Category Archives: Hacks

How to create a halftone background effect in Photoshop

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In this short Photoshop tutorial where be showing you step by step how to create an ever so popular halftone background effect in a matter of seconds. This is a great effect that you can apply to your designs time and time again. Its certainly a technique worth having in your back pocket. The tutorial is the in form of a screencast, so should make it really easy to follow along and grasp the technique.

Preview

Video Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to Creative Nerds. Today’s screencast we’ll be sharing with you how to create a halftone effect using Photoshop.

So, we want to start off by selecting D on the keyboard to set our default background and foreground color as black and white. Then where going to draw out a square in the middle of the canvas. We’re then going to right-click on that square and select Blending Options, and then select Gradient Overlay. We want the gradient we select to be from black to white, so pure black and a pure white. And then, select the OK button. OK again.

And then, we’re going to head over to Filter > Pixelate, and then we’re going to select Color Halftone. And then, it will ask us if we want to turn our square into a Smart Object or a rasterize object. We’re going to turn it into a Smart Object, and we’re going to then select max radius to be 10, and the other channels will remain as 0. And then, we’re going to select the OK button, and there you go.

A beautiful halftone effect has been created in a matter of seconds, and this same technique can be applied to multiple different shapes, so you could do it to a circle, you could do it to a star, you could do it to all sorts of different shapes, and will get the same result. Hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. Thanks for watching, and as always, stay tuned to Creative Nerds for further quick tips on how to use Photoshop.

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How To Use Pinterest’s Group Boards To Get More Exposure For Your Business

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In case you hadn’t noticed, Pinterest has been in the news a lot recently.How to use Pinterests Boards to get more exposure for your business

In November last year, Pinterest started courting the business community with the creation of its business-specific accounts  and a dedicated business support page.

Then earlier this month, Pinterest quietly raised a cool $200 million at an astonishing $2.5 billion valuation – not bad for a company that has yet to make a profit!

Most intriguing of all though was a study published last week by research center Pew. It suggested that Pinterest has grown so quickly, it’s now on course to catch Twitter in the battle for second place behind Facebook in the US social networking market.

These events indicate that Pinterest is quickly evolving from being last year’s hot new upstart to a legitimate social network that should be part of your marketing mix.

How can you maximize your time on Pinterest?

But how can you maximize your Pinterest activities without spending a ton of time on it? Well, along with scheduling your pins, one of the most effective but underutilized strategies to get more exposure from Pinterest is by using group boards.

Now, if you’re new to Pinterest, you may only know of regular boards that only you can pin to. You may have never have heard of group boards. Or maybe you have but you don’t know how to use them or don’t think they apply to you.

I’ve been dabbling with group boards over the past few months and have seen a dramatic increase in followers since I strategically introduced them to my Pinterest marketing.

So in this post I am going to demystify group boards, explain the advantages of using them and outline a few ways you can get started straightaway with this strategy.

What Are Pinterest’s Group Boards?

A group board works like a regular Pinterest board. The only difference is that along with the board creator, other people are also allowed to pin.

Group boards go under many different names – shared boards, contributor boards, community boards and collaborative boards. Regardless the term, they are all exactly the same thing.

There is currently no directory of Pinterest group boards. In order to distinguish a group board from a regular one you need to look out for the group icon at the top of a board when you are browsing someone’s page.

This snapshot of Jeff’s Pinterest page clearly shows that the board on the left, “For The Home”, is one of Jeff’s own, whilst the two other boards have contributors.

Jeffs Pinterest page

Key Benefits of Using Group Boards

Group boards are not only a great way to organize ideas and bring people together, but they can also have real tangible benefits for your brand and business.

#1. Dramatically boost your followers

If users select to “follow all” of any contributor’s boards, then they will be added as followers to a group board you are part of. The increased exposure and visibility you get through group boards will increase your follower growth at a faster rate.

#2. Exponentially increase the number of repins

The more followers you have the more likely they (and their followers) are to see your content, repin your pins and click through to your website. This means more traffic to your site and potentially more subscribers, customers and clients.

#3. Put your pinning virtually on autopilot

Implement this strategy correctly and you could get other people creating content for.

Certainly at the start, Pinterest can be time-consuming but managed well, you could soon have a team of people perpetuating your content for you across their networks.

#4. Increase engagement and create brand ambassadors

Your customers may already be liking, commenting and sharing your content with their followers on Pinterest. But inviting them to pin to your brand’s group board will get them more engaged and involved in your online conversation.

It will also elevate them to the role of brand ambassadors, who their followers are more likely to take note of.

Let’s take a look now at some ways you can harness the power of group boards in your business.

How Can Businesses Use Group Boards?

  • Collaboration – are you working with other people, employees or co-workers on a specific project? Use group boards to share industry-specific tips, training materials and resources. Make the board “secret” if you want to keep the information under wraps.
  • Planning – are you a wedding planner, interior designer or in charge of an event that requires input from others? Invite the stakeholders to join you on a group board where you can collect and share design ideas, compare menus, color schemes, flower arrangements, room layouts, fabric samples and so on.
  • Promotion– thinking of running a contest, raising funding for your big idea or promoting a worthy cause? Group boards are perfect for engaging your audience, getting customers to interact with your brand as well as sharing data, statistics, success stories etc to raise awareness about your brand or a particular issue.
  • Networking – why not invite other pinners to pin about a common topic and expand your network at the same time? Bloggers especially can benefit from group boards by using them to connect with other bloggers and actively repinning each other’s content as part of a blogging network.
  • Authority – are you knowledgeable about a particular subject area? Create a themed group board and contribute regularly to build credibility and establish yourself as a thought leader to the board’s followers.

How To Create A Contributor Board

Go to the Pinterest home page and click on the Add + tab at the top of the page.

How to create a contributor board

Then select the option to Create a Board.

Create a Pinterest board

Next choose a name for your new board, select a category and whether you want to make it a private (secret) board or a public one.

The final step is to decide who you want to add as a contributor.

How to add contributors

How To Add Contributors

There are two ways to make someone a contributor:

  • You can type their email address into the Who can pin? field. Pinterest will email them an invitation and prompt them to join Pinterest if they haven’t done so already.
  • The easier way is to simply add the username of a pinner you would like to invite. The only condition is that you must be following them first.

