When’s the last time you checked your accounting firm’s online presence?

Accounting firms that are not visible online can miss out on attracting potential new clients. This came home to me recently when I set about engaging an accounting firm and found it surprisingly difficult to identify suitable firms in my local area. It’s not that the firms don’t exist. There were actually quite a few listed in various directories but these listings provide little information and, like most people these days, I do my homework online before making that initial phone call.

Accountants are trusted advisors and it is important to find someone you can get along with.  Being in the content business, I wanted someone who understood digital media and marketing and I also wanted someone younger than me because I hope that the firm I choose will continue to look after my needs until I retire.

Whatever the combination of factors likely to influence a potential client’s choice, the chances are the first place they’ll look for a service provider is online.

Accounting firm's onlineSo, how easy is it to find your firm?

One way to check your accounting firm’s online presence is to ask a friend or neighbour to run a Google search and see where your firm’s website shows up. If you made it on to the first page of the search results, congratulations! If you didn’t, you may need to look at your website design and content. (Those are topics I will discuss in future blog posts).

For now, let’s assume that the potential client found your firm, clicked the link and they’re now on your website. What they see may depend on whether they are using a mobile phone or tablet,  a laptop or desktop computer.  Unless your site is easily readable on each of these devices, you risk losing your potential new client. Responsive sites display correctly on all devices and with more web searches now done from mobile devices, it’s really important that your site is mobile friendly. You may have heard of Mobilegeddon earlier this year when Google introduced a change in favour of websites that are mobile friendly. So, if  your firm’s website is not responsive, you again have work to do.

Assuming that your site is responsive, your potential client is now browsing your firm’s content and is likely to be interested in a range of details such as location, services, recommendations, personnel, qualifications and regulation. It is worth checking that you have covered the following:

  • Does your site provide your address, telephone number, email and social media links?
  • Does your site list – and describe – the services that your firm provides?
  • Does your site provide testimonials from satisfied clients?
  • Does your site provide an ‘About us’ page with photos and biographical information about your firm’s partners and key staff focusing in particular on their qualifications and individual areas of expertise?
  • Who regulates your firm and have you included the relevant details on your homepage?
  • Does your website provide an easy means for clients to contact you? If your website provides a contact form, is the inbox for messages from that form monitored and responded to on a timely basis?
  • Are your social media links easy to find and have you included links to the LinkedIn profiles of your key personnel and your business’s LinkedIn page? Potential clients may be more likely to contact you if they find that you have contacts in common.

It is useful to provide some additional options since not every potential client will be ready to call you following their first visit to your website.  You can improve the chances that they’ll come back when they’re ready to talk if you provide an option for them to subscribe to your firm’s newsletter, request a free report or ask to join the mailing list for your next client briefing.

Finally, while this article has focused on websites, remember that potential clients are also likely to search for you and/or your firm on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. So, if you have a presence on those platforms, it’s worth considering whether the information you provide is sufficient to meet your potential clients’ requirements.

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Personalisation and Localisation | The Impact on Choice

Personalisation and localisation are top themes in interwebs discussions at the moment. It seems everyone wants to mine our search and browse behaviours so as to tailor ever more relevant products and services to our perceived interests and needs. I’ve blogged before about the dangers that this trend poses in terms of loss of serendipity and today I was struck by a practical example of exactly that kind of loss when I popped in for a browse in the village bookshop.

I’ve always loved to read and I spend a bit of my leisure time every weekend reading reviews, browsing book-related sites, following favourite authors and generally keeping an eye on what’s what in the publishing world. Yet despite a seemingly high level of engagement and a fairly consistent search and browse pattern, a casual visit to the local bookshop manages to throw up a selection of interesting fiction and non-fiction that never makes it into my online communities. Why? Probably, in part at least, because some of this material is local like the signed copies of self published novels by an author who lives in my village. It seems somehow odd, however, that the algorithms missed promoting the Thatcher biography to a reader who is a past-purchaser (online) of biographies of Blair, Churchill and the Clintons, missed promoting Flappers by Judith Mackrell to a past-purchaser (online) of a Zelda Fitzgerald biography and the letters of the Mitford sisters.

