Local Marketing of Accountants Websites

There have been a lot of comments over the past few months on places like Twitter and LinkedIn about the need for marketing of accountants websites in their local areas.  In our view this has always been the case as people tend to look for professional services in their immediate area unless they are looking for a specialist service such as an audit for a FTSE250 company for example.

Recognising that there are many firms of accountants out there that have a problem with ranking for local searches we have developed a new product which is specifically aimed at helping firms with their local marketing.

localSITES - local marketing sites for UK AccountantsOur localSITES, are fully Search Engine Optimised, content-rich, microsites that have been developed by our team of SEO experts to appear at the top of the search engine rankings for very specific queries. We have built 10  of these sites optimised for specialist searches in each of 250 local towns, cities and boroughs across the UK giving you a total of 2,500 localSITES to choose from.

The 250 locations include all the major cities (e.g. Manchester, Bristol) plus commonly searched for towns (e.g. Dagenham, Aldershot) and London boroughs (e.g. Westminster, Islington). You can check for your preferred locations in the shop on our website and even request new locations if we haven’t covered your local area yet.

Meanwhile, the 10 specialisms are commonly searched accountancy service areas, plus sectors where particular clients might want to search for specialist advice from an accountant.  Currently the service areas we cover are: VAT advice, Business Start-up, Payroll, Tax Returns, Business Tax, Pensions and Corporate Finance, in addition to these we cover the Academies, Solicitors and Charities sectors.

You may be wondering how this would work for you, and it’s very simple, for example, if a potential client searches on Google for “VAT advice in Peterborough” our localSITE is visible on the first page. The site therefore acts like an ‘advert’ in the natural search results, sending pre-qualified leads to your firm that you can then covert to clients.

Are Bounce Rates Important?

Recently accountantSEO have seen several conversations in various marketing forums and emails about bounce rates and what is a good or poor bounce rate so we thought we would put together a few thoughts about it as it relates to accountant’s websites.

What is bounce rate?

The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that visit your site and leave the site without visiting any other page so, if you have 100 visitors with 20 of them landing on a page (any page) and then leaving the site you would have a 20% bounce rate.  The visitor could be leaving your site in any one of several ways :-

  1. They click the “back” button and go back to the page they have come from (usually a page of search results).
  2. They close the browser window or tab
  3. They type a new URL (web address) into the browser address bar
  4. They do nothing and remain on the page (most bounce rate calculations kick in if the visitor doesn’t change their page in 30 minutes or so, although some software will reduce the time to as little as 15 minutes).

What is a good bounce rate?

There are various figures bandied about the web for the bounce rate that you should be “aiming at” – these vary from as little as 2% to as much as 50%.   The problem with all of the figures you will see is that they are “guesstimates” and as we will show you below there is no one figure that you can say above that is bad and below that is good.

When thinking about bounce rates you need to consider several elements.

First, how statistically valid are the figures?  You may have a page that has had 4 visitors in a set time period and each of these have looked at a second page – this means that your bounce rate for those visitors is zero.  The question here though is how valid is it to judge something on 4 visitors – I am sure that you have all seen adverts on the tv that say things like 92% of 37 people asked say that their hair feels better , would you really trust something that only 34 people (37 * 0.92) say works?  Of course this is less of a problem when you have 1,000s of visitors to a page as you can be more sure that the figure is statistically correct, however there are still problems with this as you will see.

Secondly, what were people looking for when they visited your page?  If, for example, you are looking at the bounce rate for your contact page we would suggest that the majority of people would be looking for your contact details (address, phone, fax or email), as long as the contact page lists this information why should people then click on other pages of your site?  By giving them the information that they need the bounce rate will be relatively high – so you need to think about how what people were looking for affects the statistics.

