Ten Tips on How to be Successful While Working From Home During Coronavirus Outbreak
As a web developer of over 15 years, I’ve spent a lot of time working remote. Sometimes out of convenience and other times out of necessity because of sick kids at home. With the outbreak of COVID-19, there are now millions of workers finding their desks a lot closer to home. My hope is that this article will help you settle in and get your productivity levels back to the same levels or better than they were in the workplace.
1. Don’t Steal from Your Employer
Do not use the company equipment for personal work, especially while on the clock. If you were issued a computer to take home, it’s highly likely your employer knows when you log on and what you’re doing. Many employers are being hit hard financially by this outbreak. They will not hesitate to fire an employee for wasting precious company time and resources.
2. Get Equipment that Works for You
In a perfect world, you have a home office or study room already setup with your home computer. However, the reality for many of us that we usually just pull out our personal laptop or tablet and sit on the couch or kitchen island to surf the web. It’s now imperative that you have a quiet, low traffic area set aside specifically for working.
Your equipment list may include:
- Laptop or Computer – It’s likely your employer has provided you with these.
- Desk – If you have a desk with your personal computer on it, move it aside and you’ll be all set. If you don’t have a desk, grab a folding table or another surface for your work equipment and place in a low traffic area where available.
- Monitor – Some laptop screens are small. An external monitor can solve that. Before ordering one online, be sure to check what ports your laptop has. Here is a link to help you identify the ports you have.
- Peripherals – Other items may improve your productivity, such as an external mouse or keyboard for your laptop. You may also need a web camera if your employer plans on doing online meetings.
- Printer – You may or may not need a printer depending on your job. Don’t forget ink and paper.
- Other – The list of other items to increase productivity could go on for pages. Some other items that I can’t live without when working from home include: noise cancelling headphones, a large refillable water bottle, pens, notebooks, sticky-notes, a lamp and a lap blanket.
3. Get Creative if You Don’t Have a Spare Room to Work Remote
Some suggestions include:
- Closet – I have a friend in a small apartment, she doesn’t have an extra room available. However, she did have a large bedroom closet full of clothes she’s not going to wear for a while since there’s no fashion police in her home office. She emptied those clothes onto a living room chair and moved her desk and a lamp into her closet.
- Table – A kitchen table is not exactly ideal, but if your family does not regularly utilize the entire kitchen table, then you have a space. Clear it off and let your family know it’s off limits to them. You won’t be having guests over, so you can leave your new desk as is every day. Important: keep glasses cleaned off the table and use a rolled-up towel to not only mark your space but also make barrier to keep accidental spills away from your computer and paperwork.
- Kids Room – If you have multiple children with multiple bedrooms, then you may have a new workspace option. Do a coin flip and pick who’s moving out temporarily. Unless you need to work at night, your displaced child may still be able to return to their room to sleep every night.
- Basement – We all groan at the thought of working in our basement, but hard times may call for hard decisions. Grab a table, space heater and some extra lamps for your new home office and call it good for now. Introverts may actually enjoy the peace and quiet of your basement.
4. Setup Security Measures
I’m not an IT expert, I make websites; but here are some bare minimums.
- Secure Internet Connection – You’ll have fastest internet speeds with a direct Ethernet cable plugged into your computer or dock. If that’s not an option for you, be sure your WiFi is behind a login. Your employer may have also setup a VPN for you to connect through. This is ideal!
- Password Protection – Make sure your machine requires a password to login. The last thing you want is your kid hopping on your computer and going to sites your employer would not approve of.
- Virus Protection – Staying off sites not related to your work while on your work equipment is the first step. The second step is being wary of emails and scams going around due to the outbreak. Your employer may or may not have installed special software for you, when in doubt, check in with them.
- Out of Site – News reports show that crime has not slowed and desperate times may lead to more break-ins. Keep your computer and valuables out of sight of windows and draw your blinds at night to lower temptation.
5. Limit Your Distractions
Let your family and friends know your work schedule. It’s so easy to get inundated with texts from your bored friends. Let your friends know you’re working from home and ensure them you’re not ignoring them. Tell them you’ll get back to them on your breaks or after work. Every text or social media notification can lead to work mistakes and it can take up to 30 minutes to get yourself back on track.
If you’re home with the family, share and post your schedule. Tell them your rules and that, although they can see you, you are at work and this time is very important. Your family and loved ones will push this boundary, but you must enforce it until it becomes natural for everyone.
6. Get to Work on Time
Your commute just got shortened, but the “traffic” may be just as bad or worse. By traffic, I mean your family and other home distractions. With kids home from school and pets seeing you home, your morning routine may take longer. I find it best to get up earlier than when I was going into the office. This gives extra time to do social media surfing and get the kids/loved ones settled in with enough attention, snacks and activities to make it until the morning break comes around. If your employer didn’t give you a specific time to start work, then you need to pick a time, communicate it to them and stick with it.
