A guide to websites for accountants

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Accountants looking to create or update an existing website can be overwhelmed by the options available. With so many providers and different ways of building a website, which one is the best to pick?

After a recent wave of Any Answers queries on the topic, AccountingWEB has put together this brief overview of the options available, the purpose of a website and links to top tools and suppliers. 

Questions about websites have covered why firms need websites, how to account for them and who are the best providers. 

Back in August, sanjay100 set off a debate about website pricing. Was £750 a reasonable price, he asked the community. Opinions varied on what was an acceptable amount to pay, ranging from £300 up to £1,000. You could cut costs by opting for a 'do-it-yourself' package, or go for sites created for you on a platform such as Wordpress, or go whole hog with a bespoke site with all the trimmings. 

What kind of website do you want? 

The "piece of string" principle applies to websites - how much you pay depends on what kind of website you want. It could be a shop window for the firm, a lead-generator or a functioning zone for clients to compile their books and share documents. This rest of this guide explores the options in the following areas:

Tools, suppliers and options are explored later on in the article. But first we’ll tackle a regular question for AccountingWEB members. How do you account for a business website? 

Accounting for a website

The tax treatment of website costs  cropped up in a query from woolley11 in September. In response, andy4151 pointed to a useful HMRC agent toolkit on the subject that explains: “A website that will directly generate sales, subscriptions, advertising or other income will normally be regarded as creating an enduring asset and consideration should be given to treating the costs of developing, designing and publishing the website as capital expenditure.

“Whilst a revenue deduction would not therefore be allowable, this capital expenditure will generally qualify as expenditure on plant and machinery for capital allowances purposes.

“Expenditure on initial research and planning, prior to deciding to proceed with development, is normally allowable as revenue expenditure.”

Remember that HMRC advice like this is not legally binding. But having considered the department’s stance, members felt justified in viewing a lead-generating website as plant and machinery qualifying for the annual investment allowance.

Practical considerations 

Before you go full pelt into building your site, think about why you want a website - or why you want to improve it. What sections, content and information will you want there and who will maintain it?

Key considerations, set out in this year's Start Up in Practice Guide, include: 

  • Choose a quality provider (a selection is outlined below)
  • Choose what information you want on your website; keep it all simple, easily accessible and clearly visible
  • Personalise your website and inject a sense of your or your firm's personality 
  • Learn about search engine optimisation (SEO). 

The view has been expressed many times in Any Answers, most recently in this thread started by Jim100 in August, that a website is ultimately a “shop window” into your firm. Depending on how much time and effort you want to put into it, it can also be a source of new business and referrals. 

Some members felt their websites lent the firm extra credibility (for example that it actually exists) by demonstrating that it kept up to date with web technology. But more people said they do get queries and recruit clients through their sies, including JimH, who updates his blogs and content regularly. JimH also keeps on top of social media, SEO and Google Places to ensure he retains the number one spot on Google searches for his area.

Cardigan and Maslins, along with others, argued that if you’re going to maintain a website, you should make sure it’s a good one. “Good” means any site that is regularly updated, looks modern and fresh and makes use of new features such as “responsive” design. Because people will be accessing your website from a variety of devices - such as smartphones and tablets - a responsive site will sense the dimensions of the client browser and adjust its size and layout so that it remains readable and easy to use.

Other elements to consider include whether you want to add extra features such as document portals, cloud accounting, tax calculators and how you will deal with client or prospect enquiries. Whether you But this is firm and website dependent. 

Which tools to use 

And now for the potentially difficult part - which service provider and tools to use. Here are seven of the leading suppliers currently catering for accountants:

PracticeWEB 

Price: Monthly licence - price varies depending on which package you choose: Starter, Pro or Tailored.

Features: This also depends on your package. But all websites are designed with you and your customer in mind. 

Support: Phone based or face-to-face account management for some packages, and client support.

Accountant Websmiths

Price: Its bespoke package is £95 per month. Templates range from £55 per month.

Features:  Bespoke websites get you personal branding, the ability to password protect pages, tax helpsheets, Budget summaries, newsletters and CMS Templates come with similar features minus the newsletters, Budget summaries, CMS and password protection. The company is now part of IRIS, which markets the same services under the name IRIS Open Website.

Support: Unlimited phone and email support 

Digita Web Builder

Price: £50 per month

Features: A range of website templates and themes, site wizard to update and maintain content, pre-written accounting and tax related content, ability to host website on Digita's domain and a client portal.

Support: Initial pre-set-up of your website and a one-to-one online training tutorial. Also ongoing Digita web builder product support. 

Wordpress

If you're a DIY sort of person, or know a decent web designer, why not get a Wordpress site? 

Price: You can sign up to Wordpress for free, but a domain name will cost about £15 a year. Add an extra £50 or so for a theme such as this one. If you maintain it yourself, you've got a very cost effective site. But if you want a designer to build it from scratch, it may set you back £150-£600 depending on what you want. Some companies provide hosting services from around £10 per month.

Features: This depends entirely on what kind of website is built. But Wordpress features generally include a CMS, up-to-date statistics and a customisable interface. You may need to add all the content yourself however and support will depend on who (if anyone) is hosting it. Wordpress has its own app and its websites are responsive.

Mercia totalSolution

Price: £99 per month for an already-designed website. Bespoke costs around £800 - 2,000 plus the £99 per month fee.

Features: A range of designs to choose from, responsive, an SEO strategy, regular newswires, website managed by Mercia, a suite of content, a document exchange system and a contact manager. Mercia will also supply content for your existing website if you just want to freshen up.

Support: Information, resources and a team to work on the website included in the cost.

Other providers

AccountingWEB members suggested a range of other options. Your choice will depend on your needs, but some of these sites range from basic custom-built offerings to full blown, fully managed websites: 

What have been your experiences with websites - and are there other providers who do a particularly good job for accountants?

About Rachael White

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06th Nov 2014 11:04

A guide to websites for accountants

I own, The Business Guy and we provide web design and marketing for businesses from all sectors, particularly accountancy firms.

 

We provide a full and bespoke package for accountancy, covering web design, build and ongoing SEO services.

