By Brian Swanson
Many CPAs and accountants want to know how to use limited marketing resources to best position their firm. Should firms continue to invest in traditional marketing activities such as advertisements, sponsorships, direct mail, and e-mail marketing, or venture into Web site marketing and, more specifically, search engine optimization (SEO)?
Getting noticed in the right place during an Internet search is what SEO is all about. A developing technology, SEO increases the likelihood your company will be easily noticed by prospects searching for information on a specific topic or service. Anyone searching for information on Google or other search engines will find your site based on the meta-tag information (keywords, descriptions, and title) embedded in each page.
Once SEO has been integrated into your online presence, reports generated through an Internet Service Provider (or third-party traffic tool such as Google Analytics) provide very specific and easy-to-understand information you can use to determine the amount of traffic, who visited, and where they spent the most time on your Web site.
While most marketing professionals find the concept of SEO appealing, many have reservations about integrating the strategy into their marketing plan because they are unsure how to gain buy-in from management. A majority of partners in CPA firms do not have a firm understanding of the mechanics of SEO, much less how it will benefit their bottom line to implement such a strategy.
Altering or changing long-standing marketing activities can be difficult, especially if they have been producing results. It is difficult to push away a program the firm has been successfully using for years and replace it with an unknown which may or may not produce results, from the partner perspective. As a result, it is imperative to find an effective way to present this strategy, especially if your firm is a slow mover.
Positioning SEO as a viable marketing strategy can have a very positive and meaningful impact on your firm’s marketing efforts – often immediately and at little or no cost. Here are six reasons why SEO works.
SEO provides access to warmer leads. Inbound marketing techniques such as SEO allow your firm to connect with more qualified opportunities. When a company contacts you through the Web site, it is usually ready to make a decision to buy. The company already identified its internal need, researched potential solutions to the problem, and identified specific providers. When a prospect comes to your firm in this fashion, it reduces the amount of time spent educating the prospect, communicating the firm’s value proposition, and lead-time in pursuing the prospect.
SEO maximizes partners' chargeable hours. Due to the reduced amount of time spent pursuing opportunities, the time invested by a firm’s partners also is reduced. Whether a firm has a business development/marketing function, there is less time spent on site visits, prospect meetings, and conference calls to move the prospect through the sales cycle. With SEO, partners are able to insert themselves into the sales process in a time-efficient way – selling the opportunity in a much shorter time period than leads identified through traditional marketing techniques. The process leads to additional time for partners to focus on chargeable work.
SEO expands your marketing footprint. SEO allows firms to attract opportunities outside of their geographical footprint. For example, does it make sense to invest marketing dollars in cities where the firm has little brand awareness? Of course not. However, SEO allows your firm to promote itself in other markets without incurring additional costs. Would your firm be interested in serving clients in other markets if the opportunity presented itself? Through focused SEO, your firm can find these opportunities.
SEO creates a larger pipeline. Optimizing your Web site to attract new opportunities will help your firm create a large pipeline of opportunities. Consider how your firm attracts prospects currently: Do you send out focused and targeted mailings? Electronic newsletters? Many firms invest time and effort into traditional outbound marketing techniques, such as direct mail, e-mail, and lead-generation telemarketing. How much time, energy, and resources are consumed with these tactics? Through an optimized Web site, however, your firm has a sales tool that works to find new opportunities. Once the initial optimization has been performed, there is only a minimal amount of time required to maintain and tweak the original work.
SEO adds value to marketing activities. Most marketing departments in firms are expected to develop, lead, and manage non-revenue producing programs. Ad design, proposal development, collateral material development, and pursuit planning, while valuable, do not produce any firm revenues. SEO changes the paradigm and turns marketing into a lead generation source. If properly implemented, SEO can transform marketing beyond an internal services function and position it as a revenue generator for the firm.
SEO is effective. Perhaps the most important reason any CPA firms should invest in SEO is because it works. Several firms have achieved success pursuing this strategy and have gained access to opportunities they did not otherwise think possible. For example, Rea & Associates, an Ohio-based CPA firm has experienced positive results from its efforts. After making an initial investment in SEO the firm is receiving a large volume of monthly leads. In November 2010, it received 10 new leads searching for help with basic services such as individual and corporate tax returns to more complex services including a consulting engagement and a business valuation.
There are many other ways SEO and inbound marketing techniques help drive practice growth. However, these six are used successfully in selling partners on short- and long-term benefits. CPAs and accountants are not marketing professionals, but they can understand the value associated with a planned process. Focus on meaningful benefits, such as less time in the sales process, more time to address client needs and ability of the firm to attract a larger number of prospects.
About the author:
Brian Swanson is a principal with Flashpoint Marketing, a marketing and lead generation company focused on serving the accounting industry. He has more than 14 years of experience in search engine optimization, marketing, business development, and lead generation for various CPA firms across the United States.