H&R Block revamps digital newsroom, boosts traffic

Its new design supports a brand journalism strategy as journalists quote company experts and customers seek information on tax questions.

Let’s say your hubby’s in the hoosegow after an unsuccessful stickup of a corner market, and you’re trying to figure out how to file your taxes.

Naturally, you turn to Google for information. Perhaps to your surprise, H&R Block has anticipated your problem with an article titled “Filing Taxes When A Loved One Is In Prison.”

As tax season arrives, H&R Block is using its newsroom to publish content that establishes its expertise and draws both reporters and consumers. Rather than a static collection of press releases, H&R Block’s newsroom is luring potential customers and getting quotes from its experts into major publications.

“What we want to do is deliver relevant and timely content not just to the media but to consumers as well,” says Gene King, director of corporate communications.

The tax preparer’s newsroom is designed on software from PressPage, a Ragan partner. The design encourages sharing and is responsive to devices beyond the laptop, such as tablets and smartphones. PressPage enables communicators to easily share and upload posts, rather than relying on IT.

Free download: 11 Essentials for a Stellar Online Newsroom

Traffic boost

Using the software and its brand journalism strategy, H&R Block has seen a boost in traffic to the site. In January this year, overall sessions were up 12.35 percent compared with the same month in 2015, King says. All engagement numbers have increased, among them sessions, page views and time spent on the site.

Recent H&R Block articles include a “Monday Mishap” column offering advice on what to do if you accidentally prepared your tax return with your last pay stub rather than a W-2. There’s a questionnaire to help you determine whether you are at risk for identity theft, along with some good advice for avoiding such scams.

Among the risky behaviors are not only the rather obvious one of giving out your Social Security number over the phone, but also waiting until the deadline to file your income taxes. Procrastinators, beware: The first return in your name is assumed to be the accurate one, and you get the fun of fighting the IRS to reverse the fraudulent return.

“We know that consumers are coming to H&R Block because they need information about taxes and tax tips,” King says. “So we have that content readily available for them as well.”

As for the 14 cents an hour your husband accumulated producing license plates in the state pen, “The inmate’s income earned while incarcerated does not qualify as earned income for the Child Tax Credit,” H&R Block reports.

Lavish coverage of its money giveaway

H&R Block has also written about its promotional giveaway of $1,000 each to 1,000 customers every day for 32 days. This in turn has scored a string of articles in the winners’ hometown newspapers and segments on TV stations. Meanwhile, the tax preparer blogged about preparing your taxes if you win $1,000.

One H&R Block article was written by Mike Slack of The Tax Institute at H&R Block, which the company defines as a place “where credentialed tax experts use their knowledge and experience to benefit our clients, tax professionals and journalists.” This offers a source for reporters when they seek expertise for articles leading up to April 18 filing deadline.

A recent NBC News story cited an H&R Block vice president of regulatory affairs who has also been featured on the company website.

The newsroom is also designed to be easily accessible on mobile devices. “We know our content is being viewed regularly and often on any device from anywhere,” King says.

If the H&R Block newsroom is more like a publication than a repository of press releases, that’s intentional. The company designed the site to break down topic areas into those similar to a news site, such as breaking news, corporate news, features and the blog page.

The goal is to provide timely, relevant content that taxpayers are eager to read and learn about.

“We know that consumers are coming to HRB because they need information about taxes and tax tips,” King says, “so we have that content readily available for them as well.”

Last fall it took a journalistic approach to covering its franchisee convention.

“We really played that like a real news organization would,” King says. “We wrote the story. We developed the story. We interviewed, and we actually did video on site moments after the winners were announced. Real time. Very relevant. And we looked at ourselves as our own news organization delivering news.”



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