Generating new clients is a big challenge for every accounting and CPA service firm, but accounting firms have an especially hard time differentiating themselves from their competitors. Firms are stuck trying to market themselves as a “me-too” firm, with so many direct competitors that prospects don’t know which firm they should hire.
The problem doesn’t lie with a lack of potential clients. They’re out there, and searching for you:
The problem is your CPA firm marketing strategy—or lack thereof. If your potential clients can’t find you on the marketing channels they use, then you’re already out of the running when they want to hire a firm.
What Is a Digital Marketing Strategy?
A digital marketing strategy is a blueprint that outlines the audience you hope to reach, the marketing campaigns you’ll run to meet them, the goals of those campaigns, and how you’ll measure their success.
If you’ve read our Free Positioning Guide, you know that a great digital marketing strategy should marry together your deep expertise, your unique perspective, and your proven experience. It should also fall back on reliable data to help you focus your marketing campaigns and find your customers.
What’s an Example of a Digital Marketing Strategy?
While there is no unilaterally successful approach, after our years of experience working with accounting firms we’ve started to understand which digital marketing tactics actually yield the best results.
This might seem like a lot more work than you’ve faced in the past. That’s because most marketing consultants are selling marketing services that, quite frankly, are a bunch of bullshit. They are selling the mindset that if you simply blog a few times a month and sprinkle some keyword terms all over your website you’re going to start passively bringing in leads.
When you’re ready to really roll your sleeves up, bring in, and cultivate digital marketing leads, read on. We’ve gathered the pieces necessary for you to see real results.
We also highly suggest building a digital marketing plan. We’re in the process of launching a free guide soon, but in the meantime you can check out this one from Smart Insights.
Marketing Tactics for CPA Firms
First, let’s focus on what accounting-focused digital marketing activities actually work in 2018, and what will continue to hold traction for the foreseeable future. This begins with
1. Your Firm’s Website
Your website is at the center of your entire digital marketing strategy, and should be the first place you start. This is where you nurture and capture incoming leads.
Yes, your website might look great, but it needs a strong strategic focus as well. Does your website have a strategy document? Do changes to the website get made on a whim as directed by the firm’s leadership? Are you a small firm in dire need of a refresh on a dated site?
Take some time to get strategic with your website and align it with your firm’s objectives.
- Are you looking to break into a new niche? What offers can you develop to generate leads?
- Is it easy to navigate the site and find what you’re looking for or is your navigation loaded with large drop down menus that show the same old boring tax and accounting services?
- Think outside of consultation and determine whether different calls to action might draw new clients. Holden Moss offers an Awesome 8 planning session, while MuseMinded offers a needs assessment.
- Map out a call to action on an individual page basis. Someone reading your blog probably isn’t interested in contacting your firm, but they might be interested in a newsletter. By the same token, someone reading your team page isn’t interested in a newsletter, but they might sign up for a free business benchmark.
Now, take it a step further and try our mini website audit to see how you’re doing.
Once you have a solid foundation with your website, you can move forward with your accounting firm marketing strategy… Your goal should be to get your website up to 2,000 visitors a month. Most firms only average 200-400 visitors a month. It’s not easy, but following the next steps can get there faster than you think!
2. Content Marketing
Content marketing is a buzzword that most firms are aware of, but suck at implementing.
As the name implies, content marketing means creating content for your CPA firm and then using that content to attract more clients to your website. Still don’t believe it’s important? According to the Bloom Group, after referrals, content marketing is the 2nd most important important source of new business. We would argue it’s the leading source for new business, because referrals often start with your thought leadership before ever reaching out. A recent study by Hinge determined over 50% of referrals rule a firm out without ever reaching out.
Your content needs to go beyond blog posts to include email campaigns, videos, calculators, tax guides — even FAQs!
Tons of firms are cranking out blog content and not seeing results. Why? Most firms aren’t creating the right kind of content with the right mix. They’re stuck creating boring monthly tax updates that don’t provide any value. Your prospects are looking for thoughtful, meaningful, and extremely insightful content that answers their questions and solves their problems.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Create a cornerstone asset. This is a BIG piece of content that serves as your main lead driver, as the asset itself is gated. This piece of content should be at least 2,000 words and showcase the firm’s deep expertise within a topic. It serves as your inspiration for your entire content strategy, and will help you create other content. Most firms struggle creating content because they don’t have a source to draw inspiration from. This solves that problem and gives you ongoing ideas for the next 6-12 months.
