By Isaac M. O’Bannon
From the Dec. 2006 Issue
The evolution of automated website building tools is astounding. Just a few
years ago, when we started reviewing such products that are geared primarily
for accounting firms, most were very much cookie-cutter machines that produced
generic websites that often looked the same as every other one produced using
the same tool. Likewise, there was a dearth of automated content that firms
could have on their websites without having to perform a lot of work. This essentially
left firms with the option of hiring outside web development firms, settling
for a cookie cutter site, or trying to develop and manage their own site manually.
Most accountants are not web developers, of course, so certainly many quality
issues arose, not to mention the time it took away from billable engagements.
We’ve come a long way, even in just the last few years. Several website
development options are now specifically designed for accountants. And they
are not only easy to use, but also offer truly professional design, both from
a technical and aesthetic aspect. Many of these systems also provide excellent
content options, from periodic newsletters and articles on tax and financial
matters that automatically post to the site, to financial calculators and other
features. Remember, having a stale website with no client-focused content is
about as useful as a phonebook ad. The phonebook serves a purpose, but valuable
content, advice and tools can keep you on a prospective client’s radar
and can also help steer existing clients toward additional services.
Another major development has been the continued growth of secure client collaboration
tools, specifically client portals and online tax organizers. These allow clients
to upload financial documents and other materials. They also provide firms with
the ability to allow clients access to some of their prepared files and documents,
lessening the need for paper copies and wasted time. Remember, this saves the
client time, too — a win-win.
All of the website development tools reviewed here are specifically geared
toward use by accounting and tax firms, offering varying degrees of content
as mentioned above, as well as additional tools such as personalized e-mail,
tax return status lookup for clients, and a variety of marketing tools. Most
of the options in this review are do-it-yourself (DIY) systems with automated
content and tools. However, two can be totally hands-off, with the vendor providing
all setup, maintenance and editing of the websites. I make no judgment call
on which of these methods is better as this will depend on the preference of
the firm. While hands-off systems require less work from the firm, they can
have a slightly higher price tag. And while the firm doesn’t have to perform
the edits it requests, it may have to wait a little longer to have the vendor
make the changes rather than have someone in-house available to do it. So find
out what your firm considers the most important factors and how involved with
the system you would like to be. But don’t worry, even the DIY systems
covered here shouldn’t require more than 30 to 60 minutes to initially
set up the website, and perhaps 15 to 30 minutes per month to perform minor
The website building solutions reviewed here were evaluated on the factors
outlined below. A summary section also concludes each review, identifying the
key benefits of the system and providing an assessment of what types of firms
would best benefit from its use.
Website Setup/Maintenance: What features aid in the setup
of the site, and what kind of templates are available for its design? Fewer
templates and customization options can result in websites that can look and
feel the same as every other one the system produces. Additionally, this section
looks at the ease with which customization and edits of the website can be
Automated Content: What articles, newsletters and financial
tools are available to easily place on the website without having to maintain
or update it? This content keeps the website fresh and informative, which
can keep visitors coming back. That of course, can result in more engagements.
Visual Quality/User Navigation: The appearance of a website
and its navigation flow are important factors. Websites for professional firms
should likewise be professional and should reflect the atmosphere of the practice.
This section also looks at the available templates and how the system incorporates
firm logos and other image files.
Special Features/Tools: Extra gadgets. Here I look at the
additional functions that are available, from e-mail, to domain registration
and other tools.
Site Marketing: How well does the site reflect the firm?
There are still a couple of site building tools that put their brand logo
on the websites, but for the most part this has faded away. Also, what tools
for mass distribution of newsletters are available, and does the system provide
statistics on website visitors?
Support: If trouble arises, how easy is it to find the
solution, whether through an online support center, a Help utility or through
live technical support?
- AccountantsWorld — Accountant’s
- The Accountant’s Office Online suite from
AccountantsWorld is the central component of the vendor’s collection
of online services, combining a website building tool for professional
firms, as well as a portal for firm staff to access online accounting
programs. It also offers secure access for clients to access records that
the firm has made available to them.
- Build Your Firm — Website
Development & Internet Marketing
- Build Your Firm offers a full-service website development
package, which includes newsletters, in-depth financial articles, financial
calculators, secure online file transfer, and several other tools, including
search engine optimization of websites. The company is a marketing firm
that is specifically geared toward assisting accounting practices and
was co-founded by a CPA and an MBA.
- CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
— ProSystem fx Site Builder
- ProSystem fx Site Builder provides professional
accounting firms with a template-based website and maintenance system
that includes a variety of add-on content options geared toward financial
services. The system also provides newsletters, tax alerts, secure client
portals for exchanging financial documents, and financial calculators
and toolkits for financial planning and small business management.
- CPASites.com — CPASites.com
- CPASites.com provides full web development, maintenance
and hosting services for professional accounting firms, with specialized
content, financial calculators, tax estimators, and tools geared toward
individual and business accounting clients. Unlike most of the website
building tools contained in this review section, this vendor’s web
services are intended to be a “hands-off” solution, with all
website design and content edits performed by CPASites.com.
- The CompleteWebSuite package from CPASiteSolutions
lives up to its name, providing a full, highly professional website tailored
to the needs of public accounting practices. It offers hundreds of pages
of automated content, newsletters, financial calculators, secure client
portals, staff portals and other valuable tools.
- Tenenz — Accounting &
Financial Site Builder (AFSB)
- The Accounting & Financial Site Builder (AFSB)
system from Tenenz (formerly Tax-Aid), offers a quick and easy-to-use
website creation tool that offers moderate customization capabilities
along with financial tools and calculators, a newsletter, and articles
on tax and financial topics for businesses and individuals.
- Thomson Creative Solutions —
Web Builder CS
- Web Builder CS from Thomson Creative Solutions
provides a template-based site creation tool for accounting firms that
offers a variety of content, financial calculators, calendars and other
tools from notable financial sources, including PPC newsletters and alerts,
and Forefield KnowledgeTrust. The system can support any number of pages
and also provides the user firm with personalized e-mail addresses.
- Thomson GearUp — Accountant-City/TaxBeacon
- The Accountant-City and TaxBeacon web building
systems are identical, providing a website creation tool for accountants
and tax professionals with the ability to add hundreds of pages of automated
content on topics ranging from business financial information to estates,
retirement planning and education, as well as a variety of financial calculators,
a newsletter and various other tools.
- Related Article: Book Offers
Website Advice to CPAs
- Everyone knows that a website is necessary for
a modern professional services firm and that a website can provide much
more than just a static phone-book style information page. But if you
are in the majority of professional accountants, then, unfortunately,
you probably don’t know much about how websites actually work for
a firm, much less how to fully optimize the effectiveness of your own
- Related Article: Drake Offers
Tax Software Users Free Websites
- Drake Software, maker of one of the most popular
professional tax preparation systems, offers all of its users free websites
through the company’s www.1040.com
portal, which offers general tax information for public visitors. Websites
created by tax and accounting professionals are hosted for free as subdomains
of the website.
- 2006 Review of Website Building
Tools for Accountants — Executive Summary
- This review conclusively confirms the fact that Fixed
Asset software has entered a new age — a new age where software vendors,
reacting to the needs of the marketplace, have redesigned and enhanced their
fixed asset software offerings to meet the growing needs of users, and to
better take advantage of technological advances in hardware.