Do People Use Search Engines to Find CPAs?

By Kristi Stangeland

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MAY 2007 - How long does it take to convert a prospect into a paying client? What does that conversion process cost? What is the lifetime value of a typical client? These are tough questions, but they need to be asked—and answered.

When most accounting firms process information like this in deciding whether to create a website, another frequently asked question is: “Are people really using search engines to find CPAs?” The answer is: “Yes, but.” Searching for the terms “CPA” and “accountant” on websites such as Google and Yahoo will show that people do in fact use search engines to research these terms. According to one source, “CPA” gets just under 500 searches a day, while “accountant” gets about 700 searches. But those are pretty generic terms.

A CPA is unlikely to be found by a prospect who simply enters “CPA” into Google. The best prospects for a local firm to target will type something to the effect of “CPA New York City” or “New York City CPA.” Local terms get lower search counts than more generic terms. While people are searching for these key phrases, they are doing so in smaller volumes indicative of their specific interest. Furthermore, the results will dramatically change depending on which city is attached to the term “CPA.”

Here are several examples of monthly search totals reported by a very basic keyword research tool from Overture/Yahoo. Keep in mind that search counts can vary almost daily, so numbers given today will increase and decrease over time.

  • Denver CPA: 647
  • New York CPA: 563
  • San Diego CPA: 242
  • Dallas CPA: 180
  • Los Angeles CPA: 171
  • Boston CPA: 102
  • San Francisco CPA: 100
  • Chicago CPA: 76

Conversion Costs

Some number-crunching will help answer how long it takes to convert a prospect into a paying client and what that conversion process costs. CPAs who use lead-generation methods such as presenting keynote speeches at chamber of commerce breakfasts, or socializing at networking events, spend a good deal of time away from the office on nonbillable tasks.

Consider the following example: Driving to the event, attending the event, and returning to the office (or home) takes three hours. Sorting through business cards and placing follow-up phone calls takes roughly one hour per lead. For a CPA who received five business cards, the total is eight hours. After weeding out unlikely prospects and meeting with the prime candidates, the CPA has spent another hour and a half per lead. So far, a conservative estimate of nonbillable time is 15.5 hours, and the CPA has yet to actually sign a new client. Some more wining, dining, and persuading of one particular lead is required, but two office visits, one dinner, and six hours later, the CPA scores, with a total of 21.5 hours to land one new client. If the CPA charges $100 per hour for her time, that’s $2,150.

Another question was the lifetime value of the typical client. Whatever that is, the CPA will need to subtract the $2,150 to compensate for the time spent acquiring the client.

On the other hand, let’s say that the term “[Your Town] CPA” gets only 10 searches a month on average. If a hypothetical CPA’s website is optimized for the search engines, it can come up on the first page of Google and Yahoo. Five of the 10 people who search click through to our hypothetical CPA’s website to read more about her practice. After clicking from page to page, all five people decide they want more information. Using the website’s automated system, they request an electronic informational packet, which is sent within seconds to each prospect’s inbox.

A day or so later, the prospects phone the CPA. After approximately 20 minutes on the phone (under two hours total), they all schedule in-person appointments over the coming week. Why just 20 minutes, not an hour? Because they’ve spent time on the CPA’s website and already know a great deal about the firm and its services.

Based on the estimates above, this CPA saved 15.5 hours in nonbillable time, and has the same number of leads as with traditional techniques. Thanks to the CPA’s website, $1,550 can be taken off the cost of conversion. The example above now picks up with the traditional office visits, wining and dining, and completion of the conversion process.

A CPA firm should not dismiss Internet searches as irrelevant just because of the small volume of focused searches that would lead to its website. Because a website is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it can serve as an inexpensive, ongoing lead-generation tool that can save a firm a great deal of money in the long term.

Kristi Stangeland, CPA, is the author of Effective Websites for CPAs: Grow Your Practice and Profits (RJ Thompson Publishing Co., 2006). Stangeland can be contacted at 914-478-8480 or online at





















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