Many Financial Advisors look at a website as a necessary evil. They view their online presence as no more than a glorified yellow pages advertisement, investing few financial or intellectual resources in website creation or ongoing development.
Well, it’s time for even the “old school” established veterans in our industry to take another look at their website - the heart of their public persona - and how they’re utilizing the internet for communicating with clients and marketing to prospects. Digital marketing is evolving quickly for Advisors, particularly at the Custodian and Broker Dealer level. After stepping on each other’s toes for a period of time, technology and compliance are starting to dance in sync at the institutional level allowing Advisors greater freedom in the use of blogging and social media.
Of course, at the center of the Advisor’s online world is the website. Here are seven must-haves to make sure your website is a “digital dominator.”
1. Great Looks
There’s no way around it and there’s no mystery to it - appearance counts. The more attractive your website, the more “WOW factor” you can generate, the better. You want a client or prospect to pull up your website and say, “Geez, that’s really beautiful.” You want the spouse to say, “Honey, check out this Advisor’s website. Is that gorgeous or what?” That positive first impression reflects directly on the Advisor and his or her practice and makes it easy for visitors to come back to the website over and over again.
Now attractive does not mean a lot of moving parts, a rock concert light show or a front page with more gadgets and gizmos than Dennis Rodman has piercings. I mean attractive like a young child’s happy smile or a beautiful painting or photograph. The kind of appeal that creates a sense of comfort and ease. The kind of attractiveness that makes you sit up and take notice.
You might think having an attractive website is a given. After all, Advisors are usually pretty well put together in their business attire. Their offices generally appealing. Well, take a tour of the internet and look at a few Advisor websites. You’ll quickly see “it ain’t necessarily so.” For many Advisors, you’d think their competitors designed their website! Don’t let your website be a positive for competitors - give yours a simply beautiful “WOW” factor.
2. Plain-English Content
Financial Advisors are a smart group. To prosper they must be knowledgeable about a large basket of diverse subjects. Attend an investment conference with your peers and, at least before happy hour, you’ll hear some intriguing discussions about interesting financial topics. Ok, I’ll admit there are some intriguing discussions during and especially after happy hour too, but that’s for a different article.
Here’s the thing though, clients and prospects don’t want to hear about it - not a word. Try to impress them with what you know and you’ve lost them before you finish saying, “derivatives.” They much prefer their Financial Advisor to speak with them in simple, plain-English. They want to be lead, not impressed. Your website content should focus on a few simple ideas about who you are as person and the values your firm represents. The more you stray off into financial jargon, investment strategy and market news the less response you’ll get. After all, they can get financial information anywhere. They want to know about the big picture and how you can help them. Your website should get right to the point and go straight to the heart.
Now I’m not saying anything earth shattering here right? This is pretty well understood. OK, back to that tour of Advisor websites. What type of content will you find? The craziest bunch of financial gibberish, calculators, financial tools, thousands of words about investment results and strategies, charts and graphs, and on and on. It’s amazing how many gadgets and categories some people can put on one website. It’s like Transformers for Financial Advisors! So are clients and prospects impressed with all the complexity and fancy talk? Or would they like to know you’re an honest, caring person running a financial practice with their best interest at heart? Leonardo Davinci said it best, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
3. Responsive Web Design
Even if you don’t know what responsive web design (RWD) is you need to know you need to have it. Is it important? Well, only if you don’t want to be missed by almost half of the internet world. Ever growing numbers of us – especially those under 40 - are using devices - smart phones, tablets, iPads and even TV’s to view the internet. Let there be no doubt, your website and blog need to be visible on all of these varied devices.
Responsive web design optimizes your website so it’s viewable on all platforms. It doesn’t matter what the visitor’s screen size is — the website will render perfectly without the need to resize or zoom in on a page to read the text. Make sure your website incorporates responsive web design or you might be getting a call-out from your teenage son or daughter wondering why your website isn’t RWD. Even scarier, a prospect might not be able to see your website and will instead call or email a competitor that’s visible on their iPhone.
Blogging is the underutilized, unappreciated giant of the Advisor marketing world; definitely in the Rodney Dangerfield category. Why is such an easy inexpensive communication medium and invaluable marketing tool not getting much use or respect? Because blogging isn’t easy. It takes effort, time, creativity and consistency. While Advisors are some of the hardest working folks in the country they’re also some of the busiest. The list of duties required to operate a modern investment firm is lengthy and if you’re reading this article I don’t need to remind you.
But blog you should and blog you must. It’s the engine that drives a strong digital marketing presence. Communicating with your target audience consistently – preferably weekly - and sharing your expertise (unlike the rest of your website, a blog is a great place to do this) are just a few of the benefits. New content also gives your clients and prospects a reason to come back often and keeps the website vibrant. Most importantly, blogging gives you an opportunity to boost your SEO and make better use of social media – all while keeping well within the rules of good compliance practices.
Just don’t be that Advisor that starts blogging but then posts an article only once or twice every few months. We’ll all wonder if anyone is really home!
5. Search Engine Optimization
SEO is the process of improving a website’s visibility on search engines. Most Advisors do not use more than the most basic SEO, and usually just when their website is established. One reason for this is that SEO for Advisors is more restricted than for most other professionals because of the regulatory limits on testimonials – with reviews and recommendations functioning as one of the main tools in increasing search rankings. But as Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend!” One man’s restriction is another man’s opportunity. A vision of my mother quoting Julie Andrews as Marie Von Trapp in Sound of Music pops into my head, “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window."
SEO is a big opportunity for Advisors who can use it well – particularly local SEO, which means focusing on becoming the “digital dominator” in your local area. The rewards can be outstanding. Professional help is necessary for most Advisors however, but be very, very careful. SEO for Financial Advisors, because of compliance, is a very specialized field and there are a load of scammers and pretenders out there.
You should know there are no secrets or magic formulas to make you the most visible Advisor in your locality or area of specialization. Good SEO for Advisors involves knowledge, experience and hard work and, when done well, is usually a long-term process.
6. Easy Navigation
Moving around your website should be easy to do: With a cursor, a touch-screen but most importantly, with the eyes. In designing the navigation of your website you should think of your most elderly client and make it simple for them. Many Advisors try to impress with volume and in the process jam up their website. Take the three or four ideas you’re trying to communicate and make your navigation flow with the ideas.
As with most of your website, in navigation less is more. Keep it simple and your visitors will arrive at just the place you want them to be.
7. Professional Help
Full disclosure: I need professional help! My wife gives me this subtle reminder occasionally and it’s true; although she might be talking about something entirely different than I’m referring to here. We ALL need professional help. You probably make a pretty good living because your clients are willing to pay you for your expertise.
Your website is a 24/7 powerhouse marketer and, in addition to you and your staff, the “face” of your business. Make a wise investment in your practice and get help with your website, blog articles and SEO from someone with experience in our business. Because our industry has some unique hurdles, the closer to the front lines they’ve been the better. There’s still room for a few more “Digital Dominators!”
Dave Dickinson is a principal at Digital Marketing Technology Group LLC www.dmtg-ria.com