As you start typing their name, Pinterest will automatically bring up all the potential matches i.e. people with those initial letters in their username.

Who can Pin

Just select the names you want to add as contributors, click invite and then save your settings using the Create Board button.

Pinterest will send an invitation from you, the board creator, to the invitees to join your board. When they accept, they can pin on the same board with you and the group board will appear on every contributor’s page.

You can of course make any of your current boards into a group board. Just follow the steps above from How To Add Contributors.

A word of caution.

Pinterest will send you a notification each time a contributor pins to a group board. I recommend you turn off these notifications to avoid bombarding your inbox with unnecessary emails.

Just select the group board in question, click the Edit Board button and turn off the notifications tab.

Keep An Eye On Your Contributors And Group Boards

Remember that you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) accept every invitation you get to join a group board. Be selective.

Check to make sure that the board is on-brand for your business and a good fit for your audience before agreeing to join. The number of followers on a group board is another metric to take note of; the more followers a group board has, the greater the exposure you can expect for your business.

When you follow a group board, you will be able to see all of the content that is currently on that board. Any new pins that get added to this group board will also appear on your Pinterest feed, regardless of the person who is pinning the images.

There is currently no way to filter which pins you can see.

This means that you might see pins from people you are not directly following which could include inappropriate content and spam.

Make a point of regularly monitoring your feed and respond quickly if you spot something undesirable by taking one of the following actions:

How To Remove Someone From A Group Board

If you would like to remove someone you have added to a particular group board just select the group board, and click on the Remove tab next to their name.

You can also delete the board entirely if you created it by hitting the Delete Board on the far right.

How to remove someone from a group board

How To Leave A Group Board

In the example below, you can see Jeff was added to someone else’s Marketing Infographics board and that he can leave any time. 

Leaving a pinterest board

Pinterest will prompt you by asking if you are sure you want to leave the group board, just click Leave again and you will be permanently removed from that board.

Final Words

It’s important not to go overboard with this strategy and send out blanket invitations to all your followers. Not everyone welcomes group board invitations especially persistent ones so be careful not to annoy people!

In fact, the Pinterest blog recommends that you should only send invitations to Pinterest users who have expressed an interest in your pins and to avoid sending out repeat requests.

One way of encouraging people to join your group boards is to add a line in the board description. You could state that you welcome contributors and that anyone interested in joining the board should add a comment against a pin.

So there you have it, a whirlwind tour of Pinterest’s group boards.

What do you think? Is this a strategy you’ll be trying out? Or have you already set up a few group boards? Please comment below and share how they are working out for you.

Guest Author: Tehmina is an entrepreneur, business strategist and Pinterest marketing expert. You can connect with her at EpreneurTV where she blogs about building an online business. You can also download her free ebook to learn how to master Pinterest in the shortest time possible.

 

 

Want to learn how to create great content for your social media marketing?

My book – “Blogging the Smart Way – How to Create and Market a Killer Blog with Social Media” – will show you how.

It is now available to download. I show you how to create and build a blog that rocks and grow tribes, fans and followers on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It also includes dozens of tips to create contagious content that begs to be shared and tempts people to link to your website and blog.

I also reveal the tactics I used to grow my Twitter followers to over 139,000.

Download and read it now.

 

Image by ddatch54 

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Common PPC keyword mistakes (Understanding broad match vs. phrase match vs. exact match)

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Google AdWords offers three major keyword match types – broad match, phrase match, and exact match.

It’s safe to say that if not you don’t know how to use each correctly, you could be wasting your PPC budget.

Choosing the right keyword match types can help you target your ads better so you get higher-quality traffic to your site. Match types are simple to understand, so it’s important to take time to learn about them before you do anything else with your PPC campaigns.

What are match types for PPC advertising?

The first question is easy: What does match type mean? In short, the match type you choose for each keyword specifies which searches Google can show your ad. Your match type determines whether a wide audience will see your ads or whether your ads will only show for a few highly targeted searchers.

Your first step is to create a keyword to track by navigating to the “keywords” tab and clicking the red “+Keywords” button, as shown below:

After clicking the red button you will be taken to a page where you can add multiple keywords, as shown below:

Once you save that keyword, you can select the keyword to change the match type. Consider the specific differences below:

Broad match

Of all the keyword match types, broad match casts the widest net. When you choose broad match for a keyword Google will show your ad to people who type in all kinds of variations of your keyword, as well as the keyword itself.

For example, let’s say your keyword is ceramic pots. If you set this keyword to broad match, your ad won’t just show up for people who type ceramic pots into the search bar. Google will also show it to people looking for blue ceramic pots, ceramic cooking pots, and cooking pot ceramic. Your ad can even show up when people type in synonyms of your keyword, like pottery cookware.

Simply click in the keyword to change the match type:

Broad match is the default match type for keywords, so if you haven’t adjusted your keywords’ match type, they’re currently set to broad match. You don’t need to use any special symbols to set a keyword to broad match, although you do need to use symbols for other match types – more on that in a minute.

It’s a good idea to use broad match keywords when you want to reach the widest audience possible. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, though, this strength could become a weakness. The impressions you get from broad match keywords aren’t very targeted, and that could mean you’re paying for clicks from people who weren’t interested in your offer to begin with.

Modified broad match

You can get around some of the downsides of broad match keywords by using a modified broad match type instead. This lets you specify which words must be in a search query for your ad to show.

If you do this, your keyword still falls under the broad match umbrella, but you have a little more control over who sees your ads. Modified broad match is a powerful tool for keeping your keywords flexible while cutting down on irrelevant traffic.

To modify a broad match keyword, place a + sign directly in front of any word that must be in a query for your ad to display. For instance, to re-use our example above, you could modify your keyword by changing it to +ceramic pots.

This tells Google not to show your ad unless “ceramic” is somewhere in the query. For instance, your ad could show up for ceramic bakeware and stockpot ceramic, but not for pottery cookware.

You can also insert a “+” before more than one word in your keyword. If you wanted your ad to show only for queries that included both the words “ceramic” and “pots,” you could modify your keyword to +ceramic +pots.

