Accounting websites: the complete guideHow website structure, design and usability can help your practice stand out, generate leads and grow
Our most comprehensive guide yet, covering everything you need to know to get the right website for your accountancy firm – one that will help you meet your business and marketing goals, achieve maximum return on investment and stand out in the marketplace.
Drawing on experience the PracticeWeb team has developed during its 20 years in business, some of the questions we answer include:
- What does a good accountancy website look like in 2020?
- What role should SEO play?
- How should you plan and layout copy and content?
- How should you measure return on investment?
Read an advice-packed sample of the guide below or go straight ahead and download the complete 40-page eBook.
Download the eBook
This guide was created by the PracticeWeb team with input from Yvette Culbert, Mike Crook, David Fowler, Mark Jones, Philippa Jordan, Ray Newman, Rebecca Prince, Jacob Pugh, Alex Tucker and David Robinson.
If you’re an accountant setting up your first practice website and keen to start generating leads, or represent an established accountancy firm that’s ready to grow, this PracticeWeb complete guide to websites is for you.
Do we need a new website?
“If you’re getting enough leads, and the right type of leads, and you’re happy that your website presents the image you want to put across, then maybe it’s not a priority for you. Even then I’d recommend reviewing it every twelve months or so.” – Yvette Culbert, Commercial Manager
Is your website more than, say, five years old? Then, yes, you probably need a new one.
Trends in design change, of course, as do the expectations of business-to-business buyers, and the technology we use to access information.
For example, hardly anyone was browsing on mobile devices a decade ago. Now, mobile searches make up more than 50% of the total.
With all that rapid change going on, it’s very easy for a website to look out of date and tired. But also, standards change – what was technically fit for purpose then won’t be now.
For example, web designers used to strive to design pages that would fit within certain standard dimensions to suit desktop PC monitors. They would also bend over backwards to avoid making users scroll because received wisdom was that content ‘below the fold’ was likely to be ignored. (More on that later.)
Take the PracticeWeb website from 2012, pictured above thanks to the magic of the Wayback Machine, as an example.
It was designed so that the main content would fit within an 800 pixel wide space, hence all that grey at either side, and used a Flash plugin – now seriously out of favour for various reasons.
What was best practice then, and sent a signal to users that this was a professional, modern website, now makes a website look tired.
And that’s before you even get into the expectations of search engines.
Here are a few quick tricks for working out if your website needs attention, without getting bogged down in technicalities.
- Gather inspiration. Get together a list of websites you like – and not just accountancy firms. Break down what you like about each and the values you think they put across.
- Review the competition. What are your immediate competitors doing well? What are they doing badly?
- Then look again at your own existing website. Are there annoyances from your competitors’ websites which you’re also guilty of committing? Are there things the websites you like are doing that yours isn’t?
What does a good accountancy website look like in 2020?
First, it must be responsive. Responsive websites adapt to whichever device they’re being viewed on, rearranging and resizing content on the fly to ensure it always fills the screen.
Here’s an example of one of the accountancy firm websites we’ve built on our Horizon platform as viewed on both mobile and desktop.
This is important not only because it looks better than tiny text or tons of blank space but because of how Google assesses the value of websites.
During 2018, Google started rolling out mobile-first indexing which uses the mobile version of your website when ranking your content. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, or you have a separate mobile version of your site, it’s likely you’ll rank lower.
Pages on a 2020-ready accountancy website are also more likely to have a carefully chosen set of pages with substantial content that requires a bit of scrolling on the part of the user rather than hundreds of separate pages with only scraps of text.
As our designer Jacob Pugh wrote on the PracticeWeb blog:
“Current [user experience] thinking is that users are happy to scroll – think about what it’s like to use Facebook, Amazon and Twitter these days – but if more than one or two clicks are required to find the page they need, or the copy makes it hard to work out what’s where, they’ll get frustrated.”
Of course it’s complicated: research from Nielsen Norman Group suggests that ‘above the fold’ content still has more value.
What a good web designer can do is use that prime real estate to hook a user’s attention and then design an interface that draws them down the page, into the content, towards a contact form or other conversion.
Behind the scenes, any decent website these days will have a content management system (CMS) which gives you, the website owner, the power to add, remove and edit content quickly and easily. You certainly shouldn’t be emailing change requests to a remote ‘webmaster’ and waiting days for them to filter through.
You’ll also want to have HTTPS encryption. The S in HTTPS stands for ‘secure’ and HTTPS is effectively a seal of approval guaranteeing the safety of the connection between a user’s browser and the website in question.
Stats from Google suggest that desktop users load more than half of all web-pages they view over HTTPS and that they spend two-thirds of their browsing time on HTTPS pages.
