How Freed Maxick & Battaglia dove in to developing business leads online

The buzz around Internet marketing has taken the accounting profession by storm.

One cannot escape the barrage of articles and webinars surrounding the topics of search engine optimization, social media and other Web-based marketing strategies. The potential benefits of these strategies are well-known. If implemented properly, we are told these strategies can afford CPA firms the ability to increase brand awareness and Web site traffic, and uncover new opportunities.

But when all of the dust settles, one can't help but ask: Does this stuff really work? Or is it all "buzz?"

After conducting research and speaking with industry insiders, I discovered that there is little concrete evidence about firms successfully implementing such programs.

I recently spoke with Eric Majchrzak, marketing manager at Buffalo, N.Y.-based Freed Maxick & Battaglia, and a board member of the Association for Accounting Marketing. In 2003, he developed and deployed a search engine marketing program for his firm. Over the past six years, his firm's SEO program has generated real results that can serve as an example for firms considering starting their own program. What makes Freed Maxick's story different is the level of success they have had using Internet marketing to drive sales. Below, Majchrzak shares some strategies.

What have been the results of your firm's efforts?

I can tell you, in general, that freedmaxick.com generates hundreds of leads every year. The leads we've developed and nurtured over the past six years have resulted in millions in new business revenue. For our directors, the program has provided them the ability to maximize their chargeable hours because the leads that come in through our Web site tend to be "hot" and they don't have to chase down cold opportunities. We see that the prospects are ready to make a purchasing decision. SEO has expanded our marketing footprint to include clients all over the world. We get leads and clients from all over the U.S., Canada and Europe.

What types of clients are you attracting via the Web?

It runs the spectrum, from the SEC company to the small business. We also get governmental, nonprofits and closely held businesses. But it's not random - we deliberately appeal to them.

Where did you obtain your skill set?

My involvement with Internet marketing began a decade ago, when I was working for a major financial institution. My role, in part, included webmaster duties. My experience there taught me firsthand how a well-thought-out search engine marketing strategy can drive targeted traffic. I also learned that developing conversion techniques was critical to the success of any Internet marketing strategy. I gravitated towards organic search engine methods, as opposed to pay-per-click efforts, because it was more of a challenge. It was fascinating to learn how and why search engines ranked some sites over others. Back then, SEO was driven by meta-data, a very different practice than today. I was fascinated by the ever-changing search engine algorithms and trends in SEO.

How did you apply this knowledge to the accounting world?

In 2003, I joined Freed Maxick. I was new to accounting marketing, so I worked hard to understand the professional services sales cycle, the issues and service offerings. I worked to see how SEO might be applicable in a professional services environment. I had read research that some 70 percent of purchasers of accounting services use search engines to get information on hot-button issues, topics, legislation and service providers. I developed an SEO program for the firm that included all of the above.

What are you doing to optimize your site?

I built out our Web site to include over 300 pages, including detailed service offerings, whitepapers, articles, legislative updates and other downloadable resources. The ongoing expansion of content creates, on average, an annual increase of traffic of 30 percent over the previous year.

How do you use social media to enhance your overall SEO strategy?

Social media is one piece of the Internet marketing puzzle, a very important piece. It's one component of inbound or permission-based marketing that provides a great opportunity to tap into communities of people organized by a common purpose, issue, industry, region, etc.

I think ultimately the most practical use for social media is building a more targeted and loyal market. This helps towards conversion rates. I think social media brings tremendous "off-page SEO" opportunities. Making sure that your firm has a robust Web presence via "outposts" or extensions of your own Web site is important. It increases the chances that you'll be found when searches are conducted, simply because there are more Web pages that contain information about your firm, issues and hot-button topics. For example, Twitter, LinkedIn [and] Facebook help with SEO because your profile pages and/or individual tweets or posts get indexed and ranked by search engines.

How much time do you spend on SEO?

In the beginning, I spent upwards of 50 percent of my time to optimize our site. The Web site works 24/7 to develop leads and I work 24/7 to make sure that all opportunities are followed up on. Today, although our SEO is in more of a maintenance phase, I can still spend an hour or two a day with it. Most of my time is spent with "off-page SEO" techniques to create or leverage inbound linking opportunities via article syndication, social media, discussion forums and blogs. I am the firm's marketing manager, however, so I have the same "traditional" responsibilities that any other marketing manager would. A good chunk of my time is spent with the follow-up that is needed to ensure we close our leads.

Why aren't more firms using SEO?

The barrier to entry is high, especially if you have to outsource SEO. I also think that, for many firms, SEO is met with some level of skepticism, because there is a belief that C-suite executives don't use search engines. I am not sure where this comes from, but it is demonstrably false. Our firm has always been pretty progressive-minded when it comes to new ideas, and we dove in. The water is warm.

Brian Swanson is a partner with Flashpoint Marketing (www.flashpointmarketing.biz), specializing in marketing and lead generation solutions for CPAs. Reach him at (954) 367-5718 or bswanson flashpointmarketing.biz.

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