Easy Website Basics To Improve: Examples from local accountants’ websites…

This is an informal review of SME website design and content to provide examples for two points we frequently make when talking to local businesses:

 (a) most small/local businesses could improve their websites SUBSTANTIALLY ... JUST with some very small and easy edits,

and
(b) the majority of these edits are about CONTENT and simple presentation issues rather than complex or expensive REDESIGN.

We looked at the websites of 11 accounting practices in the local Hampshire area. These sites provide a mixture of good and not-so-good examples of accountancy business websites. All of the websites reviewed have significant issues in our opinion, as explained below. Although our criteria are subjective and focus only on a few basic points, these issues  would (we feel) be flagged up to the business owners for improvement by any digital marketer. In other words, it's only an opinion, but probably not just one person's opinion...

google search results for accountant hampshire

We looked at 12 websites of accountants in Hampshire

This page includes our review criteria for scoring the accountants' websites, scores, and general commentary about good practices.

 

screenshot of Harmonix homepage

You shouldn't (only) judge a book by its cover, but any general web visitor would get a good impression from the well put together site of Harmonix http://harmonixaccounting.co.uk/

Best website: Harmonix Accounting http://harmonixaccounting.co.uk/ - scoring 11.5 out of 15

Worst? You'll have to check out the scores spreadsheet!

See all scores for our Hampshire Accountants Website Review here [Google Sheets]

Research by George Baily of KnowledgePower: Digital Marketing Agency in Havant, Hampshire - contact us with any queries - all information surveyed was in the normal public domain and hopefully the positive tips on this page outweigh any sense of critique!


Introduction

Inspired by an excellent post from London marketer Danny Richman entitled Why Most Accountants’ Websites Stink, we considered the question:

"even if a local business website is static and boring, and does not actually provide "content marketing" or interactive utility, what are the MINIMUM things required for it to be considered adequate as a static business website?

We selected the 11 accountants we found from a Google search for "accountant hampshire" and only picked websites of actual accounting businesses physically based in Hampshire.

Reviewed:

  1. BRC Accountants http://www.brcaccountants.co.uk/
  2. MMO Accountants http://www.mmo-accountants.co.uk/
  3. Hysons Accountants    http://www.hysons.co.uk/
  4. Butler & Co   http://www.butlerco-bw.co.uk/
  5. Moss & Co    http://www.mossaccountants.com/
  6. CJ Driscoll Chartered Accountants    http://www.cjdriscoll.co.uk/
  7. Taylor Cocks    http://www.taylorcocks.co.uk/
  8. Pyatt & Pyatt    http://www.pyatt.co.uk/
  9. BN Accounting    http://www.bnaccounting.co.uk/
  10. Hampshire Accountancy Services    http://www.hampshireaccountancyservices.co.uk/
  11. Harmonix Accounting    http://harmonixaccounting.co.uk/

See all scores for our Hampshire Accountants Website Review here [Google Sheets]

Review Criteria

We used the following criteria to score the websites, as our simplified and fairly uncontroversial set of basics, to answer the above question about what forms the bare minimum for such business websites.

First we chose 10 primary criteria applicable to ANY business website:

1. Clear identity
The company branding is clearly displayed in the top left of the website, and it is clear that it is an accountant, and this information is included in the homepage meta title and meta description

2. Location
It is clear from the homepage (with no further navigation) where this practice is located and where they serve; furthermore it must be clear whether this is a single location practice, a group with several locations, or a branch of a bigger brand

3. Phone contact information
Phone number displayed prominently on the homepage, with opening/availability hours at least on the contact page

4. Email contact option
Easy to find email address or contact form, which does not ask for unnecessary information just to be able to submit questions

5. Key service information
Easily visible navigation to pages/categories about the main services offered, or (better) navigation based on customer self-identifying needs, and all the main ones should be only 1 click away from the homepage (-0.5 if two clicks)

6. Visiting information
Assuming that it is necessary for customers to visit the business (which seems reasonable in the case of accountants), clearly findable "how to get here" information including at minimum an address and an expandable map or link to a map, and parking information (-0.5 for no parking info)

7. About us
Easily available in the navigation or content of the homepage itself, information about the organization and key people

8. No obviously out of date information
The business does not create a "cobwebs" impression by prominently displaying or linking to content that is clearly out of date or unmaintained

