Five blunders accountants make on their Web sites

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By Mark Lee,  chairman, Tax Advice Network

I’m frequently intrigued to see that while a few accounting firms adopt an innovative approach to their Web site, others use a standard template and many more make some quite fundamental mistakes. If your firm has a Web site and you’re happy that it’s delivering all the things you want to achieve from it, that’s fine. If you don’t yet have a Web site or doubt the value of spending time updating or upgrading it, you may find that what follows offers some food for thought.

For whom did you create this Web site?

It’s essential to ensure that your Web site contains appropriate messages targeted at your key audiences, but you’d be surprised how many get this basic element wrong. Existing clients are rarely a key audience for any accountants’ Web site – in most cases clients will contact you directly when they need your help and will only go to your Web site if you have directed them there. The real target audience for an accountant’s Web site normally includes:

·         Prospects who have been recommended to the firm

·         Prospects who have found the site when searching online

·         Ambassadors and advocates of the firm and the partners e.g. bankers, lawyers, and other networking contacts who want to check out what the partners have told them about the firm

·         Suppliers and prospective suppliers

·         Finally – and this is a commonly overlooked but often very important audience – prospective staff

Basic information

Once the Web site’s target audience has been identified, the next step is ensuring that they get what they came for. Is it easy enough for visitors to find that information or will they be sidetracked by numerous other pages and unable to find their way back to the key data?

As a bare minimum your site should identify what you do, who you do it for, what makes you different, where you’re based, and how visitors can get in touch with you using their preferred method (phone, e-mail, or post) or, if you are able to persuade them as to how it benefits them, your preferred method (e.g. filling out a form online to receive a quote without talking to anyone first).

Do you or colleagues waste time or lose prospective leads because they speak to the ‘wrong’ person when they call? It might be worth considering how best to direct them to the ‘right’ person through your Web site.

Am I in the right place?

The main objective for many firms’ Web sites is to help generate new clients. Some invest in search engine optimisation (SEO) or arrange a ‘pay per click’ campaign using Google adwords. This article won’t go into too much detail about these, but suffice to say that such efforts are a waste of money if the landing page on your Web site fails to provide the information being sought by the Web user. There are a couple of points to remember in each case:

SEO – It doesn’t matter that you feel comfortable to service new clients across the country. Most people who search the Web for a new accountant are looking for someone local to where they are based. Your Web site will never rank highly for SEO purposes unless it incorporates key search terms on the home page and in the title tags. Remember that few new clients will come from people searching for your practice’s name. They will be searching for generic terms and your site needs to be optimized to beat the local competition.

Adwords – In this case you’re hoping that the advertisement catches someone’s eye while they are searching for an accountant. Instead of clicking on a search result you want them to click on your advertisement. If they do, you will "pay per click." However, bear in mind that you’ll be wasting your money if the advert leads to a generic page on your Web site that makes no specific reference to the subject matter of the advertisement.

Who should I ask for?

It’s astonishing how many accounting firms' Web sites fail to provide visitors with the name of the principal or indeed of anyone in the firm. Even where there is a list of partner profiles, the "contact us" page often simply has a phone number and an [email protected] style e-mail address. I think it’s a fundamental mistake to omit the use of a name on the "contact us" page. People buy people.  However many (or few) calls you get at the moment, you will get more once you identify yourself. 

If you have security concerns or size issues, use an administrator's name or even create a name just for the Web site. This also enables you to immediately identify callers who have come via your Web site as they are the only ones to ask for that person when they get through to you.

Some accountants prefer e-mail rather than phone as they are often out of the office. Others provide only an office number and hope that visitors will leave a message if there’s no answer. Relatively few strangers will leave a message on their first call to a prospective new accountant. If a real person doesn’t answer the phone, the visitor calls someone else.

If you’re unable to answer the phone personally when a new prospect rings, consider engaging a virtual reception service. You can’t force people to leave messages on an answerphone or to make their first contact with you by e-mail. You can try and some may do as you want, but many others will simply chose to move onto the next accountant’s Web site.

Losing prospective staff
Imagine for a moment that your firm has placed a recruitment advertisement in the professional press. What do you think is the first thing that any half decent candidate is going to do these days if the advertisement catches their eye?

Anyone worth their salt is going to check your Web site. Firms tell me that they can’t recruit enough good staff. There are more vacancies than good quality candidates. Which firms do you think the good quality candidates choose to visit? I suggest it’s those whose Web sites make the firms seem attractive places to work.

However effective your Web site is at converting visitors, will it present the necessary information to a good quality candidate? For example, does it have a ‘careers’ page or a bland ‘vacancies’ page, as if you were a supermarket with vacancies for additional cashiers or cleaners? To my mind, a professional services firm should be enticing new recruits by talking about their potential careers with the firm rather than simply the positions the firm wants to fill.

What else have members done to spring clean their Web sites? Share your tips below.

Mark Lee is chairman of the Tax Advice Network and consultant practice editor for our sister site,

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