Scouting for girls

- By Chris Booth

A while ago I stumbled on Nibbler from Silktide.  It is one of those wonderful things that is both completely pointless and also quite helpful; a complete waste of time and far too compelling; wildly inaccurate and yet a good indicator.  It is a total and utter toy that is also both useful and practical.  Allow me to explain…

Nibbler is a website analysing tool.  It runs a wide range of tests on the first five pages it finds on your website.  These tests tend to be a rather eclectic mix.  If you ask me there is a pronounced bias towards social media and HTML5.  The mix of tests has changed several times since I have been using it.  Some of the tests I liked have being dropped in favour of new ones.  For example - Nibbler used tell you how often you published blog posts.

BadgesNibbler then gives each site a score out of 10.  If you prove ownership of a site you can combine your scores to gain points for yourself.  While Nibbler seems far too easy to game I think the end result is a pretty good indicator of the sort of care you are putting into your websites.  The points are gained via badges; there is a badge for making an html compliant site, another for building a site in Wordpress, another for using CloudFlare.  All these badges make Nibbler look like a boy-scout’s shirt sleeve.  Web developers – we promise to do our best!

It’s not all roses and not just because it is so easy to waste time on Nibbler.  From the sort of speed it runs at I think maybe Nibbler is hosted on a Raspberry PI.  Silktide aren’t doing this for the good of their health – yes they want you to buy their products.  Oh, some of the other sites on there are well, you know, a bit morally corrupt.  Hmmmm – it’s slow, there are adverts some of it’s a bit dodgy – yep, that’s the Internet!

Nibbler best UK webdesignersWhat gets me is this – why aren’t there more women developing websites?  I mean look at that motley collection of logos and mug shots on the UK’s top developers.  Yours truly is skulking around at position 10 – there we are and there is our logo as rendered in fuzzy-felt.  How many of the other logos were designed by women.  I’d say “none.”

I know there are skilled women web developers.  I know there are thousands of women making websites but when I surf I just don’t see that many sites that are clearly made by women.  Here at Web Booth Towers we have a little game – visit websites at random, for each site - guess the sex of the web designer, try it.

I spend a lot of time getting my code right and I believe it is important but at the end of the day it is Naomi’s designs that sell.  The look and feel of the sites we create is what our customers buy.  Our ability to put our customer’s message, their personality, their vision and dedication into living pixels – this is what sells.  Those sites then go on to work their little, digital socks off for our customers – selling to their customers.  It comes down to this: Naomi’s designs appeal to all sorts of people but mostly they appeal to other women.

We think we know who our Type ‘A’ customers are.  We think we know what they want.  We certainly know what they don’t want because they tell us, over and over again. 

  • Web developers turning up in suits.
  • Web developers not being flexible with appointments.
  • Web developers being bossy and know-it-all.
  • Web developers talking jargon.
  • Web developers failing to listen.
  • Web developers delivering the site they want to make not the site the customer wants.

Boy ScoutsNow it’s hard enough making money building websites and it’s not like we want any more competition but for goodness sakes guys 50% of the world’s population is women and it’s not like their aren’t loads of them running businesses, making decisions and holding budgets.  What the hell are you doing?

Before you send off for a jumbo-size-multi-pack of pink pixels I should like to draw your attention to the background image of this very page.  It is a great background.  We love it. Our customers love it.  In the history of the Internet I doubt any other GIF has ever shifted more websites, ever.  We didn’t know it at the time but drawing that background was probably the best business decision we’ve ever made.

These days they let girls join boy-scouts, you know that, right?

Moving Website Hosting

- By Chris Booth

  • Good reasons to move web server hosting
  • Good reasons to stay where you are
  • How to plan a move
  • How Google will react

I was wondering what to write for a second blog entry when all of a sudden we had a flurry of enquiries which required moving website hosting.  Having to move an established site is a problem which all of us face eventually.  It can be tricky.  It can go wrong.  It seemed like a good subject for a new blog.