- Now with your cornerstone asset created, you’re able to spin it into a ton of several smaller pieces of content that all link back to your cornerstone asset (Hell yeah! Your firm is using content to generate leads!) This content should include blog posts, infographics, FAQs, Webinars, in-depth articles, email, and more!
Your firm needs to be creating at a minimum of 2,000 words a month.
Following this guideline, your CPA firm’s content marketing plan might look something like this:
- 1 cornerstone asset every 6 months
- 3-5 blog posts per month
- 30-60 social media posts per month
- 1-2 webinars per quarter
- 1 infographic per month
- 1-2 case studies per quarter
Yes, this looks like a massive commitment, but when you start with the cornerstone asset the remaining content is extremely easy and time effective to produce. Not convinced that the time is worth it? Firms that commit to this strategy alone see an over 200% increase in firm visibility.
For more information on content marketing, check out our podcast on why your accounting firm marketing isn’t working, or our post on why most CPA firms fail when utilizing content marketing.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is as important as ever. Yet, everything your firm has been told about SEO is WRONG.
Not only do you have to think about what keywords you want to rank for, but what big ideas you want to own in your client’s head. Check out our podcast, “Doing SEO for accounting firms” to get an extremely in-depth guide. In the meantime, let’s walk through what your firm can start doing now.
First, SEO still starts with best practices:
- Get keyword rich page titles that tell Google exactly what you’re wanting to rank for but also encourage prospects to click your page on search results.
- Custom URLs that contain keywords are important, but they also help prospects on a search result page decide if they’re going to click your listing.
- Your page should contain an <h1> tag at the top of the page that informs prospects and Google what the page is about.
- Interlink your content together using anchor text with a buried link.
- Make sure your content is related to the page title and <h1> tag
Your goal is to tell Google the story of your page. You want to make it easy for search engines to understand what each page is about and what keywords/phrases you want to be associated with.
Moving away from keywords, your strategy should move toward focusing on topic ideas you want to own. You can get lost in full in-depth SEO strategy, but it all boils down to restructuring your approach to SEO…
Let’s say your topic is “business transitions”. In the old way of approaching SEO, you would have had to create individual pages for:
- Business ownership transfer
- Transfer business to insiders
- Minimizing business transfer taxes
- Business transition process
- Family business transition
Yikes! Creating these pages is a lot of work, and doesn’t make you look like an authority on the topic. Google is getting smarter about how your prospects are searching and sees each search above as extremely relevant to each other. If this is the case, why not create a page that covers all of them?
Instead of individual pages, you’re going to create one big page around “business transitions”. This is your topic page that you want to rank for, and then you’re going to create sub topic pages that direct back to your topic page. Your subtopic pages might be:
- Third party selling
- Succession planning
- Business transition planning
- Pre-sale transition
- Business valuation
- Business transition process
- Selling a business
- Business transition best practices
- Determine 3-5 topics or big ideas you want to own in your client’s head.
- Build out your core topic page and supporting content around each page.
- Optimize your content based on the best practices above
- Monitor your results and refine
When you restructure your approach to SEO in this way, what you’re doing is signaling to Google that your main topical page is related to all of these sub-topical pages. Google’s new SEO algorithm favors sites structured this way, because they seem like authorities on the subject matter.
4. Marketing Automation
Marketing automation or email marketing isn’t anything new, but a lot of firms have been struggling to leverage it effectively. Only recently have CPA firms been giving marketing automation more attention. So how do you utilize an automated marketing software?
- Start with your current clients–look for cross selling and upselling opportunities. One of the lowest hanging fruits available to firms to grow revenue is to start marketing to their current client base.
- Progressive form filling – filling out the same information twice in a row (or more) is a pain in the ass. You can automate that process so visitors only need to supply their data once with marketing automation.
- Email marketing – some marketing automation programs can create forms and landing pages, but the only area they really excel at right now is email creation and distribution. Of course, you’re going to need a good copywriter for this or you risk losing your human touch.
- Social media marketing – automation programs can also help you manage your social media profiles by targeting specific followers and posting updates at regular times.
