be fluctuating this week, even if we don’t yet know the full outcome as it settles into place.

As always, there will be winners and losers.  The Daily Mail has reportedly seen it’s search traffic drop by 50% since last week- something that will hit advertising revenue.  The CEO is apparently appealing to the search community for help to resolve the problem. 

If experience is anything to go by, we won’t know the long-term outcome of these changes for a few weeks longer.  Even then, Google makes regular, minor tweaks and search is evolving all the time.  I therefore won’t be rushing to respond.

The last big Google algorithm change in March seemed to hit health-related sites, however early indications are that sites hit hard in March are showing signs of search recovery since last week’s update, so there could be some ‘corrections’ to earlier changes.

What do SEO consultants do?

SEO consultants are judged with a mix of awe and fear, as though we hold huge power.  I’m sometimes called the ‘Google Witch’ (I love that one so much I want to brand it!). 

Actually, the real power remains with Google, and our role is less sacred, SEO is mostly hard work, measuring, testing. reading, painstaking link building and content creation and keeping active in the search community.  We may tweak your website content, build backlinks within and to your site, sometimes we may remove or disassociate backlinks. It’s very individualised and we focus on learning what works today – and re-learning as necessary.  

Black hat and white hat SEO – what’s the difference?

Black hat is seen like a mystic art and almost always involves trying to trick Google. White hat SEO means following best practice.

I always follow white hat because in the long run, this works.  Even if hit by an algorithm change, sites using white hat techniques usually recover fairly quickly once the Google algorithm changes settle into place.

Black hat SEO – now that really is a dark art, with only short-term effect.  Trying to exploit a weakness in Google, like building fake links, (which saw business owners literally slapped out of the top 200 rankings by Google’s Panda) and other nefarious practices, will have limited long term effect.

In case you are wondering, I have seen the impact of penalties in real life. A former employer who loved black hat went from page 1 position 1 for over 50 keywords to obscurity and not being visible in the top 200 for months, when Google rolled out Panda. It proved a costly lesson.

Aren’t Google algorithm updates just unfair?

We shouldn’t feel resentful when Google challenges an unethical practice, because bottom line, as search consumers, we want high quality results.  In my view, black hat is the lazy man’s approach to SEO and it only works short term.

However, Google’s power is scary.  For example, when Google changes it’s policies to determine whether news or products are ‘fake’ or ‘genuine’, I’m left a little cold.

Should Google censor content?

When it comes to holistic medicine, drugs, or alternative remedies, many sites simply do not rank despite having excellent SEO – the algorithm has deemed their content as not fit for their search engine (and by extension, society).

With effectively one search engine to rule them all, should we allow Google to make these policy decisions for society?  Because let’s face it, if you can’t find it, you can’t shop there. They can close an ecommerce business overnight.

It’s a lot of power for a single player to hold – and while Google rules all searches, it is largely unregulated.  Google is simply a business with shareholders to please.  

On the flip side we also expect our search engines to protect children and vulnerable people from seeing harmful content.   Censorship through search is a tough tightrope to walk. 

What will the Daily Mail do about their SEO problem?

The Daily Mail have, I’m sure, put a response team in place to deal with this Google algorithm change, with internal and external resources working on the issue while search positions stabilise.

I will be monitoring my client’s traffic and will make changes if necessary once things are settled. Like most SEOs, in the meantime, for me it will be business as usual.  Two things are certain:

1)      Sites optimised using white hat SEO are more likely to recover, even if there is short-term instability, and

2)      This will definitely not be the last update Google makes – it, like the SEO community, are learning, evolving and responding.

If you need help with any aspect of SEO, please get in touch with the DesignWeb team.

Picking the correct domain name for your website is essential – it represents your online brand and forms an impression of who you are.

Online visitors may not see your branding, your office or your appearance – so you need to think carefully about what you are choosing to portray.

