In recent years I’ve noticed that promotional marketing from companies has increased in frequency beyond what I can handle.
Most of the companies I sign up to receive emails from, I do so for a reason because I’m on the lookout for one of their products or new releases. However, bombarding my inbox with messages every day, or sometimes more frequently, is too much to handle, therefore I will unsubscribe. Then, I will often forget to visit their website for new releases I might want.
From the industry statistics provided by Constant Contact, it looks as though the click rate (percentage of consumers clicking on links in emails) has really decreased during the years. In the first line, All Industries, the click rate is only 1.11%! With all the messages being sent out, that average is tiny and I wonder whether if it’s actually worth putting a lot of resources into such an endeavour. However, they must get some business, awareness or brand loyalty out of it. Brand loyalty is about keeping your current or potential customers aware that you exist and are there for them.
Having held an email marketing job during my career, I know that it can be a thankless task at first but I was more successful with it as time went along reaching a 50% click rate. It’s a juggle of providing a good subject line and concise text, with some graphics, in the body. What really helped, I found, was naming a very well-known person in the organization, like the CEO or head of the Board. However, that has dangers too as I receive messages from one company with a name in it I don’t recognize in which case I almost delete it thinking it’s from a dodgy person.
Some companies do it right, and I will use Marks and Spencer as an example. Their emails come about once a week, that is the perfect frequency for me. They even ask me whether I want to opt out of receiving messages about Mother’s or Father’s day. Many companies bombard customers with selling items around those days when, especially during COVID, many lost their parents, so this could be upsetting to many as they cannot celebrate this time of year for the first time in their lives.
I have noticed some companies I never receive email from anymore, apart from the usual system ones like a) thank you for your order, b) your order has been sent, c) your order is out for delivery and d) your order has arrived. Probably, social media is actually more popular.
So, this would be the right email balance for me:
One marketing email per week is enough.
Don’t post too much content in the email, be short and concise. I don’t have time to read through several paragraphs. That goes for news summaries, post a couple of lines about the item and link me to a website for more information. Don’t waste my time with irrelevant rubbish in the email.
Don’t mislead customers, for example, financial institutions will send a message “You Are Pre-Approved” – well, we know they aren’t real, they still have to go through a process and be rejected. Just offer the customers a deal.
Emails have very little security, no matter how secure a system you think they are. Don’t include people’s account numbers and don’t say how much they owe or the cost of the current bill. I only know one company that does that to me, which is BC Hydro, and I can go and find this out when I log in securely to their website.
Tailor your messages as much as possible, providing opt-outs for certain content, so that clients are not receiving unwanted information that might lead them to unsubscribe.
Don’t put a human’s name in the From field unless you are sure your customers know who they are.
Email marketing is something that companies should absolutely get right, it’s not just about the company’s success but also about customers’ sanity. Campaign Monitor has some great resources for email marketing campaigns.
The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) manages .ca top-level domains and they are proud of the fact that few spam goes through any related email addresses. This has always been the case for me, I didn’t get any spam from a .ca domain, well, until the 2nd of February. I wasn’t happy.
This is what I found out about the spam:
The company from which the spam originated haven’t been as communicative as they should be which has made it quite tiresome to resolve.
The company did say they experienced a hack but didn’t say whether my details had been lifted from their system, I am waiting for that response.
I found out that behind the company domain they are using the Google system. According to Spamhaus, Google is one of the worst ISPs for spam.
There was a suspicious link in the email which went to a company called Beezer, they are a click-and-drag app development provider based in Scotland. With plenty of security and my VPN on I clicked on the link, and it looks as though the company I received the spam from has an account there, sub-domain and lots of branding. On the page it had a link to view a document, I clicked on that and asked me for a Microsoft username and password, obviously, I went no further than that. I’m not convinced it was actually a hack, the company could have uploaded my details to the Beezer system, without my permission, to do some testing.
In the meantime, I have blacklisted the email address from until I am satisfied it won’t happen again.
There are certain protocols a company should use when their business email is hacked into. The company I received the spam from appears to be failing to follow these steps. There are many resources online including this one from Crazy Egg.
Managing one’s presence on the internet has become labour intensive in recent years and 2021 was no exception. Following is a summary of the issues I’ve had and how I deal with them.
