Warren Buffet once famously said, “If you can’t communicate, it’s like winking in the dark—nothing happens.”
If you’re like most accounting firms, a well-designed website is crucial to your communications strategy. (If you’re not sure your website is up to snuff, be sure to check our posts on web design and digital marketing.)
Unfortunately, too many accounting firms overlook the obvious. You can have the best website on the planet, but if potential clients can’t find you amidst all the internet clutter, you are still winking in the dark!
That’s where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in.
SEO for accounting firms is the process of optimizing the content and technical presentation of a firm’s online presence to ensure that potential clients see that accounting firm among the top-ranked organic search results.
As an example, we did a quick search on Google for accounting firms in Akron, Ohio.
The first four results are paid ads, aka pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. PPC is an essential part of your lead generation strategy, but it’s not cheap, especially in a competitive market like accounting services.
Furthermore, research shows that savvy consumers (those are the kind of clients you want, right?) are increasingly skeptical of paid search results.
The Nielsen study “Global Trust In Advertising” found that ads in search results have the lowest credibility ratings, an average of 47% across all age groups. For comparison, old-fashioned TV ads have a 63% credibility rating.
After the paid search results, is a map. Many of your potential clients are interested in the geographic convenience of their accounting service provider. Your presence on the map is crucial. That’s part of your SEO strategy, and we’ll talk more about it shortly.
After the map, we start to see real organic search results…or do we?
The following seven search results in our example are lists of accounting firms. Companies specializing in SEO create those lists and usually sell listing on them.
Search engines love them, but they are far from objective. In many cases, such lists are yet another form of paid advertising, albeit somewhat more subtle than standard PPC ads.
Finally, in position 12, the first actual accounting firm appears.
That’s a crowded landscape.
A well-thought-out SEO strategy is the only way to make sure you own a piece of real estate on the first page of search results.
When a potential accounting client enters a line of text into a search engine, they use predictable words and phrases.
The specific words used speak volumes about their intention, i.e., where they are in the process of choosing an accounting services company and what precisely do they need.
Keyword optimization is about anticipating the most likely search strings for your ideal clients and ensuring that the content on your website has those same phrases and words presented in a way that the search engine’s algorithms perceive as beneficial to the searcher.
The search phrase, “accounting firm near me,” tells you a lot about the searcher. They are in the market for an accounting service (we don’t know what kind yet), and they are most interested in the provider’s physical convenience.
Compare that to “highest rated accountant firm near me” This potential client is also in the market for a conveniently located accountant, and they are most concerned about a firm with good reviews.
Even more specifically, “highest rated tax specialist near me” tells you the searcher wants a well-reviewed tax specialist within a short driving distance to their current location.
If your firm happens to fit that bill, that search is a golden opportunity to convert a searcher into a paying client. But without the right keywords on your site, Google has no way to know this is a match made in heaven.
Google’s search algorithm is nightmarishly complex. Not even the engineers and data scientists at Google themselves understand it in all its complexity.
We know your site’s content, the keyword phrases, and the length of time spent on your site all play a role in SEO for accounting firms.
Amidst all this complexity, it’s easy to overlook the easiest way of all to clue in the search engines about your accounting prowess.
Just tell them.
Hidden on every webpage are small pieces of HTML that tell the search engine what that webpage is about.
Title Tags are just what they sound like. They are HTML codes in the header of a webpage that tells the search engines the webpage title.
Usually, the title tag is identical to the actual page or article title, but it need not be.
You should remember, search engines often present the contents of the title tag in the search results.
From our earlier search example for accounting firms in Akron, the first organic result is a list of accounting firms.
The title tag for that article is “Top Accounting Firms in Akron – 2020 Reviews | Clutch.co”
Immediately following the title tag in the header should tell the search engines what the web page is about.
Looking at our example above, the meta description for the page corresponding to that search result is “Detailed client reviews of the leading Akron accounting firms. Hire the best accountant in Akron, OH.”
As you can see, a meta description can be more than just a description. In this case, the webmaster included a value proposition.
Why should the searcher click on this link? Because they want to hire the best accountant in Akron, of course!
Alt tags were conceived initially to tell vision-impaired users and searchers who block images what images appeared on a webpage.
They now also tell the search engines how you want them to understand the image content.
Suppose you have a webpage about financial auditing with an image of a group of people sitting around a conference table. In that case, Google doesn’t know how to interpret the image in context.
If you include an alt tag that says, “accountants performing a financial audit,” then Google understands your intent, and you could receive extra relevancy points in the search algorithm.
Another often overlooked way to make the search engines your best friend is a well-structured XML sitemap.
An XML sitemap is a file on your server that tells search engines before they start analyzing your website’s content, which pages you explicitly want them to index and what the relationship is amongst the various pages.
You might have a page for “Our Accounting Services,” where you list all the specialties your firm offers. That page would, in turn, link to sub-pages describing each service in more detail.
Search engines may or may not understand that hierarchical relationship. A sitemap tells the search engine explicitly instead of leaving it to chance.
