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The top five accountants’ website mistakes

31st Mar 2010
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Mark Lee offers tips for spring cleaning your firm’s website.

I’m frequently intrigued to see that while a few accounting firms adopt an innovative approach to their website, others use a standard template and many more make some quite fundamental mistakes. If your firm has a website 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 website or doubt the value of spending time updating or upgrading it, you may find that what follows offers some food for thought.

Who is this website for?
It’s essential to ensure that your website 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’ website – in most cases clients will contact you directly when they need your help and will only go to your website if you have directed them there. The real target audience for an accountant’s website 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, solicitors 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 website’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, email, or post) or, if you are able to persuade them as to how it benefits them, your preferred method (i.e. 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 website.

Am I in the right place?
The main objective for many firms’ websites 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 website 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 UK. Most people who search the web for a new accountant are looking for someone local to where they are based. Your website 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 optimised to beat the local competition.

Adwords– In this case you’re hoping that the advert 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 advert. 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 website that makes no specific reference to the subject matter of the advert.

Who should I ask for?

It’s astonishing how many accountancy firms websites 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 email 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 your secretary’s name or the name of the secretary you would engage if you were big enough or bothered enough to have one. This also enables you to immediately identify callers who have come via your website as they are the only ones to ask for that person when they get through to you.

Some accountants prefer email 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 email. You can try and some may do as you want, but many others will simply chose to move onto the next accountant’s website.

Losing prospective staff
Imagine for a moment that your firm has placed a recruitment advert 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 advert catches their eye?

Anyone worth their salt is going to check your website. 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 websites make the firms seem attractive places to work.

However effective your website 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 websites? Share your tips below.

Mark Lee is chairman of the Tax Advice Network and consultant practice editor for AccountingWEB.co.uk

 

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Adrian Pearson
By Adrian Pearson
31st Mar 2010 10:07

Very good points, especially regarding the audience

This is a really useful article Mark.  I particularly agree with your assertion that the audience an accountants website should be aimed at is NOT existing clients.

This is something that I find myself banging on about all the time.  Clients don't want to self-help from your online resources, they want to pick up the phone and speak to you, their trusted adviser.  Prospective clients are definitely the target reader and all they are interested in is "kicking the tyres" before calling you up for an initial chat.

I am currently trying to collect more information on the efficiency (or not) of detailed technical content on accountants websites, so if any readers want to take my 2 minute online survey I would be very grateful and happy to share the results.

[26 responses so far - not bad but more required for a decent sample please]

Adrian Pearson, Accountants Websites

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By NetAccountant
31st Mar 2010 11:57

Target Audience

The target audience usually is the first thing any web designer will talk to you - his client - about.

This will have an impact on the look of the site and the information it contains, even for accountants. I have three clients targeting very specific industries: nurseries, breweries/pub and media. The design and feel of the three websites is totally different, and as you said this cannot be achieved with template designs.

Each site also has at least one section going in full details about why they are the "best accountant" for that industry - selling their practice.

Contact details and names are also very prominently displayed on the website.

I'll make sure to do some research on the "role" played by the careers page, because it's the second time I see it mentioned where "accountant websites mistakes" are the subject of the discussion.

Tom - NetAccountant.net

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By Anonymous
31st Mar 2010 12:34

Websites In General

Bear in mind that the competition- (other accountants) and then potential employees, (students), are browsing the web and most of your 'hits' will be from them.

Then there is in bronze position- the marketing angle. Rather glamorous ladies photoshopped no doubt from professional photography studios are willing to hand over their portfolio of 'snaps' to dating agency scammers. They will contact you with ridiculous proposals and probably don't look anything like the models in the photographs they masquerade as.  

After that expect some genuine leads from your website.

Have fun!

 

 

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By Susielee
31st Mar 2010 12:37

A few other common mistakes

I'm responsible for having recently revamped our firm's website and was delighted to win a silver Davey award for website creativity not long afterwards.  I agree that too many people fail to consider their target audience and don't spend time understanding what they are looking for on your website - high level information or nitty gritty detail. 

An area that I think you have overlooked is the importance of the navigation of the site.  In the accounting industry, I've seen numerous examples of poor navigation where you just wouldn't know where to look to find the information you want.  Language used is often jargonistic (is that a word?!) and many firms are guilty of cramming everything onto their homepage which results in a confusing mess.

Just out of interest as well, we find that the majority of traffic coming to our site via organic search, has searched for 'ClearSky' or a similar brand term.  The point about SEO is that it works in tandem with the rest of your advertising and if you raise awareness of your brand name, SEO has to make it easy to find when searched for.

