We can get past the basics and stipulate that any organization that does not have a website today is essentially invisible to most of their clients and prospects. Without a basic website with contact information and a short mission statement or business description, a tax and accounting practice might as well not be in the phone book. There are no excuses anymore relating to complexity or expense, but in case there are any stragglers out there, or anyone who wants to take control of their website, I suggest you peruse the many offerings presented here.
Starting from zero, your website must be easy to find from the common search engines, and it must present what the search user would most likely want to find. Thinking of a website as an advertising brochure is a relevant frame of reference. Drop the mindset that designing a website is primarily about technical programming, since the products and services reviewed here will handle that for you. More important is the overall experience of the user, a professional appearance, and ease of navigation.
Today would be a good time to start, and for the do-it-yourself types, some of these products offer good platforms that will allow you to put up the basics. Resist the temptation to give the job to a friend or relative that “knows computers.” Website design requires more creative skills and a sense of what you want to project and what your goals are. Start with a simple design, and get it online and working before going on to advanced topics such as interactive forms, external links and the myriad of functions that become more subject to problems as their complexity and power increases.
A website is never “done,” just like the physical presence of your firm — your office space — is continually tended. Schedule yourself some regular time to check on your site, test the links and interactive functions, and ask others to do the same. Have someone else read everything carefully, looking for misspellings and bad grammar. In fact, spell checking should be a default component of any website builder, so we will see if this is something offered by the products featured here. But do not expect them to catch simple errors such as confusing your with you’re, a personal favorite of mine. Your clients expect attention to detail, and simple slips can cost instant points in credibility.
The subject of creating a domain name is a whole other country, but the goal is to create a on that is as short as possible (www.firmname.com), and yet it needs to be indicative of who your firm is. Domain names were more important back in the good ole days, but now most web searches rely on keywords within the site to direct traffic. All of these products offer help with this task to varying degrees. The mysteries of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, are as intricate and rapidly changing as the tax code, and as such should also be left to the specialists. This directly affects the results that your target audience will get and how close to the top of the list your site will appear. Yet another consideration is where your website will be hosted — where the physical web server resides that will return your web pages to the browser.
All of the vendors featured here offer a hosting plan, some in their own data centers and some outsourced. Operating a data center with appropriate security and high up-time is yet another technical specialty not directly linked to the art of website design. Don’t dismiss design firms that don’t run their own data center, but do check out the reputation of whoever hosts the physical servers. All of these website builder offerings will help with the initial technical issues of getting your site online and visible.
Would you want a potential new client to be able to generate an email to the firm with some contact information? How about a secure means of uploading financial data to the accountants? These are two examples of features typical of most of the vendors we looked at here. If you want a website to provide online creation of tax returns or financial statements, you can find a means to get there. There are other interesting new features that are unique to tax and accounting firms, and using a design company with experience in this market will pay off.
Comparison shopping by price is not really relevant here, since these are not commodity services and are not directly comparable. In any event, the setup fees, if any, and basic monthly charges are not significant in the greater light of potential benefits, and are broadly comparable and within the range of reason. So start with a checklist of what you want your website to do, think about the pros and cons of do-it-yourself versus using professional web designers, and you are sure to find a product that will fit your needs.