What would your CPA firm do to stand out online? Maybe increase your social media presence, up your online advertising budget, or focus your website on quality content? Check, check, and check. How about a new domain?
Starting July 1, 2020 CPA firms could apply for a new .cpa web domain through the AICPA and ICANN, the organization that coordinates IP addresses and domain names. It took about seven years for AICPA to get approval to do this, and the roll-out of the new .cpa domain is finally here.
Having a restricted domain lets internet users know that they can expect a certain level of trust from the website and that the content it publishes is verifiable. There are already custom domain names for governments, educational institutions, and non-profits. More recently, large companies like Amazon and Google have their own domains, too (.aws and .app) and industries like banking, realty, and pharmacy already have their own restricted domains.
An example from the AICPA’s press release goes like this:
The new domain extension will be available to CPAs and their firms and will signal a clear connection to the profession. For example, Firm Name, LLC, could have a website address of www.firmname.cpa. Jane Smith, an employee at that firm, could have an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the problems with .com addresses is that anyone can register a URL and buy a name. Domain owners don’t have to reveal their identity or verify they’re the true owners of a domain name. Because it’s so easy to register a domain name, it’s also just as easy to be a victim of online fraud. According to cpa.com, out of the more than 140 million registered domain names, about 40 percent are known phishing sites.
Switching to a .cpa domain should come with better security and data protection. CPA firms can be popular targets for phishing scams and DNS attacks because of the amount of personal financial data they maintain with tax records. Moving from a general .com address to a restricted .cpa domain makes it harder for fraudsters to imitate the firm’s online identity. An easy example of how this would work is that scammers could register a common misspelling of the firm’s name. Anytime someone types in that incorrect spelling, they would be redirected to a spoofed site instead of the actual firm’s homepage.
It’s also being touted as a brand differentiator and a way to help the firm get found online easier.
Though the importance of branding is easy to understand, it’s unclear at this point how a .cpa domain would help a firm get found easier online except that the restricted domain is more relevant than the generic .com address. One theory is that users who are searching for CPA and accounting services could get preference in Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page), meaning their site could have higher rankings. This is pure conjecture at this point and our own observation, not something we saw in any AICPA source.
SEO is another consideration. Established domains could potentially lose out on their built-up page rankings in Google’s search results when switching to .cpa. Firms that undergo website redesigns already know that in the months afterward, search traffic tends to drop as Google indexes the new pages. However, if a firm is planning a major website overhaul anyway, that could be a good opportunity to switch to .cpa.
Getting a .cpa domain name
As of July 1, 2020 licensed CPA firms and solo practitioners can apply for their own custom .cpa domain name through the AICPA. There is a verification process and costs will vary. At the time of this writing, we couldn’t see current pricing on the cpa.com website, but they did mention that pricing can change over time and shorter or in-demand domain names will cost more to register. Domain names are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Domains.cpa has more information and FAQs for firms that want to pursue this or learn more.
CPA firms that decide they want this new, restricted URL should still keep their existing .com address registered and active, at least for awhile. In the short-term, one approach is to buy the .cpa address, add it to all firm collateral and branding, but redirect traffic to the .com address. A gradual shift can help clients get used to the new address. It’s also still a good idea to buy any .com variation of the firm name, including common misspellings, so scammers aren’t able to.
There will still be firms that won’t want the hassle of paying for an additional URL, and that’s fine – for now. Expect, though, as the profession continues to innovate and evolve, that clients will want more from their CPA firms. That includes more assurances for data security. Firms should find out more about the .cpa domain and what benefits would be available to them, and then evaluate if a shift to a new domain makes sense.
If you have questions about online branding and digital marketing, reach out to us anytime.