Optimal Graphix Agent Scam?

Recently I threw a resume out on Career Builder and received a lot of very obvious work at home scams. One particularly well presented offer was for an Client Account Manager that promised a full time salary or $3,750 per month or part time $1,900 per month. The company is based in Fort Meyers Florida and I actually was able to talk to the “HR” person…who also answered the main phone line. The offer sounded “too good to be true”…working from you house: “As a Client Account Manager you will represent the company to our existing clients and communicate both with our headquarters in FL, and with our suppliers and contractors from Europe. Also, this is a remote job, so you can work from home, stay with your family and manage your time by yourself!”. Wow! what a great opportunity!

The New Customer Agent Scam:
Then I started digging…I did a Google search for “Customer Account Manager Scam” and found several articles from banking institutions that warn of very similar sounding offers. The UW Credit Union of Madison Wisconsin states:

Account Manager Scam Warning

“The thieves solicit you through an email or an advertisement on the Web, offering to let you work from home as their Account Manager. You earn a commission for your efforts, usually 5% with the promise to earn more. The scammers then transfer money out of an unsuspecting person’s account and into yours. Once the money is in your account, they ask you to send the money to them via Western Union.”

Optimal Graphics has a unique spin on this: They ask you to accept payment from clients, then pay that money to third party service providers. So, money comes into your bank account from a client, then you pay someone else, ending any “illegal” paper trail for that money. In most jurisdictions, this is called “Money Laundering” and can get you into some very hot water. I kindly asked the Optimal Graphics  HR manager about this, but so far I have yet to received a reply. Am I just incredibly paranoid? I guess a “no reply” throws up another red flag.

Is it Legit or is it a Scam?
The Optimal Graphix website looks legit, they appear to have been around since 2004 and so far, the clients they display seem to check out.

I was “All In” with the Optimal Graphix offer, right up until the HR manager sent me a fourth email requesting my bank account information:

“The Financial Form is required for 2 purposes: for the company to deposit your paycheck, and for the clients to send you advance payments for their projects. The W4 form is required for tax purposes: your income tax will be deducted from your salary.

As a Client Account Manager you will be working directly with our clients, which would entail receiving the fees for the projects ordered with us as well as paying the team members working on them. You will get invoices for the clients’ payments, which will show that you only receive such payments as an authorized company representative; they are not your personal income, so you won’t have to pay taxes on them.

You can open a separate checking account for working with us. It could even be a business one: “Your name DBA Optimal Graphix.” However, if you have an existing account already and would like to use it, it would be preferable, as with some banks it might take you additional time and/or money to set up a new one. “

This is where the red flags really started to fly. There it was, the money transfer part of the scam.  McAfee also warns that the Account Manager / Money Transfer Agent scam, stating:  “One of the newest scams is the Account Manager or Money Transfer Agent.  Recipients receive an email or advertisement on the web trying to recruit them to be an account manager or transfer agent for a fictitious company.  These scam artists steal money from an unsuspecting person’s account, then transfer the money into the manager/agents’ account.  The criminals then ask that the money be sent back to them.  Again, the compensation is the manager/agent gets to keep a percentage of the money as their ‘commission’.  This opens the personal accounts of the manager/agent up to fraud – and if the account is used in an online scheme, the owner can be liable for lost funds.

I eagerly await any reply from Optimal Graphix to show me actual clients and some type of documentation that says this is legal in states other than Florida. Please perform your due diligence before accepting and participating in any work at home job offers.

For more information on money laundering or reshipping fraud, check out: http://www.bobbear.co.uk/#1


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Here's your problem

Why your website is not working.

Reliable website hosting is not hard to find. Most hosting companies have excellent up-time reliability numbers and many even offer up-time guarantees of 99.99%. But if you site is never down, why isn’t it producing the results you as a paying customer expect?

There are many reasons a site may not “convert” meaning visitors are not completing the contact form that becomes easy leads for the sales department or not buying your product. The goal of any brochure style site is to create a funnel that leads all points to your sales contact form. Let’s examine some of the biggest funnel blocks leading to reasons why a site does not convert.

