Does your website create favorable impressions of your accounting firm when people find it on the internet? Does it distinguish your practice from the other boring accounting firms in town? Or does it suck like most accounting firm websites?
As it stands, accountants have a terrible stereotype in the marketplace. Given this, the need to be unique is higher than normal given the prevailing stereotype that accountants are boring.
What is Personality?
Personality is the characteristic that makes us unique and identifiable. Some of us are endearing, some are honorable, some are witty, and others are rough around the edges. Just as personality makes each of us unique, your web site should have a personality that sets you apart from other accounting firms in town.
Marketers use personality as a vehicle to understand branding. In focus groups, marketers will often ask people if this product was a car, what kind of car would it be? And based on those answers, you have a pretty good sense of how the general public was viewing your brand and your TV commercials.
To illustrate the importance of personality, let’s take politics since it’s on television constantly. Whether you like him or hate him, Barack Obama has created his own identity and demonstrated consistently that he is willing to show some personality as the Comedian-in-Chief. Examples include the recent Correspondents dinner with Jimmy Kimmel, trip to University of North Carolina with Jimmy Fallon, tonite show with Jay Leno, and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. And each year in March, Barack goes out on a limb and even picks teams for the NCAA basketball tournament on ESPN regardless of picking sides and offending hoop fans. Now contrast that to Mitt Romney and despite his good looks, stellar business credentials, and a solid job overseeing the Winter Olympics, he has fallen flat on personality.
Personality matters. Personality drives website traffic and encourages them to come back, even if you made a mistake. Yes, we all frequent businesses that are not perfect and occasionally make mistakes (like your favorite dining spot).
Does Your Web Site Look the SAME as Everyone Else?
Given the stereotype that our industry faces, do you really want to have a boring web site that looks just like every other accounting firm out there? And why does your web site show today’s weather forecast? Do you really think people are searching on accounting firm websites for today’s weather forecast? And why is the website loaded with stock photos of calculators and headshots of people that look nothing like the owner?
In our industry, there are a few website development vendors that have 3,000 – 5,000+ clients in the US. So in a large city like Los Angeles or Chicago, the largest website vendor probably has 300-500 accounting firms using very similar websites with the same stock photography, same weather tool and very little personalization. In fact, the page that is dedicated to meeting the firm owner is boiler plate copy that puts you to sleep like elevator music. Come on, show me your picture and why I should hire you rather than sticking your head in the sand and giving me lame computer generated text about your firm values and commitment to quality.
How to Create Personality in Your Website
Building a personality on the internet starts on the home page of your accounting web site. Your home page should have some photos of your local market, maybe your office building, and some prominent locations that locals know is home. The second logical place is on your About Us page, where there should be pictures and well written bio’s on the key members of the firm. Last, a blog is another venue to show your personality.
Show your colors online and paint a picture for your clients and prospects on why they should hire you.
If you want to develop a high quality clientele gradually over time, the location of your office matters. Ideally, you will want an office location that is near businesses that you’ll ideally want to attract into your practice. In other words, if you locate your practice in the inner city like East LA, you will attract businesses and individuals in that immediate area. If you locate your office in a suburban location, make certain the location has a population large enough to support your growth goals and demographically, it matches your ideal client.
While your accounting practice does NOT need a retail location with walk-in traffic, the physical location does matter in today’s digital world. In other words, when someone is searching for a CPA or accounting firm near their business location, you will want your accounting firm to be located nearby because most business owners “feel” that they need an accountant nearby in the event of an emergency. Perception matters.
By this, I mean that you can be located on a second floor or third floor of an office building to avoid paying retail office space pricing but the physical location should be near the businesses that are in your target audience. Also, the location should be near the center of the city. If you want to be towards the top of the list on Google/Bing/Yahoo when someone is doing a search, you need to be physically near the location the searcher requests. With geographic targeting capabilities improving all the time, it is becoming far more challenging to dupe the search engines if your actual location is not in the city being requested. In other words, you can’t claim to be located near Times Square in New York City when you are actually located in Staten Island or New Jersey. Yes, I understand it is relatively close in miles (from your perspective) but the prospect wants a firm near Times Square, not someone in Yonkers. The days of saying you are located downtown when in fact you are 8-15 miles outside the city are over. And if you are successful duping the search engine, the prospect will eventually find out and dump you before you get to establish yourself as the trusted advisor.
With the explosion of smart phones and tablets, increased sophistication of search engines, combined with prospects becoming more adept at searching, the location of your accounting practice is become more and more important.