Popular marketing automation platforms include Pardot, Eloqua, Marketo, ActOn, and HubSpot. If you’re a large firm, you’ll want to stick to the first three options or find something comparable. Smaller firms can afford more flexibility according to budget.
Before you go jumping in to full blown marketing automation, make sure that you have a list of at least 5,000 active contacts in your database. If you’re not there yet, don’t worry. Check out our very first podcast episode discussing inexpensive ways to grow your email database!
If your firm has fewer than 5,000 active contacts, you’ll be better served by utilizing a solution such as MailChimp. It becomes increasingly difficult to see meaningful ROI with smaller contact lists.
We worked with one firm to revive dead leads in their marketing automation solution, and the results were outstanding. The firm saw a 40% increase in email interaction and grew their pipeline by over $500k. These are the results you can expect when you spend the time to create effective automated campaigns.
5. Paid Search Marketing
Investing in Google AdWords, Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, and Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) advertising are still the most reliable ways to get your marketing message in front of qualified leads. However, most firms don’t bother to invest the resources into trying paid search. This is a huge missed opportunity.
By using paid search, you can start generating high quality leads, right within your firm’s sweet spot. Best of all, you can start doing it today. AdWords can be a beast to learn and there are so many advanced capabilities that it can make your head explode. Let us break it down so that you can jump in and start increasing revenue.
- Pick a service centered around a niche that you want to focus on. This helps you save money by keeping things focused.
- Build a landing page with a tool such as LandingLion or Unbounce. Seriously, don’t half-ass this! Most companies just send their prospects to their homepage or a generic services page. You need to spend the time customizing landing pages to really take advantage of your incoming traffic.
- Create a custom offer. You want to entice people to take action. Think beyond consultation, what else can your firm offer? A company benchmark? Free bookkeeping review?
- Start bidding low and bid up as you see results. To appear on AdWords, you need to bid on your keywords every time someone searches. Either your bid won or it didn’t. If it didn’t win raise your bid slowly until you start seeing impressions. We’re trying to keep the budget low.
- Monitor, analyze, and test. AdWords isn’t “set it and forget it” advertising. You need to watch your results, test new ads, test landing page changes, and test new calls to action constantly for best results.
Paid search is one of the best ways to bring in leads now if your firm is hungry. It also offers the opportunity for your firm to do more experimentation with minimal investment. Want to test a new niche or service? Create a landing page and fire up some PPC to determine if there is any interest. This can help you decide if a need exists and if your firm should invest further.
6. Paid Social Media Marketing
Most accounting firms are terrible at correctly leveraging social media. Inovautus Consulting and SocialCPAs collaborated on a study which found that only 20% of firms use social media, and only 50% of those tracked leads generated from social.
Your audience increasingly lives on social media and they’re using platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. The reason these platforms are kicking ass right now is because you can create hyper-targeted ads that you cannot create on any other advertising channel.
Imagine creating ads that target your firm’s sweet spot not just down to industry but company size, revenue, location, and income. All of this is possible with social media marketing.
Social media advertising is still an extremely cheap channel. Leads cost cents on the dollar compared to other paid avenues. This is great for your bottom dollar, but this gravy train isn’t going to last forever. As time passes and more and more firms catch on, the cost per advertisement will increase. Here’s what you need to be doing right now to capitalize on the buyer’s market:
- Pick a network to start with. We recommend either LinkedIn or Facebook.
- Create an ad for a killer asset. Late stage offers, such as consultation, do not have much success here so don’t try it.
- Define your audience and make it as small as possible. A lot of firms target an audience reach of 10k+ prospects. Don’t! The smaller you can make this the better and more targeted your ads are. Aim for an audience reach of 1,000 – 2,000.
- Leverage lead capture right on social media. You don’t need to create custom landing pages or send prospects to your website – instead, capture their information right on social media.
- Now create a custom email campaign that starts the minute someone fills out a form for one of your ads. Start nurturing these prospects immediately and bringing them to a sales ready state.
If you’re not advertising on social media you’re missing a huge portion of your audience at a price that’s extremely cheap. Worse still, you’re missing opportunities to address complaints, answer questions, and figure out what your clients want from you.
You can’t escape social media attention, so you may as well embrace it.
