2017 Year End Tech Review

The year 2017 saw both social media and hackers much in the spotlight. Fake news posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc, fake user accounts on all platforms, fake news websites, real news reporting on fake news, and multi-billion dollar companies such as Google and Facebook often the inter-medium through which fake advertisers advertised fake content. The only sure winners from the fake news seem to be Google (Alphabet) and Facebook. Their stocks are up 20% and 50% respectively.

2018 Prediction: fake news will continue because people are dumb and believe what they want to believe.

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Artificial Intelligence

skynet gif
Everything is now AI this, AI that, it’s going to replace all our jobs and eventually take over the world, like Skynet in the movie Terminator. Yes, it is going to take some jobs, alongside roboticization. A great example of this is how Goldman Sachs just put into production an AI program that has cut their legal departments billing load by a whopping 360,000 hours a year. Those lawyers may disagree but AI isn’t taking over humanity, yet.

Sci-fi aside, AI is real and really cool. Everyone is getting into the game, trying to catch up to Amazon, Google, IBM and Baidu are probably the biggest investors, but practically all tech companies are investing in the technoloty. AI isn’t just for the big boys. I’ve begun using it to analyze client data and fine tune my advertising algorithms with sometimes amazing results – and sometimes no results because you need a substantial amount of data to begin using AI.

Before I transition to hacks and security, and why it’s a growing problem, I must tie in AI. Hacking and security flaws are often exploits of the humble password, and AI allows computers to “guess” better than ever based on what is known about a user’s previous/existing passwords, combined with data on millions of stolen passwords. Computers can learn to guess passwords very effectively. Don’t reuse passwords, and don’t use any dictionary words. Use a password manager, like Lastpass!

2018 Prediction: More Goldman Sachs-like revolutionary AI programs will transfer jobs to computers, and more passwords will get hacked.


Security was much in the news in 2017. We learned of a lot of hacks: Experian, the CIA (Wwikileaks), The UK’s National Health Service (WannaCry), the city of Dallas, Virgin America, Verifone, almost 200 US million voter records, French President Macron, X-Box, Arbys, D&B, Sacs 5th Ave, United Healthcare, the IRS data retreval tool (FAFSA), Chipotle, Brooks Brothers, Docusign, One Login, Kmart (are they still in business?!), University of Oklahoma, Washington State University, NYU, Oxford, Campbridge, Blue Cross, Verizon, SEC, Deloitte, Whole Foods, Disques, Yahoo! (again), Hyatt, Forever 21, Uber, eBay, to name a few. These are just the household names. The entire list would fill pages.

I manage a lot of websites across many sectors and universally the amount of “bad traffic” every website gets is astonishing. When I say bad traffic I mean users (human or otherwise) with malicious intent. Just like Fake News is a thing, fake website visitors is a problem. It takes continued work to filter out the bad guys from website analytics so that the real picture of a website’s traffic and usage can be actionable. And much of this bad traffic is trying to hack the website, so you must have a backup plan ready to go. It’s probably not an if, but a when, that your website will be hacked. Plan for it.

2018 Prediction: You, your website, or people you know will be hacked. (Call me to discuss your backup plan)

Mobile First

On the advertising theme, Google has finally, finally threatened to begin rolling out the mobile-first index. This is a long time in the making, with many false starts. They continue to advise websites owners to focus on the mobile experience, page-speed, and user intent. Maybe Google has such great “secret sauce” coming with the new mobile-first index that it will be worth the wait.

2018 Prediction: I think (hope) it’s likely to hurt any website that is slow and not mobile-friendly.

Google also continues to craft the SERP (search engine results page) toward mobile usability, local results, and user intent. User intent is based on you. The more Google learns about you, the more likely Google is to get your search results right. To further this, Google now has always-on, always-listening Google Home and also Google Assistant baked into Google phones.

Personally, always-listening devices are too intrusive for me. Do I really want Google (or Amazon Echo & Alexa, or Apple’s phones and new home device) listening to my every word and deed, always? Every private rant or passion? If you think that data is not saved you need to know that it is saved; it doesn’t go away.

2018 Prediction: There will be more cases like the one in which Amazon handed over their saved voice records from an Alexa customer to Arkansas authorities in a murder investigation.

