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Tag: bitcoin

Update on Blockchain and Beyond: The Future of Distributed Ledgers

Update on Blockchain and Beyond:
The Future of Distributed Ledgers

         inShare

Distributed ledger technology (DLT)

may have started off as the basis for bitcoin, but it already promises to be much more than a cryptocurrency. That’s why treasury and finance professionals need to pay attention, experts said at a panel discussion at Faster Payments 2017, the US conference and exhibition event organised electronic payments association NACHA.

Christopher Mager, CTP, managing director and head of global innovation for BNY Mellon, said that his bank is collaborating with other financial institutions on several proofs of concept, include Utility Settlement Coin, which aims to digitise fiat currencies for exchange on a distributed ledger. BNY also is one of the several banks working with SWIFT on its nostro account reconciliation POC, which is part of the global payments innovation (gpi) initiative,

he said.

“Dubai and Singapore are the two countries where they’ve embraced the technology throughout the whole ecosystem—banking, corporates and the government”

“2016 was a lot of proofs of concept, 2015 was a lot of talk about how blockchain is different from bitcoin. But now we’re in the world of reality,” said James Wallis, vice president, payments industry and blockchain, global industries for IBM. He said IBM and Northern Trust launched in Europe a distributed ledger that services the private equity market. Wallis added that the trade finance community is keenly interested in DLT. “Last I counted there were at least a dozen trade finance initiatives in the world, and at least two of those are looking to go into production this year,” he said.

Beyond process improvement

Microsoft is one organisation that is using DLT for trade finance. However, panellist Peter Hazou, director of business development for Microsoft, is more interested in blockchain’s potential beyond trade finance and payments. “It’s the smart contracts, how it connects to people, how it changes in a transformative way for the better—not just a simple process improvement to do the same old, same old,” he said. “That’s where the thinking has to go.”

Wallis agreed, noting that while there is validity in process improvement, “you’ll see uses for DLT that you can’t even think of today.” However, the success of DLT will hinge on the willingness of the different players in the ecosystem to collaborate. “It involves a level of sharing that hasn’t really existed before,” he said. Collaboration is happening. IBM and SecureKey Technologies have teamed with Canada’s largest banks on a digital identification solution that uses DLT. “The banks are collaborating to share, on a blockchain, data about clients,” Wallis said. “It will enable Scotiabank, for example, to offer a loan much quicker. You apply on your mobile phone, you authorise your other bank to provide information in a very secure way, and you can get the loan approved instantly.”

Interoperability and regulation

For DLT to truly advance, there needs to be interoperability between competitors, Mager noted. Currently, there are a number of digital ledgers that are emerging, such as Hyperledger’s Fabric, R3’s Corda, Ripple, and more. “You’ve got a lot of ledgers out there that don’t talk to each other,” he said. “Until interoperability occurs, or one of them emerges as the leading code base, that’s going to impair the network effect.”

The other missing piece is regulation. Thus far, regulations around blockchain and DLT apply only to digital currencies. Regulators have yet to tackle distributed ledger as a book of record. This creates a legal quandary: Is settlement that happens on a ledger final and legally binding? “That hurdle has to be overcome before you’ll see large scale enterprise applications with a distributed ledger underpinning them,” Mager said.

Once standardization, regulation and interoperability are sorted out, the use cases for distributed ledger technology are potentially endless

Regulators in the United States and the UK have largely taken a wait-and-see approach to blockchain and DLT, given that they don’t want to stifle innovation. However, some governments have been a bit more proactive. “Dubai and Singapore are the two countries where they’ve embraced the technology throughout the whole ecosystem—banking, corporates and the government,” Wallis said. “In Dubai for example, one of the proofs of concept was around trade. It was two banks, an airline, a shipping company and the port authority trying to figure out what a new ecosystem might look like.”

DLT tomorrow

Once standardisation, regulation and interoperability are sorted out, the use cases for DLT are potentially endless. Whereas there will be “low-hanging fruit” like Know Your Customer (KYC) and digital identity management, Mager also sees much more exciting prospects, such as a convergence of technologies. “The Internet of Things and DLT have a lot of potential overlaps,” he said. “Smart contracts and artificial intelligence have a lot of potential overlaps. I think you’re going to see a convergence of these technologies emerge in the coming years.”

Hazou agreed, noting that DLT has hit the collective consciousness. But it’s just one of many technologies. “Advanced analytics, predictive analytics the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence—there are so many profound technologies that are going to interact,” he said. “It’s a matter of how one navigates this brave new world.” “I think that’s a matter of thinking through what the potential use cases are, and experimenting with it.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Suddenly, Spotify Goes Blockchain, Aims to Improve Tracking of Royalty Payments

Suddenly,
Spotify Goes Blockchain,
Aims to Improve Tracking of Royalty Payments

  

Spotify, the largest European streaming music platform,

has announced its decision to acquire Blockchain-related startup Media chain. According to Investopedia, the main objective of the acquisition is to improve Spotify’s tracking and processing of royalty payments thanks to the distributed ledger technology.

What’s Media chain?

Media chain has launched in 2016 thanks to seed funding received by Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures. The New York-based startup created a peer-to-peer database to register, identify and track the online distribution of creative works. This was made possible through Blockchain technology, which works as a timestamp and certification of the ownership of content. Through its new partnership with Spotify, Media chain wants to enhance the ability of musicians to prove ownership over their composed music, in order to also receive payment of royalties.

Royalties payments: who earns them?

This is one of the biggest problems that Spotify currently faces. In the case of independent musicians and labels, understanding who owns the rights to a particular composition is difficult for streaming platforms to determine. In order to solve this issue, Media chain indicates that "a music blockchain would be a single place to publish all information about who made what song, without have to trust a third-party organisation." In assisting artists to receive royalties payments through the use of Blockchain technology, Media chain could help Spotify to obtain a competitive advantage over its competitors, reaching more producers, artists and labels.

