6 killer mistakes on websites for accountants

By Posted in - Public Blog on May 13th, 2018 0 Comments

There was a time when a typical accounting firm’s view of websites was simply:

“We’ve got to have a website”.

A website was just something to ‘tick off the list’ for achieving a basic level of credibility and presence in the market.

Progressive firms have known for years—and now even middle-of-the-bell-curve accounting firms recognise this—that simply having a website is not enough.

If you’re going to the effort and expense of getting a website for your accounting firm, it needs to:

  • be an effective website, and
  • be a website that attracts and converts visitors into prospects.

Sadly for accountants, the proliferation of cheap ‘cookie cutter’ providers in the websites for accountants space has resulted in a glut of ‘me too’ websites that:

  • lack originality or any edge in design,
  • have boring, amateur content, and therefore
  • don’t produce a measureable ROI for the firm.

Even though PARADOX is the global pioneer and leader in digital marketing for accountants, guess what? We don’t provide websites. Well, not directly anyway. PARADOX facilitates the process of (1) getting the website content written—by specialist copywriters who do only that and who, as a consequence, do it brilliantly—and (2) getting the website custom designed and built.

This process results in small and medium sized accounting firms getting custom-designed, custom-written websites that look and read world-class—as good as any other accounting firm on the planet—which then allows them to punch above their weight in attracting higher quality clients and out-competing larger firms in the SME advisory space.

We call these specialist providers PARADOX Preferred Partners. They are handpicked specialist providers who are up to our high PARADOX standards. For example, out of every 20 copywriters we evaluate, only one gets through our quality and competency screening. This network of PARADOX Preferred Partners saves our members the time and complexity of having to research and evaluate multiple providers, and it also protects our members from having to wade through the many providers in the marketing space—I’m sad to say but it’s 100% true—who talk a good game, but who then fail to deliver.

Often when accounting firms come to us looking for guidance on their digital marketing strategy and content, one of the first jobs to get done is to fix their broken website.

But usually they don’t know their shiny new website is broken until we explain why and where. In fact, if it’s a relatively new website, usually they’re quite proud of it. It’s then we have to give them some ‘tough love’. It would be a disservice to them, not to give them honest, pragmatic feedback.

Regardless of whether a firm has spent $15,000 or $500 on their website, there are usually a number of killer mistakes that mean their website—even though it might look good—is not producing an ROI or generating many leads.

6 killer mistakes on websites for accountants

Here are 6 mistakes we see time and time again on accounting firms’ websites:

Killer website mistake #1: The home page slider

Imagine you’re at one of these business networking breakfasts where a business owner—who, by the way, apparently doesn’t know how to generate targeted inbound leads using digital marketing and is therefore pitching for business hoping to get quality leads from a miscellaneous room of prospects or referrers; either that, or who just likes sharing hot breakfasts with fellow local business people—stands up to do their 60-second elevator pitch to explain:

  • what their business does,
  • the type of problems it solves, and
  • the types of people it can help, and then…

… as they start speaking, 10 seconds in they abruptly stop, and then take a different tack and start saying something different. Then, 10 seconds later they stop and change tack yet again. At the end of 60 seconds the room has heard this person say six brief, interrupted and incomplete messages.

You’d wonder about this person’s mental state, wouldn’t you? You’d think they had a severe case of ADHD, had way too much coffee, and couldn’t make their mind up about what their main pitch or message actually is.

Well, this is precisely the effect that having a ‘slider’ (also commonly referred to as a carousel or rotating billboard or banner) at the top of your website’s home page has.

It’s like you’re not quite sure what your firm’s main message should be. So you have the website developer load up a handful of different images and headlines, and every 5 or so seconds, the slider moves to display the next image and message.

The website developer sells this to you as a nifty feature and you think it looks modern and cool, but guess what?

Home page sliders have categorically been shown to hurt conversion. See these articles by Yoast and LeadPages or just Google ‘why website home page sliders hurt conversion’. This means that a slider will get fewer clicks, not more.