At The Web Booth we host websites on third party reseller packages.  The hosting companies we use at the moment are TSOHOST, Fasthosts and Verio.  For a fee (usually £60.00 a year) we will host you with one of these companies and manage your site for you.

Some of our customers manage their own hosting and we are happy to work with whatever hosting you have.  This blog may be of use to you.  If you are not yet a Web Booth customer – I hope you find this blog useful, if you would like to move your site to our TSOHOST servers or would like us to update or redesign your site in its current location then contact us for a chat.

In a nutshell – There are many reasons to move hosting and some very good reasons to stay put.  Never move in a rush.  Always have a plan.

Reasons to move

Server downtime

Downtime is an unavoidable feature of computers; everybody has some downtime and you just have to put up with it.  Serious down time is frequently a problem with shared hosting - as a consequence of cost-cutting and over-selling on the part of your hosting company.  Things to look out for are frequent, unscheduled downtime; badly planned, inconveniently timed downtime; and a lack of communication from your hosting company as to what happened and why.  If your site stops working for ten minutes every week for a reboot then fair enough.  If it has a bad week and your hosting company says they are working on it then you should probably give them the benefit of the doubt.  If your site just keeps disappearing and you can’t get a straight answer – your site is probably hosted by muppets.  To get a good idea of what your site is doing, try signing up to basicstate.com and uptimerobot.com - these services will regularly check you site is up and email reports to you.

Web server responsiveness

Even if your server remains up it may be slow at serving your site.  Again a sluggish web server is a sign that your hosting company has over sold their facilities and is not spending enough on maintenance and new infrastructure.

Delays can be due to DNS, server response, scripting, database queries and many other factors.  The speed of your site can be down to how it is designed and there are many things you can do to improve it.  The fact is that, even if your site is well developed, it will be slow if it has been hosted on a dud web server.

Email server availability

In addition to your website you may have your emails routed through your hosting company.  If you are missing emails and losing touch with your customers then you are losing business.  In addition to mail server up time, with shared hosting, there is also the possibility that one of the other companies using your server might get the whole machine blacklisted.  If this happens none of your emails will be received.

Support

There is so much to say here, but it comes down to this - a hosting company with good support is worth gold dust.  There are so many hosting companies that don’t respond to tickets, don’t take phone calls or can’t speak English properly.  If you don’t get good support then, yes, consider moving.  If you are happy with your support but are thinking of moving – reconsider!  In my opinion good support can make up for quite a lot.

Cost and scale

You get what you pay for, it is true, but some hosting is just expensive.  Some hosting comes with features you will never use.  Some hosting will lack features or require you to upgrade to get them.  You will almost certainly be able to find cheaper hosting than you have now the important question is "Is it worth moving?"  Eventually this issue bites us all; as our sites outgrow their hosting, do we move now or leave it one more year?

Server technologies and features

One reason why you may have to move is if you want a feature that your current hosting company doesn't provide.  Having said that, there are often alternatives - it is worth asking your current company what they do instead.

Changing web developers

If you are changing web developers and your site is hosted in a reseller package you may be obliged to move your site.  This is the downside of convenient and cheap reseller hosting.  At The Web Booth we always offer our customers space on one of our reseller packages.  We know and trust our suppliers.  We have automated scripts to perform backups and analyse log files.  We know how to configure their space to make the most of your site.  What is more, we can offer hosting at a lower price than if you went directly to the supplier and you don’t have to worry about managing it yourself.  Many web developers use reseller packages for similar reasons.

There is a down side - if you wish to switch web developers and your site is on this kind of hosting you may find that a hosting move is forced upon you.

Problems with moving

Quite apart from the hassle of moving your site, there are some other reasons to stay put.

