The Seasonality of Search… and Taxes

The saying goes, there’s only two things inevitable in life: death and taxes. The difference between the two, however, is that death has no “season.” It can happen anytime, without warning, and is very often unexpected. For taxes, on the other hand, we have a lot of notice. We know the deadline is the same every year, so why do so many of us wait until the last second to get it done? Simply put, it’s a chore. And, many of us are daunted by the paperwork and the pressure to maximize our refund — not to mention keeping the government off our backs.

If you’re in the United States, you’ve already survived the dreaded tax season. If you’re Canadian, you ideally completed your filing, or (like me!) kept putting it off and now find yourself a couple days away from the April 30th deadline with that pesky, yet inevitable, task yet to be completed.

Capitalizing on the dislike, distaste, or blatant disgust for preparing our taxes, businesses have capitalized on an opportunity to exploit the tax un-savvy among us by offering the latest and greatest in tax software, tax preparation services, and tax consulting.

On the commute home the other day, I noticed in many a store front scrawled in neon lettering or written on make-shift signs advertising what I’d deem as fly-by night businesses that seemed to have set up shop just for the tax season. You know what I’m talking about — those self-proclaimed tax experts guaranteeing you a quicker and better return that you could procure yourself. With all of these seasonal brick-and-mortar businesses popping up, it got me thinking about whether the same phenomenon happens online.

My hypothesis was that there would likely be a substantial increase in both the level of searching and the competition for keywords related to this area. We all know that these –much like many other businesses — are very seasonal in nature.

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My hypothesis was confirmed by Google Trends, which showed a distinct rise in searches related to taxes in the first three months of 2007 compared to later on in the year.

I was interested to learn which types of sites make it to the top in the search engines and capture the majority of click throughs in the search listings. Is it the established and respected enterprise accounting firms like the Deloitte & Touches of the world that are benefiting from increased search traffic, or is it those same fly by night businesses I saw advertised in rent-by-the-month office spaces on my commute home?

Using terms like “taxes,” “tax return,” “tax help,” and “tax prep,” I checked out which sites were coming near the top of both organic and paid search listings.

As the sample search engine results page (SERP) illustrates, below, for “tax return,” there’s definitely a lot of competition in this category. The most prominent site in the organic searches is — not surprisingly — the IRS. H&R Block is the first non-government organic listing, and Intuit (TurboTax) appears prominently in both the organic and paid search results. Finally, a variety of other little known Web sites such as,, and make up the remainder of the paid search listings.

SERP for “Tax Return”

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However, does the level of traffic going to these sites correlate with their top page listing? We can find out which sites are receiving the majority of clicks from searches in this category using tools such as comScore Marketer, which I discussed in the column, “A New, Improved Search Marketing Tool.”

Top Destinations Sites Landed on by Category Searchers

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ComScore data illustrates that many of the sites with key search positioning in the sample search we performed, indeed receive more of the search click throughs.

The IRS monopolizes the click traffic on the tax-related terms I looked at. And not surprisingly based on the SERP we saw, the vast majority of its traffic is coming from organic listings. However, even though H&R Block seemed to have strong search positioning and didn’t appear in the paid listing in that particular search, it appeared to generate mainly paid clicks. Intuit, with its presence in both paid and organic listings, appears as the No. 5 destination, with the vast majority of its traffic coming from its paid listings. Finally, was the No. 4 destination, which we didn’t see at all in the search we performed, but obviously was investing in paid search activities.

This quick glance at the inner workings of the tax category shows a couple of things:

  • The volume of category searching (not surprisingly) aligns directly with the typical tax season (e.g., February-April).

  • As far as competitive categories go, “taxes” is pretty high up there and getting near the top in the results is likely an expensive endeavor.
  • Well-known tax preparation services and software providers appear to dominate this category (e.g., H&R Block, Intuit).
  • No matter how hard you try, you’ll never usurp the IRS for top positioning
  • Just because you are a “little guy,” it doesn’t mean you can’t get top positioning. You just have to be willing to pay for it.

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