Prices are set to suit you so please do give us a call or email

 

T 07845 644 506

E [email protected]

 

 

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By Old Greying Accountant
06th Nov 2014 11:37

I use ...

... a 1 and 1 template @ £25pm

Having been to many website seminars, webinars IRISWorld lectures etc. I have pretty much refined what I wanted and what is needed and it took about a day or so on and off to get it to a reasonable state, very easy to use and their online help via a chat window is fantastic for the fiddly bits.

I have a client login in page with widgets to Openspace, FreeAgent and KashFlow (which you can also use for the Google Analytics code) I can have videos etc. if I want, I can password protect pages, have newsletter subscriptions - pretty much all the Websmiths one does.

It is also mobile friendly so will appear in the optimal way on mobile devices, which is the most important consideration these days.

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06th Nov 2014 11:55

Websites for Accountants

I'm amazed that £300 to £1,000 is a cost members thought was reasonable for the design and build of a website!

Surely most accountants will have clients across all sectors and can see for themselves what those clients have spent on web development: and possibly what difference the web presence has made to turn over and profitability since it was launched.

I'd suggest the main issues to consider are:

1) Image - what are you trying to portray and how will you differentiate yourselves from your competitors - why should a referred or browsing potential client choose you over another accountant.

2) Personality - mentioned in the article above - but not emphasised as the one thing that really can differentiate you. You are probably not the right person to inject personality into your brand or your website - you will nearly always be too close to the wood to see the trees. 

When you have a face to face meeting with a client your personality will not always come across as you might want it to - depending on your reaction to the client and the clients preconceived ideas about you, your firm or accountants in general. 
Your website can allow you to give the potential client the impression you want them to have, put them at their ease before meeting you and allow you, in full knowledge of what they have already seen, to build a working and more profitable relationship more quickly.

Professional copywriting and design is therefore essential to make the most use of your investment in a web presence. There are many spin offs from the process that will allow you to fully evaluate and extend your reach and prompt questions from clients, that will lead to further sales of more diverse services, which you may already offer but few people know they need.

3) DON'T DO IT YOURSELF! Even if you are a techy wizard or if someone in your office is a qualified IT expert - this is not about connecting computers this is about using a designer and copywriter whose job it is to connect with your audience and portray you in a way that will click with those customers - not with other accountants.

4) Finally for now - Do not set out to "look" like an accountant - set out to look like a potential customers next best friend. Try looking at websites in all other sectors and industries other than accountancy - cross over in design ideas between sectors could make you look like a leader in your profession - instead of "just another" accountant.

There is a lot more to discuss before you waste £300 to £1,000 - bit of a false economy that. you can mail me on [email protected] or have a chat on 07736 38 70 33

Cheers

Dave

 

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By phild13
06th Nov 2014 12:00

SEO

Whilst I am happy with the website I have, my problem seems to be with the rating it has with Google.  I have put relatively small amounts of money into SEO but currently to no avail.

Is anyone aware of any reasonably priced companies who provide monthly SEO work?  And how are their results?

Or is it really worth it? Is the profession one which generates new clients from being on the 1st page of Google?

Regards,

Phil

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06th Nov 2014 19:19

Not so easy

phild13 wrote:

Whilst I am happy with the website I have, my problem seems to be with the rating it has with Google.  I have put relatively small amounts of money into SEO but currently to no avail.

Is anyone aware of any reasonably priced companies who provide monthly SEO work?  And how are their results?

Or is it really worth it? Is the profession one which generates new clients from being on the 1st page of Google?

Regards,

Phil

If it was so easy every accountant would strive to be No 1 

Unless you are in the first four ranking spots in google then doubt you will get much of a response.

I always wondered how google determines the ranking - must be some complicated formula but I imagine those websites that have been around the longest would have managed to get on the first page.

 

 

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12th Nov 2014 09:54

SEO

phild13 wrote:

Whilst I am happy with the website I have, my problem seems to be with the rating it has with Google.  I have put relatively small amounts of money into SEO but currently to no avail.

Is anyone aware of any reasonably priced companies who provide monthly SEO work?  And how are their results?

Or is it really worth it? Is the profession one which generates new clients from being on the 1st page of Google?

Regards,

Phil

 

If you let me know the URL to your Homepage, I can have a quick look and , perhaps, give you some quick, free advice / pointers on how to improve your ranking.

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By phild13
12th Nov 2014 11:45

SEO

Hi there, TheHoltPartnership,

Thanks for the message. My homepage is at www.spot-onaccountancy.co.uk

Any advice is very gratefully appreciated.

Kind regards,

Phil

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13th Nov 2014 10:48

How to optimise for Search Engines

phild13 wrote:

Hi there, TheHoltPartnership,

Thanks for the message. My homepage is at www.spot-onaccountancy.co.uk

Any advice is very gratefully appreciated.

Kind regards,

Phil

 

Phil, first of all, nice website design. However, the downside is, you have done very little SEO. The most glaring is your Homepage. Poor Title Tag and no Meta Description. When optimising a page for Search Engines, it is important to optimise each page on your Website for a different key search phrase. Since searches for Accountants tend to be localised, it is usually best to use locations in all your search phrases. For example, the Title Tag for your Homepage could be; Accountant Port Talbot Accountancy Services Neath Port Talbot (Title Tag should be no longer than 60 characters, including spaces). Your Description Meta tag could be; Spot-on Accountancy are an established, friendly firm of Accountants, based out of Port Talbot, covering Neath Port Talbot and surrounding areas (Description tag should be no longer than 156 characters, including spaces).

As you will see, above, your key search phrase, accountant port talbot, has been included in both your Title and Description Tags. This is very important. Where your key search phrase appears in your Title tag is also important, and should always be at the start. There is no need to insert your business name. Search Engines will pick this up from the content in your Website. Alternatively, optimise your Contact page for your business name.

OK, you have given Search Engines a clue for what your homepage is about in the Title Tag. You backed this up by also including your key search phrase in your Description Tag. The next step is to also include it at least once in the content of your web page. The obvious place, is in your welcome message, therefore, try and include port talbot at least once and next to the word Accountant (as long as it reads well i.e. don't try and stuff your content with key search phrases, it could get you banned). Although there are a few other things you can do to optimise your site, following the steps, above, will greatly increase your rankings over a period of time. SEO should be measured in years, not months. By the way, don't bother with the Keyword Meta Tag. It is generally accepted within SEO that Search Engines no longer place any importance on this tag, due to it being abused by spammers.

