Is Your Website Catching New Clients?
How content marketing can transform your CPA firm.
How content marketing can improve your website’s value and enhance the growth of your firm.
People who want help from an accountant have always sought out skilled professionals whom they can trust to help them organize their financial information and understand the indicators that can lie hidden within. Traditionally, accountants have met potential clients through networking opportunities, referrals, and other similar channels. After making a good first impression, a period of trust-building follows during occasional contacts, such as lunches and community involvement. Once a prospective client reaches a certain level of confidence, he or she may begin to send work to the accountant.
Now, however, a new generation of entrepreneurs and households is revolutionizing the process by which clients find financial professionals. Today’s consumer relies increasingly on the Internet to locate, evaluate, and engage accounting services. To win in this marketplace, accountants need to find ways to create a Web presence—and before they ever get a chance to speak to a client in person—they need to establish a foundation of trust. An effective content marketing strategy helps accountants showcase their expertise in a manner that leads to increased visibility and traction with online consumers. In many cases, firms’ websites need to be redesigned to connect with this new stream of potential clients.
The power of content marketing makes sense
Our firm recently conducted a study of over 500 professional services firms in a variety of disciplines, and we learned a great deal about the value that a content marketing strategy delivers. Firms that generate no leads online showed a median two-year growth rate of 15 percent. The median rate for firms generating more than 40 percent of their leads online, however, exceeded 50 percent, with the highest growth, 63.9 percent, being reported by firms that generated between 40 percent to 59 percent of their leads online. That’s right. Firms that generated about half of their leads online grew four times faster than those that generated no leads online.
The numbers told a similar story when we looked at prof- itability and online lead generation. For firms with no online lead generation, the median current profitability was 15 percent of revenue. Firms that generated 60 percent to 79 percent of leads online doubled that, at 30 percent. And for those that developed 80 percent to 100 percent of their leads online, profits were 32.9 percent of revenue.
These numbers are no accident. Traditional networking methods build relationships, but they take time. An accountant might need three or four contacts with a potential client over the course of several months before that person has a financial question and thinks to call. In addition, that model assumes that the accountant has the combination of personality, skill, and luck needed to generate the requisite number of in-person contacts that will keep him or her on the potential client’s radar.
On the Internet, a potential client can view three or four pieces of relevant content as the result of one search and decide that the accountant who produced them is the best resource available to answer his or her financial questions. This content is always available whenever a potential client searches for it. Accountants who generate leads through content marketing help clients to preselect themselves, rather than investing hours at breakfast meetings and happy hours trying to identify and win over the few attendees who are currently seeking their services—or building relationships with those who might need their services in the future.
How a content marketing website looks and acts differently
At this point, some readers may be thinking, “This is great news. We’ve got a website, so our firm is all over this content marketing thing.” Those readers are probably wrong, primarily because most accounting firm websites are not designed to attract readers and capture the leads that a content marketing strategy delivers. In order to understand the differences between an effective content marketing strategy and a typical online strategy, let’s consider the cases of two similarly situated fictional accountants.
Brad is a partner at a regional firm in the mid-Atlantic. Angelina is a partner at a regional firm in the southwest. In the last five years, each of them has been very successful at helping start-up restaurants survive into maturity. Brad decides to use his network and his website to publicize this success and, he hopes, gather more clients. Angelina chooses to employ a content marketing strategy aimed at helping potential clients find her on the Internet.
Brad gets some recommendations from his clients and posts them on his website. He mentions on his home page that he has helped several local restaurants grow from start-up to success. Brad makes sure that people who visit his website can sign up for his e-newsletter. He puts out the newsletter once a month, telling clients and prospects about the continued success of his firm and its clients. He even does a presentation on financial issues facing restaurants at his local Chamber of Commerce. He hits all the networking hotspots, attending breakfast meetings, lunch lectures, and happy hours several times a week. By the end of the year, he’s sure that he’s been in touch with hundreds of new contacts, and he has picked up eight new restaurant clients. In addition, he knows a lot of people who tell him that if they open a restaurant or know someone who does, they’ll be sure to mention him to them.