1. Site speed: If you site pages take more than a few seconds to load, then you’re losing customers. Anything over 2 or 3 seconds and impatient visitors will quickly move to the next result. We aim at half a second page generation times. Under 1 second is usually fine. Anything slower risks losing traffic.

2. Broken Links: If I’m on a site and I keep hitting 404 errors, I tend to look elsewhere. With online tools and CMS plugins, it’s very easy to detect and correct broken links. Don’t let this simple issue derail your visitor’s experience.

3. Poor Brand and Product Story: Marketing your brand is not difficult. Keep in mind that unless you are paying your webmaster to do so, it’s not their responsibility to convey your business story to customers. That’s the job of your marketing and sales team, you know, the same one’s who are begging for easy to close internet leads. In reality, I rarely see “easy to close leads”. Poor communication between your sales and marketing people and your webmaster can cause a huge disconnect in your product story. Webmasters need feedback from the client and any promotional media, photos, text that the webmaster requests.

4. Unrealistic Expectations: For some reason, people think the internet is a magical land of flowing honey and sales conversions. While that may have been true in the early days, today the web is highly competitive and cut throat. In addition, a product that is new or untested in it’s market is likely destined for failure. Market research is always your first step. Establishing a baseline conversion rate is the next. The formula from there on is relatively easy, just throw traffic at it. That sounds easier than it is. Traffic requires a considerable investment in SEO and generating original content.

5. Overpriced Product or Service: Depending upon what the market will bear, setting a price that is considerably higher than comparable or competitive products will knock you conversion rate down considerably. Also, people tend to take more time when buying high ticket items. I doubt you’d browse homes on a real estate site then call an agent to place an offer. Same with automobiles. It’s become a tire kickers world. Many leads are just that, folks window shopping. If they find you price too high, what are your sales people doing to compel them to buy? If the answer is “nothing” then maybe it’s time to adjust prices or hire new sales people.

6. Typos, Bad Copyrighting:  While typos raise some red flags and poor flow of your sales copy unnerving, it’s not always a sales killer. Clients don’t expect to pay extra for copyrighting work, and it’s a pricey option to poor English skills. No matter how good you think your copy is, always double check it with another set of eyes or hire a copyrighting service or add on to your service.

7. Untrustworthy site: Web visitors are becoming somewhat more tech savvy and can spot a secure site over an un-secure site. The simple addition of a SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate  updates your protocol from http:// to https:// and when installed properly on your web server assures that any data entered into your contact forms or shopping cart is secure and only visible to the recipient. Https: is now becoming the standard in web data handling protocol. SSL certificates start at $100 /year to over $1000.

8. Appearance: This is less likely to cause a customer not to buy than anything. Unless your site is a real dumpster fire, it’s probably just fine. Fancy graphics and eye candy may help tell your story, but fancy menu layouts, graphic sliders and large photos can slow your site down. Too many function can also cause bloat. Trying to make a site do the work of your sales people is not a good idea.

9. Failure to Follow Up: Every lead that comes into your site needs followup. That follow up should not include a one time phone call or email. Research has shown that it takes a minimum of SEVEN times before a buyer commits.  Again, higher priced items require more work. If you’re not properly using an email newsletter or lead management tool like Constant Contact, you’re losing out on proper customer followup.

10. Not Responsive: This is a relatively new twist in internet design. Mobile devices can not render a page designed for a desktop properly. The solution is some high end CSS engineering and rules that allow a desktop page to smartly collapse into the resolution view port of the target device.  If a mobile user comes to your site and needs to scroll all over to read your copy and contact form, you may lose out on that traffic. As of the writing of this post, mobile visitors account for over 50% of daily visitors.

Those ten issues may or may not apply to your site. It’s a good checklist to be sure you are doing everything in your power to stay ahead or the pack. Just having a website is no silver bullet to success. Sales people are the cornerstone of your company. They earn the commissions and walk away with all the glory. Webmasters do what you tell them and unless you’ve included a budget for marketing, copyrighting, followup and SEO, don’t place all the blame on your webmaster if your product or service fails to convert.