Now optimise your internal pages for other key search phrases. for example, your key search phrase for the Payroll page could be Payroll Services Port Talbot.

On another point, I noticed that your written content is quite poor. Many of the pages have limited content and do not reward the visitor with more useful information. Your Start-up page, for example, has 3 lines of text and some bullet points and I would be very surprised if it addressed even half of the questions that will be on the visitors mind. I call it "so what" content. If you read the content on this page, for every statement, you could easily think "So what, don't all Accountants offer this." This issue was touched on in one of my other replies in this article; whats the point in working hard to get high rankings in Search Engines, only for your website content to underwhelm the visitor, leading to bounced visits. When someone makes the effort to read one of your internal pages, it means they already like the feel of your business from the Homepage and want to learn more. You now have empathy and a captive audience. When this visitor lands on your Start-up page, the content in this page, alone, should be compelling enough to make them want to shortlist you as a possible supplier.

Why not have a look at the Start-up pages on either of our demonstration Websites, for some ideas; http://www.demonstration2.co.uk/start-businesses/ and  http://www.theholtpartnership.co.uk/demonstration/startup_businesses.php

Also, as far as content is concerned, content is king. The more the better as far as they are concerned. We have written an article on how to write good content. Why not have a look for some more ideas; http://www.theholtpartnership.co.uk/blog/?p=204

Good luck and congratulations on a clean looking design.

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06th Nov 2014 12:05

Make it look different

Our previous websites were templates specifically for accountants, so when we changed our website last year, we moved away from templates and started from scratch, albeit it on a Wordpress site.

The problem with templates is that no matter how much of your own branding you put on it, it still looks like every other accountant on that template. 

We asked people what they wanted from an accountant's site if they were looking for a new accountant, rather than putting on it what we thought people wanted.

We have had noticeably more enquiries since we changed and regularly receive compliments from people about the look and the feel of the site. Its an ongoing project and we keep adding to it. It may not be to everyone's taste but its working for us

We outsourced it.  We're accountants. Its not what we do.  Our time is better doing what we were trained to do. We used Fresh Grape, who are now part of RMTP Global

I guess I should finish this with a link to our site so you can see what I'm talking about

Fletcher Thompson

Any comments, good or bad are always gratefully received.  

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12th Nov 2014 10:50

Templates versus Custom Web Design

kathrynfletcher wrote:

Our previous websites were templates specifically for accountants, so when we changed our website last year, we moved away from templates and started from scratch, albeit it on a Wordpress site.

The problem with templates is that no matter how much of your own branding you put on it, it still looks like every other accountant on that template. 

We asked people what they wanted from an accountant's site if they were looking for a new accountant, rather than putting on it what we thought people wanted.

We have had noticeably more enquiries since we changed and regularly receive compliments from people about the look and the feel of the site. Its an ongoing project and we keep adding to it. It may not be to everyone's taste but its working for us

We outsourced it.  We're accountants. Its not what we do.  Our time is better doing what we were trained to do. We used Fresh Grape, who are now part of RMTP Global

I guess I should finish this with a link to our site so you can see what I'm talking about

Fletcher Thompson

Any comments, good or bad are always gratefully received.  

 

Kathryn, great to hear your website is on it's way to becoming successful. Although design is important, there must be other areas of your new site that is appealing to your visitors. However, I need to raise an issue with your thoughts on Template Websites. It is an issue that is influencing and hampering many Accountants from selecting the right solution for their business. There are Templates and then there are Templates. As an example, why not have a look at the Templates we supply and you will see that they are far removed from your typical Accountant designs; http://www.theholtpartnership.co.uk/accountant/website_templates.php

 

The issue with Templates, appears to be a historical one, caused by poor designs and Bespoke Web Design Firms making claims that the only way to go, is a Custom design. Templates have come a long way since then and many Templates are now designed by some of the Internet's leading Graphic Designers. This results in a huge amount of different styles and designs, something that is very hard to match for your typical Custom Website orientated Website supplier i.e. Graphic Designers have their own style and most Agencies (the ones that appeal to Small Businesses) only have a couple of Graphic Designers, at most. .

 

There is also the myth about, your Website will not be original or reflect your business, if going down the Template route. Although, technically, your Website will not be original (Template), to all intents and purposes and, importantly, to your visitors, it will be original. From experience, searches for Accountants tend to be localised to either Town/City, County or Industry. In which case, the chance of your visitors visiting another Accountant in your area having exactly the same design, is the proverbial, needle-in-a-haystack.

 

And finally, there is the incredible value for money that Templates represent. For example, many of our Templates can be purchased outright (making them original, coincidentally) and will cost, on average, £3000 just to buy the exclusive license. Then there is a further cost of £995 for us to build the site around the Template, giving a total and a Website worth £4,000. However, since we purchase non-exclusive licenses for our clients, we are able to build our Accountant clients an 18 page Website for a one-off cost of £995 i.e. our clients get a £4,000 worth website for £995!

 

It may be worth mentioning, we supply both Custom and Template driven Websites, making us one of the few suppliers able to comment on this issue, impartially. Also, this post is not an effort to plug our business. It really does bother us that Website Owners are being pushed down the, relatively, more expensive route of Custom Design, when there are no constructive reasons for doing so.

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06th Nov 2014 12:06

SEO

Hi Phil

 

Give me an email and we can discuss

 

[email protected]

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By Old Greying Accountant
06th Nov 2014 14:20

But Dave ...

... you would say that!

I can't speak for everyone, but as a small practitioner I cannot justify thousands of pounds on a website, especially if it works! - most of us couldn't and wouldn't want a constant stream of enquiries, we would be swamped, I want a steady trickle of mid quality client, I also want clients that gel with me. If you build your own website it will have your personality and attract matching clients.

What good is a fantastic website that attract loads of clients that when they meet me are going to be disappointed as they have a misrepresented expectation.

