Design a Better Web Site
CPAs by the hundreds have been creating Web sites on the Internet with the expectation that these virtual stores will generate new business for them. However, many of those CPAs are wondering why new clients aren't beating a path to their doors and why their cash registers aren't ringing. Here are a dozen tips for turning a Web site into a valuableand potentially profitablemarketing instrument.
Don't forget the basics. Always give visitors a person to call, a place to send for information, a sign-up sheet, a form to fill out or a way to find the nearest sales office of your company or a dealer to place an order or to get more information. Also, list your postal and e-mail addresses and phone and fax numbers. And remember, because the Internet is international, list the nation where your company or its dealers are situated.
Be sure the "right" person opens your e-mail. Make sure a person who is informed about your organization opens and answers e-mail sent to you.
If all you want to do on your Web site is provide an online brochure, then save your money. In this electronic information age, a brochure is not an effective lure for attracting a potential client surfing the Internet. Brochures are usually too static to hold anyone's attention and, typically, contain too much of a self-interest sales pitch and not enough "what's-in-it-for-me" information.
Give viewers something free and useful. It's human nature: The word free attracts people, so make sure your Web page offers visitors a number of free and useful items. The first place to look for ideas is your company newsletter. A CPA acquaintance of mine understands the power of free. He had a spreadsheet that created amortization schedules, which he loaded on his Web page, and he invited visitors to his page to download it. Result: It was an instant hit and brought him new business. He also added a checklist that describes how to get ready for a tax interview.
People like to see links to relevantand interestingpages. By providing links to interesting Web sites, you're showing prospects that you understand their interests; thus they get the message that you are capable of helping them find other sites that may fulfill their needs.
Don't clutter your page with so many graphics that it takes ages to download. Animated graphic interchange formats (GIFs)a type of graphic file formatare fun and easy to create for a Web page, but only use one per page, otherwise your page will open very slowly, and it's not smart to make your customers wait while nonessential graphics load.
Appeal to Web surfers' ears as well as their eyes. Web surfing is a very quiet experience, so add some audio to any photos. For example, if you use pictures of your employees or customers, get them to say something interesting and useful about your company.
A Web page is not like a hotel: Don't ask visitors to register when they come through the door. It's OK to have an optional "guest book" so you can see who and how many are visiting your site, but don't require them to register before they can see your page or you'll drive many away.
Don't ask for a visitor's credit card number unless your site is protected with encryption technologies to thwart hackers. If you lack such technology, turn the omission to your advantage by warning visitors about the danger they face if they put their credit card numbers on an unprotected page. And then, so you don't lose a potential sale, provide a toll-free number so they can call to place an order.
See what your page looks like when viewed with different browsers or on different size monitors. Not all Web surfers use Netscape's Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. While similar in many respects, each interprets the Web page language, HTML, a little differently. So test your Web page using various browsers. Also check out your page on 14- and 17-inch monitors; you may find your message looks quite different and may need a redesign.
Know what you are getting when you hire someone to do your Web page. If you use a professional Web packager, be sure the deal you make includes page storage, design, implementation and promotion. Be sure, too, that you will be able to update your page periodically.
Market your Web site. Your Web page may be wonderful, but if no one visits it, you've wasted time and money. Like any product, Web sites need to be marketed. To begin with, your Web site should be displayed wherever your phone number is listedon business cards, letterhead, newsletters and advertisements. Also, contact the leading Web search sites and ask that your page be added so surfers can find you. The leading search sites are AltaVista, Yahoo, Excite, WebCrawler, InfoSeek, HotBot, Lycos and Magellan.Source: Sandi Smith, CPA, CMA, CDP, operates her own Dallas-based technology consulting and training firm and, among other things, creates and critiques Web sites. She has written several AICPA books: 1998 Top 10 Technologies and Their Impact on CPAs and Solving the Year 2000 Dilemma . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .