What do Jane Austen, Donald Trump and your Web Server have in common?
Some things you might want to keep an eye on as you build your online brand…
“Good opinion once lost, is lost forever.” Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
“Fake news!” Donald Trump: Twitter
Not two people you’ll often come across in the same sentence! Whether you take the view of Elizabeth Bennet or the attitude of the incumbent US President, reputation is something that affected (and in the Donald’s case continues to affect) the lives of both intensely.
In much the same way, your web presence has a reputation that needs to be managed and protected if it is to continue to function well in the not-so-polite society of the Internet. So what does affect your business’s online reputation? Indeed, how do you go about assessing its current state? Even more importantly, what do you do to improve it if you discover it doesn’t look so hot?
Broadly, you can split online reputation issues into two main areas: domain reputation and the reputation of your IP address.
Domain Reputation Management
This relates to data held on a domain and any IP addresses associated with it. Domain reputation is based on a myriad of factors such as the age of the domain – has it been around for a few years; the hosting of the domain – is your domain hosted in a “good neighbourhood”; the amount of time left before hosting renewal – preferably several years; online review scores – can affect up to 10% of your Google ranking; your business classification; technical issues such as DNS configuration (MX, SPF and DKIM records) and the use of a properly-configured SSL Certificate and static IP address for starters. There are other issues that can affect your domain reputation such as becoming a victim of hacker activity. A lot depends on the type of hack and how quickly you can recover. Often the first thing you discover is that your ISP has closed your site down and sent a standard email outlining what you need to do to clean things up and get the site restored. If you are running WordPress and have had one of these, you might want to head over to our website rescue page for some helpful ideas!
IP Address Reputation Management
This is typically the reputation of any given email server and is a major component of the overall reputation of your domain. If you decide it would be a good idea to buy a list of 5,000 cold prospect email addresses from a list broker and blast out offers linking back to your website, don’t be surprised when the first thing that happens is your ISP blocks your site. You’d be surprised how many businesses still do this! There are much better ways to attract new customers as these people can advise you. What business owners might not be aware of is that Dynamic IP addresses can cause significant problems and may come with a less-than-perfect prior ‘history’ attached.
How can I tell if there’s a problem
From an IP perspective, it’s important to regularly scan your address for any blacklisting entries and to keep an eye open for changes. It’s quite easy to check your address. If you have a static address, it will generally be listed on the Control Panel provided by your ISP. Look under “domain settings”. Otherwise, go to an ip lookup service enter your domain and copy down your current IP address. Now visit Cisco’s Talos service and post your IP Address in the search box. This will tell you if your domain is listed on any of the main blacklists.
What is important to know here is that unless your domain operates on a static IP, you will be allocated a dynamic IP from a “range” of available addresses. These are ‘recycled’ addresses and are allocated randomly although as long as you maintain your internet connection via your ISP, you are likely to keep the same one. Switch off your router for any length of time and you will be allocated another address from the lucky dip. We have seen clients in the past who have had day-to-day email deliverability issues as a result of being allocated an IP previously associated with spamming or malware activity. You could also use the tool to look up your provider’s domain to check if your hosting company’s email servers measure up!
Why is this so important?
Poor domain reputation affects many things, not least your business’s acceptability to a suitable hosting ISP. Many articles dealing with the subject of online reputation focus very closely on potential problems with email deliverability and point out the close correlation between the two. Email is still a phenomenally useful and economically sensible method of lead nurturing for most businesses and any threat to the continued healthy operation of your website must be taken very seriously indeed. Maintaining a strong online reputation is critical to the continued success of your business.
What should I do about it?
With GDPR on the horizon, it’s a great idea to get into good habits with opt-in lists and regular list cleaning. Use a sub-domain for email campaigns and build up email volume slowly and steadily using personalised, relevant messages. Make sure to test your emails for an acceptable spam rating using a tools such as SpamAssassin. Make sure you have a regular process in place to maintain your site effectively. If you run WordPress, it is vital to harden your site and run the latest versions of all core software and plugins.
Make sure you deploy a firewall on your website to monitor and block cross-site scripting, malicious upload attempts and the like. Move to a static IP address and make sure you are running your site on the https: protocol with the best SSL certificate you can afford. Check you are using strong passwords and avoiding obvious usernames such as ‘admin’ and consider adopting two factor authentication as a standard.
If you are not technically-minded, look into the possibility of hiring in expertise. There are sensible economical alternatives you can consider if your business isn’t large enough to support dedicated in-house tech support, but above all, don’t leave it to chance. It could be more than just your reputation at stake.
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