What You Need to Be Aware of About Hosting Accoutning Websites
By Brian OConnell
May 26, 2011 - 3:03:42 PM
If you're just getting started with an accounting website, or are considering designing a website for your accounting practice there are some pointers you'll want to find out about before you really start to develop your site. If you recognize your decisions from the get-go you'll likely see that setting up accounting websites is significantly less intimidating than you believed. There are some website hosting businesses that have spent years developing websites for accountants, and they have a few practical insights for your consideration...
A Good Host is Hard to find :
Keep an eye out for a good package deal. Lot's of companies provide features like free domain names registrations or email hosting when you host your website with them. Of course I don't need to tell you that nothing is really free, only bundled into the service offering, so don't buy a package with features you don't need. Search engine submission is a popular offering that NOBODY needs any more (search engines no longer use submissions to rank pages), and features like shopping carts may be useful to retail businesses but it's useless for a professional service like an accounting firm. Shop around by doing a Google search for "web hosting" and research the top few results.
Determining which package is best for you can be daunting but if you break down the elements of your site you can ensure that you're picking the best option for you. One of the oldest and most reputable Web Hosts, for example, is Network Solutions. They have excellent service and online tools, but they a grossly overpriced compared to their biggest competitor, GoDaddy. Network Solutions, while more expensive, offers packages that include a domain name. Other features frequently found in hosting packages include Google advertising credits, file transfer systems, and other useful features.
One bundled hosting feature that seems quite useful is Email, but many users don't really need it. A lot of accountants ultimately choose to use a "freemail" account, or a more sophisticated free solution like Google Apps.
Choosing Your Domain:
Picking the right domain name is extremely important to your business. You don't want something that's too long, because then people won't remember it and it may not fit on business cards if it's too many characters long. Using important keywords in your domain name can be helpful in getting your website a better ranking in the search engines. If you're looking to score well in the search engines try to include your local market as a keyword (Brownsville, Tampa, Atlanta, etc) and a keyword like "CPA","accounting",or "tax". Most of the simple combinations are already taken, but it's fairly easy to include a variation or specialty like "BrownvilleCostructionAccounting" or "TampaAccountingSolutions". As a rule ".com" domain names are superior to alternate domain extensions like ".biz", ".net", ".us", ".org", etc. Try to avoid breaking the keywords up with dashes and underscores, but if you can't get a decent domain name without doing so avoid using underscores. Domain name registration can be done separate from web hosting. Fee's vary. GoDaddy is a pretty cheap option, and Network Solutions is at the high end while smaller specialty registrars Domains For CPAs tend to take the middle ground. Domain registration fees are usually done on an annual basis, whereas web hosting is often done on a monthly basis.
If you allow your host to register your domain name for you there are some precautions you need to take. Make sure that the domain is registered in your name and that, if you ever leave the hosting company you'd be able to retain ownership of the domain name.
A cPanel is a control panel where you'll be able to make many advanced settings changes to your various web hosting features. Your cPanel is your domains central nervous system, and it's vital that you be able to access it. It maps the domain to your website and your email to your inbox. You can also use this area to redirect pages of your site and "park" additional domain names so that more than one domain name will go to your one main website. Most web hosting companies give you cPanel access, but some don't. Either way you'll probably never need to access it, but it's vital that you be able to. If you can't access you cPanel whoever does has de facto control of your website and your email, and this can really put you over a barrel.
This isn't an issue for most site owners, but security is exceedingly important to accounting websites. If you plan on storing sensitive client documents like tax returns and QuickBooks files online, or if you intend to accept payments through your website, you need at least a passing understanding of how online security works. Having an SSL Certificate (Secure Sockets Layer Certificate) can ensure your site visitors that any confidential information they submit through your site will be handled securely. A lot of companies offer SSL certificates. GoDaddy, VeriSign, and DigiCert are the largest. Guests often look for an SSL Certificate (typically denoted by a little padlock icon in one corner of the internet browser) when they're buying something on your site. Accounting websites are lawfully compelled to secure confidential client information, so failure to look after this data with an SSL certificate can cost you much more than a couple clients.
Brian O'Connell is the President and founder of CPA Site Solutions, one of the country's biggest website design businesses dedicated exclusively to accounting websites. His company presently provides websites for more than 5000 CPA and accounting firms.
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