Online marketing for accounting firms: a research summary

Accountancy firms are the backbone of the business economy serving every sector of the community. Business owners use their accountant to get advice and recommendations on a wide range of commercial issues. They are trusted advisors for New Zealand business.

Yet accountants often present themselves poorly online. They are difficult to find on the internet, their websites are dull, unremarkable, and aren’t easy to use for prospective clients who want to research and find an advisor.

The attributes of a good business website:

  • Findable on search engines for search phrases that relate to the industry or product not the business name
  • State the services or products offered in clear, non-technical language
  • Illustrates specialisms and points of difference for the firm
  • Helps guide the customer to the correct service they need
  • Enable the customer to get in touch with the business by a range of communication channels – including social media as well as traditional telephone and email
  • Name key members of staff and their contact details
  • Show office locations, ideally on a map

Every business uses some form of marketing promotion to bring in new clients and to keep current clients coming back for more.

A website is the linchpin of modern business marketing activity. Most other marketing work directs curious web searchers to the website. These days, who hasn’t got a business card without the firm’s URL?

Creative Agency Secrets has appraised a substantial amount of accountancy firms’ websites for evidence of current marketing and promotion activities within the industry.

 

Here’s what we found

  • Over one quarter of all firms surveyed do no marketing promotion aside from their website.
  • 38% have some basic promotion, normally in the form of a newsletter.
  • And at the other end of the scale 6% are very active and seek to engage website visitors and encourage them to get in touch with the firm.

Where does your firm sit on the proactive marketing scale?

Top performers include

  • Deloitte
  • Cabbage Tree Accounting
  • William Buck
  • Astill Hawke
  • DJCA
  • Gilligan Rowe

What sets these firms apart?

The best accountancy firms have several key attributes in common

  1. They are highly informative both on their business, what they offer, and their industry
  2. Their web pages maintain public resources for research and self-discovery
  3. The have prominent and recent communication activity using written, audio and visual media which engages readers and keeps them on the website
  4. They encourage the visitor to reveal his identity to the firm

Why do prospective clients find these factors appealing?

Imagine going into a shop for the first time – you browse around looking for the product you want to buy and at “just the right moment” a sales assistant steps forward and offers to help you. They guide you in an un-pushy manner to the product you want but stay on hand to answer any further questions you have. A modern website needs to do the same job for the firm.

But on a website a visitor is anonymous.

You have no idea who has visited your site – just tracking cookies and the number of visitors in your analytics. The Firm doesn’t know their names, what their interest is and whether they are looking to buy some accounting advice.

Social Media

Businesses are moving into the social media scene. Yet most accountancy firms have not taken advantage of the core social media sites.

twitter researchfacebook researchother social media research

Our research reviewed accountants’ websites for public links to social media sites. We expected to see LinkedIn used the most because it is the professional business social media site but we were wrong: 34% had LinkedIn pages; 34% had Twitter and 46% had Facebook profiles.

Firms with an active social media presence tended to also have higher scores in overall web presence and influence. There are many additional influencing factors and it is important to note that where a company is on social media, they also have invested time in YouTube videos, blogging, or email marketing as well.

We ranked firms comparing their activity on the web by assessing how often they updated their marketing activities and what tools they used to market themselves online. This shows that activity really does boost your noticeability as an accounting firm online. What’s more interesting about these results is the outlying firms with our assigned activity scores of 2, 3 and 4 who also have a good Alexa Rank which suggests that content is an important factor in gaining a prominent online presence.

Online Marketing Tools used by Accounting Firms

There are a lot of opportunities to display expertise using content marketing techniques online.

Newsletters

When searching there accountancy firms’ websites for newsletters, we looked at whether firms actively requested prospective clients’ email addresses, and the ways in which the firm used them. Many displayed historic newsletters but they were often displayed in PDF format which is less searchable or sharable.

