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What Your Website Should Be Doing for You

Website Builder Roundtable

CPA’s website is the proverbial greeting handshake for many potential clients. It forms a person’s initial opinion of the firm. This importance has led many to speculate on the best way to construct and maintain a website. CPA Magazine approached thought leaders on the subject to get their views on mistakes CPAs often make when creating what website and what feature every CPA website should have.

Rutan DaveDAVE RUTAN CEO of CPA Site Solutions

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
Enticed by the low-cost and easy DIY claims, many tax professionals attempt to build their own website. They soon realize that proper website creation involves much more than inserting contact information and a few pictures. Professionally designed websites should be more than aesthetically pleasing. A well-designed website should be created to convert visitors into clients by incorporating search engine optimization elements, properly placed calls-to-action and engaging, educational content. It’s also critical that tax professionals keep their website updated. Aside from turning off prospective and existing clients, websites that lack fresh content and user-friendly features are penalized by search engines, resulting in poor rankings and ultimately a decline in business.

What is a feature you think every tax professional’s website should have?
There are a number of must-have website features that will benefit accountants. The first is engaging, educational content. Not only does the right content inform visitors about the services you offer, but it also helps increase search engine results rankings. And, since the vast majority of Internet searchers don’t go past page one of results, your firm’s ranking is a key factor prospective clients’ ability to find you. Your website should also showcase positive reviews and testimonials to help prospective clients know what it’s like to work with you and your firm. It’s also important to have a secure portal that allows tax professionals to conveniently exchange files with clients via their website. Finally, an updated “Contact Us” page with request forms allows you to gather information directly from your website 24/7.

Tenner BobROBERT TENNER CEO of Accounting and Financial Site Builder from Tenenz

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
The heart of any website is the content. In order for a website to be successful the content must be relevant, timely, and useful to a firm’s desired audience (whether it’s existing clients or potential leads). Professionals that want to properly leverage their website must put some time into thinking through their content: how they describe their practice and services they provide, what resources they want to provide to clients (such as articles or calculators), and critically, how often they are willing to update and refresh content. This is often more difficult than people guess, but having direct access to modify and update their website’s content is key to help eliminate obstacles on maintaining the most important aspect of their website. Going through a third-party every time you wish to change something is not only a hassle, but eventually is exhausting and results in stale and out-of-date content. We also see too many firms paying fees for services they don’t need or use. We believe a better solution is providing a web platform that allows the firm to just add and pay for the services and features that work for them, not the website provider.

What is a feature you think every tax professional’s website should have?
It seems not a month goes by without another big new story relating to a new online security breach. Any tax professional starting to embrace digital tools must realize that email is not a secure channel to send private information. Professionals must offer a secure file-sharing portal for their clients to keep their information safe. Emails travel across many different servers, some of which may or may not encrypt the message as it goes. Just like a postcard, that means prying eyes could see the information as it travels. A secure file transfer portal lets clients and tax professionals securely upload, store, and download sensitive documents at any time.

Bhansali ChadraDR. CHANDRA BHANSALI Co-founder and CEO of AccountantsWorld

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
When it comes to running their websites, many accountants fail to take full advantage of the time a visitor spends on the site. It is like leaving money on the table. A good website must provide quick answers to the questions visitors may have as well as make visitors aware of additional opportunities they could be interested in, including tax saving, tax planning and other add-on services. Especially during tax season, the home page itself should become the landing page to capture leads as well. In order to ensure leads are captured accurately, be sure your site encourages visitors to fill in basic contact details that are submitted and captured by the firm.

What is a feature you think every tax professional's website should have?
Every tax professional’s website should be shoppable. In today’s digital-first world, prospective clients have access to the information and tools to do their own research and to shortlist their choices. If your website content is compelling enough and fits their needs and wants, they are ready with their criteria to buy. “Where to buy” needs to be more obvious and prominent on your site. Most websites offer free consultation, contact us forms and other similar features. But surprisingly, more often than not, the shoppable feature, or the “buy button,” is missing. Not having a buy button means not giving immediate buying opportunity to the interested prospect, which can result in a prolonged sales cycle and even potential loss of interest from the prospect. A 10%, limited time, web-only discount along with a buy button can add to your sales.

Duffy HughHUGH DUFFY Chief Marketing Officer of Build Your Firm

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
One of the mistakes we often see is most tax accountants find themselves struggling with the dilemma of choice. They are either very interested in having a website with a lot of tools or they are looking for a website that will assist with their marketing efforts and generate new leads. Accountants that focus on tools are hyper-focused on getting a website that comes with all the bells and whistles like hundreds of pre-written articles, email newsletter tool, social media posting tool, secure file sharing tool, payment processing, online portal connectivity, calculators and access to tools that have nothing to do with accounting and tax. Accountants that are more concerned about marketing tend to be focused on a search engine optimization, posting online reviews and reputation management, having professionally-written content, social media marketing and effectively communicating their firm's branding. The mistake is failing to realize in order to have a truly effective accounting website, tax accountants should be investing in a website provider that offers answers to both these needs.

What is a feature you think every tax professional's website should have?
There is no need to settle in today's online world. We truly believe that accountants shouldn't have to trade-off tools versus marketing in their website presentation. Instead, we recommend choosing a website provider that understands the needs of accounting firms and understands the difference between an enrolled agent versus CPA, QuickBooks versus Xero, and provides tools that enable accountants to operate more efficiently, and within compliance. Not to mention, a provider that doesn't put your firm into a box and instead gets to know your firm and can provide a website that clearly defines what you offer and what makes you unique. With the evolution of websites designed specifically for accountants, you should expect the core tools to be well designed for peak performance, a visual presentation that effectively brands your firm and paints the picture you want to embed in a prospect's mind, and motivates the prospect to call your office and meet with you.

