We all saw that how Osama’s death video malware was spreading on Facebook recently and created lot of trouble for the social network users. It’s sad to see that how anti-social elements are trying to socialize in their own manner! Anyway, I’m fully aware of such nasty tricks, so thankfully I didn’t become a victim, moreover, I keep myself safe with the help of fantastic software utilities by some fantastic individuals & companies! Let me share that how I keep myself safe from malicious websites and then I’ll share that how as a blogger/webmaster you should take the responsibility to keep your visitors safe.

Tools to keep yourself safe from malicious websites

1. Internet security softwares – There are some amazing internet security software both paid & free that are doing a fantastic job in keeping the users safe. I personally use Comodo’s free internet security software – even though it’s free – it’s got much more features and has better detection rate than even most popular paid internet security softwares! It’s got antivirus, antimalware, firewall, sandbox technology and what not, I recommend it to everyone.

2. Secure DNS solutionsOpenDNS, Comodo’s secure DNS are some of those services that deserve all the respect in the world! By just making small changes in your internet connection’s DNS settings, you can do tons of good to yourself! These services have a database of malicious and phishing websites and will automatically block them even if you happen to click on a dangerous link. I prefer Comodo’s secure DNS.

3. Web of TrustWeb of Trust is another such service that alerts you about the site’s reputation and the dangers associated with it. Facebook partnered with them, to alert it’s users for bad & dangerous links after it was raided by “social anti-social elements”. They have a plugin for major browsers which alerts users for bad links. It’s a must have for everyone!

4. McAfee SiteAdvisor – I’d be honest, I used to love Siteadvisor like anything, I still love it as it saves me from going to unreliable links and even shows the website’s reputation in search engine and thus allowing me to avoid possibly dangerous websites (It’s very much similar to Web Of Trust). However, now McAfee also install it’s toolbar and changes the search engine – that’s something it didn’t do earlier and I loved that way. Anyway, you can disable those things – so it still has my respect. It integrates well with major browsers and can be a great savior as you can see that which link can be dangerous even before you click it.

5. Sandboxie – Even though Comodo offers sandbox technology, I prefer to use Sandboxie. It’s a free tool that runs your programs in an isolated space which prevents them from making permanent changes to other programs and data in your computer. Check out the Sandboxie’s website to know more about this fantastic concept! Again, it’s a must have!

These tools keep my pretty much safe from most of the threats and I’m thankful to the wonderful developers who’ve made them.

Be a responsible blogger and secure your WordPress now!

As a user, I was safe however as a webmaster, the incident got me thinking that how blogs and websites can also be targeted by malware & virus makers, not that they haven’t done in the past, however – this is where I see it growing even more and a much faster rate! There is a flurry of automated comment submitting softwares in the market, any malware maker can host the malware on a website and then submit the comments with that malicious link on thousands of blogs in a matter of minutes and an ignorant blogger/webmaster can approve the comment which may result in the following -

  • Infect website/blog readers’ computers.
  • Reduce site’s ranking in Google – Google doesn’t like site that promote malware!
  • Bad reputation of website amongst visitors.

These are some points that no blogger would like to see happening to them. I certainly wouldn’t want this happening to me either. So, I decided to find a tool that would alert me of a malicious link before I approve any comment or which scans the links in the comments & posts and gives a report so that I can take corrective measures against those links. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one!

Then it hit me that why are security companies not making such a tool? Tools like Web of Trust, Siteadvisor, OpenDNS, Comodo’s secure DNS depend a lot on community’s feedback, they certainly are useful and keep people safe, however it takes some time before the community gets to know of a newly created malicious website, what if you visit those sites before they are marked as unsafe? Wouldn’t it be cool if the security companies made a tool, that integrates with famous content management systems like WordPress & Drupal and shows the reputation of outgoing links to the visitor before hand? Not only this will be a win-win situation for bloggers, webmasters & readers; it’ll be a win-win situation for the antivirus company as well -

  • Tons of free data about links. This will only strengthen their commercial offerings! They can directly block dangerous links for their software users.
  • Free marketing – If not for the data, they can at least get the free marketing about their company! If they’ll show reputation of the link then they can always show the following message below it – “Link’s safety checked by XYZ Security Tool“. As a webmaster, I wouldn’t mind such a message, as it’ll strengthen my reputation amongst my readers that I care for them!

