Reviews of the Websites of the 50 Largest Accounting Firms Show Some Go Boldly to MarketBy Burkey Belser
September 18, 2015
ACCOUNTING FIRM SITES ARE IMPROVING, BUT NOT AS QUICKLY AS THEIR CONSULTING AND LAW FIRM PEERS.
There are exceptions to every rule but, in the round, consulting firm sites are the most digitally savvy, client-centric, and generally impressive. They are followed by law firm sites with accounting firm sector sites trailing their peers in web innovation.
1. Brand promises don’t run deep.
Let’s start at the top. Few of the 50 CPA and Advisory firm sites we reviewed had a clear or differentiating brand promise articulated on the homepage. Friedman, on the right, is an exception because we developed it. Many cut right to what they know about issues, trends, challenges and the problems clients face without explaining why they ought to be considered the right match. 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.
2. A thought leadership arms race is in full force.
The Big Four are masters of thought leadership, borrowing from their forefathers and mothers in big consulting. Now, in an age when content has been declared king, firms of all sizes are heavily invested in content marketing. Leading us to wonder if clients are overwhelmed by the volume(s) of leading thoughts? How ironic! Buyers want nothing more than new ideas, yet with so much research being commissioned and shared, is your work getting lost in the crowd? How can your ideas get the attention you seek? Nearly half of the firm sites reviewed file thought leadership under “insights.” Information overload? Forget it. Think “insight overload.” Buckle up. The race is on.
3. Content, yes. Engaging content, not so much.
In 1971, the Nobel-winning political scientist and economist Herbert Simon addressed the new realities of an information rich world. He said “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” On the sites reviewed, information abounds, but there is a lack of engaging and memorable content. This amounts to another opportunity for those who dare to be different in earning attention for their messages in a world with too much information. DHG stikes an effective balance on their DHG views resource center.
4. Sellers slow to value visual (v. verbal) communication.
In business and elsewhere we no longer have (if we ever had) readers, we have scanners. Sites are quickly adopting charts, graphs, images, tables, maps, videos and other tools to share substantive information graphically. But more sites are still filled with too many words. The best sites have moved from text heavy to visually balanced.
5. Unimaginative stock imagery prevails.
It’s hard to tell accounting firms apart when they rely on many of the same or same types of images. Pictures of stock charts, balance sheets or globes do not inform, they decorate pages. The best communicators have developed unique style sheets for stock or steered clear of stock entirely with custom illustrations (see DHG) or great photos of their product/people (Plante Moran). LBMC makes extensive use of stock photography; read, it's affordable. But their choice of images and the style—or way the are used—sets them apart.
6. Video is gaining traction.
The lion’s share of the accounting firm sites reviewed use video for multiple purposes like sharing points of view, profiling experts, explaining a firm’s purpose and more. This is a good thing. Given a choice, people would rather watch than read but click-through rates for corporate video are poor. Why? Poor quality, home-grown videos dominate the Corporate Internet. Little of the work we saw had either the creativity or production values to warrant watching. None were memorable. Most are too long. High quality firms deserve better.
7. Mobile and tablet friendliness is uneven.
We’re very pleased to see many firms recognize the imperative of a consistent brand experience across all devices. Many are now responsively designed and developed. But more than half of sites reviewed ignore the mobile experience. Quelle horror! Warren Averett's Asset Management Group, shown below, deftly delivers smaller screen adaptations. Even some of the largest CPA firms, like Deloitte, are now responsibly responsive.
8. Sites are still 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. 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.