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How to Fix a Hacked Site and Make it Safe for the Future

Posted on November 10, 2011 by Josh Mc

Over the last couple of months I have been forced to, twice now, deal with compromised websites. This entails finding the problem, getting them cleaned up, the warnings removed and then back in the Google index. Luckily it was not one of our main sites but cleaning up even a small blog can be a time consuming process. In that I have collected these tips to help when anyone else sees that little message under your site stating “This site may harm your computer." I know for some of you this may be to much on the surface, but for others they may never know to do some of these things.

Google this site may harm your computer

Don’t Panic
I know it is horrible to see your livelihood be infected by malware, but the worst thing you can do is panic and start to desperately run around wondering why something like this would happen to your site. This will not help your site to get cleaned up so the best thing you can do is keep a level head and follow the steps to see how it is happening and how you can quickly address it.

Get the Site Scanned
When working with a hacked site I always head over to a good site scanner, such as the Sucuri SiteCheck and have them scan my site. Most often they will tell you what the issue might be and will give you information on how to fix it. If you are not savvy with htaccess files and other parts of your site you may want to opt for their paid service which will clean your site and monitor it for you to make sure no other infections take place. If you are savvy then run the test, get the details and start implementing their ideas.

Check the htaccess
One of the sites that I was working with had an issue where if you typed in the domain name the site worked fine; however, if you tried to enter the site from a search engine you were directed away from the site to a Canadian drug store. One of the reasons why this is a preferred method for hackers is that many site owners will not search their site in a search engine, they will just type it into a browser. So if you are hit with something like this then it can take people weeks or months to realize it is happening. Here is an example of what the htaccess file looked like for the hacked domain as it may help you to notice what to look for.

hacked htaccess file

Check Google or Bing Webmaster Tools
If your site is doing more than simply taking over the htaccess, then it is a good idea to check webmaster tools and see if Google has any notifications as to what is going on with your website. Many times they will tell you there is malware on it or try to notify you that something weird is happening. They also have a great series of steps you can do to clean up your site here as well.

Fetch as Google Bot
On the second site that was hacked, they were not having the htaccess issues but had a little piece of code that was in the footer of the site which was showing Google bot a whole bunch of links that a normal user would not see. In order to find this I did a fetch as Google bot in webmaster tools and was able to notice that Google was seeing something different then I was. I found the piece of code and removed it from the site and then it stopped giving Google those extra links.

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg and not all hacks will fall into these types of fixes, but these are a lot of the common things to look for. Now you may ask what to do after you have cleaned it, to which I would recommend these things.

Change your Passwords
I know passwords are hard to remember as is, but you should change them right away, change the FTP, Hosting, Site, Database, etc. This is the most important thing to do right away. If you do not do this then whatever work you do can be just as easily erased as soon as you fix it, by whoever has access too it already.

Set Up Google Webmaster Tools
Setting up Google Webmasters Tools for your site is easy and free. It will give you tons of data for your site such as what users are searching for to get there and who is linking to you. It will also let you know whether your site has been compromised or not. If you do only one thing after reading this blog make sure it’s setting up webmaster tools.

Keep Your Installs Up to Date

By far one of the most often exploited parts of a site is the database or content management system. Whether that is Wordpress, Drupal or something else, making sure it is up to date is the number one way you can combat attacks. The same is true for the plug ins that you use. Keeping all of them up to date can help you stop would be hackers from exploiting your site.

Do Not Share Hosting Access
Having a shared hosting account for multiple sites is fine, but making sure that the other people who are sharing your hosting are keeping their installs up to date is a must. Even if your site is up to date, another site on the hosting account could let in the hackers. Make sure you only share hosting with someone you know and trust will keep up their site.

Keep Backups
This is by far one of the most important things you can do. Even if you don’t back it up every day make sure you are making a backup at least once a month. This way if all else fails at least you can fall back on a time when your site was not infected.

Request Reconsideration
After your site has been cleaned and you have verified that with the scanner that I mentioned above, make sure you file a reconsideration request with Google. This is one of the most forgotten tasks and probably the most important. Google will not bring your site back into the index and remove the warning without having your site cleaned and reconsideration request filed. You can do this through your Google Webmaster tools account and it is very straight forward and easy to use. In my two times doing it I have seen a response and the warning removed within one to two weeks, so make sure you fill it out as soon as your site is fixed.

