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 into your web browser, this then talks to something called a name server and says “where is”.  The name server looks up a database and replies “you need to go to IP address” (the IP address given is made up so please do not try to visit it).  At this point the browser says “ok – can you show me the website for” 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, doing a reverse DNS lookup on this address shows that I am supposedly, located in Hitchin in Hertfordshire (only about 200 miles from where I am actually located).  Looking up gives you the ISP’s contact details and not my details.

Try looking up your details at (this gets your external IP address), taking the domain name associated with that IP address and going to, 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.


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.


Changing Domain Names

You may well have been there – you have changed your firm’s name and have been told that for marketing / branding purposes that you need to change your domain name from to

Or, alternatively you have been hankering over a particular domain name (for example for ages and you realise that it’s now available to be registered so you decide to change your domain name to capture extra visitors to the site and hopefully get more clients.

While this sounds easy to do, and in practice it is as easy as copying the content of your existing site to the new domain there are a few things that you need to remember if you want to do this successfully.  This blog post aims to cover the common errors that we have seen made time and time again, so helpfully it will help you avoid these if you are planning on changing your website domain name.

  1. Make sure that all the old pages on the old domain are redirected to the equivalent page on the new domain.  This may be something that your web host will have to do for you. If you are doing this make sure that the redirection uses what’s known as a 301 status code and not a 302 status.
    1. a 301 status tells the browsers and the search engines that the content on the old page is permanently redirected to the new location.  Eventually the search engines will get to know that the content has been moved and will replace the old pages in their index with the new location.
    2. a 302 status tells the search engines that the content of the page has temporarily moved to a new location but that it will be back at its old location at some point in the future.  The 302 redirection is treated with some suspicion by the search engines
    3. Do not use the meta redirect to transfer visitors to the new page – this as Google themselves say can be counter-productive “This meta tag sends the user to a new URL after a certain amount of time, and is sometimes used as a simple form of redirection. However, it is not supported by all browsers and can be confusing to the user. The W3C recommends that this tag not be used. We recommend using a server-side 301 redirect instead.”  (
    4. Remember that part of the reason for doing this is that although you can control your own domain content you may well have people linking to your pages and  you can’t either expect to find all the links or get them corrected by other webmasters.
  2. Don’t plan on having the same content on both the old and new domain – this may confuse the engines resulting in some pages on the old domain and a few on the new domain being listed which would be even more confusing to visitors to the site.
  3. Just because you have a new domain don’t think that you can let the old one expire (or sell it) straight away.  This is for the reason mentioned above – the search engines and other sites will have links to your old domain and page addresses, do you really want to lose all those possible visitors?
  4. Don’t forget to change your email address signatures if you have your web address in there, and also any marketing material, although this can be left until the next print run if you make sure that your redirections are in place as anyone typing the old address will find the new one.
  5. Don’t expect for the search results to change overnight – remember that the engines need to spider (read) your pages before there is any chance of the results reflecting change of domain name.

By adopting these few simple steps you will reduce the risk of anything going wrong with your search engine rankings or having your visitors getting problems if you change your domain name.

If you have any other tips that you think people should follow when moving a site I’d be more than happy to hear about them, just fill in the comment box below.