Referral Marketing 101: Your Online Reputation Matters

We work with thousands of CPAs, EAs and tax accountants across the country. The one constant we hear is how their businesses are primarily built by referrals and word of mouth. What many have not realized yet is how this pipeline has shifted online.

Many referrals occur the old-fashioned way: A client is talking to a friend, relative or colleague and asks whom they would recommend. While this does still happen, most of this same conversation is now happening on Nextdoor, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media sites for the entire world to see. Regardless of how the initial recommendation takes place, one big difference occurs today in the transparent online space. Like clockwork, the prospect will Google your name to see what your brand looks like. At this point, you have the best opportunity to control the message your brand is sending online.

Step one: Your website better be at the top of the search results. Hopefully, your bio page is in the second position. Now the secret sauce: If you have actively attracted five-star reviews on your TaxBuzz.com, Google My Business and Yelp profiles, these review sites will show up on searches right below your website.

Most of the time, searchers will click into these third-party sites to see what your clients are saying about you. Real, verified client testimonials tell a story in a way that your advertising never could. They talk about the value you provide in a way your prospects can understand. These review sites do the selling for you, making it much more likely that the referral will be converted into a client. More importantly, you are already building trust with the prospect, which will make it easier for you to provide your advice.

Tips on attracting five-star client testimonials.

First, spend most of your effort on the big four: TaxBuzz.com, Google My Business, Yelp and FaceBook.

Most of the time, searchers will click into these third-party sites to see what your clients are saying about you. Real, verified client testimonials tell a story in a way that your advertising never could. They talk about the value you provide in a way your prospects can understand. These review sites do the selling for you, making it much more likely that the referral will be converted into a client. More importantly, you are already building trust with the prospect, which will make it easier for you to provide your advice.

TaxBuzz.com – TaxBuzz is built to showcase tax accounting professionals’ expertise online and help them safeguard their online reputations. Its options include getting verified through background screening and blogging tools that offer inbound links and a new audience of prospects. Optimized profiles get indexed very well in Google. An optimized profile includes a professional image, custom “about us” copy and at least 5 reviews. Phoenixville CPA Christ Bender has a great example of a well-indexed, optimized TaxBuzz profile.  It is recommended that your embed the reviews onto your website, so website visitors can also see what others are saying about you. It is recommended that you send out an email to your client list politely asking for reviews. Include links on your email newsletter as well. This TaxBuzz review and blog article includes some helpful tips and sample letters to get started. 

Google My Business (GMB) – With its recent changes in search results geared toward mobile, Google has increased the importance of your GMB listing. Make sure you claim your listing, add photos and select the correct categories. Getting reviews is a little tricky, since reviewers need to have a Gmail email account. We help clients segment their lists and send out review request emails directly to Gmail clients only. It seems that 5 reviews or more on GMB is the sweet spot. The better optimized your profile, the more likely you will show up in the Google Maps search results. This is a huge source of traffic and a key to your long-term success.

Yelp – Yelp is still the leader in review websites. It has by far the most content and get a ton of traffic. The pitfall for tax accounting professionals is many of your clients who will review you on Yelp are not the prolific reviewers that Yelp seems to like. Yelp also discourages brands from asking for reviews. We find many five-star reviews on Yelp suppressed from the results. This is because a typical tax accounting client who leaves a review is not an active foodie or prolific Yelper who leaves reviews everywhere they go. This sometimes flags your legitimate clients’ reviews in Yelp’s algorithm. Campbell, CA-based Lina’s Tax Team showcases a well-optimized profile, with 78 reviews that have helped her practice grow every year. 

FacebookFaceBook allows visitors to leave ratings based on a five star system and add their own testimonials. These reviews are displayed on your business page. To enable reviews, you need to make sure you checked local business. Reviews are part of FaceBooks algorithm EdgeRank. The quality and quantity of reviews will affect the frequency and reach of your brand on FaceBook. Having a five star rated brand will also build up your credibility to new visitors.

In today's digital age, client testimonials influence buying decisions. A recent Dimensional Research tells us that an overwhelming 90 percent of consumers who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive reviews influenced their buying decisions, while a huge 86 percent said who they worked with was influenced by negative reviews. 

This should get your attention. You are either jumping up and down on being ahead of the curve with your numerous five-star reviews, or you might be thinking it is time to focus your efforts on this.

No matter how you feel today, online reviews are critical to your brand and conversion of referrals.

Online reviews also affect:

  • Your local search engine rankings
  • The odds that your listing actually gets clicked on
  • Client buying decisions

Now that you have a better understanding the role of reviews in referral marketing, you can start taking safeguarding and building your online reputation more seriously. And yes, having a strong online reputation will help your local SEO strategy as well.

  • 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.

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