Location matters now more than it has in the past.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic a web site or web page receives from search engines organically (e.g., no pay per click, without using paid advertising) so that your website generates leads, and ultimately, new business for your accounting practice.
While search engine optimization sounds simple and easy to do, it takes considerable planning, knowledge, work and takes time to deliver results. As more and more businesses employ search engine optimization into their internet marketing strategy, the more competitive it becomes. And as the use of the internet has grown, the forms of optimization has expanded beyond search engines to include video optimization in YouTube, mobile optimization for smart phones, and local search optimization for Google Places/Yahoo Local/Bing Business Portal.
Search engine optimization is mostly technical in nature, combining source code programming with business marketing, web site architecture, visual presentation, persuasion copy writing, and some other disciplines woven into one to attract more prospects and visitors. Because of the labor intensive work involved, virtually all web site developers do not factor search engine optimization into the construction of your website because it’s hard for the client to visibly see and would drive up the cost to develop the website. The rules are constantly changing and the number of venues are increasing (websites, mobile websites, videos, local search, etc.), which adds to the complexity.
Search engines have become a huge business and are always working towards improving their technology to crawl the web more extensively and deliver better results to users. However, there are limits to the how the web site is constructed, which programming languages they work with, and whether the search engine will index the web site. Whereas the right changes can deliver thousands of new visitors to your web site, the wrong moves can hide or bury your web site deep in the search results where visibility is minimal. That’s why your goal should be to have a “search engine friendly” website that makes it easy for the major search engines to index your website.
When done properly, search engine optimization is amazing. However, it takes significant work to do properly and takes several months to start producing results. Get started now!!
When a small business owner goes online to locate accounting firm, is your accounting practice easy to locate? Are you listing consistently in the online yellow pages?
Below is a free online tool to see your score. This is a quick way to see if your accounting practice is lost in space or well represented. Yes, they will give you a score of where you stand and what you need to do to improve.
Yes, this is not immediate. Please save your usernames and passwords.
Make a concerted effort to provide photos, logos (CPA, QB Pro Advisor, BBB, etc.), hours of operation, social media addresses, and text which explains your firm in plain-English. This stuff supports your website and generates more phone calls.
This is important!!
Could your accounting practice use more customers? If so, think Google Places.
Google reports that 97% of consumers today search for local businesses online, so having a virtual presence in our digital age is essential. Google Places brings potential customers and local businesses together first online, then in the real world. It’s a savvy way for accounting and CPA firms to be found in today’s competitive marketplace.
Make It Easy to Get Found
Did I mention that Google Places is free? If reducing marketing expenses isn’t enough to pique your interest in the online platform, consider this: a page on Google Places (your Place Page) provides consumers who are new to your area with an easy way to get to know you, read reviews of your services and take action.
Sure, you have a website that works hard to give your accounting practice visibility, but if you want to make sure your accounting firm appears in Google search results, Google Places makes good sense. It’s a more direct way to advertise your practice than putting your dollars in newspaper ads, yellow pages or other local efforts.
What’s more, iPhone and Android users can find your business listing immediately while on-the-go. They don’t need to be in front of a computer to do a search or visit your accounting firm website.
Learn From Your Relationships
As part of your free Google Places listing, you can add content and visuals to your Place Page, highlight special offers or services, and use the platform’s reporting tools to gain valuable insight about potential and existing customers.
For example, the Google Places dashboard is especially useful for understanding how customers find your practice. Review how many people are seeing your Place Page at any given time, find out how they have come to your page and see where they have come from. The dashboard makes it easy to see how many times your listing appears as a result of a Google or a Google Maps search, and what keywords people are searching to get to you.
It’s also useful for tracking effectiveness. Check the dashboard’s top search query results to see how many people found your listing when looking for an accounting firm. Google Places makes it much easier to measure online advertising effectiveness and determine how new business inquiries correlate to Web traffic than, say, a Yellow Pages ad — and, it’s a whole lot cheaper. With Google Places, you can make more informed decisions about how to be found on Google and interact with your customers.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
If you can find 15 minutes to spare in your day, you can gain visibility on Google Places. To get the most out of your listing, follow these guidelines to get started.
- Represent your accounting practice exactly as it appears in the offline world. The business name field is just for that: providing the name of your practice. This is not the place to include your marketing tagline, phone number or website URL — unless they are truly part of your business name. You will allow for better searches if you stick to a concise name rather than trying to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords.
- Use a precise, accurate address to describe your practice’s physical location. One out of five searches on Google are related to location, so every Google Places business listing must have a mailing address. If you office out of your home, you can specify a “service area” during the sign-up process and choose to hide your physical address. If you specialize in multiple services, it’s best to create a single listing that highlights all of the specialties rather than creating multiple listings.
