Saturday, July 11, 2009

Website Blahs

Because my professional niche is helping accountants enhance their business development skills, inevitably some of what we talk about touches upon marketing. With the exception of a couple of a couple out-of-the-box marketing techniques I’ve touched upon in this blog, I believe the vast majority of practices can effectively utilize mainstream marketing methods to generate a suitable pool of prospects.

One of today’s marketing tools is a web site. And, most of the owners I’ve spoken with are not exactly thrilled with their web site. It is technology they don’t understand, it requires expensive outside help, it needs frequent updating when changes occur (e.g. personnel come and go), and the majority don’t think their site really adds anything positive to the practice. It’s there, the complaint goes, because everyone else has one, so we’d better have one too or appear to be not “with it.”

Like every other profession, the cream rises to the top, and there are web designers who really know how to construct an effective site. Seminars are held, papers published, interviews printed, etc. and from these some “best practices” have emerged. Here are three for you to consider.

1. Know what people are doing on your site. You can use site analytics (i.e. Google Analytics, Web Trends, Site Catalyst, Coremetrics) to find out what pages visitors look at, how long they stay, etc. What this does is tell you what they want to look at. You can then decide whether you wish to enhance these areas or stay with what you have. Measure the results from the ongoing changes and optimize your site over the following months. If you have a number of pages no one cares about, then get rid of them. You site designer can fix you up with one of these analytic sites in a matter of minutes, and there is little to no expense.

2. Keep it simple. Your site needs only to intrigue the visitor to the point where they contact you. Or, a prospect may look at your site to verify you are “real.” Yes, they will develop some opinions of you based upon your web site, so keep it simple, well done – even elegant, use mainstream colors (a site emphasizing various shades of bright orange is probably NOT a good choice), everyday neutral fonts such as Arial or Verdana, and leave some white on the pages, that is to say don’t make the content so dense that it becomes a sort of visual mush. Lower the barriers. Describe clearly how to contact everyone.

3. Personalize your site. It doesn’t need a big Wow! factor. Its purpose is to describe an accounting firm – who the people are and what they do. The most highly rated sites include a good bit of personal information. What this means in practical terms is that in addition to a photo of the partners and staff, there is an accompanying bio that touches upon education and professional accomplishments but really focuses upon humanizing the members of the firm. It might mention, for example, two sons currently attending University of Ohio, she shares the house with three cocker spaniels, husband owns a landscaping company, finished 5th in this year’s Founder’s 5K race, etc., etc. If it is suitable, an innovative option is to include a link to a video. One site’s bios included a statement that the individual was learning how to ski and that it was a slow process. The reader was invited to click a link and see how he was progressing. The humorous video showed him falling (several times) on his backside on the bunny hill. He later reported that almost every new client he obtained in the next year mentioned the video. To him, this was anecdotal evidence people were in fact looking at his firm’s site.

Regarding photos, you can opt for studio head shots, but consider something more intimate. For example, a photo showing you kneeling by an inflated child’s pool in the backyard with your daughter splashing away tells a much more compelling visual story about you than a mug shot.

An Easy Promotional Tool To Use With Your Site:

There is no cost to list your practice in Google Local. This is a passive, free, 24 hour a day addition to your marketing effort. For example, if you are located in Eugene, Oregon, there are 76 listings in the Yellow Pages for “accountant.” But, if you list your Eugene practice in Google Local, a search reveals you would be the 11th listing. So, you’ve scrubbed off 65 potential competitors, and it also shows your location on Eugene’s Google map.

If you open your Google Search box, type in “google local” and click enter. When the screen opens up, click “Local Business Center” to find out how you can register your practice. Amazingly enough, It is quite straightforward and manageable.

The listing can contain a link to your website, a brief description of your services, and you can include a picture if you wish.

Check it out in your area: go to Google. Click Maps, then type in, e.g. “accountant Newark, CA” or “accountant des moines, IA” and see if this is something that can raise your visibility.

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