Personalisation : Why Algorithms need a Human Side

When you consider that what the algorithms didn’t deliver, the manager who arranges books on a table in the village bookshop was able to put right, then you can understand why information architects are keen to bring human serendipity into the algorithmic equations which, if successful,could be good news for readers like me. And that could become very important in future because right now the mid- to long-term outlook for the local village bookshop doesn’t look encouraging.

The trouble for bricks and mortar book retailers is that weekend browsers like me who have converted to ePub reading increasingly wait to purchase online. Yet,surely there must be opportunities to monetise the manager’s expertise and recommendations. If, for example, the village bookshop was picking up commission on my amazon purchases because I found the titles recommended there rather than on a book blog,  that would be a beginning. New technologies like Apple’s Airdrop may be the key to unlock new models or at least become part of the mix along with launches, readings, book-related events and merchandising, coffee shops and so on. Let’s hope so because without innovation and diversification the village bookshop’s days are numbered and our choice of reading material will be the poorer for it.

Search Engines and Serendipity

Search Engines
Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Search engines are having a significant impact on the information that we consume. Indeed even articles like this one are influenced to some extent by how they may be retrieved by search engines — perhaps by using the ‘Search Engine’ term instead of simply ‘Search’ in the title. But let’s forget about the theory for a moment and concentrate instead on the practical effects and what they may mean for our ability to learn in the longer term.

Positive Benefits of Search Engines

Two elderly gentleman were browsing on iPads over their breakfast comparing  ailments and medications and browsing for information on related topics. There was nothing remarkable about their conversation but their use of the iPads highlights  how much the ways we obtain and share information has changed in recent times. The iPad in particular has delivered a user experience so intuitive that the hardware is no longer a barrier between user and content: it has taken away the fear.

Downside of Search Engines : How algorithms limit the information we retrieve

Without question, developments in technology have empowered end users but it is important to remember that behind the scenes algorithms — sometimes assisted by humans — are making decisions about the information that we see in our search results based on what they have learned about us from our previous Internet behaviour. This matters a lot when you consider that the gentlemen browsing in my local coffee shop are probably seeing search results biased by commercial interests and that they may be making decisions based on that information, perhaps even going so far as to self-prescribe and purchase medications online.

Personalisation

More worrying still is that every search and every click potentially feeds into a personalisation process that means the results presented come from an increasingly narrower set of potential results (which is one of the reasons why the EU Cookie law is important). Some months ago, I clicked on an ad for a dress. Since then, the ads I see most often as I browse the web are for dresses from the same supplier. You might think that doesn’t matter but what if I had clicked on  a political link? Would I  increasingly see results that reflect the particular bias of the original clicked link? Would I only see results from points of view that are similar to my own and what would that mean for my worldview? And what about those two gentlemen in the coffee shop? I suspect they may be seeing a lot of online ads for medications.

Loss of serendipity?

Attempts to deliver ‘quality’ and ‘relevant’ results  in response to often poorly defined search queries take into account factors such as the searcher’s location, previous search history and many more individual user behaviours so that the highest ranking results come from a much narrower base than most searchers realise. And, while some algorithms try to build in an element of serendipity or ‘chance discovery’, I can’t help worrying that the delivery of  ’personalised’ search results — which include content that has been manipulated to achieve a high search engine ranking —  ultimately diminishes those results and limits the potential for the searcher to learn.

Paid Content

Amazon, Netflix and iTunes have demonstrated that users will pay for access to content that meets their needs. Perhaps the time is coming when users will also contemplate paying for search — if only in those areas where quality and trustworthy results are most important.

For now, perhaps the best advice is to keep in mind that the top results returned on your search may well have been manipulated into that top position for commercial or other reasons. Try to remain curious when searching by clicking not just on the stories you agree with but also — at least now and then — on those that challenge your point of view thereby creating your own serendipity and maximising your potential to learn.