Common Faults With Accounting Firms' Web Sites
By Steve McIntyre-Smith Ph.D, President, MarketingForAccountants.com
There are many, many reasons why so many Web sites fail to achieve results. Here are some of the top problems found in our work with accounting firms the world over.
- Beauty and the beast. Having a beautiful looking web site is not why people buy from you. Think for a moment. Why do you go onto the web? For information. We surf to find answers to questions, to find something that will help improve our firm and give us a competitive edge.
The best-looking sites are often not the best sites! Your web site can be a downright ugly one, but if it has "killer" content that your prospects just have to have, guess what? Visitors will usually forgive you. They will appreciate you spending your budget on content. Call it substance over style.
The lesson learned here? Always spend more time/money/resources on content rather than a fancy looking design.
- Not tuned-in to W.W.I.fm. This is the world’s most popular radio station, only in this case, it’s not a radio station. W.W.I.fm stands for WHAT’s IN IT FOR ME. Or in this case, from your own viewpoint, WHAT’s IN IT FOR THEM.
Visitors don’t give a damn about how long your firm has been in business, who your clients are, how well qualified you guys are to meet their needs (this all comes later, much later).
People visit your site because they have a problem that their present adviser may not be satisfying them on, and they want to know if you have the answer.
Starting your site off with pages about we, us, me, me, me will not impress.
Instead, you need to show empathy and understanding, demonstrate your expertise, maybe give away some free advice and tips and show the visitor that your firm has the solution they seek, and, in fact, is the ONLY firm for them.
- Hiding your contact details. Once people have decided that they want to take matters further, you have to make it easy for them to contact you.
Have your contact details on every page. Have lots of options for them – telephone, fax, e-mail, or drop-by your offices (include a map and directions).
Make it easy for them to e-mail you – have plenty of clickable images that will start up their e-mail and send you a message. This is easy to do and shows the visitor that you really do want to hear from them.
- Make it absolutely clear what you want the visitor to do next. If you want them to telephone you, tell them. If you want them to download a free report on their problem, make it easy for them to do just that.
Too many websites are so confusing that people just give up, move on and never return.
- Lost sight of the original purpose. You have (or need) a web site for a specific purpose. Focus. Usually that purpose is very simple – to generate more inquiries, which you aim to turn into new clients.
That’s really simple, but we see so many sites that get tangled up with so many other issues that the original purpose is no longer served.
The end result is that you have an expensive collection of unrelated pages where the true benefit to the visitor is buried under corporate or political B.S.
- Poorly Promoted Sites. I have even seen firms who have a pretty good site, not promote their www address on their business cards, letterheads and other obvious places. Sometimes people will call the office and ask for their web site address - but come on people – we should never get to that stage.
Awareness is one of the key elements – I remember a corny-but-true saying from my early marketing days:
“He who whispers down a well
About the goods he has to sell
Will never make as many dollars
As he who climbs a tree and Hollas!”
- Poor On-line Promotion. Taking this to the next level, you have to make the site as easy to find as possible. This includes registering with all the major search engines, getting your META TAGS correctly set up and having the right key words in your title bar.
All of these elements add up and will contribute to how many people find you.
For instance, if you are a CA called Valance D. Books looking to generate visits from small business owners in Calgary who want to save taxes, then don’t concentrate on words like “Valance” and “Books”.
Instead, use key words and phrases like: “ Free Tax Saving Tips for Calgary Business Owners”
- It takes too long for the page to download. A really common mistake and one that the visitor does not forgive. Today people want and expect “Instant Karma”. If they don’t get it, it’s “bye, bye” and they are gone forever.
Make sure that your pages load quickly.
- No way to capture the visitor’s e-mail address. If someone takes the time and trouble to visit your site always, always, always offer them something free as a "thank you".
The best way to do this is to offer a free newsletter by e-mail. And guess what? You need to get their e-mail address in order to send this to them. This is a highly ethical way in which to keep in touch with prospective clients who have visited your site.
You will find that if you send them a newsletter by e-mail, say once a month or once a quarter, they become more familiar with your firm, you develop a relationship with them, and, more often than not, when the time is right for them, they will come to you as a fee-paying client.
- No reason to return. If you don’t update your content on a regular basis, when visitors return and see that nothing has changed they are less likely to come back again.
Keep your site fresh by adding new stories or new free information and new downloadable reports that will keep people coming back for more.
One swallow does not a summer make.
Likewise, one visit does not a client make.
- Running out of steam. Many firms get real excited when they launch their web site. They tell all their clients, all their contacts, their staff tells all their friends, they may even send out a press release and get a small mention in the local press.
These techniques generate a few visitors, but then the "promotion" of their site is over, and the number of "hits" drops like a Piano from a twelfth floor apartment balcony.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Continuous promotion is essential, advertising executives call it reach. Just how many Volkswagen cars do you think would be sold if VW only aired each new advert once?
You must keep the momentum going and continuously promote your site.
Voice of the Editor
Which isn’t completely true. I mean, occasionally I drop by when I manage to sneak out of the nonstop frat party over at Going Concern, but I’m mostly a wallflower over there. I’m happy to say that I’ve been given express permission (or explicit orders, if you like) to wander over here to AccountingWEB more often.
Why is that, you might ask? My job is to replace the irreplaceable Gail Perry as Editor-in-Chief. What does that mean? I don’t really know! I think it’ll be fun getting a feel for things, throwing in my own thoughts here and there, and listening to the discussions you’re having about the accounting profession.