Your sitemap can also tell the search engines useful things about your content, like how often the content on a page is updated and when you last updated it. The more recent your content, the more relevant the search engines are likely to consider it.
Search engines are logical. They like websites neat and tidy. Messy websites confuse them and cause them to misunderstand and deprioritize the content you worked so hard to create.
Search engines also take clues about the importance of a piece of content based on its placement in the structure.
Often an accounting firm’s website grows organically. As you think of things you feel are meaningful to your clients, you add them to the site. This process can result in a disorganized meandering website.
Even if you started with a well thought out structure, it behooves you to check if you’ve outgrown it. That’s often the case.
A well thought out website structure is not just important to search engines. It also better serves your clients and leads to higher conversions.
Does your website have all 10? Learn the secrets to driving more traffic to your website, generating more leads, and ultimately increasing sales.
Remember the map that showed up mid-page in our example search for accounting firms? Google My-Business is how you get your accounting firm to show up on that map, and that’s just the beginning of the benefits of this terrific free tool from the folks at Google.
Google created the My Business tool so companies of all kinds can claim their business and provide vital information to searchers like address, phone number, website URL, hours of operation and the types of service you offer.
Unless you’ve only just recently hung up your shingle, chances are you already have a Google My Business listing. The first step for most firms is simply claiming their listing.
Once you’ve claimed your listing, you control the data in your My Business listing, and that opens the door for many SEO opportunities. Now, Google knows you officially exist, and that automatically improves your search rankings.
A complete Google My Business listing is also key to building client trust. Google research shows that customers are 70% more likely to visit a business with a complete My Business listing.
Also according to Google, businesses with a complete My Business listing are twice as likely to be considered reputable.
Google’s search algorithm changes continuously and is increasingly sophisticated, but at its core, the algorithm appears to be still highly dependent on something called “page rank.”
Page rank is a ranking algorithm based on the number and quality of the links to your site from other sites.
In short, the more other people talk about your accounting firm (hopefully in a good way), the more important Google thinks your site is compared to your peer group.
Remember in our example, all those lists of accounting firms that showed up at the top of the organic search results?
Those are examples of backlinks from other sites. There are many ways to get other sites to link to you. Of course, one way is to buy them, but Google’s on to that strategy and tends to discount those links somewhat.
A better approach is a well thought out content strategy with compelling content that others want to link to because your content is considered the definitive source for that information. We’ll talk more about content marketing shortly.
According to the Nielsen study, “earned media” like recommendations, reviews, and editorial content are among the most trusted forms of marketing.
Reviews are also an essential part of your off-site SEO.
Google shows reviews or “ratings” in three places;
Some clients will submit a review to Google without being asked. But they are more likely to take that step if they are unhappy. That’s not going to lead to the kind of reviews presence you’re hoping for.
A smarter approach is proactively soliciting reviews – which can ultimately boost SEO for accounting firms.
Include in your post-engagement follow-up email sequence, asking customers explicitly for a 5-star review.
Be sure to explain why that’s important to you. And mention, if their review would be anything other than a 5-star, they should reach out to you first so you can make it right.
Google also may show your reviews directly next to your site in search results from 3rd-party review sites like Yelp.
Again, being proactive is the key to success here. Explain to your customers in a follow-up sequence why you need good reviews and encourage them to visit rating sites like Yelp and post 5-star reviews.
One strategy that works well is first asking for a client’s feedback directly as part of post engagement follow up.
Then cherry-pick the most positive reviews and ask them to post the same feedback on Yelp.
Make it as easy as possible for them by including the link to your Yelp listing and reminding them what they said so they could just cut and paste into the review.
People have accounting questions every day. They use search engines to get answers to those questions.
Content marketing is about publishing content on your site and external sites that answers those common questions and, in turn, positions your firm as the trusted authority on that subject.
The logic here is obvious. If a client has seen your firm referenced repeatedly during their efforts to answer an accounting question, when they decide to engage a firm to help with that question, you have already positioned yourself as the obvious choice.
Content marketing is also an excellent opportunity to get those inbound links from other sites.
It’s a win-win. You are positioned as the authority while improving your search rank.
Based in Philadelphia, St. Clair CPA Solutions faces plenty of competition. With the help of Mediaboom, they redesigned their website with local SEO and streamlined conversion in mind.
This increased focus and awareness made a clear contribution to their bottom line.
You can read more about St. Clair CPA Solutions’ push for improved local SEO here.
There’s probably no other group of people more keenly focused on the bottom line than accounting firms.
SEO for accounting firms is a vital part of your digital marketing strategy, but its direct impact on the bottom line can be tough to quantify.
At Mediaboom, we’re committed to providing digital marketing and SEO for accounting firms to help all our clients get quantifiable results like the ones St. Clair CPA Solutions experienced.
Contact us today, and let’s talk about what we can do for your accounting practice!
READY TO IGNITE YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY?
Copyright 2020 Mediaboom. All Rights Reserved.