Angelina takes a different approach. She reviews her successful restaurant engagements to learn more about what they had in common. She works with a writer to create an article focused on five steps that each of those clients took that contributed to their success. She posts an executive summary of the paper on her website and allows users to download a copy of the full report if they provide their name and email address. She sends a follow-up email to those who download the document to ask if they have any questions and offers them a free one-hour consultation. Angelina also engages a search engine optimization (SEO) expert to make sure that any new content that she posts contains terms that potential clients might use to search for restaurant financial advice on the Web. She posts a weekly blog that highlights one of the five steps that her successful clients took, or discusses a new one that she has learned. She uses tools (e.g., Google Alerts and Twitter search) to focus on targeted groups of people who may need her help, and she actually enters into virtual conversations with those people. By the end of the year, she has established direct contact with hundreds of restaurateurs from around the country, and 32 of them have asked her to do billable work for them.
Obviously, since we are making up these fictional accountants, we can make up the results as well. However, don’t forget the actual results of the survey that we mentioned earlier. Out of 500 professional services firms, the ones that generated 40 percent to 59 percent of their leads online grew four times faster than those that generated zero percent of their leads online. Brad has eight new clients; Angelina has four times as many.
So how did Angelina design a website that generated more leads? Consider the following:
- Her website content focuses on her clients’ needs, not her firm’s successes. It’s not enough for her to say, “I’ve helped start-up restaurants survive and thrive.” She provides useful content that will help potential clients understand what she knows and how she can help them.
- She consults an SEO professional to discover which search terms she needs to feature in her writing so that potential clients can find her online. When she adds new content, she includes key words and phrases that help her rank higher in search results.
- She posts content to her site reliably and frequently, particularly her blog. Frequent updates make her site more attractive to search engines, and potential clients see that she is consistent and dependable.
- She creates content that attracts and engages anonymous online traffic. Her blog, as well as the executive summary of her “5 Steps” document, allows potential clients to learn about who she is and how she can help—with no requirement that they provide personal information or money.
- Her site includes a library of additional, higher-value content, such as the full “5 Steps” document, that users can access if they provide contact information. As anonymous users come to trust her more, they become more willing to share an email address in order to gain access to more in-depth information. She puts this content behind easy-to-complete forms.
- Once a user downloads her “5 Steps,” Angelina follows up with an email that includes an offer for a higher level of engagement.
Angelina also goes beyond relying on the website alone to deliver leads. Her social media networking is far more targeted than Brad’s face-to-face interactions. Using tools that are readily available to anyone on the Internet, she is able to locate people who are talking about topics that she can help with at any time. Brad can work a room with the best of them, but he will always be limited by the number of people in the room and the fact that only a small percentage of them may be looking for his services at that time.
Achieving the optimum
So does this mean everyone should give up on face-to-face networking and shift all of their marketing efforts to the Web? Absolutely not. Our study showed that the optimum growth rate was achieved when firms generated 40 percent to 59 percent of their leads online. That means that those firms also generated between 41 percent to 60 percent of their leads offline, as well.
Accounting is still a very personal professional service, and the Internet has not changed the fact that potential clients need to establish a trusting relationship with the person they hire to work on their finances. What the Internet has done is create another channel that accountants can use to establish trust with a new type of potential client. The key to understanding the value of content marketing is realizing that both traditional marketing and content marketing aim to accomplish the same goal: establish trust with potential clients. They just use a vastly different set of tools to achieve the desired results.
Key Takeaways for a Content Marketing Strategy
For a website to serve as an effective hub for a content marketing strategy, it should include:
- free content that focuses on the client’s interests, not the firm’s story;
- a regularly updated blog that helps potential clients appreciate the expertise of the firm;
- search engine optimized (SEO) terms that improve the site’s chance of being included in search results;
- a “Library” or “Resource Center” made up of higher-value content that users receive in exchange for contact information;
- calls to action that encourage visitors to exchange their email address for valuable content; and
- easy-to-use forms that allow users to provide information without frustration.
This article is reprinted with the publisher’s permission from the CPA PRACTICE MANAGEMENT FORUM, a monthly journal published by CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business. Copying or distribution without the publisher’s permission is prohibited. To subscribe to the CPA PRACTICE MANAGEMENT FORUM or other CCH Journals please call 800-449-8114 or visit www.tax.cchgroup.com. All views expressed in the articles and columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of CCH or any other person.