Phrase match

Phrase match lets you specify an exact phrase that must be in a searcher’s query for your ad to appear. It lets you hone in on your intended audience more than the broad match type, but isn’t as restrictive as exact match.

To set a keyword to phrase match, put quotation marks around it. This lets Google know to only show your ad to people who used your exact keyword (or close variations of it) somewhere in their query. If your phrase match keyword is “ceramic pots”, your ad can show up for the searches “heavy-duty ceramic pots” and “ceramic pot with lid” but not “ceramic cooking pots.”

Exact match

When you use an exact match keyword, your ad will show up for people who type in that exact keyword (or close variations of it) and nothing else. This match type will limit your impressions the most, so use it with caution. The impressions you do get, however, will be highly targeted, so they’ll be more valuable than the impressions you’d get from a broad match keyword.

Set a keyword to exact match by putting it in square brackets – for example, [ceramic pots]. Only people who type ceramic pots or close variations of it into the search bar will see your ad. There’s no way to turn off close variation matching in Google, so your ad will still show for people who search for ceramic pot or another very similar term.

Negative match

Negative match isn’t a keyword match type in the same way as the ones above. Rather, it lets you specify words you don’t want your ad to show for. If you know your ad won’t be relevant if a certain word is in a search query, set that word as a negative match. Google won’t show your ads to any of those searchers.

For instance, if ceramic pot is your keyword and you’re selling cooking pots, you might want to set “vase” as a negative match. Otherwise, people looking for ceramic vases might stumble upon your site and then leave right away, which only wastes your advertising dollars.

Set a word as a negative keyword by including a “-” in front of it, like this: -vase. Below shows you how to navigate to the negative keyword tab. You simply click the red button once again, and here you have a choice if you want these negative keywords to be for one campaign or your entire ad group, as you can see below:

What counts as a close variation?

We’ve mentioned a couple of times that Google automatically lumps very similar terms in with your keyword. At this point, you might be wondering what a close variation actually is. According to Google’s page on keyword matching options, close variations include all of the following:

  • Common misspellings
  • Singular versions of plural words, and vice versa
  • Acronyms
  • Abbreviations
  • Stemmings, or words that all have the same root – e.g. cook, cooking, and cooked
  • Accents

How can you make sure you’re choosing the right match type?

Now that you know what all the match types do, how should you plan your keyword strategy? Google recommends starting out with broad match keywords and then narrowing them down as appropriate. Keep an eye on your search terms report, which tells you which queries people typed in to see your ad.

If you notice that your ad is showing up for a lot of unrelated or irrelevant queries, try adding negative keywords to weed some of them out, or use more restrictive match types for your keywords.

You can find your search terms report using a variety of tools. AgencyAnalytics is one such tool that allows you to also click the keywords tab (shown below) for all of your keyword data to help create a full picture:

It’s also a good idea to vary your keyword match types. Don’t use all broad match keywords, or your ad will display for too many people who aren’t interested. Likewise, if you only use exact match, your ads might not show up often enough to get you good results.

Mix it up based on what makes sense for each keyword, and aim for a good balance between reaching a wide audience and showing your ads to the right people.

The takeaway

You can choose great PPC keywords, but if you don’t deploy them well, they won’t get you the results you want. Choosing your keyword match types is an important way to determine which searchers see your ads, and this ultimately impacts your sales.

Monitor your search terms report to see how your match types are performing, and adjust them as needed, and you just might notice a big difference in your traffic and sales.

What’s your strategy for using keyword match types? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!


Amanda DiSilvestro is a freelance digital marketing writer and editor living in San Diego, CA. You can connect with Amanda on 
Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her writing services at amandadisilvestro.com.

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5 Brands That Prove Live Video Is The Future of Content Marketing

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5 Brands that Prove Live Video is the Future of Content Marketing

By 2019, Cisco predicts that internet traffic from videos will make up 80% of all internet traffic worldwide.

Thanks to the mass adoption of high-speed internet and in particular, mobile internet, a video is now the most powerful content marketing tool we have at our disposal.

With compelling visuals and rich sounds, brands can use video to communicate their story and build relationships in a way that isn’t possible with text content.

As a testament to the power of video marketing, the mere mention of the word “video” in an email subject line boosts open rates by 19% and clickthrough rates by 65%.

The rise of live video

Live video represents an emerging trend within video marketing. On Facebook, users spend 3X more time watching live videos compared to traditional videos.

By broadcasting live, brands can create an intimate two-way channel of communication with their audiences. Live video can be used to host Q&A sessions, answer customer queries, host interviews with experts, give product demonstrations and more.

Part of the appeal of live videos is that they’re imperfect. Audiences are forgiving of mediocre video quality and don’t mind if a member of staff accidentally walks in front of the camera – this is to be expected when you’re getting exciting behind-the-scenes footage from your favorite brand.

Live video helps brands inject an authentic human element into their marketing, which is often missing in highly produced pre-recorded videos. After all, people want to buy from other people, not faceless corporations.

If you’re thinking about integrating live video in your marketing campaigns, it’s worth taking inspiration from these 5 brands who are already making waves in the world of live video.

1. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Live video and professional sports are always going to be a great pairing. Of the many sports brands out there, UFC is setting an example for how to provide extreme amounts of value to its audience via live video streaming.

In addition to streaming UFC events, the brand also streams press conferences, live Q&As with ring girls and fighters, weigh ins, and combat sports from other organizations.

UFC’s Fightpass, which is like a Netflix for fight fans, streams live mixed martial arts events from smaller organizations like Cage Warriors and Invicta FC. Fightpass also streams related sports such as kickboxing and Jiu Jitsu.

The UFC understands its audience well. If someone wants to watch a mainstream UFC event, there is a good chance they’ll also have an interest in a more niche Jiu Jitsu tournament.

The fighter weigh ins take place one day before UFC events and receive a huge viewership online. People love the intensity of the face offs and want to see which fighters look like they’re in shape (or not) before they fight.

When fighters miss weight, it’s usually a topic for conversation.

Knowing that UFC fans simply can’t get enough fight action, the UFC recently started a Tuesday Night Contender Series which features rising talent and is filmed in a smaller, intimate surrounding that makes Fightpass viewers feel as if they’re in the audience themselves.

