04.18.08

ShrinkTheWeb Acquires First Round Funding

Author: puravida

Hello everyone!

I wasn’t able to disclose this sooner but now it’s public domain. So, as the headline reads, my pet project, “Shrink The Web” has obtained an initial round of funding. I still cannot disclose how much funding but I will say that while our business plan and projections are quite aggressive, it does not currently appear that it will be necessary for us to take on further financing after this initial round.

So, that’s good, because I prefer not to continue to be bogged down worrying about investors and such. Instead, I would rather focus on this project and see it come to its full fruition. I believe -and others as well obviously- this site has quite a bit of potential in this business and the revenue model, so I am excited to be a part of this venture.

In fact, we were submitted by someone on “Killer Startups” (coincidentally AFTER we got funding) and within just 6 days so far, we have attained the #1 spot for April (with 1,800+ votes as of this writing) and the #2 (non-sponsored) listing for all of 2008! Wow!

Shrink The Web Reviewed at Killer Startups

At the current rate of voting, we will take #1 for all of 2008 by tomorrow.

The only reason I even knew about the review was because of the 500% increase in sign-ups and the influx of traffic. I checked the logs and saw that link in the referrer logs. It was a nice surprise to say the least. It’s always good to know you’re appreciated for your efforts! ;)

If you haven’t seen Shrink The Web yet, please do check it out and vote for us at “Killer Startups”, if you have a second (single click, no registration required). If you really, really like our site, we’d love to have you leave some feedback/comments there as well. :)

-Brandon

04.17.08

Coming Soon To A Website Near You

Author: puravida

I’m working on the specific page feature of Shrink The Web and it should be live soon. I don’t see much future in the thumbnail market for competitors providing website thumbnails. They don’t really offer very much -which is one major reason why I decided to start my own service.

Maybe they’ll go back to the drawing board and start offering more features, oh, and start offering it all for free. Who knows? It could happen.  :)

I have spent more than 100 hours going back and forth with some of my hosting customers on some of my servers, ThePlanet, spamlist databases, et cetera.

The basic problem is that all email on certain blocks of IPs assigned to some of my servers have been going straight to spam. They are listed in spam databases and no matter how much effort I expended to get them removed, nothing was helping.

This issue has been going on since January of this year, 2008. ThePlanet’s support constantly shrugged off my complaints and tickets by saying it wasn’t their problem that I was listed in spam databases –regardless of the fact that I have NEVER spammed.

Ok, I could buy that. I talked to the spam databases, spent $600 to a dedicated email service provider, spent more than 100 hours building in safeguards, SPF records, and the list goes on and on. In the end, I still saw that 10%-15% of my (and my affected customers) email was still going to spam.

Today, however, I have discovered WHY. And, what do you know? It IS ThePlanet’s problem and fault after all!

Here’s what happened:

I was assigned a couple of new blocks of IPs late last year when I upgraded three(3) of my servers to faster, more powerful servers. What I *assumed* was that I was being assigned a clean block of IPs. I believe that ThePlanet has a policy to request removal of IPs from spam databases (also known as RBLs) before re-assigning (because none were listed when I first got them), but they do not remove the reverse DNS entries that got them listed in the first place!

And that, folks, is the kicker.

Even though none of my customers were sending spam, those who were on the IPs with reverse DNS of known spam domains were still getting tagged as spam –as if they were still the old domain. That was killing my reputation -as you can imagine. I lost hosting customers over this -as they could not afford the reputation or lost credibility of being labeled a spammer -which I completely understand.

Now that I know the heart of the issue, I have had the reverse DNS removed and the spamlists I’ve been in contact with assure me that this is the remaining factor in getting my IP block off their block lists.

I have demanded that ThePlanet puts in place a “Reverse DNS Cleaning” procedure before assigning us any new IP blocks, and I have demanded a refund for my wasted time, lost income, and additional expenses in this matter.

I hope they will improve on this point in the very near future.

In short, if you have your own dedicated servers and have trouble with your emails going to spam folders, be sure that you do not have lingering reverse DNS entries for domains you do not host.

