Congratulations to all at AccountingWEB on the launch of their latest iteration. This seems a perfect trigger for some musings on getting the most from your own web presence.
Since the new version of AccountingWEB only hit the world as this column was being penned, it is too early to offer either praise or criticism. In any event, on the one hand, a columnist should be wary of sounding sycophantic, while on the other it would be a mistake to bite the hand that feeds it.
At first glance, the main impression is of a move towards the fashionable desire to make websites user-friendly for those with touchscreens and smart phones. There seems every prospect that such subscribers will be delighted by the change.
Time will tell as to whether those Luddites who still view the web from the comfort of their desktop will be excited or dismayed as they try to come to terms with a new look to a familiar old friend.
Over a decade ago, this writer had the pleasure of heading up a team that masterminded the well-received relaunch of a website for a top 20 firm of accountants.
In many ways, this was always likely to be a win-win situation, for example removing the pages that featured pale blue writing on a black background and bringing in photos of a team of bean counters, who inevitably looked almost like fashion models (don’t they all).
However, controversy was never likely to be far away with a group of partners many of whom had strong views about what the firm’s Internet presence should convey.
For those of you following AccountingWEB, and almost everybody else at the moment, by giving your website a makeover, it is imperative to take time and trouble to conceptualise the new offering prior to taking the leap and giving a bunch of web designers vast amounts of money.
Initially, please bear in mind the fact that, whatever they might say to the contrary, web designers are by inclination interested in appearance rather than content. If you are happy to receive something that looks fantastic but says very little then you will get on with them like a house on fire.
However, accountants by nature tend to be interested in words, numbers and detail, none of which necessarily chime with those paid to create the front-end of websites.
Behind the scenes comes the usability and it is vital to ensure that those operating the system will not be scared off. Ideally, it is best to enable as many employees as possible to upload data, albeit with approvals, since the site will end up with more varied and voluminous material that way.
The current trend is to minimise the amount of content that is available. On the plus side, this reduces the number of clicks that visitors require to get to their destination. Against that, far too many accountants’ websites today contain almost no information beyond what little more than bland advertising.
Personally, I am a big fan of thought leadership and information dissemination. However, in order to do that you need good sources of news and comment, which can either come from professional writers or colleagues with a literary inclination.
Flashy toys that calculate tax rates are fun for a bit but you may well find that competitors do it better.
The other key is to find ways of attracting search engines but that is a whole very different ballgame which changes regularly and very few people seem to understand.
Ultimately, a website should be a reflection of a firm’s collective personality but ideally it should do so much more, drawing potential clients to the site and, having got them there, converting them into the kind of people that support your business in the long term.
One hopes that AccountingWEB has done exactly that and I am sure that every reader will wish them well in their sparkling new garb.