Although this increases year by year it is becoming easier to recognize. SpamExperts, which I use via my ISP Siteground, is becoming more intelligent to catch spam and I will block certain Top Level Domains to ensure the spam footprint is reduced.
Spamhaus TLDs – any TLD mentioned in this Top 10 I will block, meaning they go into quarantine and not straight into my Inbox
Spamhaus Spam Supporting ISPs – TLDs such as .com one cannot block like so many businesses use it, for example, many have a gmail.com address from which I receive a good portion of spam.
This is a typical month of spam by TLD that I receive, this is data from December 2021.
.com = 209
.work = 70
.cam = 35
.us = 9
.org = 1
.co = 1
.xxx = 1
There are certain TLDs that are more reliable than others, for example, I never receive spam from .ca (Canada) as I believe it is better regulated than others. For more about .ca domains go to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) website.
The best tool to combat intrusions onto a WordPress site is Wordfence, it is a must. It won’t stop all nefarious activity but is one of the best prevention tools out there.
One of the biggest problems I noticed was attempted logins onto the websites I manage, this is because many administrators will keep the default username or URL on their site. A couple of tips to resolve the issue:
Never have a username of Admin to log into the site. Change it to something else.
If there is more than one user that has access to the site limit the number of people who have administrator access.
Install WordPress plugin WPS Hide Login to change the default URL to the login page to something else, then, hackers will not be able to guess that too easily.
None of the above will stop all WordPress Form Spam but ensure you can see the IP address of where the email came from, on whatever form tool you use, so you can then block it in Wordfence. This will ensure that spam farm will never reach your site again.
I was receiving a huge amount of comment spam and as a result, I’ve now turned that feature off. I was disappointed that I had to use this extreme as I did have quite a decent stream of engagement, but I have to consider safety first.
This is becoming horrendously tedious to manage above anything else on the internet.
This is full of fake, anonymous and bot type accounts so I am extremely cautious who I engage with on the platform now. Here are my tips:
If the account falls into the fake/anonymous, has limited profile information and/or few followers look them up on BotSentinel before engaging. If the account is disruptive then walk away from it. BotSentinel is also a good tool to monitor yourself and improve your timeline.
Use lists to put in buckets the groups of accounts you are interested in, use TweetDeck to monitor those lists if necessary, keeping away from the main timeline can relieve a lot of stress.
Cite legitimate sources, like a peer-reviewed science journal, to enhance your credibility on the platform. Thinking you know some facts and referring to them created by a subject matter expert are two very different things.
The majority of my friends don’t actually post on this platform anymore, probably 5% will engage on a regular basis. The majority of posts I see are from technical groups I belong to, and I am thinking I can do without them.
According to DuckDuckGo, Facebook is the 2nd worst offender in tracking whatever you do around the internet, even if you aren’t logged in. I obtained this figure from the Firefox DuckDuckGo Add-On which will prevent and report on that tracking, it’s a brilliant tool.
My Facebook footprint has been seriously reduced, I don’t post anything with my photo on there now. Even in closed groups spammers and bad actors often gain access to posting obscene material. Facebook is clearly failing around a whole bunch of privacy and security issues, it’s extremely disappointing.
I follow many arts and culture related accounts, they place a lot of content on Instagram I don’t see elsewhere.
I have stopped non-friends from commenting on the photos I post there, this facility is in the settings, due to the amount of spam and bad actors posting trash there. I still receive many fake accounts following me but I block and report them immediately.
The worst part of Instagram is the amount of animal abuse and the companies failure to do anything about it. These accounts will often monetize on that abuse too. Despite reporting them those accounts are still around.
Some companies have been pinching my photos without my permission. I would expect this from naive individuals but companies should know better. As a result, I am considering placing a limited amount of them on social media and making better use of this blog.
I rarely use these services now, I only have one friend who contacts me on them. In addition to the ones below I also have Telegram and Signal, I don’t have any activity on either of them.
WhatsApp – another Facebook company with problems, the main one for me are fake users attempting to contact me.
Skype – a Microsoft company, despite updating the settings not to be contacted by anyone that isn’t on my friend’s list, they still do. I, of course, just block them, but it is a nuisance to be disturbed by the criminals.
I feel as though I have good tools available to deal with Email and WordPress issues which have become part of my routine.
