Once upon a time, not that so long ago actually, the most basic way of marketing your company was to list your details in the Yellow Pages. This method, together with the always-useful ‘word of mouth’, was the best way to get the word out and attract new customers – it may have even got you to where you are today.
However, while the big yellow book is still good for a few leads and word of mouth is always something to bank on, technology is increasingly forcing us all to evolve. PCs, laptops, tablets and, particularly, smartphones are everywhere and people now rely on them to find what they are looking for.
The internet has become the home of information and Google is its Yellow Pages, so much so that 93 per cent of all online experiences begin with a search engine – and Google owns more than 88 per cent of the market.
With connectivity literally at your fingertips, you can find all the information you need about absolutely anything within seconds.
If someone wants to find services such as those offered by you, there is a pretty good chance they are going to use a search engine to do it. Moreover, they’ll do so by entering some keywords, for example ‘accountants in Edinburgh’.
At this point, the user is not looking for you specifically – they don’t even know you exist – but they are looking for the type of services you can provide.
So, they make this search and Google comes up with around 1.4 million results, starting with the most relevant. The accountants that feature at the very top of the list are the ones that Google believes will be of most use to the user. Why? Because when it goes to collect the data needed to provide the best, most accurate results possible, the websites of the accountants featured on the first page are those that, first of all offer accounting services in Edinburgh, and secondly provide plenty of information to suggest they have what the user needs.
So where are you? Well, if you have a listing in the Yellow Pages your ad might be featured on their website, but a user will need to visit that website to find you. And even if they do, your listing might not be their first choice – those accountants favoured by Google have listings on there too, with links to their websites next to them, which means the user does not have to make a phone call to find out if their services are suitable.
Beyond this listing, what do you have? In truth … not a lot.
The internet has forced marketing to evolve to the point that an online presence is essential in order to compete.
That online presence can take many different forms: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, YouTube videos, industry forum memberships, etc., but all roads must lead to the same place – a website.
A website is the hub of your online activity in the same way that your brick and mortar premises are the hub of your accounting business.
A website is how people using search engines will find you and how you will be able to turn them into clients.
Saying that a website can be the difference between success and failure may be a bit dramatic – you are at where you are today without one – but its importance cannot be understated, especially when it comes to showcasing your skills to attract future clients.
The Benefits of Having a Website
The benefits of having a website are plentiful.
First of all, a website is something that clients, and most certainly potential clients, expect. As you will know all too well, today’s market is increasingly competitive – without a website, you are effectively compromising your position.
Here are a few more of the advantages a website offers:
- An initial point of reference for new clients. As we’ve already spoken about, the internet is the starting point for the majority of people looking for an accountant. If a person is able to find your website, they will find access to all the information they need about your firm and will be able to make an informed decision about whether your services match their needs.
- A way to get ahead of the competition. A website is a commitment to growth and shows that you are proactive in your efforts to embrace new technology. It also provides you with a much-needed edge over the competition. Where search engines are concerned, to prospective clients an accountant with a website is always going to be more appealing than one without.
- Added value to clients. Through a website, you will be able to improve the way you interact with clients. Email provides you with an additional point of contact, while consultations and an increasing number of services can be offered over the Web, eliminating the need for a client to have to travel to your premises. As a direct result of this, you can also use a website to …
- Expand operations. Thanks to the internet, distance is no longer the barrier it once was. While local clients will always be the backbone of your business, accounting advice and services can be offered to a wider audience, across counties and across borders.
- Cost-effective promotion. A website is a brilliant marketing tool that can be promoted for free across search engines and social media. Moreover, the more exposure your website gets, the more clients you will get through the door.
As you can see, a website can do so much for your business. However, you can only reap these benefits if your site gives the user what they want.
In an ideal world, you will be able to make a website in minutes and start dealing with new leads immediately. Unfortunately, it does not work like this – if it did, everyone would be doing it.
While it is easier than ever to get online with a website, enjoying success requires a particular type of site – one that combines aesthetically appealing website design with rewarding user experience and informative, engaging content, and then markets it all in a way that encourages not only visits, but also client investment.
Design, content, and marketing – the three fundamental components of a successful website.
You will never get a second chance to make a great first impression.
In Web design, as with anything in life, first impressions count. As an accountant, you have to make a good first impression on a client in order for them to invest and trust in you as a person and your services. They say that when meeting a person for the first time, there is a seven-second window in which to form a first impression. Web developers would love to have that sort of time frame!
In forming that all-important opinion of a website, internet users are not quite so generous with their time. Statistics show that it takes a visitor around 50 milliseconds to form a first impression of your website that will determine whether they like it or not. This means you have the time it takes a person to blink to convince them that your website is worthy of further investigation.
What visitors are looking for is a professionally designed site with an attractive layout and eye-catching content. If your website can offer this, you will have created a good first impression and bought yourself some more time – but not much.
According to Econsultancy, 40 per cent of people will abandon a website if pages take more than three seconds to load. They’re really not doing you any favours whatsoever here are they?!
