From the Nov. 2009 Issue
If you are interested in acquiring new business, then you need to understand
what search engine optimization (SEO) is and how it can deliver qualified prospects
to your doorstep. In other words, SEO is how your website is found on the Internet.
A website that has been effectively optimized for search engines can deliver
motivated prospects to your firm. On the other hand, a website that is not search
engine optimized is essentially lost in Internet space, which renders it worthless
from a marketing perspective.
WHAT IS SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION?
Search engine optimization is the process of improving the volume and quality
of traffic a website receives directly from search engines. Essentially, if
you improve your website’s position within the major search engines, via
descriptive search term phrases and keywords, you will receive more traffic
to your website. You will also increase visibility and generate more leads than
a website that is not search engine friendly.
While SEO may sound simple and easy to do, it takes considerable planning
and knowledge, and may take several months to deliver results. As more businesses
employ SEO into their Internet marketing strategy, the more competitive the
landscape becomes for securing top search engine placement. And with the emergence
of social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs, an entire
new layer of techniques are being deployed to strengthen SEO for progressive
SEO is mostly technical in nature. It combines source code programming with
business marketing, website architecture, visual presentation and persuasion
copy writing woven into the fabric of a website. Virtually all website developers
do not factor SEO into website construction because it’s hard for the
client to see, drives up cost and incurs extra labor.
To effectively optimize a website and make it search engine friendly, a website
developer must understand how search engines work along with the factors that
are important within the search engine algorithms. In addition, a developer
must also research the terms that a firm’s prospects will type into search
engines when attempting to locate specific services. With this knowledge, a
developer can practically reverse engineer how the website is developed so that
it meets the needs of search engines and your prospects.
WHY BOTHER WITH SEARCH ENGINES?
Search engines are the most important source of “new” visitors to
your website. Since millions of people use search engines to find websites,
maximizing your visibility can be a powerful and cost-effective part of your
marketing program. Search engines are reliable and cost-effective, and they
enable web surfers to search thousands of websites in seconds for all kinds
of information. Bottom line: Search engines represent an inexpensive opportunity
to attract visitors to your website.
SEO has been around since the mid-1990s, and was the primary responsibility
of a company’s webmaster. By the late 1990s, website owners started to
realize the business potential and value of having their websites ranked highly
within the search engines, so they started to deploy tactics to manipulate rankings
and game the system. To offset these “black hat” SEO tactics and
recapture control of which websites received top rankings, the major search
engines changed their algorithms and became more complex and proprietary. Today,
the major search engines actually ban websites that deploy overly aggressive
SEO techniques from their results. Today, Google ranks websites using more than
200 criteria as part of their algorithm.
Search engines have become a huge business and are always working towards
improving the technology used to crawl the web and deliver better results to
users. However, there are limits to how a website is constructed, which programming
languages they work with, and whether the search engines will index a website.
Where the right changes can deliver thousands of new visitors to your website,
the wrong moves can hide or bury your website 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 site.
DO PEOPLE REALLY USE SEARCH ENGINES TO FIND ACCOUNTANTS?
Absolutely! People use search engines to identify a multitude of accounting
services. And this is occurring far more frequently than it used to. Using a
search engine empowers web users to locate a firm that provides the exact type
of service they require and a tax and accounting professional with the proper
qualifications. The number of people searching online, and the time they spend
searching, continues to increase.
In large part, people are willing to use search engines to locate accountants
because they genuinely trust the profession. Still primarily a referral-based
profession, more and more individuals are moving to the Internet to research
HOW DO PROSPECTS SEARCH?
Most often, prospects use Google, Yahoo! or Bing (MSN’s search engine)
to search the Internet. These three search engines comprise over 95 percent
of the search engine traffic.
The harder part is identifying the exact keywords a prospect to your site
might use. Most often, a prospect will start very broad and gradually modify
their search to improve the results for their specific search. Prospects tend
to start with a national search and gradually narrow their search through trial
The following are examples of keywords and phrases used in the different search
National Searches: CPA firm, accounting firm, accountant, bookkeeper, QuickBooks
accounting firm, income tax preparation, payroll services.
Local Searches: Pittsburgh CPA firm, Pittsburgh accounting firm, Pittsburgh
QuickBooks accounting firm, Pittsburgh income tax preparation, Pittsburgh business
Industry-Specific Searches: CPA firm for dentists, accounting firm for architects,
construction CPA firm, accounting for restaurants, cost accounting for manufacturing
Service-Specific Searches: IRS problem resolution, business valuation, international
tax and accounting, expert tax witness, outsourced CFO services, nonprofit accounting,
Community-Specific Searches: Latino CPA firm in Dallas, Italian speaking accounting
firm in Chicago, Chinese speaking CPA in Los Angeles.
To conduct your own research on which keyword strings are most important for
your practice, paid research tools are available as well as free keyword tools
offered by Google and Yahoo!
RESULTS FROM ACCOUNTANTS
For accountants who remain skeptical about the ability to acquire new business
from the Internet, the following examples offer real-life experiences from practicing
Kathy Hess is the Managing Partner for Kathy L. Hess & Associates in Pittsburgh,
Penn. Kathy has had a search engine optimized website since 2004 and is highly
selective about the clients she accepts. She stated, “During the December
to March period, we receive approximately 100 leads per month and 20 leads per
month outside of that period. From those leads, we carefully screen the prospects
and are able to acquire $25,000 to $30,000 in new business each year.
Occasionally, we will receive inquiries for business valuation, estate planning
and attorneys inquiring about expert witness work. The majority of our website
leads tend to be younger (under 40 years old), inexperienced with financial
matters, and looking for guidance on matters with which they are not proficient.
They are motivated, appreciate our advice, and are pretty much sold by the time
they arrive to meet at our office; the choice is ours after the face-to-face
whether to allow them into our practice and accept them as a client. The website
represents our firm as cutting-edge with technology and enables us to pick and
choose which new clients to accept.”
Steven J. Graber, CPA, is the owner of Graber & Associates, Certified
Public Accountancy in Baltimore. Steve founded the practice in 1993. He was
extremely skeptical about the possibility of acquiring business from the Internet
and now receives 12 to 15 leads per year from his website. According to Steven,
“The typical website engagement is $1,200 to $3,000 per year.”
Guy Sperduto in Cooper City, Fla., is the owner of AccountingLinkUSA and receives
eight to 10 leads per month from his website. According to Guy, “The prospects
that contact me from my website are absolutely worth meeting because they are
ready to do business.
As a rule, the vast majority of website leads are real businesses, and my closing
ratio for website leads is 90 percent. For someone like me who was not at all
convinced of Internet marketing and had no real idea what to expect, I am very
pleased with the results. Actually, my concern now is how I am going to handle
the volume of new business.”
Hugh Duffy is co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer for Build Your Firm
a practice development firm dedicated to the accounting profession. Build Your
Firm works with small accounting firms providing accounting marketing, practice
management and website development services. Hugh has 25 years of marketing
experience and holds an MBA degree in Marketing from the University of Rochester.