With Snoop Dogg as the commentator, it makes for some highly entertaining viewing every Tuesday.

Finding out what people want and then giving it to them is the core premise behind successful businesses. The UFC is able to do this very effectively using live video.

2. BuzzFeed

It’s hard to write an article about live video marketing without mentioning BuzzFeed. Due to a disastrous failed attempt to host a Facebook Live video with President Obama, BuzzFeed and live video will always share an association.

Despite this one mistake, BuzzFeed usually delivers the goods with its live video marketing.

BuzzFeed’s live videos aren’t always the most intellectually sophisticated, but the brand knows what types of videos are compelling to watch. For instance, in April last year, 807,000 people watched live as BuzzFeed employees exploded a watermelon using rubber brands.

Since then, the video has gone on to accumulate an additional 11 million views worldwide.

This is one of the reasons that live video is so powerful. You can create an intimate connection with people watching in real-time, but the content will live on to give your brand exposure for months or even years after the event.

Another of BuzzFeed’s crazy live videos was a dance battle where viewers could vote on performances and provide suggestions for dance moves. It also proved to be popular, although I have no idea how you dance like a cabbage patch or pregnant dog.

3. Dunkin’ Donuts

Providing behind-the-scenes footage is a great way to showcase the human side of your brand and build rapport with your audience. If you’re a fan of the delicious snacks that Dunkin’ Donuts manufactures, it makes sense you’d be interested in the production process used to create them.

In February 2016, Dunkin’ Donuts hosted a live tour of its facilities, including a test kitchen which is used for staff training purposes. The video also includes interviews with staff experts who provide unique insights into the brand’s most popular products – such as the visually appealing Iced Macchiato.

The highlight of the video was undoubtedly the donut factory. A staff member explains the process for laying out the dough, cutting the right shapes out, frying it, decorating it and creating donut cakes.

While interviewing the donut expert, it’s revealed that he has been working at the company for 41 years. This subtly conveys that Dunkin’ Donuts is a company that values its employees, which makes it appear more trustworthy to consumers.

Even if your facilities don’t include an awesome donut factory, you can still use live video to authentically showcase your staff and workplace in order to build rapport with your audience.

4. Space X

Live video is a great tool for breaking industry news and showcasing new technologies. Space X manages to accomplish both using live webcasts of rockets being launched into space.

Because of the compelling visuals, these videos are inherently viral. However, Space X also creates a sense of camaraderie around the brand, as people across the world are able to join together and communicate as historic milestones are being reached.

Even when a live feed suddenly cuts out it doesn’t negatively impact the Space X brand since it’s understandably challenging to maintain a perfect video feed of a rocket being launched. Some have speculated that a recent feed was deliberately cut off to avoid showing UFOs, but that’s neither here nor there!

While your product might not be as exciting as one of Space X’s Falcon 9 rockets, live video can be used to provide in-depth product demonstrations where you can answer questions in real-time to alleviate purchasing fears and build trust.

When you consider that 4X as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than read sales copy about it, it’s easy to see why live videos are ideal for showing off products.

5. Chevrolet

In order to create a buying frenzy for the launch of the all-electric 2017 Bolt EV, Chevrolet used Facebook Live to stream a video from the consumer electronics tradeshow, CES 2016.

The Chevrolet spokesperson emphasizes how societal trends like sustainability and urbanization have led to an increased consumer demand for electric cars.

By providing context around this emerging technology, it demonstrates that electric cars are valid and necessary for the future. Not so long ago electric cars were viewed contemptuously, so there are still some fears to alleviate in terms of how well the vehicles can actually function.

Videos like these provide a platform for the worldwide tribe of Chevrolet owners to discuss their favorite vehicles.

In this regard, live video isn’t just an opportunity to promote your brand – it also enables you to bring your audience together and make them feel a part of something greater than themselves. This is a winning strategy for longevity in your business.

Can you think of any other brands that are crushing live video right now? Please let me know in the comments below.

Guest Author: Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands, including Salesforce, Coca-Cola, Target and others, to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, his blogFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

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New RETADUP Variants Hit South America, Turn To Cryptocurrency Mining

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By Lenart Bermejo, Kenney Lu, and Cedric Pernet

Several months ago, we discovered and exposed RETADUP malware in Israeli hospitals. We also learned that an Android malware known as “GhostCtrl” was stored in their infrastructure, which might be used for cyberespionage or cybercrime.

Since then, we’ve encountered more samples in the wild. While RETADUP was found in Israeli hospitals, a new variant was targeting specific industries and governments in South America. We believe the use of the Retadup malware family is limited to a very small set of threat actors. We found no evidence of it being sold or distributed via underground marketplaces or forums.

This new RETADUP variant has features that would be useful for cybercrime instead of espionage. One would think that this would result in widespread use, but instead it has only been found in limited areas. It has frequently been used to spread cryptocurrency mining malware, perhaps indicating an evolution towards direct monetization.

Hitting South America

RETADUP first hit South America in May 2017, and attacks are still ongoing. Based on product feedback, it currently affects organizations located in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Affected users in Peru accounted for 75% of all potential victims in South America based on unique IP addresses.

Figure 2

Figure 1. Distribution of victims in South America

Our information indicates that the victims are concentrated in several sectors: aside from governments, energy and mining companies are particularly affected.

Some aspects of RETADUP’s behavior are not yet clear. We have found no evidence of what its initial infection vector is. We also raised the question with several individuals involved in responding to RETADUP incidents. We believe that it may use spear phishing or downloader malware, however. Data exfiltration has not been found either.

One incident revealed an unusual characteristic, compared to others launched by the same campaign. In that particular case, in addition to RETADUP, the threat actor dropped an older version (1.25) of BrowsingHistoryView (detected as HKTL_BrowHistoryView.)was dropped by the threat actor. This particular tool allows the browsing history to be collected from multiple browsers, gathering data on visited websites as wellnetwork shares via the supported browsers.

