Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, has come a long way since the very early days of Google ads and the first attempts by companies to get more known online. In today’s world of digital marketing we now know how to build strategies made to get your business to the top, quite literally in fact, because it’s all about search engines and getting up in the rankings. With SEM in particular the focus is search results and targeted ads, and we’re getting better and better at narrowing down the ways Google picks the links that stay on top.
There are multiple angles one can pursue SEM from. If you’ve got a lot of time and most importantly money, you can explore the world of paid search engine ads which charge you on a ‘per click’ basis, also known as PPC, by using the Google Ads platform. If you’re just a beginner and only starting out with SEM, you can learn about ways to take your existing web pages and improve them with search engine optimization (SEO). Both approaches require similar skills, and mainly focus on keywords and keywords research.
For accountants, an easy start to SEO could involve getting your website to include specific and relevant keywords on certain pages. By publishing content on your website, you can attract visitors based on things like your local area, the accounting services you provide, and your areas of specific expertise. It’s up to you to decide what topics you want to market to, but the methods are usually the same – whether you choose to focus your marketing on the local area or try to go for a wider more nationwide strategy.
The first port of call for search engine marketing is SEO, or search engine optimization. There are a few ways to do this which all revolve around making content, promoting that content, and including links to and from that content in the cleverest way possible. Your firm’s website needs to be properly indexed into Google’s systems for it to be given search result attention, so it needs to be filled with pathways to and from other indexed parts of the internet. The easiest way to do this is to hyperlink to other websites – and it can be a little bit tricky to choose exactly what you want to link to.
In a nutshell, there are good and bad pages to link to. For example, a good page to link to might be a popular site which details accounting terms and explains what they mean for beginners. This type of site is a resource and will already be well-ranked and indexed, so it’s a safe bet to link to. The opposite of this, a ‘bad’ link if you will, would be to link to a competitor site with their own description of a term, particularly if that site isn’t very well indexed. Always avoid linking to the competition, because linking will give them a boost which might affect your rankings.
Remember that you want to link out to credible content, so stick to impartial or factual sites which have a good reputation and also are a source of freely available information. Also, don’t forget to organise your pages into groups which more easily link your pages to each other. This can be done by tagging articles with specific categories and having pages for each category. This makes indexing even easier, with the internal links creating more opportunities for Google bots to find everything on your site.
Another great thing to learn about is meta tagging your pages properly. These appear in HTML coding in the page’s ‘head’ code, and are pretty simple to edit. It can never hurt to look into meta tags, as they are essentially the information that appears on a page ‘behind the scenes’ which describes what the page is and what the search engines should do with it.
There are four main kinds of meta tags; the title tag, which is the page title that appears in a new tab in your browser. Keep this below 75 characters for best results. There’s also the meta “description” tag, which is the text that appears under the link in the search engine. Again, keep this on or below 150 characters. Thirdly is the meta “robots” tag. This can be set to ‘index’ or ‘noindex’ and ‘follow’ or ‘nofollow’. These relate to whether the page should be indexed, and whether the indexing bot should follow your internal links. It’s best to set these to “index,follow” – unless you have a specific reason to not index or allow following on a specific page.
The fourth meta tag is somewhat outdated and we’ll speak briefly on why. The meta “keywords” tag was once a way to highlight valuable keywords in a page. People began to abuse this by putting irrelevant keywords in it, a practice mockingly termed ‘keyword stuffing’. As a result, Google decided to put a stop to this by not paying attention to it anymore. You can put some keywords in this tag if you like, but it will not have much of an effect on SEO on other major search engine sites which followed Google’s example.
The next part of this article is all about how you can pay to advertise your firm by targeting specific search terms. This means creating small advertisements at the top of Google to promote your accounting firm, which show up when people search for specific things. There is a process known as ‘bidding’ for certain search terms, and this determines whether your ad will appear or not. Certain terms cost more to target, but also the ‘quality score’ of your advert is put into consideration. There are additional factors such as how good the landing page your ad links to is, and how relevant your ad keywords are. When someone finally sees your ad, and if they click on it, you will be charged a small fee. This is known as ‘pay per click advertising’ or PPC, and the most common and best tool to do this with is Google Ads, as Google still controls 90% of the market share.