Orphaned reverse DNS entries could be making all the difference!

p.s. Please note, however, that accurate reverse DNS entries can HELP your spam score. So, please take the time to set them up whenever possible. ;)

03.25.08

Making Money Online Is A Joke!

Author: puravida

It IS possible to make money online, but this is a business that is deteriorating quickly.

I am not referring so much to running companies with a unique product or service but more to those that look to the Internet as a way to earn a living online -i.e. affiliate marketing.

Making money online was very likely for years up until just a few years ago. Now, there are so many people flocking to the Internet and trying their hand at affiliate marketing that this flood has begun to wash out profits of those like myself.

Deadbeat companies that take your leads and then don’t pay have become more and more prevalent and even when they do pay, they lower their payout without warning in some cases or they simply do not track all of your sales.

Case in point: tonight, I was trying to figure out why a program I was promoting and spent considerable time and money to promote last week all of a sudden stopped making money. It turns out that the affiliate consolidator no longer offers that program. They just removed it without warning and now they redirect to some other program. That is just shady. What’s worse is that I sent an email to one of my targeted lists of 25,000+ people letting them know that they could join this great (really is) program and now I look like an idiot because the link takes them somewhere else. Nice.

Making money online now takes place mostly with unscrupulous marketers lying to “newbies” about how much money they can earn online. These big-time marketers all rely on the buddy-buddy system to promote their programs and establish credibility with unsuspecting hopefuls. In the end, though, all they are selling is a $49.95-$149.95 book of lies. There may be 2-3 good tips hidden away in their package of reading materials but mostly their tips are out-of-date and ineffective or promise to take advantage of some incredible trend -such as social networking- which sounds great to the average “joe” hoping to earn a living online.

Unfortunately, in the end, these people get duped for hundreds or thousands of dollars and -in many cases- the “tools” they are sold are nothing more than SPAM utilities and email harvesters.

That’s right! One of the BIG reasons there has been such an increase in spam over the past few years is because of these so-called Internet gurus who convince “newbies” that it is ok to send an email to someone who puts their email on their website or lists their real email as the owner of their domain. However, this is still spam in most cases. I have very rarely seen when an offer sent to harvested emails was truly interesting, helpful, and relevant.

  • Spammers have made email marketing very tough -to say the least.
  • Scammers have made it tough to know which sales are real.
  • Hackers are a constant headache in keeping a website online.

In short, it is a cut-throat market online. I know, because I’ve been making money online for nearly a decade and I single-handedly earned more than $10,000 per month from my efforts up until just 3 short years ago. Nowadays, insiders at Google and DMOZ have worked really hard to crush anyone’s website that starts to do well. I have always obeyed the “rules” of white-hat SEO when it comes to my main websites and all I was rewarded with in the end were Pagerank ZERO websites and less than 100 visitors per month –when there are still spam results in all search engines for my target niches.

Making money online can be done but it is rife with peril and becomes a full-time job to avoid the pitfalls and unethical businesses/people. I think it will be interesting to see if the influx of “newbies” looking to earn money online will overcome the fact that millions of others have failed and supported lavish lifestyles for Internet gurus simply willing to sell someone a bogus, hyped dream. Only time will tell.

Since it wouldn’t be of much use for me to lay out the bad without offering suggestions, here’s a few of the things that make the big boys (self-proclaimed Internet gurus) their money:

  • They spend thousands of dollars attending conferences to network.
  • They build big-hype programs offering high commissions.
  • They have money from people they dupe to spend on making allies.

So, those looking to make money online should have good social skills, like to party, have some money to throw away at first, and have something unique to bring to the table. Otherwise, those people will probably end up making only a few hundred dollars per month in income. The latter path is the one most people end up taking.

Note to newbies: If you are a newbie looking to make money online, you should be aware that most “free” and “helpful” articles (like this one) tend to only offer helpful tips on getting started if they are being paid to promote a program. That is biased marketing and is very common in the online world.

The ideas you are about to read are not affiliate links and are not paid advertisements or paid text links. This is truly valuable and insightful information on how I continue to make a living online in this volatile marketplace.

