I don't say much, but what I do say, I say right here

I'd really rather work, than blog about working, but sometimes I trip across useful tidbits and like to share them.

You can stop me from writing further drivel on this blog by hiring me to make you somthing. Really, you'd be doing the online world a favour...

Comparing London Borough Council Tax Rates 2013/2014

A few years ago, as we were looking to move within London, I put together a blog post comparing London borough council tax rates (2010/2011). That post proved fairly helpful to others in the same situation and, as I’ve had a few requests to update it, I though it was time to do a follow up.

So here are the figures for 2013/2014, including GLA components, but excluding supplementary payments for preservation areas etc. as these only impact a few residences within specified areas of a borough.

I hope you find it useful.

Link to the spreadsheet

Quick and Easy 301 for Parked Domains and Dub/Non-Dub

I’ve been asked a couple of times about this recently, so thought I’d share it here.

The two most common times I have to use 301 redirects are in the prevention of potential duplicate content issues. The first is the old non-www to www (or vice versa) chestnut and the second is to prevent parked domains from looking like seperate sites.

There’s a nice little bit of code that can handle both of these, without filling up your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} .
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.pixelpunk\.co\.uk
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.pixelpunk.co.uk/$1 [R=301,L]

Basically we’re checking to see that URIs begin with www.pixelpunk.co.uk – if it does, all fine and dandy, our work here is done. If they don’t, we redirect to www.pixelpunk.co.uk/whatever_else_they_might_have_entered.

As you can see this handles both a request to pixelpunk.co.uk, which is missing the www, and any parked domains, say puxelpink.co.uk.

As always with mod_rewrite – your particular needs may mean you need to handle the two bits seperately, but I find this a good one-size-fits-all for around 70% of the sites I work with.

Neat eh?

Comparing London Borough Council Tax Rates

Update: If you are looking for 2012/2013 figures – there’s an up to date post here

We’re currently looking to move and have been assessing different London boroughs to get an idea of where we’d like to move to and what the change to our cost of living would be. It has surprised me that there is such a great range of council tax rates across the boroughs, so I thought I’d go through all of them and share my finding here.

Greater London is comprised of 32 boroughs and the City of London, each has its own council and sets the council tax rates. In addition to the rates set by the council in whose borough you reside, you also have to pay rates set by the Greater London Authority. This comparison includes both the GLA and council tax rates as they are collected together.

Where possible I’ve used data for the 10/11 tax year, I have excluded supplementary payments for preservation areas as these only impact a few residences within specified areas of a borough.

I’ve organised the data table with reference to the borough map below so you can easily see the price to borough size comparison.

