e've just completed our first annual report into accountancy practice websites across Essex in 2019. We undertook this research as an inquiry into the way accountants present themselves online. We have spent time looking at 100 different accountants’ websites across twelve towns in Essex, recorded our findings and present them here as easily digestible, jargon-free statistics.
How did we conduct our searches?
We based our research and analysis on the results returned from Google Maps when searching for the term ‘Accountants in Town Name’ for example. We wanted to search for accountants in a way we felt that anyone might do themselves if they turned to Google, and felt that location-based results were a fair and democratic way to approach this. We didn’t use any special software to look at site metrics, other than free tools provided by Google and MOZ, and of course, using our own trusty eyes. We looked at some technical metrics (which would affect the quality of the viewer’s experience) and we looked at some elements of the site design itself such as brand colour and hierarchy of information. We also looked at factors such as whether the site contained a blog, calls to action or links to social media profiles to see which practices were really demonstrating their expertise and engagement, and if they were encouraging viewers to get in touch.
The results? There is, shall we say, ‘room for improvement’. The most apparent cause for concern (with some notable exceptions) is that clearly the vast majority of accountants do very little to differentiate themselves from one another via what is arguably their most important marketing asset.
Who is standing out?
Notable websites included Numbercloud, CBHC, Lucentum and Ellacott Morris for a combination of stand-out design, attention grabbing colour, use of illustration or catchy copy. These design factors helped these practices differentiate themselves from their peers and hence made for more memorable websites. It was found that practices located in larger towns tended to perform better across the board than those in smaller towns (but we did tend to look at a greater number of practices in larger towns because Google was returning us fewer results in smaller towns).
Why is differentiation important?
Put simply, regardless of the sector you work in, it is important to differentiate yourself from the competition. This can be achieved via a combination of positioning, specialisation, being helpful, effective design and via customer service. For prospects who are at the consideration stage of their buying journey, a business can differentiate themselves using a combination of all the factors above, and of course through thought-leadership and branding. Branding is more than just your logo and choice of colour, it is how you present as a business across all your touch-points, from your website to your social media presence and via your blogs and resources. To put it another way, branding is how you face your public, it is, in the words of Debbie Millman. the President Emeritus of AIGA, ‘deliberate differentiation’.
Where is there room for improvement?
At Prosper we think the areas for improvement (solely from looking at accountants’ websites) lay in a combination of factors. There is a need to demonstrate clear positioning, making your positioning statement centre stage on your website home page. We felt that many of the websites we looked at were extremely text heavy, with little discernible hierarchy of information, meaning it was unclear what the practice wanted us to see or read first. Our results show that a large majority of practices use the same colour combinations in their branding so deliberate differentiation for accountants is not a strong point, (yet something that can be easily achieved, see Numbercloud, CBHC and Lucentum for example). Embrace branding and good design and stand out! More valuable calls to action and on-site blogs would help customers make their buying decisions. Case studies showing how practices have assisted clients and business, and general demonstration of expertise in ways that relate to the website viewer are also helpful. Providing useful and valuable articles, resources and case studies would be advantageous and again help you differentiate your practice by demonstrating expertise.
To view and download the full illustrated report visit the Prosper website at www.prosper-agency.com/resources
Written by Ben Stanbury