Accounting is a fairly unique profession where hopefully working relationships last many years with a degree of intimacy often greater than with a clients spouse. It is also one where getting a client to getting a fee can takes months, sometimes a year or more. We are not selling widgets that need a constant stream of new customers.

Many, if not most web-designers do not get it (there are those that do of course) and trying to find a good one is as hit and miss as finding a good accountant. 

What you say is not invalid, but not true for all. To me it is more relevant if you are a larger practice with staff etc. - but many here are one man bands happy to stay in the £50 - £150k turnover range with an income that supports their lifestyle without the hassle of staff and cash-flow worries and are looking to replace the natural wastage of clients and refresh D4 clients with A1 clients, not achieve a 25 - 50% year on year growth rate.

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06th Nov 2014 14:41

I know Old Grey...

...being oldish and greying myself...
 

The issue with marketing accountancy services is not unlike any other professional service where the one to one relationship is key.
In a very broad subject (that this article is trying to advise on) I would have to state what my 30 odd years experience has proven to be true - but if you were to approach me with the requirements you've laid out above my advice would not be an all singing all dancing website - it would be an online bookmark site so that potential clients can find you - and that's about it.

If advising you where to spend a marketing budget it would be more appropriate to offer short run, high quality items that you can use to ensure your presentations have a valued feel - building on your system of referrals from existing clients so you can cope with the level of enquiries, and perhaps attract higher spends per customer.

If you were in a different position, a larger practice or a firm that was wanting to grow, the advice would be completely different.

As far as personality is concerned - we build those through branding and "voice" all the time - again its corporate not one man band - to have a consistent voice for a whole firm is the way to raise expectations (which then have to be maintained) but also controls how your clients see and feel about your business - which in turn makes marketing to those same clients much more predictable.

Had the same conversation with a three man law practice - no point getting a marketing plan together if you think its simply about staying as you are but with more business - to attract more than you may have plateaued at you will need to change - to change you need to grow.

For any business never mind a one man show that isn't just a business / marketing plan - it's a life choice.

 

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By adambl
07th Nov 2014 10:19

I quite agree with your comments Old Greying Acc and I fall into the category you describe. All I feel is that I need continue to look for ways to slowly increase my client base as I think I need to be aware of some clients getting older, retiring, dying off etc. I'm not convinced that having a great website would get me the sort of clients I want anyway. Referrals are the best and have got me to this point quite well - in practice on my own now for 27 years.

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06th Nov 2014 12:17

I don't know why SEO is so difficult.

I designed and built my own website in Wordpress and added SEO myself. It is now always top of page 1, beaten only by the sponsored links. I'm not quite sure how I managed it, so it was probably a lucky result.

We are now having a new Wordpress website built, and it looks much better than my efforts, but it has only made page 2 at the moment. I'll maybe compare the SEO on both, once management of the website is handed back to me.

Domains, 10 emails and website hosting cost under £21 per year (all in!) with Tshohost.

(Thanks, Miss A for pointing me to Tsohost).

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12th Nov 2014 09:23

Checking Google

ShirleyM wrote:

I designed and built my own website in Wordpress and added SEO myself. It is now always top of page 1, beaten only by the sponsored links. I'm not quite sure how I managed it, so it was probably a lucky result.

@ShirleyM - is this checked from your own PC/Mac?  If you google then click on your own page somehow Google / cookies / something remembers your interest and lifts your page higher just for you - ie. it's not reliable.

I discovered this myself when googling accountants on a friend's PC.

You need to get the ranking verified from an outside source.

Maybe someone could enlighten us ........

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12th Nov 2014 09:37

View on a Browser with all cookies and Cache cleared. Otherwise, as has been pointed out, the results will not be accurate. We use IE for this purpose. It can be set to clear everything when the Browser is closed.

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06th Nov 2014 12:23

Spot on OGA.

I think that if you can get your personality across to a potential client better solely by them looking at your website (which will have been produced by someone else) than meeting face to face then I think you have serious issues! Or perhaps no personality!

I use my website and LinkedIn etc to reinforce my credibility and to allow a client to check me out initially. It's all about getting that first face to face meeting, that's where you clinch the deal and decide if you and the client can have a lasting business relationship going forwards.

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06th Nov 2014 14:46

Personailty

Hey Sheepy - have you ever read a novel and decided on the personalities of the characters?

That's how copywriting and design/branding works - its your face when you're not there; and although most people are quite capable of writing, copy writers do it for a living - just as you do accounting - we know what we're about - and accountants make money out of the profits we make by doing it.

...see my reply to OGA :)

 

Dave

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06th Nov 2014 13:18

UITF Abstract 29 gives sensible advice on website costs

I would only capitalise any post-planning stage costs where there was reasonable certainty over the net cash inflows the asset would generate, so in the instance of a site which only has an advertising function I would expense the whole thing, and where there was an e-commerce facility I would be tempted to capitalise if it looked like the possibility of sucess was reasonably high in recouping the costs incurred going forward.  If this goes against HMRCs view of the correct treatment I would be happy to have the conversation.

As a parallel treating an advertsing (shop window) style site as capital would be in my view akin to treating a yellow pages advert as capital, I mean some people keep those books for years (I swear they are getting smaller, just like the cream eggs and wagon wheels), so there has to be an enduring benefit, and obviously this line of reasoning is absurd.

Regards

MtF

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06th Nov 2014 15:11

Sausage Machines

This discussion boils down to one simple question. Do you want to be exactly the same as everyone else in your industry or do you want to be different, promote your uniqueness and have your own opinion? 

Why does that matter I hear you ask? Well, lets pick PracticeWeb as an example because it is top of the list of supposed 'top providers'. Earlier this year I downloaded the content from 2 PracticeWeb supplied sites for 2 competing firms of local accountants. What percentage of those sites (both around 650 pages) do you think was identical? I remind you that these are competing accountants in a small local market.... The answer... over 90% was absolutely identical.

Furthermore, when I spoke to the marketing partner at each firm, neither of them actually knew a)how many pages they had on their site and b) what most of their content actually said, because they had played no part in putting it there.