Plan for a short morning break, if your kids and pets are home with you, they may dictate when this time occurs. At the very least, get up from your desk and walk away from it for a few minutes, some light stretches may feel great too. I know it’s tempting to do some cleaning or laundry while you’re home, but you may quickly lose track of time during breaks. Don’t make a habit of this, set a timer on your phone and get back to work on time.
7. Enjoy Your Lunch Break
Set a timer on your watch or phone for your lunch break. Get away from your work space. Make this your personal time; catch up on social media, get some fresh air, play with the kids, do whatever gives you a break and lets you recharge to take on the second half of your day. Preparing healthy foods ahead of time will also provide you with good fuel for the afternoon. I use my lunch break to have a quick lunch with the kids, a little play time and then put them down for a nap.
8. Be Prepared for the Afternoon Slump
Just like at work, it may be hard to stay motivated in the afternoon. Learn to adjust your work agenda to what works best for you. I find that saving my new or challenging work for the afternoon works best. Others may find this to be the best time to answer emails. Do what works for you, but do not waste your employer’s time.
Give yourself a short afternoon break of 15-20 minutes. Use this break to resettle the family and pets, switch laundry or get a snack. Set a timer on your phone if you find break time getting out of control.
9. Know When to End the Work Day
If your work load allows it, keep your normal end of day schedule. I use the last 30 minutes of my day to make notes of where line items stand and setup an agenda of tomorrow’s priorities. This can be done using an electronic resource or even a paper notebook with a paperclip on the current agenda page. At the end of the day, shut down your computer and get away from your work space. You’ll quickly become spoiled by your short commute.
10. Appreciate Your Workday
You’ll easily find many benefits to working from home. You’ll save money on commuting, be able throw a load of laundry in on a break, and so much more. I personally love being able to have lunch with my kids and getting hugs from them while I’m on break.
Ready to be Successful While Working From Home the Coronavirus Outbreak?
Telecommuting has many advantages, but it also comes with trying challenges. Distractions are much higher at home; you will need to work hard to become disciplined and focused. It’s imperative to teach your loved ones what the new normal is for you – your livelihood depends on it. Your integrity must shine through, you no longer have your boss or co-worker policing your every move. Trust me, your employer will know if things are getting done in the end and that’s the bottom line.
Windows 7 End of Life Approaches
The Windows 7 end of life date is quickly approaching. If you’re still behind, you should mark your calendar. Microsoft is ending extended support for this popular OS on January 14, 2020. After this date, they will stop patching security holes. Users who do not upgrade will be exposed to an ever increasing number of online threats. If you are still using Windows 7, what should you do to prepare? Read our simple guide below to find out!
Keep applying patches – especially now!
Although we always recommend updating your software, it is especially important to apply updates frequently through July of 2019. This is because Microsoft will be changing the way it supplies patches to its users. If updates were not applied leading up to July, Microsoft will stop supplying security updates altogether. This would potentially open your system up to attack a full 6 months before the official sunset date.
Upgrade to Windows 10
Since Windows 7 will no longer be viable after January 14, it is important to upgrade your operating system before that crucial date. Although there are many operating systems to choose from (we recommend Linux if you have the know-how), for most the obvious choice will be Windows 10. This offers the easiest transition since in most cases you do not need to convert any files. Also, your favorite programs will continue working without any interruption. Follow these steps to upgrade from Windows 7 to 10.
- Make sure your device can support Windows 10. The latest version of Windows requires a 1GHz or faster processor, 1GB of RAM, and 32GB of hard drive space. Read the full requirements here and make sure your system or device will work. If not, you may need to upgrade your hardware as well.
- Purchase Windows 10. The free update period expired back in 2016. Although some people have reported that they are still able to upgrade for free, the rest will need to purchase a new Windows 10 product key from microsoft.com.
- Create a full backup. Although this upgrade process is usually seamless, it can sometimes fail and you may lose data. To avoid any problems, it is best to make a full backup of your system so that you can roll back if necessary. Windows 7 comes with a System Image Backup tool to make this process easier.
- Uninstall unnecessary software. Windows 10 will do its best to migrate all of your programs. However, some outdated or uncommon programs may cause problems. To minimize this possibility, we recommend using the Programs & Features tool to remove any software that you no longer need.
- Download and install Windows 10. Finally, download the Windows 10 Disc Image (ISO File) tool. Once downloaded, run the executable and follow the on-screen instructions. When prompted, select “Upgrade this PC now” and later on, be sure to select the “Keep personal files and apps” option. During this process, you will be prompted to enter your Windows 10 product key. Use the key you purchased from microsoft.com.
Not happy with Windows 10? Is your device a little too old to handle the latest system requirements from Microsoft? Fortunately, Linux still runs on most anything and is available for free. There may be a bit of a learning curve, but popular distributions such as Ubuntu have made it much more user-friendly over the years.
If you decide to install Linux, be sure and make a full backup of all your essential files and documents on a thumb drive or external disc before making the jump. Remember that most Windows programs do not work natively in Linux, although there are workarounds and Linux versions available for some of them. Overall, prepare to re-learn some tasks and to spend time searching for alternative programs. This option is for moderate-to-advanced users who aren’t trying to do anything essential or time sensitive during the transition.