So there it is, my tips on both fixing a hacked site and then keeping it safe in the long term. Make sure you leave a comment if you have another tip as well.

Providing Exceptional Customer Service

Posted on November 2, 2011 by Arianna

I recently went to a customer service seminar that was titled “How to Deliver Exceptional Customer Service.” It was one of the best seminars that I have been to and so I would like to share some of the tips and facts that have helped my team to grow as a result. Our emphasis as a company has always been to provide great customer service, so that customers keep coming back; however, there are many reasons for non-repeat customers, some of which you can directly impact and some you cannot. Statistics actually show that 1% of customers do not return because they died, 3% moved away, 5% developed a friendship with another company, 9% because of competition, 14% because they were dissatisfied with the products and 68% because of employee apathy! These numbers show that the highest percentage reason for why someone does not return is something we can directly impact and positively change. For customer service teams, this is both humbling and exciting!

In a call center, providing great customer service is often difficult due to face to face interaction being non-existent. In any conversation, appearance is 55% of the message; 38% is how you say it and 7% are just the words alone. With so much emphasis on appearance we need to make sure our phone appearance is at its best. Phone appearance is basically your tone of voice and attitude, so set your inner compass to appreciate customers. Remind yourself to be thankful for your job. Make sure that all your reactions and your tone of voice reflect the posture of gratitude.

In telecommunications the number one goal is to make the customer glad they called and talked to you specifically! In that, there are some basic steps to tackling a phone call.

-First, you need to think about what you are going to say before you answer the phone. It is really important to have consistency in a team when answering the call – you want the customer to have the same experience every time they call and with all employees at the company.

-Second, make sure that you answer the call within two or three rings. You want the customer to know they are a priority.

-Third, make sure you say your name; customers want to know who is on the other line. Also, be clear with them and indicate whether you’re going to put the customer on hold or going to transfer them.

-Fourth, be courteous, “kill with kindness,” and smile. Believe it or not a customer can hear a smile.

One of the hardest things for my team to handle are angry, abusive customers. When customers do not get their way they start attacking your self esteem, making it hard not to take their words personally; however, simply remembering the tips above and helping to put them to use will help when dealing with these customers.

For the second part of this topic I will be giving some tips on how to win over rude callers and how managers can motivate their employees to keep a positive attitude even with angry customers, so stay tuned for that post.

For now, make sure to challenge yourself to keep a thankful attitude towards all your customers. Make them happy that they talked to you today and make sure you follow the basic steps to tackling a phone call. Your change in attitude will definitely begin to rub off on others and your overall attitude will positively change.

If you have other suggestions make sure to leave them in the comments!

Halloween and a Dessert Contest at the Office

Posted on October 31, 2011 by Josh Mc

One of my favorite days of the year at the Gordian Project office is halloween. On that one day every year you can keep the dress shirt and pants in the closet and let out your inner pirate, zombie or boy scout to make your day at work that much more enjoyable. You can check out the outfits from years past here and here. This year we decided to switch it up a little bit and to also tack on a dessert contest to the normal festivities. We have an awesome group of really creative people at GordianProject that just so happen to love to bake. This works out in favor of the whole office, as we are able to not only dress up in creative and unique ways but also eat sweets throughout the day. Check out the pictures below and let us know what your office did for halloween this year.

The entries for the dessert contest.

The whole crew that dressed up.

Until next year... Happy Halloween!

Four Tips for Running A Successful Holiday Promotion

Posted on October 27, 2011 by Josh Mc

The holiday season is a special season for both the consumer and the business. It is a time of shopping, eating and connecting with family through holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In business though, this is an important time of year, one where you need to make yourself stand out from the competition, taking the time to create a great promotion is a good way to do this. This time of year always comes with people spending money on themselves and on others so a well-targeted campaign can help connect with your customers as well as provide them a value when they are shopping. Below are four tips that will help you get on your way to running a successful promotion during the upcoming holiday season.

Embrace the Season
You want your promotion to fully impact people in an emotional way. The holidays, after all, are all about emotion. Your promotion should take this into consideration. Do not just have a sale for the sake of it, have a sale with a theme that connects directly to the holiday and the consumer. Adding emotion into your sale allows the user to connect with you and gives your company more personality.

