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  • You Think You’ve Had a Data Breach. What’s Your Plan?

    Wednesday, July 13, 2016 by

    Data Breach

    If you think your business is safe from prying hackers because it’s small, think again. Seventy-one percent of breaches involve small businesses, and only 20% of those businesses survive more than 18 months after a breach, according to Business News Daily. Because the likelihood of a business-ending breach is so high, your business needs a response plan to not only improve your response time but also reduce your company’s breach-related losses. Here’s how to create your data-breach response plan.

    First, do your pre-planning homework. You can reduce your chances of falling prey to data thieves by keeping your company’s operating system and application software up to date, practicing good password security habits, and guarding against phishing attacks and equipment theft. It’s also an excellent idea to insure your business against data theft. More than 95% of small businesses don’t carry data breach insurance, although policies are available through many major insurers. Going without coverage can be a costly mistake. According to data from the National Small Business Association, the average small-business data breach cost $8,699 in 2013. Buy a policy now and the cost of the breach will be one less thing to worry about as you deal with the rest of the steps on this list.

    Step 1: Know there’s been a breach

    The ugly truth about data theft is that skilled criminals can ransack your company data and leave – or worse, hang around in your system collecting data as it arrives – without dropping clues most of us can spot. That’s why so many companies learn about their system breaches from outside sources like banks and customers. If you get such a report, take it seriously and activate your response plan right away. If your security software shows an infection, it’s also time to act.

    Step 2: Isolate the problem

    Regardless of how you learn about your suspected or confirmed breach, you’ll need to figure out which computers and/or servers are compromised. Take them off your business network – physically unplug their Ethernet cables or wireless adapters – and disconnect them from the Internet. Put this equipment off-limits for business use, but don’t turn it off. The PCI Security Standards Council advises that powering down infected equipment “may make investigation more difficult and remove answers you need.”

    Step 3: Save access and activity logs

    This is the step when enterprise-level businesses bring in the IT forensics experts to see who’s had system access and what they did. You may not have a team, but you can appoint someone on your staff ahead of time to back up and save the logs from each piece of compromised equipment and from your network in the event of a breach. You may not ever learn exactly which data was compromised, but keeping a record of the logs is the best possible start and will be critical if law enforcement or card issuers launch an investigation.

    If you’re a solopreneur without the know-how to do this kind of backup, start looking now for computer-security businesses in your area that can do this for you and talk to them about their services, rates, and policies.

    Step 4: Inform your payment and banking partners

    Any time your customers’ payment data is at risk, you need to notify your payment processor, merchant bank, and the major credit card issuers right away. Your processor and bank will step up monitoring and review of your orders. Depending on the volume of credit card transactions your business generates, the card issuers may want to launch a forensics investigation led by a PCI-approved professional. Know the time limits your payment partners set for breach reporting and follow them. Late reporting can increase your liability for breach losses.

    Step 5: Notify law enforcement

    Depending on where you do business, you may be required to notify law enforcement in the event of a suspected or confirmed breach. Whether you’re required to or not, both the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau recommend that you contact your local police department, state law enforcement, or the FBI to report the breach.

    Step 6: Contact your insurer

    Remember that insurance policy you bought before step one? Contact your agent and provide as much information as you can about the breach, including any case numbers assigned by the police or FBI.

    Step 7: Call the credit bureaus

    If your business stores customers’ personally identifiable information, payment data, or social security numbers, you should also notify the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) so they can flag customers’ files.

    Step 8: Tell your customers

    This step makes many business owners wince, but transparency is the best policy. It’s also the law in most states and major territories. (The National Council of State Legislatures keeps a current list of state and territory breach laws you can check.) Be upfront when you contact your customers. Experian advises businesses that “consumers want to see facts about the breach, information about the risks they may face, steps they can take to protect themselves.” Give details if you have them. If you’re unsure what information was stolen, say so.

    The FTC and state governments that require consumer notification of breaches offer sample letters you can adapt, like this one from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

    Step 9: Tighten your security

    Learn all you can from the data breach to figure out where your business is vulnerable and how to prevent a repeat incident. Cooperate with any investigators working on your case and let your customers know that you’re strengthening your protection of their data. Keep your data breach insurance policy paid up.

    Want more tips on protecting your small business? Check out these HostGator blog posts on WordPress site security tools and how to set up security levels to protect your information. 

