I’m continually surprised, frankly, by how powerful a tool the web is for marketing for small businesses.
I’ve regularly shared this observation with small business clients, entrepreneur friends and fellow CPAs. And after sharing this perspective again recently, I ended up doing a webinar for a small group of online friends called “Ten Tips for Effective Web Marketing of Your Small CPA Firm.”
In that webinar, I shared ten tips for CPAs (and really for any small business) to make a firm’s web presence and identity a more powerful marketing tool. This blog post goes over those same ten tips—except without all of the PowerPoint slides and my rambling narration…
Tip #1: Set Up Your Own Website
A first, easy tip: You want to set up your own website. A website you host or pay some hosting company like godaddy.com to host. A website with content you control and own and can protect. A website with links you can own and protect or even protect against.
You do not, in other words, want to rely on Facebook or on Yelp or on LinkedIn for your online web presence, marketing or identity. No way. Lots of people do do this. You shouldn’t.
By the way, the work of setting up a website yourself? You probably want 8 to 10 pages of content, so you’re talking about a few hours of work developing rich, polished text that describes who you are and what your firm does.
And you’re talking a few hours of fiddling where you register a domain, sign up for hosting, and create your webpages—probably using something like WordPress, which I’ll talk about in my next tip.
You’re also talking about a few hundred bucks to pay for the setup.
In short, setting up your website is a perfect outside-of-tax-season project.
I would say the actual work of setting up the first version of your website is roughly akin to the work of preparing a modestly-involved small business corporation tax return. In other words, not insignificant… but fairly straightforward if you take your time and work carefully.
Tip #2: Use a Content Management System
I’m going to talk more about content and its importance in another tip or two, but let me make a quick point.
You want a content management system so you can easily create and easily update your content. You want creating, adding, and editing content to be just as easy once you get going as typing up a memo in Microsoft Word or emailing someone.
For the record, we now use WordPress (which is really a blogging tool) as the content management system for our most heavily-trafficked websites. And we’re in the process of migrating our two other principal sites to WordPress, too, for reasons largely having to do with the friendly content management.
Two quick points about web content management systems: First, you can get quite a bit more background data in the Wikipedia entry on “web content management systems.” Second, just so you know, installing the WordPress “program” on your web server should be basically a “one-click” process.
Tip: One other advantage of using WordPress is that you can buy a nice “design” for a WordPress-style website for a very modest price. Peanuts, really. These designs are called “themes.” The themes we’ve bought and which we use for our blog or for our CPA firm site cost between $50 and $100. That’s it.
Tip #3: Consider Using a Blog as Your Site
Another quick point: Deciding to take on the burden of a blog—you regularly writing, editing, and then publishing articles for your audience—needs to be something you consider. Even if it seems like a lot of work.
Let me make several comments about this:
- A blog (which you would produce and maintain using something like WordPress) allows you to create good content quickly.
- A blog should work as just a killer client service or customer service tool because you can use blog posts to answer all the frequently asked questions clients or customers will otherwise call or email you about.
- A blog with posts that answer all the frequently asked questions your existing clients or customers have will also answer the questions that prospective clients or customers might have.
Summing up, a blog is probably a very effective way for you to prospect for the right clients or right customers.
Tip #4: Understand Web Marketing is All About Ranking Well
Okay, here’s the next thing to understand: While you can get substantial traffic from a non-search-engine website if such a site mentions your site, you want to focus on how to get search engines like Google to list pages at your website in its search engine results.
Take a peek at the snapshot shown below, which lists webpages that Google thinks a searcher searching in Redmond, Washington on the term “CPA” will find most interesting. (You can click the image to enlarge it.)
The ranking heavily influences the percentage of searchers who click a listing. This is a slight exaggeration and simplification, but moving up one position—such as from third place to second place—may increase the traffic by nearly 100%. And moving down one position—such as from first place to second place—may decrease traffic by nearly 50%.
Two other quick notes about this: First, if you’re on the second page (or some deeper page), your site may as well be invisible. And, second, you fortunately are not competing in a single “ranking” but in dozens and dozens of rankings. And so you don’t need to rank well for every search term—you can’t—you rather need to rank well for a handful of search terms people you want to connect with use.