Blockchain and music

In addition to the specific case of Media chain and Spotify, Blockchain could revolutionise the music industry. That’s what Benji Rogers, founder of PledgeMusic, had in mind when he decided to create dotBlockchain, a company with a desire to disrupt the music sector thanks to a new media format. In fact, dotBlockchain wants to develop a new media and architecture to benefit musicians, composers, among other artists. This format will be created via an open source protocol and licenses, leveraging the Blockchain in order to have a fair and transparent way for music artists to express their rights and wishes for commercialising their art. Also, it should prove useful in improving the efficiency in which music is delivered worldwide.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Can Be China’s Global Tech Breakthrough: Bitbank VP

Blockchain Can Be China's Global
Tech Breakthrough:
Bitbank VP

  

China's appetite for Blockchain technology

is getting bigger and the world needs to be ready for the breakthrough that the country may come up with, says Virgilio Lizardo Jr., vice president at Bitbank Group. Lizardo Jr has been in China for nine years and currently lives in Shenzhen where he handles international business development and other services for companies under Bitbank including BW and Bter. He says it remains to be seen how Blockchain-related developments will translate into successful products or services in domestic markets. “They have a much greater chance of being successful in China because it’s for domestic use,” Lizardo Jr. states.

He adds:

“Shenzhen, where our office is located is poised to be the digital currency experimentation zone and could be an example for other places. The factors for international success goes beyond just this industry, China is yet to develop a globally recognizable brand/product/service but perhaps Blockchain technology could lead to that breakthrough.”

Bitcoin plays a major role

Earlier in the cryptocurrency space, China has been known for its interest mainly in Bitcoin. Now, there is a growing interest from the government, corporate organisations and startups to explore the potentials of the distributed ledger technology. The Blockchain spreading in China is being accompanied by the introduction of more altcoins in the Chinese market. Most of them identify with Blockchain technology though Bitcoin still plays a major role in the crypto landscape in China.

Rise of interest in Ethereum

In the case of Ethereum and Ethereum Classic both of which enjoyed a rise in China lately due to greater Chinese interest in these two coins, Lizardo Jr. said he was not expecting such a dramatic rise. He expects the prices of ETH and ETC to continue rising in the long-term barring any major setback due to the hype and the organisation of the developers/community.

He says: “At this point, it continues to be mostly speculative, though the news of large tech firms starting to use Ethereum for projects could lead to some real world use. Bitcoin will remain the reserve currency for entering the altcoin market not only in China but the world for some time. Though at a website we do offer ETH and ETC/CNY pairs as we are the largest ETH/ETC market by volume, in China, we are seeing a big demand for these two tokens in the last couple months. China does have a very developed altcoin market domestically of projects and altcoins that do not make it to the international markets. Teams from overseas also market their projects for the Chinese market regularly. The desire of young tech-savvy investors and the sheer size of the market makes it that projects can be hugely successful simply in the China market.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

How Encrypted Weather Data Could Help Corporate Blockchain Dreams Come True

How Encrypted Weather Data Could Help Corporate Blockchain Dreams Come True

Banks and investors have sunk millions into the idea that blockchain programs called smart contracts can make finance and other industries more efficient.

  

In the era of fake news,

professor and cryptographer Ari Juels is preparing to launch an online service designed to provide the most trustworthy information on the Internet. But Town Crier, scheduled to launch Monday, is for the benefit of machines, not humans. The downside is that a smart contract is only as trustworthy as the data it draws on. JJules a professor at Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York, says that is limiting progress on making the concept practical. Smart contracts can’t simply scrape data from the Web, because existing systems don’t provide a way to verify that the data a contract is acting on hasn’t been tampered with, he says: “Because you don’t have good sources of data, there’s not a lot you can do right now with smart contracts.”

The Town Crier service launching next week is designed to showcase software of the same name that Juels and colleagues at Cornell say offers a solution. Their system pulls in data such as weather reports over an encrypted connection, and repackages it into feeds for use by coders building smart contracts. Town Crier’s feeds wrap data in cryptography that allows outsiders to verify the data’s source and confirm that it hasn’t been altered. Smart contracts are a favourite idea of the banks and venture capitalists that have ploughed millions into blockchain technology, an approach to managing data and money inspired by the digital currency Bitcoin. Town Crier is built to integrate with Ethereum, a cryptocurrency and smart contract platform with a total value of $8.4 billion, which has been endorsed by corporate giants including UBS and Microsoft.

Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, hopes Town Crier can help translate more of the enthusiasm about smart contracts into action. “The lack of data feeds from the outside world is definitely a large impediment, and Town Crier could go far in mitigating this issue,” he says. The Cornell researchers plan to release Town Crier as open-source software for others to use. The demonstration service launching next week will provide feeds of data including stock prices, weather reports, flight information, cryptocurrency exchange rates, and UPS package tracking. Longer term, a commercial version is planned.

Town Crier’s design also allows smart contracts to hide the data they are using for everyone but the parties to the contract. The default on blockchain systems like Ethereum is generally for all transaction data to be visible to all.

Do you think blockchains will really catch on?

David Yermack, chair of the finance department at New York University, says those privacy features could help address another challenge for financial companies interested in blockchains. “Privacy is a huge issue for people looking into distributed-ledger technology,” he says. “The clients, banks, and regulators put a very high premium on secrecy.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain and bitcoin: Trustees urged to adapt to change

Many are still unfamiliar with the concept of bitcoin and blockchain, but experts say the pensions industry must engage with technology and accept change to adapt to an increasingly digital world.Nearly 40 percent of senior executives in the US know little or nothing about blockchain technology, according to a 2016 Deloitte survey.

Change is happening, no matter how uncomfortable human beings are with it

Martin Bartlam, DLA Piper Similarly, PwC’s global fintech report found that 57 percent of respondents, including chief executives and chief investment officers at banks and asset management firms, are unsure about or “unlikely to respond” to blockchain.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a digital ledger that can record digital currency transactions publicly. It is the technology behind bitcoin, which is a digital currency that was invented in 2008 involving peer-to-peer payment through digitally signed messages. This 'cryptocurrency' is created and held electronically and is seen as an easier, cheaper and more efficient way of spending money because it removes the need for a middleman, such as a bank or credit card company. The Bank of England defines blockchain as “a technology that allows people who don’t know each other to trust a shared record of events”. It explains that the distributed ledger “is a genuine technological innovation which demonstrates that digital records can be held securely without any central authority”. 