Can’t upgrade it? Recycle it!
If all this seems a little daunting, you may be better off just buying a new system with a more recent operating system already installed. In today’s market, low- to mid-level desktops are very affordable, especially when you subtract the cost of a Windows 10 license. If you go this route, a simple thumb drive can be used to transfer files and documents from your old system to the new.
Once all of your documents have been transferred, read our guide on recycling to learn how you can safely recycle your old system without compromising on security. Remember that old systems and devices contain batteries (whether you can see them or not), so it is important to discard them properly so they don’t leak toxic chemicals into the water supply.
How to Recycle Technology Responsibly (without compromising your security)
Did you ever wonder how to recycle technology responsibly? Earth Day is a good time to think about how our daily lives affect the planet we call home. If you’re like us, staying updated with the latest gadgets often results in boxes full of outdated tech. With Spring in the air, it can be tempting to just toss all that tech in a fit of Spring cleaning fever, but don’t be too hasty!
Did you know that old computers and gadgets often contain toxic chemicals that seep into the ground from landfills? What about the possibility of scavengers harvesting sensitive financial data from one of your tossed PCs? Never fear, there are ways to recycle technology responsibly without hurting the earth (and without compromising your sense of security). Follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to a cleaner home – and a healthier planet!
Avoid throwing batteries in the trash
Batteries contain toxic chemicals which leak into the soil from landfills. These chemicals eventually wash down into our watershed and can get into the water supply. This affects everybody! Many grocery and department stores now have battery recycling drop-offs where old batteries can be recycled the safe way. This goes for rechargeable batteries as well. Not sure where to drop them off? Lowe’s hardware started a rechargeable battery recycling program in 2004.
Also, keep in mind that most hardware (such as laptops, PCs, game consoles, etc) have batteries embedded inside. These should also be removed and recycled separately before recycling the rest of the hardware. If you’re not sure how to remove the battery from your device, searching Google for your device name and “remove battery” will usually provide step-by-step instructions.
Wipe your data first!
Recycling a computer or device that holds personal or financial data? Be sure and clean out any internal storage drives and thumb drives completely before hauling them away. Format these drives using a full wipe option (erase everything). Do not select the “quick wipe” options since those do not fully remove data from the disk. Many programs even offer “multi-pass” wiping for added security, but you really only need to wipe the data once. Multi-pass grew in popularity due to an urban legend and now only serves to ease the paranoia of the uninformed.
Donate your tech if possible
If your product is still functioning and might still have some use, consider donating it to a reputable reuse organization. These organizations will refurbish products and donate them to schools and charities wherever needs arise. A couple of good ones include The National Cristina Foundation and World Computer Exchange. Some local robotics teams and HAM radio clubs also seek laptops and monitors for their organizations, seek them out and see if they would like any of your items.
Take your computers to a responsible e-Steward in your state
If your product is too old or broken down to donate, the next best thing is to recycle it. Although any recycling program is better than none, the best option is to use one which takes part in the “e-Steward” network. These follow high standards to ensure that nothing goes to waste or ends up shipped overseas to landfills in developing nations. E-Stewards are located all around America – click here to find one near you.
When all else fails…
If you cannot locate a technology recycling program near you, many big-box retailers offer their own programs. Staples and Best Buy, for example, will be more than happy to recycle your old devices and computers for you. If you don’t have one of these stores nearby, most manufacturers also offer their own free recycling programs which allow you to ship them the hardware from anywhere. Contact each manufacturer directly to find out how to take part. The manufacturer’s website often contains detailed information as well.
What about this smart phone?
After wiping your data clean and resetting your phone to factory default settings, cell phones can be shipped to one of several nationwide recycling programs which specialize in providing this service. Call2Recycle is one such well known and respected program. Best Buy also maintains cell phone drop-off recycling kiosks near the front of their retail locations.
10 Best Affordable Tech Gift Ideas
Christmas is coming up quick. You may still have some last minute gifts to get for your “hard to buy for” friends and family. Here are ten of the best tech gifts of 2019 that are affordable and might make them happy.
These are super helpful at keeping cords from getting tangled. These would be perfect for anyone who is always carrying around headphones (and always taking 3 minutes to untangle them after having them in their pocket), or anyone who carries around a phone or laptop charger everywhere they go.
Rather than keeping wires untangled, why not just get rid of them? Wireless headphones are increasing in popularity due to Apple removing the headphone jack from its iPhone. If you don’t want to spend $160 for Apple’s Airpods, you could get your loved one these headphones for just $30! These would also be perfect for any gym-junkie or runners you may know.
Expand the capabilities of almost any smartphone camera with these clip-on lenses. This is perfect for the person who dedicates 90% of their
phone storage to pictures. They can spice up their social media and take professional-looking pictures without needing a big camera.
Good for heavy users, this portable power bank claims to be able to hold 3 and a half times the charge of an iPhone 8. This is a good backup plan to keep your phone charged in the case of a power outage or anything like that. Anyone who travels a lot may find good uses for this as well.