I’d given up looking for the tool and had started hoping that some security company will come up with such a tool that’ll show me link security report and will also show the reputation of out going links to my readers. And well, then I came across BitDefender’s Antispam! It’s almost the tool that I was expecting and that too from a popular and reputed security company!

Why Bitdefender Antispam when I’ve got Akismet?

That’s the first question that came in mind when I read the plugin’s name, however I was super happy to find out that it’s almost doing the same thing that I was thinking about, it’s just that it doesn’t take the advantage of free marketing & doesn’t scan the links in the posts. Bitdefender has made this essentially an anti-spam plugin, however I think it’ll gain the edge over Akismet as it will also check if the links are malicious or are phishing sites. The plugin is in beta and doesn’t appeal in terms of usability at all, however I’m still running it for few weeks to see how well it performs in terms of detecting the spam! Of course, I’ll be sharing my experience in the next blog post. Installation instructions for Bitdefender Antispam. Will I suggest the plugin now? Like other security tools that I’ve recommended, I won’t recommend this for now – it certainly needs a face-lift! However, I’m sure by the time it’ll be out of Beta, it should be one of your anti-spam solutions.

Secure WordPress to avoid stupid hacks & avoid becoming owner of a malicious website!

There have been lot of posts written about as to how one can secure WordPress, I’ve covered this topic as much as I could. The guides that we’ve included will not be the ultimate solution for making the site un-hackable, however by following them you’ll save yourself from automated attacks and newbie hackers who try and hack websites for fun. Please follow these links to make your WordPress secure -

I hope that other security companies take inspiration from Bitdefender and well my marketing tip and come up with such powerful tools for webmasters. This way together we’ll be able to make internet a bit safe! After all, we’ll be able to block them at source itself! And I hope that if you’ve not taken steps to secure your WordPress installation, then you would do them right after you share this post on social networks ;)

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Alright! Looks like the rant time is back in blogosphere and I’m joining the party against feedburner, that has given very pathetic service lately. Over a period of time, the service of Feedburner has gone down the hill and there are many bloggers like Jean-Baptiste Jung, Jeff who are frustrated that they don’t get to know the exact number of the feeds. Although, Jeff has asked the question that if Feed subscriber count is of any use in these times or not?

1400 subscribers! Yipieee!

I would be honest, its been some time since I checked our subscriber base and the core reason was that Feedburner had been acting stupid, although I know that its been hovering around 1400 since some time. It’s helpful that I have the rough idea, however its difficult to digest that a service, owned by Google has been failing to provide good and dependable results. Many bloggers aren’t happy, some have accepted the service as it still gives a rough idea although on the other side some have shown a decline in interest as in current scenario there are other ways through which visitors can subscribe to their content. These days, most of the bloggers are  focusing towards either email marketing or towards increasing the twitter or facebook fans.

What are the alternatives?

Feedburner has been a great service and one of the only service that gives you the stats, helps you make money through Adsense and doesn’t charge a single dime. They offer so many features that others have failed to offer till date, however its the inconsistency in the service that made Jean & Samir Bhardwaj to look for alteratives. These are some of the alternatives that I liked -

  • Feedblitz – This is definitely second most popular service. Feedblitz is very stable and has got good reviews lately. It is popularly praised for its email newsletter service and looks like a pretty good alternative to Feedburner. It comes at a price although, it shouldn’t be an issue for professional bloggers if they are still interested in RSS stats.
  • WP FeedStats – This is a free WordPress plugin that displays the RSS subscription stats of your blog. The plugin displays the hits all the versions of the feed, be it RSS2, RSS or ATOM. The plugin looks decent I haven’t checked it personally, however, if we go by Samir’s judgement then it shouldn’t be a bad alternative to those looking for a free solution.
  • Aweber & MailChimp – These two email subscription delivery services have gained a major chunk of market share as more and more bloggers have realized that email subscription is still best suited for marketing and advertisement for subscription. These email subscription tools offer great features and are at par with rss subscription services.