Give People What They Want
You also need to make sure that you are running a promotion on products that people will actually want to purchase during this time of the year. For example, you will sell more sweaters around Thanksgiving and Christmas than you will around the Fourth of July. In many ways, this seems like common sense; however, store owners often make the mistake of trying to push the items that are out of season with a promotion. The result is often a lackluster sale that could have been prevented if seasonality was taken into consideration. A great place to check for this is on Google Trends. You can use this great tool to see when the most search volume is for the term. Below you can see the term sweaters is always searched at the end of the year.

Be Original
You should always strive to make your promotion different than everyone else's. You want people to look at your sale and think it is so good that they shouldn’t even leave your store to look for others. If the customer thinks they can probably find the same deal somewhere else, they will keep shopping, hoping to find even better savings as they go. If the customer leaves the store there is always a chance they will not come back, create a sale or promotion that makes it hard to not purchase from you.

Find your Advantage
Finding your advantage is essential for running a good sale during the holiday season. For some businesses this is price, for others service and for others still it's exclusive products. Regardless of what you decide is your advantage, finding ways to make the most of it is essential to a successful sale. Not everyone will have the lowest price on every item, but every business has some way they stand out that can help them to connect with their customers and provide them with a great shopping experience.

These are just a few of the tips we suggest to make sure this holiday season is a good one. We would love if you would leave a comment with your tips if you have one that I have left out.

Five Tips for Boasting Employee Moral Without Losing Work Hours

Posted on October 17, 2011 by Josh Mc

When most business people hear the term "boosting employee morale", they usually picture exotic corporate retreats with corporate gurus guiding the group through trust exercises. The problem this concept is that it involves a great deal of money, time away from productive work, or both. Fortunately, most employees can be given a huge moral boost through simple recognition and fun. Below are five methods of making the workplace a more positive place for employees without wasting a great deal of time or spending a great deal of money.

You Know What Would Be Good On These Ribs?
Take any random sampling of four adult males and the likelihood of finding at least one who considers himself a grillmaster is probably 100%. Take advantage of this by having a company sponsored barbecue lunch. The grillmaster himself may be nonproductive for a couple of hour out of the day, but the rest of the staff can run out and grab a plate during their normal lunch period. To really run with the idea, have people sign up to become grillmasters at the monthly barbecue and offer a prize at the end of the year for the best. In addition to raising morale, this is a rapport building event suitable for inviting clients.

A Little Recognition Please
This concept has been underutilized in the past. A popular physical corporate joke is the employee of the month picture hanging somewhere in the back of the office - a picture that no one has bothered replacing in a decade. Creating a little ceremony to announce outstanding work, sacrifices a couple of minutes but can inspire people to be more productive every working moment in an effort to achieve the recognition.

Make Them Feel Special

For those who require a greater incentive than simple recognition, offering special privileges could turn an adequate worker into a frenzied production machine. The classic example of this is the parking spot next to the door reserved for the employee of the month. Offering a benefit that is not taken for granted as an employee's due, but rather a prize to be earned can boost morale and employee work ethic.

But It's For The Children
Throw a party that includes the children of employees. From a basic pizza party to a full blown private fair, having the kids happy with the company will make employees happier. Clients also have children. When clients' children are looking forward to a company's annual fair, the odds are much better that clients will remain customers for a long time.

Do You Know a Better Way?
Offer incentives or recognition for improvements in the way the company does business. It is amazing how often a long term employee can be filled with great ideas for improving profitability but never bother mentioning them. It is equally amazing how offering small incentives or recognition for such ideas can streamline a company's processes and make employees happy.

For businesses that cannot afford losing staff or spending money on long morale building trips, a little imagination can produce results just as good without the expense. What other tips do you have for maintaining employee moral? Make sure to leave them in the comments.

Five Tips for Email Marketing Success

Posted on October 4, 2011 by Josh Mc

When it comes to email marketing, far too many people choose the "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach. Unfortunately, this rarely works, and many times it can actually backfire and have the opposite effect.  With various governments of the world stepping in and regulating email marketers, it is more important than ever to be aware of your actions and the message you are sending. As the online world of e-commerce continues to heat up, you will have an easier time getting ahead if you follow a few simple steps to ensure your email marketing success.

1.) Don't Spam
As mentioned, governments around the world are cracking down on spamming, in addition your customers hate it as well. Think about how often you are sending emails and if you are providing any value to your customers with these emails. If the answer is no then you probably shouldn't be sending them. In addition, spamming rarely works, and most people don't even look at messages that show up in the spam folder of their email. Instead of spamming, it pays to take a more targeted approach, both financially and in terms of your time spent.