Virtual Reality Headset
Turn almost any phone into an immersive virtual world experience with this headset. Compatible with smartphones ranging in size from 4.0 to 6.3 inches, this is a good gift for mobile gamers. A remote control is also included to enhance the gaming or video viewing experience.
Fire HD 8 Tablet
This tablet is good for anyone in search of casual browsing and/or reading, and even some light mobile gaming. It’s also only $50 right now. With this device, you can efficiently do all the essentials for a fraction of the price of other tablets. If you have a kid and you’re looking to invest in an electronic device to keep them occupied, Amazon’s Fire 7 Kids Edition is a fantastic option.
Do you know somebody who is always losing their keys or phone? Or someone who is paranoid of forgetting their purse somewhere? Firstly, This tracker connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Through the app, you can locate the tracker on a map, and if it disconnects from your phone, you will be alerted. Secondly, you can use the tracker itself to locate a misplaced phone and make it ring.
Amazon Echo Dot
Right now, you can snag the 2nd generation Echo Dot for $20. Amazon describes the Dot as “a voice-controlled speaker that uses Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, make calls, answer questions, set timers and alarms, and more.” These things are nice when you’re cleaning the house or having a get together, or when you just don’t feel like moving from the couch.
Bust out the nostalgia cannon with this one. This controller mimics that of the SNES and adds analog sticks and rear buttons. It is completely compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, Steam, and even the Nintendo Switch. Make any classic gamer’s Christmas with this gift.
Having a dash cam can seriously save you in tough situations. If an accident happens that isn’t your fault, this thing will have your back. On top of that, it can also monitor your car when it is parked and off. It will sense motion and begin recording if anyone or anything moves within view of the 170° camera lens.
Internet of Things: Conveniently Open (to attack)
The relentless goose step of technology over the past decades has lead to the eventual invasion of the microchip into almost every product in the first world. This has left many astute observers asking what unintended consequences we might be overlooking. As the IoT (Internet of Things) becomes more prevalent, security has taken a back seat to progress. We should be mindful of where this trend may lead.
Smart Devices Everywhere!
In a relatively short period of time, there has been an explosion of IoT devices entering the consumer facing marketplace. They have increasingly entered homes and infiltrated our daily lives. Techopedia defines these “Smart Devices” as electronic gadgets which are able to connect, share and interact with their user(s) and other smart devices. While interactive speakers such as Google’s Home or Amazon’s Echo come to mind, smart devices have a far wider reach. To complement these popular AI personalities, we are now seeing smart light switches, wall outlets, security cameras, and televisions. There are even smart ovens, refrigerators, toys, light bulbs, window blinds, scales, watches, wallets, and key rings – to name a few!
There is something inherently creepy about inviting an artificial personality into your home (I’m sorry, Dave). However, the real danger of these technologies comes as a consequence of how many of them were rushed to market. Manufacturers, seeing more profit from a quick entry had left any consideration for security in the waste bin throughout device development. As a result, the IoT has been left wide open to attack with virtually no barrier to entry. Once an attacker gains one foothold in a network, it is easy to pivot from there and grab control of everything connected to it. This includes every smart device and computer therein.
A House of Unlocked Doors
Is your smart coffee machine having problems? It could be because these connected brewers open up a non-encrypted hotspot every time you turn them on, making them easily compromised by hackers. Remember the KRACK vulnerability we wrote about nearly a year ago? Many printer manufacturers, including big names like HP and Brother, have since decided to do nothing to patch the vulnerability. This lack of response leaves most printers in the wild today wide open to attack. Most IoT devices are even further down the priority list. Manufacturers rarely see any economic benefit in patching them, or in building security into them from the beginning.
It is largely because of these lax standards that attackers have been specifically targeting IoT with their botnet attacks at an alarming rate. By infecting a few vulnerable devices across millions of homes, black hat hackers are able to amass multiple supercomputers worth of combined processing potential from the comfort of their homes. All of this power can then be utilized to unleash attacks, or to amass wealth from mining cryptocurrency at their victims’ combined expense (in the form of higher electricity bills). Researchers have noted that our power grid could actually be taken down by hackers taking control of “smart” appliances, that’s scary.
What Can Be Done?
At Appletree MediaWorks, we always take a proactive approach to information security – our clients depend on it. Given the state of devices on the market today, we recommend doing some research before purchasing any new smart device. It only takes a minute to search “Device Model” vulnerabilities in Google, but it could save a lot of pain down the road. Furthermore, as companies begin taking security seriously, it will pay dividends to support the responsible ones with your purchasing power.
Already have a bunch of devices? There are still several steps you can take:
- Create a separate network for IoT devices
Many new Wi-Fi routers support guest networks. Set this up with a different password from the one you connect your computers to. Then make sure your IoT devices only connect to the guest network. This step will help to isolate your data from some of the worst security holes.
- Disable UPnP
If your devices support Universal Plug and Play, disable it. This is a convenient feature for easily connecting to networks, but it is also highly insecure. Not worth the risk.
