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.

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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?

 

SEO Analysis Reports

We have recently been approached by several firms of accountants who have all been visited by salesmen from a large internet company.  The common feature for all of them is that the salesman produced a report saying how poor the accountant’s web site is in terms of internet exposure and this has worried them.

I thought that I’d post a few comments about the typical report in the hopes that it might stop clients and prospective clients from worrying too much and help people read between the lines of these reports, which are after all used as a sales technique.

Typically the report has several sub-headings and I’ll go through some of these one at a time with an SEO professional’s hat on (the author has over 12 years SEO experience).

Analytics : Usually the report tells you how important analytics are to a business and while this is true they are only useful if you take the time to read and understand them (something that we do).  From experience, most website owners are interested in two things – the number of visitors and the number of enquiries/conversions.  You can get the first of these from your web hosts visitor statistics, assuming that they run these for you – and most analytics programs will not tell Accountants how many conversions they have, as the typical accountancy website is set up to get enquiries which are then converted by meeting or talking to the prospect.

Alternative Text : There was a new twist to this on the latest report in that the report claimed that it was illegal to have images with no “alt text” associated with it here in the UK.  In fact only images that are essential for site navigation technically need this alternative text, images that are only there for decoration do not need it, although it would be a good idea to have an empty alt text so that it doesn’t upset users of “talking browsers”.

Incoming Links : If I had a penny for every report that says that the website that they are analysing has no incoming links on Google I’d have been able to retire years ago.  Any respectable, properly trained, SEO person will be able to tell you that Google doesn’t report the correct number of incoming links on public searches, it hasn’t done so to my knowledge for many years (if at all).  A follow on from this is often a question that asks if the website has been banned – a simple site:www.domain.com search on Google disproves this suggestion.

Meta Tags : Usually the report mentions keyword meta tags and sometimes the description meta tag.  The keyword tag hasn’t been read by Google for about 7 years and Google also say that the description tag is not used in their ranking criteria – although, if it is shown in the search results it can influence people clicking through onto a page on your website.  Just remember that Google doesn’t always show the carefully crafted meta description that you have worked so hard on.

Alexa Rankings :  Alexa rankings are directly influenced by people visiting a site and having the Alexa toolbar installed on their browser.  This software, some would call it spyware, reports back to Alexa what sites you are visiting but is not something that your typical web surfer would have installed.

Feeds :  Often the report says that search engines use feeds to follow updates to websites.  An alternative method that I know is used by some accountancy website builders is to update something called an XML sitemap and notify the engines of the changes that way.

URL Format :  Again, the latest report that I saw said that the URL format for the site was poor as the site had .htm file extensions and that URLs shouldn’t have these extensions.  If this were true then why would so many .htm / .html / .php / .asp (and other) urls appear in top positions in the search results?

As I say, many of these reports are generated in order to scare people into changing their website or move to a new designer and if you take the time to look at the report and think about it then most of the points can usually be “shot down in flames”.  The problem that we see is that people don’t have the knowledge or time to think about the report and immediately say “if this big internet company say my website has problems it must have!”.  I would suggest that you talk to your current web designer (or SEO firm if you are using one) and ask them to take a look at the report for you, you would probably be surprised by their comments on the report.  Alternatively why not approach a firm that specialises in SEO for Accountants, like accountantSEO, and ask if someone could take a look at the report?

If you are a firm of Accountants that has had one of these website analysis reports presented to you, or you are a web designer, SEO professional who has had a client forward one of them to you I’d be delighted to hear your experiences – just leave a comment below 🙂

Meta Keywords – Are They Any Use for Accountants SEO?

This blog post has been prompted by a client who has just sent an email saying that they would like several meta tags added to their Accountants site for SEO purposes as they felt that they were not featuring in several geographical areas that were nearby the city they were based in.

I had to write back to them explaining that not only did people search for professional services in their local area (so someone searching for an accountant in Peterborough would not be very likely to use an accountant in Cambridge, even if they found the Cambridge firm in a search for Peterborough Accountants) but that meta keywords have not been used by Google for some time.

In fact, I remember the fuss caused in the SEO industry when it was realised back in about 2005 that Google had stopped using them (as this Google blog post and video dated 2009 explains). This webmaster support post even goes so far as to list the meta tags that Google currently understands and you will notice that the keywords one is conspicuous by its absence.

If you compare this list with many of the meta tags that some SEO companies will tell you that you must have on your pages you will see that Google really only understands a small subset – there is no mention of the Revisit-After, Expires, Author and many others that I have seen recommended on SEO reports passed to me by clients.  Even some of the listed tags are not normally needed, for example the meta Robots is often set to tell the search engines to index the page and follow the links on the page but as Google says, the default values are to index and follow so there is no need for these settings.  As the webmaster support page above says “We understand the following values (when specifying multiple values, separate them with a comma):

  • noindex: prevents the page from being indexed
  • nofollow: prevents the Googlebot from following links from this page
  • nosnippet: prevents a snippet from being shown in the search results
  • noodp: prevents the alternative description from the ODP/DMOZ from being used
  • noarchive: prevents Google from showing the Cached link for a page.
  • unavailable_after:[date]: lets you specify the exact time and date you want to stop crawling and indexing of this page
  • noimageindex: lets you specify that you do not want your page to appear as the referring page for an image that appears in Google search results.”

So to sum up, if you have a friend down the pub, or someone who phones you up offering SEO for Accountants, and they then tell you that you must have a meta keyword tag or your accountants website will not appear in the results, ask them if they have ever read the pages linked to above or even tested the theory that you can’t rank in Google without meta keywords.   I am fairly sure the answer will be no.

Of course, if your friend or prospective SEO supplier can prove that you must have a meta keywords tag I’d be delighted to see the proof, you (or they) can leave a comment on this blog and let me know.

I’m at the top of the search engines but get no visitors

This was a comment made to us recently by a prospective client.  They were very proud of their ranking in the search engines but were upset that their number of visitors to the site, and the number of enquiries hadn’t increases.

We took a look at the phrase that they were at the top of the search engine results for and very quickly realised what the problem was.  Their previous SEO company had managed to get them to the top for their company name – something that any website should really do well for anyway – and had been claiming that this was a great success.

I asked the prospective client what the likely-hood was of some searching for the firm by name – adding that we feel that the whole point of SEO was to attract visitors (and hopefully enquiries) from people who are looking for the service provided but have never heard of you as a firm.  The answer was that they were an established firm of accountants in their area (a city in the East Midands) and they thought that people would know about them so would be searching for their name.

At this point we looked at a directory that lists local accountants by town and was able to see that there were at least 7 other firms of accountants in their immediate area of the city so asked why they thought that people would have heard of them and not the other 7 firms, especially as 5 of these firms were of the same sort of size (or larger).

There was a moments silence on the other end of the phone and it was almost as if you could hear the light bulb being turned on…  We spent a few more minutes on the phone with them expanding our view of what we thought might be more relevant phrases for the prospect and promised to do some research on these.

A few days later we contact the client (as they were to become) with a list of half a dozen phrases that we knew were being searched for (we used the Google Keyword Tool to give us a feel – this is a tool that is supposed to show you the number of searches per month for relevant phrases and although we know that the number of searches is not accurate it does give us a feel for the numbers).  These phrases were agreed and we started work on the SEO for the client.

The good news, for both the client and us here at accountantSEO is that within a few weeks the client was starting to show in the results from the agreed phrases and over the following few months the positions continued to improve until we got to the point where all of them were on the first page in Google UK.  The even better news is that the client started to get enquiries that they were able to turn into clients.

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.

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.