What are the key statistics for your accountancy firm website?

What follows is controversial as it challenges conventional wisdom. Well, it differs from the views of many website experts and specialists. It has long been clear to me that a great deal of the generic advice you hear and see all over the web is misleading.

I have explained before that: Only one website metric really matters to accountants. And that is, for most practices: How many website visitors contact the office and become profitable clients?

If that is indeed your focus you can think about what you do to attract the right type of visitors to your website. And then how does your site allow visitors to determine if they are really target clients for you, to find the key information about your practice they may be seeking and to get in touch with you?

Does it matter how ‘popular’ your site is? How often people come back eg: to consume more free information? or How long they spend on your site each time they visit?

The average time visitors spend on an accountant’s website is a double-edged sword. Do you want it to increase or to decrease? Surely you want visitors to determine whether they are in the right place and then to get in touch with you. You don’t want to focus on increasing the time they spend on your site if this is because you have confused them or if they are simply looking at loads of free information and then leaving without getting in touch.

Another example: I have never obsessed over the number of visitors we get to my Tax Advice Network website or how long they spend on the site. Right from the outset I knew that we would attract all sorts of people looking for free tax advice. So high visitor numbers would, of themselves, be irrelevant.

We try to make it easy for visitors who want free advice to see that the site isn’t for them. As a result we also have a high ‘bounce rate’ – being the percentage of people who leave almost as soon as they arrive. I’ve always expected that so it’s not important to me.

Equally I’m not that interested in increasing the time anyone spends on the site or the number of pages they visit; nor which browsers they use or which ‘content’ pages are the most popular. We do however need to consider how often the site is visited from mobile devices and to be sure that it ‘works’ on such platforms as well as on pcs, laptops and macbooks.

What matters most though stems from the fact that around 100 people a day use our search engine to find a suitable tax adviser. These searches result in enquiries to the tax adviser members. They collectively bill hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in fees generated by the website.

The key statistics for me therefore are the number of searches performed each day/week/month and how much billable work this generates for the tax adviser members of the Network. We need to monitor and ‘fix’ the most common ‘exit’ pages, to track and generate more action from the most popular pages, increase the number of searches and increase the proportion of searches that lead to billable work.

What are the key statistics for your website?

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Accountants caught lying on their websites

I was shocked to read about “Accountants Caught Lying To Clients In Desperate Quest For Authority” on the website of marketing expert Ian Brodie.

He suggests that more than a dozen accountants seem to be falsely claiming to be co-authors of a book titled:  “Why Businesses Stop Growing And What You Can Do About It”.

You can get a partial list of them here via google: the book with the most co-authors in the world >>

Each of the accountants’ websites claim that the book has been co-written by the accountant and a third party (the same one in each case: “one of the world’s leading marketing and business growth experts”). It seems much more likely that the third party is the real author and is allowing multiple accountants to reproduce the book as if they had co-written it with him. Or maybe they did each write their own section and the costs of production have been kept down by retaining the same title and cover for all of the variations.

I seem to recall other copyright free books which accountants can rebrand and promote with their firm’s name on the cover and which could be helpful for clients.

It has also long been possible to outsource the production of client newsletters which can then be personalised with an accountancy firm’s branding. Many firms also promote booklets that contain generic advice for clients and which include the firm’s branding even though the written content was provided by a third party publisher. And a whole industry now exists providing generic advice and tips for inclusion on accountants’ websites too.

The only real difference here I think is that the accountants’ websites are actively promoting them as the co-authors and claiming that their co-authorship evidences that they are experts in the field. Some of the accountants appear in a very professional promotional video on what I expect is an effective ‘squeeze page’ to drive traffic. I am sure the whole package requires a decent investment upfront. In each of the videos they seem to address variations on the same script as each other and invariably claim to be co-authors of the “Why Businesses Stop Growing” book.

