Friday, 30 January 2009

Abuse of open redirect URLs

Google's Webmaster blog has published a detailed post on the security issues of open redirect URLs and how websites can identify if their site is being attacked by spammers using this method, and how to prevent it happening.

Some websites use open redirect URLs in situations where it's helpful to redirect users to another page. Unfortunately, such redirects that are left open to any arbitrary destination can be abused and it's becoming a more common method since spammers can take advantage of a website's functionality rather than exploiting a simple bug or security flaw. These spammers hope to use the targeted domain as a temporary "landing page" to trick email users, searchers and search engines into following links which appear to be pointing to the site, but actually redirect to their spam site.

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Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Wikipedia faces editorial debate

The BBC news website has reported on the internal editorial debate going on at Wikipedia, the user-generated encyclopedia which has come to dominate information needs on the web - as well as continually be a source of debate about accuracy and editorial standards.

Recent events on the site - where edits of the pages of Senators Robert Byrd and Edward Kennedy gave the false impression both had died - have prompted a review of the rules, that would see revisions being approved before they were added to the site. First raised by Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, he proposed a system of flagged revisions, which would mean any changes made by a new or unknown user would have to be approved by one of the site's editors, before the changes were published.

However, this potential editing change has proved controversial and sparked a row among the site's editors. It would mean a radical shift from the site's philosophy that ostensibly allows anyone to make changes to almost any entry. Wales' proposal has caused a storm of comments on his site, with many editors saying the proposal was unworkable.

Mr Wales has now offered a compromise, asking those who were opposed to the changes to make "an alternative proposal within the next 7 days, to be voted upon for the next 14 days after that." The BBC report says that a system of flagged revisions has been used by the German Wikipedia site for almost a year. However critics say that the process is labour intensive and some changes can take days, if not weeks, to appear.

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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Google adds features to Local Business Ads

As Google's Local Business Adverts become a more popular feature within localised search results, the Google AdWords blog has announced the addition of new features to this option within Google Maps.

Firstly, a local business ad will now feature new interactive links within the panel for the business, that are designed to provide more information for users and to connect them to the business quicker. Previously, this panel would only provide a link to the business website but now users will be able to interact with the info window to get the information they’re looking for about the business, such as "Get Directions," "Street View" (where available), and "Save to My Maps."

Google AdWords will also be adding a new interaction report for local business ads in the near future. This report will help advertisers to assess the activity through the local business ads and the return on investment, with such information as how many users opened the info window and clicked on each of the new interactive links.

Google says that Maps users are often looking for different information than Search users so that these new interactive links and the reports should help customers connect with a business faster as well as help the advertiser understand how to better target Maps users versus Search users.

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Monday, 19 January 2009

New computer worm spreads

The BBC website covers the latest 'worm' attack which is threatening PCs around the world. Dubbed the Conficker virus, this worm is spreading rapidly through low security networks, memory sticks, and PCs without current security updates. The malicious program was first reported in October last year although there has been no direct impact yet - security experts say that the spread of the worm appears to be levelling off, although there are fears someone could easily take control of any and all of the 9.5m infected PCs.

PC users should continue to remain vigilant about these type of attacks and have up-to-date anti-virus software, as well as install Microsoft's MS08-067 patch. Some experts are saying that this outbreak is at a scale they had not seen for some time.

The BBC report says that Microsoft have described the worm as one that works by searching for a Windows executable file called "services.exe" and then becomes part of that code. It then copies itself into the Windows system folder as a random file of a type known as a "dll". It gives itself a 5-8 character name, such as piftoc.dll, and then modifies the Registry, which lists key Windows settings, to run the infected dll file as a service.

Once the worm is up and running, it creates an HTTP server, resets a machine's System Restore point (making it far harder to recover the infected system) and then downloads files from the hacker's web site. Most malware uses one of a handful of sites to download files from, making them fairly easy to locate, target, and shut down. But Conficker does things differently by using a complicated algorithm to generate hundreds of different domain names every day but only one of these will actually be the site used to download the hackers' files. This could make tracing this one site is almost impossible.

Microsoft has said that the malware has infected computers in many different parts of the world, with machines in China, Brazil, Russia, and India having the highest number of victims.

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Thursday, 8 January 2009

Display advertising drives search activity

Another new piece of research on the role of display advertising has indicated that it has a significant impact on search activity. The survey by US company Specific Media tracked over 60 advertising campaigns to take averages that demonstrated a direct correlation between display advertising and search. It found that consumers exposed to display advertising were more likely to search for brand terms (such as an automotive manufacturer), and segment terms (such as a type of vehicle), than unexposed consumers.

There's perhaps no great surprise there, as brand awareness will drive user behaviour in many cases, and the study shows that display advertising has a direct impact on both paid and organic searches and clicks. However, it's another piece of research that supports the role of an integrated marketing campaign, both online and offline, although the value of the additional traffic based on the extra spend would need to be assessed by each advertiser.

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Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Small business websites miss marketing opportunities

A recent survey published by Microsoft's adCenter service in the US claims that small businesses who have built an online presence are failing to invest in search marketing. Apparently 73% of small business owners would rather do their tax returns than start a search marketing plan!

Of course, Microsoft is trying to promote their adCenter PPC service and therefore the survey results are not entirely surprising with an underlying movtive! The study of 400 small businesses in the US revealed that 59% of those with websites don’t currently use paid search marketing, and of those, 90% have never even attempted it.

The Microsoft press release for this survey says that 'despite the lack of investment in paid search marketing, the weakening economy and increased competition, nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) small-business owners surveyed felt that they could be missing opportunities to grow their business, while three in four believed prospective customers could be searching online for the type of service their business offers'. Of those companies that do use PPC advertising, most are very satisfied, as 72% reported an increase in sales enquiries and 68% consider their paid search marketing efforts successful.

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Monday, 5 January 2009

Web marketing newsletter published for January

The New Year issue of the monthly Web Marketing newsletter has been published, covering some of the recent trends in web search and online marketing.

This month's edition includes the annual review of the predictions for the market made a year ago, as well as 5 new predictions for 2009. There's little doubt that the coming year will also see many developments and opportunities in this sector, despite the current economic slowdown affecting many of the western economies. However, it's likley that this situation will benefit online businesses in many ways, so that 2009 promises to be an exciting and challenging year for many companies who want to stay ahead of the game.

If you want to sign up for future issues of this newsletter, please do so by using the form at the bottom of this page. To view back issues of this newsletter you can see the archive by date or by subject.

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