Thursday, January 17, 2008

Web Basics – What is “Hosting”?

For some, this might be a no-brainer. It’s a word that’s so basic, so fundamental to the concept of website ownership, that even asking it could raise eyebrows. But what if you ARE new to the ‘net? Nobody is born knowing this stuff, right?

Fortunately, it’s also a pretty simple concept to clarify. To explain it, however, we need to spend some time talking about how the ‘net really works.

Let’s say you want to go to a website, one of my blogs. You would open up a browser, click in the address bar, and type “”. When you click the green arrow, or hit their “Enter” key, your computer would load up the main page of my dutch oven recipe blog.

Let’s “open up the black box” and see what really happened.

  1. My Blog Is Made Of Files

It’s important to know what makes up web pages. All web pages (and websites) are made of files. Most of those are HTML files (which are made of text and formatting codes). These carry the words of your page, and all the instructions the web browser needs to layout the pictures and other elements of the page. Another common kind of file for a website is your graphics, or your pictures. Some sites will also have audio or other multimedia kinds of files. It’s just got all kindsa stuff, and each bit of “stuff” is kept in a file. When you view a website, you’re viewing those files, all put together.

  1. Web Browser Makes A Request For The Files

When you type a web address and click “Go”, your web browser sends a request for those files. It knows which files to get, and where to make the request because of the address, or URL that gets typed in. The same thing happens when you click on a link. The only difference is that clicking a link means you don’t have to type the URL.

  1. The Request Comes Through ‘Net Hubs To The Website’s Server

The request that your web browser sends goes first to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). That’s your window to the ‘net. Everything you do on the net goes through your ISP, then it gets scattered to the internet winds, or gathered up from the same.

Once the request leaves your ISP, it goes bouncing from ‘net hub to ‘net hub until it arrives at the computer where the address shows the files are for that particular website. This computer is called the “Host” of that site, because it’s storing all the files necessary to make up the site.

Usually the host is also a “server”. What that means is that the computer is also running software that allows it to send out (or “serve”) the website up to visitors, in response to the requests that we’ve been talking about.

  1. The Server Grabs The Files

Once the host server has received the request, it gathers up all the files for the web page that was requested, and it breaks them up into chunks of data called “packets”.

  1. The Packets Get Sent To Your ISP

These packets then get sent back to your ISP. Now, the fascinating part of this is the realization that these packets will probably not all take the same route from the server to the ISP. Each packet takes what’s called the “shortest electronic route” from A to B. Because one ‘net hub might be more loaded or trafficked at any given moment than another, the data could easily go a totally different route. Sometimes, the shortest electronic distance can actually be not even close to the shortest geographic distance. One packet could even cross national borders or even skip across continents that another packed doesn’t even touch.

  1. The Packets Go To Your Computer

Since your ISP is your window to the ‘net, as the packets arrive there, they get sent straight to your computer. As the packets come in, the web browser assembles them into files, and renders those files as a visible and possibly interactive website. If, for some reason a packet is dropped or doesn’t make the journey, the browser sends out another request for that packet, the server resends it, and the process happens again.

So, in summary, when you call up a website, your computer requests that site from another computer somewhere else in the world. That remote computer (the server) sends it to you where you view it on your web browser.

So, in order for a website to be seen, it has to be stored somewhere in a place that can serve it up. These kinds of computers are called “Hosts”. Often, in order to both cover their expenses and be a profitable business, they will charge monthly fees for the storage space a website takes up, and the server access that the site uses in responding to the viewer requests. Those fees can vary a lot, based on a lot of different circumstances. They’re commonly referred to as “Hosting Fees”.

In a lot of ways, it’s a lot like the rent and utilities that a brick & mortar store would have to pay. You can’t do business if you’re not connected, and those connections cost money. That’s the nature of doing business on the ‘net.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

How Secure is Secure?

I recently saw a television news spot where a reporter got his own car key, and found several other cars in a shopping center parking lot (he had the mall security there with him) of the same make. After a few tries, he found that his car key actually opened another owner’s car.

How could this be? With all the millions of cars out there, how easy is it, really, to make that many unique keys?

And what about the internet? How do we make sure that our transactions and logins are truly secure? It’s often difficult to comprehend just how to make things secure, and to understand just how secure things may or may not be. For me, understanding a little bit about the math of encryption and encoding can help me feel more secure.

When you try to unlock a combination, whether you’re unlocking your bike, logging in to PayPal, or sending a credit card purchase over the web, the difficulty someone would have of cracking that encoding depends on how many possible key solutions there are.

For example: Let’s say, I’m at my locker in high school, and I’m dialing the combination on the door. Let’s say that I have to dial three numbers in a row, and that there are ten numbers I can choose from. That means that there are 1000 different number combinations I can dial.