Many of the links I provide below can easily be made affiliate links so that I make money when you click or buy, but then those so-called “gurus” would call me out to be no better than them. So, to avoid being grouped with them, I forgo the opportunity to earn referrals but some examples are my own companies (noted beside, in each case).

So, to avoid this post being nothing more than a “venting topic”, I will end on some ways that many people (myself included) still manage to eek out a living online:

OPTION 1: Build your own website(s)

  1. Learn a little bit of HTML skill and be able to build a website
    1. HTML: http://www.w3schools.com/html/default.asp
    2. CSS: http://www.w3schools.com/css/
  2. Buy a web design software program (such as Dreamweaver)
    1. http://www.adobe.com/products/dreamweaver/
  3. Save money by getting a cheap or free template to start out
    1. http://www.freewebsitetemplates.com
    2. http://www.templatemonster.com
  4. Find a reputable, quality web hosting company
    1. http://www.imagion.com ($6.95/month paid annually)
      *I can only feel comfortable recommending my own company here

OPTION 2: Avoid headaches of web design and hosting by using a blog

  1. I use wordpress and have been very impressed so far.
    1. http://www.wordpress.com
    2. Free signup or download to host your own blog (like I do)
      *Benefit of hosting your own blog is building traffic to your site

NEXT STEPS: Promote Something and/or Build Traffic

  1. Sign up for a wide variety of affiliate programs (better variety)
    1. For example: http://www.cj.com (commission junction)
    2. Listing of more affiliate network programs (one of my sites)
      *uses affiliate links but there aren’t any better listings
  2. Target your market. Use free services to pick profitable niches
    1. Free keyword search tool: http://inventory.overture.com
      *gives idea of terms searched in a month (i.e. potential buyers)
    2. There are other tools available too. Some free; some not. Search.
  3. Fill your websites/blog with unique, valuable, and helpful content.
  4. Continue to add to and update your site/blog as often as possible
    *fresh, new content attracts new visitors and builds audience

Pick niche markets that you are familiar with or that you are interested in learning about. If you simply throw up a site with links, you will earn about $2 per month (with Google ads or promoting programs). It’s not worth it. Instead, try to become a trusted expert on something and you will make quite a bit more!

As a last minute note, I should acknowledge that there is quite a large audience of people looking to make money online who do not want a website at all. It can be done, but it won’t yield a tremendous income. However, it can earn a decent side income.

For instance, several members of my “Get Paid Hwy Forum” earn several hundreds per month from completing surveys online and playing games. Here’s a link to some of the programs that members have reported as high quality and -more importantly- paying: GPT Programs that PAY.

And finally, here’s a list of revenue-sharing forums (mine is included) that will help you earn commissions on clicks from Google Adsense ads or Yahoo Publisher ads just for making helpful posts and participating. This is a good way to earn a little bit for being helpful and not have to bother with a website at all.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and I hope that I have helped steer you away from the fraudsters and more into the right direction for success!

Best regards,

Brandon

03.22.08

ShrinkTheWeb Takes Great Strides

Author: puravida

I have finally had a chance to improve this service beyond the reach of any other website thumbnail generator service in the world (at least for now). This, I have accomplished by adding two major upgrades:

  1. Full-length Thumbnails
  2. Custom-sized Thumbnails

Here’s an example of a regular thumbnail:

[thumb]http://www.shrinktheweb.com[/thumb]

It looks like ShrinkTheWeb may end up really changing the way webmasters design their websites. I have gotten so much great feedback and kudos that I think this is really something now. I’m just pleased that people are enjoying the service, because I only did this in response to someone telling me it was impossible to do the way I wanted and because Alexa Thumbnails was costing me too much. ;)

If you are a web designer or hobbyist webmaster, check out my free website thumbnail generator service.

Ciao,

Brandon

01.20.08

Hard Work On ShrinkTheWeb (BETA)

Author: puravida

I don’t know if it was due to a system update or if it was hacking (i.e. my typical conspiracy), but my baby, ShrinkTheWeb, stopped generating thumbnails for about 7 hours over this weekend. I was staying up all night to prepare a proposal for review later on tonight, but I ended up working on ShrinkTheWeb until 6:30am. :(

I’m just glad to have fixed it. I was at my wit’s end and beginning to think I couldn’t get it, because I absolutely have to get this proposal done. But, at the last minute –shortly after Leah got up and left for work, I got it.

