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Tweet Louder: Get Your Site Using Twitter Cards


 

If Twitter is a significant source of traffic and referrals for your site, consider dressing up those tweets by implementing Twitter Cards.

Twitter Cards (which look no more like “cards” than Twitter posts sound like “tweets,” but let’s not get hung up on that, it’s not like that’s bothered me since Twitter launched … oh right, moving on) let you modify any tweet that includes a URL for your web site beyond basic text, with a custom layout that includes photos, multimedia (kids today call it video), and even product information. They’ve been around for about a year and appear fairly stable at this point.

There are seven types of Twitter Cards available. Let’s talk about the Summary Card with Large Image first, because it’s the most broadly useful and appealing. Essentially, it works like this:

  1. A page on your site includes some custom code that provides Twitter with a specific title, text, and an image.
  2. A reader decides to tweet about that page. This could happen through any mechanism that handles tweets, from in-page sharing links to the Twitter Web site itself. He or she types in a snarky/hilarious/ironic/informative comment and includes the URL in the tweet.
  3. Twitter a) posts their tweet, but, where supported, displays extra text that says “View Summary.” When clicked, Twitter displays the tweet card, which includes the title, summary, and photo you set up, no extra work by the person doing the tweeting.


The advantage here is that content you choose always accompanies tweets about your URLs, giving you much better exposure on Twitter itself, and some additional persuasion that will send readers of that tweet to visit your site themselves.

If you’re using a content management system with templates, the “few extra lines of code”—makes it sound so simple, doesn’t it—can be implemented once and then never touched again unless you want to add additional types of Twitter Cards or change how your Twitter Card is working.  The code can be based off things you already do (i.e. selecting an image for an article) or it can be custom for Twitter, so you can have a slightly different headline or image designed to tease people more than the image on the content itself.

Hop Studios has implemented Twitter Cards for several clients and found the process (which does include getting overall approval from Twitter) usually takes only a couple of hours to put in place. This is proving to be an especially useful tool for Web site publishers who update frequently, have lots of content, and who are interested in leveraging social media to drive traffic.

The image in this post is a screenshot of a Twitter Card generated from a September Hop Studios blog post. This is the Summary Card with Large Image. With this graphic, the Twitter Card for this post is going to be very Inception-esque!


These are the seven card types you can choose from:

  • gallery cards featuring up to 4 images
  • single photo cards
  • summary cards with a title, description, and link
  • summary cards with a title, description, link, and image
  • app cards, for creating a direct download link for mobile applications
  • player cards that showcase audio, video, and other media
  • product cards for merchants with a title, image, description, and product details, and of course a link to purchase the product.

Twitter also offers some analytics tools (i.e. traffic results) that let you track clicks on your card, app installs, retweets, and of course compare how different types of cards are working for you. We think this is a pretty cool tool for Web publishers, and we’re particularly keen on the idea that this is work that can be done just once, but that will benefit you on an on-going basis.

 

Hop Studios Acquires Mountee


 

Mountee We have just completed the purchase of Mountee, a Mac application that makes ExpressionEngine templates editable as files on a virtual drive.  It’s been an important pillar in our workflow, and we know it’s been just as important to many of you.  We’ve been long-time believers in EE, and we simply couldn’t let such a useful and well-written piece of software wither on the vine. Previous owners Padraig and John agreed, and have been extremely helpful during the transition.

Today, we are releasing a new version, Mountee 2.7, which adds one small but critical feature: compatibility with ExpressionEngine 2.8 and 2.9. So if you’ve been holding off on upgrading EE because of Mountee—your wait is over. In addition, we have Top Sekret(tm) plans about ways to improve the software as well…!

Please note one important change: we’ve modified the way that Mountee licensing works.  Upgrading to the newest version of Mountee requires you to accept the new license terms, which now permits you to install the Mountee add-on on one live site for every copy of Mountee you own (and as many development sites as you want).  Installing Mountee on additional sites requires you to purchase additional add-on licenses for those sites, the way most commercial EE add-ons work.  If you stay with the previous version, your license conditions do not change.  Click for full details.

We hope this change will help us be able to create a tool that grows sustainably in functionality and finesse.

