For many firms, the Web site is your client's first introduction to you. Is it possible that information on your Web site is out of date or that the material has not been changed for months? Does your Web site have the look of a static site that is just a placeholder online, a location where users can find your address and phone number and little more?
Client relationship manager Richard Sergeant from one of our UK sister companies, PracticeWEB, recently spent an afternoon with a partner who wanted help in getting his whole firm to think about its own Web site, and make sure that the right people were engaged at the right level in terms of strategy, implementation, and basic maintenance - such as keeping the content up-to-date and so on.
What actually happened is that Sergeant and his client ended up putting together a simple and coherent plan that means the firm's Web site would always be always up-to-date. Essentially the plan rests on creating a series of audits (appropriately enough), agreeing when they should be done and by whom. The end-product is an Internet presence that is consistently put together and gives the impression the firm is well and truly on top of its site.
The first, basic Web site audit will take no more than 10 minutes (less, probably) and covers all the absolute essentials. The second asks you to be slightly more reflective and will take a little more time, although certainly not more than an hour, and is designed to be more business focused. The third is the advanced stuff!
Time: 10 minutes
Frequency: Every two months
Who's involved: Administrative staff
Aim: To prevent yourselves from looking incompetent
- Logo – is it the most up to date?
- Does it tell people who you are, where you are, how you can help?
- Are the services listed correct and current?
- Are the sectors listed and up to date?
- Are the partner and/or staff details correct?
- Does it have an out of date year next to the copyright in the footer?
- Is the institute logo the most up to date?
- Are your contact details displayed and are they correct?
- Are all your offices mentioned?
- Are there glaringly obvious errors such as "Download the 2007 budget report"?
Now most of this you should be able to update yourself quickly and easily, and if not, you should be able to pass your request through to whomever looks after your site and get them to take care of it ASAP.
Time: One hour
Frequency: Six months
Who's involved: Partner/anyone responsible for marketing
Aim: To prevent yourselves from looking unprofessional
- If you are displaying any technical content, such as tax rates, is it all up to date?
- Does your Web site contain links to other helpful sites your clients may be interested in, such as IRS.gov, for example?
- Are the links your site currently features useful and active?
- Are the staff photos professional images or passport booth mug-shots? (If the latter - time for an update)
- Is your site sufficiently focused on the objectives of the firm, such as telling users about new or expanded services?
- Does your site actually have a focus? What is it?
- Are you creating clear pathways from your home page? Are you signposting users to where YOU want them to go, or leaving them to click around randomly?
- Are you creating the most satisfying experience for users – e.g. clear navigation and linking through to valuable content?
- Is there a call to action on each page?
- How well do you think the site represents you and your business?
- How well is the site performing in the search engines?
Now we are looking at real detail. You have already ensured there aren't any complete howlers left on-site, and now you're doing what you can to protect the image you put out to prospects, clients, referrals, and potential staff. It's a tuning exercise that gets your Web site working effectively as a valuable user-resource and an effective business development tool for your firm. However, this audit does require a specific person to take a higher level of responsibility for safe-guarding your shop window to the world.
Some of the feedback from this process should be used to make immediate changes, although some issues should be escalated first. Other things could just be recorded and brought up with a wider number of people at a later date. It pays to keep a note of everything done at this stage if you want to get the most out of the next level – the advanced audit.
Time: How long have you got?
Who's involved: As with Intermediate but ending in a presentation to all partners
Aim: To understand, from the top down, what you are and are not doing
- How do you know your site is delivering value for you?
- Overall, is the site consistent with the image you have of yourselves as a firm?
- Does the site reflect the ambitions of the firm for the next two years plus?
- How well does your design stack up? In all honesty, designs need to be refreshed far more often than people admit. How does your design compare to some of the others out there?
- Is the style and tone of the content consistent with your target markets?
- Are you creating compelling sales propositions?
- Are you demonstrating effectively your range of capabilities and depth of experience?
- How are you monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of your Web presence?
- How well is the site integrated with your other marketing activities?
- Are you talking to all your target markets?
- What else should your site be doing for you?
- What budget will you allocate to developing the site this year?
Some of this can be pretty meaty and often the discussion become quite political, but it is possible to take a fairly objective stance.
By having a regular process in place it is often easier for those who understand the importance of a firm's Web site to demonstrate that site's value to others. It also shows the site is maintained and that someone (namely you, in all likelihood) is taking care of it, while generating a lot of useful input from colleagues.
It can also be a good idea to obtain some outside opinion, either to help prepare for your partner-level presentation/discussion, or to act as an invited participant in it.
This is by far and away the most tricky bit, not least because of the often quite political tangents the process can take. But nevertheless, it IS possible to present an assessment of your Web site that not only helps others understand its importance, but also empowers people to make informed and strategic decisions about it.
Richard Sergeant is client relationship manager at PracticeWEB. PracticeWEB builds and runs bespoke content driven Web sites for UK accountants in practice. It also offers independent consultancy services and advice on how to get the best out of your online presence.