- Provide a phone number that connects to your individual practice location as directly as possible, and provide one website that best represents your practice location. This should be pretty straightforward (in any line of business).
- Be specific, but brief, in categorizing your practice. Say what your business is (Certified Public Accountant, Accountant, Enrolled Agent) instead of what you offer (tax accounting). This information can be added in your description.
- Complete the registration fully. Provide Google Places with all relevant information like hours of operation, photos, and appropriate logos. As part of their algorithm, they measure the percent of completeness so lightly completed Google Places pages are seldom visible.
- You must validate. Your Google Places account must be validated just like a newly issued credit card. No validation, no exposure.
This is extremely important for lead generation. Yes, it will take a little extra elbow grease and results are not immediate. For example, correcting your address in Google Places can take weeks.
Your website developer is not responsible to registering your business online and creating usernames and passwords. Just suck it up and do it.
If you want more detail, below are links to articles that go into more depth. All three articles are excellent.
Is your website faceless and impersonal? Does it lack personality?
While I admit that many accounting firm websites are improving, most are still very cold and fail to create the right first impression. In some cases, they suck. Sorry but true.
Making a strong first impression is a part of building your accounting firm into a brand. Whether a person first learns about your firm from your website, LinkedIn page, Facebook Fan page, or from a client of yours, the first impression goes a long ways towards defining their perception of your firm, and you.
Let’s focus on your accounting firm website. The process is similar for most electronic mediums. Here are several factors that create an impression when someone is considering working with your accounting firm.
1. Photography – It’s amazing how much impact a high-quality photo or graphic can have on a website design. The right photo can immediately create interest in your firm services. Take the time to paint the proper picture for your prospect when they arrive at your doorstep. Here are examples of how photography can create an image.
2. Logo/Branding – A well crafted logo can make it easier for people to remember your firm or create a favorable image of your firm. While a logo is not always necessary, it can pull together the message you want to create.
3. Website Colors – The color of your website should coordinate with the photography and logo for your firm and create the right mood.
4. Website layout design – One of the most important design elements is the layout choice. Whatever layout you use should draw the reader to those items that are most important. While most template based accounting websites use a standard and rigid design, you’ll want to make sure your website design adds to the effectiveness of your message.
5. Advertising – Accepting advertising onto a professional service firm website is an easy way to create a bad first impression. Don’t do it.
6. Your Reputation and Qualifications – Many accounting firms have a lame page dedicated to the owners of the firm. Often, the copy on the page is boiler plate generic text provided by the accounting website provider and there are no pictures of the owner and worker bees. If you are working with a Fortune 500 company, we understand that it’s a faceless corporation but a local accounting firm should be warm and inviting.
7. Quality of Content – The content on each page about your accounting firm services should be well organized and persuasive so the prospect can decide whether your accounting firm can address their issues and concerns.
8. Associations – Visitors to your website are looking for assurance that you can handle their needs competently. Many associations have logos and these logos should be strategically placed onto the corresponding pages. In other words, a CPA logo should probably be placed into the website header so it is on each page but logos like QuickBooks Pro Advisor should be on the page discussing QuickBooks accounting services. Other logos and acronyms to consider are NACVA, CVA, CFE, PFS, MTAX, EA, JD, MBA and Certified Tax Coach.
9. Video – Another technique to draw website visitors into your firm is the use of video. Some website visitors like video and others avoid it. A general rule is that you should make video optional and never ever play it automatically.
Your website should be a profit center for your accounting practice and generate a steady flow of qualified leads. If it is not, then something is wrong….
What most accountants really want to know, first and foremost, is how their investment in a website can be used to recruit new clients. After all, at the end of the day, every out of pocket expenditure needs to have some payback to justify itself.
Over the last 10+ years, most accounting firms created websites that were little more than online brochures. Calling cards, if you will. These types of websites would be nothing more than text on a page with no photography and poorly written content. And they did a poor job of “branding” the accounting practice. In other words, the website was worthless.
Pretty soon, thanks to advanced technologies and higher connection speeds, all of us were introduced to websites that were rich in content, photography and graphic designs that were easier on the eyes – and websites evolved as various tools became more available and affordable. Today, whether you decide to design (or redesign) a website yourself – or use an external website development firm to create a new website, here are some key ingredients for acquiring new clients from the internet.
Don’t Ignore Search Engine Optimization. You really may be tired of hearing about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but you simply cannot avoid implementing SEO on your website. IF you want your website towards the top of Google, Yahoo and Bing, it must be optimized for search engines and done properly. Most firms give this just lip service.