Getting these captured screenshots of websites to happen automatically truly is a piece of magic. It is a work of art, indeed. I was going to be upset if I didn’t get it working again, because people would be forced to switch to a lesser service, if mine wouldn’t work.

My ShrinkTheWeb Thumbnail Generator

Anyway, I have to get to my proposal and just wanted to post a quick update. Here’s a copy of the email I sent out to the faithful webmasters that currently use ShrinkTheWeb:

“On Saturday, Jan 19th (evening) until Sunday, Jan 20th (6:30am),
ShrinkTheWeb experienced an unexpected outage.

I have been up all night working on it, and although I am still
unsure as to the cause of the outage, I have gotten the system
back online and generating thumbnails once again. :)

All of your requests for thumbnails during the outage were still
queued, and there are about 750 thumbnails in currently in the
queue -as of this writing. They should all be cleared within an
hour or two.

I wish I could say for certain that I knew what caused this
outage and that it won’t happen again, but it seems that the
server “conveniently” updated a critical piece of system
software that exhibited different behavior after the update.

Generating these thumbnails is nothing short of magic, and even
simple updates can cause horrific problems.

In any case, I will keep an eye on things and hope this did not
cause any great inconvenience for you.

Best regards,

Brandon
-ShrinkTheWeb”

01.20.08

We Need A Social Marketers Club

Author: puravida

I tried to build an online marketers’ club back in 2001 via marketinghwy.com, but it just never took off. I think the Internet was still too “new” to people back then and they all wanted a quick buck –which I guess that will never change.

Tonight, I posted in my forum about this and the title of the article is “We Need A Social Marketers Club“… I posted in my forum instead of on this blog, because I wanted to foster more of a feedback than a blog typically affords. I am really gung-ho about this, and if enough people are interested, I would really like to see what we can do.

-Brandon

01.13.08

Is Your Email Getting Through?

Author: puravida

I learned very early on that email not getting through spam filters would be a major hindrance to my online businesses. Unfortunately, free email providers have cracked down so much that hardly anything gets through those filters now. If you are a legitimate business that has NEVER even once sent spam, your emails probably still end up in the ‘Bulk Mail’ folders at Yahoo and Gmail. It’s sad but true. MSN/Hotmail tends to be a little more realistic -as of the time of this writing.

I haven’t had the time to keep up on whether my emails were getting through over the past several years, and I just now made the time to overhaul my sites in this area.

What did I find?

Well, *gulp* I found that my forum has discarded roughly 25 registrations per month that did not see our email. One of my other businesses that caters to people who mostly use free email services have lost an estimated $500/month due to abandoned confirmations. Still, another one of my companies has lost its ability to generate any revenue due to emails not getting through. That company was actually “spam trap poisoned” -meaning that someone put in special emails used to catch spammers who continuously send spam to emails they shouldn’t. These are emails such as “donotspamthisemail@groups.yahoo.com.”

Basically, a “spam trap” was a good idea in the beginning. It was an email designed to be picked up by email harvesters (automated programs that crawl the web collecting email addresses from websites), and when the spammer would spam that email, the group would automatically submit a request to all of the blocklists and get them shut down fairly quickly.

However, these days, spammers can pick out which email addresses are spam traps and they then turn around and submit those emails into competitor websites. So, in my case, someone kept putting in several “spam trap” emails and when I would send out my double opt-in confirmation emails to it, my site would get tagged for spam. Now, I’ve had to spend considerable time and energy to get removed from those lists.

So, that’s no good. What can we do about it?

