Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Your website is your digital cornerstone to your marketing strategy.
Many traditional industries have had trouble adapting their marketing to the web. Financial advisors are no exception and, more often than not, have websites that could use some serious work. The first web browser was released more than 25 years ago so, even though financial services is still largely a face-to-face business built by relationships, a poor website reflects negatively on your professionalism.
If your website is decades behind the times it is time to give it an overhaul. Here are some things to look out for when assessing your current site.
(I strongly recommend scheduling time on your calendar for your website review. You are not going to get a professional result without giving it a professional level of attention.)
No website is perfect and every site can be improved. However, there are some common problems that I have seen with advisory firm websites that I list below.
For decades now the design of advisor websites has been poor in general. A lot of this was (and maybe still is) due to broker-dealers only allowing their advisors to create sites using one of a handful of site-builders. Of course, this was done for compliance reasons but it resulted in many advisors being forced to use one of the many poorly designed templates they had available to them.
Unfortunately, this situation still exists for many advisors. While the templates have somewhat improved they are still years behind contemporary design standards with little thought given to page goals, visitor flow, or conversion.
One of the biggest design issues that sites have is presenting too many elements on a page. Menus with dozens of options, a scrolling banner that links to a half-dozen different pieces of content, a “What’s New” box, bullet-lists of services, a contact form, etc. That is so many disjointed elements and options that a visitor does not know what to do and likely will not do the main thing you want them to do.
Additionally, a poorly-design site reflects poorly on your business. Think about your interactions with other businesses on the web and whether or not you are turned off by bad design.
This gets down to marketing fundamentals–show a prospective buyer a better version of themselves. Beauty companies show the you with clearer and smoother skin in their ads. Truck companies show the new adventurous you. Online brokerage companies show the richer, less stressed, you. Almost every ad you come across shows an improved version of yourself that you can achieve if only you buy their product or service. What they do not show is the men and women in the lab creating the beauty product compounds, the C-suite of the auto company, or the guys running the brokerage company servers. Marketing is about the customer rather than the company.
Many websites (and this is far from exclusive to advisors) talk about their business rather than their customers and their pains. An easy way to see this is to check your website copy and see if you use the word “we”. If so, you are talking about the wrong party in this relationship.
An easy fix is to change “we” to “you” everywhere you see it. This will be an immediate improvement in your copy that will extend to your whole website’s effectiveness.
It is common for firms to fill the space on their website listing every possible service that they provide. The financial services equivalent of the Cheesecake Factory menu. A bullet point for each service with a short blurb describing what it is. However, while a restaurant menu has a captive audience the same is not true for a website. The average amount of time that someone is on a site is 45 seconds. They are not going to stick around to read each of the technical descriptions of your services.
If you do the above and start talking about your customers and their pains rather than their firm, the second task is to talk about the benefits that a prospective client will get from using your services rather than describing the service themselves.
Instead of a bullet about your 3(38) services, mention that you reduce risk and paperwork. The plan design bullet might instead be “build a retirement plan that helps your employees save”. Financial wellness could be “help your employees and their families succeed”.
You’re selling an outcome rather than a service.
Some advisory firms go all out and have spent a lot of money creating a website that looks great. Its design makes a statement in much the same way as their expensive office space does. “This firm’s website looks good so they must be successful and to be successful they must be making their clients money.” That sounds great, right?
The problem is that is just the impression they get from the first few seconds of viewing the site. For a visitor to stick around for more there needs to be something there for them. If your site is all flash and no substance then they are probably going to click away.
A great website is one that its visitors learn from. That can be done in many different ways but in general, you may want to write up (or do videos) of some of the services you provide. Teach someone how to do what you do and they will recognize your firm as an authority on the topic. If they are busy, and who isn’t, they will hire you to do it rather than do it themselves.
This kind of content is also what Google looks for in its ranking. If you create valuable content for your visitors the higher you will rank in Google. Sites that lack this content rarely crack the first few pages of results.
This is often related to making a website about you rather than your client. However, the specific problem here is that you are using technical terminology that you might use but that your clients never use. In real life, you might get a blank stare or a polite nod when using these terms as there is a good chance your client is not understanding you. You do not want one of your visitors to have to start Googling the terms on your site in order to understand the benefits of hiring you.
This is less of a problem today than it was in the past but one I still see. Some advisor websites include widgets that are a distraction from their website content and offer little to no value. The most common one is the market index widget and its various other iterations such as Forex. Nobody in the history of your website has visited it to check where the S&P 500 is at. When someone wants that information they turn on CNBC, check the stock app on their phone, open the business section, or log into their brokerage account.