- Keep firmware up to date
Even though manufacturers aren’t always quick enough in reacting to threats, it is still good to keep your devices current. This gives you the best possible chance against emerging threats. Make sure that updating device firmware is part of your regular routine.
- Use good passwords
Furthermore, every device on your network should have a unique password. This will limit the damage in case an attacker does manage to get in.
- Don’t connect anything you don’t need connected
Okay, so the new fridge can send you text alerts when you run out of eggs. But do you need text alerts like this? Do you mind someone in Russia also knowing that you’re out of eggs? What if they decide to turn on your oven while you’re away at work?
- Turn off Bluetooth when not in use
This prevents other nearby bluetooth devices from pairing with yours and stealing data. It also has the added benefit of preserving battery life.
Net Neutrality Repeal Ruins the Internet
The Information Age
When the Web emerged in 1989, few could have predicted the profound impact it would eventually have on our world. Today, there are few places one can go without witnessing its effects. Indeed, we are quickly approaching an exciting moment in human history where everybody around the globe can connect to vast troves of information – and to each other. The recent Net Neutrality Repeal seeks to take away that ability.
This coming reality brings with it much opportunity – and also much peril. Reliable, unfiltered access to the internet provides such a powerful socioeconomic benefit in the modern world that those without are at a serious disadvantage. Potentially exacerbating this problem, carriers like Comcast would like to be allowed to slow or block access to some websites and customers. We saw an example of this behavior back in 2008 when the FCC ordered Comcast to stop discriminating because it found the carrier had been blocking Bittorrent traffic. This case set up a near-decade-long precedent that internet traffic was to be treated neutrally. This standard prevented powerful corporations from having a chilling effect on speech and the goal of universal accessibility.
What Is Net Neutrality For?
Understanding the potential for abuse by carrier companies, President Obama endorsed strong open internet rules in 2014. These rules finally passed in 2015. Also known as “Net Neutrality,” the FCC’s new Open Internet Rules finally clarified and codified into law the long-held precedent that the internet should be fair, open, and accessible to all.
The FCC’s Open Internet Rules set the following standard for net neutrality:
…Building on this strong legal foundation, the Open Internet Order will ban:
- Paid Prioritization: “Fast lanes” will not divide the Internet into “haves” and “have-nots.”
- Blocking: Consumers will get what they pay for – unfettered access to any lawful content on the Internet.
- Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.
These enforceable, bright-line rules assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.
These rules protect the rights of consumers while preventing carrier companies from controlling online speech. For an easy explanation of what Net Neutrality does, watch this short video from American Public Media:
Net Neutrality Repeal Happened. Now What?
In the Open Internet Order (AKA net neutrality repeal) we see strong indications about what to expect from carriers in a world without regulation. Without even adequate competition to keep them in check, carrier companies will be in an extremely powerful media position. They will be able to control online content by throttling or outright blocking websites they do not agree with. Non-mainstream media outlets, blogs, and even competing companies may fall victim to carrier discrimination.
Likewise, they will be free to create internet “fast lanes”. This will give those who can afford such privileged access another advantage over those who cannot. In this way, carriers will be able to discriminate against their customers. Since broadband competition is rare in the US, consumers won’t likely be able to escape should they find their provider engaging in such practices.
Eventually, carriers could start organizing their internet packages like they do with cable television, where consumers are expected to purchase various “addons” in order to access the websites they like. Congressman Ro Khanna pointed out in a Tweet that Portugal, which has no such neutrality rules, is already seeing such packages sold to the public. A satirist created this eerie image to illustrate what this future might look like in the US (click to zoom):
Source: The Verge
What Can I do?
The FCC – under Trump-appointed Chairman Ajit Pai – voted in May 2017 to move forward with the rollback of Net Neutrality. Unfortunately, they have the power to do this, but not without first collecting public comments. If the possibility of losing our free and open internet worries you, consider submitting a public comment over at fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express. The current Proceeding on the the Net Neutrality repeal topic is 17-108.
Want to take it one step further? Consider writing a letter to your representatives in Congress. An initiative called Battle for the Net is urging Congress to stop the Net Neutrality rollback – and they can do it! By passing a “Resolution of Disapproval”, Congress can effectively overturn the FCC vote. Check the scorecard to see which representatives are trying to save the internet – and which are instead lining their own pockets.
How to Succeed at Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a constantly evolving art.
A successful SEO guru will constantly be learning and researching what makes search engines happy and take advantage where competitors have fallen short. A well trained SEO guru will help improve your site’s flow and content to improve your rankings. There are thousands of SEO gurus out there, and just as many tips. So we decided we’d compile those lists for you.
The bottom line in search engine optimization is Text, Links, Popularity, and Reputation, let’s take a look at each of these topics.
Provide relevant, high quality, and informative content on your pages – especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do according to Google’s Steps to a Google-friendly site. This makes sense; if you give your visitors the information they’re looking for, then they will interact with your site longer which signals to search engines that your website has what visitors are looking for.
- Update your website content frequently.
