In my work, I visit Web sites of CPA firms on a regular basis. In many cases, it is my initial impression of the firm. What I tend to do is click on the various sections of the Web site to find out more about the firm. I expect my actions are no different from those of others such as potential clients and possible referral partners who are trying to learn more about an accounting firm.

Let me tell you about a recent experience that I had visiting a six-partner firm's Web site. The first section listed was the news section where the standard mileage rate was the only listing. It wasn't the current one even though the IRS had released the 2005 rates about six months ago. I then went to the parking location section and found almost 400 words on entering the parking garages as well as the following on finding the firm's office:

"Once you have entered our building, you will walk down a long hallway past the security command center. The elevators are at the end of the hallway, around to your left. (Don't go through the door at the end of the hallway or you will end up at the health club!) During regular office hours you may proceed straight to the elevators and go up to the 7th floor. After hours and on Saturdays, you must stop at the security command center before coming up to the 7th floor as the elevators are locked down. If a security officer is available, he will escort you up. If not, security will call our office and we will come down and get you. If the security officer tells you there is no answer at our office, have them call one of the following extensions."

There were similar long-winded passages in many other sections of the Web site. The bulk of the site was comprised of a description of the firm including the department breakdown, the fact that the firm had been around for a long time, and the credentials of the staff. Only a small portion of the site showed exactly how the firm helped clients. This was buried down at the end of a lot of dense text that you have to scroll down to find. Rather than having a clean, modern professional look, you get the impression the material is dated probably back to the sixties when the firm was founded.

Have you ever asked viewers what they think of your firm's Web site? My suggestion is to develop a short survey with questions such as:

1.  What is your overall impression of xxxcpa.com?

2.  What do you like best?

3.  What could be done better?

4.  If you wanted to consider using a service of ours, what would you want to see on our site?

5.  What are some Web addresses of the sites that you like and the reasons that you like them?

So, whom do you ask? How about other CPAs you know; referral partners, such as bankers and lawyers; clients, especially those with Web sites; your spouse; your kids, your staff; and colleagues.  Tabulate and compare the results. I think you might decide more attention has to be paid to your firm's Web site if you want to make that good first impression. 

And in that vein, please don't go overboard with your site. Always think in terms of what your firm can maintain and, just as important; determine exactly who is responsible for keeping it current and on what basis.

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