Profiting from cryptocurrency mining

Systems infected with RETADUP also frequently contained various tools used to mine cryptocurrencies, which were dropped by the threat actor. These tools use available computing power (both from the CPU and the GPU) to “mine” different cryptocurrencies. These allow the threat actor to monetize the infected machines. The collective computing power of many (infected) machines allows for significant profits to be made.

In the past, RETADUP most commonly used the cpuminer-multi opensource miner. Newer versions have included mining code directly. In both cases, the code was used to generate Monero (XMR) digital currency. By tracking one unique identifier associated with the user “earning” the cryptocurrency (i.e., the threat actor), we were able to establish that profits from the mining totaled 314.34 XMR since June 18, amounting to almost US$36,000 – at current exchange rates.

Examining the available mining power is informative. Based on information from the Minexmr.com website, at night the hash rate (a measure of computing power) is relatively low (approximately 50 kh/s). This is attributable only to computers that are online 24/7. During working hours, this increases as people turn their computers on. Later in the day, as more systems are turned off, the hash rate falls.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Hash rate

Note that the threat actor may have more miners and identifiers in use , and his actual profits are likely higher than our estimates indicate.

Evolution of RETADUP

As discussed before, the RETADUP malware family is based on code from other malware families: IPPEDDO and ROWMANTI, also named “rad worm” by its developers. The newly encountered variant has several new behaviors.

Firstly, RETADUP has now been split into an infector component and a remote access Trojan (RAT) component. Secondly, the malware now uses HTTP GET requests to send and receive information from its command and control (C&C) servers. Finally, several features related to information theft have been removed.

Multiple files dropped

A wide variety of files are dropped onto the affected system. RETADUP (as split into two components), the Auto-IT engine, miners, and various libraries are all dropped under the main system drive’s root directory with this organization:

Figure 3

Figure 3. Organization of dropped files

Some of these components are worth discussing in detail.

Infector component (WORM_RETADUP.D)

The infector component of RETADUP is dropped as a file named cpuspeed.tnt. When it runs, it first checks the filenames of the AutoIt engine (which was installed by the malware earlier) and itself. If the file names do not match the default names, the malware will terminate itself.

It then creates the persistence mechanism for the remote access Trojan (RAT), by registering it in the Windows registry:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
CpuOptimizer = C:\newcpuspeed\Cpufix.exe C:\newcpuspeed\cpuage.tnt

It then disables the ShowSuperHidden flag from the registry. This makes protected system files, including the RETADUP directories, hidden from users. It then spreads to other drives by copying the following files to other drives:

  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\cpuage.tnt
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\cpufix.exe
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\cpuspeed.tnt
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\workers\rad\cpuchecker.exe
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\workers\rad\cpuchecker32.exe
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\workers\rad\msvcr120_64.dll
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\workers\rad\msvcr120_86.dll
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\workers\rad\x32.bin
  • <drive letter>:\newcpuspeedcheck\workers\rad\x64.bin

For removable drives, the following files are copied in addition to the above files:

  • <drive letter>:\Downloads.lnk
  • <drive letter>:\<folder>\<folder> Copy.lnk

This division of the infector and RAT components is new for RETADUP. We believe this was done to add complexity and flexibility in the malware. For example, this could allow the threat actors to drop and execute some other malware instead of the RETADUP RAT component.

RAT component (TROJ_RETADUP.A) 

The cpuage.tnt file dropped by the infector is RETADUP’s RAT component. As in previous versions, it contains various routines meant to detect if it is run on a virtual machine (VM). This time, though, if that happens it merely shows a message titled “Something went Wrong”.

How does RETADUP determine if it is being executed on a VM? It first checks if certain processes are running:

Figure 3

Figure 4. Code checking for running processes

It also checks for some SystemInfo strings:

Figure 5

Figure 5. Code checking for SystemInfo strings

It also checks for some system modules:

Figure 6

Figure 6. Code checking for system modules

Checks are performed for certain combinations of running processes, the presence of several folders, and whether the RAT itself is located in some folders:

Figure 6

Figure 7. Code checking for various properties

It also checks if its own filename has more than six numbers at its start, or if it’ longer than 35 characters.

All of these conditions are associated either with VMs, or with various analysis tools used by security researchers. If any of the above conditions are met, the malware terminates itself.

Once the RAT is running, the following commands are available:

Command Usage
sleep Sleep
Exit Exit
startminer Start Miner
closeminercommand Terminate Miner
instalminer Install Miner
url Open URL
cmd Execute command
update Update malware
download Download File

The network communications have also changed. This RETADUP variant now uses HTTP GET requests:

Figure 8

Figure 8. HTTP request

The HTTP GET request format, once decoded, is:

  • GET /0409-WIN_7-7601-X64-2355838296/1/1/0/0/empty

This request can be described as:

  • <OS language>-<OS version>-<OS build>-<processor architecture>-<homedrive serial>/<hardcoded flag 1>/<number of processors>/<worm window name (cpuspeed‘s window title is checked) flag>/<miner process flag>/<content of “\worker\” directory>

The reply from the (C&C) server is decoded using BinaryToString and would look like:

  • ok||||sleep-1800000-sleep

The format of these replies would be:

  • ok||||<command start><command parameter/argument/value to use><command end>

The RAT’s reply to the C&C server after completion of the command would be either of the two:

  • MSG:!:<Message + command-related information>
  • MSG:!:<error message>

The URLs of several C&C servers are included, namely:

  • http://ift.tt/2jKcX4a
  • http://ift.tt/2wxhf4S
  • http://ift.tt/2jKcYFg
  • http://ift.tt/2wy2BdB
  • http://ift.tt/2jKZp8n
  • http://ift.tt/2wy2COH

DUP can also use the result of a domain generation algorithm (DGA) for these URLs:

  • hxxp://<DGA output>.mdwnte.com:8090
  • hxxp://<DGA output>.newblackage.com:8090
  • hxxp://<DGA output>.publicvm.com:8090

As we noted earlier, several information theft capabilities have been removed from this RETADUP variant. The list of removed features include:

  • Keylogger
  • Screen capture
  • Password stealing capabilities

All in all, this new variant of Retadup feels like a “light” version of the previous one, in which a huge effort has been put on cryptocurrency mining rather than espionage/data theft capabilities.

