Feb 27, 2001
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CPA Online is a matchmaking service helping businesses seeking accounting-related systems figure out which ones are right for their specific needs. A family-owned company, CPA Online didn't have millions to spend marketing itself as a destination site. So they needed to find a cost-effective way to get targeted traffic.
Also, as President Mike Budiac says, "Picking an accounting system is not something you do frequently. It's not like a firm is going to be using us once a week or once a month. If things go right they may only use us every five years." So CPA Online needed a way to make sure accountants and CFOs who visited the site, remembered it and returned when the time was right for them to use its services months or years later.
Budiac knew the best way to keep his services front-of-mind with the executives who visited the site was to keep in communication with them. First he tested launching an email discussion group which accountants could join to discuss their interests and problems communally. Budiac says, "I was thinking of how popular these groups are for marketing pros. However, accountants are more reserved. We tested it and just didn't get a lot of response back."
So Budiac quickly changed tactics, "We decided we'll just talk to them instead. We switched focus and launched an email newsletter InSITE Direct." Each weekly issue is just 800-1200 words long and contains just a single article. Articles are not sales pieces for the site itself, but rather information that CPAs might find useful on how they can use technology to improve profits or create efficiencies. Each article is prefaced with a brief author introduction, plus a request for readers to suggest topics for future issues. Budiac says, "We get 30-50 responses with some sort of a reaction to an article or feedback." Articles are written by CPA Online staff and also contributed by vendors in the field.
CPA Online gathers email opt-ins by putting a free offer on its site navigation bar, as well as adding an opt-in box at the end of project request forms visitors fill out.
In order to get visitors to think of CPA Online as a site they should visit frequently, Budiac also added daily news summaries to the home page. He says, "Once or twice a day we go to sites we've found that have the types of articles our visitors like. We just add a short summary and a link to each on our site." Budiac constantly refines his choice of articles by noting which ones are the most popular, "We keep track of the number of people who click on each article, so we can get a feeling for the type of articles they like. Certainly any article that talks about larger accounting software players always seems to have a good number of readers." These article summaries have proven so popular with accountants, that CPA Online now offers a free Palm edition.
CPA Online also uses its content in two clever ways to get higher search engine rankings -- which lead to higher traffic. First of all, past InSITE issues are posted permanently on the site as static HTML pages (as opposed to dynamically generated ones that are less acceptable to search engines.) Also CPA Online offers all visitors the chance to carry its content on their own Web sites for free via its "NewsWatch" applet developed by Webmaster Dan Budiac. This CPA Online-branded box contains the latest CPA Online headlines, stock quotes and a search tool.
CPA Online's site consistently receives about 50,000 visitors a month, resulting in more than two hundred project requests per month with an average project budget of $43,051. Since launching in February 1999, the site's generated more than $163 million in detailed project requests from qualified CPAs and company accountants throughout North America.
About 9,000 CPA and CFOs subscribe to the InSITE newsletter. Budiac says, "Site visitors generally rise 10-15% for three days after an issue goes out." Approximately 80% of subscribers have come from the opt-in box at the end of the site's project request form.
Currently more than 150 related sites link to CPA Online, including Works.com and Hot Accounting Links.
NOTE: In addition to communicating well with possible clients, CPA Online also keeps its reseller partners happy with an extensive online communication program, including a regular opt-in newsletter.
Budiac also notes, "We email our partners the project details, but we can also at their option send a message to their WAP enabled phone or pager. So, they don't have to be chained to their email. Not only can they receive notification by phone, but they can accept the project from their phone. One of our partners recently notified of a project was able to accept it from his plane seat over the US."