The reason being is they both subscribe to a PracticeWeb sausage machine website which as far as they are concerned ticks the box for marketing. They can pay one sum to Sift Media (yes the same one as has put their own product top of their own independent review) and for that they get a fully content populated website, regular 'industry news' and if you tick some more boxes on the order form 'SEO' and white label budget reports and other literature. All you have to do is supply your logo, favourite colours and direct debit details and the rest is simple - you can sit back and not worry.

But why would you do this? Would you move into the offices of your competitor, have an identical logo or profess to offer exactly the same service in person...? No.. so why would you do it with your website?

Aside from making you all look the same, Google and other search engines are really cracking down on duplicate content and as someone that monitors more than 20 websites on a weekly basis for my clients, I see the adverse effect of Google updates on their search positioning all too frequently.

Furthermore, in terms of how clients read this content bear this stat in mind - A recent eshot using PractieWeb 'fed' news received just 40 opens or click throughs. An eshot to the same base with news specific to the practice and its profile clients, got over 800 engagements. So it is not just about what you want, think or can afford - one thing you must remember is there is a client on the other side.

Oh and if that client has already signed up to news from one a sausage machine site and then trys to sign up on yours, the first site trumps the second so they will not actually get your news but will continue to have your competitors name flashed in front of them on a regular basis!

So before you base your decision on cost or the ease of a one stop shop solution ask yourself what you want your website to say about your practice/company. If you want to be lost in the crowd then go for an off the shelf template site but if you actually do have something worth saying or a reason for clients to choose you over someone else, then start from scratch, use an independent CMS like Wordpress and employ a webdesign agency - not a website farm. There is no fixed % rational for how much to spend on a website - just ask B&Q who have spent £60m on theirs because it is what fits for their business and their customer demands.

How interesting that AccountingWeb chose PracticeWeb to go top of the list - I wonder what was behind that thinking? 

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06th Nov 2014 15:16

Changing market

With tools like wordpress it has become a lot easier to produce pretty websites and there is a downward price pressure. We are just starting to do them for our customers now based on a template that includes things like a secure portal and company formations and they can edit the content from within our software. There will always be a market for bespoke and a range of prices in the "off the peg" end but I think overall there prices will come down. We are pitching at the couple of hundred quid a year end of the market. I also think it is as important to have a useful website that provides facilities for existing clients - it is not just about getting new business.

 

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12th Nov 2014 11:07

Benefits of owning a website

daveforbes wrote:

With tools like wordpress it has become a lot easier to produce pretty websites and there is a downward price pressure. We are just starting to do them for our customers now based on a template that includes things like a secure portal and company formations and they can edit the content from within our software. There will always be a market for bespoke and a range of prices in the "off the peg" end but I think overall there prices will come down. We are pitching at the couple of hundred quid a year end of the market. I also think it is as important to have a useful website that provides facilities for existing clients - it is not just about getting new business.

 

 

Good point Dave, on the subject; a website is not just for new business. Many website owners are losing many of the benefits to be gained from a website by, merely, using it for a lead generation tool. We wrote an article some time ago, primarily, aimed at those businesses that do not feel they need a website. It is worth a read and demonstrates many other benefits / objectives of a well developed website; http://www.theholtpartnership.co.uk/blog/?p=56

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By JC
06th Nov 2014 16:32

Average user time on a site …

@brandprotector

From a personal point of view having looked at your site – firstly takes a while to get the message across & second am not really a great fan of Adobe overload (maybe it’s a generational thing)

On the intro page video of 3:11 seconds – may well be wrong but the element at the end relating to web sites seems to be from 2:57-3:11 – i.e. 14 seconds

Probably being very dim but nowhere on your landing page does it tell me what you do apart from saying ‘creative marketing’ – no explanation – what does that involve

Just from this it would seem as though you are in danger of doing exactly what you advise against – being too close; so that whilst you know your business you need to bring everyone else up to speed as quickly as possible without expecting them to trawl through the site or endless videos

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06th Nov 2014 17:07

Thanks for the insight -

@JM Thanks for the insight - afraid that's the master builder syndrome - too busy looking after everyone else to look after your own.

Our website was extremely successful when first launched and for the first year - and again when we added the 20th Anniversary vid last year - Adobe flash has fell out of favour due to cross platform issues and we don't recommend it except for specific circumstances.  

It was due for a replacement at Easter but we have had a clients re-branding project on that has lasted over a year on top of all the normal work - a vast installation - where I actually signed off the 2nd of three phases at 10.00pm last night.

Our  new website is our next project - in between everyone else's - watch this space.

 

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06th Nov 2014 16:52

Motive and Research

I read the article with interest and not sure about the motive or research behind the article. We have been developing Websites for Accountants for over 10 years, on the first page of Google for "accountant web design" and have a very good reputation, as our Testimonials page will testify ( http://www.theholtpartnership.co.uk/testimonials.php ), yet we didn't receive a mention or any form of contact; http://www.theholtpartnership.co.uk/accountant.php

Also, there are a couple of points that is causing a lot of confusion amongst businesses looking for websites, typically and unfortunately, caused by my own industry,

Bespoke and trimmings, in the article, above, implies that Template based websites do not have the trimming. This is certainly not the case. We develop both, so, I feel I am in a good position to make comment.

Website should have a responsive design to be mobile/tablet friendly. Again, this is not the case. Websites developed to 1024 resolution, display more or less as they do in Desktop mode. In fact, many people prefer the standard view, since, it allows them to see more on the page. Again, we develop both, so, in a good position to comment. The responsive design approach rush/clamour has been instigated by the Web Design industry as a route to trying to persuade existing website owners to upgrade their sites.

A successful website should have: a professional looking design (first impressions are very important nowadays); have good, well thought out content that rewards the visitor when they visit a page. Unfortunately, something that a lot of Accountant websites lack; it should be used as a proactive business tool in the day-to-day running of the Practice; and it should be developed around clear business objectives. If there are no clear objectives, how are you going to measure it's success?

if you are intending to purchase a Website from a supplier, do not pay extra for SEO. Any reputable Web Designer knows that SEO should be built into any new website from the off and would not make any sense not to, unless, that is, they want to maximise their profits.

Hope this helps.

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06th Nov 2014 16:48

You get what you pay for

I have to agree with brand protector, but I would as I run a small digital agency that specialises in creating websites for businesses - Verulam Web Design.

