When you visit most accounting firm websites, you see poorly designed pages that offer no valuable content. They don’t address clients’ needs, they don’t encourage interaction and fail to drive users deeper into the site. Plus, no Game of Thrones recaps.
In short, most accounting firm websites suck. And as a staff member, new partner or intern you may not only be cringing every time you look at it, but also wondering how this pile of suckage come to be.
Cookie Cutter Websites
The answer often leads back to one of the many out-of-the-box website companies that allow a firm to create a web presence in 3 easy steps. Basically an infomercial on late-night television.
These services allow a firm to make a few design modifications to an existing template and immediately launch a website. Most services even allow a firm to select from a catalog of pre-written content that explains service offerings and industry expertise. The result is almost always a generic site that doesn’t say much of anything, let alone drive activity, value or entice prospects.
The message that this type of site sends to prospects, clients and prospective recruits is: “We don’t understand the value of the web and we don’t really care. Not exactly the best message for any firm.
Now, you might be thinking that your firm is either too large, already has people for this or you simply don’t have the time to get involved. Well, you won’t know for sure until you ask, will you?
Consider approaching a marketing director/manager or a partner involved in marketing and express your interest. Most firms would love to have a staff member express an interest in marketing –- it’s a rare occurrence indeed — and, believe it or not, they need your knowledge.
Use that opportunity to open a discussion about the site strategy and offer practical ways you can help within your time constraints. Be sincere, supportive and specific. Everything you know about accounting can make marketing people's jobs much easier. Changing site takes time but it’s a rewarding experience that can benefit your career in the long run by differentiating you from the rest of your peers.
Alright, smart guy, how do we improve?
If your firm’s website indeed sucks, then don’t worry, it’s not hopeless and you are not alone. The sheer number of turnkey accounting website services means you have plenty of company. Improvement does take time, dedication and resources so here is a list of steps to get you started:
Strategy –- Gone are the days when sites are used as online brochures. If the firm has a turnkey site it’s almost a guarantee that there is no website strategy. So consider the highest and best use of the website based on your firm and its resources. For example, some use their website to showcase thought leadership, others to attract talent and some to simply enhance their position as industry experts. Clearly define what you want to accomplish and how the website can facilitate that by answering a couple of key questions: What is the purpose of the website? How can it be used to support the firm?
Design –- This might sound weird because of everything I’ve already written, but most accounting firm websites have an adequate design. Generally speaking, prospects don’t care whether a firm’s website has a site has a fancy design. Sure, a Mercedes is nicer than a Yugo, but if the Mercedes doesn’t start then what's the point?
Honestly assess the design of your firm's site and determine whether there is a need to address potential issues. If the site is so poorly designed that it’s a distraction, then it’s important to address it pretty quickly. However, in some cases (and depending on budget) the highest and best use of your time is to simply focus on other ways to improve the site and come back to design later.
Content — This is the most important part of a website. Many don’t realize that content is the actual product that your website offers. That’s why using template content is so ridiculous. It ensures the site has little to offer.
Think about your favorite website and ask yourself why you visit; the answer is you like what they offer. Accounting firms need to understand this and offer something of value. Most firms I work with say, “We are accountants, not authors,” and that they don’t have the time or inclination to create content. While this may be true of most partners, more often than not there are staff or managers with the skill and inclination to do so. If this is you, develop content on specific service or industry areas. Write about the most commonly asked client questions or industry updates with your own flair. Write a spirited rebuttal to some tripe you read on Going Concern. Adding focused and targeted content will generate the desired results and people will notice.
Analytics –- Make sure to install analytics software to track website performance metrics such as total site visitors, time on site, pageviews and bounce rate. These are essential to determining if what you are doing is working. Your pals in marketing will be the primary users of these analytics, but if you're creating content, you'll want to track the progress (or lack thereof). Google and Bing offer free analytics software so all you need to do is install it and let the magic happen.
Or just tell people you firm doesn't have a website at all. That’s almost less embarrassing than something that looks like a GeoCities site.
Brian Swanson is a partner at FlashPoint Marketing, a website design and inbound marketing firm that specializes in serving the accounting profession.