QR codes are still shit..

That's right folks according to a recent survey only 25% of smartphone users have scanned a code in-store with 9% still unaware of the technology. Can we please stop using them?!

In more interesting news I read this week that 85% of board meetings are now discussing website performance, but less than a quarter are making changes based on sophisticated data. I cannot stress how important analysis is, we discuss this with our clients on a week on week basis with a full review monthly, quarterly and annually. It has lead to significant changes in strategy both for us as an agency and for clients with fantastic results being seen, especially in the case of one client Moduleo.

It was also interesting to read how keyword rich domains were having less impact on ranking with a 0.08 reduction in correlation to ranking. Social Media, in particular Google+ is starting to see small increased in correlation to rank. I think this is a major area, feeding back to Google AuthorRank, I'm still surprised how little effect Social Media has on ranking, I think it could change with the emergence of Google+.

10 tips on the Tour de France

One of the lads at work asked me for some info on the Tour de France which starts on Saturday (I'm going for a Cadel Evans win). For a relatively newbie to cycling, watching the Tour for the first time does take a bit of working out, the best bet is to watch, listen and learn; you'll soon figure it out.

If you're wanting a head start I've put together some of the 10 tips on the Tour de France.

1. Basically it’s a 3 week race, the person who gets to the penultimate stage in the fastest time overall wins (the last stage is usually reserved for celebrating en-route and the ultimate sprint stage for the likes of Mark Cavendish). 

2. It's all about winning the yellow jersey; the person who finished the race in the fastest time. To win the yellow jersey, it's not about winning stages. Mark Cavendish could win 5 stages as a sprinter but still finish 3 hours behind the winner due to being slow in the mountains.

3. Each team will have a “leader”, who will be supported by a team of “domestiques”. The aim being to shelter him in the group, get him bottles and food so he is ready for the final 10k. Not all teams will have a super strong contender for the yellow jersey and may have a different strategy.

4. Some teams have different strategies, some go for the overall yellow jersey, some will go for the polka-dot jersey for the best climber (normally Spanish teams who are good at climbing) or just for the green jersey (like Mark Cavendish’s team). Some may be there to get into the daily breakaway and get exposure for sponsors.

5. You’ve got to finish every stage to start again the next day. If you get off your bike and into the car, you’re out. Riders also need to finish within a time frame of the leader too.

6. The group (known as a peloton) rides together for much of the time, normally the leading team will commit to most of the work on the front. On the days in the mountains, a group will form called the “grupetto”, this is a slow moving group normally full of sprinters like Mark Cavendish who aren’t the best going up hill.

7. The jerseys may change hands throughout the race depending on time or points gained/lost. You could be 5 minutes ahead in the yellow jersey, but then lose 7 minutes being caught up in a crash.

– the ultimate jersey. This is the person who finishes the race with the fastest time overall. The idea for the main contenders will be to get through the first week and finish together. I could have a 2 second advantage (perhaps I was 2 seconds faster in a Time Trial or manage a little breakaway near the finish) as long as I finish alongside my rivals, I could let them win the stage by a bike length and not lose my yellow jersey.

– this is the points jersey. More known as the sprinters jersey. Stages which are flat tend to be designed for the sprinters (ie: Mark Cavendish). Throughout the day there will be “intermediate sprints” where they can pick up points and then the finish where there are big points to be won.

Polka Dot – this is the King of the Mountains jersey. Every climb has a category and points can be gained for getting to the top first. Some riders can spend all day out on their own or all in a small group picking up points before being swept up on the last climb of the day by the team leaders.

White Jersey
– this is the best young rider jersey.

8. Everyday there is a breakaway; these are mainly the younger riders or smaller teams looking for exposure. Even the big teams may put a rider in the break for exposure. If you’re not going to be affecting the final standings then you’ll be allowed to get away. Then it’s the art of the chase. Normally they are reeled in about 10-5k from the finish, although some days they stay away encouraged by an eccentric ex-pro French directeur sportif!