Conclusions – The Ongoing RETADUP Mystery

RETADUP continues to be a mystery. It was previously found in Israeli hospitals, and it’s a big jump (figuratively and literally) to go from there to hitting South American energy firms. The number of possible threat actors that have access to RETADUP is presumably very limited, as we have not seen it offered in the cybercrime underground. It’s probably limited to either very few trusted parties, or maybe even only the developers themselves.

There are a lot of questions left unanswered. The initial vector of compromise is not yet known. The goals of the threat actors are not yet clear, and their behavior is contradictory. Cryptocurrency mining suggest a profit motive typical of cybercrime, but the selected targets are more indicative of a cyberespionage operation.

Trend Micro will keep monitoring this threat and will more information to light as it becomes available.

Indicators of Compromise

The following hashes are associated with various aspects of RETADUP attacks:

RETADUP Variants

  • 774fe3d892d88a26d56227c4f47e04620505c22cfdfa64667f92479b0ede4397 detected as WORM_RETADUP.D
  • 8cc79b28037126951090534ec862539295704e820193a2b3de3ffe3e3d157353 detected as WORM_RETADUP.A
  • 940bef003d57e3ef78fb7dd9ed0bb528611164dd663db80aa6d875a8b8688ef4 detected as WORM_RETADUP.A
  • a94ce5e29aebf8bd73fdfb48ccae845e6c0817f0412096830ab638c2238f60a8 detected as WORM_RETADUP.B
  • ad2646755ea2d8c312d9635a452e2180299241f2b7f172bfa071f611b6461bac detected as WORM_RETADUP.A
  • adaffcb21f17057830ce8c60d1e852fe82035c153d6125aaed75a8b1d03e7518 detected as WORM_RETADUP.A
  • c69811d8574fcc59e37fe2cbf0a31be4956ab81c3279bfb1351ff6da3417b4a7 detected as WORM_RETADUP.A

RETADUP Shortcut Files (all detected as LNK_RETADUP.A)

  • 6a6d74f9b35b24fdb7ad51d8f8aff1093823904461077702bb5ebfb93208266a
  • 8ae488d18b46502ee03fead132cb10058b300e198d4a8e548fc0a6fb010984ee
  • d67db90e2ffd91c6cd0a0a5825136d8f467fb10988051fda2857c9da2f69230e
  • dc2ca3c0a4cefeabf954170bc31e0c2519d6cf914af88c5b8b91525a71da4352
  • e1692348549adb3ce9ee6f616daa0470d28a656331405099b5667ab199cd7de5
  • fc82882422d626c07f87dbb1586805d777d26f0118f4a79b7729a12057238796

 

Post from: Trendlabs Security Intelligence Blog – by Trend Micro

New RETADUP Variants Hit South America, Turn To Cryptocurrency Mining

http://ift.tt/2wxh4Xg Source: http://ift.tt/1amucZ5

How to Kick Your Email List Building out of a Plateau

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Every business owner eventually experiences growth stagnation.

It can happen with sales. And it can happen with your email list.

I’ve been there.

You feel stumped.

Your email list isn’t growing.

What can you possibly do to kick yourself out of this rut?

Well, the exciting news is, you’ve got several options.

Some of them are a fresh take on conventional list-building strategies. Others require you to think outside the box.

In this article, I’ll lay out the most effective techniques for you. You’ll walk away with a step-by-step plan to ramp up your email list.

Before we get into these strategies, I’ve got some crucial advice.

It is imperative that you block and tackle.

What does that mean?

When you’re trying to overcome a period of stagnation in business, it’s important that you put all your energy towards getting out of that rut.

Block a 30-60 day window on your schedule, and tackle only list building during that period.

Nothing else.

Building an email list is fundamental to the success of your business.

The relationship you’ll nurture with your subscribers will determine the revenue-generating power of your business.

In fact, the average email marketer sees a 94% return on investment.

Email Marketing Keep It Clean The Importance of Email List Hygiene Infographic MarketingProfs Article

The strategies you’ll learn in this article will allow you to put your list building on autopilot. It means the time you take to focus on this one thing will be time well spent.

Let’s jump in.

1. Discover your lead magnet opportunities

It doesn’t matter what list-building strategy you’re using. It doesn’t matter which audience you’re targeting.

All list-building roads lead to your lead magnet.

Nobody will give you their email address without receiving an attractive offer in return.

Like this:

Smart Blogger

With that said, the first step is to pick out incentives your target audience would want.

Put these steps into action to determine what that is.

Step #1: What does your audience want?

Think about the ultimate result. If you double-down on their biggest pain point, this won’t be difficult to come up with.

Step #2: What is your overarching solution to helping them get what they want?

Think about the big picture.

For example, if you’re a business coach, your ultimate goal may be to get your clients to bring in more sales and greater profits.

Step #3: What are the small steps required to deliver that ultimate solution?

In keeping with the example above, the small steps can be:

  • build an email list
  • have a content marketing plan
  • launch a product
  • set up evergreen sales funnels
  • hire a virtual assistant

Your best free content lies in these small steps.

It will help you create an offer your audience wants. It will also ensure you give away something that will give them an immediate win.

This is super important for lead magnets.

You want subscribers to consume the content, implement it, and achieve a positive result.

Now that you have an idea of what your audience will benefit from, it’s time to create something concrete.

2. Create your free incentives to attract your ideal audience

I’ll cut to the chase.

Four strategies work exceptionally well.

Strategy #1: Pick out your top performing posts and create content upgrades.

Content upgrades are quickly becoming the gold standard for list building.

Brian Dean boosted his conversions by 785% using content upgrades.

How To Boost Conversions by 785 in One Day The Content Upgrade

Here is how to do that:

  1. Go through your analytics.
  2. Select the blog posts that have gotten the most traffic and engagement.
  3. Create an incentive specific to that piece of content.

Let’s say you write a post “How to Write Blog Posts That Rank on Google’s First Page.”

You can create an “SEO checklist” as a content upgrade and place it within your blog post.

Here’s an example:

6 Step Sales funnel we used to make 220 750 from our online course

The chances of someone signing up to receive this upgrade? Sky high.

It adds to the value of your post as it gives readers a valuable resource to implement what you just discussed.

