Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Virginia Schools Honored as ‘Best Value Colleges’

Highlighted by the University of Virginia’s (UVa) top overall ranking, five Virginia colleges and universities were ranked in the top 50 of their categories in the Princeton Review’s annual ranking of “Best Value Colleges.”

UVa earned the No. 1 spot among public schools on the list, which was determined by ranking undergraduate academics, tuition and financial aid offerings. The College of William & Mary was No. 7 on that list, and James Madison University and Virginia Tech were also listed among the top 50 schools.

The University of Richmond was ranked in the top 50 among private colleges. Princeton Review does not rank schools outside the top 10 on either list.

All five colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in accounting, and all but Richmond offer master’s degrees in accounting.

“This national recognition of these outstanding universities and their efforts to make higher education more accessible and affordable is a great building block toward making Virginia one of the most highly educated states in the nation,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement. “Having five colleges and universities named to this prestigious list reinforces that the commonwealth is a national leader for higher education.”

Click here to learn more about accounting degrees at Virginia colleges and universities.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Leaders’ Institute Seeks Nominees for 2011 Program

The Leaders’ Institute, sponsored by Baker Tilly and the VSCPA Educational Foundation, is seeking nominations for its 2011 program. Students can nominate themselves and educators can nominate students. Nominations are due Friday, March 18.

The program allows students to enjoy access to potential employers and mentoring and networking opportunities. This year’s program is scheduled for June 24–26 at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center.

“The Leaders’ Institute provides a valuable experience for accounting students,” Dr. Ed Coffman, professor and chair of the accounting department at Virginia Commonwealth University, said. “On campus, students that have attended comment on how they benefited from such activities as networking, resume writing, team building and getting to know the representatives from the various firms. The activities of the Institute are most helpful in assisting students in making the transition from the academic to the professional practice of accounting. For this, we in the academic community are most appreciative.”

Nomination forms are available at the Leaders’ Institute website.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Guest Blogger: SEO and Conversion Strategies

By Brian Swanson
Flashpoint Marketing

You know it is important for your firm to show up in a search engine. That’s why you’ve invested in optimizing your site, carefully embedding keywords, descriptions and titles into each page to help get your firm noticed first. But now that you’ve gotten a prospect to your website what should you do?

Think about this – you’ve only got their attention for 15 seconds. What is your website offering to incentivize a prospect want to reach out and engage with you? Once on the site, the primary objective should be to entice them to contact you. The key is to prominently display a compelling call to action on your home page.

This compelling pull, otherwise known as a conversion strategy, is the process through which you entice a website visitor to contact your firm or take another action.

A conversion strategy is a way to get a visitor to your website to interact with you in a planned way. This could include access to industry studies, tax guides, subscriptions to newsletters, free webinars or an attractive service offering. What is important to remember is that this interaction won’t necessarily be sales related, because the ultimate goal is that connection, may not immediate lead to a sales opportunity.

The CPA and accounting firms that are successful with inbound marketing have done an excellent job of developing and implementing conversion strategies. They are successful at engaging the prospect beyond the traditional website print. This is an essential component to inbound marketing that is often overlooked.

Effective Accounting Firm Websites

For example on the website of Buffalo-based CPA firm Freed Maxick & Battaglia there are a host of conversion strategies at play found vertically on the right side of the home page. The Tax Credit Locator allows visitors to find out if their business is located in an enterprise tax zone, ultimately bringing them specialized tax credits. Visitors are prompted to enter in their address, which the firm then captures, in exchange for a valuable piece of information.

Another good example of a firm with a strong conversion strategy is New Philadelphia-based Rea & Associates. On their home page, they offer a link to The Rea Report, which is their firm newsletter. With two clicks, the visitor is in the system and the firm has a new prospect.

Though most prospects generated through a website are often still in a research phase, they want their information in a timely manner (a 24-hour response or less is critical) and then they want time to process it on their own terms. The key is to allow them to have control of communicating the next steps and information flow. If done correctly, firms have the ability to gain a more qualified lead when the prospect is ready to meet and talk.

Web leads afford CPA firms to expand their marketing footprint and gain new revenue streams. Web-generated opportunities are typically “warmer” than traditional leads because of the inbound nature of the process. Prospects are seeking the firm out, not the other way around.

Develop Your Conversion Strategy

So how do you create a conversion strategy? Consider the following:

• A Clear Call to Action. This is an essential component to a strong conversion strategy. Be clear about what the offer is in your call to action. If you are offering access to an industry study, then write “Download our Industry Study on X”. Often times website visitors don’t take the next step because it is not clear what you are offering them in exchange for their click.

• Properly Position Your Call to Action. Calls to action are best received when they are positioned at the top of your web page. If a visitor has to scroll down to see the call to action you will lose a large number of potential conversions. Raising the profile will result in additional website leads.

• Make the Call to Action Stand Out. To make the call to action stand out use colors that contrast with the overall color scheme of your website. This is important. The more you make it stand out the more website visitors will see it and take action.

• Ensure Proper Linking. Make sure the call to action links to the corresponding landing page. I have seen several examples of CPA and accounting firms that have strong calls to action, but they don’t link to a landing page. How does the visitor know where to go to take the next step? Make it easy and simple!

• Use Image Promotion. A key mistake many make is to promote their call to action through text. Again, you want to make your offer stand out. Use images rather than plain text to highlight your offer so that a visitor’s eyes are immediately drawn to the offer.

In Perspective

In creating a conversion strategy, remember it’s important to choose tactics that work for your firm – usually one or two engagement methods on your home page will make all the difference in creating a connection. Search engine marketing is not only about getting people to your website. It’s about the offerings on your site that will inspire your visitors to reach out and connect with your firm. As a result, it is important to develop a way to catch visitors’ attention and entice them into taking action.

Stay tuned for more from Brian Swanson on this topic in the March/April issue of Disclosures magazine.