Here’s what I did tonight to combat the over zealous spam filters that are killing my legitimate businesses while doing little to curb overall spam:

  1. I wrote new code for all of my sites that specifically tells people the exact steps on how to whitelist our email addresses and then provide an alternate way to request the validation email be sent out again.
  2. I modified the email code across all of my sites to put a one-click unsubscribe and made it to where I keep the email to avoid re-registrations from people trying to spam trap poison me. I make the email inactive so it will never be emailed, of course.
  3. I double-checked the security of my code, website account security, server security, and updated my passwords. This was done to help prevent someone from hacking any of my databases and spamming my users without me even knowing. It has never happened and I want to make sure it stays that way!
  4. I applied to the various free email providers and requested to be whitelisted (see below).
  5. I will be adding SPF records to my most important domains.
  6. I am also considering a service such as Constant Contact for some of my more important lists –although, that will be a bit pricey for my 25,000 subscriber database. :(

Before you apply for the various whitelists, you should read over their terms to make 100% percent certain that you are compliant. Otherwise, you will waste a LOT of time and get nowhere.

For instance, you might think you are compliant because you don’t spam but it’s not that simple. Typically, you have to have the following:

  1. Reverse DNS set up for each domain that sends your emails.
  2. Dedicated IP address or you need to identify what methods you take to ensure that you are providing tracking to differentiate your emails from someone else sharing the same IP address.
  3. Proof of how you collected your emails. This includes a timestamp, name, and method (i.e. email subscribe, form subscribe, etc)

When you are ready to begin this process, you can visit the following links to read over the guidelines and apply:

  1. AOL – AOL Whitelist Guidelines
  2. Yahoo! -Yahoo Bulk Email Sender FAQ
  3. Gmail – Google Whitelist Policy*

*Google does not allow whitelisting. So, if you want to tell people how to manually whitelist you for their account, use the following steps:

  1. Go to http://www.gmail.com and login to your email account
    *just like you would to check your email.
  2. At the top RIGHT SIDE, click the link that says SETTINGS.
  3. At the top of the screen that says MAIL SETTINGS, click the link that says FILTERS.
  4. On the FILTERS screen, click the tab that says Create a New Filter tab.
  5. In the FROM field on the CREATE A FILTER screen, type: yourdomain.com
    *Change NO other settings on this screen.
  6. Click the button that says NEXT STEP.
  7. Check the box that says STAR IT.
  8. Click the button that says CREATE FILTER.
  9. That’s it! Sign out from Gmail.

Whew! As long as it took to write all of that out, it is nothing compared to how much work this will have been once completed. However, these are some of the ills of working online, and -for some of us- the benefits of being able to work from home are more than worth it!

01.07.08

What is Your Time Worth?

Author: puravida

I have several ventures (and joint ventures) going at any given time. Currently, I have a few ventures in a very good position to make it big but they need a lot of marketing dollars that I simply do not have at the moment. However, I do also have a couple of ventures that can be successful at a lower price point. These are what will become my “Cash Cows.”

This is basically how I made myself such a success before. I built up a company as a cash cow (i.e. to provide me sufficient, on-going income) and then I used those proceeds to “buy” myself time to work on other projects. Most people are familiar with the concept of leveraging wealth, but what if you have no wealth to leverage?

For those just starting out, I like to push the idea of leveraging time. If you can increase the “value” of your time in concrete dollar terms, then you will be moving closer towards the freedom of doing other things. At some point, those things should be recreational but while we’re still coming up in the world, we will use that freedom to build another successful venture (or two… or ten).

As I am about to write on how I determine the dollar value of my time, I am reminded of how people used to poke fun at me for the way I thought about these things.

These are things like how I would hire a maid to clean around the house and paid her $60 per visit for her work in helping maintain my house. My friends would tell me, “that’s too much to pay someone else. Why not just do it yourself and save that money?”

Well, that IS the question now, isn’t it? The answer is simple. Actually, it’s not so simple but I’ll try my best to make it so.

What makes this confusing is that we are not calculating your hourly rate. So, if you make $2500 per month and divide by hours worked, you’d have your effective hourly rate at $15.63 per hour for a typical work-week. However, that only accounts for hours you are actively working. So, we need to calculate the value of your time when you are simply “awake” -even if not working.

This will give you a gauge by which to compare things. You can quickly know if a price for a service it too high by knowing about how long something will take you to do yourself multiplied by your “awake hourly value” versus the rate being asked by someone else to do it for you. Be careful, though, and try not to become too obsessive about it. I had to force myself to go to the movies sometimes because I would think, “man, it’s costing me $75 in time to go out!” But, that’s part of life and living life is most important and more valuable than dollars.

