10 tips for starting a firm website

Starting a website for an accounting firm is not an easy task and can seem overwhelming, especially for those with no prior experience. It can be challenging even for those who have walked the path, because there are so many variables to consider. To help guide efforts, below is a list of the top considerations that accounting and CPA firms need to make when starting a site for the firm.

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Establish goals
Goals are essential before you start. What do you want out of the website? Some firms want to have an online presence that properly represents their organizations and services, and that showcases expertise. Others want to focus on user engagement, driving additional conversions (such as signing up for a newsletter or downloading a checklist/whitepaper). Others are new to digital marketing and looking to take it step by step. Whatever the goals, it’s imperative to identify them prior to the start of the process. Knowing the outcome will keep efforts focused and on track.
Define the audience(s)
It’s important to understand the firm’s target audience because that will provide important signals on site design, layout and content strategy. For example, the look and feel of the site and its content should be different if the target audience is entrepreneurs, rather than, say, chief financial officers of Securities and Exchange Commission-registered companies. The former will value a more simplistic design with educational-focused content, whereas the latter will likely value a more “corporate” design with content focused on complex accounting and regulatory matters. The key is to understand who the site is designed to attract and to build one that meets the needs of the audience.
Select a domain name
For a new website, it’s necessary to select a domain name. Determine whether or not the preference is to use the firm’s name or to make a more subtle connection with the name. Don’t forget to consider your audience during this process. Once a short list of names has been identified, check to determine what domain names are available. A check can be performed using several websites including GoDaddy or name.com.
Select a hosting provider
This is the vendor who will host the firm’s website. There are literally dozens of options available, and if the firm is working with a designer, they may be able to provide input on the decision. The firm may elect to host the website on their internal servers, but be aware that this requires a robust IT team with a depth of knowledge in web hosting.

Whatever the decision, it’s important the site loads quickly on desktops, tablets and mobile devices. Google has reported multiple times that slow load times will result in a reduced search engine presence.
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Choose a website builder
There are many companies in the marketplace that can create a beautiful site, but they don’t allow the firm to access the back end for administration. Naturally, as the firm’s digital marketing efforts evolve, this can become an impediment. There are other options such as WordPress, Drupal, Wix and SquareSpace. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, but the central consideration is control. Consider how much independent control the firm wants over the site versus the willingness to rely on an outside resource to manage the site.
Work on design
Design development will vary based on the website builder selected and whether the firm is using an independent designer to assist in the effort. Whatever design the firm selects, user experience and site functionality must be considered throughout the process. It doesn't make much sense to design a site that looks beautiful but doesn’t help accomplish identified goals.
Integrate analytics
From the very beginning it’s important to integrate analytics into the site. Consider implementing a Google analytics tracking code (a free service) to track user behavior on the site. This service will provide access to a wealth of information on the number of people visiting the site, the content they are viewing and the top referring sources (websites that are sending your site traffic). Tracking this information from the start will permit benchmarking and create a comprehensive history of search behavior.
Develop a promotional plan
In the process of getting the site launched it’s easy to forget about promotion. But why put all the energy and effort into the process only to forget to promote the new site to clients, prospects and referral partners? A simple way to do this is to update the signature line for all firm employees highlighting the new site. More advanced marketing tactics are also effective depending on the firm’s marketing budget.
Don't forget SEO
Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing your site to increase its visibility to prospects within search engines. Accountants don’t need to know how the mechanics work, but make sure the site is being constructed using SEO best practices. Most design agencies are familiar with the basic practices and can be a valuable guide along the way.
Bonus tip: Check out the competition
Throughout the process, it’s important to spend time looking at your competition to see what they are doing and if it makes sense to follow suit. At the very least, it will help to generate ideas that can be implemented at various points in the process. Learning from what others are doing will ensure results come faster.