Of those with newsletters, a significant amount website visitors had no way to subscribe to receive the news online. Giving visitors the ability to subscribe gets you their email address for a mailing list and analytics information about those visitors. Mailing lists are a great way to start a dialogue with customers by building a self-service database. An opportunity lost by these firms.

Opted in databases of email addresses are among the most powerful marketing assets a firm can own. They can even be used to deliver a series of emails called autoresponders. These can welcome new subscribers, give them an introduction to the firm, and explain its services.

Blogging

Many of the news pages or blogs for the accounting firms we researched are static and have not been updated for many months or even years. They have no clickability or linking to other pages in the website and they are created on a single web page. This means an individual article cannot be hyper-linked, only the whole page.

By creating a blog-style page, the opportunity exists to create more internal and external links to your site which again increases the chances for search engines to visit more frequently as well as encouraging visitors to browse across multiple website pages. This also provides opportunities for other websites to link to specific articles from you which ultimately lead the visitor to your website.

Videos

Larger accountancy firms host videos on their websites, mainly used for training. None have made use of online broadcasting technologies like webinars, podcasts or recordings. Video and audio recording is now cheap and easy to do. They are a good way to communicate and to enable listeners to share your content and are far more engaging than text.

Training

Many accountants provide training and conduct seminars for in-person attendance. It would be very easy to broadcast a training event or record it at the same time for later broadcast. Training is a fantastic marketing tool but if someone can’t make the event time, watching a recording means they can still gain value from it.

 

In Conclusion

Most accounting firms have the beginnings of a good website presence. However they need to add new functionality that works to continuously draw new visitors into the website from search, from the email database and to encourage them to reveal their identities and join in a dialogue with the firm. This can be enhanced by including social media in their marketing plans as they create more and more points of contact for potential clients, as long as you know your clients use social media to connect. LinkedIn is particularly good because of its professional nature.

If you’re an accounting firm looking for a free website appraisal, you’ll find one here at Creative Agency Secrets.

Get in touch with us.

Website not showing up in Google: BNI New Business Development tip of the week

THis week I’m focusing on a client whose website was not showing up on Google – not for pages and pages.

He knew this was a problem and had been overcoming it by paying for SEO to put it onto the top of search.  But he knows this is a short term solution which he doesn’t want to continue.

We investigated and found 3 quick things to correct

  1. Site meta tags were not populated
  2. Blog was created as a page not posts
  3. Photo Alt tags weren’t used and images were uploaded with the camera image id (long string numbers)

So some easy quick fixes.

Medium term, we’re teaching them how to use links and key words in blog posts which will reinforce search queries as well as social sharing and reciprocation.

 

Check out Otautahi Tattoo’s amazing story as refugees from the Christchurch earthquake and relocation, growth and reinvigoration in Auckland – the photo is of All Black Keven Mealamu having his latest ‘rose’ design added.

Otautahi Tattoo with Keven Mealamu All Black rugby player

Otautahi Tattoo with Keven Mealamu All Black rugby player

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The Economist Native Advertising with GE

The Economist digital adverts on their app has an interesting native advertising content link sponsored by GE – it’s all about clean energy. A web page clearly with the Economist website layout and with their header – but independently closable (the X in the top left corner). All driven off a full page advert in their current edition 25th May 2013.

GE Advert in Economist app

GE Advert in Economist app

GE Future Energy native advertising page
GE Future Energy native advertising page

photo (6)

 

Xero Marketing: a pitch & a critique

Xero is a hugely popular cloud accounts package that has taken much of the Intuit QuickBooks and MYOB business from SMEs worldwide.

Image representing Xero as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Prompted by an article in Forbes about in-house marketing teams versus external agency use, I remembered a pitch we sent off to Xero.
As a customer of Xero and as a marketer, the things I think are lacking or could be enhanced primarily relate to the ease of re-using content and proactively driving it out to the right audience.
B2B comms for existing customers, in a nutshell.
Since Xero is growing internationally, they increasingly have separate user groups who should be communicated to differently – because they need different things from Xero.

