Digital marketing: Say hello to 2017's big trend

2nd Mar 2017
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Websites play a significant role in many practitioners’ marketing plans. But as the accountancy landscape becomes more digital, the emphasis on having a web presence has never been more vital.

As the stresses of self assessment season fade away, practitioners now have space to explore or improve their marketing processes. In particular, a comment from AccountingWEB regular Glennzy on an Any Answers thread over Christmas piqued AccountingWEB's interest in practitioners' digital marketing needs.

Glennzy returned to his desk on Boxing Day to discover messages from two potential clients. He quipped that the “lack of quality TV” this Christmas must have been a factor. However, it wasn’t the lack of an Only Fools and Horses Christmas special that turned the prospects his way, but a Google search and his new website.

Websites are no longer just an online business card. As Glennzy’s experience shows, more and more prospects hinge their decision on accountants’ digital output, like anyone who searches for a restaurant recommendation in their area: Google is the new Yellow Pages. Simply relying on the bare bones of a site or your established high street image will no longer do.

Digital marketing trends amongst practitioners

The use of website and SEO also spiked within the Practice Excellence community. Last year 53% of entries focussed on this activity, growing from 42% in 2015.

Social media was another outlier in PEA trends, as 36% of firms embraced social channels, up from 25% the previous year.

Other areas of digital marketing also rose steadily, with content marketing on the upward trajectory from 35% in 2015 to 38% last year.    

Practice Excellence medium firm of the year Raffingers, for example, targeted its SEO for particular services, and this led to its website being responsible for 50% of its leads.

The AccountingWEB/Intuit Quickbooks survey also found websites and SEO as the most common digital initiative used by firms to grow, at 53%. But data from this survey just highlights the fact that 47% of firms still don’t dedicate the time to increasing their online presence.

Alex Tucker, PracticeWEB’s marketing lead, believes firms don’t invest in digital marketing because they don’t see the value or simply don’t have the time.

“Even if you have that website,” he said, “there's a risk of thinking of it as stationery, like your business cards or letterhead, because it's something you think you should have.”

Shift in client and accountant relationship

But there’s another reason why accountants should not leave their websites to gather dust. As Making Tax Digital comes into effect, clients will lean more on their accountant for clarity through the digital disarray.

Research from FreeAgent added extra impetus for accountants to nurture this relationship. 55% of the contractor and micro business owners surveyed currently view their accountant as someone who just files their tax return – with only 21% noting the proactive, higher-value services they may offer.

Ed Molyneux, FreeAgent’s CEO, expects MTD to herald a shift in this relationship and perception. “The accountants’ role is likely to need to shift up the value chain, towards providing clients with more pro-active advice,” he said.

And this is where websites and content marketing can help address the legislative changes.

“One of the fundamental ideas of marketing is about delivering and promoting a service that suits your ideal client,” said Tucker.

“So if your ideal client is using digital tools to either perform tasks, or even consume entertainment, then you need a strategy that addresses digital. When it comes to performing tasks, it's only going to become more prevalent with things like MTD.” 

We have seen practitioners already use their online presence to MTD-proof their firm. AccountingWEB regular Peter Saxton is overhauling his website so he can incorporate an area for client communication, including updates on things like MTD.  

“With MTD you need to be communicating with clients more regularly,” said Saxton. “Given that Making Tax Digital is so important it would be useful explaining that.”

While Saxton’s website plans are on hold until some free time opens up in his schedule, he has already mentally designed the website and created a wish list to support his client relationships. As discussed on Any Answers, Saxton wants to invest in social media solutions, a robust email management system, and a document management system to streamline client authorisation.

The future

The importance practitioners place on digital marketing doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. According to the AccountingWEB/Intuit survey, 70% of the respondents identified themselves as being in a similar situation to Saxton, and look set to increase their digital marketing efforts between now and 2020.

As for Glennzy, he feels like he’s just “scratched the surface” with his digital marketing endeavours as he looks to inject more money and time into finessing his social media output, and enticing prospects with more content.

That said, his website is garnering at least two leads a week thanks to his site ranking relatively high on a geographical search.

“The web-based referrals are a mixed bag though, with maybe half not leading anything, whereas I would sign up 9/10 from a client or professional recommendation,” he told AccountingWEB. “You do get a lot of people wanting free advice or trying to get a low quote from you to beat down the price of their existing accountant.”  

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