- Blog or write articles, adding a new article at least once a month (weekly is optimal).
- Answer a question for Google.
- Short and dense articles are preferred.
- Your website should be setup logically in an organized menu structure.
- All images and content should be speed optimized.
- Your website must be mobile friendly.
- Don’t over-saturate your page with a single keyword.
- Have your image ALT tags on all images that contain appropriate keywords.
- Title tags for the page should also start with the page’s keyword.
- Don’t use graphics to display important content, search engines can’t “read” what’s on a graphic, only its name and ALT tag.
- Name your image something useful such as “Google-SEO-chart-image.jpg” not “DSC48523.jpg”.
- Enable “Enhanced image search” in your Google Webmaster Central account. Allowing Google to find your photos will help your SEO efforts.
Videos are very popular online right now, your business should be capturing them wherever you can.
- Make sure your website and host can handle playing videos smoothly.
- Videos that show up in Google blended search results don’t just come from YouTube. Be sure to submit your videos to other quality video sites like Vimeo and Yahoo to name a few.
- Make sure your video descriptions are complete and descriptive.
- Internal links should be a clear call to action for users to make their next click.
- Get your website out on “natural links“, aka places you’d expect to find your website listed, such as trade magazines, affiliate sites and industry related blogs and forums.
- “Unnatural links” are those that appear on paid “link farms”.
- Directory listings are good for search results and local results, but again limit them to the big guys, not every link farm you can find.
- Backlinks are links that are made on other websites, they link “back” to your website. These can also be links in social media.
- Understand social media marketing. This is part of search engine optimization – your organization must be on social media.
- For extra credit, links from .edu domains are seen as extra votes by search engines, search for non-profit .edu sites that are looking for sponsors that provide links from their website to their sponsors.
Face it: the more popular your website is, the higher its search engine ranking.
- Submit your sitemap through Google Webmaster Tools and other search engines such as Bing.
- Allow and encourage reviews about your business on Google, social media, Yelp, etc.
There’s no doubt when you look around that mobile is growing. Therefore, so are “near me” searches. Get your business showing up in the “near me” searches by optimizing your Google My Business page.
- Putting an SSL certificate on your website not only makes Google happy, but helps your reputation as a legit business.
- Don’t fall for “guaranteed” SEO website services, the providers likely are using black-hat tactics that in the end will get you unlisted by Google and other search engines.
- Build your SEO results through steady research and ongoing tweaks and updates.
- Pay-per-click or SEM are not bad things, they also build up your website traffic. But keep in mind, you are renting the traffic, not building the traffic like ongoing SEO does.
- Check out “rich snippets” they make your search engine listing stand out and few brands have implemented them.
- Take a look at your site through unbiased eyes. Turn off your Google Personalized Search results by logging out of Google and using an incognito browser, or Append “&pws=0” to the end of your search URL in the search bar.
- Beware of “black-hat” SEO tactics that attempt to fool search engines with hidden and inappropriate content. According to Google “be careful; if your domain is affiliated with one of these deceptive services, it could be banned from our index.”
In conclusion, search engine optimization is constantly evolving, it takes time and dedication to help your website climb up in search engine result pages (SERPs). Even if you completed every step above, it will still take up to 6 months to see results from SEO. Think of it as building a house, where as Pay-Per-Click or SEM is renting the house. We have had clients run both services simultaneously and eventually were able to decrease their SEM budget when their SEO results were bringing in more continuous traffic at a much lower cost.
Best Tech Gadgets 2016
It’s September and my son has started talking about Halloween costumes and what he wants for Christmas. It’s time for us adults to start our Christmas lists too. There are a lot of new tech gadgets coming out!
For the Appleholics, this Fall is big. There’s the new iPhone 7, Mac OS “Sierra” and possibly a new Mac Book Pro announcement happening today.
Mac OS (Sierra)
The new Mac OS is rumored to have Siri as a copilot. She answers all of your questions and now even remembers the answers. There’s also a universal clipboard to use across your Apple devices, so you can do research on your Mac and access your findings on your iPad while out of the office. The new OS also has upgraded its artificial intelligence and can help you find pictures on your computer, such as asking Siri to show you the pictures of your trip to London last year.
It is rumored that Apple will be releasing a new MacBook Pro with a thinner body and touch panel with Touch ID functionality. All of the college kids with their shiny new MacBooks are sharing their disappointment that the new model was not released before school started.
With Samsung gaining market share on phone sales, Apple is trying to keep their customers coming back for more. Rumored updates include device waterproofing, an upgraded camera, and camera flash LEDs with color ranges. Other rumored updates include higher storage tiers, doubling space to up to 256GB. They are also adding more RAM and upgrading the processing speeds. The biggest rumor is that the headphone jack will be removed. Instead, Lightning EarPods and a 3.5mm to Lightning headphone adapter will be included with the phone. Of course new colors are coming out in limited quantities too.
The new iPhones will still sell in the millions, but don’t expect sales records until the radically overhauled 10th anniversary iPhone comes out in 2017.
