I heard Graham Jones speak at a business event recently. Graham is an internet psychologist and frequently shares unexpected but valid insights about how how people use the web.
On this occasion he was talking about websites and he explained, with good examples, why it can be a mistake if your website stands out too much. There are lesson here for accountants of course.
Graham has since shared a summary of key elements from his talk in his email newsletter. I quote from this below.
Graham explains that:
“People have pre-set ideas as to what they expect to see when they land on a site. Neurological studies show that if people don’t see what they are expecting in less than one second, these visitors disappear, bouncing out of the site, looking for something else”.
He gave an example of a bride looking for a wedding venue:
“If she lands on a hotel website and the images are all of business people in suits, she instantly thinks “this is not the hotel for me”, even if the venue does offer weddings. The bride expects to see images of people like herself, instantly. If she doesn’t see them in half a second, she perceives that the site is not for her, even before she has started to explore it.”
Another example he gave was of a garden centre website that was told it needed to look different to all the others so that it “stood out”:
“Their web designers told them that almost every garden centre website used green as its principle colour. So to stand out from the crowd, the developers suggested pink. The garden centre site was transformed, but sales plummeted. Why? Because the bounce rate rocketed, as people do not associate pink with gardening. People expect a website that is focused on gardening to have a lot of green in it. When they don’t see that, they think “this is not the right site”, and they bounce out, looking for an alternative that matches their expectation.
The problem with not providing what people expect leads to a phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance”. Essentially this is your brain going “this does not compute”. In other words, there is a mental clash between what we see and what we had expected to see and our brain gets stuck in a rut trying to sort it all out. And when a website visitor’s brain gets stuck in that rut the easiest solution is for them to leave the site, thereby eliminating the problem for them.”
Graham was clear that it can be a mistake to adopt a “wacky” approach to your website design. With so much material available online it’s easy to want to “stand out” and be different. That is often what businesses (and accountants) are told by web designers too. They say that the accountancy firm, for example, shouldn’t have a “me too” website, looking like all the others in the same category.
“That is old-fashioned thinking, though. When you had time to explain to people why your company brochure was printed sideways, or why your corporate colours were pink and orange instead of green, then they understood and remembered you for being different. But nowadays you don’t have time for people to understand the differences. Instead, they need to know, in an instant, that they have landed on the right kind of website.
If you are a taxi firm and your site doesn’t look like a taxi company’s website, you will have driven away your visitors. Similarly, if you run a local stables and your website doesn’t seem to be about horses, off trot your visitors to another site. In other words, the most important thing to do these days is to be the same, not be different.”
The main focus of many of my talks is on the easy ways in which you can choose to stand out from your competitors and the pack. I reference ‘appearance’ as being one of the 7 key ways you can stand out. This isn’t just about how you appear face to face, but also online. Appearing different to other accountants online doesn’t mean that your website design needs to look very different from other accountants’ websites. It’s the content that could well be different – indeed it probably should be different to the standard boring content on so many accountants’ websites. Your content can indeed help you to stand out.
As an accountant you will want your website to appeal both to those strangers who are searching online for an accountant – and who are the sort of people you would like to have a clients. You will also want your website to appeal to those people who have been specifically referred to you or who have met you and now want to check you out.
As Graham says:
“Make the difference in what you DO, not what [your website looks like]. Your visitors will have cognitive dissonance and get confused if you don’t look like all the other websites in your sector. Be the same as everyone else and your visitors will stay on your site.”
Make your website standout through the way you reference your genuine focus on clients, how they benefit from your approach, any special services you offer, your expertise and any niche areas in which you operate. If you are a sole practitioner your website will also stand out (positively) if it reveals who you are and lets visitors get to know you a little. A standard ‘about us’ page that only talks about ‘the firm’ just doesn’t cut it in my view.