Reams LeeLEE REAMS II CEO of ClientWhys

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
It takes much more than a website to stand out online. If no one can find your website, what is the point? To showcase your experience, tax pros need to be active on all of the major social media profiles, actively share knowledge on their blog. We often see what we call a “dinosaur” website, where the professional tried to save money and built a site that was never updated after it went live. That strategy just doesn’t work. You need to be present where your clients are spending their time online. Be active on social media and engage with your audience through your email newsletter. A lot of what is said about you occurs online. Let’s make sure it is positive.

What is a feature you think every tax professional's website should have?
Social proof and client recommendations should be front and center on a tax professional's website. Times have changed. Consumers no longer rely on the recommendation of one. They do their research and make better choices based on the opinions of many. So building up a stockpile of reviews and testimonials makes it easier to convert web leads and those referred by others. You also have already planted the seed of trust by what others have said about you. They are more likely to follow your advice, refer others, and maybe, just maybe, pay more for your services.

Drake JeffJEFF DRAKE President of CPASites, LLC

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
The biggest mistake we see accounting firms make is creating an interactive website and then not being active with it. When we first began building tax and accounting websites, there were very few options for creating an interactive site. But over the years, as blogs and Twitter apps became prevalent, more professionals jumped on the bandwagon and began viewing their website as an active marketing tool they can use to stay in touch with their clients. The problem however, is after the initial excitement of their new website “toy” has worn off and the drudgery of everyday work resumes, their blog entries and tweets begin to taper off. We repeatedly warn our clients that a blog or Twitter app that hasn’t been updated in weeks or months is far worse in appearance than not having one at all. Our experience has been that unless there is someone in the firm that has maintained an active blog and/or is passionate about online communication, it is best to simply maintain content for their clients that is updated external sources.

What is a feature you think every tax professional's website should have?
With the increased focus on security and confidentiality, we think it is now imperative that all tax professionals maintain a secure client portal that can be used to store and transfer files with their clients. Many tax professionals are still using standard email for exchanging tax information and the risks are enormous. They seem to assume that it’s no more risky than mailing a return to a client but they fail to realize that, unlike information sent via email, packages sent through the U.S. Postal Service cannot be intercepted and copied by anyone around the world. Since tampering with a sealed and mailed document is easily evident, often traceable and subject to severe domestic criminal penalties, the mail services are considered an acceptable level of risk. Tampering with emailed documents however, can leave behind no evidence, be completely untraceable and if done outside the country, be completely exempt from domestic law. Email is a highly unacceptable risk for a tax professional.

Lee SebastianSEBASTIAN LEE President/Owner of Service2Client

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
Not taking the time to create a great bio with high quality images. On a larger topic, learning and being willing to spend money on marketing.

What is a feature you think every tax professional's website should have?
It sounds simple, but a beautiful photo of personnel or landscape and a Free Consultation offer. Further on this topic is a video from one of the partners.

Kleinsmith JordanJORDAN C. KLEINSMITH Sr. Product Manager, Tax & Innovation at Thomson Reuters

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
You cannot afford to write-off the importance of aesthetic appeal. Many of you probably think along the lines of what you would like to see on a tax professional’s website and overcomplicate your sites for the average non-tax-minded visitors, leading to a cluttered appearance and confusing navigation structure. Less is truly more in many cases. You are likely correct in saying you gain most of your new business by word of mouth, but you may be failing to recognize that the first thing a referred prospect is going to do is search for your website online – very, very few prospective customers will make a cold call to your office or email you before taking this step. Once they arrive at your site, you have mere seconds to make a good impression and influence them to reach out and make contact. If your site looks “cheap” or unprofessional at a glance – or is not formatted to display correctly on a mobile device, which is what the majority of new prospects will use to look you up – you will likely lose the opportunity to gain a new client. Aesthetic appeal is one of the only tools at your disposal to make such a positive impression in such a small window of time.

What is a feature you think every tax professional's website should have?
An absolutely critical feature to any tax professional’s website – beyond a clear brand promise of the quality service you pledge to all clients – is a method of contact to your office that does not involve making a phone call. This could include something as sophisticated as a live chat capability to an on-call member of your office, a submission form requesting a prospect’s contact information and service(s) desired, or as simple as a link to an email address at your firm. You may not realize it, but there’s a major paradigm shift underway in how prospects select service professionals based on communication preferences: whereas the old litmus test was “I’m not doing business with any company I can’t call for service at a moment’s notice”, the new requirement is “I’m not doing business with any company I have to call for service at a moment’s notice.” This extends to self-service capabilities like secure access to tax returns and other documents online, but begins with prospects shopping for a new tax preparer.

Sekander NakeNAKE SAKANDER Product Manager at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting

What is a mistake you see tax professionals often make when creating and running their websites?
A mistake I see — not just from tax professionals but across the board — is building a website without a clear goal of what you want to accomplish. Having a website just to have one isn’t good enough anymore. You must have a definitive goal or vision of what you want to accomplish, whether it be to educate, sell a product or service, or any other goal.

What is a feature you think every tax professional's website should have?
I believe every tax professional’s website should be built on technology (responsive design) that optimizes the user experience based on the device type they are using to view the site. If a site doesn’t work on the user’s mobile phone, chances are that the user will not engage any further. So much of our technology consumption and engagement is on “mobile” devices, phones and tablets, that not having that experience optimized is a nonstarter!