Strategically speaking PPC is a great tool for accountants because you’re able to craft your PPC strategy to suit your firm’s needs. You can target keywords and groups of keywords which relate to what the firm is best at, such as ‘small business accountants’, as well as target terms based on local areas, like ‘accountants manchester’.
In Google Ads, keywords are organised into ‘Ad Groups’ which collect all the keywords your ad is targeting – it’s good practice to keep your keywords relevant but also to maximise your Ad Group’s reach by thinking creatively and adding a variety of relevant terms to the group. A good Ad Group also affects the bidding process for your ad to appear – the better you design it, the better quality score you will acquire, and eventually it’ll be cheaper to advertise with PPC. This is where Google stands out, they will eventually charge you less money and get you more clicks, based on your success and familiarity with the model, and offer additional tools such as the keyword planner.
For aspiring Google Ads PPC aficionados, the most important thing to do is experiment and gather data on where you think your firm will stand out the most. An effective Ad Group will contain useful keywords, a good landing page for the ad that’s relevant to the keywords, and be promoted using a smart text ad which is what will finally appear at the top of Google. Provided you can put up a modest monthly budget and make sure your team is tracking results in real time, you can effectively advertise using PPC. The advantages of a monthly budget is of course; it can’t be exceeded, so you can allocate some cash for your team to explore the system and improve as they go using analytics.
Building an advert takes a lot of effort, and it pays in the long run to build the prestigious ‘quality score’. Google awards this to the best advertisers, who can find the best keywords, build the best Ad Groups, design the best landing pages, and write the best text ads. PPC is built on quality and professionalism, but it also helps if you’re making ads which are as unique and tailor-made as the services your accounting firm can provide.
The company blog is a hub for your company’s expertise, or so they say. Blogging is one of the best ways to show off what your company knows and is capable of, and is also the place where you can build SEO via content. More pages equals more links equals better indexing, but if your page isn’t fun to read, or doesn’t have any good content, then how will you get people to stick around? This is the world of blogging in a nutshell – you need to create content which is attractive and interesting, provides a service, serves a purpose, and generally has a use.
For bloggers the main challenge is to advertise a company while showing off what makes it stand out from others. How is your accounting firm different, and special? What does it offer which gives it an advantage over others, and what does your firm have that competitors don’t? Again, this is all a great place to begin with your blog. For accountants, educational and fun content (funducational), as well as video content is the name of the game. For your firm to stand out, offer people ways they can learn about you and your business, but also about accounting itself.
Small instructional videos, short descriptive articles with optimized quality images, and lots of inbound and outgoing links make a blog have the most impact. Video is especially important, as YouTube logged one billion hours of viewer attention per day in 2017 – so if your firm wants to provide a useful service, why not head back to Google and look for some popular FAQs about accounting, then make a video about one of them on your blog? As for articles, blog posts with over 600 words are indexed the best, and including a few good inbound and outgoing relevant links help Google discover your site more.
What Will You Do Next?
After all this complicated talk on search engines and search engine marketing it’s time to decompress, strategise and move forward. Like the heading says, what will you do next? Here’s a checklist of activities for you to try:
- Build a Google Ads account and get familiar with the features.
- Roundtable with your team for keywords that are best to target for your accounting firm.
- Create some article topics for a company blog based on those keywords.
- Review the inbound and outgoing links on your website.
- Design a useful landing page for Google Ads which is relevant to your keywords.
- Plan out a Google Ads strategy and propose a budget that works for you.
If you need more info, help with specific terms, more detailed information on SEO, PPC, SEM and any other marketing info, we’re here to help. Check out our article categories or search our site for more info. As always, don’t forget to check out our companion book, available on Amazon – Digital Marketing For Professionals by our co-founder Nick Bagga.