The Professional Services Industry

Make sure your professional services website contains this list of essentials, avoids easy-to-make mistakes and is visible in the right places.

By Elizabeth Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When consumers check out a professional services website, such as an accounting firm or physician's site, they're looking for information on the firm's practice areas, specialties, information on principals within your company, background information and history.

The Essentials
A professional services site should be clean-looking and offer easy-to-access information in its menus or navigation buttons. Pay close attention to packaging this information consistently throughout the site without offering too boring of a design.

Update your site consistently so visitors don't begin to think of it as stagnant.

Hiring a search engine optimization (SEO) professional is just as vital as hiring a web designer to create a good site. Optimize keywords in addition to your firm's name. While it takes time for popular keywords to appear in search rankings, this move eventually pays off in spades. Google Ad Words and search engine marketing banner strategies are something to ask your web professional to set up.

A PDF-downloadable brochure of services will be a popular item on your website, especially for a professional services site, as it allows the customer to think they've accomplished a goal in the area they're seeking your professional services for.

Have a web marketing plan in place and make sure your web professional provides you with access to web traffic statistics so you know what's working and what's not--what's driving traffic? Every time you make a change to your website, catalog it so you know what works.

Provide a clear and easy way for visitors to your site to get a quote or estimate of your services. A plus: client log-in areas where they can manage information related to their account and increase the chance of returning to the site.

Mistakes to Avoid
Most professional websites not successful in converting customers make the following mistakes:

Lack of a compelling message. Clients want to know what you do the second they get to your site. Tell your story in a way that makes visitors want to share their story with you, and preferably seek your professional services.

Bad design. Avoid cheap template design. Remember that your website is the first glimpse of your firm for a potential client and it needs to reflect your firm's professionalism. If your customers are older, you might want to consider using larger text and a white or light-colored background color.

Overuse of Flash. Don't distract a visitor to your website with overblown animated graphics. If you must use Flash, do so only to promote your site's message, and use it sparingly.

Places to Be
Be where your potential clients are, online and off. If your firm specializes in tax return preparation, advertise on popular financial management sites. If you specialize in speech therapy for autistic children, advertise on medical advice blogs and popular parenting sites.

In addition to optimizing for searches, pay-per-click for many professional services businesses could be a worthwhile investment. Google, Yahoo!, MSN and the local yellow pages are top spots where potential clients can find you. Make sure what you're selling has a high enough return so the cost of pay-per-click doesn't wipe out your product's profit margin.

Make sure you're in relevant directories for your area of expertise: There are thousands to choose from and all help build your online footprint via a relevant inbound link.

Customers' inboxes: Use a third party to send out HTML e-mails with graphics and design similar to your website's. The third party has the ability to track who opens them and who clicks on provided links. Have an employee follow up with that person. Avoid being creepy and big brother-like, saying, "I saw you opened our e-mail." Simply say something like, "I recommend you attend our trade show," or discuss a product and promote a discount or sale you're currently having on product(s) of interest to them.

Researched and written by Elizabeth Wilson. Additional information provided by WebConnection, a leading web consultation, design, application development and online marketing firm.

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