9. Time trials are important. Here are two individual Time Trials (one being a mountain time trial which will be interesting) and also a Team Time Trial. These are designed to mix things up a little as the leader is exposed on his own. A team leader could lose seconds if not minutes here and may have to attack in the mountains to gain time. The Team Time Trial is interesting; out of all the team 4 must finish for the counting time. It also comes early on in the race, so the team leader is depending on the legs of all his team mates. Not all the team will be as strong or as experienced so they have to work together. A main contender could be 5 minutes behind after only a few stages due to his team not performing so it’s a big one.

10. Yes the crazy guys running alongside the riders are crazy. It all adds to the tour, you don't pay a penny to watch the Tour. Part of being a rider is coping with the added stress of a guy in a mankini while you're climbing one of the toughest mountain roads in the World!

Vive le Tour!

Life World War 2 Colour Photos

I'm a big WW2 junkie and these new, never been seen before, World War 2 colour photos published by Life are incredible. Breathtaking in fact. Although they have been restored the colour is still very pure, the images captured beautifully.

I've watched a lot of footage and poured over loads of photography from the war but I don't think I've seen images like this.

The photos were captured by LIFE magazine's Frank Scherschel before and after D-Day.

I'm really happy that time is still being invested to find and restore material like this. As more and more survivors, civilian, soldier or victim, are passing away; it is important that we must never forget the tragic events of 1939 to 1945, or those that fought for our peace.


First Time Buyers Tips & Advice

Buying a house is the best thing you'll ever do.
I've recently moved into my first house with Becky and I've put together some tips and advice for you first time buyers out there.

It's quite a lengthy process and there is a lot to take on board but despite the press coverage there are deals out there to take advantage of. We were able to purchase a property with just a 5% deposit.

I've put together 11 tips to help you out if you are a first time buyer, from getting a mortgage to fees for surveys to budgeting and choosing utilities. It all differs based on personal circumstance and location of course but I hope the advice helps!

1.  We got a 95% LTV mortgage from Nationwide.
Rising fuel bills and maintaining an active lifestyle is tough going on the wallet. You could live like a hobbit to save up a 10-25% deposit, and many do, but like us if you want to have a life then checking out Nationwide's Save to Buy scheme is a must.

Basically you save into the scheme for 6 months, paying a minimum of £50 a month (we paid a lot more). After 6 months you will be eligible for the Save to Buy mortgage which you can take out with just a 5% deposit.

AND not only that, when you take out the mortgage you will receive a cashback reward depending on the amount of deposit you had (this can be up to £1000, paid to you one month from completion - we used ours on home furnishings).

AND that's not it either, Nationwide as part of the deal will also cover any legal survey fees which is a massive bonus.

It's a great deal and the service we had from Nationwide from start to finish has been great. We also bank with them and would recommend them to anyone.

It's worth noting however that the APR isn't as competitive compared to taking out a mortgage with a bigger deposit. Mortgages work on what is called LTV or Loan to Value, this looks at the amount of credit secured against the value of your property. If you have a small deposit of 5% you have a greater LTV, as such you are classed as a greater risk by the lender and a higher APR is put on the product. The better the Loan To Value, the better the deal you'll get so it's worth considering if you're lucky to have the funds, rather than going for the most expensive property you can afford.

2. Work out your budgets.
Before visiting your lender, and even before viewing properties, it is worth working out your budgets. There are many loan calculators out there where you can get a rough calculation. Nationwide have a handy "how much can I borrow calculator" and also a mortgage repayment calculator.

If you're using a basic mortgage calculator I would work with an APR of 4% and over 25 and 30 years. That will give you a good rough indication of a monthly repayment.

You will then need to budget your monthly outgoings, I really struggled to find all this information online so here is what I would budget monthly just for the house, we pay a bit less but it's a good starting point:

Mortgage repayment
Life & building and contents insurance: £40
Council tax: £150
(will vary greatly on area - see your local council website for rates)
Water: £35
Electricity & gas: £100 (really worth shopping around on this - I'll explain more later on).
TV license: £32
Phone & Broadband: £40 (you could get this a bit cheaper but our deal includes Sky TV as well)
Groceries: £400 (again dependent on your lifestyle but don't forget toiletries and cleaning products)

After that you'll have your personal outgoings such as loans, running your car, magazine subscriptions, mobile phone etc.