Google Tech Announcements
Not to be left out, after three years of new technology Google is expected to hold an event on October 4. At this event, Google is expected to announce the two Pixel phones, a Daydream VR headset and maybe the new Google tablet, which will surely come with more powerful specs compared to its predecessor.
LG’s New Android 7.0 Phone
The LG V20 keeps the good stuff and improves the rest. The Android 7.0 phone offers features being dropped by others, like an SD-card slot, removable battery, and headphone jack. I like the sound of the phone’s new Steady Record 2.0 technology. It uses electronic image stabilization, together with digital image stabilization, to keep video recordings steady. The phone also offers the ability to manually control audio settings for a better audio experience.
Got a phone, tablet and laptop already? How about some other tech to add to your Christmas list (and improve your life)?
I’m asking for a ThermoPeanut, this stick on device sends you temperatures where you stick it. This helps you know if you’re coming home to a warm house, if your fridge is functioning properly, or if a particular area of your home, office or even your vehicle is too warm or cold.
Beacons are popular in stores to talk with your devices. Dot is taking that a step further and offers their product to help you in your home. For example, a Dot can be placed right inside your door to recognize that you’re home. It can then turn on the hallway light for you. Or set Dot to open your daily agenda when you sit down at your desk and another that launches Netflix when you sit on the couch. When Dot launches, the company promises integration with a wide variety of smart-home platforms, including Philips Hue, Samsung’s SmartThings, plus Belkin and WeMo devices. It also integrates with Chromecast and Apple TV.
TrackR and Tile
These cool little devices are GPS tracking devices. Tile and TrackR use Bluetooth and an app that helps set up a tracking network for your items. Start by placing the Tile on an item such as your keys. Then connect the item to the app. Next time you lose your keys, just open the app to help locate your item or play a sound. If your item is truly lost, don’t worry. If someone else near the item has the app running, your Tile will still report its location back to you. My husband has one on his keys and trust me, this is the most valuable tech item we own. Its $30 price tag is well worth it.
How to Download Apps Safely
As of July 2015, the Google App Store has 1.6 million apps and the Apple App Store has 1.5 million apps. With an ever-growing universe of apps available, the chances of getting a compromised or infected app are on the rise.
More than 85 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple App Store since October of 2014 and that number is growing substantially. All that traffic leaves a lot of room for hackers to gain a footing. To stay safe, you should take precautions, learn which download sources are reputable, and do a little research.
Before even looking for apps for you device you need to guard yourself against any malware that might get through. Before installing anything new, make sure that your device’s operating system and existing software are fully up to date.
Anti-virus and Firewall – Use an anti-virus application that scans every app you install. It should also scan updates and block malware.
Stay Updated – Update your web browsers and operating systems. Updates to these often include important security patches. Once a security patch is released to the public, you have very little time to apply the update before hackers have figured out how to exploit it. This is why it is so important to update early and often!
Where to Buy and Not to Buy
Buy from Here…
Google App Store, Apple App Store, Windows Store – For all devices, use the default app store that comes installed with the device. Most app stores have a screening process which weeds out most malicious code. If you do happen to find something bad, you can report the app to: Google, Apple, or Windows
Not from Here…
The DarkSideLoader is a rogue app store for iOS phones and tablets. This app store lets user download unusual, unapproved apps alongside normal apps which are offered free of charge (as in stolen).
What are the Dangers?
Downloading compromised apps from DarkSideLoader can make you lose control of your phone and receive unwanted installations. Compromised or malicious applications can be very dangerous to your phone and personal information. Here are a few examples of what these “rogue apps” can do to your phone:
- Operating System Access Through API Access
- Root Devices
- Install Apps Without Permission
- Communicate With Malicious Sites on Internet
- Malware Installation
Any third party app store can have these potential problems
Check if you have a rogue app on your Android device
Do Your Research
There are many things you can look for to check if an app is dangerous. While it can be easy to just click download, you should do a little research beforehand. Here are a few common safety checks:
Reviews – Read some reviews about the app. If there is a known problem it will most likely be expressed in a review. You can find reviews in the app store you are using.
Developer Information – Research the developer to find out how popular they are. Make sure the developer exists in the real world. Usually there is a link in the app store to the developer’s website. Browse through some of the top app developers of 2016.
Permissions – Make sure to read and understand the permissions before granting anything to a new app. Learn more about permissions and why apps need access to certain things.
Star Ratings – Similar to reviews, a star rating will most likely be fairly low if users experienced problems with the app. Again, this is available on the app store you are using.
Download Count – If an app has a high download count the chances of it being safe are higher.
Outside Forums – Still not sure? Google the app and find out what others are writing about it. Users love to post information like this to Reddit or other discussion forums.
Blue Light Insomnia: Is Your Phone Keeping You up at Night?
Today it has become more and more common to hear about someone feeling tired even though they got enough sleep. Your smartphone may be to blame. Our electronics tend to distract us from going to bed, disrupt our sleep with constant sounds, and hurt our health with their blue light.
According to PEW Research “44% of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.”