Marketing suggestions – I have lots more….

  1. After signing up, there’s nothing to drive me deeper into using the higher features of your products, unless I search.
  2. Apart from support issues and feature requests, what are the useful things you could be communicating with my business [clues – finding support, accountancy advice, higher level feature uses, plug ins, apps developers, tax questions, work-rounds for bug fixes]
  3. How could Xero be leveraging existing customers to drive improved new business and new trial accounts using member-get-member referrals and other incentives?
  4. Autoresponders – for new users within the trial period and for first few months of use  – Xero could have a ‘guide’ much like Kiwibank‘s “Becky” who is there for the user, who acts as a signpost to helpful information inside your knowledge base, who helps check they’ve got the system set up properly.
  5. Why are you using FeedBurner to distribute your RSS feed from the blog?  It’s unsupported and you could be leveraging the channel for marketing messages to your active users in order to drive deeper brand engagement and possibly sales (see 2,3,4 above).
  6. Split out your blog into separate streams so that articles automatically send to different groups (e.g. developers and accountants, US versus NZ) Each would get articles designed for that audiences.  Create separate news feeds for different audiences, and further use them to drive marcoms to support your business growth goals
  7. The more you blog, the bigger your archive.  Readers rarely dive very deep and yet there’s probably heaps of helpful content which is being ignored.  Could they be created into “tip sheets”, e-books, training manuals and other support material? These content solutions can be supporting 1, 2 and 4 above.

As Forbes says, it’s great to be an in-house agency – but lifting your head above the parapet and seeking input and inspiration from an external agency team can be very beneficial.

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All my LinkedIn contacts are 3rd degree – how can I connect?

We got an enquiry from a reader who asked this question “I’m utilizing LinkedIn for meeting clients but currently everyone seems to be a third degree. what are some ice breakers I can use to introduce myself.”

As you know, it’s very difficult to get peoples’ attention as they are busy professionals.

Here are some suggestions for you.

  1. Become the ‘go to’ person for interesting articles online about the topics relevant to your clients’ interests.  Share these using Linked In Groups.  Don’t use these groups to promote jobs you are recruiting for.
  2. EVERY DAY check who looked at your LinkedIn profile.  Send them an invitation to connect saying ‘hey, you looked at my profile, did you notice the articles I’m sharing about XYZ.  If you connect with me you get these sent to you as I publish.  Thanks and best wishes.  Use this article we wrote to find their names for 3rd degree connections 
  3. When they connect with you, you can see their email address; add them to your email list of folks who receive your shared articles, get their permission to mail them, and set up a newsletter outside of LinkedIn (we recommend FeedBlitz.com) to send out these messages, preferably linked to a blog of your own.

If you would like to work with Creative Agency Secrets and let us coach you as you build your skills, organize a skype call with us to give us a fuller brief.

4 Profile raising icon5 Relationship Development icon

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Trade show B2B marketing tactics – selling tech to the masses

Trade show stands are a strong component of most technology B2B marketing programmes and they are a great place to sweep up new leads for your service.

Our client, FeedBlitz, briefed Creative Agency Secrets to deliver collateral, case studies and a slide deck for their stand at the New Media Expo NMX in Las Vegas, formerly called BlogWorld.

Take a quick look jay-baer-case-study and erin-chase-case-study

Case study collateral for FeedBlitz Jay Baer

Case study collateral for FeedBlitz Jay Baer

2 Marketing Communications icon4 Profile raising icon6 Create Opportunities icon

erin Chase

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How to find contact details on Linked In outside your network

You have read everything on our Resources page haven’t you?

Readers, you are in biz dev, you want leads for your business and you need to get contact details of key personnel in target organisations:  Have you read the B2B Lead Generation slidedeck?  It’s linked right there on the Resources page – top of the list.

Today we add in more goodness to that research process.

How to find contact details for someone outside your network

This is a fabulous process from Andy Foote’s blog.

