16 ways CPAs, EAs and tax accountants are sabotaging their marketing results.
By working with so many CPAs, enrolled agents and tax professionals across the country, we encounter a great deal of customer experiences and marketing mistakes that we need to help them dig out of. Because online marketing is fundamentally changing the way accounting firms operate, I put together a list of the most common mistakes or misconceptions that could be hurting your income potential.
While we coach our clients with the Web’s best practices, not everyone has experienced the “aha” moment yet where they see the benefits of online marketing. The transition from skepticism of online marketing techniques to actual higher rankings and better client relationships can take time. A perfect example is one of our clients, James Batten, who was a little skeptical about online reviews. But he took the plunge and the results were amazing, attracting 85 and counting 5-star reviews that have benefited his brand in two ways. When prospects are looking to hire Jim, they now can browse through 5-star client recommendation after client recommendation. This gives them a very good feeling that they are choosing the right tax accounting professional to work with. From a search engine optimization side, when you Google North Andover Tax Preparation, guess who owns Page 1 of Google?
Such results are not a mistake. They are the fruit of proven techniques, analytics, technology and best practices. But, before we get these kinds of results for clients, we usually have to clean up the mess from a previous website vendor, relative or outsourced freelancer.
Familiar quotes we hear from new prospects…
“I am not looking for any new clients and don’t need to market.”
“I tried SEO with an online vendor and I disappeared from search.”
“I want to try pay per click advertising and my budget is $100 per month.”
“I paid a designer to build my website and now I can’t reach them anymore.”
“I want my website to rank higher but I absolutely will not do review marketing.”
These are just a few of the preconceived thought processes that we need to overcome when working with a new client. I thought it would be useful to list the top mistakes accountants make in marketing so you can steer clear before the harm is done.
1) Not proactively getting reviews – I am a true believer in the power of reviews and their effectiveness in both converting referrals and online prospects. Five-star reviews are easy to attract with the right techniques and provide huge benefits for search engine optimization (SEO). 68% of consumers trust third-party reviews and it is a common resource for anyone looking to hire a professional, find a restaurant or book a vacation. What you find is that tax accounting professionals fit into three categories: reactive, skeptical and proactive. Positive reviews on TaxBuzz.com can actually help move negative reviews down the search rankings. Not being proactive with reviews leaves you open to negative attacks that can greatly hurt your brand and referrals. Nothing is worse than when someone searches your name and a one-star Yelp review is the first thing he or she sees.
2) Going all in on an expensive online video showcasing your firm – While I am a huge proponent of video to help tax accountants market their brand, spending a large amount of money on a professionally produced video rarely pays dividends (unless you are firmly established). I see this everyday where a produced video that is three years old has only 12 views, and I am sure 11 of the views are from the company’s staff. But don’t get me wrong…video and YouTube are very big in search results. The professionals who are doing well with video are covering more educational content-related topics versus trying to sell something. Educational videos that go viral can get thousands of views and help build up your online reputation. We provide monthly scripts for our Whitney subscribers. They don’t have to be overly polished to get great viewership and shares. They just need to authentic, timely and useful.
3) Not optimizing or claiming your Google + profile – Unless you are an online marketing guru, you may not know how important Google + is for your brand in search results. Having your G+ profile rank high at the top of the page is crucial in getting online traffic. Basically think of the search results page as real estate that is getting denser and pushing small businesses off of page 1. Being showcased on Google local pack display settings will really drive more clicks. According to a recent Bright Local survey, 51% of SEO experts say local results deliver the greatest response for their clients.
4) Not using their address on their website – The search engines use your geo location when indexing your brand in local searches. A PO Box will not work since search engines want to see a real, physical location. Using your city name and address on your website can have a benefit even for searches that don’t include a city name. Increasingly, Google and other search engines are trying to detect whether or not it makes sense to serve up results tailored to the searcher’s location. So if Google can identify you are an accounting professional who is situated close to a local searcher’s location, the more likely they will showcase your brand. If, however, you are missing your city on your website – tough luck. You want to make sure your website adequately communicates your local information if you want to appear in search results.
5) Having bad data on directory websites – Equally as bad as not having your NAP (name, address, phone) settings on your website is having bad data across the Web. If you moved or had a typo at some point in your address, the directories may have bad data that could hurt you in two ways. Most SEO experts believe the search engines penalize businesses with inconsistent data because the search results may not be accurate for searchers. Remember, it is all about the user experience. Worse yet is a current client trying to contact you or driving to the wrong address.