If your website home page has a slider, get rid of it.

By the way, one of the reasons website providers offer sliders is that they are an efficient way—for them—to get content from you for the crucial ‘above the fold’ area of the home page—this is the top area of the web page that a visitor sees without scrolling. This is an, “Okay, let’s throw half a dozen things at the wall and see what sticks,” kind of approach.

This avoids the challenge of crafting a powerful Value Proposition for the firm and having to make a strategic decision about the firm’s one core message to the market place, which leads to…

Killer website mistake #2: The Anti-Value Proposition

If you’re a subscriber to our marketing platform ImpleMENTOR, you’ll see a detailed description of the structure for creating a Value Proposition for your business in two of the tasks within Establish Your Presence > Define Your Strategy I > Start defining your value proposition and Refine, develop and evaluate your value proposition.

 Your Value Proposition is the number one influencer on the conversion rate of your website home page. In other words, it’s the most important thing that will motivate a website visitor to want to keep scrolling, reading, and clicking.

In short, your Value Proposition is a succinct and powerful articulation of what you do and for whom, and why someone should choose your firm. It includes a main brief headline, a supporting subheading that expands on the main headline, and then 3 or 4 key benefits (note, these are not the names of your services, but rather are the outcomes) your firm helps people achieve.

Articulating a powerful Value Proposition takes a clear strategy and, usually, the assistance of a professional copywriter. (Again, this is where a PARADOX Preferred Partner comes into play.)

But because most providers in the websites for accountants space treat content as a poor cousin compared with the design aspects of a site—more about that issue in the next Killer Mistake, below—9 out of 10 accounting firm websites we initially encounter don’t even have a Value Proposition.

Instead, they have what I have dubbed an Anti-Value Proposition because it is the complete opposite of what should be above the fold on a website’s home page.

An Anti-Value Proposition has no benefits in it, no ‘sizzle’ and it doesn’t speak to a specific reader or target market. It usually has a lame heading like, “Welcome” and includes under that phrases such as (with likely reader responses in italics after each):

  • We are excited to launch our new website (Good for you)
  • We are a well-respected firm (Let me be the judge of that)
  • We are experienced (Isn’t everyone who runs a business?)
  • We are professional (I would certainly hope so)
  • We are caring (Show me that, don’t tell me that)
  • We are different (Really, the last website I looked at said that too)
  • We are proud members of […] (That means very little to me)
  • We are proactive (I’ve heard that promise before)
  • We are your trusted advisors for […] (‘Trust me?’ I’ve heard that one too many times in my life, and it’s usually a sign of who not to trust)
  • We value integrity (So you’re saying, “We’re honest”? Hmmmm.)

And… notice the repeated use of “we”. It’s all about the firm. The value proposition should speak to “you,” the target reader. Use of the words “you” and “your” should far outnumber the use of “we”, “us” and “our”. This lack of seeing through the eyes of a prospective client instead of from the firm’s own perspective is a classic sign of an amateur writer at work, which brings us to…

Killer website mistake #3: Amateur, pedestrian content

What prompts me to make that claim above of, “most providers in the websites for accountants space treat content as a poor cousin compared with the design aspects of a site”?

When I ask a prospective PARADOX member, “Who wrote the content on your website?” the most common answer we get is, “We did.”

What the …?

Clients of websites for accountants providers are often given a questionnaire or Word document template that has a “fill-in-the-blanks” structure for the firm to answer questions about how many years experience they have, which services they provide, who the team is, why someone should choose their firm, and so on.

Question: Is anyone within an accounting firm, a professional copywriter? That is, someone who by definition is paid to write persuasively for a living?

Answer: No.

Result: Accounting firm websites with amateur content that neither impresses nor persuades.

Most of these low-cost cookie cutter website providers get the content back from their clients and lazily copy and paste it into place, once they have done the design.

But adding the content after doing the design is like putting the cart before the horse.

The content is your message, your pitch, WHY someone should choose your firm.

Therefore the content should come FIRST and then the design should be done to support the message; not the other way around.