Thirdly, and this is similar to the point we have just covered, what does your page look like?  If someone comes to your site looking for VAT advice do you talk about VAT on the page they have landed on?  Does the page have your contact details on (phone number / email address)?  If so then it’s more than possible that the visitor will contact you via one of these methods and leave the site  – being a “bounce” in the process.  It is considered good internet marketing for websites such as those for Accountants, to list the contact details on every page (often clearly displayed in the header or footer of the page) as this helps people contact you easily.

Should I worry about bounce rate then?

Our view is that as long as you understand the factors that can affect the bounce rate and are comparing like for like then it’s a useful indication of changes to your visitor profile, but it’s not a figure that you can just do a quick check on as there are too many factors involved.  So on the balance of things, unless you have the time to spare on really digging into the details we wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Do you look at your bounce rates?  Do you understand what they are telling you?  We would be delighted to hear from you with your views, just fill in the comment box below.

SEO is Easy…

This was a comment that was made to us by a new client recently who was in third position in Google for a phrase that was important to them.

It seems that the client had looked at the pages that were above him and had then looked at the source code for those pages and had seen lots of keywords in the meta tag.  He then decided to combine both keyword meta tags (working on the principle that if each only had 50% of the words by having them all it would mean that his site covered 100%) and wanted us to “add the meta tag to each and every page on the site” along with the comment that “SEO is easy”.

We had to tell him that sadly SEO is not a case of just plugging keywords into a meta tag (that option stopped back in 2005).  If you don’t believe us then have a look at some of this background reading :-

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html (Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking – comment at the bottom of the page : Google has ignored the keywords meta tag for years and currently we see no need to change that policy.)

http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=79812 (a list of meta tags that Google knows – comment at the bottom of the page : remember that Google will ignore meta tags it doesn’t know.)

Or, from a non-Google source http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2067564/How-To-Use-HTML-Meta-Tags  “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the “keywords” meta tag was a critical element for early search engines. Much like the dinosaurs, this tag is a fossil from ancient search engine times.The only search engine that looks at the keywords anymore is Microsoft’s Bing – and they use it to help detect spam.”

It was also pointed out that it’s believed that there are over 200 factors that Google uses to rank pages (it doesn’t rank sites) – these include :-

Page content

  • Is the phrase on the page (for example if you want the page to feature for payroll services you should at least mention payroll on the page)
  • How often is the phrase (and synonyms) repeated – this doesn’t mean that you need to stuff the page with the phrase though
  • Where the phrase appears on the page (is it at the top of the page or only at the bottom of the page)
  • How often the page is updated (there needs to be a certain amount of trust that the searchers will find what Google found)
  • Age of the page

Links to the page (external)

  • Number of links
  • Wording of links (do they all use the phrase you are targeting or do some of them say things like “click here” or your business name).
  • Relevancy of links (does the page the link is on talk about the service/product you provide or is it just a list of random links).
  • Age of links
  • How quickly the links to the page are increasing
  • The “importance” of the page/domain that the link is on
  • Can the page that the link is on be reached by normal navigation or only by a search
  • Is there evidence that the link has been paid for (this is a no-no in the eyes of Google unless it is marked as such so they can discount any value that the link might pass)
  • The type of link (follow / no-follow / redirect via a counter script)

Internal links to the page

  • Wording of the links
  • How easy the navigation is for the search engines to follow (the general rule is that the search engines [and human visitors] need to be able to reach any page of the site within 3 clicks of any other page of the site)

Other factors

  • Age of the domain
  • Where the domain is hosted (country)
  •  Where the firm is based (the latest Google update emphasises the location of the site even more than it used to do)
  • How quickly the page loads
  •  Social Media (a recent addition)
    • Are there any tweets pointing to the site/page
    • Are tweets retweeted by other people
    • Are other social media venues (eg Facebook) lining to the site/page and are the links from other people
    • Is there a blog and if so how frequently is it updated.
    • If there is a blog does it link to other pages on the site
  • Are there any errors (page not found for example) on the site.