Don't forget you may need to budget for a bed, furniture, washing machine, tumble dryer, microwave, kettle, toaster...make a list and start building it all up early bit by bit. We stored plates, glasses, mugs..you name it. Take advantage of sales too, we bought our bed in January from Bensons For Beds for an amazing price while making it clear we wouldn't be moving for a couple of months. They simply kept it in storage.

3. If you have outstanding credit get it sorted.
Lenders take your existing credit into consideration. This is a calculation known as DTI or Debt to Income. Lenders will use a percentage of your income to cover all your credit, so if you are fully loaded with credit cards and loans, the chances of you being able to take out a mortgage may be restricted as the calculation will show you won't be able to afford it.

Even if you don't have any outstanding credit on your credit cards, lenders will still take the potential amount you could spend into consideration so it is worth considering the credit limits and cancelling any old unused cards that may be knocking around.

We were fine as I only had a car loan and at the time we both had really small balances outstanding on credit cards from Christmas which were due to be paid off anyway. Our mortgage was based on these cards being paid off before the mortgage completion and we had to provide proof of that.

Don't lie, be open and honest about it with your lender. When I worked in finance the amount of lies people told was incredible. It will all show up on your credit file. It is well worth investing in a credit report as early as possible so you can sort any problems before seeing your lender. Experian offer this, just make sure you email to cancel within a month or they automatically set up a monthly direct debit service - bit underhand if you ask me but there you go.

4. Make a big list of properties, drive-by before you view.
Do your research. Investigate about the area and understand where you are buying. We bought locally and still spent days driving around. You'll be surprised how much of an impression a drive-by does no matter how nice the inside of a house may be. When you find the one you like, visit at night and during the day.

5. Watch out for the £125,000 limit on stamp tax duty.
This is an interesting one. If you purchase a property over £125,000 you pay stamp tax duty, this is on top of the price of the property and survey fees. This can add thousands to your budget on top of paying for the house. As such it can be a really good bargaining tool to get the sale under the £125,000 limit.

6. Costs of buying a house are expensive.
It's not just about the deposit. You will need to budget at least £5000 on top of your deposit to pay for conveyancing costs. We were lucky that Nationwide covered the majority of our legal fees as part of the Save to Buy scheme however we still had to pay for a number of surveys to be done. Some surveys are dependent on location while some surveys may not be known until the initial survey has been completed. By the way you don't pay anything to the estate agent, only the seller pays the commission.

7. Be prepared for your mortgage meeting with the bank.
It will normally take 3 1 hour sessions however you can put it into 2 sessions like we did, the second being a meaty 2 hour session. The first meeting is where everything is agreed in principle. This is where the amount and term is discussed, a potential product is decided and then a lot of time is spent running through existing finances and future budget etc.

The second session confirms on the previous session in more detail. The plan is explained in full, reams of documents are signed and insurances are discussed and agreed. After 3 hours you are done.

We had a great mortgage adviser, Amanda Jones, she helped us through everything but make sure you do your research before the meeting. As part of taking out a mortgage you will need to take out life insurance and your mortgage adviser will also sell buildings and contents. We ended up taking both through Nationwide (underwritten by Legal & General) but not before a bit of negotiation as we had found slightly cheaper online.

Keep in touch with your mortgage adviser throughout the process, advise of any delays and ask questions it really does help.

8. Shop around for deals.
When you move in, the first month will be with the existing provider of the previous owners but don't be complacent, you'll be put on a temporary tariff which can be expensive. Hardly any utilities companies provide easy facilities for first time buyers, it is all setup for existing users. Use the comparison websites and enter in what you know. Once you have the best utility companies on the comparison websites try going direct and see if you can get it cheaper. Also look out for deals such as Nectar points with British Gas.