Sweet Fish Media put together a list of 7 Ways An Accounting Firm Could Dominate Social Media.
7. Sneaky Visitors & Account Based Marketing
You’re doing all this marketing, and prospects are landing on your website but they are just not ready to buy. What can you do?
You can target these sneaky visitors!
First, you can run remarketing campaigns in AdWords and Facebook. This will target prospects who have visited your website, but haven’t converted yet. Imagine for a minute, nurturing prospects that are not visiting your website with blog content, whitepapers, new offers, and even consultations.
Account Based Marketing
Now let’s take this all a step further. Most marketing automation tools will allow you to know what companies are visiting your website, or you can get a free plugin such as VisitorTrack. What this does, is pull IPs that have visited your website and associate them with an actual company.
Now you can review this company list against your niche(s) and look for potential accounts to target. You now have a targeted list of companies in your firm’s sweet spot that are already showing interest in your firm.
You can take this revised company list and use a program like ListenLoop to send companies targeted ads. You can also use a program such as Hoovers to enrich this company list and start sending them targeted emails.
Now combine it all together:
- Remarketing to target sneaky visitors through AdWords and Facebook
- VisitorTrack to find high value targets that never converted
- ListenLoop to send account based ads to high value targets
- Hoovers or LimeLeads to start email nurturing these prospects
- Tie in physical mail for an additional touchpoint
You’re now spending your marketing dollars with companies in your niche and they know about your brand. You just need to incorporate a few more touchpoints to turn them into a client. When you combine ListenLoop with email marketing and physical email–you’re going to see an increase in engagement rate across the board because these potential clients already have awareness of your firm.
8. Customer Insight & Predictive Analysis
If a partner asked you what asset drives the most leads could you answer? What about your websites conversion rate? Are you getting at least a conversion rate of 2% (industry average)? Do you know which event you should be investing in again next year? The answer for most accounting firms is NO.
Your firm is probably great at analyzing financial data, but it’s time to take that critical thinking and start digging into your own marketing analytics. You can work with an agency like ours to help benchmark your firm against your competitors to see how your marketing is actually stacking up. If you can’t answer the questions above, we can help determine what information your prospects are most interested in and which offers are creating the best leads. Conversely, we can also help you determine which offers you should cut loose. We’ll then utilize this data to formulate a plan of attack regarding what you should be focusing on next within your digital marketing strategy.
By measuring analytics, you’ll have an easier time predicting client behavior. You can also find software specifically developed for CPA firms to glean insights into your customers, such as this Feedback Program from Client Opinions.
9. Mobile Marketing
You can’t ignore mobile marketing anymore. Everyone has a smartphone, and every day more searches take place on mobile devices than on desktops. Mobile optimization is especially important if you’re trying to win local business, because according to various studies 89% of smartphone owners look up local businesses weekly and 58% look them up on a daily basis.
Most accounting firms don’t attribute much to mobile, but when prospects are making decisions (often in board meetings) executives will do research on their phones at the same time. Is your website fully optimized to take advantage of these decision makers who are looking for a firm quickly?
Mobile marketing goes beyond building a responsive mobile website, however. You can also explore mobile advertising, and interactive content like tax calculators make great apps.
10. Co-Marketing & Digital PR
A great way to get your name out there, especially if you’re already elbow-deep in content marketing, is to team up with other respected brands with significant followings. For example, you could commission a study that pertains to your firm’s area of expertise. Or you could collaborate on a podcast or video that teaches users the basics of DIY taxes.
There’s also a type of marketing called Affiliate Marketing, in which you pay to have someone write content that also promotes your brand. For example, if you specialize in real estate accounting, you could commission a “landlord’s guide to renting out a room.”
Remember, your CPA firm needs to hone in on its unique positioning BEFORE you dive head-first into your marketing plans. If you take to advertising, creating content, or any of the other tactics listed above without first clearly defining what you have to offer, all the promotion in the world won’t help you out.
The world doesn’t need another “full service” firm. Instead, you need to specialize—that’s the only way you’ll break free of geographical constraints and appeal to audiences on a national scale.
When you’ve nailed your positioning and you’re ready to hone in on your digital strategy, make it your own. Just because a strategy has worked for one professional service firm doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your business.