It’s pretty strange to see that there are hardly any decent alternatives to feedburner and probably one of the reason, why Google isn’t putting the heart and soul towards the service as much they’ve been doing for various other properties. And one of the reasons we don’t see many alternatives is because services like Facebook and Twitter have acted as a source of stats as well as good amount of traffic. What are your thoughts about the same? Do you think if feeds are relevant anymore or not?

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WordPress has been considered as a memory hog and I can agree to that as I’ve faced the issues in the past as well. If you don’t use plug-ins like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache, you’d get an email from your shared hosting provider to upgrade the hosting plan pretty soon. As traffic increases you’d have to change the hosting plan and then the question will arise, to go for managed hosting or unmanaged hosting?

Personally I like things under my control where I can change just about anything as that way I don’t have to depend on anyone and things get done much faster as compared to a situation, where I’d have to call the tech support hoping that the support guy will help me in finishing the task and I’d get less than satisfactory answer. Anyway, to cut the story short, I got an email from my fantastic web hosting company i.e. WPWebHost, however as I was looking for cloud based hosting [I definitely like buzz words], I thought that I would rather go for Rackspace Cloud Servers as I get more control over things. Here are few things that you’d have to keep in mind, if you are interested in going for Cloud Servers -

You do get the complete control of the server but that also means that you have to setup everything from the scratch! You just get a server with a vanilla linux installation and that you’d have to install and configure – web server, database server, take care of the security issues and just about everything that you can imagine! So if you are weak heart then you should not read this guide and instead you should carry on your research for other hosting plans that offer managed servers.

However, More control over server means that you’d be able to have to have a much faster running site and that also means that you will get better rankings in Google!

One of the main purpose for getting the cloud server was that I wanted to run WordPress on Nginx, a much better and light alternative to Apache web server and wanted to play around with HipHop for PHP, pure innovation from Facebook! Here’s what HipHop for PHP is all about [I'm still working on this part and will be sharing my experiences in upcoming posts]-

HipHop transforms your PHP source code into highly optimized C++ and then compiles it with g++ to build binary files. You keep coding in simpler PHP, then HipHop executes your source code in a semantically equivalent manner and sacrifices some rarely used features – such as eval() – in exchange for improved performance.

And now lets find out that how can we setup an optimized web server that would handle lots of traffic with minimum amount of resources that would make your blog load faster as well.

Setting up Linux server from scratch!

Note 1- In this case we are using CentOS 5.3 and all the commands will be mentioned step wise, so you can simply copy and paste them one by one and you should be good to go, I will give explanation of all the steps as we go along -

Note 2 - If you are new to these things, then make sure that you should go through this guide properly and should not skip anything.

1. Setting up basic security

When you get a fresh installed Linux box that you want to use as a web server, it can be vulnerable to various attacks and in order to avoid them we will setup basic security settings that a linux web server should have and for that you should connect to your linux server through SSH [ssh root@YOUR SERVER IP ADDRESS] and then run the following commands -

  • passwd [First time you login as Root and we must change the password of the root. Here's a guide for keeping secure password.]
  • adduser wordpress
  • passwd wordpress
  • usermod -a -G wheel wordpress
  • visudo [for newbies - vi is a text editor and here are the commands that will help you operate it.]
  • Find # %wheel  ALL=(ALL)   ALL and remove # from it.

These commands will basically setup a new user called “wordpress” in the Wheel group and will ensure that the user will be able to gain the root privileges at required times. If you want to use a different username then simply replace “wordpress” with your desired name.