£300 would pay for 5 hours of our time. We couldn't pull a theme together with supplied content and design assets in that. Let alone do everything required to optimise a website, testing, security hardening, provide guidance on design ideas, strategy for social media etc etc etc

You will get what you pay for. Off-the-shelf systems will give you a generic deign and possibly generic content. Just as I don't go to a guy down the road with a calculator to do our tax returns, if you want to create a professional and high ROI website you should work with professionals with a track record in this area.

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06th Nov 2014 17:09

Pay peanuts...

...get monkeys.

 

That's why we use a Chartered Accountant - that's why our clients use us. 

 

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07th Nov 2014 12:13

and sometimes...its

monkeys that we want....a fancy 'new' website is fine...but of course it is then replicated to anybody going to the same firm offering the 'new' style of website every accountant should have.  People are all very different.....it is perhaps unfashionable but I suspect most businesses want a 'boring' accountant rather than an off the wall maverick (who may be somewhat less precise and diligent)  - something that is always going to be hard to swallow for a marketing business trying to win the business by suggesting they can do something 'special' for you

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07th Nov 2014 12:45

@justsotax

Now that's exactly what we don't swallow - our job is finding new ways to reinvent the wheel - there is nothing new. But unless the client says "I want one exactly like that" that is exactly what they don't get.

I have no problem turning clients away who don't have a feasible budget or an idea of the value (see my comments to OGA above about appropriate advice) 

We tend not to win business, we tend to be given business; possibly like you by referral or from enquiries based on work we have done and they have seen.

We don't mass market, we don't e-shot non clients, we don't do telesales. We aren't the corner print and copy shop who has suddenly decided to do websites and it would drive us mad producing the same thing over and over again. We are not at the 200 quid end of the market.

If you use monkeys you will get monkey crap, and it will never do you any good - no matter how you want to be seen.

Here's a bottom line for you: In 1993 I rebranded a company in Nottingham. It had gone from £500k turnover to £5,000,000 in the previous 5 years - they came to me to help them to the next level. We worked with them for 8 years by which time they had reached £30 million revenues and had 50% more staff - they then sold out to an American global brand and our ex chums are sat on a beach somewhere.

The important point that I haven't mentioned is everyone in their industry at the time had terrible branding or no branding at all - they didn't see the need - after we had re-branded our client, sorted their literature etc etc - everyone else had to follow or look like amateurs in comparison.

I have no idea what your image is like - if you like it, or if you don't see a need to change it - but I know that sooner or later one of your competitors will change theirs with "something special" and if you don't follow you will lose business to them or find you are not picking up as many new clients as you were before they launched or relaunched their brand. 

If you do lose business to the firm down the road with the new brand and the fancy website - it won't be because they've had monkeys on the job.

It is always better to be a leader than a follower.

(btw I'm only a member of accountingweb because I look after the financial side of our business I'm not here looking for business and this is the first article I've commented on because this is my field of expertise - as yours is accounting)

 

 

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By Old Greying Accountant
07th Nov 2014 13:43

We are all different ...

... I am fully aware of the value of a bespoke, expensive website for the right firm, and I am well aware of the value of a website to me.

It is horses for courses with a large dose of smoke and mirrors on the side.

Th elook of a website ios secondary though, SEO is much more important because it doesn't matter how fantastic your website is if no one sees it!

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12th Nov 2014 11:29

Gaining empathy with your website

Old Greying Accountant wrote:

... I am fully aware of the value of a bespoke, expensive website for the right firm, and I am well aware of the value of a website to me.

It is horses for courses with a large dose of smoke and mirrors on the side.

Th elook of a website ios secondary though, SEO is much more important because it doesn't matter how fantastic your website is if no one sees it!

 

OGA, proud to say I am a member of the OG club. You are right on point 1 and 2 (my industry does, unfortunately, try and shroud itself in mystery). However, point 3 is a little out of date. Not much point being top of Google for your key search phrases, if clients bounce off your website as soon as landing on it. Good Website Design is quite simple; it is about trying to gain empathy with your visitor within 10 seconds of them landing on your Homepage. Once you have the empathy, it is then about trying to make them do something i.e. call you, browse your site in more detail, complete a contact form, email you, subscribe to a Newsletter, share you on Social Media etc. Quantity versus quality comes to mind.

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07th Nov 2014 14:03

mmm..... 

mmm..... 

Horses for courses is, I think, what I was saying.

SEO is a black art - still - which everyone thinks they know how to crack, but if they did Google would (and have) changed the rules to push you into using their tools which again don't necessarily work the way you would like.

Google Channel Funnels even is less about what it does and more about interpretation.

People finding you is the idea but if I had the choice I'd rather market the URL so you get direct traffic from the people you want to see it than those who are just browsing and may have no real interest.

And - there is nothing worse than arriving somewhere only to be underwhelmed - better not to arrive at all. Better even to have difficulty arriving and then being really impressed with the destination - no one remembers a late delivery - only a bad one.

As for smoke and mirrors - our clients use us because we don't baffle with bovine excrement :)

 

 

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07th Nov 2014 14:25

Do you just do your own bookkeeping?

or more?

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07th Nov 2014 14:53

We have a part time book keeper and a chartered accountant - but in the end it's the directors responsibility to manage so I keep an eye on everything I can - produce business plans using the book keepers basic data and bounce ideas off the accountant to make sure I'm honest truthful and legal - and it also helps with the marketing plans I produce for both clients and the odd consultancy job I'm asked to do; just as a report for a start up or get out of the brown smelly stuff for firms in trouble.

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07th Nov 2014 16:40

i guess the point

I was going to make was that having management accounts prepared, and meeting with the accountant on a quarterly/monthly basis would ensure that there is close attention to running costs/sales etc and also consideration of in year/pre year end tax planning opportunities.  This would give you the maximum opportunity to maximise your profit and minimise your tax - why wouldn't you do it? (I guess for the similar reasons a business may wish to restrict their spend on a website...?)  

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07th Nov 2014 16:44

.

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07th Nov 2014 17:40

--- well that depends - once again it comes down to appropriate advice - I wouldn't expect an accountant to advise me on marketing, but everything on the marketing side should be seen as an investment - ROI is flavour of the month (well it has been for the last 10 years to be fair).