Website Pricing

How much should a typical website cost?
That’s a loaded question already because there really is no “typical” website.
If you really would like to set a “typical website” in a budget range that most people expect to pay would place you with a Host gator or GoDaddy shared account with website builder. That will run you about $30 per month. You could get by for cheaper by using a FREE hosting account, if you want it plastered with advertising and pop ups.

The word “typical” in most people’s mind equates to “shitty”. In order to build a decent, functional website that cleanly represents your brand, you should hire a small hosting & web design company. Better yet, if you know any good, experienced freelancers that are will to help you get started you might be able to get some preferential service or even pro bono work, but don’t rely on that happening, only the most sainted of web designers are willing to work for free.

In the article How Much Should A Website Cost? the author discusses all the elements and skills required to pull off a decent website which include: content, photos, design, structure, layout, optimization, functionality, compatibility and finally launch.

Good Web Developers are hard to find. They posses a wide range of skills that most people can hardly pronounce. Experienced developers are also rare, especially those who go back to the dawn of modern computing, the late 1970’s. Web designers also need pricey and highly complex software, like Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Autodesk Maya, InDesign and more. Video work requires even more complex software like Final Cut, Sony Vegas or other video editing package. All these programs require the developers time, patience and creativity. They also need to navigate the jungle of menus, settings and configurations in all these programs as well as online scripts, servers and account management portals. Webmasters who also know SEO and best practices in design are worth their weight in gold.

So How Much Should A Website Cost?
These prices do NOT include annual domain registration or hosting fees. This is just the site design cost.

$2,000 – $4,000 = Entry Level
This is where you’ll be if you’re just getting started, a small service business, or one without ecommerce or data management requirements. Plus platforms like WordPress afford you the convenience of content management without the added expense of custom programming. It’s often a good place to start on a redesign, since you likely have your logo, branding and content ready and will only need to tweak and perhaps reorganize it.

$5,000 to $8,000 = Fully Customized
This is where you’ll be if you want to move past a basic design and if you’ve got fairly simple eCommerce requirements and don’t need anything customized like inventory management.

$10,000-$15,000 = Specialized / Custom Functions
think of this in similar terms to the previous category but with “more stuff” and a couple of added bells and whistles; perhaps multiple photo galleries, quite a few product pages, or more complex user forms. It’s also where you want to be if you need someone with a copywriter’s eye to kick your content up a bit.

$20,000-$30,000 = Full Hands Off Service – All Content Provided By Copywriter
this is sort of the all-inclusive vacation of websites. It’s where you want to be if you want to take more of a “hands-off” approach to your website and let the professionals deal with everything from the creative to the content to the optimization and construction, with some bonus collateral materials like business card and letterhead design.

$40,000 – $60,000 = Application Level Website
if you’re a retailer, distributor, manufacturer or other corporate entity with specialized data management or ecommerce needs, this is the place to be. In this range, your developer will create a project specification that details your website needs and then build around them.

$60,000+ The plus means “whatever you want sir”.
in this price range, you have little concern for costs and thus, virtually anything is possible. if you’re a corporate entity with serious internal and external requirements, or maybe a start up with funding and an experimental idea, you can reach for the stars.

Finally the article suggests what NOT to pay for a website…
$500 – “If that’s what your site cost, I bet you’ll find at least one fuzzy pixelated photo, at least one mis-programmed form validation, at least one missed optimization opportunity.  Maybe you can get your blog set up for $500, but you cannot build a professional web presence for that little. Even an unskilled developer charging $50 an hour can’t put together an optimized, functional, professionally branded site in 10 hours. Please do not tell me how you know someone who did it because I promise you won’t want me to look at that site and pick it apart.”

Now that we’ve examined some very broad price ranges, what else should you look for? First be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Be sure hosting is fast. Nothing kills even the best site than slow server performance. Avoid hosting farms. If you have a phone number and your developer answers it and reacts quickly to your needs, that’s a big bonus. Remember even webmasters have lives. I personally have been called after hours countless times.

It’s Not Over…
Also, don’t think that developing the site means that costs are over. There is annual hosting fees and maintenance (get that included with your hosting if possible). This would include plugin updates, server maintenance and light site tweaks. We offer only fully managed hosting. You also need someone working your webmaster tools account getting feedback on any detected site errors, canonical issues and the endless and most important task of all, SEO. Search Engine Optimization Services can run costs even higher, especially since the web becomes more competitive each and every day. See this article > for more on SEO Costs.

