[IMGCAP(1)]With over 2.6 billion local searches performed monthly and that number growing by more than 50 percent each year, according to Small Business Community, it is more important than ever to focus on your accounting firm’s online presence.

You may think that just having a Web site is enough to market your accounting firm online. However, a Web site is the bare minimum that any business owner, including accountants, should consider if they want to use the Internet as an effective client acquisition and retention tool. For accountants, establishing credibility should be the first priority, and what clients see about you and your firm online will make all the difference.

Marketing your accounting firm today should include a desktop and mobile site that is optimized for search and that will convert leads into calls and emails. You should also consider organic and paid search ads to generate awareness and allow prospects to find you and your Web site.

Lastly, some light blogging and a solid presence on social media can be a great way to keep in touch with your existing clients and showcase your success and credibility.

Creating and maintaining an online marketing campaign with this diverse mix can seem like a daunting task, especially when you’re busy with the day-to-day duties of running a firm and preparing for the busy tax season ahead. To save you some time and effort, I’ve boiled down the top six marketing tips from acquisition to retention for effectively marketing your accounting business online.

1) Create an effective and searchable Web site. Your Web site should convince visitors to pick up the phone and call you. Some tips to consider:

a. Provide a call to action. Make it clear what you want the visitor to do (call, make an appointment, etc.)

b. Include your contact information clearly and make it visible on each page.

c. Be concise and specific. Having too much content will overwhelm readers. Clearly state the services you offer and how you can help your target customer.

d. Optimize your Web site for mobile devices. It’s very important as mobile search is expected to bypass desktop search local businesses by 2015. This means making sure your Web site has “responsive design” that works on all devices.

e. Include content that shows credibility and success, such as any client testimonials and listing your credentials and those of the other accountants in your firm.

You also need to create a Web site with organic search placement in mind so that potential customers find you when searching for local mortgage companies. Bear in mind that search engines use something called a “bot”— short for “robot” —to read through the back-end coding of sites on the Internet and determine what sites are most relevant to come up in a search. These bots look at the content on a particular site that includes both the visible text and also part of the code, which is referred to as “tags.” For example, all things being equal, a search for an accountant in Akron, Ohio, that uses the words “accountant”, “Akron”, and “Ohio” in the tags has a much greater probability of high placement than one that does not.

2) Invest in paid search. Paid search advertising is the quickest way to get your accounting firm on the first page of key search engine results, which is important considering that the majority of searchers never go beyond the first page of results. Use compelling and persuasive ad copy to get potential clients to click on your ad instead of your competitors’ ads. An effective paid search ad should include:

a. A compelling headline
b. Call to action
c. Relevant keywords
d. A unique value proposition
e. Contact information

3) Get Listed. It’s important to show up for map listings as they are prominent on key search engines, and local consumers typically compare different companies on simple criteria such as distance, services and business hours. “Claim” a map page with Google Plus Local, Bing, and Yahoo! Local Listings, and make sure to create relevant keyword content and add appropriate photos to the listing. This helps search engines view your page as credible, and therefore more worthy of incorporating into its map section.

Another criterion for ranking high on maps is to ensure that your information is consistent across a variety of other credible Internet directories. Examples include Citysearch, Yelp and Internet Yellow Pages. Another benefit of putting your information on directories is that you’ll be found in more key places on the Internet.

4) Ask for reviews. Online reviews and testimonials are extremely important for most businesses today. Reviews not only affect your brand and consumer perception but can also impact organic search. A recent study conducted by Merchant Warehouse and Column Five found that 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. It’s important to get your business listed on review sites and to then establish a positive presence. Ask a customer if they’d be willing to post a positive review when you’re confident that you’ve provided exceptional service. And make it as easy as possible for them to post the review by providing a direct link for where they should go.

5) Get social. Having a presence in social media and establishing a blog is great for building your brand and retaining customers you already have. You can share tips or information in “real time” on social media pages or blogs that potential or existing clients could find helpful. For accountants, the most important social site to be on is LinkedIn. Make sure that all of the accountants in your firm establish a presence on LinkedIn so that customers can see their professional credentials and expertise. Creating fresh content on social media or blogs can also help with your organic ranking.

Although this seems like a lot of work, I cannot stress the importance of having a strong online presence. It is crucial for your business. It takes time to get started, maintain and measure the success of your online marketing program, but you will see the benefits if you stick with it. If you don’t have the time or resources to manage it on your own, you should consider partnering with a vendor that specializes in online marketing.

Court Cunningham is Yodle’s CEO. Yodle has more than 40,000 small business customers, and currently serves 1,300+ accounting clients. For more information, visit www.yodle.com or contact the company at info@yodle.com or (877) 276-5104.

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