Transactions cannot be deleted or altered, and private blockchains and strong encryption exist to improve security. Nevertheless, the technology is not immune to cyber attacks. Companies using digital currencies, such as Bitfinex, have been targeted by cyber criminals during the past year. In 2016, former minister for welfare reform Lord Freud announced that the Department for Work and Pensions had started a trial of distributed ledger technology to pay welfare benefits, but despite blockchain being described as very secure, the announcement still sparked privacy concerns.

Cybersecurity

Speaking at the Pensions Management Institute’s annual conference on Thursday, Dinis Guarda, founder and chief executive of Humaniq, a company that provides blockchain-based financial services, argued that blockchain is “a revolutionary technology that is replacing the internet as we know it”. Guarda explained that all aspects of the economy, including the pensions industry, are in the process of being “digitalised”, with blockchain usage increasing. However, he also said that despite blockchain technology being particularly safe, cyber security was still an issue.

Andy Agathangelou, founding chair of both the Transparency Task Force and the Technology Task Force, noted that “in many ways, in operation terms, the pensions industry is built on data” so the topics of data integrity and data protection “are fundamental issues for our industry already”. Martin Bartlam, a partner at law firm DLA Piper, said that “initially there was a lot of distrust” when it came to the concept of virtual currency. But over time, regulators and other established industry bodies were getting more involved and starting to realise that because it is a system with a permanent record, blockchain is “a good way of checking what’s actually happening”. Blockchain is “a powerful tool [and] it’s the way people use it that will determine whether we see scams”, he said.

Adapting to change

In terms of advice for pension professionals looking to adapt to an increasingly digitalised world, Hossein Kakavand, chief executive of Luther Systems, a company that leverages blockchain technology to help financial institutions’ transaction management, highlighted the importance of organisations “engaging aggressively in developments in technology”.

Forget about robos and chatbots — a bigger tech wave is breaking 

Forget about robos and chatbots — these are just the froth on the crest of a much bigger wave of technology change sweeping through financial services.While Bartlam argued that engaging with technology is helpful, he also said it was a good idea for industries to generally accept change.“Change is happening, no matter how uncomfortable human beings are with [it], whether it's processing, whether it’s globalisation, whether it’s technology,” he said. He noted that the insurance, banking and pensions sectors, in particular, are likely “to witness a huge amount of change over the next five to 10 years”. Guarda said that “as everything becomes digitalized, there will be more visibility and transparency, and that will be great for all of us”.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Cryptocurrency Ethereum soars by 900 per cent as stellar performer gets Chinese boost

Cryptocurrency Ethereum soars by 900 per cent as stellar performer gets Chinese boost

Cryptocurrency Ethereum soars by 900 per cent as stellar performer gets Chinese boost
 

A CRYPTOCURRENCY that allows users to move value around as well as represent the ownership of property has rocketed by 900 per cent in just a year.

Ethereum, which uses apps that run on a custom built blockchain, an enormously powerful shared global infrastructure, is attracting serious investor interest over its incredible financial returns.

The blockchain app, which claims it allows developers to create markets, store registries of debts or promises and move funds all without a middle man or counterparty risk, was launched in August 2014.

It was developed by a Swiss nonprofit and crowdfunding campaign which has in turn catapulted it to huge success.

With a current market capitalisation of more than £7billion, the digital currency is outperforming its main rival Bitcoin, according to market data.

Now analysts say it has been of particular interest to the Chinese market which is embracing the explosion in digital currency with gusto.

Blogger Andrew Keys said: "I was fortunate enough to be invited to the city of Hangzhou for the Global Blockchain Financial Summit.
"During this trip to China, I learned about the burgeoning Ethereum communities in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou. Every night we hosted an Ethereum meetup and it was standing room only in each city.

"Peking University is creating an Ethereum Laboratory to work on protocol improvements and application use cases that effect China, specifically in supply chain and energy markets.

"The Royal Chinese Mint is experimenting with the ERC 20 token standard and Ethereum smart contracts to digitise the RMB".

Meanwhile Silicon Valley based Martin Frohler, who runs Quantiacs, told Express.co.uk that the cryptocurrency is set to revolutionise the way the world trades thanks to the advent of blockchain infrastructure following the news that Bitcoin surpassed $1,800 to a fresh record high today.

It rose more than $100 in just two days, driven by comments from policy makers and positive noises around the future of the cryptocurrency.

He said: "You can think of a Blockchain as an identical database of transactions (or other information) stored on hundreds of computers around the world.

"Every new transaction that's entered into the system has to be verified by the majority of the computers. Since no single person, government, or institution controls that majority it is close to impossible to hack a transaction.

“The process of verifying transactions through computing power is called 'mining'.

"The miner receives the right to create a very small new unit of that currency as reward.

"Depending on how much Bitcoin already exist that new unit becomes smaller and smaller over time.

"There is an absolute limit of the number of Bitcoin that will ever exist: 21 million. Bitcoin is by construction a deflationary currency, which makes it an attractive store for value.

"Anybody with internet access can buy or sell bitcoin at a bitcoin exchange or with a digital wallet".

The digital currency is trading at $91.20 (3.11%) today.

 

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

 

By SIOBHAN MCFADYEN

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

How to Create SEO Friendly URLs

How to Create SEO Friendly URLs

URLs. They’re one of the most basic elements of SEO. Yet they’re vitally important.

In fact, Backlinko reports that URLs are a significant ranking factor.

More specifically:

  • URL length is listed as #46 in Google’s top 200 ranking factors
  • URL path is listed as #47
  • Keyword in the URL is #51
  • URL string is #52

So when you put it all together, URL optimization is kind of a big deal. And it seems simple enough. Enter a few words into the URL slug, throw in a keyword or two and you’re good. Right? If only it were that easy. In reality, there’s an entire science behind proper URL optimization. But after tons of research and a lot of trial and error on my end, I’ve come up with what I think is a rock solid formula. It covers all of the bases and aims to satisfy both search engine bots and of course human users. In this post, I’m going to explain the science behind creating URLs for maximum SEO as well as the logic behind each tactic. So let’s get to it.