A website needs to get the information on the page as quickly as possible and make it easy for the visitor to find exactly what they need in as few clicks as possible. The quicker a website loads, the more favourable it will be to Google and the higher it will rank in search engine results.
Another key aspect of design is making a website available to everyone. Web browsing is no longer dominated by PCs and laptops; seven in ten people in the UK now own a smartphone and more than a third of the population use tablets. At the other end of the scale, technology has allowed people to browse the web on large flatscreen televisions and cinema-sized displays.
It is critical to the future of a website that it is as beneficial to large screen users as it is to those browsing on a mobile device. Doing this will allow you to appeal to a wider audience, expanding your reach, and increasing traffic.
Think of your website as being like the shell of a car: visually appealing, streamlined and functional. That shell, though, as brilliant as it may be, is nothing without an engine – content is that engine.
Content marketing is the most stressed about element of a website for good reason. It is the words, images and videos that you use that will communicate to your visitors, luring them, charming them, keeping them on your site, and ensuring they come back for more.
The quality of your content will have the biggest say in determining your reputation, search rankings and, ultimately, success.
Google and other search engines place huge emphasis on quality when ranking websites. Content must communicate with people in a way that is informative and entertaining and share with them your knowledge and expertise. You are the best at what you do, and you portray this through your content.
Quality content must be several things:
- Informative. Content must always be delivered in a way that offers information to benefit the reader. It must also be relevant to the subject matter – a person is unlikely to visit an accountancy website with the intention of reading about sports!
- Original. While most accounting websites will be similar in the content they provide, it is important that what you provide is as unique as possible. People appreciate creativity – they do not want to see something written in the same style as another site and they definitely do not want to see something that has been blatantly copied! Okay, so you cannot change the facts or the overall message, but you can put them across in a way that is original and appealing.
- Engaging. Good content needs to be presented well, in a language and tone that is entertaining for the reader. Most of your clients are not from an accounting background and will have no idea about industry buzzwords or jargon – RTI and IR35; what the heck do they mean?
People like content to be simple and enjoyable. The more engaging your content is, the more chance you will have of turning a visitor into a lead.
And this doesn’t just go for the body of your content, but for the headlines and sub-headings too. In fact, the headline is arguably the most important part of any piece of content. Think of it as the front of a shop – the more appealing it is, the more likely a person is to check out what’s inside. Journalists sell newspapers based on the quality of their headlines; you will need to sell your website in the same way – with punchy, informative, and eye-catching titles.
- Factual. Facts are important in any market or industry, but in accounting – where money is a central focus – they are critical. People want facts, and will often take you at your word. In creating content, you must strive to ensure that what you say is correct. The old saying: “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story” does not apply here. Never write something just to sound nice if it might not be right.
- Grammatically correct. People will judge you on the quality of your content and bad grammar screams ‘unprofessional’. Good grammar does not just refer to spelling; it relates to the flow of the content, the structure, and the language used – which must always be aimed at your target audience. Consistency is the key. Well-written and edited content pleases the reader.
On your website, written copy, articles, and blog posts will make up probably 95 per cent of the content. However, room should always be made for a fair old helping of visual content. They say a picture says a thousand words, and when it comes to capturing an audience, showing rather than telling is of definite benefit.
Consider these statistics:
- 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual
- 70% of your sensory receptors are in the eyes
- 50% of the brain is active in visual processing
- 40% of people respond better to visuals.
- The brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, so it makes sense to embrace image and video content as much as possible.
So, where are we at so far? The user-friendly website is in place and it’s filled with quality content. Good stuff, time to introduce the final key component: marketing.
You will already know the importance of website marketing in drumming up business; you probably will not have arrived to where you are today if you didn’t.
Marketing a website follows the same principles as marketing your services in the real world. The overall aim is to spread the word, get your website noticed by as many people as possible, and, ultimately, increase revenues.
Internet marketing is huge, it makes up around a quarter of the entire ad market. It is also convenient and, overall, cost effective.
During the design and content creation processes of building a website, the foundations for marketing will have already been laid. As we’ve already touched upon, a well-designed, user-friendly site is good for search engine rankings, as is quality content. This gives you a good head start as featuring prominently in search engines is by far and away the best way to drive traffic to your website.
A good website is built with search engine optimisation in mind. This is something we will go into greater detail about in a future video, but it involves a range of methods that make your site more appealing to the likes of Google so that they favour it over the websites of your competitors.
Search engine optimisation, or SEO as it is more commonly known, is used to help you feature as close to the top of the Google search rankings in your niche as possible. If you can do this, statistics are very much in your favour:
- 70% of the links search users click on are organic, or unpaid
- 75% of search users never scroll past the first page of results
- SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate.
- The top listing in Google’s organic search results gets 33% of the traffic. The second listing gets 17.6%, and the third listing 11.4%.
Search is the number one driver of traffic to websites and therefore of primary importance when marketing your site. However, it is certainly not the only way of attracting visitors.
Social media, email marketing, pay-per-click marketing, and press releases can all be used to great effect to give your business a competitive edge.
Technology has forced businesses large and small to a point in the road where having a website is essential to progress.