By Eric R. Elmore, PICPA Vice President, Marketing and Membership
Most accounting firms in Pennsylvania have fewer than 20 employees – upward of 80% of them, in fact. These firms rarely have a marketing team or person dedicated to developing and managing an elaborate marketing strategy. However, with the advances in online and digital marketing, even the smallest of firms can rake in big-firm results by driving leads and interest from the internet via a sound search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. This blog looks at SEO strategy on a smaller scale – for the smaller firm. It is an area where, through a bit of strategic-thinking muscle flexing, you can have a significant and measurable impact on the success of your firm. And you don’t need to hold a marketing title to excel in this area.
Simply put, SEO is improving your internet content to increase online visibility. But the core concept behind SEO was a thing long before the internet. Once upon a time, the phone book’s Yellow Pages were the Google of the day. The strategy used by many businesses in those days was to name their company with a word starting with the letter A (or a double or triple A, if possible). This is because the structure of the phone book was to alphabetize entries within industries. So, it was common to see names like AAA Accounting, Aardvark Tax Services, or ABC Bookkeeping as those companies tried to be viewed first and most often.
SEO follows the same general principle of the phone book strategy. Google and other search engines structure the content on the internet, but it is not alphabetical within industries like the phone book was. Instead, search engines sort postings based on things like quality, length, types of content, and keywords. So, the strategy now is to get your content to appear more frequently in searches and ahead of others on the resulting list. For the online researcher, a search engine’s algorithm ranks content and positions your entry accordingly. This process offers an opportunity to level the playing field between large and small firms.
Before embarking on an SEO strategy, meet with your managing partner to list the top three strategic goals for the firm over the next three years and why the firm is taking this route. Have the managing partner explain why these goals have been targeted so you clearly understand the direction in which your leadership is going. Then, look at your current marketing goals to see if they align with the firm’s goals. If not, you must realign your strategy. This will help you identify what needs to rank higher on search engines (top strategic goals) and what may rank lower.
Here is an example. If one of your firm’s top three strategic goals is to recruit top talent from the experienced CPA market, you must research the keywords used by this audience when they search for opportunities and then employ those keywords in your strategy. You’ll need to support those keywords with quality content such as video, articles, blogs, and verified links to credible sources – all with the firm’s goal in mind.
Write blogs, white papers, and more that discuss recruiting, or at least use the related keywords you uncovered during your research. Create video content aimed at attracting top talent. Talk about your firm culture, advancement opportunities, and thought leadership. Join established hashtag communities that align with these new goals. (A hashtag, or “#,” is used before a keyword to better track your content and raise visibility for to those looking for this content.) All these things, among other efforts, help drive your SEO in the desired area and align with your firm’s strategy.
Below are a few reminders as you begin to delve into your SEO work.
No keyword stuffing – In the early days of SEO marketing, firms would load up on keywords everywhere on their website and in their content to rank higher when people searched for that specific term (i.e., Tax, Payroll, Bookkeeping, etc.). This worked great … 15 years ago. Search engines have become more sophisticated, and algorithms have become smarter. Today, it is more of a liability to have over-used keywords. Make your content read more naturally. In the words of one online expert, “Write content for people, not algorithms.”
Use links to drive rankings – Content length is no longer a key to high-ranking search returns. Rather than writing a long piece of content, use links to other credible sources to establish a point. This not only shortens your content (and the time to develop it), but it also increases your SEO ranking because of your connection to other quality and credible content. For example, links from your firm’s website to the IRS, Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, city wage tax regulations, or free articles on key news media pages can have a big payoff with very little effort.
Content is king, but so is data – Follow up regularly to determine the success of your SEO strategy. Like the managing partner, have your own multiyear goals and revisit them quarterly, understanding that a change in direction of SEO strategy may take months to see results. Use your favorite metrics tools to secure insight from the data and share it with the managing partners so you are all on the same page. It demonstrates how their strategy is being conducted at the marketing level and shows the value of having marketing at the strategy table.
I hope this blog has had the effect of encouraging small firms to up their marketing game. Online marketing and SEO strategy can get quite sophisticated, but adhering to these basics can put you miles ahead of the majority of small firms.
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