Earning the Returns: Battle of Local Tax Services
Tax season has arrived again, and with it a desperate need for someone, anyone, who knows what to do with all these numbers. Form H, line 36? Millions of Americans try to sort it out by filing taxes online, but that can open a wider margin for error and sometimes can’t answer specific questions. Who will double-check credits and deductions?
Tax service providers compete for customers by carefully placing franchise locations, targeted advertising, and (hopefully) generating repeat customers with top-notch service. But as Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
It’s not enough to unlock the doors in the first quarter of the year — tax service companies must work hard to attract new customers and keep previous ones coming back. The Google Trend graph below shows exponential growth of online searches for both brands as January ends — marking the start the tax return filing season. In this month’s Brand Battle, tax service providers Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax compete head to head on local presence using their local offerings. With a final Brand Score of 640, Liberty just barely beat Jackson Hewitt’s score of 636.
Graph via Google Trends
Too many unclaimed local pages show how little attention these brands are paying to their local customers. A few updates could bring a much bigger return!
Battle round: Data Quality – Lost in the chaos.
A brand’s data quality is often one of the most important factors in its local strategy, and tax preparation companies Jackson Hewitt and Liberty both fumble pitifully to gain traction in this area. Liberty won by only one point overall, with slightly better NAP (name, address, phone number) data, but with 22% of its locations not claimed across all online channels, this brand has lots of work to do. Jackson Hewitt left only 13% of its locations unclaimed, but an online search revealed that twice as many of the company’s locations were “not found”: 44% missing locations vs. 23% missing for Liberty. On Facebook, 83% of Jackson Hewitt’s locations were not claimed, while Liberty took more initiative leaving only 37% unclaimed. Both brands are leaving a huge online hole by not claiming Yelp locations — more than 80% of both brands’ locations are not found on Yelp. Winner: Liberty
Battle round: Local SEO – Keywords bring customers.
Liberty gained slight ground over Jackson Hewitt in the local SEO battle round, setting the pace for victory with its success in a keyword search for the term “tax services near me”. This search positioned 75% of Liberty locations in the first, second, or third result listing — a success for a brand with 22% of its total locations missing completely. Jackson Hewitt put up a fight and came in close behind, with 65% of its locations listed in the same positions.
Liberty also beat out its competitor in all four sections of the local SEO battle round, for its website, online locator, local webpages, and page rank. Liberty’s geo-responsive mobile locator was a winner in this battle round — the locator automatically detects user locations on mobile devices, helping the brand edge ahead of its competition.
When combining the average search results for keyword terms “tax services near me”, “file taxes”, and “tax return”, Liberty locations popped up 42% of the time as the first result on Google and Bing, versus 30% of Jackson Hewitt locations. The below search results flaunt Liberty’s commitment to promoting and optimizing its organic search traffic, which is undoubtedly pricey.
Battle round: Reviews – Close to equal bad and good.
Taxes are never fun to do, and what drives customers to brands like Jackson Hewitt and Liberty is their accessibility in relieving people of the displeasure. This is why measuring customer sentiment is crucial for both of these brands. For every positive comment for Jackson Hewitt, there is a negative comment, and Liberty did only slightly better. Customer reviews of Jackson Hewitt service show the unfortunate negative sentiment, while Liberty received two positive comments for every negative comment.
Almost 60% of Liberty reviews received star ratings of 4 and 5 stars, while Jackson Hewitt reviews received 55% with 4 and 5 stars. For overall sentiment, Liberty had 37% negative and 62% positive sentiment, whereas Jackson Hewitt gathered 47% negative and 52% positive sentiment. Winner: Liberty
Battle round: Local Ads – Spend money to make money.
The local ads battle round took a shocking turn when research data service SEMrush revealed that Liberty does not spend any money on online advertising — a mistake that essentially handed the local advertising round to Jackson Hewitt with no contest. Jackson Hewitt spends more than $13,000 per month on its search ad campaigns, using generic and simple keywords such as “file taxes online”, “free online tax filing”, and “how to file taxes”. A standard search for “tax service” returns a Jackson Hewitt ad with a link to locate a nearby office:
On an average, 68% of search keywords for Jackson Hewitt ranked in the first, second, or third position on the search engine results page. Jackson Hewitt’s total pay-per-click keywords for both desktop and mobile were close to 750, generating monthly traffic of more than 5,500 users. Winner: Jackson Hewitt
Battle round: Engagement – Customers are searching social.
Jackson Hewitt has more followers on social media, boosting its engagement and amplification rates 22% higher than Liberty’s for corporate pages across all social media. For local social media, Jackson Hewitt also beats out Liberty with 52% more local engagement, but neither brand is using Instagram successfully. To secure its win in this engagement battle round, Jackson Hewitt has connected its Foursquare with a verified Twitter profile, helping raise its local-social awareness and connect corporate to customers who engage with business locations on social media.. Winner: Jackson Hewitt
Brandify Recommendations: Jackson Hewitt
Spring’s Brand Battle was the closest one yet with Jackson Hewitt just barely losing by four points overall, at 636 to 640 points with the company’s’ final brand scores. Local advertising and SEO strategies called the winner this month, and Jackson Hewitt would have a better chance of overtaking its competition with more focus in those areas.
- MONETIZE LOCAL PAGES. Jackson Hewitt should claim its location profile pages across all online channels and especially on Facebook and Yelp, to make sure customers find the company brand no matter where they are searching.
- CHARGE FORWARD ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Jackson Hewitt can reach more customers by responding to tax-related hashtags and comments and focusing on localization on Twitter and Instagram.
- REVITALIZE REVIEWS. Plain and simple, Jackson Hewitt is going to need to go back to the drawing board to internalize a way to develop a positive customer experience for local clients. This is the only way Jackson Hewitt can fully revitalize reviews and raise sentiment ratings on Google, Yelp, and Bing.
- INVEST IN MOBILE ADS. Potential customers are increasingly accessing local businesses on mobile devices. To separate itself in advertising, Jackson Hewitt should target mobile customers by focusing on mobile advertising, reaching a wider audience and complementing its current campaigns.
Brandify Recommendations: Liberty
Although Liberty won the Spring Brand Battle, a few small strategy tweaks by competitors could leave the brand in the dust.
- CASH IN ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Liberty should try to have its Twitter profile verified and actively track customer engagement on social media to identify local opportunities for improvement, which will help create a more reputable brand image.
- GO FOR GOLD WITH LOCAL PAGES. Liberty has more than 80% of its locations left unclaimed on Yelp, and could also benefit from claiming local Facebook pages to allow customers more opportunities to engage.
- INCREASE LOCAL AD FUNDING. Liberty should invest in online advertisements for mobile and desktop to help gain more customers who are currently going to the competition.
Spring Brand Battle Winner: Liberty
The battle was scored using Brandify’s Social Data Matching (SDM) technology with data from various channels,* including Google, Bing, Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare. Data was entered into the Brandify analytics engine to test the two companies’ local digital marketing footprint to determine a final Brand Score for each. The Brand Score is calculated with an algorithm consisting of more than 250 variables over 5 core location-based areas: Data Quality, Local SEO, Reviews, Social Engagement, and Local Advertising.
Street Fight and Brandify will publish a new Brand Battle each month.
*Other channels sources included in this analysis: Yellow Pages, MerchantCircle, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.
Brandify is transforming the way businesses connect to consumers by leveraging location technology and offering unrivaled personal service. Brandify has helped hundreds of brands understand and improve their local presence. Current and past clients include True Value, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Applebee’s, Black & Decker, and more. For more information about Brandify, go to brandify.com.