Choose a top level domain

Let’s start from the beginning. There’s an infographic from Search Engine Land that covers the ins and outs of friendly URL  structure. One thing they point out is that using a top level domain (TLD) is usually your best bet. This simply means that it’s ideal to use a “.com” domain rather than “.biz,” “.pro,” “.tel,” etc. Now I’m not saying that you’re doomed if you use anything other than “.com” for your domain. In fact, TLD doesn’t directly impact rankings. But what it does tend to do is increase trust for human users.

And this is huge. When people trust your domain, it’s going to trickle down and have a positive impact on your overall SEO. I realize that making this point doesn’t do you a lot of good if you already have a domain other than “.com.” I also realize that it’s simply not realistic to be able to land your brand name with a “.com” domain (there were over 124 million “.com” domains of 2016), but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re choosing a domain in the future. This post offers some insight on what you can do if the domain name you want is already taken.

HTTPS is ideal

Online security is a huge issue these days. With cyber crime and identity theft on the rise, Internet users want to know that they’re using a secure connection. Just look at how the monetary damage reported by cyber crime has increased from 2001 to 2015.

It’s dramatic.

As a result, I really recommend using HTTPS rather than HTTP. If you’re unfamiliar with the difference, HTTPS stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure,” which is the secure version of HTTP. This simply means that information on a website is encrypted, which heightens security significantly. Here’s an illustration of the difference between HTTP and HTTPS.

Not only does this keep your visitors at ease, it has actually become a ranking signal. According to Searchmetrics, “HTTPS is becoming more relevant and even a ranking signal for Google. Encryption is primarily important for sites with purchasing processes or sensitive client information to increase trust and conversion rates.” And in my opinion, this is likely to become an even bigger ranking signal in the future.

If your site hasn’t yet received an SSL certificate, I suggest taking care of this ASAP. This is especially true if you actually process customer orders and capture sensitive financial information online. You can learn about the details of this process here. There are several companies you can choose from to buy an SSL certificate. One of the top providers is Namecheap. First, you choose a plan to buy. Then choose the number of years you want your SSL certificate to last.

Then confirm your order.

 

Once it’s activated, you’ll need to install your SSL certificate and update your site to use HTTPS. This is fairly technical, but you can find pretty much everything you need from this resource. It will walk you through step by step.

Length

Now that we’ve gotten the more technical aspects of URL optimization out of the way, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts.The element I’d like to address first is length, and it’s a biggie.But when you really break it all down, deciding on the length of a URL is quite simple.The shorter the better.According to Backlinko, “Shorter URLs tend to rank better than long URLs.”To prove this, they performed some extensive testing on one million Google search results.Here’s a graph that shows how Google rankings decline as URL length gets longer.

It’s pretty cut and dry.

Notice how the number one position has URLs with roughly 50 characters. But once you move down to the number 10 spot, the average URL has 62 characters. So somewhere around 50 — 60 characters is a pretty good number to shoot for. If you go way beyond (say 80+ characters), this is likely to have a negative impact on your ranking.

How many words should you use?

I personally try to shoot for around three to five words per URL because it’s simple and gives users a pretty clear idea of what a particular piece of content is all about. Here are a couple of examples from NeilPatel.com

See what I mean?

I keep the number of words in these URLs to a minimum, but you can still get a sense of what you can expect to find by clicking on those links. According to an interview with Matt Cutts, this is a pretty good formula to stick with. Here’s a snippet from the interview. The bottom line is that you want to condense the essence of your content into roughly three to five words and try to use a max of 60 characters. If you consistently implement this formula, you should be good to go.

Readability

Like I said earlier, there’s a correlation between user-friendliness and overall SEO.They’re forever intertwined. And this is most definitely true when it comes to URL optimization.Or as Moz puts it, “A well-crafted URL provides both humans and search engines with an easy-to-understand indication of what the destination page will be about.”This brings me to my next point.You should strive to structure your URLs for maximum readability.While I realize that this is an inherently subjective term, I think that this “scale of readability” illustration explains it quite well.

Notice how the first example is short, to the point, and easy to understand? Without even clicking on the link, it’s clear that it contains images of adorable puppies that are confused by a rainbow. So it probably contains something like this.

But notice how the examples get increasingly more confusing. The third example gives you absolutely no idea of what you’ll get by clicking on the link. In fact, it could quite possibly be a nefarious link that will infect your computer with a terrible virus. But let me elaborate just a bit more on the importance of readability. Say that someone links to one of your posts.

While they may initially replace the naked URL with their own anchor text like “cute puppies confused by a rainbow,” there’s a good chance that the URL will be copied into other sources somewhere down the line.At some point, it will probably be ppostedas the original naked URL.If it’s easily readable with http://mydomain.com/puppies-adorably-confused-by-rainbow, it will still be easy to understand regardless.

But if it’s ugly and long winded like http://cdn07.mydomain.cc/9rf7e2/i?HXID+iaj34089jgt30hgqa3&qry=f#loaddelay, no one is going to have a friggin clue what it’s about. I dare you to click on that link. So the point here is that simplicity and clarity are what you want to aim for when creating URLs. If it can be easily understood with a quick glance, you should be good to go. Fortunately, you’re a human, so it shouldn’t be all that difficult to structure your URLs for other humans.

Use hyphens, not underscores

When it comes to putting spaces between words, you have two main choices. You can use either hyphens or underscores. So what’s the best choice? That’s a no-brainer. Always use hyphens. Here’s advice straight from the horse’s mouth. If this is what Google prefers, you can rest assured that it’s the best option.

Use lowercase letters

Okay, this is probably obvious to at least 90 percent of you. But I thought that I should mention it just to be clear. Always stick with lowercase letters. Why? Using uppercase letters can potentially lead to redirects or 404 errors on certain servers. So just don’t do it.

Stop words

Here’s a topic that’s received a substantial amount of debate. To use stop words or not use stop words? That is the question. First of all, what exactly are stop words? They’re words like:

  • a, an, or, but

These are basically “filler” words that connect the essential words that are the backbone of your URL. For a long time, stop words were viewed by many SEOs as an unforgivable sin that simply could not be forgiven. But you know what? It’s really not that big of a deal. In fact, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be penalized for using them. However, they’re not going to do you any favors either. Stop words are basically ignored by search engines and don’t carry any real weight as a ranking factor. So here’s what I recommend when approaching stop words.

Don’t use them if you can help it.