There are many other factors at play and each of these can vary from day-to-day (Google makes over 500 tweaks to the importance of the factors in the course of a year).

We then carried out a very basic analysis of the number of links both to the clients page and also to the page in the first place of the results.  This showed that the client’s page had 51 back links from 49 different domains while the page in 1st place had over 900 back links.  If you think of a link as being a “vote” for a page then you can see that could be one reason why the top page was where it was.

Of course, we are not saying that links are the only reason that the client’s competitor was at the top of the search results, but we are saying that SEO is not easy.

If you run SEO campaigns for clients, or even work on SEO on your own site, what do you think – is it easy?

What you Can’t do on Facebook Business Pages

While not technically part of SEO, we have been speaking to several clients recently here at accountantSEO about business pages on Facebook and how to use them so we took a detailed look at the rules and that has generated this article.

The first question to ask is does your firm have a Facebook page?  You may have been told that you need one for your marketing and while there is some doubt about the effectiveness of Facebook pages for professional services this is not what this blog post is about.

The next question, and the most important one in this post is – do you know that Facebook may delete your page without warning if it breaches the terms and conditions that you agreed to when you created your business page?

You may not have read the pages and pages of terms and conditions (very few people do with most of them just ticking the box) but this is no excuse and it’s definitely a case of “ignorance is not bliss”.  Facebook says “We reserve the right to reject or remove pages for any reason” and they are not kidding, there is no warning either – you could log in one day and find that it’s gone, along with all the followers that you have painstakingly gathered.

Some of the more common rules that are broken every day and can lead to your page being deleted are :-

  • The cover photo (the big image at the top of the page) can’t be used as an advert.  Typical examples of what is considered an advert are :-
    • Including contact details (so remove website addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and so on).  If the image contains anything that could be considered as a way to contact you Facebook could treat the image as an advert.
    • Including purchase information or prices.   This is less likely to be a problem for firms of Accountants than pages for retail businesses but don’t have anything that says, for example, “Accountancy packages from £50 per month”.
    • Including calls to action.  Remove that “Contact us now” wording from the image.
    • Asking for people to upload your cover image to their personal timelines
  • The cover image should also not be one that you do not own or have the rights to use, that is deceptive or misleading.  Make sure that if it’s not a photo you have taken that you have a licence to use it – don’t just grab an image from Google and use it without permission (this is a breach of copyright law anyway).
  • While on the subject of the cover image it needs to be 851 pixels wide by 315 pixels tall (a slightly odd size) and be under 100 Kb in file size.

Other and much more common things that can cause your page to be deleted are termed promotion rules.  Look at almost any Facebook business page and you will see at least one of these rules being broken (but just because everyone else does it doesn’t mean that it’s safe for you to do so).

You can’t run any sort of promotion, sweepstake or competition on your page that uses Facebook’s features or functionality (“like this post / share this photo / upload your photo to this page / comment on this post” for example). Similarly you mustn’t hold Facebook responsible – you must include something like “This promotion is not sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated by Facebook”.

The competition must be more that just liking your page or sending you a photo – while the liking can be part of the competition the entrant must do more than that (you might want to look at a custom app or page where people have to answer a question for example).

Another thing you can’t do is to use the “like” button as a way of voting – just the most likes of a photo is not ok, nor is a competition that relies on other functionality such as a “the person that invites the most new followers”.

Oddly, for a competition that you would be holding on Facebook you can’t tell the winners that they have won using Facebook – so you can’t send them a message, post on a page (theirs or yours) or even use Facebook chat to notify them that they have won.

Finally, your page name and Facebook business user name must reflect your business name, it can’t just be a generic word (such as accountants).  The page name also can’t be all in capitals (unless your organisations name is an acronym – HSBC for example).  You also can’t use characters such as bullet points, excessive punctuation or trademark symbols in the page name.