Borough Band A Band B Band C Band D Band E Band F Band G Band H
1. City of London 628.53 733.28 838.03 942.79 1152.30 1361.81 1571.32 1885.58
2. City of Westminster 458.41 534.82 611.12 687.62 840.42 993.23 1146.03 1375.24
3. Kensington and Chelsea 719.42 839.31 959.22 1079.12 1318.93 1558.73 1798.54 2158.24
4. Hammersmith and Fulham 747.74 872.35 996.98 1121.60 1370.85 1620.09 1869.34 2243.20
5. Wandsworth 454.54 530.30 606.06 681.81 833.33 984.84 1136.36 1363.62
6. Lambeth 823.41 960.64 1097.88 1235.11 1509.58 1784.05 2058.52 2470.22
7. Southwark 814.64 950.41 1086.19 1221.96 1493.51 1765.06 2036.60 2443.92
8. Tower Hamlets 796.90 929.71 1062.53 1195.34 1460.97 1726.60 1992.24 2390.68
9. Hackney 872.18 1017.54 1162.91 1308.27 1599.00 1889.73 2180.45 2616.54
10. Islington 847.80 989.09 1130.40 1271.69 1554.29 1836.89 2119.49 2543.38
11. Camden 887.57 1035.49 1183.43 1331.35 1627.21 1923.06 2218.92 2662.70
12. Brent 912.51 1064.59 1216.68 1368.76 1672.93 1977.10 2281.27 2737.52
13. Ealing 913.17 1065.36 1217.56 1369.75 1674.14 1978.53 2282.92 2739.50
14. Hounslow 933.65 1089.25 1244.87 1400.47 1711.69 2022.90 2334.12 2800.94
15. Richmond upon Thames 1064.81 1242.27 1419.74 1597.21 1952.15 2307.08 2662.02 3194.42
16. Kingston upon Thames 1108.02 1292.69 1477.36 1662.03 2031.37 2400.71 2770.05 3324.06
17. Merton 941.95 1098.94 1255.93 1412.92 1726.90 2040.89 2354.87 2825.84
18. Sutton 967.14 1128.33 1289.52 1450.71 1773.09 2095.47 2417.85 2901.42
19. Croydon 973.29 1135.51 1297.71 1459.93 1784.36 2108.79 2433.22 2919.86
20. Bromley 867.42 1011.99 1156.56 1301.13 1590.27 1879.41 2168.55 2602.26
21. Lewisham 901.29 1051.50 1201.72 1351.93 1652.36 1952.79 2253.22 2703.86
22. Greenwich 860.49 1003.90 1147.32 1290.73 1577.56 1864.39 2151.22 2581.46
23. Bexley 958.94 1118.76 1278.59 1438.41 1758.06 2077.70 2397.35 2876.82
24. Havering 1007.33 1175.22 1343.11 1511.00 1846.78 2182.56 2518.33 3022.00
25. Barking and Dagenham 884.15 1031.50 1178.87 1326.22 1620.94 1915.65 2210.37 2652.44
26. Redbridge 936.90 1093.05 1249.20 1405.35 1717.65 2029.95 2342.25 2810.70
27. Newham 836.97 976.46 1115.96 1255.45 1534.44 1813.43 2092.42 2510.90
28. Waltham Forest 974.69 1137.13 1299.58 1462.03 1786.93 2111.82 2436.72 2924.06
29. Haringey 996.11 1162.11 1328.13 1494.14 1826.06 2158.22 2490.24 2988.29
30. Enfield 940.11 1096.79 1253.48 1410.16 1723.53 2036.90 2350.27 2820.32
31. Barnet 948.68 1106.79 1264.91 1423.02 1739.25 2055.48 2371.70 2846.04
32. Harrow 997.52 1163.84 1330.11 1496.37 1828.90 2161.42 2493.95 2992.74
33. Hillingdon 948.50 1106.58 1264.67 1422.75 1738.92 2055.09 2371.25 2845.50

I hope you find it useful, there’s a downloadable CSV of the data here if you want to play around with it.

Disable WordPress’ Built-in Canonical URL

If you’ve upgraded to the 2.9 track of WordPress (and if not, why not) you may have noticed that the new built-in canonical URL function is a bit hinkey.

Thankfully most of the common SEO plugins for WP already handle canonical URLs quite nicely, so the best thing to do for now is to disable the built-in URL generation.

You can do this quite simply by adding the following to your theme’s functions.php:

# Remove WordPress' canonical links
remove_action('wp_head', 'rel_canonical');

Simples!

How to be a DIY SEO Superstar: Part the Third

So, you made it through the basics in Part the First, tackled the optimisation tasks in Part the Second and you’re back for more. You have come far, my young padawan, and now it is time to reveal all the secret tricks that comprise the Jedi art of link building! Actually, it’s not that big a secret…sorry.

Link Building

Put simply, you get people to link to you by offering something that they want to link to. Yeah I know, it’s a pat answer, but it’s true. There are a number of things you can do to make your site linkworthy:

  • Offer something for free – knowledge, basic level accounts, a weekly comic…the list is almost endless and will depend on what you do and what you have.
  • Create a conversation – every industry has it’s hot topics, create a discussion about the issues that affect your market and engage your customers and suppliers.
  • Ask satisfied customers to write about their experience on their own site – it doesn’t hurt to ask and can be the start of establishing brand evangelists.
  • Create an affiliate scheme to encourage new customers, reward the referrer and the referee with a discount or other incentive
  • Sponsor an event, support a charity, get involved with your communitiy – helping others will encourage them to help you.
  • You can also look at partnering with companies and organisations that are in parallel sectors to yours – if you’re a commercial printing company, for instance, look to partner with local graphic designers. This is a great way of getting more business, as well as links.

