Saturday, June 4, 2011

What You'll Need to Have to Build a Minimalist Accounting Website

I've been asked by many Do-it-Yourselfers since I got into the design business what they ought to add to their CPA sites. The absolute minimum you need to furnish visitors is enough information for them to contact you so your site absolutely, positively needs these pages:

Contact Us: With your details, a map, and perhaps an email contact form.

Service Pages: I'd recommend a separate page for each service, but if you want to summarize it onto a single page you can do that too. Describe your core services, and also talk about other services you offer that can add value for your clients. If possible throw a contact form at the bottom of the page.

Staff Pages: The purpose of this page is to help your visitors feel like they've gotten to know you a little bit. Tell them a little about the firm and the people in it.

Firm Profile: The tone of this page should be highly professional and include a formal overview of your practice including some compelling reasons that a prospective client should want to work with you.

This type of content doesn't require any real programming skill and doesn't need to be updated very often. You won't have any trouble writing this copy yourself or adding it to your site. This is what we call a "brochure site". You should be able to put a site like this up yourself without any trouble. All you need is a domain, a site host, and a CMS (a content manager that can help you add content to your site without making you learn to code). A service like GoDaddy can provide everything you need.

The Brochure Site

A brochure site won't land you new clients, help you retain your existing clients, or decrease your operating costs. All it will do is keep you from looking like a dinosaur when you are doing your traditional marketing and make it easy for your current clients to find your office and phone number when they need it.

If you're looking for more than that; if you want a site that will really help you with your network and online marketing efforts, you'll need more than a brochure site. You're going to need to add content to the site that your visitors will want to come back and revisit frequently. More advanced accounting websites are designed to bring customers back to your website again and again by offering content that sets you up as a financial reference source. Content like downloadable tax forms, tax due dates, business and financial planning articles, and blogs make your website a logical place to turn when people need tax and financial help. The downside, of course, is that this type of information requires design skills to post and time to update.

The most basic of these features is the online newsletter. It's not hard to set up an online newsletter. By the time you've set up a brochure site you will have acquired all the skills you need to set up and maintain it, but doing it cost effectively is another matter entirely. After all, your time is valuable. The time you spend writing and compiling articles, posting them, and managing your mailings is time you're not spending making money. I think you'll find that if you added it all together the time you've lost will have cost you more than a complete content package would have cost you from a third party vendor.

Standard Content Package Features

Once you're ready to step up to a more advanced site it's time to look into a content package. Most content packages include hosting and email, but you can also use them to augment your DIY website. A content package will include tons of content. These features have evolved over the years to maximize the marketing potential of your website.

News stories and free reports are a great way to draw visitors to the site. These articles will keep your site looking dynamic and exciting. When designers talk about "dynamic" content they're usually talking about content that changes automatically. These pages appeal to visitors and search engines alike and use advanced programming to create the page as it's called up so the site owner doesn't have to manually update them. Websites that try to DIY their news page almost always fall behind. It's vital to keep your news page current. You're better off deleting your news section than you are letting it slide into obsolescence. Your firm looks lazy and unreliable if the most recent news update is weeks, months, or years ago.

Financial calculators, downloadable forms, and useful links are pretty much standard elements of a modern accounting website. These interactive elements offer visitors lots of great reasons to keep coming back to your site and really boost the marketing value of your site.

Another standard feature that will really help with client satisfaction and retention is a "client portal" or "secure file transfer" system. These systems allow a client to send large files securely over the web and will have a profound impact on your efficiency and expenses when the tax crunch hits.

Sooner or later you're going to want a big-kid's site. When that time comes you're going to need to find a real CPA site designer. If you try to develop this much content yourself it's going to cost you thousands of dollars and gobble up scores of billable hours. Luckily there are a selection of designers that specialize in supplying content for accounting websites. These companies can provide the content you need as well as provide hosting and support services.


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