Tip #5: Content Matters Most
Let me now make perhaps the most critical point of this post: The most important thing you or I need to do in order to get great results from web marketing? Create good content.
You need unique content—not stuff that’s been used at dozens or hundreds of other sites. (Your site has little web marketing oomph if it’s one of those generic sites with cookie-cutter, boilerplate text.)
You need valuable content—Google and Bing can tell about this—so search engines say in effect, “Hey maybe we should rank this site or this page ‘high’ because it looks like there’s lots of good stuff here.”
You want targeted content that attracts the audience you want to compete for. Ranking well requires work and you want to maximize the return on that effort of course. So you need to focus your efforts on content that will attract people you want as clients or customers.
A side note, too: If you publish lots of good content, you will also get referrals from non-search-engine sources like blogs, forums, and other similar sources. If some successful blogger remarks on your site, that blurb may send a thousand or two thousand people to your site some Saturday.
If some forum participant references your site, that blurb may send several hundred people to your site that morning.
Final comment: CPAs have tons of great, valuable, targeted content to share with clients and with prospective clients.
Tip #6: Links Matter Almost As Much As Content
So content, I argue, is really important. Most important, in fact.
But you and I also need other sites to link to our site in order to become visible and in order to signal to the search engines that our site is “rank worthy.”
Accordingly, after you have some good, valuable, targeted content to share, you want to promote your site’s content so you can earn some links.
You want to avoid, however, junky links. Anything easy to get, anything you pay for, anything that lots of other people do. With junky links, as a general principal, you should hope that they’re only worthless to your site’s ranking, and not destructive to your site’s ranking.
Search engines efficiently sniff out and regularly penalize any attempts to unnaturally promote a site with links that aren’t really independent, unbiased, “real” votes of goodness and relevance.
Artificial link building, just so you know, is what you get (typically) if you hire some offshore firm to obtain 100 or 200 or 500 links.
If you (or someone working for you and even possibly someone working against you) engages in unnatural link building, you will probably be penalized after not very many months.
All of the foregoing begs the question, how does one get good links? Here are some ideas:
If the local newspaper calls during tax season for some tips or quotes, be friendly and give some great tidbits—but ask for a link to your site. (Probably a link from the local newspaper’s website or from some journalist’s blog will be a great link.)
If you’re recruiting for new hires at a local university or college, see if you can’t get a link back to your website. (Perhaps to the page that describes your firm?)
If you’re talking to students at a local college or school or presenting to fellow practitioners at some CPA society event, see about the possibility your site might be referenced in an online announcement.
You see where this is going. You want links from real websites where there’s a human editor who wouldn’t link to just any old site. And you want links from sites that have clear relevance, a contextual connection, to your firm’s activities and your site’s information.
Tip: The DMOZ directory at www.dmoz.org is a volunteer-staffed directory of websites. You probably want to find the category where your firm should be listed and see if you can be listed too. This is probably a long-shot—not least because many states’ lists don’t seem to be actively maintained. But such a link is probably a pretty good link for reasons mentioned above. One related note: You do need or should need unique content to get into the DMOZ directory. You will not get into the DMOZ directory if you have a site created from one of the cookie-cutter, boilerplate templates.
Tip #7: Mobile-ize Your Site
Another quick tip: you probably want to make sure your site (either the old one you’ve had all along or the new one you’re building) is mobile device friendly.
If you’re not mobile friendly, search engines won’t send you mobile traffic or as much mobile traffic. And mobile device users who do end up at your site will probably quickly leave.
You can use the Google mobile friendly test tool to see how your site works for mobile devices. Here’s the link to that tool: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
Just so you know, on our most mobile friendly sites mobile traffic represents more than a third of the traffic to the site and this percentage grows all the time. And many people report their mobile traffic runs more like 50%.
What should you do if your site isn’t mobile friendly right now? You probably need to think about having the original designer redesign the site. You might also decide to “move” the site to WordPress since the WordPress design themes are often mobile device friendly. (This is what we recently did with our CPA website and what we’re in the process of doing with our S corporations niche site and our LLCs niche site.)