There are other things that you can do, especially when you are starting out with a new site, the most sucessful of which (in my experience) is spending time ensuring your site is in good quality directories. Now don’t run off and buy that “we’ll submit your site to 10000 directories for £1.20” package that you found on the web, keep your £1.20 and keep reading!
There are hundreds of millions of web directories out there and a huge proportion of them are rubbish, but there are some good ones. Directories I’d consider submitting to are:

Some of these are paid inclusion, some are free, but the common denominator for all of them is that they are carefully moderated. This means that a site has to meet specific quality criteria before it is listed and means that the search engines consider an inclusion in these directories to have some value. Because these directories are popular, you can also get some great referral traffic from them.

There may also be quality directories that are specific to your niche, lookout for quality sites being listed in them and see if they are properly moderated before you submit your site.

Needless to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg of possibilities, spend some time thinking about your market and try to think outside the box. In otherwords…use the force.

I’ll be back with analytics, judging your competitors’ link strength and how to keep tweaking your site for further improvements in Part the Fourth!

How to be a DIY SEO Superstar: Part the Second

Yesterday in Part the First, we covered crawling, finding your niche and a little bit about how to approach SEO. Today we’ll cover the basics of on page optimisation

Optimisation: The Bit You’ve Been Waiting For

Now you’re armed with your niche search terms (e.g. Fiat Car Spares London) you can make sure your site is optimised for them. There are a few places that we need to look at – this does require a little bit of HTML coding knowledge, or access to someone who has such knowledge (these people can often be bribed with beer/cider/wine/chocolate delete as appropriate.)

Title Tags

You can find more about title tags in general here, we’re going to focus on the SEO specifics.
Each page on your site should have a unique title tag, with the homepage having the most important of your search terms. Keeping with our car spares example, the title tag of the homepage could look something like this:
<title>Fiat Car Spares for Sale in London - Made Up Car Co Ltd</title>

If you have product pages, then the title tag for one of them might look something like this:
<title>Front Fog Light for Fiat Panda - Made Up Car Co, London</title>

It’s pretty simple, don’t you think?

Heading Tags

Heading tags are an important way of telling visitors and search engines what a page is about, generally the heading tag will be similar to the title tag, though shorter.

For our product pages, the heading tag would be the product name:
<h1>Front Fog Light: Fiat Panda</h1>

If you’ve got a lot to say about the front fog light for the Fiat Panda you might need to split the page with subheadings (much like I’ve done on this monstrously long post), so you might have:
<h2>Fitting Instructions</h2>

Only use sub-headings if you need them, they’re there to make it easier for people to read the page and filling it with unnecessary heading tags won’t help that.

Content

If you’ve spent some time looking into SEO you’ll doubtless have heard the phrase “content is king”, and it is. If your content isn’t actually readable, useful and related to your chosen topic, then there’s no point in optimising anything else.

As a general rule your search terms are going to appear somewhere within the first 100 – 200 words on the page. Don’t force them in there though (this is where a lot of issues have arisen in my experience) human visitors, who are the ones that will actually buy your products, have a natural sense of “spammy” text. If you try to force in multiple references to your search term, it will stick out like a sore thumb and will negatively impact on their likelyhood to buy. If visitors feel you are being spammy in your website, they’ll anticipate your business practices to be the same. In essence you’ll be perceived as less trustworthy.

Going back to our old pal the front fog light, here’s an example of spammy text:
The front fog light for the Fiat Panda is designed to replace the current front fog light in your existing Fiat Panda. Buy your new front fog light for the Fiat Panda now.

Instead focus on getting valuable information about the product to your potential customer:
This is a new, original Fiat part comprising the outer front fog light casing and fixings for all models of the Fiat Panda from 2000 onwards. Prices include VAT and exclude delivery, we have replacement, used, front fog lights for older models here.

