Accountants aren’t usually considered the best writers in the world.
How do I know this? Because I’ve edited several articles from accountants through the years who told me, “Work your magic. I’m not the best writer in the world.”
But your firm doesn’t need to have the best writers in the world to have a successful blog. Your clients won’t care if a sentence ends with a preposition or if there’s no Oxford comma. All they care about is finding an answer to a question they have on estate planning or trying to solve a tax problem that is affecting their business or personal financial situation.
If done well and frequently, the blog page will be bookmarked by clients who will return regularly for advice.
A blog can provide the answers your clients seek and be an inexpensive marketing tool for your firm to promote its professionals as thought leaders, as well as the services you provide and the industries you serve.
But it also doesn’t hurt that your blog can be a pretty damn good way to build new business for your firm and attract potential new clients.
“When someone lands on our blog and finds what they need, they see us as a helpful resource with expertise related to their questions,” said Susan Gorham, director of marketing at Gross Mendelsohn. “This often translates into prospective clients contacting us for help.”
Still on the fence about adding a blog to your firm’s website? Experts at accounting firms with successful blogs will nicely take your hand, get you off that fence, and help you land on their side—and page.
There are two important rules to keep in mind
But before we get into the reasons why a blog will give your practice a marketing advantage and how you can take all that knowledge in your accountants’ noggins and put it into blog form, here are a couple of rules to take into consideration:
1. Post blogs on your website as often as possible
If you want to have a successful blog, you can’t just publish a post on a Monday morning about the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s gazillionth improvement to the new lease accounting standard and say, “Alright, I just fulfilled my blogging obligations for the next three months.”
That’s not going to cut it.
How often should your firm post blogs? There really isn’t a correct amount, but once a month is the bare minimum. At least one a week is preferred, but the prevailing answer seems to be “as regularly as you can.”
“You cannot get traction with an occasional blog. Decide on a schedule you can reasonably keep and stick to it,” said Jim Terminiello, marketing manager at Berdon LLP.
I did some informal research, looking at the blogs of 10 smallish accounting firms and counting how many posts they published in June. The 10 firms averaged 7.5 posts total last month, so nearly two a week.
CPA firm Skoda Minotti did more formal research in 2018 on accounting firm content marketing strategies, finding that 85% of respondents posted at least one blog a month, with 38% posting at least two a month, 16% posting three to four, another 16% posting five to six, and 15% posting more than six a month.Skoda Minotti also found that firms that publish four blog posts a month won’t see traffic to their sites increase and rank higher in search engine results for at least nine months, so it takes time for your blog to be seen by the masses. Which leads me to the next rule.
2. Make your blog posts search engine friendly
One way to do this is to write SEO-friendly titles for your posts, something that even longtime accounting scribes (like myself) still struggle with on a daily basis.
Gorham recommends considering how a client or a potential client would search online for help on a topic.
“Calling your article ‘De Minimis Safe Harbor Election: Act Now To Be Eligible for 2018’ will help you get found online because people will likely search for ‘de minimis safe harbor election,’ making it search-engine friendly,” she said. “It also includes a sense of urgency, prompting people to read it to find out what they need to do.”
Some other simple tactics to make your blog posts easier to find by search engines include:
- Use SEO-friendly URLs: Include keywords, such as the headline of your post, in your URL.
- Include a meta description: This is a brief summary displayed below the post’s title in search engine results pages.
- Throw in some internal and external links: Link to other blog posts or white papers on your firm’s site. And linking to sites like the AICPA, IRS, and state CPA societies, as well as articles from reputable news sites, can move your blog up in search engine rankings.
- Add bullet points, bolds, and subheads: These things make a blog post easier to read, and search engines like them too.
How can a blog benefit an accounting firm’s marketing?
Glad you asked! Because it’s a question l posed to a few heads of marketing, who passed along the following advantages:
1. Capitalizes on immediacy
If the IRS releases a new revenue procedure or the FASB proposes a new accounting standard, writing a blog post quickly on the new guidance or any other hot topic shows that your firm is on top of the issue.
“Later we can do a more detailed analysis, but there is value in being fast out of the gate,” Terminiello said.
In addition, brevity is another advantage of having a blog on your website, he said: “People don’t have time to go deep into a subject, so getting the essence of a topic out there serves to ignite interest.”
2. Builds credibility with prospects
An accounting firm website with boatloads of free and helpful information not only establishes your firm and its professionals as knowledgeable and competent, but it can also convince a potential client to work with your firm.
“We simply try to be helpful with our blog content. Our firm’s partners write articles for the blog because they are thought leaders on a particular topic or industry. They enjoy sharing that knowledge with business owners, CFOs, and others,” Gorham said. “While our CPAs set out to be helpful, it’s icing on the cake when we win a new client as a result of the blog.”
3. If you’ve got a niche, promote it
By regularly publishing blog posts on a specialty service you provide or an industry you serve, you can establish your firm as a go-to resource for clients that fall into those buckets.
“Our experts will write a blog because they believe that a particular topic in which they specialize has value to add to our audience,” said Todd Decker, chief marketing officer and head of business development at Warren Averett CPAs & Advisors. “Our tax experts on the Gulf Coast recently wrote about casualty losses after assisting their clients through hurricane recovery. A technology expert just wrote a piece about securing mobile devices because he sees the importance of a company being informed about data protection. Our experts submit articles and ideas all the time because they see the pain points our clients experience, they help them conquer their challenges, and they want to inform others.”