9. Presence of a call to action
At least one action for qualified visitors to take, such as contact now for a given reason, newsletter, download, or interactive feature. (It does not count just to say "ask us a question" etc)

10. Indication of strengths
Ideally the business should project a clear message about benefits and/or USP. Any reasonable claim to be "the only---" or "the best---" etc fulfils this criterion. An acceptable fallback is to show specialization implying particular skills beyond the norm, or niche capabilities. (It does not count to emphasise generic strengths like "Friendly", "Dependable", "Expert" etc)

In addition to the above primary criteria we also included a further 5 checks relating in particular to accountants' websites:

a) Small business?
The information about accounting services for business should be clear about what kind of companies are served

b) Secure website
The website should all be https as this is now best practice generally, and for accountants it would seem to be a priority

c) Trust or authority signals
General website criterion but seems important for someone you entrust your accounts to.
Prominently displayed evidence of trust or success or authority, such as: ratings, awards, press mentions, publicity pictures, accreditations, qualifications, professional associations, certificates, licences, list of important clients. An alternative would be to display prominent information about the long-established age of the business, the total number of clients, total turnover, total assets under management etc. Reviews (aka testimonials) only count if from a 3rd party system.

d) Social media
Even the smallest and most boring accountancy should have a presence in at least one social medium, if only as part of the general signals of being real and trusted. Requires clear link to at least one of: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+ ... AND that account must show signs of activity within the last 1 month.

e) Nothing weird
Finally, being an accountant, the website should not include anything inappropriate or weird.

 

Scoring

1= yes, 0.5 = partially, and 0 being a draconian 'no', we produced a simple score for the sites.
See a few comments within the spreadsheet where the scoring is explained. If you manage or work for any of the businesses reviewed here, please contact us for further commentary 😉


Summary

ALL the websites reviewed have more or less work to do, to reach our opinion of "bare minimum". In all cases this is content and navigation based, and not design -- although at least half of these sites have such bad web design it surely works against the businesses' image.

The amounts charged by web design agencies for rectifying content and design issues are not expensive. (As their accountants would know?) Therefore we conclude the main issue with these reviewed firms is a lack of awareness and strategy about website content and presentation. As we have just reviewed basic minima, we can also conclude that the businesses are not active in digital marketing in a more full sense.

In a commodity service category, these local businesses would be advised to watch out for disruption from larger national chains which are able to perform well in the digital space, or simply local competitors who put in a little bit more investment in their online presence.


Commentary

1. Clear identity
- Not all the businesses scored for this, usually because of confusing branding (no single consistent company name and spelling) or a lack of clear information in page title and description.

tgs taylorcocks has a professional website design, but what is TGS? The brand separation between the group and this practice is not immediately obvious.

tgs taylorcocks has a professional website design, but what is TGS? We had to go to Google to figure that out. The brand separation/relationship between the group and this local practice is not immediately obvious.

2. Location    
- Not all of the websites successfully made it clear their location AND the location of their customers (i.e. main service radius)

3. Phone contact information    
- In only one case (Moss & Co) was telephone contact information accompanied by office opening hours

4. Email contact option    
- Generally fine; however, the inclusion of contact forms without https secure hosting (q.v.) is not good practice

5. Key service information
- Most of the websites did not present separate web pages about separate services or groups of services, and where this information existed, it was not always easily accessible from the homepage or top navigation

Excellent example of easy access to key service information from Harmonix - love it!

Excellent example of easy access to key service information from Harmonix - love it!

 

...Too bad the website design at Harmonix is not mobile-friendly!

...Too bad the website design at Harmonix is not mobile-friendly!

6. Visiting information
- None of the businesses offered any information about parking, or any information in location/address pages about accessibility for disabled visitors. Just a reminder that we are in the 21st century now guys.

7. About us    
- Many of the businesses did not offer easy-to-read information that distinguished between the company information and the people; most of the websites lacked photos and bios of the people, despite the fact that personal recommendations, personal trust, and individual professionals' skills are (we guess) three of the top criteria for choosing an accounting firm.

Super comprehensive "About Us" information from Butler & Co... could do with some better styling though.

Super comprehensive "About Us" information from Butler & Co... could do with some better styling though.