We’re excited about this, and we would love to hear your feedback.  You can email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or you can tweet us @hellomountee.

We’d also really appreciate it if you’d tell other EE developers the news, and you may want to check out Hop Studios’ other add-ons, which are sold at Devot:ee.

Lastly, if you’d like to have access to pre-release versions of Mountee, sign up for the Mountee mailing list at hellomountee.com, or the Hop Studios mailing list at, you guessed it, hopstudios.com.

 

Innovative Ad Behavior


 

At the beginning of the summer, Hop Studios set up an new type of ad placement with our client Noozhawk. Their timely, seasonal Summer Fun section merged news stories about summer activities for kids, with a browsable directory of activities, camps, teams, and workshops. Traditionally speaking, this kind of content is catnip for advertisers—it’s specific, reaches people looking for information related to a specific type of service or product, and in this case, targeted parents of children who had the money to spend on their kids this summer.

We thought it was an ideal time to try a new way of presenting ads on the web site.

We started with the commonly seen stack of ads down the right side of the page. At the top, you see the top ad. Scroll down a bit, there’s more content and the next couple of ads in the stack. So far, so good. But we have long been frustrated with what happens next: scroll down far enough and on pages with more content than ads—which can easily happen in a directory with a lot of entries—the right column ends up just being empty space. What a shame to lose the possibility of showing an ad in that space, space already reserved for just that purpose.

Thanks to some creative thinking and the magic of Javascript, our solution was simple: when the reader scrolls past the final ad, where white space would normally appear, we moved the first ad down to there, and then the second, the third… you get the idea. Basically, no matter how long the page was, the ads remained visible alongside the viewable content, scrolling in order, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, as the page was scrolled. You get a more pleasing, symmetrical design with no white space in the right column and (most exciting for advertisers), a second or even third chance that an ad could be viewed.

Animated GIF showing Noozhawk page with scrolling ads

It’s a neat trick we haven’t seen before, and one we think actually adds (pun intended) opportunity and convenience to the user, publisher, and advertiser.

 

Are Visitors Blocking Your Site’s Ads? Find Out, and Do Something About It


 

If you’re web user that uses ad-blocking software, you’re in good company. And by good, of course, I mean there are a lot of you.

For Web site visitors, there are lot of upsides to turning on ad-blocking software: more privacy, faster page loads, and most of all, relief from distracting ads. In fact, for most web users, there doesn’t seem to be a downside—ad-blocking software subtracts out annoying, perhaps even malicious, content from valuable content. The idea that advertising-supported sites may suffer or disappear because they can’t deliver pages views and clicks to advertisers isn’t on their site visitors’ minds.

But when a publisher’s web site visitors opt to block ads, the publisher loses click-throughs and page views, the currency of the online advertising market. The consequences of this are dire for sites that rely on advertising to survive.

The strategies publishers have deployed in response have largely been unsuccessful. For example, in our experience, very few visitors will pay even a small amount of money to turn off the ads on a given web site. It’s difficult to ensure you’re not displaying tasteless, obnoxious, and scammy ads if you’re using an ad network instead of selling ads yourself, and almost everyone does use ad networks to maximize returns and minimize lost page impressions.

Enter PageFair, an Irish company started in 2012 that lets online publishers measure how many of their visitors are blocking ads, and then helps them to display alternative non-intrusive advertising to those visitors. PageFair says they will show advertising that is easily identifiable as advertising, non-intrusive, and easy to turn off. In other words, visitors who block ads still see ads, but they see ads that aren’t annoying, distracting, or malicious, and they see them on your site, which, we hope, is a worthwhile, well-run and honorable endeavor. And, it turns out, since most people use ad-blocking software because of bad and overwhelming ads on bad sites, they seem to be okay with ads that don’t play those games—according to PageFair.

A 2013 PageFair report (PDF) said that of 220 sites they monitored, the typical ad-blocking rate was 23%, and that use of ad-blocking software is growing by 43% each year. Most interestingly, PageFair says that the click-through rate for their alternative ads is the same as for web users that don’t use ad-blocking software—good news for publishers.

