When we meet with new and prospective clients for the first time and talk about their website needs, one of the questions we hear most often is, “Why does my competitor outrank me?”
It’s certainly an important question, and generally, the answer lies in a combination of factors common to businesses of nearly every size and scope, including CPA firms. These include: Google Places (i.e., maps); onsite optimization (i.e., page titles and keywords); site content (i.e., the amount of pages indexed and fresh and timely content); inbound links (i.e. endorsement from third-party websites); domain issues (notably, age and content); and social media.
In this post, we’ll touch on each SEO element to learn what they’re all about, what types of challenges they pose to CPA firms and other businesses, and how those challenges can affect your search rankings.
Is Your Google Places Information Correct? Let’s start with the basics: making sure your business name, your physical location and your contact information is up to date and accurate. This information is housed in Google Places, which essentially is the engine behind the Google Search and Maps function.
A simple example best illustrates this function: If you search for a business type in a specific city – say, “Auburn CPA firm,” then the first result you’ll get is a Google Maps list. Google scrapes that information from what it can find on the Web; but your business has the ability to claim its Google Places page, then edit and customize it with correct, up-to-date information, and be included in that listing. Conversely, incorrect, or out-of-date information, can negatively affect your business in search results, and ultimately affect its ranking. Often, this can happen when businesses merge and take on a new name; yet the old name remains listed. It also occurs when businesses relocate, and the old address isn’t updated in Google Places. These and other factors will hurt your business’ ranking.
For many businesses, including CPA firms, getting the basics correct up front with Google Places is essential. From there, you can check in with the site periodically, just to make sure all of your firm’s information is still correct. For B2C businesses like restaurants and bars, though, Google Places allows patrons to leave reviews. If an establishment receives a negative review, it may want to designate an employee to reach out and respond—or even contact that patron directly. In that case, it makes sense for those types of businesses to be more active with Google Places on an ongoing basis.
Again, ensuring accurate information in Google Places is basic stuff; but sometimes, companies overlook it. That makes it hard for people to find you—and, it can hurt your ranking as well. Visit Google My Business for more information.
Is Your Site’s Content Fully Optimized? Website copy can explain and highlight your services; but once it’s optimized, it can support your search engine optimization (SEO) even more. Technically, optimization tells search engines exactly what topics your Web pages cover, and which keywords are most important on each individual Web page.
On-site optimization is all about using your targeted keywords strategically. To use our earlier example, if you’re trying to rank your firm high in searches for Auburn CPA firms, then you’ll want a reference to “Auburn CPA firm” in your homepage title tag. You’ll also want to use those keywords throughout your site.
Likewise, SEO can be improved by placing keywords in headlines, title tags, alt tags (text attached to images), and links to other pages on and off the site. Lots of companies miss opportunities to use important keywords in these strategic places. Chances are, you’ll improve your rankings by leveraging all available optimization opportunities.
Do You Have the Right Mix of Quantity and Quality Content? The content on your site matters—the quantity of content, and the quality of it, plays a key role in where your site ranks. Consider quantity first. If a competitor’s site has 1,000 pages of content, and your site has 10 pages, then the competitor’s site will be indexed much more than yours in Google’s search engine. Certainly, content quality plays into it, but if your competitor maintains an archive of, say, hundreds of articles, and you don’t, then the quantity of their content will boost their ranking.
Quality matters, too. Google’s ranking emphasis has been steadily shifting toward quality content (i.e., content that is relevant and timely); but really, achieving a good balance between quality and quantity is still the best strategy for most companies.
Does Your Site Include Inbound Links? We talked about making sure that your business information is accurate and up to date; that your site content is optimized with proper keywords; and that you’ve achieved a good mix of quantity and quality content. Yet another factor that influences ranking is inbound links – i.e., links from third-party sites.
We recommend visiting Open Site Explorer (move Open Site Explorer LINK here) to learn more about inbound links, and how they can influence ranking. Once there, you can type in any URL, and you’ll get an analysis of the types of links coming into that particular site – and the relative quality of those links. To that end, quality metrics include Page Authority and Domain Authority; with these, the higher the number, the better quality the link.
Inbound links are valuable in Google’s eyes. Maybe your competitor’s site has better links; for example, they may be listed in a directory that your firm isn’t or they may have had some of their content shared by industry influencers on their blogs or social media. This example should be red flag for your firm to find its way into that directory (assuming it’s relevant to your business) or ensure that you are sharing your content with industry influencers and websites that may link back to you. Public relations efforts that result in prominent media placement for your firm with a link back to your website or social media outreach to key bloggers and industry influencers can be quite valuable to your overall search engine optimization program.
Click here to get a report of your current SEO & other online performance metrics in a free 39-point website inspection report.
Are Domain Issues Working Against You? One issue that can certainly play into search rankings is your actual website address. Having targeted keywords in your URL can be helpful, such as acquiring a domain like AuburnCPAfirm.com. However, these domains aren’t always available, or if they are, a reseller may have significantly marked up the cost. In addition, in recent years, Google has dialed back the influence of “exact match domains” in search results, mainly targeting sites where the quality and quantity of content didn’t match up with what the domain name might imply. Read more about the latest with exact match domains here.
One other factor to consider with domains is domain age. Google will give more weight to a domain that has been registered longer than to a domain that is brand new. This is certainly something to consider if you are planning to change your domain name, perhaps as a part of a company rebranding, as you may see an initial drop in search rankings when you move to the new domain.
SEO is important to your overall online performance. There are many factors that play into it, and it takes time and dedicated effort to ensure you’re ranking where you should for targeted keywords. We can help.