Accounting CPA Firm Study

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Accounting CPA Firm Study

accounting firms studyAccountants & CPA Firms just released a study of how accounting and CPA firms use search engine optimization as an online marketing strategy.

Please contact us if you would like a free copy. Here is a quick look at our methods:

Domain Name

We included a “yes” because the domain includes a primary keyword phrase. Typically, we used “no” because the domain only included the firm name or an abbreviation of the firm name.

Pages

We captured the number of pages (and other web site files) indexed on Google.

Links

We referenced the number of inbound links based on data available from Yahoo! (we excluded the firm domain and used the option to include inbound links to any page on the web site – not only the home page).

Social Media

We attempted to convey the firm’s interest and use of social media that can influence natural search engine rankings (and increasingly could be a bigger factor). We used “yes” because a firm had any presence – even one social media profile referenced even from the bottom of a home page or an interior page. We didn’t view every page to determine the use of social media, but we made an effort to survey the home page, about page, career page, contact page, etc.We consistently defaulted to “not apparent” to suggest that a firm failed to use social media or reference existing profiles in logical areas of the web site.

Social Media Notes

We may include these in the final study, but they’re more likely notes we can reference in the overall study or to call attention to how some firms effectively use and promote their use of social media.

Web Site Age

The domain name age can have an impact on search engine rankings. We checked the creation date through WhoIs data sources.

Per Page Content

Web site content is critical with search engine rankings. A short page doesn’t necessarily preclude a keyword from ranking. Similarly, a long page doesn’t guarantee rankings. But more original page text can help in many cases. We looked at several pages for each web site. Typically, the amount of content varied by page, but we looked for overall trends. For example, some larger web sites had very short pages. But a closer look at the web site structure revealed many long pages within deeper areas of the navigation. Some SEO specialists have long argued that a web site page needs between 250 and 500 words to help with search engine rankings. In any industry, we’ve seen pages with far fewer words rank well and pages with 500 words not perform well on search engines. In this case, we defined “short” as 100 words or less, “medium” as 101 to 250 words and “long” as typically 251 words or more. The length of content provided an additional perspective about how seriously a firm appeared to think about SEO as an online marketing strategy.

Home Title (HT)
Yes – if any semblance of a keyword-rich title tag even if there is only one potential keyword (typically more than the firm name)

Home Title Rating (HTR)

0 – no title
1 – extremely limited keyword presence (typically just one word and something as basic as “CPAs”
2 – better effort at keyword placement – often more than one word even if the words aren’t well organized
3 – good attempt to focus on SEO in the title tag space – two or more words places well (i.e. city names, state names, core phrases)
4 – very good effort to include keyword phrases like “accounting firms” and core keyword phrases joined with primary services and/or regional references
5 – excellent implementation of SEO strategy for keywords (phrases chosen, sequence, length of title tag, etc.)

Home Description (HD)
Includes use of the meta description tag. A rating was considered, but the descriptions varied greatly in their style, purpose, approach, length, etc. Often, they were bland and not written in a compelling fashion that would sell the firm’s expertise or service. Many descriptions were enormously long – most words wouldn’t even appear with the search engine results. More often, the same description from the home page would be repeated throughout the web site.

Interior Title (IT)

Yes – if any semblance of a keyword-rich title tag even if there is only one potential keyword (typically more than the firm name)

Interior Title Rating (ITR)

0 – no title
1 – extremely limited keyword presence (typically just one word and something as basic as “CPAs”
2 – better effort at keyword placement – often more than one word even if the words aren’t well organized
3 – good attempt to focus on SEO in the title tag space – two or more words places well (i.e. city names, state names, core phrases)
4 – very good effort to include keyword phrases like “accounting firms” and core keyword phrases joined with primary services and/or regional references
5 – excellent implementation of SEO strategy for keywords (phrases chosen, sequence, length of title tag, etc.)

Interior Description (HD)
Includes use of the meta description tag. A rating was considered, but the descriptions varied greatly in their style, purpose, approach, length, etc. Often, they were bland and not written in a compelling fashion that would sell the firm’s expertise or service. Many descriptions were enormously long – most words wouldn’t even appear with the search engine results. More often, the same description was repeated throughout the web site. Some firms did use distinctive meta descriptions, but they usually lacked effective calls to action.

PPC (Pay-Per-Click also known as Paid Search)

We referenced SpyFu for each domain to get an idea of the firm’s interest in paid search. Typically, a “yes” was selected if the SpyFu history revealed use of PPC, particularly if a SpyFu feature listed some of the PPC keywords used. In some cases, we used “yes” if a chart showed a significant use of PPC at some point in the past 2 years even if the other SpyFu feature did not reveal the actual PPC keywords used. We chose “no” if the chart indicated no PPC use and the additional SpyFu feature was blank (no keywords used).

Header (Page Header)

Headers were evaluated for their presence as text, not their effectiveness with keyword selection. We determined that the headers had inherent value by including text and not graphics (which search engines don’t read). We may have considered a rating system for the page headers, but nearly all simply reflected the navigation or core purpose of the page – no effort to skillfully weave in core keyword phrases emphasized throughout a web site. Text page headers could be helping with natural search engine rankings by accentuating per page content, especially when reinforced with similar keywords within the page title and other areas of the web site. We also included a “yes” as an indication that page text headers could be refined. In other words, the text approach poised the web site for more effective SEO strategies in the future.

Rankings

We looked at 20 keyword phrases for each firm (1o broad or national phrases and 10 local phrases). We scored the firm based on how many rankings it achieved. The goal was to show the overall impact of their web site, not to judge the value of each keyword phrase and each position. We determined that the firm earned a ranking if any of the keywords made it to the first page of Google. We realize that the larger firms may be more interested in national keyword phrases – and maybe even better positioned to rank for them. But we wanted to determine if even smaller firms could rank for the most frequently used keyword phrases. Similarly, larger firms may not be interested in local keyword phrases – even those built around their local headquarters or the largest city near their main office.

URLs

Typically we chose “yes” if it was evident that some thought went into a page name, especially if more than word was used like tax-services.php rather than just tax.php. But if single keywords seemed relevant and consistent, we chose “yes.” Normally, a “no” was used when the web site showed no thought for SEO. In that case, sometimes the keywords were not relevant. Quite often, words were jammed together or abbreviated like taxservice.php (not effective) or taxsvs.php (even worse).

The industry has long debated the value of each SEO variable. But we still see URL select like other web site elements as an important part of any SEO strategy.

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