SEO and URLs

Recently we have spoken to several clients and prospective clients who all seem to have had the same idea.  If I explain the most recent conversation with a client (any domains mentioned in the conversation below are made up) you might see what the problem is, if you don’t I’ll explain later.

Client – “I have just brought two new domains that I want to feature in the search engines.”

Me – “Ok…  what are the domains and what do you want the domains to feature for?”

Client – “I’ve brought http://www.bluewidgetsuk.co.uk and http://www.redwidgets.co.uk.  I want to be found for the searches blue widgets and red widgets in the UK.”

Me – “Hmm… what content are you planning on putting onto the two new websites?”

Client – “Two new websites?  I don’t want two new websites (meaning that they didn’t want to spend time thinking about the wording or the cost of having new sites built and hosted), all I want is for the domains to come up in the search engines.”

Me – “So what do you want to say on the pages of these domains?” (Asking the previous question in a different way in case I had not been understood).

Client – “I don’t want any content – I’ve read that if I have a domain that matches the search then I will come up at the top of the search results.”

Me – “But what do you want to happen if the visitors go to your domain, assuming that they find it?”

Client – “Oh…  Umm… I guess they need to see the same things that my main website says.  That already tells them about our blue and red widgets… ”

At this point I had to explain that just because the domain contained the same characters as the phrase that the person was searching for it :-

  1. Didn’t actually have the same words as the engines might read the characters and not split it into separate words
  2. Was unlikely to appear in the search results just because the name matched the search string
  3. Was unlikely to appear in the search results if there was no content on the page (assuming that we were just going to redirect the domain to the clients main site)
  4. If we put a copy of the main site on the domain it would possibly be hit by a duplicate content filter or at the very least confuse the engines and visitors as to which domain/site was the real one
  5. It was unlikely that the new domains would appear anyway as Google reported around 25 million results for each of the phrases that was being targeted.

This ended up with the client asking “do you think I wasted my money then?”  at which point I said that it would at least stop their competitors from registering the domains.  I then suggested that the two options open to him at that point were that he could either build a couple of small sites that both contained unique content and said in effect “for more information please visit our main site” or that he could just redirect to the main site and leave the domains to capture anyone that happened to type in http://www.redwidgetsuk.co.uk into the browser address bar (which  was better than a holding page that their domain registration agent had put up that advertised online dating).  He decided that he would set up the forwarding and a few minutes later I got an email saying that he had done this.

The problem was that when I checked he had used an option on the registration agents site to put the main site into a frame on the new domain.  At this point I suggested that he waited until I could send him the exact instructions to redirect the new domains to the main (real) domain using the correct 301 redirect code.

This whole episode followed on from a discussion that I had had a few days earlier on an SEO forum where I was told that all anyone needed to feature on the first page of the search engines was to have a domain that matched the search – the example I was given was http://www.shoeshopinpeterborough.co.uk for a shoe shop in Peterborough (do “shoes hop in Peterborough” or should that be “shoe shop in Peterborough” by the way?).  It seems that the person that told me this believed it as it was something that he had read online.  It was fairly easy to find several examples where this was not the case and I tried to explain that the domain (or even the URL) might be a factor in the search engines but that it was believed that Google had over 200 such factors and that SEO was not that easy.

Of course, the other problem with this approach, if it was the main factor in search engine optimisation, is that it would only work for one search – so if you wanted to be found for “Accountants in Bath”, “Tax advice in Bath”, “Bath Accountants” and “Bookkeeping in Bath” that would be 4 domains that you would need, if you expand the number of search phrases you could end up with dozens (if not more) of domains.

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What is SEO?

SEO or search engine optimisation is often thought of as simply being a box of tricks that gets your site to the top of the search engine results.

What is SEOMany people will read up on SEO and think “so, I add keywords to the page and it will automatically appear in the results” but sadly there is a lot to more SEO than this as any SEO professional will tell you.

But before you start to think about the technical side of what you are doing (with the worry about meta tags, keyword density, no-follow tags, and all the other things that you might read about) you need to think about what you want to be found in the engines for.

Remembering that this blog is about SEO for Accountants we will take a look at why thinking about what you want to be found for is important to your business.

You are an accountant based in Cambridge for example, you’re a fairly small firm that has decided to concentrate on small businesses (say those with a turnover of less than £6), your current clients are all based in a fairly tight geographical area (something that is not that unusual as the search engines say that people tend to look for professional services in their local area) covering for example Newmarket, Ely, Royston and Saffron Walden. Many people might say – “I want to feature for the word “Accountants” or “Chartered Accountants”” but we would suggest that you should be looking to be in the search results for “Accountants in Cambridge” or even for one of the other areas that you currently service.

Again, you want to feature for business tax returns and the temptation might be to say “CT600 Returns” using the terminology that the HMRC and accounting industry use – but stop to think for a moment, would the average business man use CT600 or are they more likely to type in “corporation tax” into a search engine?  It’s all very well coming at the top of the search engines for a phrase that no-one would search for, but how much use will it be to your business?

There are many ways to come up with a list of valid phrases that you would like to feature for.  A process that we find works well is to ask your family and friends (even those down the local pub) what they would type into a search engine to find your type of business – try to get as wide a mix of people as possible so that you cover the various services that you provide.  Then look at the most popular results of this exercise and ask your SEO firm to see how popular the phrases are as reported by the search engines (and what the competition is like).  The reason for this latter step is that if you have a choice between aiming for two phrases that have the same number of searches in a month but one has 5 million competing pages and the other only has 250,000 competing pages the latter should be much easier to feature for in a short time space.  Of course, if you use a specialist SEO firm that only works in one industry sector then they may already know the best performing phrases that have worked with other clients and this could save you the time and effort in doing your own research.

I said at the top of this blog post that SEO about to get you to the top of the search engines, this is partially true but it’s real purpose (as with most forms of marketing) is to attract new clients for your business.  Generally a typical Accountant’s website is not going to get people to sign up for you after a visit to your site, what they are usually aimed at is getting prospective clients to contact you so that you can talk to them, find out how you can help them and then sign them up as clients.  Anyone that tells you that SEO is purely about getting you to the top of the search engines is missing out on the real purpose.