Now we’d configure SSH to disable the root access and change the port to ensure that no hacker will be able to easily access the server. For that fun the following commands -

  • nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

And you need to ensure that the following settings should be in the whole file. Nano is also a text editor and it displays the most basic and useful commands at the bottom so you won’t need to go through a guide. I definitely like it more than vi. Anyhow, here are the settings that you need to keep in SSH’s configuration file -

  • Port 30000  <— change to a port of your choosing
  • Protocol 2
  • PermitRootLogin no
  • X11Forwarding no
  • UsePAM no
  • UseDNS no
  • AllowUsers wordpress  <——- of course, this will be the username that you chose in the first steps.

Once we are done with the SSH configuration, we’d make changes in the IP Tables which is like the firewall settings to only allow certain ports that would be open. Run the following commands to ensure that IP Table settings are as per the way we desire -

  • iptables -L  <—- this will show the current IP Table configuration. Just copy and paste it in a text file.
  • iptables -F  <– this flushes the existing IP table rules. The following commands set desired new rules.
  • iptables -A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT
  • iptables -A INPUT -i ! lo -d 127.0.0.0/8 -j REJECT
  • iptables -A INPUT -m state –state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT
  • iptables -A OUTPUT -j ACCEPT
  • iptables -A INPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j ACCEPT
  • iptables -A INPUT -p tcp –dport 443 -j ACCEPT
  • iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m state –state NEW –dport 30000 -j ACCEPT  <— this should be the port that you selected in last settings.
  • iptables -A INPUT -p icmp -m icmp –icmp-type 8 -j ACCEPT
  • iptables -A INPUT -j REJECT
  • iptables -A FORWARD -j REJECT
  • service iptables save
  • /etc/init.d/sshd reload    <— this will reload the new settings.

Now open a new tab of Terminal (Mac Users)/Putty (Windows Users) and try to connect to the server using the new settings that we’ve put all this while. If it connects then everything is fine, else go back to the previous tab, flush the settings again and try the above commands again.

  • ssh -p 30000 wordpress@Your Server’s IP Address

2. More CentOS configuration and setting development tools

In this section we’d configure CentOS to use external repositories, so that installation of various tools becomes easier and that in case you want to install any software then it should be able to find the dependencies without much issues. One of the most known repository other than default one is RPMFORGE and we need to configure our server for that. Please follow this article to install RPMFORGE. Once we are done with that, we will run the following commands -

  • sudo yum update
  • sudo yum groupinstall ‘Development Tools’ ‘Development Libraries’

This will update the YUM and will install most of the development tools and its libraries that you’d need in future. I hope that most of you would not find problems till this point of time as these are some simple steps, however things will start getting a little complicated when we’ll start installing Nginx, WordPress, MySQL, caching systems configuring them for optimum results. So gear up for the fun and awesome challenge that we’ll experience in forthcoming posts.

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Facebook Pages are extremely popular among Small Business owners, Artists, Celebrities, Fortune 500 companies and who not! We’ve already discussed that how one can add a custom tab on Facebook Page and how to make your page popular and gain lots of fans. We discussed almost every aspect of gaining the fans for your Facebook Page, however we forgot to mention that if you have a creative, interactive and gripping facebook page, then fans will also engage in conversation pretty easily. So we thought of listing those 5 Facebook Pages that inspire us and we have fallen in love with!

Coca-Cola

Facebook-coke.jpg

This fantastic page is a great way to show that how a user can be engaged. The page is powered through Adobe Flash and the nice use of colors and icons ensures that you won’t skip a single element on that page. The feature that I love the most is shown on Fan Downloads page. Fans can download free goodies only if they become the fan – a great way to add fans.

Victoria’s Secret

facebook-victorias-secret.jpg

This page is also a great display of how users around the world are engaged. You’ll see lots and lots of wall updates from its fans. Their Bombshell custom tab educates its fans to change the pic to few specific images that spread the word about Victoria’s Secret. They even make a great use of the Events feature of Pages. Impressive designs with hot looking models will entice you to become a fan!

