Marketing Your Firm Online


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When Justin Curzi tries to convince accountants to use Emochila's Web site services, he encounters the same resistance he did five years ago. They tell him they don't need more clients. But the accountants who have taken advantage of the services of his company and others like it acknowledge what Curzi's been trying to explain for years: a Web site is not just about marketing

While there are some accountants out there who may be marketing masters, what Curzi and others find is that most are still resistant to delve into things like search engine optimization to carry them to the top of Google pages, but they are willing to invest in something that helps their firms appear more professional and also to provide tools on the site-such as file transfer capabilities, financial calculators and monthly newsletters-that potentially could give existing clients more reasons to stick with the firm.

Emochila manages more than 1,300 Web sites for private accounting practices, but less than 4 percent of them use their sites to advertise heavily, Curzi says.

Partner Insights

"They have a luxury that clients are cyclical. Unless they want more clients, they push [advertising] aside," Curzi says. "What I see in general is a Web site has to complement their business. Hands down the ability to trade files makes them interested; their clients have been driving them across town for the past 10 to 15 years. It unearthed a viable entity for the industry, but they still don't want to design it and they don't know what to say [on it]."

Dennis Coomes wasn't looking for more clients, but felt he needed a Web site for the referrals who asked if he had one.

"Our Web site literally had an 'under construction' sign with a hard hat for three years," said Coomes of his Kansas City, Mo., firm.

But when he tried to find someone to put together his site, he ran into a lot of false starts and people working from home who he didn't trust.

Emochila had his Web site,, running within a week and he's since had prospects stumble upon it.

ABCs of AdWords

Figuring out which keywords to use when dabbling in pay-per-click advertising can be a bit complicated.

The good news is that even accountants who don't want to hire outside help to figure it out don't have to be search engine optimization geniuses.

"Never guess about the search terms people are typing into Google and other search engines," says Kristi Stangeland, CPA, author of "Effectiveness Web sites for CPAs."

"There are many valid services available online that can quickly show you exactly which words and phrases have been searched on that apply to your firm."

Generally speaking, key phrases are better than singular keywords.

In the early days of the Internet, surfers would type singular words such as "chair," now they are typing in more sophisticated search strings like "swivel rocker reclining chair," Stangeland explains.

"This is why you don't want to target single keywords like 'CPA' or 'taxes,' you want multiword key phrases, like 'Denver CPA' or 'small business tax accounting,'" she says.

In the United States, 24.11 percent of searches contain three words; 19.8 percent four words; 17.95 percent two words and 11 percent just one word, according to KeyWordDiscovery.

Words can become quite pricey. For example, Google estimates "CPA" would cost $3.06 per click and "Denver CPA" $4.05. "Denver CPA firm" is just 5 cents a click. And the more people who want the term, the more the term costs.

Stangeland and others recommend narrowing the search so it only appears when local people click on the ad, otherwise an accountant in Atlanta may be stuck paying for prospects in Idaho.

"With pay-per-click, you need to get within a 50-mile radius of your firm. It's the most economical advertising you can do," says Jeff Drake, a CPA and president of

"A few years ago, when typing in 'CPA Boston,' hardly anybody came up; it was like 10 cents a click. Now we have so much competition, it's $2 to $3 per click."

In January alone, an estimated 1,900 people searched for the term, and the cost climbed to $3.46.

AdWords users who are worried about prospects going click happy can set the maximum price they want to spend per click and set a maximum daily or monthly budget. They also can pause their campaigns, so for example, their ads won't appear in April so last-minute filers won't find them.

Keep in mind that while being on the first page is ideal, being No. 1 shouldn't necessarily be the goal-one study found that people blindly click on the top spot.

Be wary of restrictions. Intuit prohibits ProAdvisors from using "QuickBooks" or "ProAdvisor" brands in sponsored search engine advertising, though they can use those terms freely on other types of advertising.

More keyword tips are available at the following Web sites:


He also likes that it makes his three-person firm seem larger, which he knows is happening because vendors have been calling offering to provide CPE training on site to all his employees.

"We can handle larger businesses, but the perception is if you're small you can't handle certain things," Coomes says. "We didn't want to be mixed in with the folks that are seasonal or working out of a garage."


Coomes works with many clients in the construction business and says that he directs those who are trying to save costs to the amortization schedules and other calculators on his site - for free.

"We tell them if they want to work through it themselves, they can use it to their hearts' content."

Those handy calculators are popular among other accountants' clients as well.

Kinnelon, N.J.-based Cullari, Gallo, Soojian, Carrabba reached out to Web site provider CPAsite ions two to three years ago after not changing its site for at least half a decade.

Partner Raymond Burke said prior to the switch he would never tell existing clients to visit the site, which was promoting an event from 1999, but now he's "happy and proud" to do so and included the site,, on his business card.

Recently while at a client's office, Burke needed to prepare an amortization schedule/calculation, so he suggested they use his firm's Web site to do it. The client was so impressed that he immediately added it to his favorites.

"They were a client for years, but that was before we told clients we had a site," Burke says. "It's giving a client a tool they find invaluable. But they still view it as us helping them. It saves us time, maybe 10 minutes, but I almost couldn't charge them for it before."

Time savings tops the list of return on investment accountants are seeing by investing in Web sites, especially when most of the service providers make all the changes for them and even write the newsletters and automatically deliver them to clients' inboxes.

Where they report the most savings is in weeding out clients who aren't a good fit for their firm.

In late 2006, Sharon Vik approached Kristi Stangeland, a licensed CPA whose company, KLS Web Solutions, caters to accountants. Vik's goal was to use the Internet to attract small nonprofit companies looking to expand in the Seattle area.

"We wanted to intrigue customers enough to prequalify them, and the outcome we wanted was either an email or a phone call," she says.

"It's hard to know where clients would physically be, where we could encounter them," Vik says of the decision to bring her two-person firm online. "We were spread too thin. We were attending too many meetings answering random questions from people who may or may not purchase our services."

Eighty percent of the hits she's received have turned into business of some kind, most of which generate $40,000 in repeatable annual fees. Plus she's able to avoid wasting time talking to clients she isn't interested in working with.

Vik used a site builder from Thomson Reuters, now called Web Builder CS, but utilized Stangeland's copy to write all the material and to optimize her site for attracting the right audience.

It took her roughly eight months to work through the proposal and about $5,000 to get ramped up, but she believes it is worth it because she thinks of it as a long-term investment.

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