8. No obviously out of date information
- The lack of blogging activity saved these companies from the most common curse of seeming out of date, and reduced scores were because of previous years' dates being shown in copyright information

Useful, up-to-date information for customers: easy for you to write as you are experts... great value for new and existing clients

Useful, up-to-date information for customers: easy for you to write as you are experts... great value for new and existing clients

9. Presence of a call to action    
- Only two businesses (BRC and Butler & Co) had any prominent call to action, and even in these cases the CTA was not bold or accompanied by any strong benefit signals

If you have a call to action, make it prominent and say what the benefit is for taking action

If you have a call to action, make it prominent and say what the benefit is for taking action

10. Indication of strengths
- Only two businesses (Butler & Co and Harmonix) offered clear ideas about their strengths. Tip: "We specialize in accounting" is not a unique selling proposition -- get with the marketing program guys!! From the point of view of a new potential client there was really very little apart from location proximity and professionalism of website design to give one any signals about which business to choose and trust with potentially significant and long term business.

a) Small business?
- Some of the websites did a good job of highlighting information and services specially for startups and small business. Considering the majority of businesses - and hence clients - are small businesses, this is a particularly obvious place to start when bringing your accounting website up to the bare minimum of content.

b) Secure website
- We were disappointed to find that none of these websites are on secure hosting. This is no longer acceptable for a professional accounting firm handing confidential financial matters, and all of these companies have been contacted by us to highlight this as the simplest recommendation to fix ASAP.

c) Trust or authority signals
- This is one that surprised us. Choosing an accountant is first and foremost about trust and authority. Yet most of the sites surveyed offered no visual or informational clues about these things. This ought to be an easy thing to put right, considering that you can't just set up shop as an accountant without qualifications and professional associations. Considering the generally poor web design here, the issue becomes even more important, as the sites usually make the businesses look UNprofessional and this impression needs to be counteracted!

Despite definitely having the worst web design of the group, Hysons at least have an Institute of Chartered Accountants logo on the site. Obvious... but nobody else has that!

Despite definitely having the worst web design of the group, Hysons at least have an Institute of Chartered Accountants logo on the site. Obvious... but nobody else has that!

Good trust signal from Pyatt & Pyatt.. but not good presentation of contact information

Good trust signal from Pyatt & Pyatt.. but not good presentation of contact information

d) Social media    
- Unsurprisingly most of these accounting firms are not visibly active in social media: the few who are will benefit from having mainstream advertising platforms which their competitors totally lack. Accountants are in a typically old-fashioned and conservative industry where the folk are highly likely to be resistant to participating in social media: but it is a risky strategy decision to limit the business's marketing avenues in this way.

e) Nothing weird
- A few of the websites suffer credibility problems because of poor choice of images or extremely outdated website design

Simple website... but probably too simple to enhance trust and confidence...

Simple website... but probably too simple to enhance trust and confidence...

Avoid confusing website readers!

Avoid confusing website readers!


Get Your Business Website Reviewed Now

If you've read this far into the review, thank you very much for your enthusiasm! To get a free review of your business website, and starting recommendations which anyone (not only digital marketers) can implement, contact KnowledgePower today.

If you're happy with your website and it doesn't need more work - ask yourself how you know that! 😉


 

Further criteria for good local business websites

The 10 + 5 criteria in the above review really just looked for the obvious and easy fixes. ... And found lots of things to fix!

Beyond the minimal basics, here are some ideas about other criteria on which local business websites might be judged, focusing purely on on-site factors rather than external issues such as quantity and quality of links, social media activity, and directory listings.

When speaking to a digital marketing agency you should expect advice and assistance on all of the areas below.

  • Appropriateness of the design and branding for the business type and customer expectations
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Page load speed
  • HTML validation noting at least the critical and avoidable errors
  • Security issues for example detection of out of date WordPress version
  • Detection of (usually Google) website analytics in use
  • Compliance with cookie alert rules
  • Display of reviews and ratings, especially participation in 3rd party review systems
  • Use of images and galleries
  • Use of video
  • Content aimed at new customers
  • Content aimed at existing customers
  • Customer-friendliness of your information
  • Interactive or self-service functionality for customers
  • Promotional content and value 'given away'
  • Customer help content and online customer service systems: chat and tickets
  • Website content and navigation accessibility
  • Clarity of pricing and terms and conditions
  • Sitemap
  • Site search

Finally...

To succeed online you DON'T need to do everything perfectly or everything at once. But you do need to improve across the board of digital content and tactics eventually. The longer you leave it, the longer head start you are giving to all your competitors.