As Ian says:

It’s not just something that’s slipped into their marketing by accident. They are deliberately fooling their clients and potential clients and claiming expertise they may not have and an achievement they didn’t do.

Ironically, many of them have a bio which reads “…so-and-so is the co-author of “Why Businesses Stop Growing And What You Can Do About It…” and a trusted authority on helping start up and small business owners achieve success”.

Do you agree with Ian that such behaviour brings into question whether the accountants can really be ‘trusted’? Or do you think it’s simply an acceptable marketing tactic? Is it ethical to blatantly lie to prospective clients re your achievements and expertise?

Much as I admire the professionalism and the likely impact of the campaigns I am not comfortable with the co-authorship claims unless they are justifiable. What do you think?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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I’m not boring but my firm is. What should I do?

I was recently asked by an accountant whether it matters that his firm has a boring website and boring branding? The individual in question does not come across as boring themselves.

In typical accountancy fashion, I responded: ‘It depends…’.

I believe that firms that are keen to attract business from people who search online for an accountant need to have an attractive compelling website that make it both appealing and easy to get in touch. Or at least that those firms which do this will convert more visitors than those with boring looking websites.

Nb: The look and feel of the website is also relevant to accountants and firms where prospective clients look them up online. This typically happens after an existing client, business or networking associate has recommended or referred the accountant or firm to the prospect. (More tips on accountants’ websites here>>>)  

I also believe that accountants who attend networking events and give out boring looking business cards need to be particularly memorable, special and distinct in themselves. Otherwise there is less chance of the people they meet wanting to follow up with them. And networking without following up is invariably a waste of time.  The more you can tip the odds in your favour here the better. And quality business cards that stand out can only help.  (More tips on accountants’ business cards here>>>)

On the other hand…

Existing clients will be less interested in the firm’s website and branding than in the individual accountants with whom they are dealing.  Other partners in the firm may perceive any changes to the website and branding as a costly exercise that will not improve the bottom line. This may be true in the short term. And, of itself, such changes will not achieve anything. They would need to be part of a review and upgrading of the firm’s marketing activities, messages and ambitions. Should the more standout partners and members of staff push for this?  It depends… 😉

 Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Analysing my Website stats for 2012

Having had a good look at my website stats for 2012 I rather wish I had been recording similar data for each of the last 6 years. Better late than never though.

Blog posts each year

This is the 70th post I have added to the blog in 2012.

That is more than I posted in each of the last 3 years but somewhat fewer than I posted in 2007 and in 2008. (2011 – 56, 2010 – 59, 2009 – 59, 2008 – 109, 2007 – 93, 2006 – 52)

Visitor numbers

WordPress stats reveal that the site has averaged over 11,000 visitors a month this year. That’s over 500 each working day. (Indeed the figures have been rising all year ). Average page reads are nearer 17,000 a month.

Both figures represent significant increases on 2011 (The wordpress counter only started on 30 December 2010). The day the site had most visitors was 26 June 2012 (931 visitors). This was the day after I posted a couple of items which have proved quite popular:

Popular Blog Posts

Most recent blog posts have been read 500-900 times. Some of the earliest have been read less than 100 times. The top ten pages of the site according to wordpress, in terms of the number of times they have been viewed/read are as follows:

  1. Welcome 19,481 (This is the main landing page for my website)
  2. Three elements of communication – and the so called “7%-38%-55% Rule” 7,374  (I got lucky with this title in 2008. It transpires this is a popular search term. NB: Few of the visitors who read it have any interest in anything else I write or do)
  3. Examples of good facebook pages for accountants 7,059  (The most popular of the posts I wrote in 2012 and often found through searches for info on this topic).
  4. Twitter 4,926 (The page I promote on twitter as it contains links to my various posts on related topics)
  5. The Easter Bunny shows us how NOT to network 4,260  (Surprisingly popular – possibly due to the odd title appealing when people search for ‘How not to network’. Again though, many visitors are not my target audience. Still, I have now edited the post to include links to other key pages of the website)
  6. How do you set charge out rates? 3,138 (A popular searched for topic)
  7. Twitter is not for accountants 3,072 (Promoted by me and by others who challenge the logic of this 4 year old post. I wish I’d titled it: ‘Why accountants don’t need to bother with twitter’. It’s as true today as it was in 2008)
  8. Speaking 2,634  (one of the key pages of my website)
  9. Networking strategy – plan your follow up beforehand 2,538
  10. Working with accountants 2,026