An innovative name can be a significant influence in attracting guests to your site – but if it doesn’t reflect what you do, and you are unknown, being ‘clever’ or ‘too far out’ will see you struggling to attract good search positions.  That’s because your ‘URL’ is one of the factors Google looks at.

A little research can reap dividends.  SEO expert Lisa Baker explains:

“I built an HR News site for a former client – we chose the name “HRNews.co.uk” purely to drive SEO traffic.  As a result the site is now thriving.” 

How to choose the right name – think like a visitor

Let’s be honest, Coca Cola don’t need to register ‘SparklingColaDrink.com” – their brand is so strong that those looking for a Cola drink will probably type in Coca Cola and know who they are looking for.

However, most people aren’t in the fortunate position of having years of branding that make them the go-to product in their sector.

If you are a campsite in Snowdonia, “snowdoniacampsite.co.uk” is possibly going to do you more favours on Google than “mountainview.co.uk” – because chances are, customers will type in ‘snowdonia campsite’- so if this is your first web venture, have a think before you settle.

(Incidentally, a campsite has registered that domain name and pointed it towards their main site!)

Help! My domain name doesn’t do what it says on the tin!

That’s ok.  You are in the same boat as many other website owners.  You can wait for Google and your customers to find you, start writing keyword-rich content on your website, and use social media.  In fact, even if you have the perfect domain, we would recommend you do this anyway.

If this is something that you don’t have the time or the skills to do in-house, we offer SEO and social media management services. Our skilled team have been getting results for a number of years and are on hand to offer advice if needed.

Make your brand match your website

No matter what your domain is, you will need to think about branding.

Your domain name represents how your clients will perceive you – are you targeting the high quality end of the market, the bargain basement or somewhere in the middle?

It’s important to be honest with yourself about your product and make sure your brand identity and website target the right audience – your customer will know who they are, and what they are looking for. 

In short, don’t be a mini marketing to Rolls Royce buyers – if you know your market and target your site and digital marketing accordingly, they will come.

The same applies to a domain – nothing wrong with ‘cheapcars.com’ or ‘RollsRoyceWales.com’ so long as what you find inside matches the brand.

Pick the Best Domain Extension

The area after the “dot” can likewise help or damage your name.

We generally recommend avoiding the new ‘flash’ domain names, like .pizza and go for what people know and trust.

For US businesses, and some UK companies .com is a natural choice – with .co.uk a natural choice for UK businesses.  .Org usually indicates a charity.  Getting the right one will send out a subtle message to customers that you are authentic and trustworthy. 

It’s worth mentioning too, that no matter what domain you choose an SSL certificate is increasingly essential. 

Competition

Seen your competitors domain up for grabs?  It’s not worth trying to steal business from a competitor by grabbing a .com if they own the .co.uk.   This could be seen as ‘passing off’ and could cause business complications. Don’t waste your time, it could create more hassle in the long run.

However, to protect your brand, we may recommend you register more than just one domain extension, because a few quid is worth protection from the hassle of your competitor choosing to snipe your domain and you having to complain to the UK registrar, Nominet.  We can help with this if it has happened and you need advice. 

Give us a call

As North Wales website design and digital marketing experts, we’ve built our knowledge over years of practice and while we charge for our web design and SEO skills, a quick chat about the right domain name for your business won’t cost you a penny.

As always, we’re here to help.

While those of us in smart homes may spend hours playing with Alexa skills that turn your lights off or alter your heating, business owners should pay attention to another skill – because voice search on electronic devices is set to expand big time.

It’s already popular with Apple users, who may use Siri to book a restaurant in a new neighbourhood.

Give it a try – ask Alexa or Siri to recommend a restaurant near you. She doesn’t disappoint.

Then try asking who she recommends for your line of business in your town – do you come up?

The new voice search is going to create some pretty big issues for your SEO strategy.

Firstly, while the old favourite Google pulls up pages of information, giving the user plenty of choice, a voice search will often only read the top 4 matches. Position 5 – forget it!