We hope that this brief guide has helped and will stop your Facebook page from being deleted.  The best advice we can give you is to read the terms and conditions, and go back to them on a regular basis as they are updated often and just because your page is ok now it may fall foul of the rules next month or the month after.

Getting Details of Visitors

Recently, we have been approached by several clients who have been told by other companies that by installing some software that you can either get daily reports showing the names and contact details (business names, phone numbers, email addresses etc) of people visiting their websites or get immediate emails giving the same information.

The questions that we are always asked are :-

  1. Is this possible and
  2. Will it harm the website

This blog post aims to answer both of those questions.

Is it possible to get visitors details without them knowing it?

Technically, yes, it is possible to get some details some of the time. The explanation for this somewhat obscure answer is given below.

This next  bit is fairly technical but we have tried to make it as simple as possible – you do need to read it however to understand the process that is used to get visitors details.

The first thing to remember is that every visitor to a website comes into the site using what is called an IP address – this address is used to send the information back from the website to the visitors browser and is normally in the format nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn (called a dotted quad).  Everything that is connected to the internet (web servers, routers, modems etc) has an IP address with the typical office having an external IP address (used to connect to the internet and assigned by your ISP [internet service provider]) and then several internal IP addresses used by the PCs and printers in the office so that they can “talk” to each other.

There is also a system called DNS (domain name system) which allows domain names to be converted to IP addresses, this system is what is used when you visit a website (for example) or send an email.  Basically you type in http://www.domain.co.uk into your web browser, this then talks to something called a name server and says “where is http://www.domain.co.uk?”.  The name server looks up a database and replies “you need to go to IP address 83.223.118.24” (the IP address given is made up so please do not try to visit it).  At this point the browser says “ok – 83.223.118.24 can you show me the website for http://www.domain.co.uk?” and the server says “here you go…”.

Apologies if you already knew about IP addresses DNS and networking protocol and are sitting there thinking “it’s a lot more complex than that” but as I am sure you would agree this is a summary of what happens.

The process used by the visitor tracking software is that it takes this IP address and does something called a reverse DNS look up which is, as the name suggests where the IP address is looked up and the domain name associated with that address is worked out.  The domain name is then passed to something called a “who-is” which takes the domain name and looks up who it is registered to along with any contact details linked to the name.  Finally some versions of the process will look up the website at the domain name and will try to find a contact page to confirm the details such as address, phone number and email address.

The flow chart below shows the basic steps :-

Tracking website visitors flowchartWhy did you say “some” details and “some” of the time?

If you remember, the idea is to be able to get visitors contact details so you can email or call them to see if you can help them as they have been looking at particular pages of your website.

The problem is that not all visitors will have an IP address that relates to their business.  For example the author was recently on his way back from a meeting and called into a service area on the M6 to grab a coffee, check emails and while he did this he also looked at a couple of websites.  The process detailed above would have told you that the visitor to your site belonged to toto services, which is not a lot of use.  Similarly of your visitor was using free wi-fi in McDonalds, Starbucks or one of the hundreds of other free wi-fi locations or was using BT open zone wi-fi you would not have their correct details.

Let’s assume however that the visitor is using an ADSL connection from their office and lets further assume that this is a fixed IP address (not something that all ISPs provide unless asked for as there are a limited number of IP addresses available).  You look up the IP address using a reverse DNS lookup and find the owner of the IP address and shock, horror, it isn’t the details of the visitor.  For example, the IP address of the connection here is 212.69.47.155, doing a reverse DNS lookup on this address shows that I am supposedly cust155-dsl47.idnet.net, located in Hitchin in Hertfordshire (only about 200 miles from where I am actually located).  Looking up idnet.net gives you the ISP’s contact details and not my details.

Try looking up your details at http://whatismyipaddress.com/ (this gets your external IP address), taking the domain name associated with that IP address and going to http://www.kloth.net/services/whois.php, entering the domain name and see if this lists your contact details.