Browsers & Security

Security at the browser and website level also changed significantly in 2017. The major browsers are increasingly giving warnings in the address bar if a website is insecure. All websites should have an SSL certificate for this reason alone. Why scare your visitors? And if a website accepts any user inputs such as logins or other sensitive information it MUST be SSL. No more excuses people. Https, not http.

Many web hosts are now partnered with Let’s Encrypt, which offers free (and fast and easy) SSL. One of my favorite budget web hosts is Siteground, which offers Let’s Encrypt, and good overall performance. Bluehost also has free SSL for WordPress sites. Make 2018 the year you convert your website to HTTPS.

Best Browser Award

At the browser level, there was a big change in the best browser category quite recently. In November, the formerly beleaguered  Firefox released a totally new version of its browser and man is it fast! In all my tests and usage it smokes both Chrome and Safari on Mac.

2018 Prediction: Chrome and Safari will catch up to Firefox, thus making the internet a better, faster place.

Browser Extension Awards

I have a few favorite browser extensions from 2017. I could not live without:

  • LastPass, which manages all my passwords, credit card form fills, and secure personal and business notes. If you are not using a password manager then you are almost certainly managing your passwords in a manner that will cost you in the end. Are you reusing passwords, or making just small variations on passwords so you can remember them? If so, you are begging for trouble.
  • Grammarly, which offers superior spellcheck and grammar suggestions. It can be a little buggy but when it works it’s superior to all other spell checks.
  • Adblock Plus, which blocks ads on websites, thus speeding up browsing because the browser isn’t working to load a bunch of ads. I know this is ironic since I do web advertising, but it speeds up my day.

2018 Prediction: If you try the above browser extensions you will be happy and productive.

Virtual Private Networks

A VPN secures (and hides from ISPs or bad guys) your connection’s content, and gives you a different IP address than your ISP endpoint. I use VPN programs for a few reasons:

  • While on a public wifi, because public wifis (with or without a required login) are dirtier than public restrooms
  • I want to watch geo-blocked content such as the BBC or a European sporting event (namely, professional cycling). With a VPN I can “trick” the BBC into seeing me as a local London visitor so the let me watch their geo-blocked content
  • Bit Torrents
  • If I’m doing recon on a client’s competitor and I don’t want them knowing where I am or that I’m a return visitor (because I can change IP addresses for each visit)

My favorite VPNs are VyperVPN and Private Internet Access. Both products have desktop and phone applications. The phone application gets used a lot, to secure my connection on public wifis. Vyper is more stable and user-friendly with the internet than Private Internet Access, so I use that the majority of the time. PIA, on the other hand, doesn’t save server logs so it is preferable for Bit Torrenting, or if you are doing anything nefarious.

2018 Prediction: More devices will bake-in VPNs.


The dominant website platform continues to be greater and greater. It can scale to the device (presuming a modern theme), it can integrate with almost any third party service, and the non-developer can create and edit content.

For the past couple years I’ve been using the Jupiter framework to build all my custom themes. The flexibility of Jupiter is top shelf, and the speed performance is excellent.

2018 Prediction: Your next website will be WordPress if it isn’t already.


Google has redone the Adwords interface and I’m not happy. I’m sure that over time I will get used to it but I’m having to relearn how to use a product that I can use with my eyes closed (on the old version). I need to take a couple days to just learn and set up my workflows. (Note to self: do this and embrace the change!)

Other than that complaint, Adwords is still the most reliable way to deliver MEASURABLE results for clients selling goods or services. The operative word is measurable. Organic strategies and social marketing get a lot of hype but have real limitations in attribution. That which cannot be measured, cannot be improved.

2018 Prediction: I will learn to love the new Adwords interface.

Use Math, Not Gut, When Making Adwords Decisions

mad men cast

Marketing is no longer the domain in which the Visionary Creative rules.

Don Draper is dead.

The internet has changed advertising. Traditional advertising such as print, radio and TV commercials are expensive, slow, and subject to a lot of noise when trying to measure their result. What is worse, A/B testing traditional advertising – on the exact same geographic sample,  over the exact same period of time – is pretty much impossible. When you advertise on the internet, however, you can serve every other visitor either ad A or B, and land them on page A or B, and measure the results.

