A firm’s website is one of its most important assets. It is an adaptable and important component in today’s electronic media environment and allows a firm to display and promote its services. A correctly designed, implemented, and administered website can give a business a competitive advantage over its peers and will allow clients to search online for services and answers to frequently asked questions, thereby saving both clients and firm employees valuable time. Having a well-planned website means a firm can be in business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Providing Basic Information About the Firm
A firm’s website should provide a brief history of the firm, its philosophy, mission, areas of expertise, an overview of staff, and contact information. With this information available, clients will be more likely to see the firm as a well-established business that can be trusted. The website should provide details about areas of firm expertise and the individuals who can provide those services and should make it easy to contact them.
The Firm’s Services Can Be Viewed Anytime
Constant visibility is one of the biggest advantages a website has over any other media. It allows clients to read about and explore the firm and its services whenever it is convenient for them. It is important to display content in an attractive and easily navigable format. An uncluttered, user-friendly website will keep clients interested in exploring the firm’s services and areas of expertise.
Unlike print media, which may reach a limited number of clients, a website will allow users outside the firm’s traditional market to view its services. For example, providing a description of the firm’s expertise in historic tax credits will allow the firm to reach clients seeking that particular type of information, thus creating an opportunity to help the business grow.
The Website Can Allow Exchange of Information
A website should allow for information to be shared in both directions. Implementing a file share exchange system on the website will allow the firm and clients to share information directly with each other in a secure environment. File share exchange systems work well for uploading or downloading large files such as QuickBooks files. Implementing a client portal on the website will further enhance the information exchange. In a client portal, the firm can post specific client information, such as copies of the client’s annual tax returns and financial statements. This information can be stored in the individual client’s portal for a specific period of time. For example, when a client’s tax return is completed, a copy can be printed directly to the portal. A client who requires a copy of his or her return can obtain a secure copy directly from the individual portal rather than asking the firm for a copy, which will increase efficiency for both the firm’s staff and the clients. Using a file share exchange system and/or a client portal directly built into the website will encourage clients to use the site to obtain more information.
A Website Enables Networking
A well-built and properly planned website can allow a firm to network with related businesses and professionals, which will enable the firm and its clients to build stronger relationships. This can be accomplished by setting up links to other businesses or having other businesses provide information that can be posted on the firm’s website.
Things to Consider When Developing a Robust Website
Page layout is crucial to having a robust website. Information needs to be displayed in a consistent and logical, easy-to-access manner. Clients want to find information quickly and do not want to sort through multiple or confusing drop-down menus. This can be accomplished by providing easy buttons that will allow quick navigation to the topic or information the client is seeking. In order to achieve superior page layouts, avoid lengthy or wordy pages with excessive graphics. The best page layouts are those where the client does not need to scroll down to find information or to click on multiple vague menus or links before reaching the desired material.
The website should be easy for the target audience to navigate. The main links should be clearly labeled and should need minimal clicks. Websites that are easily navigable will promote use by clients and potential clients. Information should be displayed in an organized format and should be consistent throughout the website.
Be sure the website has a strong search engine and that it is easy to locate on the home page. This will allow clients to quickly and directly find what they need on the site without wasting valuable time navigating through various menus and pages.
Presentation of Content
The website should use clear fonts and be organized in a consistent manner. Information should be summarized using headings, bullet points, and short sentences. Information overload can quickly turn clients away. Users want quick, easy-to-read, and interesting information in a format that will be easy for them to use. The information on the site should be timely and should be updated on a regular basis. It is important that the content be free of typographical and grammatical errors. It is always a good idea to have the content carefully proofread prior to posting it on the website.
It is extremely important to make sure all internal and external links are functioning and that they connect to the correct web page. All electronic forms (such as tax forms) should function as expected. Make sure that links go to current versions of the forms or materials being referenced. An advantage of a robust website is that clients can quickly navigate and obtain information without error and in a timely fashion. External links should be tested periodically to ensure that they have been modified and updated as needed.
Color and Graphics
The use of color and graphics is a critical part of a website. Colors should be simple and neutral, and pages should be limited to three or four colors. The colors used in the website imply a lot about the firm. Colors should be used consistently throughout the website. The proper use of color and graphics can enhance the site and present the firm in a positive light. Graphics should be clear, and each graphic should have a specific purpose. Too many colors and graphics will distract clients or potential clients.
A firm’s website is one of its most important business assets. Firms must ensure that their websites portray their business in an effective and positive manner. The simple concepts noted above can help in developing a website that promotes the firm.
Once an effective website has been established, clients looking for information on a specific issue or service will be able to go to the website and immediately find exactly what they are looking for without having to waste time on the phone or waiting to receive mailed hard copies of documents. Having a robust website will reduce the time it takes to answer clients’ inquiries and promote a more efficient and effective exchange of information.
Steven Holub is a partner in Cherry Bekaert & Holland, LLP, in Tampa, FL, and is former chair of the AICPA Tax Division’s Tax Practice Management Committee. Mary Cathryn Green is with Marcum, LLP, in Bala Cynwyd, PA. Jeffrey Wadovick is a partner with Nadeau Wadovick LLP in Warwick, RI. Ms. Green is chair and Mr. Wadovick is a member of the AICPA’ s Tax Practice Improvement Committee. For more information about this column, contact Mr. Wadovick at firstname.lastname@example.org.