2.) Keep Your Focus
While it may be easy to try to cram as much information as possible into an email message when trying to market yourself or your company, it's a far better idea to focus on one thing at a time. If you have a new product or service coming out, focus on that one specific idea instead of trying to lay out your complete line of products. The entire point of the email message should be to get customers and potential customers to either visit your website or visit a brick-and-mortar establishment. By including too much information, you may end up fatiguing the reader, leading them to discard the message quickly.

3.) Use Personalized Services
If possible, you will want to personalize each message. If you have a small list of email recipients, this can be done by simply sending individual emails with the names of customers included. However, if you have a large list of names, you may want to look into software that will automatically address each customer by name in each email. Doing this will let the customer know that you are thinking of them, and that you consider them a value to your business.

4.) Use Images Sparingly
While it is often a good idea to include graphics or images in your emails, don't overdo it. Large and complex images can slow down loading and delivery times, in addition many email services actually block images in emails unless the recipient clicks an option to unblock. This means that if your entire email message is made up of images, your recipients may not even see what you're sending.

5.) Subscribe to an Email Marketing Service
If you are unsure of how to go about email marketing, or you simply don't have the time, consider using a service that handles the task for you. Many email marketing services will include options to measure stats that show who is clicking on what, and who is using your email to visit your site, allowing you to have an easier time tailoring your email marketing strategy.

These are just a few of the tips that we recommend, if you have a great tip make sure to leave it in the comments.

Gordian Project Launches New Website

Posted on September 29, 2011 by Josh Mc

Yesterday we ushered in a new member of the Gordian Project family, is a new company that takes a step forward in the home improvement vertical by creating a unique shopping experience that helps the user find the perfect set of products for their project. Based on the same concept of an eCommerce store, includes new ideas such as an innovative refinement structure which makes it easy to find the right product and a design center that has one click kitchen and bathroom packages from top designers. All of this combines to create a shopping experience that redefines the home improvement store. screenshot

To celebrate the launch of Remodelr the whole office gathered for a birthday cake to celebrate launch day. Check out the photos below and browse over to when you are working through your next remodel.

Remodelr cake

Remodelr crew

Click here for the full press release.

Setting Up and Tracking Metrics That Matter

Posted on September 20, 2011 by Ashley

Most people would think that managing an area with such a well defined process of responisbilites, like a returns department, would have a simplistic process for managing employee productivity. Of course there is the occasional “think outside of the box” issue, but most of it is simply following a procedure to reach a specific end goal. It is valuable to us then to have a set of metrics that can visually show us if what we are doing is functioning effectively or not. A good set of metrics can help employees of any department work to achieve an overall goal. So how then do we make sure that the metrics we have in place work for the people responsible for them?

According to Dev Patnaik the founder and chief executive of Jump Associates, process metrics actually tend to be the last part of the whole solution. It doesn’t make much sense for us to measure the effectiveness of metrics if we don’t first evaluate the employee. We also need to know what kind of person we are looking for as well as if we have enough cause to actually need to measure the process. Of course when you have a cluster of customers returning items for whatever the reason, you always have cause to make sure the returns process is seen through to the end. This way the customer has a pleasant experience even in the case of them having to return something. It is incredibly important that the person handling the process then is able to effectively and promptly handle the issue and a metric system helps them to know what is expected in each case.

In order to motivate the person responsible for handling the loads of returns, they need to know what that involves and why it is important. Returns process involves inspections, updates, reviews, reorders, refunds and so much more. Thus, we need an innovative way to make sure our metrics can capture all of these steps. For us, we use the term “buckets” or simply the area of responsibility. Each bucket is allotted a specific number of issues that are allowed to stay open at the end of each day. It’s important to communicate that the metrics aren't in place to just micromanage people but to be a positive tool that has helped our department be successful and helped us to see where there really are area's that need attending to.

The area that seems most daunting, at least to me, is knowing how to deal with the metrics not being met. As it is a learning process, the key for me is to encourage the employee instead of focusing on the discouraging fact that the metric might goal has not been realized. This allows me as a Team Leader to overview the metrics and easily locate where the problem may be coming from. Now I can encourage the person on what areas can be approved and provide them with useful tools to do so.