Almost anyone can produce pretty pictures ROI is about design effectiveness.

In macro terms that means for ever £1 spent on advertising in 2011 (according to create UK) £6 was earned for the UK economy - also in 2011 the design sector as a whole accounted for £131 million of exported services and that will only have increased substantially in the last three years (according to the Design Business Association of which we are members) - we have the second largest design sector in the World after the States. But its difficult being a prophet in your own land.

Its about small businesses using big business ideas and evaluating investment in advertising, websites, branding etc on a cash cow versus pot boiler basis and making sensible decisions.

If you don't go out to visit a lot of clients what is the point in having an expensive gas guzzling car? But if you are doing 50,000 a year and want to turn up safe and fresh to do business at the other end of the country that decision might be different.

If you are in a business where it is important your clients think of you having financial success on the same level as they are - you may feel its appropriate to turn up in an ostentatious Beamer, Jag or Porche - if you have clients who would think you must be charging too much if you drive a flash car then you might want to wind it down to a Mondeo.

To paraphrase what I said earlier - if you're a small accountancy practice with no desire to get any bigger and possibly don't have the capacity to handle larger clients or many more smaller clients then leave marketing alone - if on the other hand... well that's a lifestyle choice.

This article has been about websites but a website is only one, often small part, of a decent marketing plan - and think of this - as you are talking about keeping costs down and increasing profit - if you have an exit plan and intend to sell the practice when you retire, you are a lot better off having built a recognisable and well known brand for a dozen or twenty years before hand - because that is what any potential buyer of a going concern is really interested in buying - for both your client lists loyalty and future potential business.

Even if the buyer is a large group that is going to rebrand your business anyway the change over period needs a strong sense of belonging for them to keep your client base intact.

You see - a lot more to this branding, marketing, website thingy than most realise aint there?

 

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10th Nov 2014 08:59

Websites for accountants

A very interesting piece.

A couple of points for practitioners to note....firstly, it is important in today's increasingly mobile environment to make sure your new website is mobile responsive and is kept up to date on an ongoing basis. Secondly, and this is true of practitioners up and down the country, 95% of quality new business comes from referrals and recommendations. It is true that accountants do get new business from their website/people walking past the office/cold call etc but that is not the lions share and typically people looking to buy on price. That is why it is very important to communicate relevant information on an ongoing basis to your clients.

Whilst you highlight the main providers to accountants there is one provider missed off the list - Informanagement. Informanagement works with firms all over the country on practice development and practice marketing offering tools to practices unavailable with any of its competitors. As well as doing websites, the firm offers practices fully bespoke content driven newsletters meaning clients only get communication from their accountant on information specifically relevant to them, whether that is in an email or printed formats. As well as that, the content is also posted on to the practices/practitioners social media profiles. One key issue for practices is keeping a website high enough in the rankings on the search engines. By continually posting to social media unique traffic is continually driven to the practice website ensuring it stays highly ranked whilst generating other consulting opportunities. 

Informanagement has a number of other services including a practitioner newsletter for CPD, a document portal with e-signatures and a bulk mailing application.

Worth checking out if you fancy something different from all of your competitors.

 

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By JC
10th Nov 2014 09:30

Question ..

@Laurence Vogel

It would seem as though your organisation acts as an aggregator as well as supplying its own content in weekly articles; to all accounts clients can then select which areas of content they wish to subscribe to for their website

Earlier posts have tended to shy away from the ‘sausage factory’ approach to information on their websites with many concerned that using accounting content suppliers seems to have many site that are broadly the same with look/feel and content – despite the fact that they also allow content filtering

How would you differentiate your organisation from those already addressed

Just a couple of points in passing

Generally worth disclosing to your audience that you have an interest in the companyYour company deals with content for accountants websites – so how come you have only been on Aweb for 2 days? Not entirely sure that as a prospective client one would be entirely confident dealing with a company that could be perceived as being ‘behind the curve’

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10th Nov 2014 19:22

Let me address the points above in order...probably the best way.

1) All the content we generate is done inhouse on a weekly basis. We write 12-15 topical items per week for our clients. We do not use any syndicated content. It is all ours. A firms clients are then profiled against some set criteria which drives then content that a recipient gets in their newsletter each period. All the articles sit on the practice website and are accessed there. The inbound hits on the website will assist its ranking on the search engines.

2) I set up Informanagement UK back at the beginning of 2008. We work with over 450 firms all over the UK.

3) I have only just joined AW as I wanted to stay out of commenting on blogs and posts as I am just too busy. One of my clients saw the post and wondered why we were not mentioned. I read the piece and thought I would comment.

4) We are definitely not 'behind the curve'. A lot of what we are offering to accountancy firms cannot be sourced from any of our competitors.

If anyone wishes to find out more then please feel free to get in touch. Only then can a truly conscious decision be made.

 

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12th Nov 2014 09:55

You Cannot Beat Google

@Gone Sailing Google offers you up content based on a number of factors, primarily:

Based on your search queryYour geographic locationYour past browsing history and 'online profile'what you seem to like

Let me explain these in more detail.

Search Query - We are increasingly talking to Google and being more narrative in our search. In years gone by we used very clinical search terms and got clinical results. But today, with Google glasses, watches and voice operated systems such as Siri on Apple, we speak to the search engines and so they offer up content which is more narrative. You will notice in your own search results now that you see a lot more forums, videos, images and news sites popping up at the top of the results, rather than simple websites, as they seek to answer your question.

Location/history/profile - As we go about our days we leave a trail of information breadcrumbs all over the net. Google et al come along behind and hoover these up, creating a profile of you - age, gender, likes, interests etc. They then use this information to offer up search results they think you will find interesting. Most of you will have noticed remarketing taking place. You look for a hotel on Expedia or hotels.com and then go off to another site, only to see adverts for the exact same hotels you have just looked at, popping up in that screen. This is Google etc following you based on your past search. Google now offers 'similar marketing' too whereby it would put those hotels in front of other people that have a similar web footprint to you e.g. same age, likes etc.