4. Provides clients with important reminders
Businesspeople are busy, which means they may not have had time yet to incorporate a new rule, regulation, or law into their everyday processes.
“A blog reminding them of a new requirement or deadline shows that we are keeping their best interests in mind,” Terminiello said.
5. Allows you to recycle your research
Say a client emails you a question, and you take the time to research the topic and write a response. Well, turn that into a blog post, Gorham said.
“Of course, you’ll need to remove names and identifying information, and maybe change the tone a bit, but with a little bit of tweaking, you’ll have a blog post,” she added.
6. Gets the media’s attention
And not just from contributing writers to Gusto, like myself.
“Our blogs and articles have triggered inquiries from both clients and the media,” Terminiello said. “Some blogs have been developed into featured articles or resulted in the blogger being interviewed—further extending the benefit of the blog.”
What makes a successful accounting blog post?
So, let’s say your firm has finally decided to create a blog and you’ve got your website all set up to get started. A couple common questions you might have are: What should we do next? And what makes a good blog anyway?
Here are answers to those questions, and other advice, straight from the experts:
1. Know your audience, know your firm
“What is your audience interested in? How can you add unique insight on that topic and value to your reader? The place where those two things intersect is your blog’s sweet spot,” Decker said. “If your audience is interested but it’s not your area of expertise, it’s not the right fit. Or if you’re the expert but your audience isn’t interested, you probably want to invest in another area. It’s important to align what your audience wants with what you can provide in order to be effective.”
2. Brainstorm ideas with your team
“Get a consensus from your team about issues or topics that are repeatedly being asked about by clients or prospects. These are cues for blog topics,” Terminiello said.
3. Be strategic
“Each blog post should have a defined goal,” Decker said. “Anyone can have a blog, but not everyone is committed to adding value to their readers. Don’t just post a blog to take up space on your website or because you haven’t posted one in a while or because someone else is talking about that topic. Establish what you want the reader to walk away with, and define any action they should take when they’re done.”
4. Designate a “face” of your firm
“Do you have a person or persons who you would like to be the ‘face’ of your firm? These individuals should be your bloggers,” Terminiello said.
5. Consider a themed blog
“Do you have a particular area that you would like to either develop or that has not been as successful as you had hoped for? If so, develop a themed blog,” Terminiello said. “For example: ‘Bert Jones: Manufacturing Maven’ and produce a series of blogs related to that industry.”
6. Write as if you’re writing for one person
“If you’re having trouble getting started, pretend you are writing an email to a client,” Gorham said. “For example, if you are writing an article about a new tax law that applies to construction companies, think about how you would inform ‘Steve,’ the owner of one of your construction clients, on what he needs to know about the new law. Tell him how the law will affect his company and what action he needs to take.”
7. Have an opinion
“Don’t simply restate something already in the news. Understand the difference between being a historian and an advisor,” said Dan Alton, chief marketing officer at PYA.
8. Write in layman’s terms
“You might be a CPA, but the reader of your blog post likely is not,” Gorham said. “If the intended reader of your article is the executive director of a nonprofit, assume they do not have an accounting background. Avoid technical language and keep the tone conversational.”
9. Keep it brief
“Despite how well you write, nobody wants to read 10,000 words. The reader’s time is a gift,” Alton said.
SEO experts say that blog posts should be at least 300 words, but the recommended word count of a post varies upon the business and its reason for blogging. As a rule of thumb, try to keep it between 1,000 and 1,500 words, if possible, unlike this blog post, which is running north of 2,000 words.
10. Use subheads and relevant images.
“No one wants to read a long article of straight text. Break up the article with subheads so someone can scan the article,” Gorham said. “Very few people read online content straight through. Use images only if they are relevant to your content.”
Alton agreed, adding that using graphics and pull-out quotes are also good ways to break up text.
11. Measure your success
“After you post a blog, don’t let it die. Go back, track analytics, and let what you learn inform future decisions about your blog,” Decker said. “You may even consider revising the same blog later to add more or different value based on how your readers respond to it.”
One other thing that a couple of the experts recommended: Get your interns and/or your junior staffers involved. Making them a part of the blogging process not only gives them an invaluable learning experience but will also increase the productivity of your firm’s blog.
“When they do research for the articles they write, they are educating themselves on a particular topic by taking a deep dive in order to write the article,” Gorham said.
Plus, you can give them the weekly task of reviewing other firm’s blogs and finding issues that your team might be able to address in your firm’s blog, Terminiello added.
See, your firm can do this! Your team doesn’t need to have New Yorker-quality writers to have a successful blog. All you need to do is:
- to provide timely advice to your clients;
- make a complex issue easier for them to understand; and
- make them aware of pending accounting or tax guidance and deadlines.
You already do this while speaking to them in-person or on the phone or via email, so why can’t you do this in a blog post?
You have nothing to lose and a lot—an inexpensive way to market your firm and its services, newfound client confidence, thought leadership opportunities, and potential new prospects—to gain.