  • If you move your site you will almost certainly encounter some down time.
  • It is hard to try-before-you-buy, making sure you really are moving to better servers is difficult.
  • You may incur costs.
  • If you decide to move your domain there is always the risk it might get stuck.
  • It is difficult to test your site on the new server.  There is always the possibility that you move only to find bugs that need fixing.

Deciding to move

Moving where

I’d suggest that you do your research carefully.  There are thousands of companies to choose from so make a prioritised list of features you need.  Use Google to check each company name for reviews and testimonials to see what other people think of them. If you really want a recommendation, then have a look at TSOHOST.

What do you move?

To move your site you adjust the settings of the domain name.  These settings are called DNS, "tags" or "records."
You have three possibilities.

  • Move everything – move the domain name and everything with it.  For .uk addresses this is called the IPS tag.  For .com you need to “unlock” and acquire and “AUTH code.”
  • Move name servers – leave the domain name where it is and move everything else.  To do this you change NS tags.
  • Move web/email servers – change the A and MX tags and only move your web server and/or email server.

There is more risk and hassle with domain transfers.  I wouldn't recommend them as a pastime to laymen.  If you move a .com you will probably have to pay a re-registration fee.

There is also the risk that changing A and MX records may go wrong over time.  My advice is therefore; just modify your name server records.

Planning the move

As moving hosting can cause disruption, even outages, it is worth planning carefully.  For a start make sure you have plenty of time to plan ahead.

You don’t want to move your site while it is busy, even if the extra visitors are the reason you need to move.  Try to ensure that your move coincides with your site's least busy period.  I would say if you need to move your site now – maybe it’s already too late.  Consider weathering the storm and then move so you are ready for next time.

Your plan needn't be anything fancy, just make a list of everything you need to do, then do it.  If you can, do a dry run.  If there is anything you can achieve before you switch your DNS then do it.  The less you have to do in a rush the better.

Try to test your new hosting.  Do they really have the extra capacity, speed and features that you need.  Will your site work on the new servers?

Make sure you have retrieved all your files from the old hosting.  Make sure you have a note of all the associated settings.  You may have databases and mailboxes to retrieve.  Make a list of all the email accounts and forwarders you need.

Decide how you will recover if things go wrong.  Make sure you can revert to your old hosting.  If you are transferring your domain name consider having a second name you can direct people to in case your primary domain gets stuck.

Minimizing downtime

There is a simple technique to minimise downtime.  Set up the new site as best you can before changing DNS.  After changing DNS leave your old hosting intact for at least 24hours.  During this period people may visit both versions of the site so remember to check your old hosting for messages, orders or other transactions before you cancel it.

To minimise DNS propagation time change your time-to-live (TTL) value to 5 minutes a couple of days before the move.  Change it back once you have taken down the old site.

If you have a problem with the move, remember that you can always change the records back and revert to the old hosting.

How long will it take?

If you are changing name servers or just an A record – all your problems come down to caching.  Caching helps speed the Internet up - a lot of things get cached, including DNS.  It can take hours, even days, for a DNS change to propagate through everybody’s caches.  You can minimise this by setting TTL to 5 minutes, though you may not have access to change this value.

The real delay, however, tends to lie with web browsers.  The major browsers cache DNS lookups for 24 hours whatever the TTL value may be.  To get a rough idea of how long the change will take add your Time-To-Live value to 24 hours – as a result most people will tell you that DNS takes 48 hours to fully propagate.

To minimise the switch-over time, change the TTL of you domain to 5 minutes a couple of days before you move hosting.  Then change it back once the move is complete and you have cancelled your old hosting.

If you are changing IPS tags then beware!  This usually takes an hour or two to happen and then propagates as any other DNS update.  However, we have seen incompatible hosting companies take a month to get their act together and one company “lost” one of our domains for two weeks.  Plan carefully, have a contingency plan.

Will it hurt my Google Position?

Provided your web server's IP address is the only change then moving hosting won’t hurt your Google position at all.  Hopefully you are moving to faster, better servers which might even help Google’s opinion of your site.