However, dealing with social media especially with companies who are not handling the situation well is extraordinarily labour intensive. I think it’s worth reducing my footprint there and spending more time developing this blog.
I decided to upgrade my iPhone this month from a version 6 to 12 Pro for various accessibility and technical reasons.
The number one reason was accessibility. I was beginning to find it difficult with the smaller screen size of an iPhone 6. I did increase the size of the fonts but that didn’t really have the effect I desired. It was also becoming fiddly with my fingers and thumbs. I can read perfectly with my glasses on, but I have a habit of forgetting to take them with me, like all the time, so to perform basic functions like handling calls and paying things was an issue.
Second reason was technology, some apps had stopped upgrading. The apps would still work under the outdated version but really needed the security functions the updated ones offered.
I decided to buy the iPhone 12 Pro. Screen size was the main benefit which was instantly noticeable when I bought it. I didn’t want to upgrade to the thirteen, I’m a little superstitious, and couldn’t wait for the fourteen to come out.
On my old iPhone 6 I only had 16Gb of space which was extremely limiting for what I needed to do. Having said that I disciplined myself not to keep any data on it for long which I transferred to the cloud or airdropped to myself on my desktop computer when arriving home. Since I was used to that routine, I only bought a 128Gb model.
I did consider the number of videos I might film in HD or 4K which take up a lot of space, however, this is something I do very rarely. I take more pictures and conclude that this model would be fine for my needs.
Obviously, the other technological advantage was the ability to reinstate or upgrade existing apps.
The Transfer Process
I went through transferring the data using the method in the video below, the video was one of many on YouTube but this one was particularly helpful and very descriptive.
I still had issues with some apps, re-registering or verifying from my old iPhone. Here is what I had issues with:
HSBC UK and Canada: needed to scan in a QRCode on my old phone to re-register my login credentials on my new phone.
WhatsApp: like signing up but bringing across my data which sits on their server
Telegram: re-registering but needed to verify with a code sent to Telegram on my old phone
BC Health Gateway: this was the most complicated and forgot most of the steps now to describe them here, but I got there eventually
Apple Pay: needed to re-register my credit cards, which was a bit of a nuisance, but understandable
Adobe: the login process with Adobe is slightly labour intensive but then I found their “Account Access” app which makes the process easy, it’s worth considering if you use any of their apps on the iPhone of iPad.
So, I would recommend when upgrading phones do not give up your phone immediately as you might need it verify yourself on another device.
I have to say the iPhone 12 Pro is genuinely nice, way better than the iPhone 6, which a much sleeker feel, with lots of screen space. So far, and I’ve only had it a few days, it feels great so far.
I really couldn’t do without my RSS feeds, I’ve been using them for many years.
Basically, I can go to one place to see important updates on my favourite websites without having to go to each of them one by one. Lifewire has a great explanation of what they are.
Over the years I have noticed that some websites no longer support RSS as they change their technology but many interesting one’s do.
In order to view RSS Feeds you need an online tool to parses them. These are the ones I use, most have free and paid for versions:
This is my favourite one and I have a subscription to it for USD36-00 a year, which is reasonable. The best feature is the Desktop, iPad and iPhone apps that are available for it, syncing on which articles I have read or not.
This is my second favourite as you can view the RSS feeds in different ways, for example as a list or a mosaic of buttons. Netvibes comes with other features as well which might be advantageous to many.
This tool is pretty good but lacks a clean user interface and is pretty messy. Even though it doesn’t quite meet my needs it might others, so worth looking at.
Mozilla’s email/calendar application Thunderbird also has an RSS feature but I found this quite a mess.
Here is a list of some of my favourite feeds which may inspire you to consider RSS Feeds:
Simple History is a Plugin that will record the latest activity in WordPress, it’s easy to install and if you wish creates an RSS feed and great to monitor updates. Extremely useful if you manage multiple user WordPress installs.
Most WordPress websites I know have an RSS feed and the address is usually the domain followed by /feed/. For example, the RSS feed address for this website is https://stevendrowe.com/feed/, copy and paste to place it in your favourite tool.
Daily Newspaper Cartoons
Many of the daily newspaper comics are available as RSS Feeds, go to Comics RSS to search for your favourite ones.