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By Bob Harper
31st Mar 2010 13:32

Tick, done that!

Mark I think many firms use a template solution and put little thought into their website because the solutions are quite cheap and many firms have been living in comfort zone land so had a “tick, done that mentality”. 

As I am sure you are aware, firms who have invested are winning more than their fair share of new business as the competition is weak and people are looking for better deals and researching providers online. 

What members should know about Website is that the financial investment does not need to be significant BUT they do need to be engaged and invest some time. But, this is what many are looking to do with their marketing budgets.

Bob

Portfolio Marketing

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By Anonymous
31st Mar 2010 14:10

Accountants can interact more effectively with their clients.

 I don’t think accountants make best use of their site in terms of interacting with their clients and in many cases their site is a little more than a brief overview of what the company offers.

With this in mind many accountants are now interested in offering the following; Share set of accounts online- existing clients can log in to their own webspace and download last year’s tax returns or their invoices, this is also a useful tool for prospective clients, this doesn’t preclude your clients from calling you up but does mean they can access their information any time any place as you can.  The main advantage is reduced time on non-revenue generating activities and also significant cost savings in terms of postage. how much do you spend a year on posting?You can also sign off on documents with digital signatures and amend documents if required all from your own secure workspace.Also why don’t accountants ask to be paid? We are all aware in these difficult times cash flow is vital so what if you had a facility via your site were you can accept payments?No large capital outlay required and all of this acts as an extension of your existing website.Please click here for more http://www.luceytechnology.com/Industries/Accountants.aspx  

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By Anonymous
31st Mar 2010 23:05

Get out more...

I think some of you should get out a bit more!

Web sites, practice development, marketing, yada yada yada - they seem to take on their own life and be a means to their own ends. 

Surely the aim is to make sure you have a decent practice delivering you a reasonable income for minimum hassle so you can then enjoy the finer things in life....  Who gives a tinkers cuss about "common mistakes on web sites" when all is running smoothly....

Lisa
(wondering why she is at variance to the world)

 

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By mikewhit
01st Apr 2010 00:23

Picking cherries

Lisa,

I guess it's the difference between having to take every bit of work that comes by, love it or hate it, and being able to choose the kind of work you do, giving more time for those finer things !

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
01st Apr 2010 01:16

Lisa - I agree with you...

... hence my opening comments:

"If your firm has a website and you’re happy that it’s delivering all the things you want to achieve from it, that’s fine."

Mark

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By Bob Harper
01st Apr 2010 10:07

Aims and objectives

The aim of a practice will be different for different people.  

If you want a reasonable income and minimal hassle and you have it then you probably don't need to worry about the art and science of leading edge practice development.  By the way, the chances are you are the majority.

The firms interested in this either have a problem like the firm who contact me last week who have lost 20% of there fees which equates to £100k off bottom line for the practice owner, start-ups looking to win business so they can pay their mortgage and improve their lives and ambitious firms looking to expand.

As someone passionate about the accountancy industry I find it disappointing that so many accountant seem happy with average practice performance and to go through the motions because I believe accountants have the potential to impact our society so positively.

Bob

Portfolio Marketing

 

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Adrian Pearson
By Adrian Pearson
01st Apr 2010 10:57

Business or self-employed?

Marketing and practice development are only relevant to those looking to build an accountancy business - i.e. something that can work without the owner and be sold at some point in the future.

Alternatively, if you just want to be a self-employed accountant - i.e. you have a job, but it just happens to be that you work for yourself, then if you have the income you need, why worry about anything else other than keeping your existing clients happy.

Horses for courses.

Adrian Pearson, Top Accountants

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By Bob Harper
01st Apr 2010 12:06

Job or a business

@Adrian I used to think the same but have changed my mind as all the marketing and practice development strategies can be used to create a better lifestyle business.  One where there is more profit per hour, less hassle and more enjoyable work.  And, I think lifestyle accountancy businesses can be sold.

Perhaps passion plays a part? If someone is passionate about their business they are more likely to be interested in best practice in all areas.  If someone is passionate about something outside their practice (maybe children's education, helping them get on the housing ladder, a charity or a hobby) then they have the opportunity to use their business to fund this, so again they may be more likely to be interested in this stuff. 

What I don't understand is people who are not interested or passionate getting involved in the conversation.

Bob

www.portfoliomarketing.co.uk

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By onesys
06th Apr 2010 16:30

Identify who is currently visiting your website

The paragraph 'Basic information' hints on an important point - identifying your target audience.