    Hackers don't just attack your physical servers. They go after websites, too. Protect your site from malware with SiteLock, and restore your site with daily backups from CodeGuard.

  • 7 Ways Online Businesses Can Get the Most Out of Conferences

    Tuesday, July 12, 2016 by

    Online Businesses

    Sure, you can just go to a conference and hope for the best. Or you can take a proactive role in your business and personal growth by following these basic steps.

    Examples are included so you have zero excuses not to sponge up all of the info and connections the conference has to deliver. Get to it!

    Rule #1: Go in with a plan.

    Choose wisely. Know exactly what it is you want to accomplish and learn from each conference you attend—heck, write down your goals! Give yourself measurable guidelines to help you stay on track. For example...

    • Hand out 25 business cards
    • Collect 25 email addresses
    • Add 25 Twitter or LinkedIn followers
    • Find 10 promising business leads
    • Find 1 viable investor
    • Learn X specific detail about running an email marketing campaign (or what you will)

    Rule #2: Connect online.

    Know all of the online resources available to you about the conference and make them your own. Seek out info on presenters and attendees. Connect with them on social media. Do your homework and know people and companies before you arrive. It gives you more talking points and will keep you more engaged.

    • Most conferences have a related hashtag. Search for it to discover other attendees.
    • Some conferences like SXSW have their own social platforms. Don’t miss these exclusive opportunities to connect.

    Rule #3: Announce your attendance.

    Let everyone know you’re attending. It’s not a secret. Use Twitter Polls to ask your customers what they’d like to learn if they were going to the conference or embed a free survey on your website. Be your audience’s advocate. Use this info to create content and build hype around your attendance.

    Rule #4: Give your social media an once-over.

    Since you’re going to be promoting the heck out of this conference, please be sure that your website and social media pages and settings are as up to date as possible--especially LinkedIn & Twitter.

    Rule #5: Mix and mingle.

    Don’t go to a conference only to bury your face in the metaphorical sand that is your phone or laptop. Be mindful, be active, be present. Unless your goals (see Rule #1) include “stare at screen,” you’re likely there to meet real humans, so do it!

    Rule #6: Bring some branded swag.

    Make a splash by bringing fun stuff to give to people. A little company swag goes a long way. Don’t forget to add your business URL to all promo items! Branded pens, stickers, t-shirts, water bottles, and notebooks are all non-intrusive, easy-to-carry items any conference-goer could use.

    Rule #7: Offer an exclusive discount to conference attendees.

    Have an exclusive signup form ready to go on your website that offers other conference attendees (potential customers/referrers/investors) a discount code in exchange for their email address.

    Don’t Forget These Tools In Your Conference Arsenal

    Bring these clutch tools with you for even greater conference success!

    Business Cards: These are a no-brainer. You have to have them. Your task is to make sure they have relevant & updated information. And for the love of all things holy, make sure you have a business email address! iamawesome@aol.com does not cut it.

    (To get your own business email, you'll need your own website. Visit HostGator.com for a great deal and jumpstart your online brand!)

    • Check Vistaprint for some great deals. Pay a few more bucks for glossy finishes or funky shapes that stand out.
    • Time-saving tip: Vistaprint can take your business card brand logo and throw it on to additional swag items (see Rule #5).

    Evernote: The free version of Evernote is like having a circa-1990 Trapper Keeper (and we mean this as a compliment) in your pocket. Take notes, add images, make to-do lists, record audio and stay organized with an intricate tagging system plus as many folders as you’d like.

    Okay, you’re good to go!

    Have any more suggestions for greater conference success? Hit the comments and let us know. We’re always listening...

  • 6 Best WordPress Plugins for Travel Blogs

    Monday, July 11, 2016 by

    Best WordPress plugins for travel blogs

    There are countless tools you can use to promote your blog across the Internet. Getting traffic back to your site is important. But, even more important than having swarms of traffic is turning that traffic into dedicated readers and customers.

    As a travel blogger you probably have a lot of different business goals, but a well functioning site will play a role in all of those. Below we highlight seven different plugins you can use to get the most from your travel blog.

    1. Yoast SEO

    This plugin should be used no matter the style of blog you’re running. This plugin simplifies the SEO process, so it’s much easier to optimize each post for keywords you’re trying to rank for.