LinkedIn makes money by limiting search. One of the most annoying restrictions is being unable to see Last Names on LinkedIn searches. Fortunately Google to the rescue. Here are step by step instructions on getting full name Profiles.

(1) Start the search in People. My example: “hr manager accenture”

(2) “Mary F” is the prospect but I need her Last Name. – Linked in will only show a limited profile because she’s outside my network.  But it does say that she is an Outsourcing Manager at Accenture

(3) Copy “Outsourcing HR Manager at Accenture Toronto Canada Area” into Google and click on the search icon.

(4) Bingo! Click on the Google Search result and you find the full name Profile (of Mary Frank).

How cool is that?

Read Andy’s full blog post of 5 Exceedingly clever LinkedIn hacks

How a creative brand idea becomes a campaign

There is sometimes a bit of ‘black box’ magic that seems to happen when a creative brief turns into an executed campaign.

Some would have you believe there’s ‘secret sauce’ but the reality is that expertise and years of experience are the best predictors of what will be a success and what will fail.

English: Idea for Fundraising 2010 campaign.

Funding appeal by website

 

English: Idea for Fundraising 2010 campaign

English: Idea for Fundraising 2010 campaign.

English: Idea for Fundraising 2010 campaign

I am a Wikipedian Campaign

Take this series of images we found online.

This year, Wikipedia, Row2K and other community funded websites will be running a drive to raise funds.  We have supported Jimmy Wales’ appeal last year and we’ll be doing it again this year.

But compare the lovely, sharable images above with the rather bland appeal text which are on the  Row2K site.  Which would you rather emote and pay out to?
So part of the success depends on creative quality of input.That may be hard to measure, and it’s certainly rarely guaranteed.
But there are inputs that will raise your chances: Starting with using an experienced team for your marketing. Get your agency team members to show you their own work from previous jobs.  Ask how they came up with a campaign and what the “signal moment” was when the core creative idea was articulated.  It’s not rocket science and it’s rarely a single burst of genius – frequently team work and careful development from an initial concept delivers the goods.

Agency uses a ‘reverse RFP’ to showcase services

How’s this for a neat idea? You pitch us in order to win our attention and get your marketing services free by reversing the traditional RFP process.  The Brand pitches the Agency.

Well, I’m not offering it just now but Hart is inviting prospects to submit their ideas by 30th November, 2012.  could be the best new marketing move you make in 2013.

English: (left), Indian academic and a social ...

English: (left), Indian academic and a social entrepreneur, speaking to a group of children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More innovation and promotion from Indian agency, Law and Kenneth who are celebrating their tenth birthday by organising to mentor social entrepreneurs.  Now that’s a great way of paying back or paying forward (not sure which is which).  Submit your ideas at the Create Project site and read what Founder Anil Nair says about the project

Over the last one year, we have been thinking hard about what we’re doing. We’ve seen ups and downs in the last 10 years of Law & Kenneth, and if at all we’ve created something (besides brands), we’ve created an organisation, of which 300 people and their families are a part. We wondered if this was all we could do.

Ten years ago, when we started off, we were at a certain point. There are many, many people with ideas today that can lead to viable business, and can be ideas around doing business for social good. They also need to be ideas that are innovative in nature. We wanted to build something that would outlive us.

We met Hayden Raw from The Common Room recently and they are also looking at ways to innovate.  Hayden told us, he looks to invest a portion of their client fees into kick starting young entrepreneurs.

Is a reverse RFP a gimmick?

Yes, it almost certainly is a promotion, a publicity stunt or a gimmick.  But it’s a very valuable one for the winning brand team.  Many agencies take on pro bono clients for whom they work for low or no fee – what’s different is using this as part of their own promotion.

We have all whined about a client who was too conservative to buy our ‘great concept’ and so it’s possible by delivering your services under non-traditional fee arrangements, then you have greater leverage to encourage the brand to choose the most risky / creative / far-out communications campaign proposal that you present.

Is that necessarily a bad thing?

 

 

 

 

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