Demystifying Search Engine Optimization
By Brian D. Swanson, Flashpoint Marketing
If you are like most professionals responsible for marketing an accounting practice, you no doubt are familiar with the term Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. This term makes a frequent appearance in industry publications, marketing presentations, and at conferences. For a large number of accounting professionals, however, SEO is like a mystical marketing tactic. The ROI for firms that have implemented effective SEO gives us compelling evidence for the effectiveness of this strategy. The challenge for most has been translating what they have read and heard into actionable steps that will yield the best results. Unfortunately, this challenge has left many on the outside looking in, unable to experience the benefits of an effective SEO campaign. To help launch SEO efforts, here is a list of 5 key tips below to get firms pointed in the right direction.
5 Tips for Launching Your SEO Program
- Assess Your Website Platform – One of the most important aspects of a strong SEO program is the ability to understand the flexibility of your website. Often we start working with a firm that has a beautiful website and high aspirations for SEO only to discover the website platform they are using is very rigid and will not allow them to make many, if any, changes. So the first step is to determine the platform your website is built on. Generally there are three categories under which website platforms can be classified including; flat file website, HTML coded, open source content management systems (CMS), and proprietary (closed source) CMS. So as not to get lost in the technical details, generally speaking, the easiest systems to work with are open source CMS; examples include Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal. These systems are easily customized and are built to be SEO-friendly. The most difficult systems are proprietary CMS systems, or websites that are based on a non-customizable template or purchased from a vendor who sets up the entire site. Technically speaking, a proprietary CMS is a system that requires you to pay a monthly fee to license the software, or a system where you don’t have access to the base code of the website. These systems are generally not SEO-friendly and often require firms to rely on the web developer to make prescribed changes. Whatever the case is for your firm, it’s important to know from the outset what type of platform you are on so you can properly set expectations.
- Evaluate Your Site Content – Review the content on your website. Is the expertise of your firm properly represented? After reading each of the service pages do you feel that there is the appropriate information for a site visitor to understand what you offer? This is an essential point to consider. If the service content does an inadequate job of describing what you do, doesn't provide essential highlights or explain why your firm is different, then are you really providing enough information? Often accounting firm websites will simply provide a bullet pointed list of the various services they offer. No discussion about the approach, years of expertise or why their firm is a better choice over another. If this describes your content, then you should consider making a change. Take the time to give the essential details and give the site visitors reasons to want to connect with you and do business with your firm. This is the approach an SEO professional will take. You can either do this yourself, or pay a substantial fee to have this done for you. Additionally, once you have reviewed your content, consider allowing someone outside of your company to read it. An unbiased outsider might be able to offer additional insight or have questions you may not have thought to answer.
- Review & Refresh Keywords – Keywords tell search engines what the content on a specific page is about. This helps search engines properly index each page according to subject matter. For this reason it’s essential to review the keywords on your website to ensure they appropriately describe the subject matter of the page. It is a common occurrence for those not familiar with SEO to use the same set of keywords across multiple pages without considering if the words are at all related to the page’s content. In addition, be sure that your site has no more than four keywords per page. This is an important point because it seems the trend today is to keyword stuff as many keywords as possible onto each page of the website. It’s unclear why so many take this approach, but search engines will ignore keywords when keyword stuffing occurs. Finally, it’s essential to consider the keywords being used. Are they technical? Are they using terms no CPAs and other industry professionals will understand? If so, then you need to revisit your approach. Most of your potential prospects don’t know industry language so you need to select keyword terms they would use as opposed to what you think is best. Consider the following example. The Patient Protection Act of 2012 is the proper name for the often mentioned healthcare reform legislation. However, if you did some research you would see that most people refer to it as Obamacare. So it’s important to consider the mind of the end user when approaching website keywords.
- Update Your Sitemap – The sitemap is a page on your website that lists the url of each page on your site. There are two purposes to a sitemap. First, it provides visitors with easy access to pages of interest to them. Second, it provides search engines with the ability to quickly and easily index existing and new pages of your site as they are added. If your website doesn’t have a sitemap, then it’s important to implement one as soon as possible. Since the sitemap is meant to be current, anytime you add new pages to your website it is essential to update the map as soon as possible. This makes your new content easier for search engines and visitors to find.
- Website Tracking Software – Measurement is a core concept in the accounting profession, and measuring SEO success is no exception. It’s important to be able to measure metrics such as monthly website traffic, commonly searched keyword terms, traffic sources, and social media engagement so that you will know if your SEO activities are performing the way you want them to. If you don’t already have website tracking software, I recommend you sign up for Google Analytics. The service is free and it provides a significant amount of information about website performance.
Remember, even small steps in the right direction are still progress. Depending on the situation at your firm it may not be possible to immediately complete all the steps outlined above. That’s okay! SEO is an ongoing process and not a one-time-only activity. (I like to tell clients, SEO is not ”set it and forget it!”. Rather it’s a gradual process that requires your attention over an ongoing period.) Pick one or two items and make a plan to work on each. If you take this approach, over the next few months you will make significant progress reaching your SEO goals.
About the author:
Brian Swanson is a partner at Flashpoint Marketing, a marketing consulting firm that focuses on providing traditional and digital lead generation services exclusively to the accounting profession. He leads the development of the firm’s digital services practice which included traditional and mobile website development, inbound marketing programs, and search engine optimization efforts.