If your URL structure still makes sense and is readable, including stop words is only going to make your URL longer and more complicated. But if you feel like you need to include a stop word for your URL to make sense and more readable then go ahead and include it. The key word here is “readable.” If it makes it easier for people to read, then that’s usually your best option. Just use your best judgment when deciding which route to go.

Use “safe” characters

And here’s another point I need to make. It has to do with using “safe” characters in your URL rather than “unsafe” characters. The easiest way for me to explain the difference between the two is to simply show you a graph from Perishable Press. It’s pretty simple. You’re totally fine using safe characters in your URL. But you definitely want to stay away from unsafe characters. The reason is because they can create issues for browsers, which creates usability issues. Not good.

Use a max of two folders per URL

If you’re unsure of what I mean by “folders,” they’re simply the slashes you see between text in a URL. Like most other aspects of URL optimization, it’s best to keep it simple with the number of folders you use in your URLs.

In other words, less is best.

According to Moz, “It’s not that the slashes (aka folders) will necessarily harm performance, but it can create a perception of site depth for both engines and users, as well as making edits to the URL string considerably more complex (at least, in most CMS’ protocols). Users can still tell what the content is about with the second, restructured URL, but it contains fewer folders. And if you really want to get specific in terms of the number of folders to use, stick with one or two. This makes your URL way more eye appealing, and it’s easier for search engines to decipher the meaning.

Target 1-2 keywords

Ah…keywords. You should have known that this topic would surface at some point in this post. So what’s the best way to handle keywords when creating URLs? Should you still include them? If so, how many can you include before it’s seen as spam and you get penalized?

Well here’s my take on things.

First of all, you should definitely still include keywords in your URL. Although this practice is unlikely to skyrocket you to the number one spot, it should give your ranking a slight boost. And from a user standpoint, including keywords serves a very important purpose. It enables the URL to serve as the anchor text when your content is copied without including anchor text to clarify. This way people can instantly tell what your content is about at a quick glance regardless of where they find the link. Even without anchor text, it’s good to go. This takes the guesswork out of it and will encourage more people to inevitably click on your content.

But here’s the deal.

You by no means want to shamelessly stuff keywords into your URL. This should go without saying. That would be a recipe for disaster. But exactly how many keywords should you target? Is there a specific number? According to Brian Dean of Backlinko and John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility, you should aim for one or two keywords per. Adding more and “Google will not give you as much credit.” And let’s be honest. Keyword stuffing in any way is never a good thing. You wouldn’t use keyword stuffing in your content, so why would you use it in your URL? In terms of positioning, it’s generally regarded as best practices to include your target keywords located toward the beginning of your URL.

Avoid keyword repetition

Here’s one last little detail. Never repeat your keywords (or any words for that matter) in a URL.

Here’s why.

Repetition is pointless because Google will in no way reward you for using a keyword that appears more than once (what is it 2005?). In fact, this could potentially be seen as a form of manipulation, which obviously isn’t good. Moving beyond that, it’s probably going to make your content look spammy, or at the very least, diminish your credibility in the eyes of search engine users. It just looks ridiculous to have the keywords “canoe puppies” listed back to back between two folders. So stay away from this tactic at all costs.

Conclusion

While it may seem easy enough on paper, the URL optimization process can be quite tricky. There are several variables that must be addressed when structuring URLs to appease both search engines and human users. It starts with the more technical aspects like choosing a top level domain and getting an SSL certificate so users know that your site is safe. You should then work your way down to finding the optimal number of characters and words to ensure that your URL has “human-readability.” There’s also the issue of proper formatting so to not cause problems for browsers.

And of course, you want to make sure that you’re correctly targeting your keywords without teetering on the edge of anything black hat. So yeah, it’s a little complicated. But when you break things down step by step, URL optimization becomes much more manageable. And when you really analyze it, the process largely boils down to a lot of common sense principles that can be encapsulated into three main words. Short, simple, and readable. If you create URLs with these objectives in mind, you should be golden. Can you think of any other URL optimization strategies?

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Inbound Marketing Techniques Every Business Should Use

Inbound Marketing Techniques Every Business Should Use

All types of businesses, but especially startups and smaller businesses, can benefit from these inbound marketing techniques, says contributor Neil Patel.

  

Every business needs to do some kind of marketing.

But what kind of marketing is the most effective? Most of the conventional marketing approaches are too expensive or unwieldy for smaller businesses and startups to successfully employ. That’s why inbound marketing, and its various techniques, make sense for any business — but especially for startups and smaller businesses.

Inbound marketing is more of an approach than it is a list of tactics. Inbound marketing, at its core, is about attracting prospects to your business rather than going out to find those prospects. Traditional marketing relied on email lists, cold-calling, billboard advertisements, and direct mail. Modern inbound marketing uses organic search traffic, opt-in email forms, and content publication to attract customers. Inbound marketing is the best approach for today’s businesses, whether B2B, B2C, e-commerce, SaaS, tech, non-tech, brick-and-mortar or otherwise. Here are the six inbound marketing techniques that I’ve used with amazing success in my startups, and that you can use to grow your business.

Give Away A Free Guide That Is Directly Related To Your Business

If you’ve ever seen any of the resources like these I’ve created, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in creating advanced guides.Each of my guides is thousands of words long, making them a huge source of organic traffic. I didn’t publish them simply to get words out. I published them to provide marketers with rock-solid information. Many marketers I know use this technique to build their email lists, like AudienceBloom, which published The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.

One of the best publishers of free guides and resources is HubSpot, the grandfather of inbound marketing. HubSpot’s collection of resources deserves to be called a “library” simply due to the sheer volume of resources. If you’re looking for a good model of a company that creates free guides, HubSpot is the exemplary. Make sure that the guide is relevant to your business. HubSpot can afford to publish a huge variety of guides because they are a big business that plays in a lot of sandboxes. Keep your guide as specific as possible, because you are using it to gain a certain type of visitor — ideally one who will convert to become a customer.