Basically, most people don’t think about their time having a specific dollar value -despite the popular adage of “time is money.” In the past, for instance, I would justify paying my maid $60 to clean the house and do basic chores because her and her helper would take care of my fairly large home within two hours or so. That cost me $30 per hour, right? Right. But, it saved me $40. If I had done the work myself, it would’ve cost me at least twice the amount of time. At that time, my “awake hourly value” was roughly $25 per hour. So, even though my hourly value of $25 is less than the maid’s hourly rate of $30, it would have cost me $100 in my time (i.e. 4 hours of work) versus $60 to pay the maid. When it’s put that way, I think it makes a little more sense, eh?

Here’s how you calculate your “Awake Hourly Value”:

Those of you who hate algebra are gonna kill me for this… hehe.

A / (b * c * d)

A = Annual Income
b = number of days of week worked
c = hours per day awake
d = weeks worked in the year [usually 51])

Back in the day, I was earning roughly $140,000 annually, worked 6 days a week, and slept 6 hours per day. That yields the following formula:

$140,000 / (6 * 18 * 51) = $25.42 per hour

So, if we take a look again at someone making $2,500 per month, the effective “awake hourly rate” is about $7.35 per hour.

At one point -just before I had to leave the country- I was working about 4 days per week, so my awake hourly value went up to $38.13 per hour. Those were the good ol’ days!

Since I returned to the U.S. and began rebuilding my life, my “awake hourly value” has been dismal but growing. Currently, my awake hourly value is just under $9 per hour. So, I do a lot of things myself these days. In time, I plan to get back on my feet and jump back to the days when I had my freedom. For the moment, however, I like to say:

“Time is Money and I have Neither!”

So, my friend, how much is your time worth?

01.05.08

Google is a Big, Fat Manipulator

Author: puravida

Today, I wanted to talk about how all webmasters are told they should not sell advertisements on their websites unless it is done the way Google wants it done. You know, I watched for years as other webmasters profited while I sat back and ‘did the right thing’ by not selling links. In hindsight, my sites in that market could’ve easily generated more than $7,500 per month in additional revenue. I had three sites at PR7 (naturally!), a couple of PR5’s and PR6’s, and several dozen PR4’s and below.

Over the two to three years that I refused to succumb to the pressure, selling text links would’ve netted me at least $225,000 in EXTRA income. Man. Now that I’ve actually sat down and done the math, I’m really disheartened.

So anyway, doing what Google told everyone was ‘the right thing to do’ cost me well over a quarter of a million dollars! But wait, wait! There is an upside and a benefit to doing the right thing, right? I -like a million others- believed that we would be rewarded for our good deeds in ‘trying to make the Internet a better place’ with traffic and visitors. Thus, we would be able to grow our businesses ‘the right way.’

“At the end of the day we are likely to be punished for our kindnesses.” – Ronin (1998)

So, how are my sites doing now-a-days? Hmm. Well, I have had ZERO traffic from Google for over a year and although I should have started looking out for MY best interests back then, I decided to wait it out and give them the benefit of the doubt. So, as of today, my portfolio of sites is still getting roughly …umm… ZERO traffic from Google and their value for selling links has diminished to the point of possibly generating $1,000 per month -if I’m lucky. And, even then, that could end at any moment when Google blindly wipes out another million websites from its ranking index, just for fun.

I’m sure many people who still have some Google traffic (by no doing of their own despite their beliefs) will swear by Google’s generosity -if you stay the course. I’m sure they would say that I must not know anything about marketing online or I must’ve employed some kinds of “black hat” techniques. Sadly, no, I never employed any tricks and I do know how to market online. I’ve made quite a bit of money marketing online for myself and others.

Ah well. Most people were born and raised to look out for themselves, but I guess I missed that day in class. For me, the moral of the story is that I must -to survive- start to look out for myself and myself alone. If I can better someone else or another business in the process, then great. If not, too bad. I am on the right path now, but is it too late?