If you’re not sure whether you’re losing money to ad-blocking, you can install PageFair for free to simply track your traffic and give you details on ad-blocking usage by your site’s visitors.  It’s worth checking out.

P.S. If you want to use ad-blocking software, but want to know in more detail what you’re blocking (and revealing) for the web sites you visit, consider Ghostery, which lets you choose on a case-by-case basis what you will block, per site and per ad-network.

 

How to Defend Your Site from Intrusions, Threats and Really Annoying Punks


 

Hop Studios has been up and running for 13 years, and every year, one or more of our client’s web sites has been hacked in some way. Some of these have spectacularly obvious—home pages overwritten with strange content—but most have been relatively hard to spot immediately, regardless of how significant a hack it was.

Typically, a site is hacked for one of two reasons: to gain access to the personal information of its members (from email addresses and passwords to credit card numbers) or to put code in place that exploits the web site’s visitors. Whatever the purpose, having a web site hacked is bad news for the web site publisher, who must re-establish the trust of their audience, spend a lot of time and money on cleanup and prevention, and even in some cases have to deal with legal issues.

We’ve had a client whose site was hacked to add small links to gambling sites to give those sites a boost in search engine rankings.  We’ve also had sites that were hacked for political reasons.

Now, if you’re saying, “Hey, if your sites are getting hacked that means that you suck!” I would of course return, “We do not!” The truth is, although we’re careful and conscientious, the possibility of a web site hack is real for any web site built by any developer, much in the way any house is potentially vulnerable to a determined burglar regardless of who built it. Of course there are things you and we can do to make hacks less likely. Here are a few tips.

When a site gets hacked, the big question is usually “how did this happen?” and it can be unsettling to realize that often it’s hard to determine how with 100% accuracy, at least not in detail. The least-detectable hack, of course, is when the hacker has obtained a password: for FTP, or the content management system, or the site database server, or… . This is why we are very careful with creating and handling your web site’s passwords. We change them from time to time; use complex passwords with capital letters, numerals, and punctuation or that are very long; we don’t email them. We recommend you do the same.

But passwords are really just the start. As web software has become more complex and multi-layered, hackers have more opportunities and have developed better tools to exploit common security errors. Not surprisingly, this is one of the reasons we’re always keen to update your web site software, whatever it may be, to the latest version. The older your software and server—and that means every part of it, not just your main admin tool—the more exploitable your site is, as a general rule.

The good news is that as hackers have gotten more sophisticated and pernicious, the folks offering tools to detect and prevent them from getting into your site have gotten faster and better. Even if you don’t have time or budget to update everything all the time, you can use Web-based monitoring to look for trouble as it happens.

One we are especially pleased with is Sucuri, a 24/7 web site monitoring service that verifies your site is clean, watches for unauthorized changes to your web site’s files and pages, and alerts you immediately when suspicious activity occurs. They also can assist with cleanup when a hack happens. There are several levels of Sucuri service depending on your needs, but for most web sites, the $89.99/yearly package will do the trick, and we can order and set it up for you.

Sucuri monitors your site internally (have files changed on your Web site’s drive?) and externally (are your site’s Web pages transmitting malware and viruses to visitors?). The service scans for changes to your files, content management system, SSL certificates, and domain records. Best of all, if your site is hacked, their cleanup response time is typically a few hours.

Although we recommend you sign up before your site gets hacked, you can certainly sign up after it happens and Sucuri will assist with cleanup and prevention of future hacks. It’s important to note that this company isn’t a security consulting service, but is more like a home security service that puts detectors in place to warn the homeowner of signs that there might be a break-in and provides a response team for dealing with trouble promptly.

You’re probably wondering if this is something you really need to worry about, and I’m sorry to say, you probably do. A hacked site can leave you with legal liability, or at the very least a very upset group of visitors and customers.

If your Web site allows users to register, offers products for sale via an installed shopping cart, has a lot of traffic and search engine ranking, or you’re likely to be targeted by bored or malicious internet hackers, we suggest you seriously consider Sucuri (or a service like it).

 
 
Web Design and ExpressionEngine Development Consulting - Vancouver (BC) Canada