As such, advertising is now more science than art.  But how do you know, not guess, if the result of an A/B test is valid? Pretend that we have two ads, A and B, that both are seen 100 times. Ad A got 10 clicks, for a Click Through Ratio (CTR) of 10%. Ad B got just 1 click (CTR=1%). You may not need a calculator to see ad A is the winner. But what if the spread is less? What if Ad B got 4 clicks or 5 clicks? If 4 clicks, Ad A is still a winner. If 5 clicks, you need more data. How do you figure it out? Use a Significance Calculator.

A Significance Calculator is a statistical tool that allows you to calculate if you have an adequate sample size in your A/B test to determine if the results are valid. The smaller the spread in results, the greater the sample size needed.

Let’s see a demonstration where the eye may not be able to know if you have a statistically valid result.

Below we have three examples in which we have identical CTRs. In this example we are telling the calculator that we want to be 95% certain that we have found the winner in our A/B test.

Significance Calculator

Here we see that NO, we lack adequate data to make a decision.


Significance Calculator

Again we see that NO, we still need more data.


Significance Calculator

Finally we have adequate impressions and clicks for a valid and actionable test.


Do not get me wrong. Creativity is still has its place when creating a successful Google Adwords or Bing Adcenter campaign. It is essential to get into the potential customer’s head and to create a Persona of the target audience, and speak their language in both the ad and on the website. This is the domain of insight, creativity, and inspiration. But the advertiser that wins most is not the most creative. It’s the one who is continually testing ideas and improving based on data – accurate data.

And if you are going to channel your inner Don Draper, do the booze part at night and not when you are putting the inspiration to the actual test.

Thanks for reading,

Ted Zuhlsdorf

 “Google Listing” Robocall Scam

Screenshot of 682-703-8119 calling me as a google scam

In the last month I’ve received a couple calls, to my cell phone, from a robocaller. When I answer a message starts:

Our records show that you have not optimized your Google listing. It is critical that you optimize your Google listing… Press 9 to be connected to an Google Listing Agent right away.

My Google Listing isn’t optimized? Of course this got my attention. Not because my Google Listing needs optimization, but because there isn’t really a thing called a “Google Listing.” Google is not a directory and search results are not listings. One might make the case that Google My Business is a “Google Listing,” but that’s not what it’s called. I needed to hear more.

Upon speaking to the “Google Listing Agent” I was informed that for just $100 dollars they would guarantee me Google domination for my website (nevermind that I have quite a number of sites and they didn’t bother to ask or investigate how said websites rank). The Google Listing Agent further informed me that I cannot do this myself  because they have a “relationship” with Google and they “know how to” ensure first place rankings on google. When I asked him who signs his checks, both the person and the legal business entity, he got hostile and hung up on me.

As a professional geek, long time SEO practitioner, and certified Google Partner, I actually do have a relationship with Google. I talk to them all the time in fact, so I was deeply troubled by this Google Listing scam.  I wonder how many people fall for this? I suspect a lot.

Legally Speaking

Google thinks this is a problem too, as they are suing Local Lighthouse Corp for the same practice. Perhaps it was Local Lighthouse calling me, or a knockoff trickster.

In any event, if you ever get a call regarding your “Google Listing,” or your website’s optimization, HANG UP THE PHONE.

Thanks for reading,

Ted Zuhlsdorf


Screen shot of the actual lawsuit by Google against Local Lighthouse:

Google Lawsuit against Local Lighthouse Corp
Google Lawsuit against Local Lighthouse Corp

Big Changes to Google Search are Coming

Two years ago I was at an Internet marketing conference. At the time it was estimated by Google that almost a quarter of searches were from mobile devices – phones and tablets.

Fast forward a mere 18 months to another Internet marketing conference that I attended. Matt Cutts from Google said that mobile traffic was now almost half of all traffic. He stressed in his keynote address that website owners should make their websites mobile-friendly because the Google’s world was fast changing to mobile-first.

Here is a chart of mobile traffic rising over the last year.

Chart of the rise of mobile traffic

Fast forward to the present. Google recently posted on their Webmasters blog, “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”

You may be asking, that does this mean for you, if you or your business has a website?

