From the September 2012 Issue
Recently, accounting firms gained a variety of ways to change the display of their listings on search engines. While search engines were once solely a list of uniform links, the evolving Internet has forced Google, Bing, and other search engines to create richer media experiences. These richer media experiences can help accountants to grab the eyes of those searching, even if they’re not the #1 result. On-page techniques tend to be easier to implement, but integration with local search and social media can provide a wealth of striking listings.
The following five techniques can elevate your site’s search traffic, regardless of rank, making your site seem more professional to visitors. Meta descriptions ensure optimal text copy on search engines, meaningful image descriptions allow your pictures to be seen, places pages make you a “red dot” on the map, review markup displays ratings under your listing, and social media gives a human face to your company. All these techniques can expand your search presence, bringing more potential customers to your site.
The meta description, though not a ranking factor, is the accountant’s first weapon for grabbing a searcher’s attention. If they are too unrelated to the query, meta descriptions are often overwritten by the search engine, but following these best practices is the main way to ensure that your handcrafted description is left as-is. Though the number is a bit fuzzy, search engines tend to cut off around 150 characters. Creating eye-catching content in around 30 words can be tough, but a CPA can find luck if they include three things: a keyword to display in bold, a call to action to drive the visitor to a goal, and unique facts that set your firm apart from your competitors. Descriptions should answer the search query, summarizing the answer on the page. Below is an example of an unoptimized description.
The other meta tag that displays prominently in the snippet is the title. The title, showing the title bar of the browser when you visit the page, is the number one on-page ranking factor, and its value for organic click-through is imperative. The title is also the introduction to the site for a visitor, letting them know if the page will answer their query at first glance. For most pages, simply having the keyword should suffice, but some pages are better led with a more inventive, clickable title. In all, revamping the metadata of your page can double organic traffic week-over-week.
As social networks have become ubiquitous, metadata for their sites have become important as well. While social media sites will usually find your standard metadata, often that copy is not friendly for sharing. Keywords are less important, but calls to action become even more important, as your audience is more passively viewing your content.
Pictures in Less than 5 words
Image search is a powerfully visual change of pace from the purely text world of traditional search, but results pages will now often show a small gallery of images related to the query. There is a type of small metadata for images, allowing you the opportunity to show up on the main search page. Alt and title attributes are like page titles and descriptions. Alt attributes should be extremely succinct but descriptive, while title attributes can be longer to allow for full explanation. Title attributes will also show if you hover over an image, and alt attributes are displayed instead of the image for text-only browsers.
Images are a vital organic source of traffic, especially if unique images are used. For CPAs, stock photos should be avoided. Though many businesses use these images, they can be too formulaic, too similar to competing sites, or too unrealistic to connect with a searcher. Keep in mind that a potential customer searching for your practice’s name can be shown a cohesive brand image. Ensure that as many images as logical are tagged with these attributes. Focus on the keyword, but accurately describe the photo. Image seekers tend to be looking for something specific.
Describing the image is key on photo sharing sites. Many image sites put much of their ranking weight on the title and description of the image, and the same lessons from page metadata apply to images – test them using a different tone to better resonate with users. On these sites, however, traffic is generated by searching as well, making keywords a safe bet for either title copy. On these social sites, be sure to add your url to the description so that searchers can easily visit your site.
Seeing Dots Everywhere
Joining Google or Bing Places lets you show up in the coveted local search areas of the universal search page. Local results are prominently displayed on some queries, showing reviews, address, phone number, sometimes images, and most importantly, a map to your doorstep. Local and organic search reinforce each other on the page, but an accountant can be confident that their Places listing best represents their business only if the page is claimed and actively maintained. Furthermore, local results power a variety of other engines, such as Facebook Places, that can help provide contact information and additional traffic for your location. Maps listings provide rich results, if you know how to utilize them. See the below example.
Maps pages themselves provide the opportunity to continue catching eyes with relevant imagery and information on the Place page. Continuing your branding, maintaining accurate information, and actively responding both publicly and privately to unhappy customers can increase trust and ensure that your site shows in the Maps listing and is referring business to your firms.
It’s important to know that this isn’t anything beyond the first steps of local SEO, a labyrinth of ensuring consistency across listings, offering something for well-trafficked listing sites, and providing something unique to users of local sites like Yelp. Managing such a campaign can bring traffic and customers to your business, especially if you take the time to jive with your communities.
Short of taking on the world of local search, accounting firms can easily replicate one of the most striking search features of those Places listings by including and correctly marking up testimonials on their site. This effectively makes the site seem like an authoritative source on the business. Google, especially, and Bing, to a lesser degree, support “rich snippets,” on-page code that can radically alter your search listing. For accountants, the most valuable snippet displays stars and other information to show reviews about their business, which can be seen in search listings by using microformats. See the below example.
While following local industry guidelines, accountants should already have testimonials on their site, especially as “drop-quotes” on their page, that strive to make the potential customer feel at ease about the upcoming transaction. Marking up the code using Schema or microformats will display stars and information about the review to a searcher, drawing eyes to your listing.
Three guiding principles should be pervasive in any use of reviews, especially ones showing on search pages and not your own website.
- First, be transparent. If your review shows 5 stars on January 15 from someone named CP (often names are anonymous to protect the privacy of others), then your page should show all of that information clearly.
- Secondly, provide meaningful but organic copy. No one likes to see overly edited copy, especially the person who provided the review.
- Lastly, try to get a numerical or star rating from your customers. This avoids the conundrum of assigning simultaneously accurate, promotional, and visually striking results on your page and on Google.
Review code is not terribly hard to implement, but there are too many elements and tags to share it here. Ideally, you should have 5 elements: a name, a date, a 5-star rating, a summary, and a review, all referencing your practice. These five elements will show up in search results and pull eyes to your page, nearly doubling organic traffic to the page.
Being Social in Search
Finally, one cannot ignore the increased role of social media in search. Bing’s integration with Facebook and Google’s social layer of Google+ now inextricably connect the social and search worlds. Because of this, it’s imperative to have a Facebook and Google+ page for your business. Describing how to set these up for an accountant would fill a tome on its own, but the effort of doing so utterly outweighs the costs. Bing and Google have similar social strategies based on joining social networks. See the following example.
Bing and Google will display what your contacts have shared higher in the results, but there are benefits for larger clients. Eventually, Google will “verify” your Google+ business page, showing you prominently on the right-hand side of the search results page. This allows you to grab eyes, while once again reinforcing your brand in the results pages.
These five strategies are varied in difficulty and time to implement. However, if you are experiencing ranking difficulties for whatever reason, they can radically change the landscape and traffic generation of your organic online marketing. These techniques are some of the best and most striking ways to change your organic search listings and capture more traffic from other related sources. If they seem too time-consuming for you or your team, consider finding a website promotion company in your area to help you with your online marketing needs.
See inside September 2012
Are you a Cobbler?
From the September 2012 Issue. This issue is all about cloud technologies and how they can help you grow your practice while making your customers more satisfied and successful. There is no denying that this is the platform for technology going forward and yet I am often surprised to learn that many firms have yet […]