Pick One Or Two Keywords, And Optimize The Heck Out Of Them

Inbound marketing is nearly synonymous with “SEO.” So, how do you “do SEO?” There’s a lot to know. One of the most important features of SEO, however, is the power of keywords.  In order to successfully gain traffic for relevant keywords, you have to use those keywords on your site. Though some may argue that keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, you still need to be aware of — and use the words — that people might enter into a search engine when they’re looking for content like yours. Many marketers I know try to gain traffic for tons of different keywords. Instead of focusing on a few relevant terms and variants that mean the same thing, they try to do this:

  • Gain first-position result for head terms — the most commonly searched terms. But, try as you might, you’re not going to gain the first position on Google for “iPhone” or “computer.”
  • Simply improve their keyword rank. However, there’s more to SEO than keyword rank. Moving the needle on keyword position is nice, but that’s not going to create better traffic.
  • Trying to gain position for a huge variety of keywords. Although, it’s good to have a comprehensive list of keywords that you’re tracking and targeting, it’s a waste of time to try to win all of these keywords at once.

The solution is to focus on a few keywords that are valuable and create specific pages on your website that are for those keywords specifically. A good example of this is Practical ECommerce, which targeted the keyword “A/B testing tools for small business.” When you eliminate ad results, they rank number one:  The company chose a long-tail (less-searched) keyword that was relevant to its business, optimized for that word, and came out on top.

Build Your Personal Brand

In order to be a truly successful marketer, you’ll need to build your personal brand. I recommend the personal brand approach for anyone who’s involved in marketing, but especially for startups. Today’s startup culture is dominated by personalities who can successfully advertise themselves as leaders, as much as they advertise their companies as innovators.

Entrepreneurs like Jayson DeMers, Joel Gascoigne, and Hiten Shah are examples of people building businesses by means of building their personal brand. If you start a business, it’s virtually impossible to separate yourself from that business. It only makes sense to use your personal brand to build that business. Many brands such as Tim Ferriss’s and Ramit Sethi’s depend almost exclusively on the power of their personal brand. Some entrepreneurs build businesses that are founded upon their personality and their advice. You may choose a different approach. Instead of building the brand upon your personality (like Sethi and Ferriss), you can build your brand then use your personal brand to promote it.

Ask And Answer Questions On Social Media

Social media turned inbound marketing into a viral interactive experience. Now, instead of just hearing about companies and going to them, potential customers found companies, followed those companies, and interacted with those companies. In study after study, social media has a very low track record of bringing in conversions. Email and organic search are by far the best sources for conversions. Don’t depend upon social for your conversions. But you should engage socially as a powerful method of inbound marketing. It may not bring conversions, but it does other things that enhance your brand.

It’s not enough to merely have a presence on the social media platforms. Instead, you need to engage these platforms. Social media is social. That means that there are real people behind every like and follower. In order to connect with those people, you need to ask questions, answer questions, respond to tweets, recognize +1s, and be a presence. In the case of HubSpot, it is vigilantly monitoring its brand, and scouring the social sphere for mentions. People might hashtag it, tweet at the company or talk about it. Each of these social mentions provides an opportunity for HubSpot to interact with the mention, thereby increasing its brand image and its reach into other social networks.

Create An Email Popup

Popups are controversial. Even though some people hate them, they’ve proven to be successful. In every business I’ve built, I’ve used some form of email opt-in to build my email list. An email list is one of the single most important factors in building a business. I’ve been able to leverage the power of my email list to create compelling subject lines and grow my businesses even more.  If you really want to grow your email list, use a popup opt-in form. You’ll be blown away by the results. ShopifyNation is a great example of using a successful popup opt-in.

Guest Blog

Guest blogging is an ideal form of marketing for so many reasons.

  • Powerful linkbacks
  • Bigger audience
  • Personal brand building

One great reason that guest blogging is such an awesome form of marketing is that it gives you the right to do the list of publishing brands on the landing pages lends a sense of prestige and cachet. As the reasoning goes, if you’re mentioned on Marketing Land, New York Times, Huffington Post, etc., you’re probably pretty important. This is just one of the reasons that guest blogging is such an effective inbound strategy.

Conclusion

There are hundreds of ways to use inbound marketing to grow your business. These six are just the start, but I think that they are the best way to start. I wouldn’t suggest them if I haven’t used them myself. They truly work, and I can prove it. The best way to prove it to yourself is to try it yourself. If you aren’t using any of these inbound techniques, pick one, try it for six months, and see what an impact it makes for your business. What has inbound marketing technique you found to be the most successful?

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

China’s Movie Ticket King on What Studios Can Learn About Digital Marketing

China's Movie Ticket King on What Studios Can Learn About Digital Marketing

  

Beijing Weying Technology exec Luke Xiang opens up

about why China is vastly more advanced than North America at mobile ticketing, the "disappointing" performance of 'Ghost in the Shell' and box-office fraud at Chinese cinemas. Nonexistent just five years ago, China's emergent mobile-ticketing platforms have been embraced by the country's digitally driven youth, drastically remaking the way movies are marketed and consumed in the world's second-largest entertainment market. Luke Xiang, 49, is the vp and international face of Weying, whose Wepiao ticketing service ranks among China's top three — along with Maoyan and Alibaba's Tao Piao Piao — accounting for an estimated 20 percent to 35 percent of all movie, sports and live entertainment tickets sold in the country.

Founded in 2014 by former Groupon executive and tech entrepreneur David Lim, Weying has experienced explosive growth. Valued at $2 billion last year, the service has more than 100 million users, selling an average of 1 million tickets every day. The company's vast data mining also has played a key role in helping the government combat fraud in the exhibition sector — an ongoing problem in which local theater owners artificially inflate or under-report admission figures. THR visited the multilingual Xiang (in addition to Mandarin and English, he's fluent in German and speaks some French) at Weying's Beijing headquarters to discuss his company's recently launched Los Angeles office, its plan to invest in U.S. studio tentpoles and what Hollywood can learn from China's more advanced movie ticketing and marketing landscape.

How does Weying ticketing work?

Our service is embedded within China's largest social networks — WeChat and QQ — which are both from Tencent, our partner and one of our investors. Each of these services has more than 800 million users. As the audience uses the ticketing service to engage with movie-related content, check show times and buy tickets, they generate data, which becomes the moviegoing DNA of each individual audience member. We know their moviegoing history in every detail: what kind of movies they like; what time they go to the movies — are they there on opening weekend or do they go later in the release?; whether they buy tickets at regular pricing or only with discounts; if they go to the cinema by themselves or on dates or with friends; if they are a passive viewer or an active reviewer and influencer on social media; and so on. As we capture this very detailed data from the audience and cinemas, we are able to do big data mining and analysis that informs and facilitates digital marketing and distribution in a very targeted way — and in real time.