  • Any business that relies on customers finding its website on Google must understand the consequences of not updating to a mobile friendly website. If the competition is mobile and you are not, you will lose visibility in Google searches – and valuable traffic to your website.
  • Whether you should walk or run toward updating your site depends very much upon the specifics of your business, your customers, and your website. However, do not be confused that you can do nothing. This isn’t an “if” but rather a “when” you need to become compliant to current web standards.

Below is a chart done by Moz.com, estimating the lost of traffic by search results position. chart of traffic lost by keyword position

There is no one-fit answer regarding what the website owner should do and when. You need to analyze your data, understand your customer, and be clear about your business objectives in order to make cost effective decisions.

For those who are interested in more detail, here are a couple useful links:

anti-instgram logo

Why I Deleted My Instagram Account

I liked Instagram – until I didn’t.

For over a year I used Instagram with a few friends and family members. I think at the peak I had 8 connections total. Each person, including myself, posted a picture a couple times a week on average. So on average I would see something new each day and I rather liked the eclectic variety, minus of course selfies. (Don’t get me started on selfies. Anything but selfies…)

Then Instagram began offering me suggestions of who to follow. It took up almost the top half of my phone, blighting the user experience. Despite locking down all the settings per Instagram’s instructions the suggestions would not go away.

Who and what were they suggesting? Mostly people I didn’t know firsthand, but were at the same time a little too similar in their galleries to my posts or those of my peeps. Whatever facial, scene, or brand/logo recognition algorithms they are using sure work, but work for whom and for what end?

Instagram didn’t ask me if they could scan my usage, my “likes” or “hearts,” or the content of my actual pictures. I’m sure it’s in the user agreement, but I’m sure we all missed THAT section when we read it.  And they didn’t care to inquire what I wanted from the product. They gave no options, no alternatives to their invasive and endless suggestions. Instagram wanted me to link to a mass of strangers that I don’t know or care about, thus diluting my experience. Instead of getting a little snapshot into a dear friend or relative’s day they wanted me to have an endless scroll of absurd and meaningless pictures to plow through. So I said goodbye.

Facebook may be next…

High Low Glitter: From Dinner Table to Dot-Com


High Low Glitter was started as a dinner table game, some 15 years ago, by Stephanie Ross. She began the activity as a way to get her young daughters talking about their days, but quickly found it also taught them all the power perspective and finding gratitude.

I was introduced to said daughters and High Low Glitter about 10 years ago, and both they and it have been a part of my daily life ever since, in one iteration or another.

To those unfamiliar, High Low Glitter asks three simple questions:

  1. What was the best part of your day?
  2. What was the worst part of your day?
  3. What was a fun, special, or unexpected moment in your day?

With this daily practice you get to know your intimates – and yourself – better than otherwise would be typical. Bookending the highs and lows forces introspection, perspective, and a picture of one’s value system. And it’s a lot of fun.

As the cliche goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” when my step-daughters (the girls and I prefer like-daughters) left for college, I missed our High Low Glitter time. Even though the phone calls, texts, emails and Facebook posts flowed, the missing format and daily ritual of High Low Glitter left a hole in our communication and our connection. Necessity is the mother of invention and so too Stephanie and I were motivated to develop highlowglitter.com, which is essentially the anti-Facebook: small, private, intimate, meaningful.

The actual idea for digitizing High Low Glitter came a several years before the girls left for college, but we never got past Stephanie’s surreptitious purchase of the domain name. It was only when we needed the app that we decided to build it. First came the website, then an iPhone app, and now we have an Android app in the oven.

This project has been a great labor of love, in time and expense, and has already delivered a ten-fold return in the joy of meaningful connection with my like-daughters. The project has also been a fantastic learning experience on the professional side. This is the most complex web project I’ve touched, and the phone app development and testing is a first for me. Were it not for the great joy of using High Low Glitter, I may have given up due to the maddening process of getting a website and app to work just as well on a 27-inch iMac down to the various versions of Androids and iPhones.

Now that the frustration of development is done, everyone can enjoy High Low Glitter. It’s free, it’s easy, it’s meaningful, it’s fun. Sign up, connect, enjoy!