Linking Out

When you link to another site on the web the search engines view that as an endorsement by you for that site and judge you by your recommendation. Be careful who you link to. If you link to questionable sites, very irrelevant sites or just plain pornographic sites, the search engines will hold that against you. When your site becomes popular and sucessful (which or course it will) you’ll get loads of requests from people and companies for you to link to their site. Some will offer you a link back in exchange, some will offer you money. Whatever the incentive, think very, very carefully about accepting. If you do accept, ensure that you make it clear that the link is an advertisement or other paid endorsement as you could fall foul of both the search engines and trading regulations.

Congratulations – you’ve just optimised your website, on Monday we’ll deal with link building but for now, I think you’ve suffered enough!

How to be a DIY SEO Superstar: Part the First

I know, I know…You’ve read a hundred of these posts and haven’t got anywhere right? Well hold back your cynicism for just a moment because this might be the post you’re looking for.

Over the years as both a full-time SEO and as a freelance developer I’ve worked with a lot of site owners and webmasters who have endeavoured to optimise and promote their own sites. Some have had great sucess, others…not so much. Their various sucesses and failures have built up quite a library of useful tips and tools, and those are what I’ll be sharing in this series of posts.

Today we’ll cover the background work, including crawling and finding your niche, but first a little chat about the best mental approach to SEO.

Mindset

Many SEOs view their relationship with the search engines, and particularly Google, as being in a digital arms race where the SEOs are constantly battling to get one up on the mysterious algorithm. Perhaps in some sense that’s a fair viewpoint from the pro’s perspective, but it isn’t a helpful mentality for the site owner or webmaster who is trying to “go it alone”.

The search engines are not trying to prevent your site from doing well, they are utilising all the data available to them in order to return what their systems consider to be the best sites for a given query. If your site isn’t being returned for that query, it’s because the search engines don’t have enough data saying that your site is relevant. So, in order to make your site return you need to supply the engines with more accurate data. Keep this in mind and you’ll find the process of optimisation a lot easier.

Crawling: Is Your Site Visible?

In order for the engines to have accurate data about your site, they need to know it exists. If your site is new then you’ll find it helpful to tell the engines about it. They make it easy for you to do this by each providing a suite of tools for webmasters, you can find them with the following links.

You’ll need a login for each of the engines, but it’s worth the effort to do so. Once you’re in you’ll be able to submit information about your site and ensure that the engines can sucessfully access (or “crawl”) your site. Your webmaster dashboards will also be the place the respective search engines notify you of any problems with your site. If you only do one thing from this post, do this, the wealth of information that Google in particular provides is invaluable.

Positioning: Find Your Niche

SEO is just like business in general, you are in competition with other similar businesses to get the attention of potential customers. Finding your niche, the thing(s) that make you stand out from your competitors, will help you to grab that attention for yourself. The more competitive your market is, the more important finding that niche will be. Time for an example? Yes, I thought so too:

Let’s say that you have a site that sells spare parts for cars, if you search Google for car parts you’ll see somewhere in the region of 107 million sites that Google considers to be relevant to that query. That’s an awful lot of competition.
If your business is based in London, that narrows the field a bit bringing the competition down to around 15 million.
If you specialise in Fiat parts (Italian electrics, meh!), then we’re getting somewhere just about 300 thousand competing sites.
And…for the sake of sillyness, if you particularly specialised in Fiat Panda spares you’re in luck as there’s only about 14 thousand results. I think you get the idea.

The great thing about targeting niche terms is you’ve reduced your competition and, more importantly, you’ve “qualified” your audience. If you only sell Fiat spares then getting visits from people who need a part for their Audi won’t help either of you, by filtering your potential audience down to people who want exactly what you have to sell you’ll dramatically increase the ratio of visitors to sales (aka your “conversion rate”). This ability to pre-qualify your audience is pretty much unique to search and it’s fantastic!

Still don’t feel like you’ve gotten anywhere? Look out for Part the Second where we cover on-page optimisation or share your thoughts in the comments.