Can you offer an example?

Say you are a young guy in one of China's tier-three cities. If you show up within two or three [miles] of a cinema, and we know that you've been a fan of action movies in the past, we push a notice to you with some exciting content about what's going on at a cinema very nearby — do you want to see the latest film from Vin Diesel, one of your favorite action stars? So within 10 seconds, you can reserve and pay for a seat at the next showing. After the movie, the relationship continues when we ask you if you want to review the film and share something about it on social media. We can also push you an offer for some licensed merchandise related to the film and based on your interests, which you can buy instantly on our platform. All of these interactions generate more data.

In China, roughly 80 percent of all movie tickets are bought online, but in North America it's only about 25 percent. Why do you think we are so far behind in mobile ticketing and marketing?

It varies a lot by title in North America. If it's a Star Wars movie, more people book in advance online; but on an average film, it's usually even lower, around 15 percent. There are many people in parts of China who had a smartphone before they ever saw a movie in the cinema. So we had a unique opportunity to leapfrog legacy practices of other more developed markets. We didn't have a lot of baggage, and the whole industry was new and being built on the internet, for a very young audience. So there is a lot of innovation. In this sense, I certainly think it would be smart for U.S. compa­nies to look carefully at what's happening in China.

How Hollywood Plans to Extract More Money From China

How much money is the U.S. film industry leaving on the table by lacking high-tech mobile ticketing platforms like China's?

That's really hard to estimate, but I would agree that there is a very large amount of value to be unlocked when the North American market can become more sophisticated with mobile ticketing and marketing. Some U.S. films are achieving greater results in China than North America now, and they are usually the ones that have worked deeply with online platforms here on marketing and promotion.

China's internet landscape — dominated by Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent — is somewhat more consolidated than North America's. Eventually, this would seem to allow for powerful efficiencies, as these internet giants get better and better at sharing and exploiting data across their vast webs of services.

Yes, in the U.S., you can't expect Amazon's video viewership data to be given to AMC and Facebook. But here, that's basically what we see happening — it's all integrated. If you think of the whole industry as an organism with artificial intelligence, the data is the blood. China's blood is flowing. As we learn to circulate it in more extensive and sophisticated ways, the whole machine will become more intelligent and efficient — improving the consumer experience and releasing more value for the whole industry.

How big of an issue is box-office fraud at Chinese cinemas?

Clearly, it was a serious problem because the Film Bureau issued a new law to punish this behavior. One of the reasons box-office cheaters have been getting caught is because platforms like ours and others have been making data available; we do this to make the industry more transparent.

Some believe ticketing services have created price distortions in the market that have hurt growth. Is that a fair argument?

Yes. Because the competing online platforms were trying to acquire users to establish this kind of online prebooking habit, they relied too heavily on subsidized pricing. Of all of the promotional tools, low pricing is the easiest to execute. The next step is using your data to really understand your users' needs. We've come to this second phase in the industry.

So the worst of the correction is over?

This year there are fewer and fewer platforms trying to acquire users with pricing and more using data to fine tune their marketing and messaging tools. Pricing is getting involved, but now you are able to direct your offers in a more targeted way to the users who are most susceptible to price, rather than just spreading discounts across the whole market like peanut butter.

It's an evolving process. There will be more upswings and more corrections, more experimentation and an ebb and flow. But that's normal for a developing market. Overall, I think we are moving in the right direction. On the data and technology side, we are evolving quickly and becoming more sophisticated with incredible speed. And with more Hollywood studios working with the Chinese industry on the content side, our production capabilities and storytelling will continue to professionalize and improve. The broad, long trends are all healthy.

Weying made its first equity investment in a U.S. studio film this year, buying a piece of Paramount's Ghost in the Shell. How would you say that went?

Well, it was a little disappointing, but that was true globally for this title. The investment was an indication of how we want to get more involved in content. When we make an equity investment, we get more access to the creative process and can exercise more control over the marketing campaign's development and the distribution plans in China. This enables us to leverage our data and resources much earlier in the process, instead of just acting as a service provider at the final step.

Do you plan to make more investments of this kind?

We've set up an office in Los Angeles, in Century City, to acquire content for China as well as to build strong, direct relationships with the studios. In the year ahead, we will make several more investments in U.S. studio films, European independents and Japanese titles. We will be diversified because that's what the Chinese marketplace has an appetite for.

Chuck Reynolds

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Cryptocurrency – Looking Forward from May 2017

Cryptocurrency – Looking Forward from May 2017

Cryptocurrency — Looking Forward from May 2017

For cryptocurrency enthusiasts, developers and investors, the first half of 2017 has been nothing but exciting. Very few people would have predicted the trends that we are now seeing today: a vibrant and rapidly growing altcoin market, massive all time highs for both Bitcoin and Ethereum and an initial coin offering (ICO) crowdfunding mechanism that is creating enormous investor hype.

Among all of this noise are a number of very interesting developments. These developments could indicate what’s to come in the second half of 2017, and this article aims to summarize events so far and what may be to come. Whatever your role in the cryptocurrency space, this piece should serve as some inspiration as to where to look next.
 

RIPPLE — BITCOIN FOR BANKS

The popularity of Bitcoin’s blockchain stems from its ability to circumvent banks and allow users to engage in peer to peer transactions without authority; creating an enormous array of applications for Bitcoin gambling and dark net markets, as well as limitless “white hat” models. This ideology is more powerful than ever today, but the introduction of Ripple in 2013 has demonstrated that banks themselves can be revolutionized by overhauling their systems to use blockchain-based payments.

Ripple is unlike most other cryptocurrencies, in that it operates on a private or “consortium” blockchain, whereby the nodes (transaction verifiers) are controlled by trusted financial institutions that have been vetted to join the network — on the contrary, anyone in the world is free to join and use the Bitcoin network. The Ripple tokens (XRP) power international transactions on the network, whether that’s fiat to fiat, crypto to crypto or a mix of the two — with currency exchange conversions happening on the fly. Ripple allows banks to reduce global (and domestic) payment times from days and weeks down to seconds, with layers of transparency that are unprecedented in the traditional banking sector.