It’s not just our smartphones but also tablets, e-readers, and laptops causing these problems. Not to worry, there are some solutions to help you get a better sleep without ditching your electronics.
The Harmful Blue Light
What is blue light?
The electronics you commonly use emit a blue light. There are 3 color lights: green, red, and blue. Out of the three, blue light affects your brain and eyes the most while red light affects you the least.
Melatonin Suppression – Blue light is very similar to the sun which suppresses a chemical melatonin in your brain, keeping you awake. At night, your body naturally produces this melatonin to help you fall asleep and sleep soundly.
When you use your blue light emitting devices even a couple hours before bed, it messes with those melatonin levels and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. It also reduced the total number of REM sleep minutes which is considered to be the most restorative form of sleep.
Why is this such a problem? Not only do you feel tired throughout the day, but there is a long list of health problems that come with bad sleep.
Bad Eye Health – Studies have shown that blue light can cause similar eye damage as UV light (the light the sun produces). While we know not to stare at the sun, we spend hours staring at our electronic devices.
Some eye health problems it can cause are macular degeneration and eye strain. Health problems specifically linked to exposure of blue light at night are cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and increased risk of depression. (BlueLightExposed)
Photo light spectrum
While the most obvious solution may be to stop using your devices as much, especially at night, it’s not the most practical, solution for most of us. Instead, there are ways to lessen the blue light your electronics give off.
This is software that changes the temperature of the screen depending on what time of day it is.
Electronic compatibility: Computer (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and jailbroken iOS devices
These are glasses that are tinted an orange color to filter out the blue light on your devices. This is a one-time fix for all your devices.
Electronic compatibility: All
This is a screen filter from the US that also cuts down the blue light emission from your device.
Electronic compatibility: iPhones, iPads, Macbook, Samsung Phones, and Kindle Fire
This is a screen filter from the UK that cuts down on the blue light emission from your device.
Electronic compatibility: Computer, iPhones, Samsung Phones, iPads, and Macbooks (Versions may vary)
This is an app that uses a custom driver to control which colors are displayed, making the screen easier to read while lessening blue light emissions.
Electronic compatibility: Android devices
This is an app that gradually changes the temperature (red tint) and brightness of your screen through the day. You control what levels it eventually reaches.
Electronic compatibility: Android devices
This is an app that adjusts brightness automatically which affects its blue light emissions.
Electronic compatibility: Android devices
- Use the lowest brightness on your device at night.
Lower brightness means less blue light
- When using apps on your phone check to see if there is a night mode.
Night mode filters out blue light
- Use a smaller screen.
The smaller the screen, the less blue light
Distraction From Going to Sleep
Not only does your device’s blue light make it harder to fall asleep but being distracted by social media, emails, games, and surfing the web on your device can keep you up way past bed time.
According to Lookouts Mobile Mindset Study “54% said they check their phones while lying in bed: before they go to sleep, after they wake up, even in the middle of the night.”
It may be difficult to change these habits but there are some practical guidelines to follow:
Set an End Time – Give yourself a time to stop using your electronics. This means using will power to stick to your time limit.
Do Not Disturb – This is a feature on iOS devices allowing you to turn off calls, alerts, and notifications. Having less notifications will make it easier not to use it.
You can also schedule a time for this to turn on automatically and enable exceptions in case there’s someone you don’t want to block, even temporarily. Most phones have the option to set it so that if someone calls you twice within 3 minutes, the second call will still get through.
Blocking Mode – This is Android version of do not disturb. This built-in feature gives you the option to:
- Block incoming calls
- Turn off notifications
- Turn off alarm and timer
You can also set a time for this to automatically turn on. You can also set allowed contacts for those you do not want blocked.
Turn Off Sound/Vibrate – Silencing your phone or even setting it to vibrate can make it easier not to use your phone.
Disruptions to Sleep
While you are sleeping the light and sound from notifications can wake you up and disturb your sleep. “And four in ten adults and teenagers said there had been occasions when they checked their smartphone in the night after it woke them up.” (DailyMail)
A lot of solutions are similar to the solutions to stop it from distracting you.
Keep Your Phone Away From Bed – Have your phone either in another room. Many use their phones for an alarm so that may not be an option. Another solution is to keep it on the opposite side of the room.
Worst thing that can happen is you actually have to get out of bed to turn off your alarm but that should be easier with a distribution free sleep.
Turn Off Sound/Vibrate – Silencing your phone or even setting it to vibrate will limit the chances it will wake you up in the middle of the night.
Do Not Disturb – This is a feature on iOS devices allowing you to turn off calls, alerts, and notifications. Having less notifications will limit the chances it will wake you up in the middle of the night.
You can also schedule a time for this to automatically turn on. You can also set allowed contacts for those you do not want blocked. Also you can set if someone calls you twice within 3 minutes the second call will be allowed.
Blocking Mode – This is Android’s version of Do Not Disturb. This built-in feature gives you the option to:
- Block incoming calls
- Turn off notifications
- Turn off alarm and timer
As with Do Not Disturb, you can set schedules and exceptions for this mode.