The new internet domain that is exclusive to the CPA profession is sparking major concerns and questions among firm members responsible for operations, IT, marketing and branding.
The AICPA and its tech subsidiary, CPA.com, launched a new restricted .cpa internet domain in September that adds a layer of security that .com domains do not have. However, marketers and others are concerned that migrating to a new domain will hurt search engine optimization (SEO) and branding efforts, while adding significant costs to firm operations.
Many firms have invested heavily in SEO over the years – using their .com domains – to gain high Google search rankings. Part of the Google formula for search results takes into consideration how long the firm’s domain has been in use. The higher the search ranking, the higher the number of clicks and therefore website traffic, leads and the possibility of new business.
The AICPA says that SEO is an important consideration, but in its list of FAQs it contends that the benefits of an exclusive, more secure domain outweigh those concerns and is an effective strategy in the long term.
But the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), citing “unclear guidance and changing policies, specifically around usage requirements and impact on SEO,” announced it would work with the AICPA to provide more guidance. AAM board members met with AICPA representatives Oct. 1.
“We had a really good conversation,” says AAM president Becca Johns. “The biggest outcome of it that I’m really excited about is the discussion on how we can partner on things like this going forward.” One suggestion at the meeting was for AICPA/CPA.com to provide a cost-benefit analysis of switching to the new domain.
Since the initial application deadline is Oct. 31, firm marketers feel the need to act quickly.
AAM is scheduling a webinar with the AICPA to answer members’ questions, tentatively for the week of Oct. 12, Johns says. Members will be asked to send questions ahead of the webinar, which will include a short presentation by AICPA. “It’s really important for firms to understand the marketing component of this, and AAM plays an important role in that education piece,” she says.
AAM members meanwhile, are flooding discussion boards with questions, not just about damaging SEO and losing the credibility of their primary website domains, but the potential branding hit of the change (although .cpa could be a branding opportunity, according to the AICPA), and the “IT nightmare” of creating new email addresses. All marketing materials, business cards, flyers, letterhead, etc. would also have to change. Depending on the size of the firm, such changes could be quite costly.
Only licensed CPA firms can apply before the initial application period ends Oct. 31. During this period, firms can acquire a .cpa domain (at $225 per year) using their existing .com name so it is most like their current digital brand. Afterward, firms can apply for any available .cpa name on a first-come, first-served basis.
The AICPA says that more than half of the 100 biggest U.S. firms – and an equally large percentage of the next 400 – have begun the application process.
It is not possible to buy the domain and “park it” to prevent someone else from buying it. The requirements are strict. Within one month of being issued a .cpa domain, it must direct to the current .com website. (Marketers say that even with the redirects, SEO could be hurt.) Within one year, it must be used as an “active firm-branded website;” that is, with firm logo and name prominently displayed. Firm email addresses must also be changed within one year. The AICPA recommends redirecting the .com website to the new .cpa site indefinitely.
Firms can wait until Jan. 15 or later to register, when there are no usage requirements, but the risk is that the domain they’d like may no longer be available.
Johns, who is practice growth director for New Philadelphia, Ohio-based Rea & Associates, is working with her CIO, COO and other leaders at the firm to examine every possible angle to decide the best course of action, and she advises other accounting firm marketers to do the same. Do your homework, she says, and consider the multiple decision points involving IT, security, marketing, branding and more.
To learn more about .cpa, visit domains.cpa.