Greenfield/Belser, a company that designs websites for professional services firms, is launching a catalog and review of 200 accounting, consulting and law firm websites next week.

The new service, “site visits,” aims to provide a resource for competitive intelligence, best practices and the state of professional services branding and digital marketing.

However, the company does not aim to criticize the other sites so much as draw attention to good design. “Following mom’s advice, we found something nice to say or didn’t say anything at all,” said Greenfield/Belser principal Joe Walsh. “We want to encourage best practices and continual improvement, not wag our fingers.”

However, the group was able to make some general observations in its press materials. It found that accounting firm sites are improving, but not as quickly as their consulting and law firm peers. It noted that few of the 50 CPA and advisory firm sites it reviewed had a clear or differentiating brand promise articulated on the home page. The one exception was the site designed by Greenfield/Belser itself, for its client Friedman LLP.

“Many cut right to what they know about issues, challenges and the problems clients face without explaining why they ought to be considered the right match,” it said of other firms’ websites. “Fewer still leverage the brand promise and its supporting key messages throughout the site. In other words, if the brand position is stated, it’s quickly forgotten. This is a lost opportunity.”

The reviewers also took a swipe at the websites of the Big Four firms, pointing out they seem to be in an “arms race” for the amount of “thought leadership” type of content they feature. However, the company noted that Big Four clients might feel “overwhelmed by the volume(s) of leading thoughts.” With so much research being commissioned and shared, the work might be getting lost in the crowd. Two-thirds of the firms hide their thought leadership behind uninviting library-style card catalogues.

The reviewers also found that while there is a great deal of content and information on accounting firm sites, little of it could be considered engaging or memorable content. While sites are adopting more charts, graphs, images, tables, maps, videos and other tools to share information graphically, oftentimes sites are filled with too many words.

Many accounting firm sites rely on similar stock images, such as pictures of stock charts, balance sheets and globes, but merely as decoration. Greenfield/Belser recommends custom illustrations and style sheets to differentiate sites. While video is gaining traction on many sites, all too often poor-quality home-grown videos predominate on sites.

Mobile and tablet friendliness is uneven on many sites, and many sites are more about the firm than the client.

“As you cruise the accounting firms’ sites, the words ‘we,’ ‘us,’ ‘our’ and ‘the firm’ appear far too frequently,” said the reviewers. “Here’s a practical tip. Go to any of your pages and count the number of times the words above are used. If they outweigh the number of times clients or client issues are mentioned, rewrite the copy.”

Overall, the reviewers found that 46 percent of the accounting sites they examined could be considered truly responsive. Sixty-six percent of the accounting firm websites surveyed adopted an obvious tagline to clarify their brand position. In addition, 40 percent of the sites reviewed collect news, events and publications under the label of “insights.” And two-thirds of the accounting firm home pages feature a rotating carousel to deliver their messages.

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