Six questions to ask about your firm's website

Professional services providers like tax practitioners and accountants face some unique challenges when it comes to building strong online presences. With no tangible products to sell — which means no product photos to spruce up a web page, and no shopping carts to create a call to action — firms need to pay particular attention design, user experience, and getting the right message across.

With tax season over, now is a great time for firms to review their websites see how well they serve their purpose of drawing in prospects and serving current clients, according to Ashley Ray, the social media manager of the Income Tax School and CEO of BeEmergent.com, who laid out the following six questions to start with.

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How does it compare?
Start by taking a look at the websites of firms that are your size to see what they're offering and how they structure their sites, and how your site measures up in terms of design sophistication, and how well it welcomes new visitors.

Then don't neglect to look at the sites of larger competitors — even regional and national accounting firms, or major tax prep chains — to give you ideas of what to aspire to.
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Is it what clients expect?
Perhaps the most important thing Ray suggests is to remember that your firm's web site isn't for you — it's for prospects and clients. Think about the sort of questions they're going to ask; then see how hard it is to find the answers to them on your site. Is it easy to access the FAQ, the site map, and contact information for the firm?

More important, does it focus on your accomplishments, or on their needs?
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Is it compatible?
If you have a customer relationship management system, client portals, or lead-capturing software — or it you want to use any of those — will your website support them? Does it work with any calculators you may want to offer, or, where appropriate, with any client-facing software you use?
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When was the last time it was upgraded?
If it's been more than five years, says Ray, you're overdue. Trends in web design, best practices in search engine optimization, and user expectations change frequently. Nothing says "out of touch" like an old-fashioned, out-of-date website.
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How involved would an upgrade be?
Once you determine whether you need upgrades, figure out how complex they'll be, and if you'll need outside help. If it's just a matter of updating text and contact information, maybe you can handle it yourself — but if it's a matter of redesigning the site or instituting responsive design, it's worth the time and money to hire an expert.
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How can it be made to last?
Any upgrade should aim for more than just bringing a firm's site up to the present; it should try to position it for the future. Implementing responsive design, for instance — where the site automatically configures itself optimally for whatever device a visitor is using — will be more and more valuable as people switch more and more of their web use to their smartphones.

For more on building a great professional services firm website, see Ray's blog post, "Is updating your website on your Spring cleaning checklist?"