Countries

The oddest stat is the one showing where the 206,000 readers of my blog (during 2011 and 2012) are based:

  • United States – 80,492 (It is possible that this is simply those arriving via web services hosted in the US)
  • Unknown – 35,178 (it would be nice to think these are all in the UK but even then I would still have more apparent visitors from the US than from my target UK audience)
  • United Kingdom – 31,971
  • China – 15,028
  • Germany – 4,438

The remainder come from dozens of other countries around the globe. Between them all my visitors have apparently read 321,821 items/pages of the site over the last two years.

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Only one website metric really matters to accountants

There are plenty of online tools that will help you measure various website metrics and analytics – such as visitor numbers, how long they stay, which pages they look at and so on.  None of them, however, measure the most important metric so it is easy to forget that there’s only one that really matters.

Before I explain what it is, let me also pick up on a couple of other related points.

I have long questioned the point of simply counting the number of visitors to an accountant’s website. What matters is the number of RELEVANT visitors. This means firstly identifying the type of people you want to visit the site. It is all too easy to create content that attracts dozens or even hundreds of time wasters; for example people who simply follow links offering ‘free tax advice’ but who have no intention of ever engaging an accountant.

Equally, for most accountants, the key traffic numbers are those visitors from your local area (or from your target locations if you have a niche that is intended to attract people from further afield). Website visitors from further afield will rarely choose you as their accountant once they realise you are not local. All other things being equal someone in Brighton, for example, who looks for an accountant online is unlikely to pick one in Blackpool. So visitors to your website from afar are not as valuable as those from nearby.

I also think it’s important to consider ‘time on site’ only in connection with other metrics. It’s a good thing, not a problem, if someone who visited your site in error ‘bounces’ off very quickly once they realise their mistake. And what if visitors are keen to get in touch but are unable to find the name of the person to contact even after visiting a number of pages, so they then give up? Better they find it quickly and then get in touch without exploring the site any further.

My slightly heretical view is that too many accountants have too many pages with too much boring looking content on their websites. It should all come back to who is the target audience, what do they want or need to find and what do you want them to do when they find it?

Are your detailed content pages intended to help existing clients or would you rather they get in touch when they need help? In which case the only reason for all that content is to impress prospective clients and third parties. Does it though? Does it help convince them to get in touch? I wonder whether people looking for a new accountant want to download info, read it and then get in touch later or do they want help NOW? Different visitors will have different needs, often depending on whether they are looking for their first accountant or a replacement accountant. If you know who you want to attract you can tailor your content accordingly.

Copying what everyone else does is boring and pointless unless you are sure it is going to generate something of value for your practice.

The bottom line is that the one website metric that really matters is how much business your website generates.

The most important metric to measure therefore is: How many website visitors contact the office and become profitable clients? Do you have any procedures in place to track this metric? If not, why do you bother with all the other less important ones?

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5 Blogging myths for accountants

I saw an online promo recently suggesting that all accountants should be blogging. How objective is this idea and does it really make sense?

Given that I’m still an enthusiastic blogger you might expect me to also advocate blogging by accountants. But I don’t and it’s not just because of my experience with the Tax-Buzz blog – although that does confirm my view about the myths surrounding blogging for accountants.