How do I figure that out? Take the number of choices you have (in this case – 10 different numbers you can select each dial) and raise that to the power of the number of times you have to choose an item (How many numbers in a row I have to dial – in this case: 3). 103 = 1000 different possible combinations to dial up on that locker.

The idea is that it’s not very likely that someone would be willing to stand there and risk detection while they try and dial up to 1000 different combinations. The locker is effectively secure.

Look at a briefcase. Let’s say that it has five dials of numbers 0-9 on its lock. How many possible combinations are there? 105 = 100,000 possible combinations. See how just adding a couple of dials dramatically improved the security of the lock?

Now, let’s go virtual.

We’ve been talking about dials with ten choices on each one, but in the computer world, we have to talk in “bits”. Bits show only two choices, a 1 or a 0. So, the possiblities should be much lower, right? Security should be much harder, right?

Let’s look and see.

If we were to run a three-bit lock, we would have three “dials” with only two choices on each one. That would be shown mathematically as 23 = 8 possible combinations. Not much, huh? But the cool thing is that computers have much larger capacity that the mechanical dials on a locker or a briefcase. Let’s keep digging.

What about an 8 bit lock? 28 = 256 possible combinations.

Let’s look at a 16 bit lock (bits tend to double in computers)… 216 = 65,536 possible combinations. Now, we’re getting somewhere!

A 32 bit lock would be: 232 = 4,294,967,296 possible combinations. That’s over 4.25 billion possibilities. That’s BILLION, with a “B”. To give some perspective, the total estimated population of the earth, as of Jan of ’08, is about 6.5 billion.

The cool thing is, that we passed 32 bit encryption years ago. How big is it now? 128 bit. This is where it starts to boggle the mind. The formula looks like this: 2128 = 3.4 x 1038. That’s “Scientific Notation” for: 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That’s how many possible combinations there are that a hacking computer would have to crack in order to break the code keys and access secured information.

The distance from the earth to the sun in inches is only 5,892,480,000,000. I mean… come on!

Now, granted, there are other ways of gaining access. Thieves can steal your password through a phishing scam, for example. Or they can copy your credit card number that you might have carelessly left visible. But breaking the codes is very very difficult.

I feel safer, now!

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Here’s Some Cool Free SEO Tools

Lately, as I’ve been browsing the web, in my own constant search for knowledge and gems of wisdom, I’ve encountered some sites with some exciting tools to help me improve my search engine rankings.

SEO Browser

The first one is kind of bizarre. It allows you to “see” your website exactly as a search engine spider would see it. To use it, you go to and type in the address of the page you want to test. It thinks a minute and then displays all of the elements of your web page that the search engines would index. Here’s the important part: If it’s not shown here, the search engine spiders don’t know it exists!

So, for example, all of those fancy photos and graphics? They’re great for adding visual flair to your site, but they won’t show up for the search engines. To have them be more impactful, add a few keywords into the “alt text” part of your image tags.

What about all the javascripts that make your page do fancy rollovers and other special effects? Nope. Nuthin’ They don’t register on the search engines, either. And that main page that’s nothing but a huge flash window? Invisible.

What is shown is content. Words, text, links. That’s what the search engines are paying attention to.

Search Term Extractor

Another great tool is the Term Extractor. You might think that you’ve gotten your keywords written into your page really well. You might think that your site is ready. But run it past the Term Extractor first. This tool will count up all the words in your site, and see how many times each one is duplicated (except for “at”, “the”, and a few others like that). Which words are really best represented in the text of your site? The answer may surprise you.

If your most critical keyword shows up at the bottom of this list, then you’d better go back and rewrite your text. Include more instances of that word or phrase. Then test it again!

The Page Strength Analyzer

This is a great tool to get an overview of your total search engine effectiveness. It checks a big list of factors and sources to see just how much search engine muscle your site has. It checks some of the most important factors like:

  1. An overall Something-Out-of-Ten ranking number. This is valuable to gauge your effectiveness. It’s not the same as Google’s page rank, but it’s still good to know.
  2. How many links point to your page and to your site. This is critical information, as we all know that it’s inbound links that drive search engine rankings!
  3. Your domain’s “age rank”. In recent years, Google in particular has been giving preference to sites that have been around longer. The best way to win at this game is to simply not go away.
  4. Your site’s Alexa ranking. Alexa is a site that tracks sites values based on a lot of varying factors. It’s a great way to learn a lot about your site.
  5. Links found at Technorati,, wikpedia and DMOZ. These are very valuable sites to get linked to and from, and each one could be the topic of an article on its own. It’d be a good idea to check them out!

Using these three simple tools can give you great insights into the current status of your website, and how to improve it! And the price is right! FREE!

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.