I found that buying gas and electricity together on a set monthly direct debit was cheapest. We went with Ovo Energy, they were one of the cheapest based on our property and potential usage. Importantly for me they offered 3% interest on accounts in credit so you're making money during the quieter summer months. They have a great welcome pack and it was so easy to get everything set up. Would highly recommend them.

Definitely shop around for white goods. For white goods we used Boots Kitchen Appliances - it is run by the same people at Appliances Online but we found the prices to be cheaper than them! You also collect Boots points which can be used to buy toiletries and medicines. The service from them was fantastic, on time and fully fitted. Also watch out for deals, our washing machine came with 6 months worth of washing liquid! Huge money saver! Also check out efficiency ratings, try and get the best you can and use Which for reviews.

For TVs, again I would shop around. Personally I found Currys to be useless, they wouldn't price match. If anything they actually told me to go to Richer Sounds, the sales guy told me that not only was the price less at Richer Sounds but they had better models! Currys were useful in reminding me of an independent in town called Spatial Sound & Vision. The guy in there was brilliant and ended up being cheaper than both Currys and Richer Sounds. Don't forget independent stores!

9. It's a long process - don't get your hopes up.
"It's a short chain, you should be moved in within a couple of months". You won't. If you do you'll be lucky. Something always crops up which is nothing to do with you. As a first time buyer you'll be a sellers dream but you are at the top of the chain waiting on other people. The chain will get longer and people will delay. Be patient and importantly phone your conveyancer regularly.

Conveyancers (the legal people who will sort out surveys and be your go-between between estate agent and seller) can be slow working but when it is in your ballpark they want it doing yesterday. They all work on paper and fax which can be annoying especially in 2013. Keep phoning, ask questions and put some pressure on. I always followed up with an email to keep a paper trail and for important matters sent a letter too.

10. Be prepared for the move.
Use the time waiting for exchange day to sort out your utilities. Once a move date is confirmed get in touch with the water, gas & electric and phone and broadband companies. Let them know the date and they'll get everything prepared in advance. It takes a month to setup gas & electric and the broadband line. Phone (and TV connection if you're getting Sky) takes a week.

If you're buying a bed and kitchen appliances get in touch with them and let them know the exchange date. If you give them enough notice they can arrange delivery on the same weekend as you are moving in. We timed it perfectly so the bed was delivered two hours after we moved in, white goods were delivered Saturday morning and Sky was setup on Sunday morning. We were fully up and running, together with furniture bought and built from Ikea by Monday morning.

11. Moving in day.
You will be given a potential exchange date. This date has to be agreed by all parties in the chain which is a challenge but don't worry your conveyancer will help you with this. A date is fully confirmed when contracts are exchanged. The move isn't legally binding until contracts are exchanged. Be careful as the deal could still fall through even after months of surveys, get the contracts exchanged as soon as possible.

You'll normally have between 1-2 weeks once contracts are exchanged. At this point the conveyancer should have been paid in full. On the day you will be given a time when the exchanged should be completed. This is when everything has been signed off by the conveyancers and the money from the bank has been exchanged. If you are prepared, and have kept in touch with your mortgage adviser it will all be ok.

Normally you would expect to pick up the keys at midday. This is strange process. After the months and years of build up, you walk to the estate agent, they take your name, take the keys out of the drawer and say "thanks, all the best". It takes one minute. It is bizarre but an amazing feeling!

Make sure you take a electricity and gas reading. You'll need to let your new (or existing if you are staying put) know. Don't worry you don't have to do it straight away. Over the period of the next couple of weeks get in touch with the council and TV licensing.

I hope all this helps, it sounds like a lot but it's just about planning, being ahead of the game and doing the maths. A lot of people say how stressful and hard it is moving house, to be honest I found it to be pretty straightforward. The frustrating part for me was predicting budget so I hope you find my sums useful.

Relax, plan well and enjoy. It's the best thing you'll ever do.