I should stress that I enjoy blogging and have now posted almost 500 items here since 2006. I also have a separate blog on which I have shared hundreds of posts on the subject of The lighter side of accountancy and tax.  I stopped writing my third blog at the end of 2011. The Tax-Buzz blog was where I shared over 400 insights and advice re tax related stories in the media over a 4 year period. I explained why I stopped adding to that blog in a blog post(!) in May 2012.

Anyway, here are my 5 blogging myths – ie: reasons often given to encourage people to blog regularly and why I think that accountants are different. If you disagree, please add your comments below:

1 – Build your credibility – This only works as regards people who see and read your blogs. Most accountants in practice are not seeking to build credibility across the UK, let alone the world. Their target audience is more local than that. Will your target audience (prospective clients, advocates and potential staff) find your blog and read it sufficiently to be influenced? There are certain tools you can use to help here but my own experience suggests that the impact will be minimal in real-life, as distinct from in theory.

2 – Enhance your SEO – This refers to ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. How easy is it for your target audience to find you on the web? Not the people who know your name or the name of your practice but those who don’t know you and are looking for someone just like you. Might I suggest that the best starting point here is to arrange for your website to be Optimised before you start blogging – if this is your objective. I would also suggest that blog articles are typically seen as a great way to access free advice. I am doubtful as to how often anyone will contact an accountant and be willing to pay for advice received after reading their blog online. The web user is far more likely to keep searching for more free advice on the same topic.

3 – It’s fun – I’d agree with that. But then lots of things are fun. How many fun things can you fit into your life? It’s also time consuming.  Is it enough fun to warrant the time and effort? For most accountants I would suggest the answer is ‘no’. It’s nice to think one has been helpful and that lots of people have read what you’ve written. But unless this turns into billable work or trackable referrals at some stage it is simply ‘fun’ and probably less productive than many other fun activities eg: engaging on twitter, business forums and Linkedin (all of which I advocate – to one degree or another).

4 – Emphasise your niche – If you have one. During my talks for accountants I often stress the benefits of focusing on a niche and of highlighting a specialism.  The strength of the argument for doing this sometimes comes as a shock after years of trading as accountants to anyone and everyone. If you have no niche your blog will be just one of many generalist ones. But even if you do have a niche I have the same reservations as set out in the 3 paras above.

5 – Distinguish yourself from the others – I’m a great advocate of the idea that it’s ‘more important to be different than to be better.’  But those features that distinguish you need to be evidently of benefit to your target clients. Being 7 foot tall and always carrying a bright green briefcase will make you memorable but do those differences benefit anyone? In the same way, will anyone feel that they are getting more value for money or a better service simply because you are a regular blogger? I think not.

I was recently a judge in a competition to identify high performing accountancy firms. Some (not many) of the entrants referenced their use of social media as contributing to their success. I was pleased to see this. However, in most cases they went on to explain they were active on twitter, linkedin and blogging. No one seemed able to distinguish the value of different elements of their social media activity. What was unclear was whether any firm that was blogging could identify any of their growth as benefitting from this activity.

The other side of the coin

I’ve been blogging here since 2006. The frequency of my posts varies but it now averages about 2 per week. I get to post my thoughts and ideas here to help readers and I am then able to collate the posts to create articles for the press and for other websites.  I also often adapt my blog posts to create supporting material for my courses and seminars for accountants.

I am aware of a relatively small number of accountants in practice who seem to enjoy blogging. I know of far more who gave it a try and then gave up. They concluded that the benefits didn’t live upto the hype.  I don’t think that’s a reflection on the accountants. I think it’s more to do with the hype.

[This is an updated version of a blogpost I originally wrote in 2008. Beyond my own evidence, through the TaxBuzz blog, that sadly supports my contentions, nothing much seems to have changed in the last 4 years. Well, one thing has; there are now more marketing types encouraging accountants to start blogs and to outsource the writing to the promoters!]

What do you think?  Please add your views as comments to this post especially if you are an accountant who blogs.

I have written a 10,000 word ebook containing marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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