Despite being a private blockchain, anyone in the world is able to purchase XRP, and with a fixed supply of 100bn, scarcity may play an important role in the future price of XRP. This scarcity has also been compounded by the founding team of Ripple agreeing to verifiably “lock up” well over half of that total supply — adding some predictability to the XRP price. This lock up time is possibly planned for extension, which — combined with the listing of XRP on major exchanges like Bitstamp, and Ripple’s partnership with Japan’s largest bank — has led to a meteoric rise in the value of XRP from $0.01 to $0.18 in a matter of weeks.

Over the past several months, it has become apparent that large financial institutions are leaning towards consortium based blockchains as opposed to the public ones offered by Bitcoin — although Ethereum may buck that trend as discussed below.
 

ETHEREUM — EEA AND DEVELOPMENT ROADMAP

Ethereum was the first blockchain to successfully convince investors that altcoins had a viable place in what was largely considered a Bitcoin-only ecosystem. Popular due to its built-in smart contract protocol, Ethereum is able to run computations that can transact value without middlemen. As a result, the project has led to the formation of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) which connects dozens of businesses and academics who are rapidly researching and developing smart contract technology.

While a number of the projects being worked on are private forks of Ethereum — such as JP Morgan’s Quorum protocol — the interoperability with the main Ethereum chain, as well as the lessons being learned (and shared among EEA members and the open source community), is having profound effects on Ethereum as a whole.

The EEA is just one offshoot of Ethereum that has attracted enormous investment, however there are other developments which have led to a recent upsurge in the price of Ether, from $10 to roughly $90 at the time of writing.

ETHEREUM NAME SERVICE

In May 2017, the Ethereum Foundation (EF) launched the Ethereum Name Service (ENS). This protocol is analogous to the separate Domain Name Service (DNS), which ties domain names to i.p. addresses — making them more readable to human users. In a similar way, the ENS will tie long and unreadable smart contract or personal wallet addresses to a memorable “name” such as mywallet.eth. These names are currently at auction, and there has so far been $7m worth of bids, with exchange.eth receiving a massive $600,000 bid. Note that this is a proxy bid, meaning the winner would only ever pay a trivial amount more than the next highest bidder.

REDUCING MINER REWARD

A poll taking place on carbonvote.com has indicated that an overwhelming 99.73% are in agreement with a move to reduce the miner reward from 5 ETH per block to 2 ETH (with blocks continuing to be mined at roughly 15 second intervals). The motivation behind such a change is to reduce uncertainty about the future total ETH token supply, helping to drop ETH inflation from 13% to a figure that is more inline with Bitcoin’s 4% inflation.

PROOF OF STAKE

Proof of Stake (PoS) is an alternative consensus protocol to the Proof of Work (PoW) mechanism that was made famous by Bitcoin’s blockchain. In order to secure a blockchain, miners must be rewarded by processing valid transactions, and ignoring invalid transactions. In a PoW system, a miner must expend enormous amounts of energy (with a significant cost in doing so) to process a “block” of transactions and to earn their reward. PoW protocols are enormously inefficient, with huge energy requirements that are not inline with modern day environmental considerations.

Proof of Stake serves as an alternative consensus protocol that achieves similar levels of security, but requires “miners” (called validators) to stake value in the form of cryptocurrency — expending little to no energy at all. If the validator tries to game the system for their own advantage, they lose all of their staked value. Validators that act honestly are rewarded by receiving what is analogous to interest payments.

Ethereum plans to move from their PoW structure to a PoS one, and this move is pegged for the end of 2017/start of 2018. Such a change in protocol would lock enormous amounts of Ether in staking contracts, removing said Ether from the ecosystem and reducing circulating supply.

 

BITCOIN — SEGREGATED WITNESS AND THE LITECOIN TEST BED

Bitcoin has been unswayed by the incredible rise in altcoin market caps over the past 6 months and remains one of the best performing cryptocurrencies in the market. Having matured beyond the “pump and dump” phase, the currency has now established itself as the gateway into the world of crypto. Bitcoin is, in its current form, the ultimate store of value and medium for exchange when dealing with other currencies. All of this is despite major concerns over the currency’s ability to scale. Transaction fees have increased several fold, and the mempool (unconfirmed transactions) has seen enormous growth — leading to delays of several hours or even days.

Thankfully, Bitcoin’s little cousin — Litecoin — has played a vital role in abating fear amongst Bitcoin investors. Litecoin, whose market cap is a fraction of Bitcoin’s, has acted as a test bed for introducing Segregated Witness (SegWit) — a code change to help mitigate some of the scaling problems mentioned above. Litecoin’s activation of SegWit has given developers, users and miners renewed confidence in what this code change can do for Bitcoin, providing a “light at the end of the tunnel” on a 3 year long debate.
 

WHERE DO CRYPTOCURRENCIES GO FROM HERE?

Many early adopters have hailed blockchain technology as “the internet 2.0”. In past years, a number of key figures in the industry analogized the current state of blockchain to that of email in the 1990s, suggesting that what we see today is a fraction of what can be achieved with the protocol in the years ahead. That analogy, which was (and still is) heavily criticized by skeptics, is now becoming too obvious to ignore.

Rather than blockchains competing with one another, we are seeing interoperability take hold, and growth is practically ubiquitous amongst all majro cryptocurrencies. Smart contract technology is destined to have an enormous impact on a broad range of markets in the years to come, and the impact that blockchain-based banking will have on global economics is undeniable.

It is likely that cryptocurrencies will continue to grow at an unprecedented rate until, in the same analogous way to the Internet, we experience a gigantic bubble. At what point the bubble bursts is an unknown, however — sticking with the analogy — it wasn’t until the Internet reached a value well into the trillions that the market crashed. Compare this figure with that of the blockchain market which is worth no more than $100bn and it seems that we may still be some way off. Despite what seems like an inevitable bubble, the very long-term outlook for blockchain users, investors and developers could not be brighter.

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

Author: Mark

 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member