Here’s a simple exercise. If you haven’t ever searched in Google, Bing or Yahoo! for your accounting firm, try it – but try it in two ways:
- Search by the words, “accounting firm” in combination your local city or area (e.g., Dallas accounting firm). Now you can see that there are many more results.
- Repeat this search over using a string of keywords which describe your other services (e.g., local city quickbooks accounting, local city payroll services, local city outsourced controllership, etc.).
So, if you were a prospect who wanted to find an accounting firm in your local area, which firms are you more likely to contact – the ones that show up near the top of the page or your firm that shows up on page 9?
When done properly, SEO works like a charm by delivering quality traffic to your website, which in turn gets your phone to ring. The process of SEO generally takes 6-12 months to work effectively, sometimes longer.
Use Pay-Per-Click Campaigns. Another great way to find clients is to conduct pay-per-click advertising campaigns. If you think advertising is only for the big dogs, think again. With pay-per-click campaigns, you decide how much you want to spend per month, and when you reach that amount, the campaign is no longer available until the beginning of the next cycle.
It’s a fact that people are more likely to click on a listing shown in two places on the results search page, so if you create a combination of SEO and pay-per-click campaigns, you’ve just doubled your chances of having a prospect ask for more information.
How much to spend depends not only on your budget, but also on the time of year and the population in your local marketplace. Most firms increase their spending during busy season because that’s when prospects are more likely to search for an accounting firm.
Make Your Practice Unique. We’ve become a society of scanners, not readers, so when prospects find your site, what they want to know is how you can help them solve their problem and if you are the best firm to address their specific needs/issues. In many cases, they think they need a specialist.
To address this perception, several accounting firms have decided to have multiple websites. One accounting website might position them as a local generalist and then they have 1 or 2 niche websites for their areas of concentration so it attracts a higher quality clientele into the practice. For example, a person who is a deadbeat and hasn’t paid taxes in years feels that must work with a firm that positions themselves as providing IRS Problem Resolution services, rather than a generalist accounting firm. This is often the case with other types of clients like non-profits, healthcare, retail, oil and gas, international tax, etc.
Accounting firm websites can act as a silent salesperson for your practice and deliver new clients to your doorstep, if done properly.
I often get asked by accounting firm clients about steps they can take to improve their placement in the search engine results pages. And when I suggest a blog, they are stunned.
Below is an article which illustrates why a blog should be part of your website marketing arsenal.
Yes, I understand that you may not enjoy writing and don’t have time to write but a blog can improve your placement in the search engines, thus delivering higher volumes of traffic to your accounting firm website.
Just do it.
Each and every day, small businesses compete directly against the big guy and succeed. This is done by changing the rules of the game and competing selectively. Overtime, the small entrepreneurial firm becomes one of the big guys and we forget about their rags to riches story.
At one time, Nike was a start-up operation started by a University of Oregon college track coach Bill Bowerman and his former middle-distance runner. That middle-distance runner was a degreed accountant from the University of Oregon named Phil Knight. Both invested $500 to form a partnership in 1964 and today, Nike is a global athletic manufacturer with $20 billion in sales. At the time, Nike sneakers were totally different from Converse, Keds and traditional sneakers on the market. $20 billion of growth in four decades is pretty impressive and now they are THE global juggernaut in athletic footwear, apparel and sporting goods.
So can a small start-up operation with limited funds compete against Nike and other global operators like Adidas, Reebok, and Russell Athletic? Of course. However, the mouse trap must be unique and compelling.
In 1996, a former University of Maryland football player named Kevin Plank was convinced that a moisture wicking fabric could help regulate the body temperature of athletes better than cotton t-shirts. With $20,000 of his own money and $290,000 in loans, he started his own athletic apparel company from his grandmother’s basement in Washington D.C. With the prototypes that were developed, his first sale was to Georgia Tech and fifteen years later, Kevin’s business does at least $1.4 billion in sales under the name of Under Armour. While I presume that someone like Nike may ultimately acquire Under Armour, Kevin has managed to create an attractive niche in a highly competitive industry.
Other examples that come to mind are Samuel Adams, Whole Foods, and Cirque du Soleil. In each of these cases, these start-ups have figured out ways to create a niche in the market without relying upon discounting their price. In each example, they command an attractive premium and compete with larger competitors with very deep pockets.
With this orientation, you can probably tell that I would NOT recommend that a new accounting firm compete directly with larger, more established accounting firms by targeting medium and large-sized businesses. Here are some examples of how the sole accounting practitioner can win:
- Hire a website development provider that knows how to develop a “branded” website which puts your best foot forward so you can compete with more established accounting firms. Many established accounting firms have websites that suck. The internet is an easy way for small accounting firms to compete effectively. Also, this website must be search engine optimized so it is towards the top of search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.