Alternative;y. if have AWStats installed on your website have a look at the Hosts –> Full List section and see how many of those have a company name that you might recognise.  The author has just looked at one website for this month and of the 1,532 visitors that had a reverse DNS record set only 3 of them had a record that looked as if it was a valid company that could be tracked, all of the others were related to their ISP.

Something else to consider is that even if the process works, the best it can give you is the contact details listed on the who-is (or maybe on the contact page of the website belonging to the visitors domain).  This is not necessarily going to be the person that was looking at your website.  You are a firm of Accountants and someone has looked at the tax advice page on your website – is this the FD of the business (if there is one), the accountant (again if there is one), the owner or even a member of staff that needs help with a tax return.  Or, someone has looked at your page that contains advice about starting a new business – are you really going to ring the telephone number that the software gives you and ask to speak to the person that is thinking of leaving their current job and start a new business?

Does it harm my website?

In all honestly no, it’s not likely to harm your website apart from slowing down the page load speed a little (as long as the server the software is loaded onto is up – if it’s down then it could in theory stop your web page from loading), although web page load speed is a factor in the search engines rankings the difference is likely to be minimal.

However, with all the debate about privacy that is going on at the moment how would your prospects feel knowing that you have installed software that potentially gives you all of their contact details.  Also, you would need to make sure that this use of “non-client” data was covered in your Data Protection Act registration.

Finally I’d be interested in hearing from anyone that has installed this kind of software or used this kind of service.  Did it work as you hoped? Did you get good quality leads from it or did you end up “upsetting” people who realised that you had been “spying on them”?

Appearing in Local Search Results

We have been saying for many years here at accountantSEO that firms of Accountants should be aiming their website marketing at the local population unless they are a national (or international) firm or provide a very specialist service.

If you use us for your SEO (search engine optimisation) then much of what I talk about below is something that we would do for you automatically however for those of you that would like to have a go yourself I’ve provided a few tips to help you optimise your website in order to make it more search engine friendly from local search point of view.

These tips can help your site obtain higher rankings in the organic Web search results (i.e.  not the paid for/sponsored results that appear at the top or right-hand side of the Google results) for search terms that specify a location (for example, “Accountants in Chandlers Ford”) or are caught by the recent Google local search update (about half way down this page announcing changes to the search results).

When you are optimizing your site for geo-targeted key phrases (those that are based on your location or areas that you provide services to), you need to approach your SEO campaign using the same processes as you would if you were targeting a national or generic phrase. You still need to conduct keyword research, do a competitive analysis at the local level, then apply on-page SEO by optimizing tags and content on your pages.

You should also try to increase your link popularity by obtaining inbound links (preferably from relevant sites that are local and serve the same area that you are trying to target) as this will help to emphasise to the search engines that you are based in a location and that this is the area you are targeting.  This is where you can score if you do the link building yourself, although it can be a thankless task, as you would be aware of the locality and could probably find local sites easier than if you leave this to someone else to do that doesn’t know the area.

So, if you want to optimise your site for geo-targeted keywords, make sure your locations (i.e., city, town or location name) are included in your content. You should also incorporate local search terms in the content when appropriate, without making the content sound too awkward (for example don’t say something like “XYZ Accountants in Welwyn Garden City are a firm of accountants in Welwyn Garden City…”).

Make sure you emphasise your location and the fact that you provide services to a specific geographic region, again though do this with care and read the content of your pages out loud to check that you don’t repeat the location too often.  Our experience shows that both the “about us” and “contact us” pages on websites are great for targeting local terms, although it’s more than possible to target local terms on all the pages on your website if you do it carefully.

If you have multiple locations or serve different areas, it would be may even be an idea to have a dedicated page for each location that provides specific information about the services you provide or the team in each location.  If you do this however please do not just copy the page several times and just change the location, try to make each page different

If you have just one the one office location then add your full address in the footer of your website (or the header, it doesn’t really matter which from an SEO point of view).  This has the added benefit of letting people know how to contact you on every page and not making them search for your contact details (which can put people off).

