When you walk down the street, you see a shop. Do you go inside? When you’re inside, do you purchase?
These are the same questions someone answers for themselves when they find the website for your accountancy practice.
We wanted to find out: how effective are the websites which accountants have? Are they all excellent? Are they all poor? Do they suffer from the same problems time and time?
28% of the accountant websites were below professional standard, 52% might scrape a pass and only 20% were effective and positive for the accountancy practice.
What we discovered was surprising; for a professional market, the majority of websites fell below a professional standard, as it would be defined today. This is worrying since it’s incredibly easy to find accountants online and, for any potential customer who checked out these old-fashioned websites, they would likely leave.
This means a significant amount of business is being left on the table for competitors who have chosen to invest in the most important keystone of online marketing – an effective website.
It’s tricky to see how these accountancy practices could grow significantly in todays market, and in fact, they may find themselves unable to replace customers who leave, leading to a slow decline.
Rating criteria for the websites
In order to be fair to all of the websites, we evaluated them on 11 key criteria which most modern professional accountant websites should score well on:
- Modern – does the website look like it was developed this year, 3 years ago, or 7 years ago? This matters because an old looking website will typically not attract a younger (under 40’s) audience.
- Visually appealing – whether the look of the website was attractive, or whether it was unappealing. This matters since people believe the company behind the website will have a similar outlook.
- Overwhelm – more modern design will aim to ensure that a visitor has only one or two things to consider at once. If a website is too “bunched together”, it will be difficult to focus, leading to a large amount of people leaving.
- Responsive – whether the website works effectively on mobile devices, or whether there are elements which could be improved. This is important because, in even in accounting, a large porportion of visitors will be on mobile.
- Lead magnet – are there any offers for free content in return for signing up to a newsletter, or giving contact details? This is a modern marketing technique which can quickly build a funnel of customers to sell to. This can help create leads in the future.
- Calls to action – how many and how effective are the buttons which lead visitors to the next step on their journey? If these don’t align with visitors needs, they will become frustrated and leave.
- Ease of contact – how obvious, effective and prevalent the contact options are. Are there clear contact options on every page? If people find it difficult to find contact options, they will not take that most important step.
- Errors – are there minor or serious errors with each website? For example, buttons which don’t work or design elements which are not correct. These can lead people to feel the business has been abandoned.
- SEO – how effective is the content and structure in the site? Are there obvious errors, or will Google view this site through positivity? If SEO is poor, inbound traffic will be lower.
- Brand positioning – this is a key element which hasn’t made it into the world of web design until recently, and only the most modern marketing agencies consider it. If the brand doesn’t position itself away from its competitors, the only way for someone to choose between them is on price.
- Loading speed – this year Google will start to take website loading speed into account, and we know that users already do. If they find a website is consistently slow to load, they will leave.
The scoring system
Each criterion was marked from -3 to +3. A zero score meant that it was just acceptable. A +3 meant it gained significant brownie points for that element. A -3 meant it would detract from a visitor’s experience and leave the business wanting.
However, some criteria are more important than other, so they were scaled to allow for different relative importance.
Higher values resulted in a larger impact in the overall score, both in a positive and negative manner.
This allowed the most important factors – like errors and responsiveness – to become more dominant in the scoring. Clearly, websites that fail on these are not of a professional standard.
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Website professionalism scores for 25 accountants
I won’t be exposing who these companies were, but they were a representative sample in a large UK town.
The graph shows the overall professionalism scores for all 25 accountant websites.
The green bars are the sufficiently professional websites. Amber bars were for borderline scores, while red would significantly negatively impact a business.
Scores for accountant websites. Maximum score possible is 249. The highest scores achieved were just under 200.
As you can see, 7 (28%) of the websites received a negative score, with 2 being significantly negative, suggesting their websites will significantly let their owners down.
Only 5 (20%) of accountancy practices had a website that would be particularly positive for them.
The remainder – 52% – might just scrape a pass, depending on the visitor and how important a website was to them.
The least professional accountant website
The lowest professionalism score was for a site that only scored positively in one category, and had one of the slowest website load times. The website design was incredibly unappealing and it appeared “homemade”, which led to a feeling that the business was failing.
There was some video on the site, but the audio in it was terrible, the video was dark and the content incredibly dull.
Overall, it screamed “don’t buy from us”.
The very best accountant websites
Only three websites scored significantly positively in the professionalism scores.
They all had a fantastic modern design, didn’t suffer by overwhelming the visitor, were clear and simple to use, had fantastic calls to action, and looked professionally created.
An example of a modern and visually pleasing website
It would be easy to choose to contact any of these accountancy practices if a potential customer was shopping around. They would believe they were in professional hands and likely working with a company who was going places.
The 4 elements where the the websites – as a whole – scored lowest were:
- Lead magnets. Virtually none of the websites offered something for free in return for contact details. This was by far the worst issue that the websites suffered from, as a group.
- Visually appealing. Too many of the websites were below what would be expected for a professional business today.
- Overwhelm. Website designs aren’t necessarily User Experience professionals and they don’t understand how to place information on a page in order to keep the visitor calm and feeling fresh.
- Brand positioning. Most website companies don’t understand brand positioning, and if a website was homemade, it is certain that the majority of accountants won’t do.
Lead magnet scores
As you can see, only two websites managed a positive score in this area. All of the others either had nothing at all as a lead magnet, or it was ineffective.
Visual appeal scores
There were a handful of websites which were visually apealing, but few achieved a particuarly high score. Most were on the negative side, leading to visitors who would leave.
Yet again, most of the sites would leave potential customers feeling flustered or missing important information since it’s too tightly packed together.
Brand positioning scores
Only a few practices managed to create a unique and non-cliched brand for themselves – something that the right potential customer would find attractive.
It was pleasing to see that the majority of websites were:
- Free from errors.
- Sufficiently responsive for mobile viewers (although some were more effective than others).
- Had fairly easy to find contact options.
Clearly, nearly all the accountant websites struggled with lead magnets.
That may be understandable – they’ve only been a particularly popular option for the market for maybe four years and they require a marketing funnel, which may be beyond the reach of smaller accountancy practices.
I was surprised though that virtually no one was taking advantage of what is known to be an effective marketing practice.
Brand positioning was incredibly poorly understood. Many accountants self-positioned themselves as “the best in the area”.
Brand positioning creates some distance from your competitors. Done effectively, it can significantly increase the volume of leads from a website.
If you’re unable to get the right visitor nodding along, excitedly, thinking they’ve found what they really needed, you’ve failed in the task of positioning yourself.
In particular, it’s important to realise that you must turn the wrong customers away with your positioning. For small businesses, this feels like a bitter pill to swallow, but it will result in more customers overall. The worst type of brand is no brand at all.
Brand positioning for Leonherman
It’s also clear that many of the websites had been created by companies who were not producing a professional result, or were homemade. They were visually unappealing and didn’t present the accountant in a positive light.
It’s somewhat disappointing to see these results. In todays online world, most potential customers would check a website before choosing to work with a company.
This means that many accountancy practices will have a real uphill battle in front of them when it comes to gaining new business.
If you’d like to receive an assessment of your accountancy website, please do get in touch.