Secondly, and more complex, voice search is opening the search market back up. For years now, Google has anecdotally captured more than 80% of the search market.

In recent years, Internet Explorer and Bing search has been seen as the ‘poor relation’ for SEO. A great source of cheaper PPC leads, certainly, but always second to big brother Google.

As Alexa is starting to roll out for mobile use, Alexa’s voice search could be about to help Bing buck the trend.

Google is far from being left out on the voice search front, it has own smart device and already owns the Android operating system powering mobile phones across the globe, as well as providing the default search option for Apple’s Siri.

However the Amazon Echo voice search is powered by Microsoft Bing – and Alexa sales are booming.

To succeed in voice search, your SEO strategy will need to focus on pleasing both search networks.

Voice search is fast becoming an increasingly important part of planning your future SEO strategy and something SEO professionals are keenly aware of.

It’s been said for years that you need to think about SEO before you even buy your domain name. Voice search is hotting up the competition for rankings.

If you need help planning for voice search as part of your SEO strategy, give us a call.

We were delighted to work with local MP, Chris Ruane to build his new website, https://chrisruanemp.uk/.

The new website, launched recently, will hopefully enable all constituents, no matter how computer literate, to access information on the work of their Member of Parliament and to contact him via the internet should they need his help.

In an interview with local business website North Wales Business, Mr. Ruane said:

“Having a website is an essential way of businesses, organisations and elected members communicating with members of the public. The website provides an additional avenue for constituents to contact me, check out my surgery timetable or to keep up-to-date on any news or what I’ve been involved in, in Parliament.”

Mr. Ruane continued:

“It is extremely helpful when you can have a reputable local company such as Designweb which provides hands-on, support in getting one set up. Paul and his team have provided an excellent service and support throughout this process.”

We worked closely with Mr. Ruane, and from the word go, ease of use was our priority throughout the web design process, so that Chris’s constituents can access the information they need clearly and easily.

It is commendable that Chris Ruane chose to work with a web design company in his own constituency when many MPs just outsource to large media centres in London, and again proves the MP’s commitment to supporting businesses in the Vale of Clwyd.

The DesignWeb team really enjoyed working with him on the project and we hope the new website will improve support for the residents and businesses in our region.

As our profile as a leading web designer continues to grow across North Wales, Designweb were invited to comment by North Wales Business on news that companies who trade under a .EU domain were likely to lose their domains at relatively short notice in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Our media relations team were happy to oblige and the link to the article is here:

https://north-wales-business.co.uk/

SEO Consultant and Editor of North Wales Business, Lisa Baker, discusses how to write blog posts that will help your business.

I’m often asked by customers ‘why should I bother to write blog posts’?

Blogging is a great tool to use as part of your SEO and Content Marketing strategy.

A well-written blog post is interesting for your customers, keeps your website fresh and can help with your SEO – so you should definitely think about writing a regular blog. 

Why is blogging important?

Here’s just a few reasons to blog:

  • Engage your audience with your brand
  • Establish yourself as a thought-leader in your industry
  • Share industry news and helpful content for your customers
  • Improve the range of keywords Google associates with your website

Ideally, you should share content at least once per month, and share your posts across your social media to increase readership.

What should I blog about?

If you don’t have the time or the talent to write in house, DesignWeb offer a full SEO and content marketing service, but if you’d prefer to write yourself, here’s some simple suggestions you could write about:

  1. Company & Industry news – share news of significant new products, charity news, new contracts or investments in the latest technology. 
  2. People News – people buy people, not websites, so make your people characters within your business.  Share their news, such as charity walks, runs etc. – and of course, if the company does anything noteworthy, share that too!
  3.  Topical Thought Leadership – What topics are trending in your industry?  Set yourself as a spokesperson/expert for your sector by sharing your opinons, on everything from Brexit to industry-specific challenges  Act like a leader and you will carry the authority of one, so don’t be sjy -speak up!
  4. Seasonal tips – everyone loves ‘top tips’.  What to share and when will depend on your industry, but things like ‘Top 10 Tips for getting your home ready for sale’ ‘Top design trends this January’ ‘Top 10 employer challenges for January’ are all examples.
  5. Customer service – sick of answering the same questions?  Chances are your customers are tired of asking.  Save time by providing advice on common queries in a blog post. End the blog with a call to action button connecting to the customer support email address – it will save repetitive calls if they are asking common questions.