Finally, use local phone numbers. Having a 0800 number is great if you don’t want people to be charged for the phone call (bear in mind though that 0800 numbers are not always free for calls from mobile phones), but when it comes to local SEO, make sure to include a local phone number on your that matches your targeted area if you can (although this isn’t always possible in areas such as London where your phone exchange might not cover all of the area you want to target).

Website Statistics – Visitors, Hits etc

We are often approached by clients, and sometimes by prospects, and asked about the number of hits to their website and whether the numbers they are seeing is good or not.

While we are careful to never disclose confidential information about other clients we can, if the figures are available, take a look at them and compare them to other firms of Accountants that we are working on to give a guideline about the number of visitors.

This blog post is aimed at explaining some of the more common terms and illustrating the kind of things that you should be looking at in your website stats.  We have based this on someone who is using a common stats package (AWStats) which is run by many hosts on their servers.

Terminology

We will start by clearing up some common terms that you may see or hear bandied around when people are talking about website statistics :-

  • Hits – this is a meaningless measurement for most people.  It isn’t as you might think the number of times that a page is viewed as technically it’s the number of files accessed on the server.  A page can be made up of many files, for example there may be    a style sheet  that controls what the page looks like (font face, colour, size, background images, positions of columns etc), a menu file, a couple of images (a logo and a photo) and the actual page content (the wording on the page).  A simple page like this would be 5 hits on the (1 for the style sheet, 1 for the menu, 2 for the images and 1 for the wording).
  • Pages – this is more helpful as it is a count of the number of pages looked at on the site.
  • Visitors – a visitor is someone who comes to your site (duhh…).  But a visitor may be counted as two visitors if they come back to your site the following day (or even later the same day) as stats packages count the visitor as being a single person if the gap between them looking at pages is less than a specified time (usually about 15 – 30 minutes depending on the stats package).  Similarly if you have two people visiting your site from the same IP address (say a prospective client has a colleague looking at the site at the same time) this will only count as one visitor.
  • Unique Visitors – a “unique” is someone who has visited your site for the first time in the period that the stats package covers – so for example if I were to visit your site today and come back again tomorrow (or even later today) I would be 1 unique visitor but counted multiple times as a visitor.

The image below shows you a sample of the figures from an AWStats report.

Typical web site stats showing visitors and hits

Things to watch

There are several areas of AWStats that can prove interesting to a website owner when checking how well their website is doing (although the main criteria must be the number of enquiries or sales that the site generates).

These include the pages that have been visited (Navigation –> Viewed –> Full list ), the image below shows a typical report (with the page names blurred out for confidentiality reasons, as all the images below are).  This may not be easy to see but the columns you would be interested in are the “URL” (the page address), Visitors, Entry and Exit ones.

Looking at the image below the home page “/” has been viewed 179 times in the first three days of April, of these views 115 of them were the first page looked at by a visitor and 109 visitors left the site having looked at the home page last.  The next page has been looked at 46 times and the third page on the list has been viewed 39 times.

Pages viewed

You can get a similar report for the pages that people enter the site on (in AWStats it’s in Navigation –> Viewed –> Entry).

The next one that is normally of use is the referring sites – this shows you the sites that have sent you visitors.  If you are paying for a display advert or to be listed on a website you should see the site being listed in this area of the report (if you are not then it might be worth questioning why the money is being spent).

Finally you might want to look at the search phrases being used to find you, while this is of interest generally it can also suggest areas of your site that you might want to look at to try to improve conversion rates, for example if you have lots of people looking at your site for tax advice then make sure that the page they are landing on has an easy way for visitors to contact you.

If you look at your web site statistics on a regular basis is there anything else you look at?  We would be pleased to hear if you feel that there is anything we have missed or if you feel that anything we have said needs more explanation, just fill in the comments form below.