Additional Sources:


SEO Primer

Web SEO Primer for small businesses:
This is a simple web search engine optimization primer. It might shed some light on the mysterious task we call SEO.

Search Engine Optimization refers to the task of making web content more accessible to the search engine. It is then up to the search engine to evaluate and grade that content’s quality.

SEO has evolved since its inception, which started a few years after Google began to dominate the web. The first “Florida” update marked the time when SEO really started to take off as the whole quality issue became more and more of a mystery.

Today we separate SEO into two classes, white hat and black hat. White hat involves practicing those techniques outlined in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Black hat involves any method that unfairly attempts to overtake or crowd out sites within the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) in any given vertical.

Some examples of black hat might include loading a page with unnecessary keywords (keyword loading) or buying back links (this includes buying social links). Google wants to see “natural” traffic, not manipulated traffic.

White hat methods include creating interesting, compelling content. It also includes fully completing image alt tags, anchor text links all with the goal organizing content and creating a better user experience.

SEO is very complex and requires almost daily study of the ongoing trends and algorithmic updates.  It’s a science that is best left to the professionals as any DIY attempts at SEO can land penalties that can cost months of recovery.

Organic Listings:
While it may sound like a type of gardening, organic listings refer to the “natural” acquisition of SERP placement.  To obtain organic listings you should have unique content. For example, if you are selling peanut butter, you’ll be fighting all the established brands if you sell plain and chunky. However, if you are selling “cherry flavored peanut butter” you chances of natural listings on page one greatly increases, although that does not sound very appetizing. You get the idea.

Organic listings are natural, the next option is paid advertising.

Paid Advertising:
If you can’t manage to get organic listings or if you are in a particularly competitive market, you can use Pay Per Click (PPC)  advertising. Google offers Adwords and Bing / Yahoo have their own PPC program. You can advertise with Google, but with clicks going for up to $5.00 each, you need a LOT of money to compete.

Monetizing your Website:
If your site gets a lot of traffic, you can actually get paid to allow Google or Bing to place sponsored ads on you site. You only make a few cents and only when the ads on your site are clicked by visitors. Some sites with thousands of pages actaully make a living off of ads on their sites.

Google for example has their Adsense program for “publishers” who want ads to appear on their site.
Adwords is the Google program that allows you to create PPC ads and advertise on other people’s sites as described above in “Paid Advertising”.

Improving your website performance:
Before I outline steps for improvement, one thing to keep in mind is that there are NO quick fixes for traffic problems. Search engines respond slowly, on purpose. They tend to keep webmasters in the dark. Used to be we could rely on periodic reports from Matt Cutts, Google’s PR guy, but he’s no longer in that role. You may be tempted by solicitations by some anonymous SEO firm claiming they can guarantee page one placement for a single keyword for only $1,500, don’t buy it. Nobody can make promises.

Steps to improve:
1. Know thy marketplace: You must know every one of your online and offline competitors – Sun Tsu Art of War Style. Visit their websites, find where they are getting traffic (we have ways to do that).

2. Identify all related keywords and their values: This is where your traffic will come from. If you’re not listed for important keywords, don’t expect any business. We have a way to do this keyword research; however it can be time consuming and require some heavy creative thought and brain storming sessions.

3. Target pages: Once you know your market and your targeted keywords, go after them. This is a “baby step” process. Start with one page / article that targets the key phrase, but presented in a natural, related method that fits your business. The CMS (Content Management System) must also contain the detailed title, description and snippet. This might sounds simple, but it can easily derail your website SEO efforts.

4. Monitor: Of course none of this is going to happen overnight. Use whatever method you prefer: Google Analytics, PIWIK or AWSTATS will help. Proper monitoring means for ALL search engines. Don’t forget to have your Google AND Bing webmaster tools accounts setup. This allows you to submit your sitemaps and monitor crawl rates and progress.