Some I subscribe to:
There is many news and blog orientated website related to comics, such as from Marvel, DC etc. I subscribe to these four feeds:
I’m on a Mac and have a Microsoft 365 Home subscription. Generally, it’s good value for money, however, recently the development of its Outlook program has given me cause for concern.
The new features in what Microsoft has branded “New Outlook” are detailed here. None of the features makes me very excited as I just use the program for basic use not in a large organisation. However, I do like to try upgrades when they come out, this has been a bumpy process for Microsoft.
It is difficult to find information from the company on the development of the program.
Communicating with Microsoft customer service was problematic, this is what I tried:
Attempted Live Chat but when I got on I was in a queue of 3,480 people. I obviously gave up immediately.
I went on Twitter, initially, it took them a while to respond. They really didn’t have any information on what I wanted to know and they seemed to be a wayfinding service rather than anything else.
I attempted Live Chat again and got through to them fairly quickly. They had more information than via Twitter however still limited.
I went into Microsoft’s community forums and found there was quite a bit of confusion and anger there.
Although I don’t like to bother him I tweeted the Microsoft Outlook for Mac project manager. He got back quickly with the exact information I wanted to know.
After the above, I am thinking there is a missing piece on the communication part of their projects.
I did find a roadmap of their product development but it doesn’t appear that this updated properly. Even looking at it today there are certain things that appear to be missing. I suspect there is a private and public roadmap.
In Outlook they provide a button to switch between the old and new version of the program. When clicking on the button a warning will appear that details the features that will go in the new version. When I clicked on it I was warned about losing POP accounts and “On My Computer”. When moving emails to an “On My Computer” folder it stores it on your computer rather than the email server, many customers completely rely on this.
This is a rough outline of the recent development cycle for the new Outlook:
Outlook.com and Gmail account compatibility, live. At this stage, it didn’t support IMAP or POP3.
IMAP, live. This is the current stage of development as I write this blog article
POP3, in Beta. Anybody can install the Beta, just sign up for the Microsoft Insiders program. Microsoft wants customers’ feedback on POP3 before it is made live.
On My Computer, to be addressed. Once POP3 is live Microsoft intends to address the “On My Computer” facility.
So, every time I receive a new Outlook update I get excited that I can finally switch to the new version, however, I am constantly disappointed that I can’t due to it not meeting my needs at that stage.
In The Meantime
Maybe I’ve got into bad habits over the years and relied too heavily on POP3 and “On My Computer”, so I am currently doing the following:
Changed all my POP3 accounts to IMAP.
Deleting messages I don’t need to keep within “On My Computer”
Saving messages in PDF and other formats within “On My Computer” to other folders on my computer/hard drive/cloud.
When messages arrive from this point forward I will save and/or delete them.
I am partly concerned POP3 and “On My Computer” won’t be the same as it was before so I’m trying to change my habits rather than being disappointed later on.
In 2019 cPanel announced a price increase which I assume is the main reason why hosts are considering a move away from the company. Siteground, the site I have this website on, did just that. Here is a review of that process for me.
Prior To The Move
I’ve only been with Siteground a little while after experiencing mutant agony from Hostgator. However, I seem to have been down the list of people to migrate to Siteground’s new platform which they have called Site Tools.
I’ve had two clients which I have recommended Siteground to and while they got the new Site Tools platform I was still on the old cPanel version. It was quite difficult for me to recommend Siteground since I never had access to what Site Tools was actually like. I might have recommended to others if I had earlier access. I had delegate access from the clients and could see the basics of what clients might be receiving but not everything.
They didn’t inform me by email notification that the move was going to take place, that surprised me a little bit. I only noticed when I logged into their account area that it was planned.
The move took place over a 24+ hour period, during the process I wasn’t able to access the cPanel, the main reason I do that is for spam messages sent to SpamExperts. That didn’t worry me too much.
My website was down for 30 minutes, this was from midnight Pacific Standard Time. At least it was out of office hours for me but during a busy time from a European perspective.
I noticed the following after the migration:
My website appeared to work without any issues.
When I logged into WordPress there were some settings that I needed to fix.
The RSS feed had stopped working.
Prior to the move websites for other domain were under a folder of the main domain, as pre-structured by Siteground. However, they are now in separate buckets, I wasn’t expecting this at all although I expect it makes sense. I wish I had known though.
