Online local advertising sites have exploded in the past decade, with many, such as the familiar Yelp (www.yelp.com), touting themselves to small businesses as great sources of local customers looking for goods and services. So how effective is Yelp for tax prep practices? Preparers’ opinions differ.
“I advertised on Yelp and similar venues for a long time and found them a big waste of my advertising budget,” said William Keats, an Enrolled Agent at Keats Tax & Financial Service in North Merrick, N.Y.
EA Joel Grandon in Marion, Iowa, tried Yelp for a year “and found it to be a waste of energy,” he said. “I’m sure their program works in some markets and for certain types of returns. I found with Yelp you have to spend a fair amount of time looking at metrics and adjusting content to make it work well.”
“I tried a whole-year contract and spent much more than I took in,” said preparer Michael Listermann of Mike’s Tax Service in Plymouth, Minn. “I also use Thumbtack as for marketing purposes. They are more affordable and provide more leads.”
Laura Strombom, on the other hand, an EA at All About Numbers in Stockton, Calif., has advertised with Yelp for about three tax seasons. “Each year the number of new clients from Yelp grows,” she said. “Roughly 40 percent of our new clients each year come from Yelp. Plus, because they’re Yelp users, they’re more likely to go back and review.”
Rates and reviews
Yelp offers a suite of free tools for business owners to access when they claim a Business User Account at biz.yelp.com, as well as performance-based advertising packages. Yelp declined to provide specific rates, but Web consultant Brian Reich writes that Yelp charges a flat fee per month, plus a variable pay-per-click rate. Reich said he was quoted $6,000 for a 12-month contract. Many consultant bloggers also said Yelp has a relatively high cost-per-1,000 (CPM) click rate.
Patrick O’ Hara, an EA with the Tax Alternative Group, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., uses “a broad network” of social media and was encouraged to post a special on Yelp in 2014. “Our regular return price averages $249, so I had a Yelp special set at $179,” he said. “No one used it for their 2014 or 2015 returns, but two people came in with vouchers this year. One client we cut loose about 30 minutes because she asked us to do something we felt was unethical. Then she was concerned she couldn’t redeem her voucher anywhere else.”
“The second client we worked with and delivered the finished product and received the voucher, and had no idea how to redeem it,” O’Hara said. “When we figured it out, the amount sent to us was only $138 of the $179 and it took about three weeks to get paid. I promptly removed the discount ad.”
Clients can also leave reviews on Yelp of your practice. Recalled Strombom, “Years ago my only review on Yelp was negative. They’d call me and ask me to advertise [and] I’d complain, ‘I am not going to spend money to direct people to see the one negative review, which is not even what really happened and is unfair.’ They then showed me how to find … where I had a high number of good reviews. I still said ‘no’ because if I didn’t know to look for those, the public wouldn’t either.”
“This went on for several years,” she continued, “then they said they changed their algorithm.” Strombom had more positive reviews than before and the one negative was now downplayed. “I decided to give advertising a try,” she said. “I haven’t been disappointed.”
Strombom’s firm encourages reviews through a post-appointment e-mail requesting feedback that includes links to Google+, Facebook and Yelp.
“Yelp also talked to me about responding to [a negative review], which, I have to admit, is still something I struggle with doing without emotion,” Strombom said.
“If the first thing that a prospect is interested in is pricing and not your experience and quality of work, be very careful with this individual,” said Nicole Green, an EA at NGG Tax Group in Easton, Mass., who has received business through Yelp. “This person will find every reason to leave you a bad review.”
Other sites, tested methods
Practitioners recommend Yelp’s medium, however, especially when it’s teamed with more tested advertising tools.
“We get a lot of new clients from Internet searches,” O’Hara said. “I’m not sure any single site works best but I do believe it’s important to have a good listing and reviews. Our marketing formula is ask for the referral, get the referred prospect to Google us and see we are a legitimate service and have the referred see the good reviews. At that point,” he added, “the only conversion factor is the fee. We quote fees higher than our average to weed out price shoppers.”
“It’s very helpful to at least have a current listing on these sites, especially on Google and eatax.org. I’ve received many referrals from eatax.org,” said Chris Hardy, an EA in Oakwood and Suwanee, Ga.
Burbank, Calif., CPA Brian Stoner’s main pipeline for online listings is organic listings in Google under local search categories, but he does have a free Yelp listing that nets about five or six initial meetings each year. “By far the best is to have an organic Google listing with a good SEO Web site,” he said, “and get as many Google reviews as possible as people look at reviews once they find your listing.”
“Be prepared for anything!” said Theodore Prioleau, an EA at Hunt Valley, Md.-based Teddy The Tax Man and Hunt Valley Retirements. Providers are often new and inexperienced, “as well as you are advertising this way for the first time,” he said. “The difficulty is that the older generation won’t use such a medium, and the younger generation is preparing its own returns.”
“I’ve heard plenty of people talk about artificially skewed ratings depending on if you pay for promotion and so on,” said EA Richard Ogg of The Master’s Tax & Financial Services in Santa Rosa, Calif. “For a relational tax business, most of your clients will come from referrals provided by your clients that appreciate you.”
EA Debra James at Genesis Accounting & Management Services in Lorain, Ohio, likewise focuses on referrals but “having an Internet presence in recent years has also been an effective way to increase the level of confidence our clients have in us.”
Said John Dundon, an EA and president of Taxpayer Advocacy Services in Englewood, Colo, “I have had some success with nextdoor.com, a free service, but get the most referrals from my tax blog.”
For effective marketing online, Dundon suggests preparers write one article a week about a matter of taxation, “300 words tops,” he said, “and in plain terms for general understanding. Post that article to a blog using Wordpress [and] forward the post to your business social media accounts including FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter and, most importantly, Google +.”
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