- Blog on your website. The blog should be integrated into your website (same domain name). The major search engines will reward you by elevating your firm in the search engines.
- Write a newspaper column – Most local newspapers are struggling financially as the internet has cut holes into their business model. As a result, the editorial departments in most local newspapers are starving for reliable content from someone with your expertise.
- Start a radio program – In smaller markets, radio can be a way demonstrate your expertise and create awareness for your accounting practice. For years, financial planners have been hosting retirement planning call-in shows on the radio. Why not start a small business accounting and tax issue radio program? If Dave Ramsey can talk about getting rid of debt, you have many topics to consider talking about. If you don’t want to commit yourself to hosting a call-in radio show, how about a cooperative approach with a DJ? In one market, we have a client that has created Tax Tuesdays where he is available for one hour each week to answer call-in tax questions or call his office during regular business hours.
If you are willing to create a unique and compelling point of difference like Phil Knight did with Nike, and Kevin Plank did with Under Amour, you too can create a foothold into the market. Be strategic about how you market your practice and then, Just Do It!
A blog can be a powerful part of your online marketing toolkit for your accounting practice. If you want to take an active role in driving more traffic to your accounting firm website, then blogging is for you.
Blogs are magnets for search engines such as Google, and a great way to boost website traffic. With regular posts, informative content and search-engine friendly links, your site will be more likely to be indexed by Google sooner than a website that has offered the same content for years.
Blog What You Know
Many accounting professionals understand the benefits of blogging for their firm, but might be unsure about how to get started.
First and foremost, blog about what you know. Not only will your blogs be easier to write; you want to position yourself as a content expert by giving out the same kinds of advice and thought leadership you give your clients. If you work in tax and/or QuickBooks accounting, then you wouldn’t want to blog about audit. Before you know it, you’ll be seen as an expert and your site will be the go-to source for valuable accounting information.
Here are some additional guidelines to help you blog for more business:
- No technical knowledge is required. You don’t need to be a “techie” or know HTML code to write a blog. You can add pages or articles using such content management software as WordPress, which offers a user-friendly dashboard that lets you add, edit, and publish web pages and posts.
- Get social to make connections. Your readers can leave comments on your posts. This allows you to see who is interested in your services and provides an opportunity to establish a dialogue with potential customers and partners. Make your blog the perfect opener to developing a relationship and a network for future business.
- Write quality content. Once you have a blog set up, it’s time to write. This is the point in which most bloggers are enthusiastic at first about blogging with plans to blog every week or even more often. Reality soon sets in, however, and you may find yourself blogging less often. The best thing to do is decide on a realistic frequency for your blog posts, then set aside the required time to write. Make yourself an appointment to write if you need to. What you don’t want to have happen is a reader becoming disenchanted with your blog because it’s not updated. You’ll lose the reader’s confidence and loyalty.
- Add quality links. Link to other pages on your website whenever it’s appropriate. For example, embedding a link to take the reader to your contact information can generate additional traffic and is just plain good for business.
- Optimize your content. No matter what you’re trying to get out of your blog, it’s always important to optimize your content. Doing so will allow the search engines to put your site in front of the right audience. But, be careful: It’s great to get ranked for keywords and get free website traffic, but it’s also important to keep things interesting. Write your blogs with keywords in mind, but remember to write for your audience as well — and keep it conversational. Keyword phrases of two to three descriptive words are more effective than individual keywords that can be too competitive. For optimum cataloging or indexing by search engines, blog posts should also be at least two-hundred words, if not a bit more.
When it comes to optimizing your business blog, looking at the factors that will be picked up by the search engines is an important first step to increasing traffic to your site. These factors are known as your SEO — or Search Engine Optimization — profile. SEO involves the development of unique and appropriate keyword phrases that best describe your business, such as “Certified Public Accountant” and “tax accounting,” but are only one part of the total optimization equation.
If all of the reasons outlined in this article aren’t enough information to get you blogging for your business, consider the facts. Research done by inbound marketing company HubSpot on how blogging affects the performance of their clients’ websites showed striking results. They sampled a little over 1,500 companies — roughly half of them blogged for business and the other half didn’t. The businesses that blogged had 55% more traffic, nearly double the number of inbound links and over 400% more pages indexed by Google.
That’s reason enough to begin blogging. Soon, you’ll receive more referrals and be able to convert prospects to clients based on your expert opinions.