This is precisely why when we refer our members to PARADOX Preferred Partners to get a website done, after the comprehensive brief is taken, the copywriter begins the process by writing the Value Proposition or the About Us page. Once that is signed off by the accounting firm that is the cue for the website designer to start the design process to support that message and tone of voice. The copywriter and the designer collaborate throughout the process, keeping PARADOX in the loop at each stage and decision point.

That’s why an accounting firm who gets their website done through our process get such a unique and cut-through website, both in content and design.

To put some pictures to these words for you, here are a few example websites our PARADOX Preferred Partners have created for accounting firms recently:

A website’s content—its message—is the catalyst for the design direction. The content should not be an afterthought or be left in the DIY basket for your firm to “have a go” at creating it.

It’s too important for that, if you want your website to convert.

Evaluate your firm’s website and see how you fare. See the factors you’ve nailed and find out how you can improve your website to get more visitors and more ideal clients.

Killer website mistake #4: Crap images

Ever seen a website with ‘pretend office people’ images on it?

You know the ones. Where there’s a multi-ethnic group of people sitting around a laptop in an office or café, pointing and looking at the computer screen smiling or looking amazed, all the while looking like attractive models?

How much trust and authenticity does this this type of image create for the website and the firm?

Zero. It fact, less than zero because it detracts from trust, despite the website’s ‘Welcome message’ on the home page (see above) claiming the firm has integrity and can be the reader’s ‘trusted advisor’!

But the firm is showing ‘fake people’ on their website? How does that work?

Other mistakes made with the use of images on accounting firm websites typically include:

  • Featuring an image of the reception area (Yawn)
  • Featuring an image of the building (I can hear the chest beating from here)
  • Featuring a generic image of the region (And that image relates to how you can help me do what, exactly…?)
  • Featuring images of the firm’s staff or clients (which is a great idea), but the photos taken look like poor quality snaps or worse, like cheap passport photos taken with each person up against a wall, with flash photography. ( These guys look amateur)

Ideally, use either images of:

  • Real people, such as your team and/or your clients—BUT… get them taken by a professional so they have an edge and are carefully thought through to support your branding and message; or
  • A metaphor or symbol that supports your Value Proposition and what you help people achieve. This can include photography or illustration.

Note that I have not said a blanket, “Do not use stock photography.” I have advised, “Do not use fake office people who are pretending to be you or your clients.”

Stock photography can be used for symbolic and metaphorical images. If you go this route, explore the cost of paying extra for exclusive use of the image in your country and/or industry. The last thing you want is another firm using the same image on their home page.

Why do I take the time to talk about images? Because design is something that influences people in the subconscious level, and like/do not like decisions are made in a nanosecond. You can have a website with a great value proposition, well written content and overall a good design and layout, but amateur images will instantly bring the site—and the firm’s brand—down in perceived quality.

Don’t skimp on the photography. Build that into your website budget.

Killer website mistake #5: Bad or neglected SEO

SEO—Search Engine Optimisation—is about making sure your website “ticks all the boxes” for Google (and Bing and Yahoo) to rank your website’s pages well for specific target phrases. These should be strategic phrases you have determined that your target market(s) search on when they’re looking for solutions to problems that you can help them solve. (The art of working out which keyword phrases to target is called keyword research, and is one of the first steps we do when onboarding a new PARADOX member.)

So, why should you care about SEO?

If your website is not SEO’d well, that means your site will be getting only, say, hundreds of visitors per month when you could be getting thousands of visitors to—and many more leads from—your website.

SEO is crucial for any business with a website.