A word about sales content in blogs

Blogs are supposed to be information that your customer wants to read, not what you want to talk about – keep this in mind when you are writing content, and you won’t go too far wrong.

For starters, that means sparing the sales copy.

Nobody likes to feel sold to – we’ve all seen blogs that sound like a nagging child – ‘buy me’.  ‘Buy me now’… ‘10% off, now will you buy me?’

In short, the answer is, they won’t ‘buy’, and they won’t come back to read more posts.

Blogs should add value to your website and your business – filling them with sales copy will just disengage your readership. 

The occasional offer is ok, however your blog’s goal should be building a relationship and engaging your readers.  Do this, and you’ll earn their trust – and when people trust you, special offers are less important.

How will my blog posts help Google find me more customers?

If Google can find and index your blog posts, like the rest of your website content, this can have a big impact on your SEO rankings. 

To do this, think about what potential customers would search for on Google (keywords), and talk about this in your content – keep your ideas original, your text natural and flowing and include plenty of keywords in your text.  Get this right and you’ll soon see more visitors. 

Ultimately, blogging has so many advantages for business that you are turning down a valuable tool by ignoring it – so take our suggestions, think about what your customers want and get started on that first blog post today!

About the author

Lisa has more than twenty years experience in copywriting, digital marketing, digital publishing and SEO, and works as part of the DesignWeb SEO Team.  To learn more about our SEO services, please get in touch.


Often e-commerce website owners are reluctant to trust web designers who advise them that poor site speeds are costing them online sales.

Their reluctance to tackle the issue, however, could be having a serious impact on their business.

Google research shows that an e-commerce website which is slow to load will lose at least 32% of visitors, it’s something website owners cannot ignore – and it’s a more widespread problem than you think.

New research, carried out by Visualsoft, analysed the speed of the UK’s top 250 e-Commerce websites.  They found 62% rated as ‘poor’ – taking longer than nine seconds to load on 3G.  16% of retailers’ sites took 15 seconds or longer to load.

Why is load speed important for an e-commerce website?

Speed is a huge problem because consumers increasingly expect to be able to use mobile phones and tablets to shop online.  A website that is not optimised for speed on both mobile and desktop will lose sales – and for e-commerce sites in particular, consumer trust is everything. 

Statistics show that 40% of users will go to the competitor after a bad mobile experience, yet an alarming 84% have experienced difficulty completing a mobile e-commerce transaction.

2019 is expected to be the biggest year yet for e-commerce retailers,  so it is really important that Welsh businesses don’t miss out on their share of this growth. 

Paul Lyons, owner of St-Asaph web design company, DesignWeb, says:

“I have to be honest, I was shocked by these statistics –  only 1% of e-commerce websites were found to have ‘excellent’ page load speeds in the Visualsoft research.  Almost 47% of customers expect a website to load in less than two seconds, so e-commerce websites with fast page load speeds will clearly have a competitive advantage. “

For existing e-commerce website owners, 2019 will mean upping your game, you absolutely need an SSL security certificate, fast page load speeds and a mobile optimised site, or you will lose sales – and once they have found a competitor’s website, they may not return – these are easy issues to fix and the cost can be offset against increased sales.” 

If local businesses need any advice or would like a free review of their website, DesignWeb are offering this throughout January – to take advantage of this, just get in touch.

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