We have all been accepting cookies for years but maybe you never realised what they do! Here is a prime example. Your are organising holiday 2015. You look for flights on easyjet and find some nice cheap options. You go and speak to the family and when you go back to book, the deal is not so amazing. This is cookies in action. They now know you are interested in those flights and if you go back to them you are showing a buying pattern. So, the website pushes up the price because they know you are likely to buy it - so why not make a few more quid out of you....! So next time, you are browsing for deals, look on one device and book or another and you wont get stung.

In answer to your specific point about your website seemingly doing well and always popping up when you search this will be as a direct result of all of the above. Google offers it up because it thinks you want to see it! To avoid this, do as I do and use different browsers and devices and then you will get a more aggregated view of your positioning - or pay a company to track your site.

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By JC
12th Nov 2014 10:30

Plus & minus of Google tracking …

The plus side is that the search is geared to previous interests, although this can be a mixed blessing

Minus – price hiking & all the other tricks can be a real pain

Alternatively install https://www.torproject.org/ and browse anonymously so that repeat visits are not recognised & trackers are irrelevant if the IP changes or is meaningless

Have a look at Ghostery - https://www.ghostery.com/en-GB/ - tells sites not to use their trackers

For SEO on your own web site – make sure you have a sitemap - https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/156184?hl=en as a minimum

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By JC
12th Nov 2014 11:20

Free templates ...

@TheHoltPartnership

There are many sites containing free css templates which can be fairly simply (& quickly) integrated into any site - just Google 'free css templates' - also the range is large and allows the user to preview all sorts of different approaches before deciding

One such site - http://www.free-css.com/free-css-templates/page1

Even the 'pay for' templates only cost around £125 so the cost is not huge

Frankly I am afraid that I do not consider £3k-£4k to purchase a template '.. incredible value for money ..' - and why is there then an additional cost for building the site. Surely the cost of the site includes design & writing the css

After all, these 'free' css templates provide the style-sheet and can very simply be amended to fit preferences. For the most part there are only two main components on basic sites - html page & accompanying css style-sheet (variable content is part of the page)

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12th Nov 2014 11:53

£3,000 is expensive (relatively)

JC wrote:

@TheHoltPartnership

There are many sites containing free css templates which can be fairly simply (& quickly) integrated into any site - just Google 'free css templates' - also the range is large and allows the user to preview all sorts of different approaches before deciding

One such site - http://www.free-css.com/free-css-templates/page1

Even the 'pay for' templates only cost around £125 so the cost is not huge

Frankly I am afraid that I do not consider £3k-£4k to purchase a template '.. incredible value for money ..' - and why is there then an additional cost for building the site. Surely the cost of the site includes design & writing the css

After all, these 'free' css templates provide the style-sheet and can very simply be amended to fit preferences. For the most part there are only two main components on basic sites - html page & accompanying css style-sheet (variable content is part of the page)

JC, apologies for the misunderstanding. You are right! Why pay £3,000 for a Template, then more to develop it. It is why we recommend our clients purchase the non-exclusive license version of the Template, in which case, they don't pay additional for the Template, since, we include it in the one-off cost of £995. We purchase the Templates from our supplier and £3,000 is the price they put on an exclusive license. If you think that it, most likely, took the Graphic Designer the best part of a week (the design process, typically, is the most labour intensive part of Web Design) to develop the design, £3,000, although a lot, is probably justified for the quality it delivers. From experience, I know this to be true, based on the quotes that our clients received from other Web Design Agencies, when deciding who to use.

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12th Nov 2014 11:52

Myths & Legends

yep - a bit more to design than that - but glossing over that for a second;

The way you get to the top of the rankings is through traffic - the more people visit your site the higher up the page you will be. 

You will find yourself at the top of the page if you have visited your own site on a regular basis - that's just Google giving you what you want - (like ads on Facebook being appropriate to your usage and interests) - it doesn't mean you'll be at the top of the page when someone else searches.

We have found (over many years) that the most effective way to both move up the rankings and then stay there is to have regular updates to the content.

It took us six months to get one client to the top spot in each keyword and phrase they wanted to be top in just spending an hour a month putting new items on the front page and making sure all the images were tagged. 

This was before the latest algorithms being employed by Google - which you will never know everything about - but what works now seems to be sites that are content rich - video is a big plus - but not Adobe Flash as one example of a contradiction.

Getting back to design - there are many players in the industry that base their offering entirely on SEO - others that are IT companies that have learnt how to set up template sites and Template companies that will tell you how easy it is to do it yourself.

But only a pro design company can make your website attractive from a marketing perspective, give it good interesting copy and style that pushes all your customers buttons.
Differentiating you from the template sites of the competition - this creates longer stays, more traffic and higher rankings. 

Real design is a whole subject of its own - that you need to engage professionals to do.

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14th Nov 2014 10:00

SEO

Will that make any difference ? People are going to type "Port Talbot accountants". The website comes up on the first page of google. Clearly google knows it is in Port Talbot and it is the website of an accountancy firm. Google is getting very good at this sort of thing.

Once google knows you are an accountancy firm in Port Talbot reiterating that fact many times will not affect your relative ranking versus other accountancy firms in PT.

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14th Nov 2014 13:23

Helping Search Engines

daveforbes wrote:

Will that make any difference ? People are going to type "Port Talbot accountants". The website comes up on the first page of google. Clearly google knows it is in Port Talbot and it is the website of an accountancy firm. Google is getting very good at this sort of thing.

Once google knows you are an accountancy firm in Port Talbot reiterating that fact many times will not affect your relative ranking versus other accountancy firms in PT.

 

Dave, SEO is fast moving, Search Engines are getting more clever, however, it is always best practice to still do the basics of SEO, as I have outlined, above. If you have the opportunity to help Search Engines rank your website higher, it is prudent to do so. Does not make much sense not to. Also, Spot On are only showing in the Google Local results and not in the SERPs. Once Spot On optimise their Website, as above, most likely, they will have two listing on the first page of Google.

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By RRATS
03rd Apr 2019 10:04

This is an interesting article. You are correct, there are many aspects to consider when building a website.

I think you need to start at what you want to get from it and work from there.

www.roweaccountancyandtaxsolutions.co.uk

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