Lee Frederiksen
Why CPAs can't afford to ignore SEO

Accounting firms without optimized websites risk losing business to competitors.

May 12, 2014
By Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D.

Even if you’re not a technophile, you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about search engine optimization (SEO) lately. But just what is the hubbub about SEO, and why should accounting firms care about it?

Search engine optimization is a fancy term for activities that you can perform to help search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing find your website, your blog posts, or any of your other online content. In the competitive online environment, accounting firms without optimized websites risk not being found by potential clients.

Don’t get left behind

In our research study on online marketing for accounting and finance firms, we found that 75% of accounting firms already generate some new business leads online, and that 71% of all firms are planning to increase their online marketing budget next year.

We also found that high-growth firms—firms growing five times faster than the average—are generating twice as many online leads as average firms. And these high-growth firms also ranked SEO as their most effective online tool. Increasingly, if you are not using SEO, you are falling behind the pack.

High-growth accounting firms generate twice as many leads online

Why is SEO so important to attracting clients?

More and more, accounting clients are turning to the internet to find and research prospective firms. Our recent research into buyers of professional services (such as accounting) revealed that a whopping 81% of buyers of professional services go online to “check out” a firm’s website before buying a service. We also found that 63% of potential clients perform a  search engine search on the firm to see what turns up: reviews, evaluations, court reports, and more. The takeaway:  Firms that are not easily found online are quickly becoming invisible. 

Before you hire a professional services firm, how do you check them out?

Accounting clients also search for specific topics online: accounting issues they’re dealing with, help with interpreting new regulations, or trying to solve business problems. Firms using SEO practices to optimize their articles, white papers, and blog posts will be the ones that appear when clients search for answers.

Now you understand why SEO is so important. But before you start shopping around for SEO services, there are a few critical things you should know:

1. Website optimization and online authority

SEO practices usually fall into two categories: optimizing your website or building online authority. To give your website and your other online content the best possible chance of success, you’ll need to concentrate on both. 

  • Website optimization: This refers to making changes on the technical end of your site—the “back end.” It’s worth running a quick audit of your website to make sure you’re following best practices and that the site is set up in ways that will help search engines find it and read it.
  • Online authority: This refers to activities that ensure the rest of the online community knows about your website. Google, for instance, uses indicators of online “popularity” to rank websites. The more online relationships you build, and the more other users read and share your content, the higher you will rank.
2. Google rewards quality

Google, which is the most popular search engine in the U.S., constantly changes, tests, and overhauls its algorithms to provide consumers with the most accurate and highest quality responses to their online searches.

As Google’s algorithms become increasingly sophisticated, quality online content is rising to the top. Spam and sleaze are out, and well-written and relevant are in. Accountants, who pride themselves on transparency and who are in the business of providing quality solutions to their clients, are in the perfect position to profit from these changes. Take the same approach to creating your website and your other content as you do with your business, and Google will reward you.

3. Google hates duplicate content

Google prizes originality—in content and in thinking. So the practice of subscribing to a service that provides content to your site, common among accounting firms, won’t help you. In fact, you could be penalized for it. Rather than just publishing a news bulletin about a new tax law, try to put your own spin on it by adding your opinion or writing about how it might affect your clients.

4. Beware of SEO experts promising too much

There are thousands of SEO “experts” out there who are happy to take your money. They claim to be able to employ certain tactics that will move your website to the top of Google search rankings. The problem with these tactics is that most of them only work by trying to trick Google. While that may have been effective in the past, Google has become much more sophisticated, and its algorithms are no longer fooled by these techniques. In fact, with a recent set of changes, Google will now penalize websites and companies that are discovered employing these tricks. Do yourself a favor, and stick to quality and transparency from the beginning.

SEO is good business

Google’s emphasis on quality content, on relevance and transparency, goes hand-in-hand with the offline marketing tactics that have served accounting firms well since before the internet was even invented. For those firms with a cohesive brand and strong messaging, incorporating SEO practices into an already robust marketing plan will increase your visibility and grow your business faster. These days, SEO is just good business.

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Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D., is the managing partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm that specializes in the professional services industry.