6) Not maintaining your client database – This is the most obvious, but also the biggest, offender we see. Your client database is your biggest asset. Without it you have no income. If you are not actively communicating via your email newsletter, you are also losing out on more referrals and off-season consultations. Having a database that is cleaned up and updated will keep you in touch with your most important people, your clients. Follow up and confirm client contact information at each interview. Look at your email bounce reports to see whom you need to contact to update their email. The better your list hygiene, the stronger your practice.
7) Falling for the bogus domain renewal expiration notice – We see them all the time for our clients: the auto-renew letter that tricks domain holders into transferring their domain from their current vendor to a new one, at a higher price. Keeping your domain active and live is critical. Make sure you have your domain on auto renew and locked. This will keep it protected from someone transferring it out. These scammers charge domain fees of $75 and more. GoDaddy and enom are around $15 a year.
8) Relying on traditional Yellow Pages ads – Yes, people still pay for Yellow Pages ads, and they pay a lot. I usually ask what business they get from the ads and they usually can’t recall any. This is a common occurrence. Also, don’t get tricked into making a large advertising spend on a specific website like Blaze. I have seen tax accountants taken advantage of through site-specific campaigns that have no chance of success.
9) Failing to have a presence on social media – Social media is a great tool to help you establish your brand, increase exposure and communicate with your loyal following. It allows you to develop your voice and become an authority online. Whether you are reaching out to current clients or getting referrals online, the benefits are vast. Think of social media as an extension of your email newsletter. You are able to push content out to your readers so they can view it where they are spending their time. Do not try to sell online. You are trying to develop an emotional connection that will make it easier for them to recommend you to their friends, colleagues and family. From a technical standpoint, SEO experts believe social media can be up to 12% of the weight in terms of how your brand is indexed. Therefore, not being on social media will hold back your brand awareness.
10) The dreaded dinosaur blog – Accountant website after accountant website is littered with half started blogs with 1 or 2 posts that are 5 years old and out of date. Many professionals are talked into custom websites that they will “manage” on their own with no plan for developing content. They start off strong with their first post and quickly realize it takes a lot of effort to research and develop fresh content on their own. Using content to help build your authority is one of our top best practice recommendations.
11) Hiring your nephew to build your website – This somewhat ties into tip #10, where websites are started and never finished, loaded with “Coming Soon” links. Some may launch and never change from the date they go live. Technology, Google schema, responsive design and updates mean that keeping up your site is a year ’round chore. Websites need to update with each technology stride. At the bare minimum, you need to be able to edit your own site and change up the content. Add new events, helpful hints and deadline reminders. This fresh content will keep your site index high and visible.
12) Not being responsive to clients and new prospects – The fastest way to lose clients is not responding in a prompt manner. We read this in the negative reviews we get on TaxBuzz. Even if you do not know the answer right away, make sure you at least communicate that you are working on it. As far as how quickly you respond to new leads, the faster the better; statistics back this up. According to insidesales.com, 35–50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first.
13) Not having your own name and bio on your website – Most clients search your name when trying to find you online. They may not recall your firm. Same thing if someone refers you. If you do not have your name and biography on your website, you are actually hurting your own website ranking. Social sites like LinkedIn or Facebook may rank higher than your own website. The social sites aren’t set up to show your brand and contact information in the same way your website will. This is a big “no no.” People also want to see whom they may be working with. Tell your story. Make a connection.
14) Signing a 1-year contract or overpaying – While signing up for a longer-term project with someone you trust may save you money, many sales-driven organizations use contracts because they have such high churn rates. This means they are not confident enough in their product to stand by a month-to-month relationship. We see this often in the high-pressure sales world of SEO and lead generation. It can be tough to get out of this arrangement when, 3 months in, you realize it is not what was sold to you. Take a deep breath and talk it over with a marketing expert before you take the plunge.
15) Stop the free advertising for Gmail, Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail - You should always use your own domain name in your email correspondence. Whether this be the from email in your newsletter or normal email correspondence. First it will bring more traffic to your website because people save email and search for reference. Two it keeps your brand name in front of your audience versus a fortune 500 conglomerate. They surely don't need the help.
16) Not having patience – Brand building and organic search engine optimization is a long-term play. The only results that come overnight are when you are gaming the system or paying for leads. After you optimize a website, it can take at least 90 days to start seeing results. It takes years to firmly establish yourself with social recognition and inbound links. Starting and stopping is like hitting the restart button over and over. Content marketing and putting yourself out there brings long-term results, but they don’t happen overnight.
Lee Reams II
I am a marketing junkie who has spent the last 20 years developing and executing "best in class" word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. With over 10,000 happy clients I think we are on to something. The explosion in web marketing and social media have redefined the way independent professionals market their practices. Follow my blog to see if you can take some of our actionable ideas to market your own practice.