Time Trialling - Halfway In

It looks like I have tits but I'm happy with my position

So here we are, mid-June and about halfway into the "season". I'm making good progress, I'm behind where I'd like to be but I'm improving at around 20 seconds a week for a 10 so at least I'm not going backwards. I'm posting short 26s on our club 10 which is about 10-15 seconds off my fastest last year.

Weight Loss

I had a good winter followed by a good Llanberis but lost momentum with the house move. I also wanted to purchase a Time Trial bike but that too has fallen by the wayside until next year. As you can hopefully see in the photo above I've lost weight, I'm currently 77kg which is 10kg lighter than this time last year and 8kg lighter than earlier in the year.

I've been careful to not lose power while losing the weight. I'm definitely missing the miles though, I've not been able to get out on my usual weekend miles and mid-week rides as often as I've wanted. I have kept up with the club runs and when I have been out I've made sure it is quality. Hopefully looking forward I'll get some more miles in from July onwards.


2013 has been a first. I entered my first open solo 25. I posted a time of 1.08 which I was really happy with as I was aiming for a 1.10. It would have been slightly faster had I not been held up by a coach at a junction. I enjoyed the 25, it was a tough day on the course, very windy but I managed to get into a rhythm and I felt good. Importantly I knew I could have done better at the end. There were times about halfway round that I lost concentration, my heart-rate dropped and I should have been pushing on. It was a good experience though.

Following that I competed in the 4up 25 with the club. We had 4 teams. My team posted a 1.01 which if you notice the 7 minutes difference that is a huge leap. I would like to say I contributed to that but I probably did about 2 minutes on the front throughout. Steve Thomas and Jim Williams were powerhouses on the front. I just held on for dear life on the back the whole way round, my legs screaming, my heart-rate through the roof. Cheers to Tommo & Jim for that, sorry I couldn't have done more.

Hopefully all this is building up in my legs and improving my fitness. I would love to post a short 25 for a 10. We'll see!

Google Squared

I best give a heads up for Google Squared which is a digital marketing course being run by the good folks over at Google and industry body IPA.

It is a 6 month course which starts in July involving 5 modules, all building up (if you complete all the assignments of course) a Squared Online Certificate in Digital Marketing, which in the words of Squared "created for the industry by the industry to meet the need for high calibre digital talent".

All sounding like top stuff and I've been given the opportunity by the agency to take part in a pilot course along with a 100 other digital marketeers around the UK. It'll involve two nights a week of online lessons together with assignments, the first of which to create a 2 minute video about myself. I've put something together, it won't win any awards but meets the brief. A lot has been said about simplicity when it comes to User Experience so I decided to go down that route.

No doubt I'll be keeping you updated on here!

Sports Therapist in Northwich

For those of you looking for a sports therapist in Northwich make sure you check out Your Sports Therapist.

Those who follow my blog will know the incredible help I've been given by my brother Chris over the years and I'm proud to say he has set up his own sports therapist clinic in Northwich.

As a sports therapist his services include:
- Sports massage (which I must highly recommend if you're playing sport on a regular basis as ongoing maintenance - it keeps the muscles relaxed allowing for better flex and transportation of blood; and with it better performance)
- Injury assessment and rehabilitation (for those suffering from aches and pains)
- Pilates (he is currently running a class on Sunday mornings which is proving to be very popular), medical acupuncture (which is really clever stuff)
- Rocktaping (that coloured tape you see athletes wearing sometimes to help muscle flex if they are having problems)
- Personal profiling and training (for those of you looking to take that next step up and improve on personal performance)

Chris qualified as a sports therapist a few years ago and his since gone on to work with footballers, rugby players, cricketers, gymnasts and of course us amateurs! He chose to be a sports therapist as a career choice having been through major rehabilitation himself following a horrific injury while on trial at Bradford City.

I know he is my brother but he has helped me tremendously and I know plenty of others who will say the same. It speaks volumes when you see the amount of referrals coming his way! If you are interested, sessions start from £20 for half an hour and he'll also do home visits. Visit www.yoursportstherapist.com for more info.