Chase

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This ever so popular Facebook Page has over a million fans and an integrated application lets you search through various NGOs. They’ve integrated the application well in the page thus ensuring that a user not only becomes the fan of the page but they get to add the application easily too. Its neat and clean design is something I love the most!

There are more awesome Facebook pages like Adidas, Starbucks, Red Bull, Sony and a lot more. You’ll notice that small little activities and features ensure that these pages have gained more than million fans each. Of course, their brand helps in gaining the users, its really the interaction in the Facebook page that really kicks of the things. So, which is your favorite page and why you like it the most?

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Facebook Logo sticker on Flickr - Photo Sharing!.jpg

In our earlier post we discussed that how we can add a custom tab on a facebook page and in this post we’d discuss that how can we popularize that facebook page to ensure that our brand name spreads and we can find targeted users. Of course, there have been many blogs that have already spoken about it and we’d like to ensure that this blog post will feature the best of techniques to ensure that you’d be able to promote your facebook page in the best of ways.

Lets start with the basics

best-friends-2.jpg 1. Invite your amigo : There will always be friends who’d be close and will be always ready to help you. If you have few friends like that in your list, why aren’t you inviting them? Invite them, ask them to spread the word, ask them to further invite their friends. This should help in spreading the name pretty quickly.

2. Updates are must – In order to ensure that your facebook page becomes a Rock Star, you’d need to keep it up to date. More over, if anyone would interact on your facebook page, its activity may appear in their timeline and thus will help in attracting more eye-balls. You can always use following applications for automating various tasks -

  • TwitterFeed – Using this service you can setup your blog feed and publish the updates on Twitter & Facebook. So whenever you’ll write a blog post, its link will automatically be published on these networks. This will ensure that you’ll get more traffic on your blog plus it’ll engage the fans as well. Since its the feeds that you can setup – you can easily setup feed from YouTube, Digg, Flickr or other services that you use.
  • Twitter Application – This little application displays your tweets on facebook and also lets you publish all your tweets on facebook. So even if you are posting updates on Twitter, they will be pushed on Facebook too. Thus keeps your pages active with fresh content.
  • HootSuite – I think it’s one of the best applications around as far as pushing the content on multiple networks. This wonderful service lets you schedule your tweets and with least amount of efforts you can easily manage Facebook pages, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin accounts. So to ensure that fresh content is posted at all the times, you can schedule the updates easily using this.

Some Free Viral Marketing is on your way

Now that we’ve ensured that the content on your Facebook account is all up to date, its time to ensure that we can try and increase the fans for your business page. There are manual and tiring methods as you need to engage in conversation with new fans. Lets check them out -


viral-marketing.jpg 3. Search New Users – Facebook’s search displays results from updates across facebook. So if you have a business page about Custom WordPress Themes then do a search for “WordPress” and you’ll surely find lots of users that you can target. Engage in conversation with them and try to add them on your network.

4. Add friends of friends – You can also try to engage in conversation with friends of your friends and then add them on your network. This is a slow process however a darn effective one.

5. Add Facebook fan widget on your blog – Its not that you can only visitors from Facebook to your blog. You can also add Facebook fans from your blog. There will always be many visitors who’d come on your blog from search engines and they can become the fan if you give them the option of becoming one. Simply add a widget on your blog and see it in action.

Spend money and market your page quickly

Above activities would require decent amount of hours and efforts, however not everyone is blessed with that much amount of time. So if you can shell out some money, you’d be able to attract thousands of users for your business page. Here are some of the ways -


pay-per-click.jpg 6. Giveaways attracts new visitors – Even small giveaways like e-books, books can help in generating lots of visitors to your account. If you have a product that you can afford to give away, then go ahead and do it. Just ask your current fans to share your specific update and the luck winner can win. This can get pretty viral depending on how excited the fans are about that particular giveaway.

