2012 Review of Website Building Tools for Accounting Firms

8 Systems for Creating Client-Focused Websites

From the Aug. 2012 Issue

Let’s face it. Very few accountants have the technological skills and artistic gifts to create an effective website. Hexadecimal color codes, meta tags and HTML are like a foreign language in a profession with its own cryptic lingo that includes insubstance defeasance and alternative minimum tax. Though many CPAs may breeze through complex calculations in a neatly organized Excel spreadsheet, those skills rarely translate to designing an appealing webpage layout.

That’s where web builder software specializing in the accounting profession come to the rescue. Their intuitive website design tools with interfaces similar to widely-used word processing programs enable individuals inexperienced with the underlying web technologies to build a website for their accounting firms. Web builders also offer attractive templates or professionally-built custom designs to take care of the aesthetic details for left-brained accountants.

Although web builder software makes it possible to create a robust and functional website with a minimal amount of effort, it is sad to see many firms putting virtually zero effort into personalizing their websites. Far too many CPA firms just slap their firm name and contact information on the default template as if building a firm website was an item on their to-do list that they just wanted to mark as “done” without any hint of a web marketing strategy.

2012 Reviews of Web Building
Systems for Accounting Firms

CPA Practice Advisor reviewed eight website building and
management systems designed for tax and accounting firms.
Follow the links below to see how they compared.

In fact, Google the words used in a template and you may find hundreds of accounting firm websites that are mirror images of each other. If your firm’s website is nothing more than a barely-modified template, potential clients may not realize that it is a word-for-word copy used by many other firms, but they will certainly learn virtually nothing about you except that you provide tax and accounting services like everybody else. With an “about us” page containing stock photos and generic text, the first impression that potential clients have with your firm will be anything but memorable.

I remember a speaker at a web development conference I attended a few years ago who said, “your website is like a brick wall between you and your client.” Regardless of whether the customization work is done in-house or outsourced, firms should be involved in website planning with the goal to demolish that barrier. A good start may be to add the firm’s logo and choose a complementing layout and color scheme. A few more holes can be drilled into that wall by adding pictures and biographies of the firm’s professionals highlighting activities and interests outside of work.

Whole bricks are knocked out when a firm goes beyond “brochureware” and adds dynamic content that is informative, interesting, and fun. Blogging is a great way for a firm to showcase its knowledge and expertise. If a firm writes and publishes blog posts regularly, website visitors will notice that the firm keeps up with law changes and local news. Additionally, blogging conveys a sense to the reader that the accountant is passionate about a particular topic and likes his or her job. Today’s progressive firms effectively integrate social media with their websites to drive web traffic and provide a means for its CPAs to interact with friends, referral sources, clients and prospective clients.

Finally, bring out the cannons. Though this is outside the comfort zone of many CPAs, the use of video can help the outside world feel as though they have met you. The video marketing strategies that CPA firms employ vary across the spectrum of serious and informative to funny and really off the wall. While any of these approaches may be effective, the desired result should be to make an accountant seem personable and approachable. For a few good examples of CPA firms using video to promote their practices, see HowDoYouYouTube?” from the June 2012 issue.

Not every accounting firm has the time or resources to implement all of the qualities of a world-class website. In some aspects, firms must be willing to make a commitment. For example, if a firm’s most recent blog post highlights tax law changes from five years ago, it would be better for that firm to not have a blog at all.

However, many accounting firms that put forth the effort to personalize their site along with the assistance of a web builder have been rewarded. The web builder software vendors provide all the tools, and if the CPA firm lends a hand to chip away, the result can be like dynamite with a website that is a client relationship enhancer and a lead generating machine.