It happens regularly; I get an email or visit a site and my SEO mind starts running away with me. Before you know it, I’m checking the backlink profile of the site before making the purchase I was actually there for originally. Whether it’s looking at onsite technical SEO elements that could be improved, trying to unwrap their SEO strategy, or even just pure curiosity, I often find myself assuming the secret SEO agent persona – not that I’m trying to make myself sound like some sort of SEO James Bond.
This curiosity was triggered recently when I received an email from a large locally-based accountancy firm. The firm, Kreston Reeves, sent an email shot announcing their recent name change from ‘Reeves’. The firm has been on my radar for a number of years, ever since I was unsuccessful at securing a place on their graduate scheme at the end of my University studies all those years ago, pre DigitalBeans. I’m over that now, obviously…
The link on their email took me to what feels like a brand new site, which I must say looks very nice, with good money having been spent on the general design and responsiveness of it. So, whilst admiring this shiny new site, I decided to dig a little deeper.
So here it is; a list of items I found to be broken, missing, or otherwise not optimised for search engines or user experience.
Before I start, I want to make it clear that this post is not written with any other motive other than to highlight some common issues that real companies often overlook when it comes to SEO and usability. I have no ill feelings towards Kreston Reeves, in fact I hold them in very high regard, nor do we work for any of their competitors.
After a quick Google search we can see that over 1,200 pages on the reeves.co domain are currently still being indexed (04/02/2014). We can assume that many of them are important pages, such as a services page (e.g. http://www.reeves.co/accounts/), or content that would have taken time and money to put together, such as the 2014 Budget report (http://www.reeves.co/budget/).
In fact, a quick check of a selection of links found would indicate that somewhere between 50% and 80% of the old URLs are not redirecting to their new URLs, or closely related pages, on the new website; instead, what the user is shown is a generally unhelpful 404 page, pictured below. As you can see, the user is not offered any alternatives, nor are they helped to stay on the site by being provided with some of the most popular pages. Overall, a weak and relatively uninspiring 404 page.
Setting up a redirect list when migrating from one site to another is time consuming, however that doesn’t stop it being a vital part in the process which shouldn’t be overlooked or neglected.
Having these redirects present won’t just help users find the content they’re searching for quicker and easier, it will also help search engines understand the change that has taken place.
Given the fact that the redirects from www.reeves.co to www.krestonreeves.com have been overlooked, I would presume that the migration within Google Webmaster Tools hasn’t been managed effectively either. Again, ensuring that every domain variation (with and without www) is verified and configured correctly is crucial to ensuring that search engine traffic doesn’t suffer when migrating from one domain to another.
Redirects: Duplicate Content
The lack of redirects also increases the chances of duplicate content between the domains. As there doesn’t seem to be one primary domain used on the new website, the chances of getting misdiagnosed with duplicate content are higher. For example, the following page works under both domains:
What’s more, the pages do not carry a Meta canonical tag to help the search engines understand which one of the two is the “primary” version that should be used. This further increases the chance of a Google penalty as a result of duplicate content across multiple domains.
Redirects: Backlink & Domain Value Retention
Another problem faced by Kreston Reeves as a result of not following the correct SEO steps when migrating their site is the fact that any SEO value built up on reeves.co will not follow them across to krestonreeves.com.
If we said “history” instead of the technical term “SEO value”, I think that the firm’s partners would be pretty upset if, with their recent name change, they wiped out all 100+ years of the firm’s history. This would clearly be unacceptable, as it could be argued that it is this history that has allowed them to establish themselves as a trusted firm of accountants. So why do this to your domain names?
Reeves.co was registered almost 5 years ago and has nearly 200 domains external links, including some super relevant sites such as http://www.accountancyage.com/static/top50-this-year, which I’m sure they were once proud of. Although also registered around 5 years ago, krestonreeves.com has 0 backlinks from 0 domains. A much sadder story, though expected as it is only just starting to be used as the primary domain.
Although also registered around 5 years ago, krestonreeves.com has 0 backlinks from 0 domains. A much sadder story, though this would be expected as the domain has never been used.
The lack of redirects here is clearly a big deal. Without these, the new site will really struggle to bounce back and return to the organic traffic levels the firm was once used to.
Bonus: A Blast from the Past
Delving in a bit deeper here, I remember that before the firm renamed to Reeves they were called Reeves + Neylan, using the domain reeves-neylan.com – this is what they were called when I applied for a job with them.
Although this domain appears to still be in the firm’s control, it doesn’t seem to be pointed to a site anymore therefore isn’t redirecting to any of the newer domain names in use.
The domain reeves-neylan.com was registered all the way back in 1999 – nearly 16 years ago! The domain also has over 300 backlinks pointing towards it, some of which are no doubt very strong and authoritative links that have been there for years. All of this history is lost, and all of the effort put in over the years is currently lying there unused, when all it would take is a bit of work to maximise the new site’s potential.
Excessive H1 Tags
Looking at the new site’s home page code, it appears that an excessive amount of H1 tags are being used – to be precise, the H1 tag has been used 6 times!
This isn’t advisable. H1 tags should be used once to communicate the title of that page to users and search engines, with multiple tags possible confusing or at least not fully optimising the chosen topic/keywords. It must be noted that most of the other pages only carry one H1 tag however.
Lack of Canonicals
I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth it having it’s own section.
Ensuring that these are used will help speed up the time search engines need in order to understand and process the migration from one domain to another, and will also help avoid possible complication further down the line.
No Meta Descriptions
I know, I know, Meta descriptions are not entirely necessary nowadays as Google likes to invent its own. But not having them on ANY page is a bit daring, or at least a bit too presumptuous… Meta descriptions haven’t been deprecated yet.
What’s more frustrating is that there appears to be a perfect few empty lines available within the head section of every page where the Meta description once probably existed… Hopefully they can be resurrected from the dead!
There are also a bunch of other items that are missing, or which could be improved, including canonicalisation of domains, optimised title tags, optimised internal linking, and much more. These are just the top 6 items that were quick and relatively easy to spot, and which I would probably place the most emphasis on to start with.
Remember, a site migration should always be done very carefully in order to avoid upsetting site users, search engines, and those searching for you or your services. The migration should always be considered from a technical and SEO perspective and both teams should have their own responsibilities to ensure a smooth and efficient migration.
Again, I would like to emphasise that I have a lot of respect for Kreston Reeves and this blog post is intended to educate those interested in the topic. It is by no means a bash at Kreston Reeves, these issues are faced every day by many companies, this is just one recent example from a local firm.
P.S. If anyone from Kreston Reeves is reading this, please feel free to implement some of our recommendations and let us know what impact these have.