CPAs: Internet Marketing Supports Business Success.

Posted on 16. Jul, 2009 by in All Local Search Posts, Legal & Financial, Professional Services, Websites

From the AICPA:

Internet Marketing Supports Business Success

Many CPA firms and their clients maintain websites as part of their marketing strategy. However, some fail to achieve their objectives for launching the website. In the following article, the CPA author discusses how businesses need to develop and maintain their websites. Properly designed and maintained, a business’s website can help to attract prospective clients by engaging them rather than by showing them little more than a static brochure.

A few years ago, The New York Times estimated that consumers conducted 150 million Internet searches daily. I wanted a piece of that action. I already had a website, but it wasn’t attracting any business. However, a marketing consultant convinced me that the Internet was an amazingly powerful tool for obtaining new clients and helped me to design my website to attract prospective clients and sustain their interest. The result: My CPA practice really took off in 2005!

The basic lesson I learned was that the website had to be more than a static online brochure. Instead, it had to be an interactive content portal that would be helpful to current and prospective clients. The website must be easily navigable, visitors must find it useful, and its content must be well written.

Easy navigation

Visitors to the website need to decide whether or not a firm can handle their requirements. Furthermore, visitors—especially first time visitors—are unlikely to return to the site if they cannot navigate the site intuitively and find what they are looking for easily.

Useful features

To encourage visitors to revisit your website, provide them with incentives that are free and useful. These features might include regular newsletters, white papers and articles, and industry news. Other attractive features could include calculators, directions, and links to other useful websites.

Good copywriting

When many business owners design a website, they start by looking at images, themes, and color schemes. But content is the most important aspect of a CPA firm’s or a client’s website. Prospects who land on a firm’s website are looking for information that will help them select service providers. They want to know if the firm will understand their business, has experience in matters similar to what they’re seeking help with, succeeds in meeting clients’ needs, and has capable staff members. The website’s online copy should tell prospects that the firm has the expertise and industry experience, as well as its project experience.

Most important are the words used to present the website content. In developing the content, business owners and their marketers need to listen to the words that their current and prospective clients are using to capture their attention. Writing for Search Engine Strategies, Noah Elkin, vice president for corporate strategy for Steak, a search-led digital agency, advises that “to an evergrowing degree, the role of listening and remembering now falls on the shoulders of marketers, and the memorable words are not necessarily their own. Increasingly, they are the search terms used by their customers, which provide a window into those customers’ wants and desires.” (“The Shifting Power of Words,” April 1, 2008).

Search engine optimization

Attracting visitors to a website requires using keywords that are relevant to those clients you wish to attract. Search engines enable potential clients to find a website. As users know, when they search the Web, probably using Google, Yahoo!, and other popular search engines, they may get a list of thousands of websites. They first see a list of ten websites. Of those users, reports Newsday.com, between 60% and 70% look only at the first page with just ten sites. Consequently, the website owner needs to use search engine optimization (SEO), a technique that helps to “rank” a website at or near the top of the search engine listings. Several factors influence the natural placement of sites, but they can be grouped into four basic categories: titles, tags, text, and links.

Title. All the most important key words should be in the title. For example, my title is Portland Oregon Tax CPA and Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

Meta description and meta keywords tags. The meta description tag should contain a short description of the Web page written for humans to read, for example, “Russell D. Francis, CPA—Specializing in Small Business Tax Saving Strategies, and Investment Management for Professionals and Business Owners.” The meta keywords tag lists the keywords that prospects might use in their search. Examples include CPA, Certified Public Accountant, Portland, tax, business, succession planning, investments, accounting, recordkeeping, consulting, financial planning, retirement planning, and tax planning.

Text. The first 200–300 words on your home page are critical for search engine ranking. Here you must clearly focus on positioning your strengths and key services. Rebecca Lieb, a marketing communications specialist, advises small businesses to use Web analytic tools, such as Google Analytics, to find out what search terms are being used by people who land on their sites. A business can also check out the websites of its competitors to see what keywords they may be using in their websites’ content.

Links. The term link popularity is used to describe the number of Web pages that link to other Web pages. Link popularity is an important contributing factor that some search engines use to determine page rankings. A business can find out who is linking to competitors and email them to ask for a similar opportunity. You can check out who is linking to competitors by going to http://www.toolbar.google.com, installing the toolbar, and then clicking on the backward links feature.

Do everything you can with SEO because it’s free. Be patient, it takes time for the search engines to rank you. You will significantly increase your marketing at a fraction of the cost of other methods.

Most search engines offer articles on their websites on how to do SEO. In addition, various courses and seminars are available. Their cost varies with the complexity of the training provided. Also, consider engaging an SEO consultant.

Sponsored listings

If you really want to supercharge your Web marketing effort and get immediate results, try sponsored listings or pay-per-click (PPC).

Sponsored listings will place you at the top of their directory listing for a fixed monthly or annual fee. This is typical of the online Yellow Pages.

The advantage of PPC is that you won’t be charged unless someone clicks on your listing. Once your ad is clicked, prospects go directly to your website for more information.

The position of your PPC listing in the directory depends on the competition and what criteria the prospect uses in the search. It is a competitive bidding process, so your listing position will depend on how much you are willing to pay to be listed at or near the top. If you are willing to pay $5 per click and your competition is willing to pay $5.10, you’ll be listed second, underneath your competition.

The PPC listing also depends on the keywords or phrases used in the search. You’ll need to specify “targeted” keywords or phrases that will place you at the top of the listings and an inviting title that will give the prospect a reason to click on your ad. More than 61% of Internet users conduct local searches. So, unless you are competing nationally, refine keywords and phrases. For example, use Portland Accountant rather than just Accountant. Narrowing the key word in this case increases the chance of attracting local prospects.

You can pay different PPC rates for a variety of keywords or phrases. You may find that $0.10 per click doesn’t put you on top of the directory listing for that keyword. Try $0.11 per click or even $0.50 per click. It’s still more effective than the 1–2% return you’ll get on a $1.50 direct mail piece.

Sponsored listings and PPC have a short-term advantage over SEO, but the disadvantage is the cost involved. Over the long term, natural SEO listings will give you a higher return on your marketing dollar and significantly increase your margins. But both methods are very effective, and you can often reduce PPC advertising once your natural SEO listings rank near the top.

Other benefits to Web search engine advertising include the following:

You can easily change your target audience or advertising focus, or both, by changing your keywords or Web page.

You are not locked into advertising as you would be with a Yellow Page ad. You can cancel or reduce your advertising at any time.

You can grow as fast as you want by increasing or decreasing your listings on the Internet.

Russell D. Francis, CPA, CFP, provides tax and financial planning services at Markiz and Francis, PC, Beaverton, OR.

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