    Trying to do SEO without the help of Yoast is much more difficult. Download Yoast SEO to simplify your SEO efforts and have your site ranking faster.

    2. Geo Mashup

    Since you run a travel blog, chances are you want to give people as much information about your destination as possible. One great way to do this is to provide a map of your recent visits. You can do this by using the plugin Geo Mashup.

    This plugin allows you to insert a customizable map using the Google Maps API anywhere into your site. A must have for those looking to create in-depth destination posts.

    3. W3 Total Cache

    Your website needs to be fast. But, spending time trying to optimize your codebase and do all the necessary tweaks will do nothing more than give you a headache. Luckily, there’s a plugin that can handle all of the technical stuff for you.

    It’s called W3 Total Cache. Essentially, this plugin will minify your codebase, so it loads quickly and performs much better.

    If you want your travel blog to compete, then you’re going to need to provide a great user experience. This plugin will help you get there.

    4. Revive Old Post

    What happens when you have a lot of older content you want to share and promote, but don’t want to spend a ton of time searching through your archives?

    You use the plugin called Revive Old Post. This plugin will automatically connect to a variety of your social media profiles and promote your older content for you. You can automate the tweet/share messages, as well as, how often your content is promoted.

    This is a great time saver and allows you to work smarter, not harder.

    5. Photo Dropper

    Flickr Creative Commons can be a great source of images to spice up your blog posts. But, searching though the database, finding the perfect image, downloading it, re-sizing it, and uploading it again with proper accreditation takes a lot of time.

    Luckily, there’s a plugin that can greatly speed up this process for you. It’s called Photo Dropper and it lets you search their database and upload an image in a number of clicks.

    6. Ewww Image Optimizer

    There are dozens of image optimizers you can use to reduce the file size of your images, without compromising quality. This is very important if you want your blog to feature high quality images, but you don’t want your loading time to be impacted.

    Slow loading sites don’t rank as high in Google as their fast loading counterparts, and having images that take too long to load tend to turn off your readers.

    Ewww Image Optimizer will easily optimize every image that you upload to your media library. This saves you time from having to do it manually and will definitely please your readers.

    There are probably hundreds of plugins you can use to grow your travel blog. However, we’ve found the plugins above to be very effective. Try them out and let us know what you think.

    If you don't want to deal with downloading your own plugins and monitoring your traffic, consider optimized WordPress hosting from HostGator - we'll take care of the heavy lifting so you can focus on your travel! Click here to get started.

    Any plugins we missed in the collection above? Share your favorites in the comments below. Happy travels!

  • How to Use Instagram to Generate Sales

    Friday, July 8, 2016 by

    How to use Instagram to drive sales

    Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social media networks, and one that is becoming increasingly important to brands and businesses.

    Generating sales on Instagram requires re-thinking traditional marketing tactics, and using a more indirect style to create the necessary trust and loyalty.

    Grow your brand, build loyalty, and then generate sales

    Young consumers are a savvy bunch: They’re comfy with brands but they hate traditional advertising. They skip TV commercials and use ad-blockers on the Internet. What they want from brands, more than anything, is authenticity

    What does this mean for your Instagram presence? It means traditional sales tactics won’t work there - in fact, those tactics will probably alienate your newfound followers and turn them against you. So no hard sells, no constant “buy now” appeals - nothing at all that reeks of actual commerce.

    Instead, create an aesthetic your target buyer will love and a community to which they want to belong. Create beautiful images that don’t just show off your product, but that directly relate to your customers’ lives and aspirations.

    This is true across most social media. Nike’s Facebook feed, for instance, isn’t just nice pictures of shoes and jackets with links to their website. Instead, 60% of their feed is lifestyle content - images aimed directly at their core demographic of hardcore fitness enthusiasts.

    Nike Instagram

    Note: Nearly every post from Nike’s recent Instagram page has over 1 million likes. None of them expressly demands a sale or provides a call to action.

    Ironically, focusing on lifestyle content increased the effectiveness of Nike’s more traditional call-to-action posts, which received an average of 993 shares. (By contrast, Adidas, which posted much less lifestyle content, received an average of only 122 shares on their call-to-action posts.)

    By the way, Snappy’s adventure travels on the HostGator Instagram don’t exactly tell customers to “buy HostGator’s stuff!” It’s just another fun way of getting our brand out into the world, literally.

