The importance of website excellence and SEO for local professionals such as accountants cannot be overstated. People find you or your competitors on the first two pages of Google search results, and if they can find you online, they will quickly make a decision to pursue an interview or dismiss you based on the quality of your web properties.

I’ve recently gone through an experience where I needed to quickly find a CPA/Lawyer combination in the State of New Hampshire. I did a Google search for many combinations “CPA Accountant New Hampshire” and the results were like a big hairy ball of listings — so I thought it would make a good blog post as to what accountants can do to be found online. The thoughts around local SEO applies to all professional businesses, not just accountants, so read on.

As I waded through the search results on the first one or two pages of Google results, essentially 12 accounting firms bubbled up. I checked out their websites; one did not have a website, and 3 had embarrassingly bad websites (frankly, the rest were marginally better). I emailed 8 different accounting firms, once I found their emai address (no easy task itself). Only three responded. Of these, one said that I needed a lawyer to incorporate and she couldn’t help me — I was surprised at this response, since it’s so easy to expand your professional network these days for referral business. Of the last two, I went with the first guy that responded as his business size and practices were a perfect fit for ours (and I used their websites as the last piece of the decision puzzle).

Web Traffic Is Important To Local Businesses

As a bricks and mortar establishment, traffic to your website is equally important to the traffic to your office.

The first, most important thing to solve for getting traffic to your website is to get listed on the first page of Google’s organic listings when someone is looking for accountants in your area. This can be done through SEO (search engine optimization) and it’s cousin, inbound marketing / social media. The other type of Google listing is a paid advertisement a.k.a. PPC (pay per click); the going average cost is about $3.79, with a 3.81 percent conversion rate according to the Direct Marketing Association [Source]. Pretty expensive lead generation (and it can get much worse in larger markets).

Thus organic search is an important piece  in an accountants lead generation strategy. How important? Those businesses that had the first listing in Google had 34% more traffic than than those combined in position 2 through 5, and 6 through 20. [Source]

How do you get your local SEO mojo working?

First of all, you need a website. Some accountants don’t even have a site yet, so … ummm … that’s bad, methinks.

Secondly, make it a good site. Yes, accountants all more or less offer the same services so it can be hard to differentiate from the guy down the street.  Except that most accountant sites look like they were made in 2003, so differentiation is easier than you think. Get some graphic design, for starters. You could try some templates and CMS systems (e.g. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla) to make the whole job less painful. Social media is a good to have, but don’t forget that you are already part of a community — many firms already do things that stand out locally, such as supporting junior Fastpitch baseball teams or donations to charities, and when you do these things, make sure they a represented well on your website. THE POINT IS: make sure you’ve got some content that stands out.

BUT, even after creating a nice site, there is no guarantee people will show up at the party. You have to work at making sure you can be found in Google search listings.

The problem is that there are about 50 million listings in Google Places — this is where Google assumedly starts when looking for businesses as it’s pre-populated with lots of “place” data such as parks, transit, restaurants, and, of course, accountants. Of the 50 million, only 10% of the listings have “been claimed,” meaning that the business has not yet verified the default information that Google has collected on you, or completed any profile information.

To make matters a little more difficult, to add to your to-do list is to then claim your listing on dozens of “free listing services” who provide directory services in exchange for advertising revenue; such as Yellowpages.aol.com, orYelp.com. These sites also tend to clog up the first two or three pages of google search results, thus, by having your information complete in THOSE as well, you greatly increase the chance of being found. This also translates into results for customers using mobile to find you as these services typically also have mobile apps that serve up the listings.

I also searched the New Hampshire CPA site which you think would be the most comprehensive directory; it showed only THREE accounting firms that fit the very general criteria of high-tech, business startup. http://www.nhscpa.org/find_a_cpa/

Another tricky part is that people can rate your business on any of these services and leave comments … Something that you need to attend / respond to, especially if the comments are bad.

So, not only do you need to verify and embellish Google Places, you need to do the same for every listing service out there, including your own association, and you need to manage comments and ratings. The more info you can provide on these services, the better you will do. Annoying, yes, but for those that persist, you can easily get on page one of your local Google search.

Next Steps For You

I know this technology stuff isn’t easy some times for accountants, so here’s a few next steps to get you started.

  1. If you haven’t yet, ensure Google Analytics are on your site http://www.google.com/analytics/, and that you’ve submitted your website to Google Webmaster Tools http://www.google.com/webmasters/.
  2. Claim your listing on Google Places; here’s more about using Google Places: http://support.google.com/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=142902
  3. Do local Google Searches for your firm (on other peoples computers). When you see a Yelp, Yellow Pages or <whatever> listing, “claim it” and enter all your firm information … Complete your whole profile, including a picture, web URL, email address.
  4. Make sure your email contact is EVERYWHERE (and especially on a big button on the front page of your website!). It doesn’t have to be your own personal address, but whatever you choose, monitor the email leads carefully and make sure sales leads are responded to immediately. You shouldn’t go through the trouble of creating leads if your follow-up is broken.
  5. Expand your referral network … establish connections with lawyers if you don’t already have them. But also make sure you have back links to each others websites
  6. Don’t forget about mobile; approx 16% of local searches are done on mobile devices; as mentioned above, make sure your listings are on a variety of services. And, make sure mobile visitors have a good experience on your website … does it look good on an iPad or iPhone?
  7. Develop a social media strategy, even if it’s just expanding your LinkedIn network. More importantly, make sure you integrate those social elements (like a [connect with me] or [share] button on your site) to drive additional traffic.

There’s lots of other things you can do to increase traffic to your site. It’s a never ending journey that changes as the technology landscape shifts … So, a necessary evil or an amazing opportunity. Either way, you better get at it!