Common SEO errors we see in accounting firm websites:

  • No SEO target keyword (phrase) has been chosen for each page (not even for the home page). This is the specific phrase you want the page to rank well for in Google and other search engines. Each page on a website can have a different SEO target keyword.
  • The target keyword does not appear in the Title of the page—the Title is what is displayed in the search engine results pages. Note that the Title is different from the <H1> tag; the <H1> is the main heading a reader sees on the actual web page.
  • The web page content—including its formatting and image descriptions—has not been SEO’d with the page’s target keyword in mind. Google’s ranking algorithm for relevancy to a search also takes into account the words that are:
    • used in subheadings (<H2> , <H3> etc. tags)
    • highlighted with strong emphasis (bolded words)
    • used in describing the images (known as ALT tags)
    • used frequently—but not too frequently—on the page.
  • The Title has not been well worded (again, this should be done by a copywriter who understands SEO, which our PARADOX Preferred Partners do) to persuade people to click it—that is to choose to visit your site—when it is listed in search engine results. The Title of a web page needs to work hard to get attention and interest, like a headline.
  • The Title is too long and gets cut off in the search engine results pages (as evidenced by the Title being shown in Google with an ellipsis (‘…’ symbol) on the end of it.
  • Page Descriptions—the paragraph of text that appears in the search engine results beneath the Title/link—are not well written, or are missing, or are too long, or are repeated on multiple pages on the site (for which Google will penalise your site).
  • Pages take too long to load—this is often due to images that have not been optimised (made smaller in file size) for the web, or plugins or integrations that take too long to load. If a page takes longer than a few seconds to load, people will hit the back button. Google also penalises slow-loading pages.
  • Pages have missing or multiple <H1> tags — Google only wants to see one <H1> paragraph (main headline) per page, to help clarify the topic of each page.
  • Pages don’t have enough content or enough useful content on them, and so Google deems them to be ‘thin pages’—this means they will not rank well in search results, and therefore very few people will see them.

These are just some of the On-Page SEO issues that our SEO Implementation team fixes on our members’ websites. There are also a lot of Off-Page SEO tasks and tactics that our team does for members’ websites, but that’s outside the scope of this article.

Killer website mistake #6: Bad design

We all know that first impressions count—you only get one chance at making them, and they last.

For your firm’s brand and online presence, when someone discovers your website via a search engine or through a social media post or mention, when they come to your website for the first time—POW—a first impression will be made.

This will be a good or bad first impression, but either way, it’s under your control.

If you want to attract modern, progressive clients to your firm, your website cannot look like the equivalent of a cheap suit. You won’t get forward-thinking business owners and investors being interested in using your firm if the design of your website—including your firm’s branding, logo, colours and fonts—make it look like you’re stuck in circa 1998.

Design matters. All successful entrepreneurs know and accept this.

The average accounting firm does not.

The good news here is that the bar has been set very low.

To stand out from the crowd and to make a brilliant first impression on prospective clients, you simply must invest in design. And invest in a custom design for your website—don’t settle for a cookie cutter website with your own amateur copywriting effort copied and pasted in as an afterthought.

Learn the key strengths and weaknesses of your firm’s website to find out how you can get more visitors and more ideal clients.

Is your next step here to redesign or renovate your website?

No, not necessarily.

A crucial advantage you get in having PARADOX guide your marketing is that we’re not blindly focused on any one ‘silver bullet’ in your firm’s marketing—see my blog post and my last #FridayBeerstorming rant video about this. If we were a websites for accountants provider, we’d naturally be biased towards advising, “You need a new website.”

As they say, “To a hammer everything looks like a nail,” and likewise, to a provider of websites for accountants, the answer to improving your marketing is “you need a new website”.

At PARADOX, on the other hand, we’re neutral on that. We’ll just tell you how it is. If your website is ready for more traffic, great. If it’s not, we’ll tell you, and then guide you on how to get it right.

Understand that your website—as crucial as it is—is but one part of one of the ten cogs in your firm’s Marketing Machine. There are other important strategic aspects to consider in your marketing, before changing your website should be considered as a next step.

Having said that, how many cogs does it take to be missing, for a machine to break?

Yes, only one cog needs to be missing, for the entire machine to stop working.

So, are you READY? Take the quiz

If you want to get a grasp of the big picture of your accounting firm’s marketing—including whether your firm’s website is effective—as a first step, take our Are You READY for Digital Marketing? quiz here and then book a time to have an initial chat with us.

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