Making accountants' websites appealing

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We recently conducted a review of the websites of mid-sized UK accountancy firms and was surprised by how poor most of them were. Here's what we found.

Most were visually unappealing, cluttered with contents, no clear differentiating messages, formal and impersonal tone of voice and cliched imagery - at odds to the clients they are trying to woo. Most claimed to be supporting entrepreneurial businesses and individuals in the pursuit of their growth plans. But entrepreneurs are not conservative and traditional. Far from it, they are progressive, open, modern, media savvy, informal in their approach to conducting business especially in today's digital and social world - all the attributes most firms were failing to reflect. Like most web users, they don't hang around to dig for information either but do have a thirst for knowledge. Most firms however were failing to package their undoubted expertise in a simple, easy to digest way. Not surprisingly they're also inconsistent in their approach to using social media. Some partners were blogging, others were not. Some had LinkedIn presences, others didn't. Some had videos, some didn't.

But the one thing that struck me the most was how most firms were regurgitating the same old messages, using the same formal tone around the themes of partner involvement, sector expertise, commitment to service, approachability, adding value and more. Few were broadcasting clear and distinctive messages consistent with a branding approach; instead, most seem content to use their sites to inundate users with all manner of information.

I appreciate that accountancy firms have to be prudent; but there is a big difference between firms acting with prudence and being seen to be prudent and running the risk of being seen as unappealing. Perhaps the underlying conservatism of accountants holds some back on how they express themselves. Some also suffer from not seeing websites as essential vehicles for reflecting firms' brand values. Instead of spending time carefully addressing this, they seem intent on throwing the kitchen sink at the site, hoping that something will be of interest.

For those firms planning to refresh their sites, here are a few helpful tips:

1. Branding
View your website as the main expression of your brand positioning. Failing to recognise this put's you on the wrong foot when it comes to designing the site. Before getting involved with site maps and technical matters, spend time focusing on your firm and your audiences; this will help drive your personality, tone of voice, visual style and messaging and provide you with the right building blocks for an effective website.

2. Messages
Work hard to identify the key messages that differentiate you; turn these into core themes running throughout the site. Rather than clutter your website with loads of contents, focus on 3 or 4 top-level messages, bringing them to life by a distinct tone of voice and using stories behind the firm's services and culture.

3. Expertise
Most site visitors will be interested in a specific sector or service, and make a beeline for the relevant pages. To hold their attention and to channel your knowledge, turn these pages into hubs of expertise containing relevant blogs, seminars, thought-leadership, case-studies, videos, webcasts, testimonials, awards, profiles, news and more.

4. Social media
Be realistic in what you can achieve. We all know the theory, but without the time and commitment of everyone, you will develop a piece-meal approach. Develop a workable strategy that takes into account levels of resources, abilities and goals.

5. Be brave
Of course the end solution should reflect your positioning and personality within the context of your audiences' profile and needs; but be prepared to be brave. Digital and social media, along with the use and growth of tablets and smart phones is driving change. Mediocre is no longer acceptable. Audiences are increasingly media savvy. Be prepared to unshackle conservatism and adopt a distinctive approach to cut through the noise of competing claims.

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Grahame Jones

Written by Grahame Jones

Whether firms are targeting clients, prospects, laterals, graduates or staff, we use creativity both online and offline to help create clear and distinctive brand communications. Email me to see how we can assist your firm. Or, call me 020 7307 9752 / 07961 357 358. Connect with me on Linked-In and follow me on Twitter.

There are 1 responses

28/06/2013 13:40:35 - Martin Sharp

Thiis article resonates really well with my experience, and did make me think that we need to look again at our website (cliched images? Perhaps). We are also need to pay attention to our social media strategy, but like most people in the business, we already have enough with the day job! Still, plenty to think about. Good job Grahame

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