Building trust through content, design and marketing

Is your online presence working for you and your prospective clients?

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The bare minimum required of an accountant's online presence is to convey trustworthiness. Or, to put that another way, to avoid coming across as either daft or dodgy.

In the age of cybercrime, phishing and spam, we’ve all become quite good at looking out for digital danger signs. It might be as simple as poor spelling, often the tell in fraudulent emails purporting to be from HMRC, or it might be to do with the web address: anything other than <yourtradingname>.com or is likely to prompt suspicion.

More subtly, it might be the story told by your typography, colour palette and choice of imagery. For example, Comic Sans is a font that comes bundled with most computers and is a standing joke among graphic designers. With its hand-drawn, round-edged look, it’s often used on lost-dog flyers and the kind of posters you find on community noticeboards. It conveys naivety and simplicity – lovely for a primary school nativity play programme, less so for a professional practice.

Similarly, cheap-looking logos – the kind you can buy online for a few pounds – can give the impression of an amateurish or fly-by-night operation. Most people will tell you they don’t know anything about logos or brand identity but, in fact, they absorb brand messaging all day, every day, and there’s a reason they choose a white t-shirt from SuperDry over an almost identical one with no logo.

Last year, PracticeWeb rebranded and redesigned the website of specialist firm UK Landlord Tax. Previously highly successful in their niche, they nonetheless found that client queries rocketed once the new website went live. In fact, in the first two weeks, UK Landlord Tax received more enquiries than they had in the whole of the previous month.

This was great news but also a little puzzling. They weren’t getting more traffic to the website – building that through SEO takes time – and hadn’t fundamentally changed their offer. Surely it couldn’t just be the graphic design and copywriting that had triggered such an improvement?

The key to this puzzle was in the before-and-after comparison. The old website was designed in-house and was not only out-of-date but also undermined their professionalism. The copy was peppered with exclamation marks and capitalisation for emphasis – not something you’ll often see a professional copywriter do. In terms of visuals, everything from the logo to the layout looked as if it had been created in Microsoft Word. The colours were gaudy and clashing. The main illustration on the homepage was of an anthropomorphised dog in a tie talking on the telephone.

For a start-up with a handful of clients, probably acquired through personal referrals, this kind of thing isn’t necessarily an issue. But the moment you want to acquire new clients from further afield, your online presence needs to offer reassurance and encouragement. What I think was happening with the old website was that people were finding the firm based on its credentials and search engine presence but rejecting it once they saw the website.

The new website, on the other hand, was designed with credibility in mind. It uses a primarily black and white, clean Swiss-style sans serif typography and imagery that speaks to their ideal clients. The copy, too, is sharper, clearer and more measured. And the firm’s founders are named, too, with portrait images that mean prospective clients can virtually look them in the eyes. The whole thing has the confidence and quality of a national brand.

Think about your online presence for a moment – would you buy, say, legal services, or medical care, from someone whose website resembled yours?

If you’re not in a place to afford a full rebrand or professional design right now, at least keep it simple. Plain is better than ugly or tacky. And put names, faces, professional credentials and client testimonials front-and-centre. Let your work speak for itself.

Ray Newman – head of content and insight, PracticeWeb