Having a detailed set of metrics in place has helped me and my department immensely. Although it may not be for everyone, it has enabled us to be more successful. What are some metrics you could use to make your department more successful today?

How the Google +1 Button Can Influence Rankings

Posted on August 30, 2011 by Josh Mc

Over the last couple of months Google has been shaking up the social media world through their creation of Google+. Up until now, Google+ was and still is a closed social media network that you must be invited to in order to participate. It is not hard to get an invite, but you have to have one to create a profile. Once a part of the network you can start to “+1” things ranging from search and ad results to independent websites. All of which will get added to your +1 history and gives the owner and website a happiness boost since their site is being interacted with.

Google Buy Me +1 Button

Recently though, Google announced that they are now allowing +1’s from people that you are connected to to influence your search results. While in theory this is a great new feature as you often trust the people that you are connected to on social media so their influence is welcomed. This ranking in itself is very easily manipulated and with the way social media connections are headed you could be receiving results shared by your second cousins wife’s mother in law who you randomly accepted but who’s opinion you may not trust. Also, enter the world of companies that sell hundreds of +1’s for a nominal fee (I won’t link to them but you can find them online if you are interested) and you have a metric that will soon be able to influence lots of searchers and create trust, that can easily be bought. While the same thing is true for companies that sell Facebook likes and Twitter followers, these metrics do not directly influence the search results you receive so their effect is more for social media clout then for results manipulation. I have personally seen a result jump from page 2 to page 1 in my results with just one friend sharing it. You can see an example of what it looks like below.

Google Plus One Influenced Search Result

Google is smart and they will no doubt find a way to combat the selling of +1 clicks, but you have to wonder that since the selling of links to influence pagerank still such a widely used tactic you would think they would not want to release another metric that can so easily be influenced. Either way the implementation of +1’ed results into organic search is interesting and it will be exciting to see where it goes.

What are your thoughts on this, do you think it is a good idea? Let me know in the comments.

The Google Related Extension and What it Means to Websites

Posted on August 23, 2011 by Josh Mc

Last week Google released a new extension that can be installed on Google Chrome called the Google Related Extension. What this toolbar does is hide in the bottom of your browser, then pop up whenever you are on a site that it thinks related information would be helpful for.

Google Related Extension

If you are on a product and there is a video it pops up, if you are on another product and there are a lot of other retailers, it will show you the lowest price and it also shows reviews and map information for restaurants. All of this is designed to provide a better user experience for people browsing the Internet. I turned it on, and it has some cool features, however as a retailer I am not sure what I think about it.

First, as with anything Google related it has to have good adoption before it can be taken seriously. Whether it is Wave or Sidewiki, without adoption and users it can be gone tomorrow. What sets Google Related apart is that it can be built into the next version of the Google Chrome browser if Google thinks that it is relevant enough, and in that it will gain adoption from users of this browser. While the Chrome browser still has a smaller market share it continues to gain traction. If users do start to use this though it can change the way people browse sites, as all of the unrelated information is located in one place and they no longer have to search it out. They no longer have to leave to see a video or review, which can help the purchase decision, as they have it at the bottom of their browser.

Second, if people start to use Google Related then it can create a whole new game for online retailers, as well as other websites. While it is becoming increasingly more difficult to rank in organic Google search, this related extension can make it harder to capture traffic by giving visitors information that can potentially take them off your site. I am not saying that it’s not OK for customers to shop around and find the best deal, I do that myself, but the online funnel process hardly needs more distractions in this world of social media. Google related has the ability to send visits to competitors but also to send their visitors to you. This is a double edge sword that can lead competitors to fight over who has the cheapest prices by the cent, much like gas stations on the same street.  While this isn’t bad it can create a new ground to compete on if the users present themselves.

Lastly, there are many good things it can offer, for the SEO it can help you to see what Google thinks is related content to the page you are on, which can help with link building and other tasks. For the sales manager it can show you products or categories where your company is significantly losing the price war, allowing you to try to be more competitive on this front. Also, for the public relations manager it can show you reviews and what others are saying about your site. Lastly, for the customer it can provide them better information to make the purchase decisions.

All things considered, the related extension is a step in the right direction for the average computer user. For the retailer it has both good and bad implications, but before we let it change the way we market we have to see if people even use it.

What about you, what do you think about the Google Related Extension? Let us know in the comments.