Note that if you move your server from the UK to another country then you may have a problem, even if you have a .uk domain name, because Google will notice that it isn't a UK website anymore.  Note also that if you suffer an extended outage it may cause Google to remove your pages from its database.

Listing yourself on Google Places

- By Chris Booth

  • Get found on Google maps
  • Improve your Google listing
  • You may even appear directly on a map

Well, I've been meaning to write a blog for ages. There are many things that make me think "People should know this" or "Not all our customers do that." Of course there may be a fine line between useful information and spouting rubbish. I'll try to stick to the former.

It's been a busy six months at The Web Booth or I'd have written this missive earlier. Suffice to say we are offering a full range of services including website design, development and maintenance; logo and identity design; and design for print.

If there is anything we can do for you, if you would like to chat you can phone 01725 552430 or e-mail: Chris@thewebbooth.co.uk

About Google Places

What is Google Places?

Google Places is a way to associate yourself with a real world location. You can take your phone number, e-mail address, web site and postal address and link the lot to a lat-long position on Google maps.

Once you have joined all this information up, people who live near you and are using Google are more likely to find you.

How Google Places links to Google Maps

Google Maps showing a place
People using Google Maps in your area will see your listing next to the map. If they examine your listing, your location will be shown on the map as a coloured pin. If Google judges you to be of interest your business may be displayed permanently on the map as a little grey symbol.

How Google Places links to Google Web Search

Google Places need to be verified. Once your listing is verified Google knows you are reasonably kosher and this may boost your websites ranking in Google Web Search.

How Google Places links to other sites and directories

Getting other sites to link to your site has always been the best way to get a high ranking with Google Web Search. Google Places is no different. Being listed on directory sites such as the Open Directory Project and Yell can really help with both Web and Map searches. What is more, it seems that Google is using both of those directories to decide who gets a little grey map symbol.

As a web developer, I'm not sure that anything I can do (short of blatant lying) to persuade Google's engine that The Web Booth is a must-visit location worthy of a map symbol. For some reason we just aren't that popular with tourists. If your business is a shop, pub or restaurant then you stand a pretty good chance of getting a map symbol.

Listing yourself on Google Places

Get a Google account

Create a Google account
To get listed on Google Places you need a Google Account and you need to be logged in to it. Go to http://www.google.co.uk and press the "Sign in" button in the top right. If you don't have a Google then you can make one using the "Create an account now" button.

How to list yourself

To sign up for Google Places just search for "Google Places" actually the page is at www.google.com/local/add/businessCenter

Google Places start page
If you have no Google Places configured then you will probably see a page like this. Click the "List your business" button.

Google Places start listing
To start your listing, just enter your phone number and press the big button.

Google Places basic information
This is your business' listing. You don't need to fill it all in to start with. Get the "Basic Information" section filled in and press the "Submit" button - located right at the bottom of the page. Once you are verified with Google you can come back and update your listing later.

Getting verified

Google Places verification
Having submitted your first listing, Google will want to verify you. This is the verification page. If you are by your business phone then leave "By Phone" selected and press "Finish". Get ready to remember a PIN number - the next phone call will be Google's robot.

With any luck a Google robot voice will soon be reading you a short number. Type the magic number into the verification page and your "Place" will be listed on Google maps.

Now be patient, it will take time for there to be any effect on your Google Web Search. Apparently getting a grey map symbol can take months. Meanwhile there is plenty more information you can add to you Google listing.
Google Places edit button
To update your listing, just return to Google Places and hit the edit button (next to "Your business info" on the right hand side.)

That's all folks

So we have come to the end of my first blog. I trust you found it useful. Only time will tell how often I manage to write these things. I'm planning on sticking to an educational angle and discussing web-based subjects, generally tasks which anyone could carry out to improve their site and their site's exposure on the Internet.

Let us know how you get on. Phone 01725 552430 for a chat or e-mail: Chris@thewebbooth.co.uk