Strategy #2: Create a brand-specific lead magnet

This is an incentive that stands on its own.

It’s not tied to any piece of content, and it should have a mass appeal.

I don’t mean that it must be geared towards everyone on the Internet. But people in your target market should be attracted by your brand-specific free offer.

Here are some examples:

  • an email course
  • a challenge
  • a resource library
  • an ultimate guide
  • a Facebook group or other online community
  • a content series, e.g., a video series or a blog post series
  • a toolkit

Strategy #3: Create a lead magnet that prepares your customer for a purchase

Most people talk about the first two strategies. But many leave out the most important one.

You must have a lead magnet that is connected to your premium offers.

This applies to a physical product, a service, or an informational product.

This type of a lead magnet is often (not always) smaller and quick to consume. This way, you give subscribers an appetite for your paid product.

For physical products and software, it’s easy to come up with an incentive. You can give away a coupon code, a free trial, etc.

Like Curology does:

Curology Custom Acne Treatment

Here’s a good rule of thumb for info-products and services:

  • your free content can give away the “Why” and the “What”
  • your paid content can be geared towards the “How”

Let’s look at an example from Jeff Walker.

He offers a premium program that helps entrepreneurs launch a product.

It’s called Product Launch Formula.

Home Jeff Walker

His free incentive is a “Launch workshop,” which is directly tied to his paid product.

And that’s what I mean by preparing your customer for a purchase.

This is a smart way to build a warm list of potential buyers.

Strategy #4: Create a promotional lead magnet

The last technique is to run a promotion.

This is where you use a giveaway to accelerate your list building.

When you implement this well, it works wonders. But I’ll admit: it isn’t my favorite strategy.

Why?

For one, it isn’t evergreen.

This isn’t something you can set and forget.

You run your promotion for a particular period. During that time, you have to market your giveaway aggressively and manage it closely.

After your promotion has run its course, that’s it. It has no use to you anymore.

Here’s my advice:

  • run giveaways sparingly;
  • make sure you can execute them well because promotions can easily flop;
  • give away something that closely aligns with your premium offers.

Which of these four strategies should you focus on?

All of them.

The days of one lead magnet are gone.

Of course, you don’t have to create all of them at once. That takes time.

But aim to have each of these types of incentives in your arsenal.

3. Design your website to convert

You’ve come up with your lead magnet ideas, and you’ve created them.

Now what?

It’s time to ensure your website visitors have every opportunity to grab these free resources.

This is not about designing your site from scratch or spending big bucks on web design.

You simply want to ensure that your web traffic is directed to your incentives.

A few tweaks will do the trick.

Here are my recommendations.

1. Place your brand-specific lead magnet above the fold of your website

Above the fold is the upper half of a website page.

It’s that section that a web visitor sees without having to scroll down.

The premise is simple.

You have a few seconds to grab your visitors’ attention. If your primary goal is to collect leads, the first thing users should see is an opportunity to sign up to your email list.

Here’s an example from Blogging Wizard:

Blogging Wizard Discover Actionable Blogging Tips You Can Use

Here’s another example:

Done For You Funnel Service AutoGrow co

2. Create high-converting landing pages for your lead magnets

Every standalone lead magnet needs a landing page. (This rule doesn’t apply to content upgrades.)

If you decide to run list-building ads, you’ll need this asset. If you want to direct your social media traffic to your lead magnet, it will also come in handy.

Let’s talk about the anatomy of a solid landing page. It needs to have:

  • a primary headline
  • a secondary headline or subheading
  • a descriptive statement
  • benefits in bullet points
  • an image of your lead magnet
  • minimal form fields (two fields maximum)
  • a call to action
  • social proof (if you have it)
  • a snippet about you and an image (optional)

I know. Most landing pages don’t include all these elements.

That’s why they don’t work.

I recommend including everything listed above, but if you have to choose, the first seven will do the job.

3. Every time you run a promotion, feature it above the fold

When you decide to run list-building promos, you need to capitalize on that prime real estate.

As I referenced earlier, giveaways require lots of marketing. The more exposure you can get, the more successful you will be.

Just replace whatever is above your fold at the moment with something related to your promotion.

Like in this example:

Giveaway TechnoBuffalo

4. Include opt-in forms in three to seven different places on your site

Apart from landing pages and feature boxes above the fold, you need to have opt-in forms elsewhere on your site.

Why three to seven?

Well, two is not enough to get the job done.

In marketing, there’s this rule that says prospects need to hear your message seven times before it sticks.

Only then will they take action.

I’ve analyzed several of the top sites in various niches. They all have many opt-in forms in that range.

I don’t know what your results will be. You can test it.

In any event, one thing is for sure: the more opportunities you have for web visitors to opt in to your email list, the faster it will grow.

And that’s what you want.

Here are some ideas where you can place these additional opt-ins:

  • within your blog posts
  • in your sidebar
  • in popups
  • on your About page
  • in your main navigation
  • in your footer

4. Keep creating high-value content on a consistent basis

At this point, you’ll start seeing an improvement.

Why am I so sure?

If you create lead magnets your audience wants and optimize your site for conversions, you’re achieving two things.

First, you have a foundation to scale your list building efforts.

Second, you are capitalizing on the traffic you’re already receiving.

That combination alone will make a difference. But let’s see how you can ramp it up.

Content is crucial at this stage.

There are three types of content I recommend.

1. High-value blog posts with content upgrades

In the second step, we talked about the importance of blog posts with content upgrades.

However, you were working with existing content.

You have to keep publishing valuable posts on a weekly basis. If you can create a content upgrade for each article, definitely do that.

What’s the ideal publishing frequency?

That depends on your niche and your audience.

I’ll tell you one thing.

You don’t need to post daily. Consistency is what matters.

One post a week is enough to see results with your list building.

2. Webinars

You may have noticed webinars are in vogue these days.

And with good reason.

It’s a fresh way to deliver value to your audience.

It’s especially powerful for list building because it’s gated content. People have to sign up to your email list to attend.

Here’s the thing though.

Webinars are a strategy into itself. It takes preparation, the right tools, and robust marketing to make it a success.

But it’s worth it.