If your website hosting company has given you the details of your Content Management System, (to edit your own website content) or log-on details for your Control Panel, you should be able to get detailed information on your website visitors. Alternatively you can activate the Google Analytics tool.

These tools will give you an idea of how many visitors you currently get, which websites they came from and what key phrases they used to find you.

When we first started using those tools for our website, we had a bit of a surprise, as the most frequently used key phrases had little to do with our main products and services. This meant that we were being visited by the wrong people, which led to a high 'bounce rate', which led to a lower page rank on Google and few enquiries.

If your business is called John Butcher Accountants and your website is called jpbutcher.com, you may get a high percentage of visitors that are searching for any phrase including the word 'butcher', rather than accountants, especially if your name is mentioned on every page of your website. (just one example)

There can be many reasons why your website is not generating enquiries. We had ours audited by someone who understands website optimisation.

Hope this helps.

 

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Adrian Pearson
By Adrian Pearson
06th Apr 2010 17:22

Survey Update

Further to my first posting above, thanks to all who have participated so far.

Our survey currently has 26 responses.  More are needed for a decent sample, so please spend two minutes taking the survey.

So far, in response to the question "How do you know if clients and prospects are using your website's technical resources?" 26% have responded "We don't know, we just assume that they must be" - and 35% of those taking the survey so far ducked this question completely!

Adrian Pearson, Accountants Websites

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By IanKaye
26th Apr 2010 20:51

Are accountants online savvy at all?

Good article Mark,

I'm finding its remarkable how many Accountants do not have an online presence at all.  Let alone a well thought out online marketing approach.

I'm conducting a survey on Accountants web presence:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LLWYN56 its 8 questions and should take around 3 mins or less!

Kind regards

Ian

 

Ian Kaye

http://www.iankaye.com

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By Ben_Williams
29th Apr 2010 09:49

Great Post!

Hi Mark,

Ben Williams here (AKA @keepersacc) . Great post, especially the part about having a name on the website for when the visitor calls in; I had never thought of that.

Really helpful, I shall be coming back for more posts like this!

Thanks again.

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Adrian Pearson
By Adrian Pearson
13th May 2010 15:03

Survey results

As promised, here are the results of my survey.  Only 32 responses, but not a bad effort.  Now, if we could persuade AW to undertake a survey, we might get more authoritative answers?

Adrian Pearson

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By naomi2000
11th Jan 2011 16:56

Good article

I do get frustrated by dealing with would be website designers who assume that I have a typical B2C model and want to maximise general public hits on our website by building an all singing all dancing internet colossus, preferably the one they've sold to the accountants 4 miles down the road last Tuesday. I do get that it's probably more fun to design a big glossy website than a small staid one but that's so not my problem.

I shall now point them to Mark's article instead .

 

 

 

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By TheHoltPartnership
03rd Dec 2012 17:33

That should be the top 7 Accountant Website Mistakes

Mark, unfortunately you have made two common mistakes that the majority of website owners make;

A website should also be aimed at existing clients. Encouraging existing clients to use your Website can be seen to, significantly, improve customer service levels i.e. FAQ and Integrated Helpdesk, and can help reduce the costs of staff answering repetitive questions.A Website should also be viewed as a proactive business tool for helping the business to run more smoothly on a daily basis i.e. think of all the activities during a typical working day that a Website could help with.

We wrote an article some time ago, primarily, aimed at those business owners who believe they do not need a website (yes, they still exist). However, the article also gives many good pointers/examples to the real benefits of owning a website. http://www.theholtpartnership.co.uk/website_advice/why_have_website.php

Limiting the success of your website to the number of new business leads it generates, typically, only leads to disappointment and is a waste of a vaulable business tool. Work out how it can help you to be more efficient, cut costs and improve customer service levels, and you will get much, much more from your website and increase the chances of it becoming a successful website.

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
11th Dec 2013 14:51

@theholtpartnership

My apologies for not noticing your comments previously.

Not sure I agree that either of the two points you suggest would make it into my top 5. They are both nice-to-haves depending on the style of one's accounting practice, one's client base and the approach an accountant wishes to adopt re client service.

My own view is that it could be a huge mistake to build a website that encourages clients to go there rather than get in touch with the accountant personally. He/she will be far better placed to keep tabs on client activities and business developments if they speak rather than let them simply find info on the website. Accountants need to stay in the loop if they want to be pro-active.

Beyond this I agree that, what I would term, client intranet portals can be very valuable. But the absence of one is not a mistake per-se.

Mark 

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