My tips for creating an award-winning website!

That's me!My firm and I were just honored with a 2015 Marketing Achievement Award from the Association of Accounting Marketing for “Best Website” (it’s called an AAM-MAA). The win was a career highlight for me and I was thrilled to take the stage with all of the winners.  The AAM-MAA awards validate, inspire and rejuvenate!  It’s so encouraging to be a member of an international professional organization that supports the accounting marketing profession.

Shortly after receiving this recognition, I received an email from a friend in the industry congratulating me on the win and asking if I could share some advice for her firm’s new website redesign.

I was happy to help and as I jotted down my tips, I realized the advice would be a great blog post. So here are…drum roll…

My tips for creating an award-winning website!

1. DESIGN

You need more than your garden-variety website design firm. Make sure you’re hiring a talented graphic designer. In Canada, look for a Registered Graphic Designer (RGD) or at minimum someone with significant design experience. Review their portfolio.  In our case, we used Jay Eckert of Parachute Design. You can read a case study of Stern Cohen’s website and branding project and see more of Jay’s work via this link. We chose Jay because we loved his design work.  To stand out against your competitors, you will need distinctive design.

2. GUIDANCE

What’s your worst nightmare when it comes to a website redesign?  For me it was a reveal that had me recoiling in horror.  So I wasn’t about to leave it all to a web designer’s whimsy.

Protect your investment by doing your research and giving your website designer sufficient guidance. Remember that the web design firm you hire will probably NOT be specialists in YOUR industry. They will not know how to differentiate your company unless they have strong market intelligence and that’s hard to come by. They might have some ideas but what if those ideas are off base?  Case in point: initially we hired a well-regarded branding specialist whose recommendation was to create a website appealing to the Millennial demographic. While we agreed that we wanted our website to appeal to Millenials, they are not our sole audience.  In fact, Boomers and Gen X’ers make up the lion’s share of our current client base. We ended up letting the brand specialist go because he didn’t have an understanding of our market or our services.  As your firm’s marketer, you must call the shots and guide your designer based on your firm’s unique culture and positioning. You’ll need to think hard about this.

3. BUY-IN

Get approval from your company’s leadership. Focus on leaders who are forward thinking. You need their buy-in and approval so that they will trust you for future projects. Test the waters by asking them to share some websites they like. It will allow them to see what’s out there and will help set their expectations. Show them what you like and what you’re leaning toward to pave the way for acceptance of something unique.

4. COPY

Writing good copy is a lot of work. If you don’t have the time, hire a good copywriter.  In my case, I wrote the copy and I won’t sugar-coat it – it takes a lot of time.

When the website was first launched, we didn’t see a lot of traffic because we didn’t have enough content in the form of additional articles or a blog. We went to work creating content to attract our audience and that has made a significant impact on our search engine ranking.

5. SEO & RESPONSIVE DESIGN for MOBILE

Make sure your site is search engine optimized and also optimized for display on mobile and other devices.  You can’t leave this to chance. When we were selecting our website designer, we noticed each had a different approach.  One vendor emphasized paid SEO and hoped that we would sign on for their continuous SEO monitoring and pay per click services.  The design firm we picked emphasized organic SEO (unpaid) and showed how SEO worked and how key words, url/page naming conventions and tags would be built right in to our site.

Our site was built with a WordPress template and it’s easy to adjust keywords and to check on whether each page or post is optimized for SEO.  In the end, we didn’t even need to hire an SEO firm to tweak the site – our page ranking for key industry terms is tops!

6. WORDPRESS

Use WordPress – it’s the most popular and robust solution out there. There are many templates to choose from and that will save time and money.

7. CONTENT MANAGEMENT

Make sure that you get training on how to update and manage the site because you’ll need to.  You don’t want to be reliant on an external person to tweak your site. WordPress has a good content management system (CMS) but if you haven’t used it before you’ll need a bit of training.

8. BRANDING

Consider rebranding, updating your colours, or your logo before you redesign your website (not after).

9. PHOTOGRAPHY

NO STOCK PHOTOS. I repeat NO STOCK PHOTOS. Use local and real photography wherever possible.  I strongly recommend that you hire an amazing photographer who will take pictures of the people who actually work at your organization.  These pictures will make your website both factual and compelling.  After all, don’t you want to see the people you’ll be dealing with and not “reasonable facsimiles”?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Here’s the website that won the AAM-MAA award: www.sterncohen.com

It was published in July 2014 but the project began in the fall of 2013.  Yes, it will take some time if you want a stand-out site, but there is no doubt within our firm that the time and investment has been well worth it. After all, prospects and new clients often mention our website’s appeal was a factor in their decision to contact us.

Here is a screen shot from the award submission.  The complete award submission application is on this link.

Award_Submission_Screen_Shot

And finally, here’s a picture of me and a few of my friends in the industry at the AAM Awards Gala celebrating the win!

Celebrating at the AAM Awards Gala

 

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