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.

Advertisements

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?

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.

 

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 xxx-accountants.co.uk to yyy-accountants.co.uk.

Or, alternatively you have been hankering over a particular domain name (for example accountants-in-xxx.co.uk) 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.”  (http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=79812)
    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.

Does Spelling and Grammar Matter in SEO ?

I was watching a Google webmaster help video recently where Matt Cutts (currently the head of Google’s Webspam team) answers the question “do spelling and grammar matter when evaluating content and site quality?”.

For those of you that are interested I’ve included the video below

The comments made in the video are that spelling and grammar are not direct signals in the rankings but there is a suggestion that this might change in the future.

There is also an interesting comment that Page Rank (PR) seems to be related to the spelling and grammar on the page with higher PR pages having better spelling and better grammar.

Personally though I suspect that there is a correlation, as if a page has been written well with no spelling mistakes and correct grammar usage then more people are likely to link to the page which in turn helps the search engine rankings for that page.

The other thing to remember is that if you, as a firm of accountants, have a page on your site that is full of errors this doesn’t reflect well on you and is more likely to turn people away from your site encouraging them to look for an accountant elsewhere. After all, if you are a professional, people expect you to know how to spell and use correct grammar.

This is one reason why, if you are paying someone to write blog posts for you, you should really check the quality of any articles written on your behalf.  I have actually seen a blog written for a firm of Accountants (persuamably by someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language) where one article starts :-

“An income tax prosecutor for finance entails enough information about the income tax act in particular; it will not just become restricted to the position as Criminal Court representative for the client’s civil case suits, moreover are required to be reliable to offer relevant information. Their advice are necessary for solving problems relating to the tax law, and using the different approaches in dealing with tax bills and tax investigations, so this legal method will be reduced.”

and continues later with :-

“Does not take matters into your own hands. Selecting options with out consulting professional advice might be risky and could end up with legal issues any time. Without a doubt you could reduce your taxes, but you must be sure that the options you are considering are approved and acknowledged globally with Government and are in accordance to the law.”

Another article starts :-

“Property Investment may well be named the safest expenditure boulevard. Correctly, properties investments, having a enough exploration with the property (and its real value), can lead to better earnings. This is a good reason why some individuals think of venturing on them aside from their full time job.”

Anyone coming across these articles, which are branded with the accountant’s name might be forgiven for saying “What?” and added that firm as one that is probably to be avoided.

Of course the examples above are an extreme but I have also seen examples of sites where words are suddenly capitalised in the middle of a sentence – so a sentence might read “We provide Tax Advice to Individuals and companies of all sizes including Small Businesses.”

Even if  you feel that your spelling and grammar is good it does no harm to have someone else read the content of your webpages and point out any possible problems – don’t just rely on a spell checker on your PC when you are putting the content together, remember that we specialise and not specialize here in the UK for example and many spell checkers would pass the US spelling of words as being correct.

What do you think?  If you see a page with obvious spelling errors or poor grammar do you bother reading to the end of it or do you just think “oh well…” and move on to the next page in the search results?