5. Diligence: As quickly as good results flow in, bad results can follow. The search engine world is constantly in flux, changing every day. It’s become highly competitive and cut throat. Big brands typically rule. Big wallets rule too. Most companies you’ll find on page one these days are well funded big brands. It was bound to happen eventually. The trick is to be diligent: investigate, create and monitor. Wash, Rinse & Repeat. That’s all you can do.

The bottom line is that SEO is a science. It’s also a very rapidly changing science that requires constant research to stay current. As a former systems engineer in the process control industry, I find the entire topic rather fascinating and the numbers involved are mind numbing. If you’d rather not start at the beginning or work from pure guesswork, contact Microlinx Tech LLC and we’ll quote your SEO needs. There are many third party tools available to help monitor and improve traffic. Be aware that they will involve a minimum of $100/ month and in some cases over $1000 / month.

Network Outage on Global Routers

One of our hosting providers along with most of the world, experienced a brief outage due to a known router memory limit issue. The following support notice explains the situation well.

08/12/14 Update
08/12/14 6:00PM (EDT)
 At this time, our customers appear to have regained connectivity from all locations. If you see any additional issues, please do not hesitate to contact us via telephone, email or livechat. We have outlined a comprehensive recap of events at the following URL: http://www.liquidweb.com/status/0812014networkevent.html 

 08/12/14 5:00PM (EDT)
 Last night the global routing table exceeded 512,000 entries. This caused problems for many popular router models, including the Cisco routers that Liquid Web uses. The default memory allocation for the BGP table size is not large enough to hold the global table after surpassing the 512,000 entry mark. This caused many routers across the globe to experience issues, including the routers at Liquid Web. Unfortunately at this time we do not have an exact diagnosis of what has definitively caused this issue. We are still investigating and troubleshooting all possible solutions. 

 What are we currently doing to fix the issue?
 We believe that allocating more memory to our core routers to handle the additional BGP routes will potentially remedy this situation on our network. We have begun the process to upgrade the memory allocation on our core routers. As a part of this memory upgrade, a reboot of some core routers is required and we are in the process of completing this. While performing these reboots we encountered a problem with a line card in Core 5 and we are currently working to repair this. We believe that this issue should be alleviated after successfully allocating more memory to the core routers and performing the reboot, however, there still may be problems with other providers outside of our network. 

 After increasing the capacity to all areas of the network in US Central Zone B, we have completed re-enabling backups in this area. For additional details pertaining to the updates in US Central Zone B, please check our Status page, located at the following URL: http://www.liquidweb.com/status.html

No Buyers – Why online business is so slow

Starting in 2013, many webmasters who monitor their traffic closely have noticed a dramatic decline in search engine traffic. The effect is seem mainly on Google, who recently has been implementing many “quality” updates that are unfortunately resulting in lower quality SERP’s in many vertical markets.

Here’s a list of a few reasons why you may be seeing less traffic and slower business to your website.

1. Poor Traffic – Google Penguin and Panda updates may have determined your previous star performing site to now be low quality.
2. New EMD update may be dinging your site for containing competitive keywords in the domain name and sites content, again lowering Google’s quality rank of your site.
3. If you run WordPress, your site may be is running slower due to the ongoing Brute Force and Web Bot attacks.
4. Many scraper sites are popping up that are stealing your image content and instantly ranking high. You’ll recognize them by the obvious NON EMD domain names which are usually fictitious, made up words.
5. Weather – The long winter and sudden warm up is a sure fire traffic killer.

There are a number of other problems affecting the web, but at the moment most troubling of all the above issues is ongoing BFA (Brute Force Attack) on WordPress sites and bot floods that can bring a server to it’s knees.

If you run WordPress, take a few easy precautions. Install the “limit login attempts” plugin as well as W3 Total Cache. The LLA plugin will likely prevent the BFA from breaching your site (also change your admin account to something OTHER than admin). The W3TC plugin will take the load off your server and is recommended by most hosting companies.

Feel free to register and comment on this topic.

Search Engine Updates for April 2013

We pick up our discussion 17 years after the founding of Google.

If you are an experienced webmaster, please join the discussion and offer you personal observations on how the top search engine on the planet has affected your online business or website. Please be sure to understand our terms of service before you post and let’s keep it as clean as possible. Thanks!