Email working ok and didn’t need to change any settings.
My FTP account had been deleted, not migrated, and needed to create another one.
No Backups had been carried over (if anybody is going through this migration process it’s worth doing a backup prior to the move just in case something goes wrong).
Everything I had entered in IP Deny in cPanel hadn’t been migrated over.
I’ve experienced two internal migrations with GoDaddy and in comparison, the Siteground one was less stressful even though the communication piece was missing.
Site Tool Review
It’s ok. Nothing fabulous. It feels like a slight backward step from all the functionality of cPanel.
Probably the biggest missing piece is Softalicious that installs web apps. Siteground have what they consider popular apps but none of them relevant to me. If I need to re-install an app I have it will have to be done via the long method creating a MySQL database etc. A bit of a nuisance.
The most poorly designed interface is accessing SpamExperts especially if you are managing several domains. As each domain has its own Site Tools functionality there are more steps as you have to go into each to review spam that way.
Despite this move, Siteground is still one of the best hosts I have been with:
WordPress and other apps are extremely fast
There is no downtime.
They are expensive (see below) but you pay for what you get.
From a price perspective, Siteground is expensive. However, time is money and I spend many frustrating hours trying to resolve issues with hosts like GoDaddy it’s worth paying more for that quality of service.
Tracking protection in Firefox browser went a bit further than I had predicted. I tried to figure out why certain functions in websites weren’t working and then discovered it was due to tracking.
My first issue was the lack of graphics and videos not showing in my Hootsuite timeline, this is one example where it left a blank placeholder where the picture is supposed to appear:
It took me ages to figure out why this was happening then I discovered someone else discussing this in a Mozilla forum. So, all I did was take off tracking protection and all my graphics returned (note, turn on to off after clicking on the purple shield to the left of the address bar).
Then I realised I had a similar problem in WordPress where Twitter embeds weren’t showing up, they were in other browsers but not in Firefox. I saw a placeholder for the embed but nothing was being fed into it.
Same again, turn off tracking then the feed appeared.
My tracking configuration in Firefox is pretty strict which is most likely the reason why some websites are breaking. I want to keep this custom setting but at least now I know how to fix it for certain websites I visit.
I have written a few times on my struggles in dealing with spam email and trying to prevent it hitting my account.
Once a spammer has your email address it is circulated widely among bad actors and those companies who sell hosting or domains to them aren’t really going to do much about it, not that they can anyhow. These companies are reactionary to problems rather than put in place something pro-active to stop them from buying their resources in the first place.
At the end of the day, if you want to get rid of the spam, the only solution is to delete your email address and start from scratch again.
The main email address that received spam I’ve had for many years. I had previously used it on social media platforms. In 2012 LinkedIn had a data breach for which many emails and passwords were sold on to Russian crime syndicates, and most likely went further afield than that.
The email was based on a domain I owned, here is the process I went through in deleting it:
Gather information on all those people/companies that had that email address, so I could update my details
Delete the email address
Deleting the email address took some time as it cleared the internet to truly become deactivated. In other words, for a couple of weeks I still saw messages go into SpamExperts until it was truly gone
The worst part was updating my details with companies for which the process was difficult or impossible:
Before deleting the email I needed to log into the account then change the email to my new one. Some systems send a message to your old email account before you can update it to a new one. This is a bit of a nuisance if someone loses the email without any prior warning, in which case they will have to call the company to have it updated that way.
Some systems use the email address in their database as the primary key, therefore totally impossible to change it. Most companies will use a username in which case it’s easier to change the email. So, for some companies I had to delete the account and create another one, part of me just couldn’t be bothered doing that so they have potentially lost a customer just because their system isn’t designed that well.
Going through this process was painful but totally worth it:
I could review all the information the company held on me, and some I noticed had an old address.
I could decide whether I wanted to hear from the company, many times I didn’t so I decided to delete the account
Then, I could change the email according to where I want their information sent to. So, if it was a general email list I would rather send it a gmail account than my own business account.
Even if I wasn’t deleting my email account I might have gone through the process for some of the reasons stated above.
I just hope criminals don’t get my current email address but I fear it’s just a matter of time.
