By Mark Lee
Search engine optimization (SEO) techniques can be confusing at first, but once you understand how to implement them, you'll benefit from more potential clients finding you online.
Mark Lee, a consultant practice editor for AccountingWEB.co.uk, recently sat down with online marketing expert Nick Rink to learn more.
Mark: I'm pleased to be able to talk to you about SEO because there's a lot of generic advice that needs to be tailored to meet the needs of accountants. Where do you suggest they start?
Nick: The very first thing to consider is keyword analysis. Before you get started with marketing your practice online, it's important to consider what people are actually going to type into the Google search bar to find you.
Mark: I've long been encouraging accountants to focus on a specific niche to make it easier to distinguish themselves from all the other "general practice" accountants. Does this make a difference in the context of keyword analysis?
Nick: Absolutely. There will be plenty of small business accountants in each area. And they'll all be hoping that anyone searching online will find their website at the top of the list. But it's easier to get to the top of a short list of specialists who focus on a specific sector or type of work - as long as it's one that the public might be searching for.
At its simplest, keyword analysis might start by focusing on the provision of professional bookkeeping services or tax return services. By using Google's Keyword Tool, you'll be able to get a better idea of popular terms that are the most suitable for your practice.
Mark: So once accountants know their preferred keywords, what should they do?
Nick: Once you have a nice list of relevant keywords, it's time to look at optimizing your website. We're making the assumption here that the accountant has a website. If an accountant is just setting up a new practice and is on a limited budget, there are plenty of economical options available.
For an optimization starter, it's a good idea to have your address in your website footer. That way it shows up on every page and gives Google a strong signal about your exact location. The next thing to focus on is your title tag. This is the text that shows up for your home page in the search results and also appears when you hover over the tab in your browser, as in the image below.
This title tag is probably the most important element of SEO, other than the actual content of your site. It should be a clear and accurate description that tells the search engines what each page on your website is about. Google only shows seventy characters of the title tag, so there's little point in writing anything longer. Each title tag should only use two or maybe three keywords and should also include your local location, where possible. As an example, if your target clients are small businesses that need bookkeeping services in the St. Louis area, then the title tag for your home page could look something like this:
Small Business Accountant and Bookkeeping Services St. Louis
The title tag for each page on your website should be unique, so that's where the keyword analysis comes in handy. You can have separate pages for all the different services/keywords you'd like to target; for example, "payroll services," "annual returns," "tax returns," etc.
Mark: Your reference to location reminds me of a key I stress to accountants who are comfortable servicing clients across the country. They make the mistake of trying to make this clear on their website. In so doing, they miss out on the benefits of focusing on their local area, and they forget that most people will be searching for a local accountant rather than one based many miles away.
Nick: That's a good point, and it's even more important now than it used to be as Google makes local search engine marketing much easier than national marketing.
Claiming and optimizing your Google Places listing is one of the most important things you can do to help your local search rankings. The Google Places help page
is a good place to start, then head over to Google Places
itself and follow the instructions to claim the listing for your practice. Once you've claimed your listing, you can go ahead and complete it with all the information Google asks for:
Ownership: Only business owners or authorized representatives may verify their business listings on Google Places.
Account e-mail address: Use a shared business e-mail account if multiple users will be updating your business listing. If possible, use an e-mail account under your business domain. For example, if your business website is www.google.com, a matching e-mail address would be firstname.lastname@example.org.
Business name: Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world.
- Don't include marketing taglines in your business name.
- Don't include phone numbers or URLs in the business name field, unless they're part of your business name.
- Don't attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business in the business name field.
- Some businesses may be located within a mall or a container store, which is a store that contains another business. If your business is within a container store or mall, and you'd like to include this information in your listing, specify the container store in parentheses in the business name field. For example, Starbucks (inside Safeway).
Business location: Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location.
- Don't create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business doesn't physically exist. P.O. boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a mailbox there, list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your mailbox or suite number in Address Line 2.
- Use the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross streets.
- Don't create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
- Businesses that operate in a service area, as opposed to a single location, shouldn't create a listing for every city they service. Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas. Learn how to add service areas to your listing.
- If you don't conduct face-to-face business at your location, you must select the "Don't show my business address on my Maps listing" option within your dashboard. If you don't hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.
- Businesses with multiple specializations shouldn't create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the business at large.
- Don't include information in address lines that doesn't pertain your business' physical location (e.g., URLs, keywords).
Website and phone: Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible and provide one website that represents your individual business location.
- Use a local phone number instead of a call center number whenever possible.
- Don't provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or "refer" users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business.
Categories: Select at least one category from the list of available categories.
- Categories should say what your business is (e.g., accountant), not what it does (e.g., tax returns), or things it sells (e.g., accounting software). This information can be added in your description or as custom attributes.
Complete any additional relevant information, including opening hours and methods of payment. You can also include up to ten photos and five videos if you've them. These do help to fill out your listing and can help to convert more searchers to clients. Once you're finished, just click on submit and you're all set.
Mark: That's really helpful, and I'm sure many accountants will benefit from your advice on how to ensure their website shows up in the search results more often when someone searches for a local accountant. Is there anything else they can do to make their website more attractive to the search engines?
Nick: Yes. They should try to get some citations.
Mark: I think I know what those are, but can you please explain?
Nick: For local SEO, a citation is a mention of your business on another website. The best citations will contain your business name, address, and phone number (NAP), which makes it vitally important that you're consistent with these. Google looks at all these citations, and if inconsistencies start to occur, then Google starts to get confused. For example, if your firm is called Joseph Bloggs & Co, you shouldn't use J Bloggs & Co when building citations. The best places to start with citations are directory and review sites, which would include sites like Twitter and Facebook, and then specific accountancy sites, like AccountingWEB and the AICPA.
To improve your local rankings, it's all about getting your foundations right, then building citations and getting customer reviews. It can be a rocky road at times, but persevere with it and the rewards can be great.
About the contributors:
Nick Rink has over fifteen years' experience working with small and midsized businesses and writes about local search, social media, the mobile web, and other online marketing issues affecting small business owners.