Webinars typically run about 60 minutes. It means you’ll need lots of content to work with.

The great news?

This content is typically evergreen and can be repurposed into blog posts or social media posts.

3. Social media content

There’s no better source of free traffic than your social media profiles.

I recommend focusing on one main platform where your audience hangs out.

Post consistently. Build an engaged community. And direct that social traffic to your main site.

Conclusion

There’s no dancing around this fact: email list building is central to the success of an online business.

Make it a priority.

Periods of slow growth are commonplace and shouldn’t be a problem. What matters is what you do to get yourself out of the lull.

When it comes to increasing the number of your subscribers, you aren’t short on options.

Follow the strategies I’ve laid out in this article.

If you implement them, you’ll start seeing an increase in your email list sign-ups almost immediately.

Which list-building strategies have worked the best for you?

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How to create a kickass link-building strategy for local SEO

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Link-building is a tried and tested SEO tactic, and although there are a number of dubious ways to go about it, at base developing a strong link-building strategy is a smart and very necessary way to get your site ranked above your competitors.

This is particularly true of local SEO, where a few savvy tactics for building links and relationships with other local businesses can give you a huge visibility boost in local search.

According to the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors, inbound links are the most important ranking signal.

But if you’ve run through all the usual methods of getting inbound links, what can you do to give your site – or your client’s site – a leg up in search?

At Brighton SEO last Friday, master of local SEO Greg Grifford shared some “righteous” tips for a kickass link-building strategy, in his signature flurry of slides and movie references – this time to 80s movies.

How link-building differs in local SEO

With local small businesses, said Gifford, you have to think about links in something other than pure numbers. Which is not to say that quantity doesn’t help – but it’s about the number of different sites which link to you, not the sheer number of links you have full stop.

With local SEO, all local links are relevant if they’re in the same geographical area as you. Even those crappy little church or youth group websites with a site design from the 1990s? Yes, especially those – in the world of local SEO, local relevance supersedes quality. While a link from a low-quality, low-authority website is a bad idea in all other contexts, local SEO is the one time that you can get away with it; in fact, these websites are your secret weapon.

Gifford also explained that local links are hard to reverse-engineer. If your competitors don’t understand local, they won’t see the value of these links – and even if they do, good relationships will allow you to score links that your competitors might not be able to get.

“It’s all about real-world relationships,” he said.

And once you have these relationships in place, you can get a ton of local links for less time and effort than it would take you to get a single link from a site with high domain authority.

So how should you go about building local relationships to get links? Gifford explained that there are five main ways to gain local links back to your business:

  1. Get local sponsorships
  2. Donate time or volunteer
  3. Get involved in your local community
  4. Share truly useful information
  5. Be creative in the hopes of scoring a random mention

Practical ways to get local links

These five basic ways of getting local links encompass dozens of different methods that you can use to build relationships and improve your standing in local search.

Here is just a sample of the huge list of ideas that Gifford ran through in his presentation:

Local meetups

Go to meetup.com and scout around for local meetups. A lot of local meetups don’t have a permanent location, which gives you an opportunity to offer your business as a permanent meeting venue. Or you can sponsor the event, make a small investment to buy food and drink for its members, and get a killer local link in return.

Local directories

Find local directories that are relevant to the business you’re working with. Gifford emphasized that these should not be huge, generic directories with names like “xyzdirectory.com”, but genuine local listings where you can provide useful information.

Local review sites

These are easier to get onto than bigger review websites, and with huge amounts of hyperlocal relevance.

Event sponsorships

Similar to sponsoring a local meetup, a relatively small investment can get you a great link in return. Event sponsorships will normally include your logo, but make sure that they also link back to your site.

Local blogs & newspapers

Local bloggers are hungry to find information to put on their blogs; you can donate time and information to them, and get a killer blog post and link out of the equation. The same is true of local newspapers, who are often stretched for content for their digital editions and might appreciate a tip or feature opportunity about a locally relevant business.

Local charities

Local charities are another way to get involved with the community and give back to it – plus, it’s great for your image. By the same token, you also can donate to local food banks or shelters, and be listed as a donor or sponsor on their website.

Local business associations

Much like local directories, it’s very easy to get listed by a local business association, such as a local bar dealer’s association – make sure there’s a link.

Local schools

These are great if you’re on the Board of Directors, or if your child or your client’s child is at that school. Again, getting involved in a local school is a good way to give back to the community at the same time as raising your local profile and improving your local links (both the SEO and the relationship kind).

Ethnic business directories

If you’re a member of a particular ethnic community who runs a local business, you can list your business on an ethnic business directory, which is great for grabbing the attention – and custom – of everyone in that community.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should only do this if it genuinely does apply to your business.

Gifford’s presentation contained even more ingenious ideas for local links than I’ve listed here, including local guides, art festivals and calendar pages; you can find the full list on his Slideshare of the presentation.

Gifford advises creating a spreadsheet with all your link opportunities, including what it will cost or the time it will take you. Make sure you have all of the relevant contact details, so that when it comes time to get the link, you can just go and get it. Then present that to your client, or if you’re not working on behalf of a client, to whichever individual whose buy-in you need in order to pursue a link-building strategy.

In fact, Gifford has even put together a pre-made spreadsheet ready for you to fill in, and you can download it here: http://bit.ly/badass-link-worksheet

Decide what links to go after, and go and get them; then, after three months, wipe the spreadsheet and repeat the process.

Some important points to bear in mind

So, now you’re all set to go out and gather a cornucopia of local links, all pointing right at your business, right? Well, here are a few points to bear in mind first.

A lot of times, the people you approach won’t know what SEO is, or even what digital is. So be careful about how you go about asking for a link; don’t mention links or SEO right off the bat. Instead, focus on the value that will be added for their customers. “This is not about the link; this is about the value that you can provide,” said Gifford.

Once again, for the people at the back: it’s about building up long-term, valuable relationships which provide benefit to you and to the local community. When it comes to local SEO, these relationships and the links that you can get will be worth more than any links from big, hefty high-domain-authority (but locally irrelevant) websites.

Or in Gifford’s words: “Forget about the big PR link shit. Go really hard after small, local links.”

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