    HostGator Instagram

    Harness the mighty power of the hashtag

    Like all social media platforms, Instagram posts have a limited shelf life. A few hours after they’re posted, they basically drop off the face of the earth.

    Hashtags are a way to give them a longer life, and to put your brand’s content in front of users who don’t already follow you.

    Hashtags on your posts should be relevant and specific: For instance, #cookies will probably cast a wider net, but #snickerdoodles or #hamantaschen will put you in front of people with a real interest in your product.

    Don’t overdo hashtags, either - a few well-chosen ones will do nicely. Any more than that and you risk looking like you’re trying to sell something.

    Reward your followers with special promotions and secret sales

    In addition to posting content they consistently love, you should also give your followers a little something extra: early access to sales, special discount codes, and Instagram-only promotions.

    It’s another way to make your customers (and potential customers) feel valued, to make your business appear generous, and to generate sales without seeming to actually “sell” anything. Instead of asking for business, you’re bestowing a gift.

    Your followers are themselves a great asset: You can encourage them to post pictures of themselves using or wearing your product, along with a promotional hashtag that’ll help boost their pic beyond their own followers. That cements their attachment to your brand, and also puts your product in front of potential customers in a way that feels organic and, oh yes, authentic.

    Be patient, and the sales will come

    For those used to the old marketing models, generating sales on Instagram can feel counterintuitive. But by creating an engaging and active community, your Instagram feed will attract more fans and followers, and those loyal and engaged followers are more likely to become paying customers.

    [bctt tweet="3 #Instagram Tips for Biz: Use hashtags, share lifestyle content, reward fans with secret sales." username="hostgator"]

    * * *

    By Lauren Barret

  • Support Austin Pets Alive with HostGator!

    Thursday, July 7, 2016 by
    Austin Pets Alive Did you know July 16th is Love Your Rescue Pet Day? HostGator has been a long-time sponsor of local pet rescue organization Austin Pets Alive! (if you love cute puppies, be sure to check out this post). We are so excited to be a part of this year's fourth annual Love Your Rescue Pet Day, which benefits Austin Pets Alive! At HostGator, we're all about supporting local businesses and helping them get online. We also happen to love puppies, and so does our mascot Snappy. If you don't believe us, just check out the clip below:

    What is Love Your Rescue Pet Day?

    Love Your Rescue Pet Day is an Austin, TX-wide fundraising event that celebrates the love Austinites have for their rescue pets. Austin has been a no-kill city for 5 years now, and Austin Pets Alive! (APA!) plays a big role in keeping that trend alive. On Love Your Rescue Pet Day, local businesses show their support by donating 10% of the day's sales back to APA! You can find the full list of participating businesses here. HostGator's Austin office is the proud sponsor of the day's official adoption event at Town Lake Animal Center. Austin Pets Alive! has hundreds of adorable dogs and cats waiting to meet you. Don't miss out on the chance to cuddle with furry friends and find your new FURever friend! RSVP to our Facebook event to get a reminder notification.

    Support Austin Pets Alive with HostGator!

    If you stop by on Saturday, be sure to say "hi" to one of our Austin team members! Our trusty mascot Snappy will be there, and he'll be handing out exclusive gator-shaped treats for all the new dog owners. The homemade treats are baked right here in the U.S. and are sold by local Austin business, Grand Dog Bakery. The day is set to be a fun- and fur-filled event! Happy new pet owners will get the chance to post with their pet and Snappy. During your Snappy meet-and-greet, our team will be asking you all sorts of questions like, "What's your new pet's name?" or "How'd you guys meet?" or "Let's say your pet had a website. What would it be about?" Admittedly, the last question is kind of kooky, but we ARE a web hosting company, after all. Inquiring minds want to know! If you won't be able to make the event, we still want to hear from you! Share your rescue pet's story in the comments below and let us know what kind of website she or he would have. You can email me a photo at awillson@hostgator.com. We'll choose our favorites to highlight on HostGator's social media channels. See you on July 16th! 7/18/16 Update: Love Your Rescue Pet Day was a success! Austin Pets Alive reported 41 adoptions for the day. Congratulations to all of the new pet owners! Snappy was so happy to share delicious dog treats with his new furry friends. Snappy Austin Pets Alive HostGator Free Dog Treats
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