7. Social Ads – Facebook gives great advertising options. You can run various ad campaigns and attract users on your facebook page. Facebook’s social ads are pretty effective and you get to decide that how much money you want to spend. It’s quick and effective for sure!

8. Impress the visitors with custom landing pages – Well, if you can spend some money then get a custom tab designed and coded. An impressive landing tab page will always attract users and they would love to spread it as well.

Engaging with fans is important

Once you’ve added lots of fans, its important that they don’t forget you. We’ve already discussed that how you can keep fresh content coming on your pages, however if you won’t engage in conversation with your fans, all the efforts will go in vein. To avoid that here are few things you should keep on doing -

9. Comments and messages – Make sure that if a user comes and posts updates on your page, then you should thank them by sending messages. Leave comments on their updates regularly, this would keep them active.

10. Help them and they’ll help you – If your fans have blog around same industry then promote it on your pages. This will build a stronger relationship. After all thats what social networking is all about, isn’t it?

Caution – Don’t try to spam. Its good that you want to promote your business, however you shouldn’t forget that there may be many friends of yours who won’t be that much interested in knowing about your business every single hour. Make sure that your idea is to have the positive PR and not to be in the bad books of your close network.

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a-o-n-c-1.jpg

I was always impressed with the fan page of Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Nonconformity [his blog]. It was one of the first few fan pages that used the power of Custom tabs in Facebook Pages. What I loved about this fan page was that it first loads the Welcome Page for those users who aren’t fan at the moment. Check out the page (link mentioned above) and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Lets find out that how one can add Custom Tabs on Facebook Fan page.

1. Go to Static FBML application

This is the application that helps in creating the custom tabs. This application renders HTML & FBML (Facebook markup language), so pretty much gives enough control to the user to customize the page the way they want. We’ll learn about the customization in upcoming posts.

2. Click on Add to my Page


static-fbml.jpg

As soon as you click on this, it’ll give you the option of selecting the page where you would like to add this application. Just select the right page and click on Add to page. Nothing much will happen, click on Close.

3. Edit your tab page

edit-static-fbml.jpg

At this point, you should continue editing your fan page. You’ll notice there will be a new application that you would need to edit. This application comes from “Static FBML” and once we click on “Edit” (as shown in screenshot) – we’ll get the ability to customize the tab page.

4. Customize the tab page

facebook-tab-page.jpg

As you can see that I’ve used the HTML tags to create a “test” Welcome Page. Of course, you’d need to know HTML or FBML in order to publish anything on these pages. Either you can use a free WYSIWYG web page editor or if you are comfortable with WordPress editor, then simply write your message and then go to HTML editor section and use the code.

5. Adding the tab on the Fan Page

welcome-tab.jpg

Once you are done with designing your custom facebook tab page. You would want to show it on your fan page. You will need to visit the page as administrator and click on the “+” icon at the right hand side of all the tabs. You’ll see your custom developed page in the list, just select it and you are good to go!

Note : You can always drag and drop the tab to change its position. For e.g. you may want to have this tab as the 3rd tab instead of 7th, then you just need to drag it on the left hand side till it comes to the third position.

6. Loading the custom tab at first

edit-wall-settings.jpg

Again edit the page and in that edit the “Wall Settings”. This will give the option of selecting your custom tab page as the “Default Landing Tab for Everyone Else

Just save the settings and everything should work the way you always wanted. Custom Tabs on Facebook Fan pages is a wonderful feature as its a quick way to introduce about who you are and what services do you offer. If optimized properly, it can be a great resource in your “Social Media Marketing strategy“. I’ll come up with optimization tricks in the next post and to ensure that you don’t miss it – you can subscribe to our newsletter.

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Around six month back, I wrote a blog post “What you need to learn from Valleywag’s blogger?” and I guess, history has repeated itself. This time, Andrew Keen has replaced Paul Boutin but the theory remains the same i.e. “blogs are dead“. Yawn!! Yawn!!

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