If your website address begins with HTTP rather than HTTPS, not only will users feel less confident in the safety of your site but you might also find that Google ranks it lower.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
SEO is the practice of optimising content and back-end website settings to encourage Google to present your website higher in search results.
That’s desirable because the higher your site appears in results, the more likely it is that prospective clients will click through and engage with your firm.
In fact, there’s an old joke among SEO experts: where’s the best place to hide something you never want to be found? On the second page of Google search results.
It’s not just about convenience, either – among savvy web users, how high a prospective provider of professional services ranks is an indication of overall credibility. Google is, in effect, endorsing your firm and that’s a seal of approval people value.
When you’re buying SEO services, be aware that there are essentially two types of SEO: dodgy and ethical, sometimes known as ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’ respectively.
The latter, which is what we practice, seeks to understand and help clients’ websites follow the obscure rules which decide whether a website ranks highly or otherwise. If Google wants unique, substantial content, that’s what we’ll advise you to invest in creating.
A dodgy SEO, on the other hand, will tend to focus on hacks, shortcuts and tricks even if it means frustrating end users or misleading Google. To return to the example above, a black hat SEO might suggest using a tool to ‘rewrite’ some plagiarised content to make it look superficially unique, even if the end product is essentially rubbish.
A decade or two ago, that kind of thing might have worked, but Google’s algorithms get more sophisticated every day and it’s quite possible for your website to end up being penalised for trying to game the system. In the worst case, that penalty might mean complete removal from search results, which can take months of hard work to rectify.
So, how do you get your site to rank?
The best-known technique is keyword optimisation. This involves analysing the words and phrases your target clients are actually using and then adjusting your on-page content to make sure it reflects them.
In the old days, people would go overboard cramming keywords into their copy regardless of how difficult it made it to read. That doesn’t fly anymore – now, optimising keywords should focus on connecting people with the services or advice they really need.
You can have a go at identifying keywords yourself using free tools such as Ubersuggest.
All PracticeWeb Horizon websites also come with a built-in self service SEO tool called Yoast that allows you to set a keyword for each page or blog post and then advises you on how to tune your copy to hit it.
But beyond content there are also hundreds of other variables to be taken into account when thinking about SEO – some of them tiny back-end tweaks or settings changes best left to technical experts like our in-house SEO consultant.
Others, meanwhile, relate to the overarching structure of your website. While this might seem complex, with a bit of thought and a good content management system behind your website needn’t be beyond anyone’s capability to manage.
Website architecture and structure
Function dictates form, not the other way round.
Architecture refers to how the information on your website is structured, including hierarchy and connections between items of information. It’s fairly abstract and technical but overlaps with the more practical business of website structure.
Structure refers to concrete questions of which pages you have on your website, how they’re organised and interlinked, and how they’re displayed in the navigation.
When we’re building websites for clients, this is often where we start, compiling a list of the information we have and want to convey, and then sketching out a structure.
As a rule, avoid coming up with a clever-clever structure for the sake of being different. Certain conventions have arisen purely because they work for users and provide familiar reference points to help them on their journey.
For example, eCommerce websites often have a big search box at the top and centre of the screen, because user testing over the years have shown that people expect it to be there.
In the case of accountancy websites, though there aren’t quite the same well-rehearsed expectations, certain elements of good practice have emerged.
Think of the dream client visiting your site for the first time – what do they want to find?
Well, first, they might want proof that you offer the specific accountancy service they’re looking to acquire. In which case, it’s important to have information about your offer on your homepage.
Then, assuming they want to know more, they need to be able to find a more detailed note on exactly what your service includes without hunting around. In practice, that probably means an element in the navigation bar that says ‘Our services’, or some close synonym, linking through to individual service pages.
If you work across multiple industry sectors, a ‘Sectors’ menu is also a good idea, directing prospects to individual pages demonstrating that you really do know their industry and explaining how you tailor your service to its particular requirements.
Or let’s say they want more general proof of your expertise and experience – what will they be looking for? Partner profiles on a ‘Meet the team’ page under ‘About us’, perhaps, telling a compelling story about how your team developed its unique mix of skills.
Maybe they want to know about your firm’s culture – do you share their attitudes? Are you the kind of people with whom they can do business? This is where ‘How we work’ or ‘Our approach’ comes in, setting out a philosophy and approach.
And if they just want to get in touch, there has to be an obvious place to ‘Contact us’.
That’s just a snapshot of some of the key sections your website might need. Depending on your firm’s specialisms, you might need more pages, or fewer.
Another general rule: in terms of SEO, the more pages the better, within reason. The more text you provide, the more there is for Google to get to grips with, and the more likely it is that you’ll meet the needs of users who have come to your website looking for information or answers.