I am starting to receive Coronavirus related email spam now although the majority of it appears to be the usual stuff from before. I expect any domain procurement company to scrutinise their customers tightly during this time period, many are stuck indoors with they isolate, some spending more time online in a vulnerable mindset. There does appear to be many bad domain sellers as there are spammers.
Here is some analysis over the past week and some tips on dealing with spam.
First, here are some analytics from one of my email accounts for the past week. The following is an analysis from an account I don’t use so much but that email address was the one I used on LinkedIn which was hacked. Now and again I do have legitimate emails going through .
Number of Emails Received: 135
Number of Legitimate Emails: 61 (+2 that were marked as spam but went on to be legit)
Number of Spam Emails: 73
Number of Emails Quarantined: 65
Number of Emails Rejected: 8
Number of Emails I Released from Quarantine (not spam): 2
Number of Emails with Domains Registered with Namecheap: 63
In general most of the TLDs (top level domains) I receive email from are the non .com .org domains, the most popular ones this week were:
Why are the majority of spam emails I receive associated with Namecheap? That is a question I have been asking them for a couple of years for which they refuse to answer. What is wrong with their process that allows so many criminals buy on their system? They have blocked the purchase of domain keywords associated with the Coronavirus, which is good but doesn’t provide a solution to criminals using domains that don’t use those keywords from buying domains. I’ve read some minutes from ICANN meetings that include a Namecheap representative but don’t see any discussion on what the company is doing to solve this issue. Maybe they just enjoy the money coming in a little too much.
You can report abusive or spam emails to Namecheap, however, with 63 emails this is virutually impossible to do when having to include headers for each, which is why they should be addressing their bad workflow issue, but unfortunately they don’t care.
Deciphering A Spam Message
Below is a typical spam message I received. Although the subjects of much of the spam is consistent with the past 2-3 years I am now seeing Coronavirus type spam, in this case for masks which people are desperate to buy.
You must deactivate automatic downloading of graphics in your email program. In most emails, companies and scammers alike, have embedded an invisible graphic which pings back to the server the message was sent from. This sends a huge amount of data back to them, the worst being that they know you exist, it is sending to a legitimate email account, and that they can send you more scams. Also, your email will likely be sold on to other bad actors, or placed on a dodgy server for nasty people to download and use.
It is easy to look up a domain in ICANN, just enter the URL/s from the email and you will receive quite a bit of information back if you dig deep enough. You can find roughly the company the site is hosted or the domain supplier. It is possible to report the domain to the supplier so others aren’t victims, however, if you receive so much spam it’s impossible task to do that. If you are receiving too much spam in your inbox, contact your internet service provider or check on their website for instructions about decreasing that, for example, sending into the spam folder or elsewhere.
The unsubscribe link at the bottom of the message is most likely fake and just another way for the scammer to confirm you exist then go onto send you more spam. Do NOT click on any links within the email, it could redirect you to a site that will infect your computer will a virus or malware.
Some scammers include an address at the bottom of the message, it is quite easy to investigate what is exactly at that address, assuming it exists. When looking up the address I’ve seen all manner of obscure places.
I looked up the address on the above email, it is a company that rents mailboxes. You can’t get a mailbox without some kind of registration but is the box number real? Most likely not. If it is a legitimate company they are most likely have an office in a real building but if it’s a mailbox then you know any old person off any old street can rent one, assuming it is real.
Just doing a basic search, in Google, on the address, has also bought up some information from the Better Business Bureau. That address is also being used for another fake company “Russian Beauty Online: Online Dating Services”. Even though the emails from the “Russian Beauty” rubbish might be going out with the same address in it, the domain is registered via Enom with a another address.
The majority of people have wised up to these scammers now and can determine what is a scam or not:
Uses a non .com, .org, .edu, .gov etc domain
Don’t recognize who its from (not from a friend or someone you do business with)
Doesn’t speak your language properly, like broken English
Is a cold calling type message
The promises are too good to be true
The most problematic messages are scammers pretending to be from legitimate businesses or government bodies.
It’s best to be extra careful right now as scammers take advantage of people in vulnerable situations such as during a virus epidemic. Don’t expect domain registrars to be your friend, they are either uncooperative or your email has been shared to so many bad actors it will forever be impossible to stop the spam.