To top it off, these widgets typically are of poor quality and do not fit in well with the rest of your site design.
I’m a big fan of content as it can both provide value to your visitors as well as help you rank in search engines. However bad content is worse than no content. This often falls into three buckets:
The first bucket is often the result of not enough marketing resources. You will see social media posts that promise to teach something valuable regarding important topics such as diversification, risk, fiduciary responsibility, or financial wellness only to link to a page on their site that does not teach anything and is little more than a basic one-page handout they might provide in an exhibit booth. This kind of content is an immediate turnoff as the visitor is promised knowledge and gets sold to instead. (The time-share model of sales.)
The second bucket of content is something you see when a firm has enough marketing resources to create content but does not have someone creating a good strategy. I am talking about articles on advisor websites about Millennials who have moved back in with their parents or people turning to less desirable jobs to make ends meet. It is content but not content your firm is proud of.
Poorly written content is the third bucket and, like the first bucket, usually is a symptom of not having dedicated marketing resources. Here a firm might have some of their employees write up the content for the site but the people that have the bandwidth to do so might not have the writing chops to do so. Written communication is important and content that is written poorly is an immediate turn-off and one that is hard to recover from. You only get one chance at a first impression.
Once you have diagnosed some of the issues with your site you are ready to strategize and implement some improvements. Some fixes are going to be quick while others will require long-term planning and resources. At the end of this, you will have a website that you are proud of and that helps you convert prospects into customers.
Many times businesses have a website because every business should have a website. They create the website with the standard sections (e.g. services, locations, team, contact) without putting in much more thought than that. That is a mistake if you have any goals beyond your website being your digital signpost.
In order to have an effective website, you need to create a plan for it. This plan has some similarities with a business plan and needs to answer similar questions:
Once you answer those questions you can set goals for your website. I recommend you set S.M.A.R.T. goals as having strict, and measurable criteria for your goals make them more concrete as well as providing you the opportunity to see what is working and what is not. When something is not working you can try something else, test the results, and if it is not more successful then go back to the old content.
Have conversations with your clients where you ask them about what the biggest challenges are in their business as well as what their day-to-day looks like. What are they hiring you for? Take notes (even record the conversations if you can and then have them transcribed). The problems they have and the solutions they are looking for are what your website should address. (It is also what they are searching for on Google and having the answers to their questions is how they will get to your site.)
When writing your website copy use the words and phrases that they used in the conversations you had with them.
This is one of the biggest shortcuts to writing great copy and I strongly recommend that either you take the time to do this or to hire someone else.
Thinking long-term you want your company to be not just a provider of financial services but a brand that people know and thus seek out when they are looking for help in your area of expertise. Your website can play a huge part in brand building.
Two things to focus on when building a brand are:
People trust you with their, and their family’s, financial future and that is not something to be taken lightly. You need to earn that trust prior to them signing on with you as a client. You can do that by being honest and authentic with your marketing.
Word of mouth is a great way to grow a business and having a community of people that can act as ambassadors for your business, but are not part of your business, is invaluable. Your website can play a role in facilitating that by giving your customers a place to engage with you as well as with each other. This also relies on trust and authenticity.
I just talked about widgets being an issue with sites but, in certain cases, a social media widget can be effective for building and engaging with your community.
Do not try to do too much with any one page of your site. Each page should explain one aspect of your service or solution (or teach the visitor one topic) and have one obvious call to action.
Keep the design simple as well. A busy website is like a messy desk where no one can find what they are looking for. Keep it clean. Whitespace, one font, and a few colors can be used very effectively. The same applies to the images you use. When you use stock images you want to shy away from busy and chaotic images in favor of ones that focus on the feeling that you are hoping your visitor achieves. (Remember you are showing them a new, improved, and richer version of themselves.)
Most of us want our websites to be more than just a signpost that lets people know we exist. Instead, we want it to entice potential customers into our shop where we can then sell them our services. Unfortunately, it usually does not work that way without extra effort on the business’ part. This is why you see businesses advertising their sales. A sale or giveaway does a business little good if nobody knows about it.
The content you put on your website is the equivalent in that few people are ever going to read it unless you market it. That content markets your business and you need to market your content.
Social media and mailing lists are the obvious ways to publicize your content to potential customers. You can also ask your current customers to share it with anyone they think could benefit from it.
We are twenty-five years into the web and its importance is only increasing in each of our lives. People who grew up on the web are now decision-makers and expect the sites they visit to provide them the information they are looking for as well as provide value in ways they might not expect.
Your website is the digital cornerstone of your financial advisory business and you will want to keep improving it so that your business is an industry leader today, next year, and ten years from now. Start by building a good foundation today for tomorrow’s growth.