Caution: Moving a site to WordPress is a big project if you have a lot of pages and a ton of links.
Tip #8: Use Analytics to Measure Your Site’s Performance
Another quick tip: Be sure that you’ve installed either Google Analytics or some alternative analytics product. (Google’s product is free.)
Website analytics, like Google Analytics, let you capture all sort of visitor statistics including where people come from, what they do at your site, and how long they hang around. Take a peek at the snapshot below (you can click the image to enlarge it) which shows some of the information available for one of our little niche sites:
Website analytics by the way resemble (metaphorically) a small business accounting system. CPAs all know what a small business’s trials and tribulations are if the business decides not to use a real accounting system to manage the operation.
If you or I decide not to use analytics to manage our website, well, you know… skipping this measurement represents the same sort of sloppiness that in end only wastes time and money.
By the way, to install something like Google Analytics, you simply append a small chunk of code to the bottom of web pages at your site. (Note that WordPress add-ins will actually install this code to your pages.)
Tip #9: Be Careful About Buying Traffic
I want to mention that though in this little discussion I’m talking about how you can get traffic to your site merely on the strength of your great content and hard-earned links, you do have another option.
You can advertise your site on other sites, including on the search engine results pages that Google and Microsoft Bing display.
You may want to try this, but I would urge caution based on the thousands or maybe tens of thousands of dollars I’ve spent experimenting with this. Click fraud, I fear, is common.
One way that you can get burned, for example, comes from the connection between the amount you pay per click and the daily budget that you typically set as part of any of these pay-per-click advertising options. Say you agree to pay $5 or $10 whenever someone clicks your ad. And say that you tell Google or Microsoft or whomever that you don’t want to spend more than $100 a day so you don’t spend more than $3,000 over the month.
What this means—and I have no proof this occurs, only experience-based suspicions—is that one of your competitors only needs to click your advertisement 10 or 20 times early in the day to burn through your entire advertising budget.
Another way you can get burned—and here I speak with quite a bit more statistical confidence—concerns third party sites like those available in the Google content network. (In the content network, Google arranges to place your advertisement on somebody’s blog or niche information site and then this other website gets paid when someone clicks your ad.)
More than once, I’ve paid personally for hundreds of clicks on my advertisements at such sites where clearly the ad clickers were not really potential prospects.
I remember once buying hundreds and hundreds of clicks at an Idaho small business website for an Idaho incorporation kit advertisement—but then not selling any Idaho kits. (At the time, we had lots of conversion rate statistics that suggested we should have sold one or two dozen kits…)
I remember another time having a kids computer gaming site display an advertisement for corporate tax returns and charge me for, gosh, I think a thousand clicks over the course of a day or two—which of course resulted in no leads and no contacts. (Apparently these teens and preteens were not interested in having us prepare their 1120 or 1120S corporate tax returns once they learned more about our firm…)
Bottom line? Maybe you want to look at this option… but be very careful.
Tip #10: Consider an SEO/SEM Audit
I have a final tip for you to consider once you get a bit of experience with your website and have your content creation and link building underway.
You probably ought to consider having a consultant who specializes in such things “audit” or “technically inspect” the construction of your site, including the way some of the stuff on the server is configured and the manner in which your pages work.
With an audit, you’ll have any weaknesses or “broken areas” of your site flagged. And you’ll very possibly get a punch list of repairs to make.
I’ve recently paid $2,000 to $3,000 for a website audit, for example. (I worked with Steve Webb of www.webgnomes.org.) And the SEO/SEM audit report was truly valuable.
My thought is have someone good (like Steve Webb if he’s available) do this for a “working site” every year or two.
Here are my final thoughts for you to mull over.
Getting meaningful organic traffic to your website or to a new website will take a while. Probably months, even if you’re super-effective and disciplined in your content creation and site promotion.
But once your site traffic is good, you’ll probably find a site a really effective way to “touch” a few thousand new prospects every month. Seriously, think about that number. How many Rotary meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, and just general networking events would you need to attend to connect with as many prospects?
An effective website, then, probably means not only that you can grow your small business as big as you can handle, it also means that you can target the most profitable niches you can efficiently serve.