Is your business tracking website metrics?

In today’s data-driven world, business owners are constantly urged to track everything. And for good reason — having accurate, timely information displayed in an easy-to-understand format can allow you to spot trends, avoid risk and take advantage of opportunities.

This includes your company’s website. Although social media drives so much of the conversation now when it comes to communicating with customers and prospects, many people still visit websites to gather knowledge, build trust and place orders.

So, how do you know whether your site is doing its job — that is, drawing visitors, holding their attention, and satisfying their curiosities and needs? A variety of metrics hold the answers. Here are a few of the most widely tracked:

Page views. This metric is a good place to start, partly because it’s among the oldest ways to track whether a website is widely viewed or largely ignored. A page view occurs when a visitor loads the HTML file that represents a given page on your website. You want to track:

  • How many pages each visitor views,
  • How long each “unique visitor” (see below) remains on the page and your website, and
  • Whether the visitor does anything other than peruse, such as submit a form or buy something.

Unique visitors. You may have encountered this term before. It’s indeed an important one. The unique visitor metric identifies everyone who comes to your website, counting each visitor only once regardless of how many times someone visits.

Think of it like friendly neighbors stopping by your home. If Artie from next door stops by twice and Betty from down the street drops in three times, that’s two unique visitors and five total visits. Tracking your unique visitors over time is important because it lets you know whether your website’s viewing audience is growing, shrinking or staying the same.

Bounce rate. At one time or another, you may have heard someone say, “All right, I’m going to bounce.” It means the person is going to depart from their current surroundings and go elsewhere. When a visitor quickly decides to bounce from (that is, leave) your website, typically in a matter of seconds and without performing any meaningful action, your bounce rate rises.

This is not a good thing. A high bounce rate could mean your website is too similar in name or URL to another company’s or organization’s. Although this may drive up page views, it will more than likely aggravate the buying public and reflect poorly on your company. An elevated bounce rate could also mean your site’s design is confusing or aesthetically displeasing.

To quantify bounce rate, unique visitors and page views — as well as many other useful metrics — look to your website’s analytics software. Your website provider should be able to help you set up a dashboard of which ones you want to track. Contact our firm for help using these metrics to determine whether your website is contributing to revenue gains and providing a reasonable return on investment.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If your business is depreciating over a 30-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation, you should consider a cost segregation study. It might allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Fundamentals of depreciation

Generally, business buildings have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Usually, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Classify property into the appropriate asset classes

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold improvement, retail improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

The savings can be substantial

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We can judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. Contact us to find out whether this would be worthwhile for you.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Some organizations struggle to prevent cyberattacks because they rely on cybersecurity tools and techniques that protect only their perimeter. Perpetrators who make it past a single line of defense (such as with a username and password) can gain unfettered access to the company’s network. They can then use ransomware to block access to data or steal customer information or intellectual property.

Zero trust security was designed to address the shortcomings of a single perimeter defense. Created by an IT industry analyst, zero trust requires companies to not automatically trust users or devices. This can be particularly effective if your business relies on cloud computing or if your employees work from home or use their own devices to access your network. 

3 principles

Three key principles underlie zero trust:

1. Trust must be earned — often. Zero trust requires initial and ongoing verification for every user and device entering and moving within an IT environment. For example, after users enter the correct network credentials, they must provide additional credentials to access its email system. And even after users are granted access, the system generates “timeouts” that force users and devices to reverify. This is intended to limit the amount of time a malicious actor can spend in the network.

2. Roles and business needs dictate access. By applying the “least privilege” concept, organizations following zero trust limit access to only the data and resources users need to do their jobs. For example, an administrative assistant typically doesn’t need access to a company’s general ledger and a salesperson doesn’t require access to HR files.

Least privilege segments a company’s IT environment into secure zones, based on users’ roles. Just as ships use bulkheads to create watertight compartments to maintain buoyancy, this micro-segmentation keeps the network “afloat,” even if a segment has been compromised.

3. Multifactor authentication is essential. Zero trust security requires verification with a high degree of confidence. Multifactor authentication (MFA) requires users to provide more than a username and password to access a network. It might entail entering a one-time password sent to a previously registered email or mobile phone. Or users might need to open a dedicated app on a mobile device and confirm that they’re seeking network access.

Building more and higher walls

If the only barrier between your IT network and a fraud perpetrator is simple perimeter security, your company’s risk of being hacked is higher than necessary. Consider adopting zero trust to build more and higher walls. Contact us for more information and cybersecurity tool recommendations.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Employers offer 401(k) plans for many reasons, including to attract and retain talent. These plans help an employee accumulate a retirement nest egg on a tax-advantaged basis. If you’re thinking about participating in a plan at work, here are some of the features.

Under a 401(k) plan, you have the option of setting aside a certain amount of your wages in a qualified retirement plan. By electing to set cash aside in a 401(k) plan, you’ll reduce your gross income, and defer tax on the amount until the cash (adjusted by earnings) is distributed to you. It will either be distributed from the plan or from an IRA or other plan that you roll your proceeds into after leaving your job.

Tax advantages

Your wages or other compensation will be reduced by the amount of pre-tax contributions that you make — saving you current income taxes. But the amounts will still be subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes. If your employer’s plan allows, you may instead make all, or some, contributions on an after-tax basis (these are Roth 401(k) contributions). With Roth 401(k) contributions, the amounts will be subject to current income taxation, but if you leave these funds in the plan for a required time, distributions (including earnings) will be tax-free.

Your elective contributions — either pre-tax or after-tax — are subject to annual IRS limits. For 2021, the maximum amount permitted is $19,500. When you reach age 50, if your employer’s plan allows, you can make additional “catch-up” contributions. For 2021, that additional amount is $6,500. So if you’re 50 or older, the total that you can contribute to all 401(k) plans in 2021 is $26,000. Total employer contributions, including your elective deferrals (but not catch-up contributions), can’t exceed 100% of compensation or, for 2021, $58,000, whichever is less.

Typically, you’ll be permitted to invest the amount of your contributions (and any employer matching or other contributions) among available investment options that your employer has selected. Periodically review your plan investment performance to determine that each investment remains appropriate for your retirement planning goals and your risk specifications.

Getting money out

Another important aspect of these plans is the limitation on distributions while you’re working. First, amounts in the plan attributable to elective contributions aren’t available to you before one of the following events: retirement (or other separation from service), disability, reaching age 59½, hardship, or plan termination. And eligibility rules for a hardship withdrawal are very stringent. A hardship distribution must be necessary to satisfy an immediate and heavy financial need.

As an alternative to taking a hardship or other plan withdrawal while employed, your employer’s 401(k) plan may allow you to receive a plan loan, which you pay back to your account, with interest. Any distribution that you do take can be rolled into another employer’s plan (if that plan permits) or to an IRA. This allows you to continue deferral of tax on the amount rolled over. Taxable distributions are generally subject to 20% federal tax withholding, if not rolled over.

Employers may opt to match contributions up to a certain amount. If your employer matches contributions, you should make sure to contribute enough to receive the full match. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on free money!

These are just the basics of 401(k) plans for employees. For more information, contact your employer. Of course, we can answer any tax questions you may have.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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