CPD: Digital spring clean – a practical toolkit for advisers to improve their digital effectiveness

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Get cleaning on your digital presence.

Get a broom, then Google yourself

The comprehensive digitalisation of our lives is yesterday’s news. Businesses across all sectors have been irreversibly reshaped, as consumers around the world use digital channels to research, interact with, and buy from brands from food to fashion to financial services.

But whilst the majority of financial advisers got the memo a long time ago, and have established at least a rudimentary digital presence, many are taking a set and forget approach, seeing the market is full of cookie cutter websites and social media accounts with infrequent activity.

But the digital world doesn’t stand still, and nor do consumers. Whether it be Google’s continual refinement of its search algorithm, or social platforms redesigning their functionality and page layout, or even the birth of entirely new platforms, the only constant is change, and advisers who don’t keep up will soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. This is especially true at a time when – research suggests – client referrals are diminishing as a source of new business for growing practices[1].

To stay on top of this change, advisers and practice owners should, from time to time, press ‘pause’ and put a broom through their digital presence. A ‘digital spring clean’ is a chance to audit their digital effectiveness across several key areas including:

  • their website
  • social media
  • Google Search
  • Google Maps
  • consumer ratings
  • content strategy.

By assessing the performance of the practice across these areas and being aware of changing consumer usage patterns and updated platform functionality, advisers will be well placed to improve the effectiveness of their digital presence, enjoying more focused and responsive marketing, and better client engagement, as a result.

Advice websites

For most new clients and prospects, the first contact they will ever have with you – your practice – is when they arrive at your website.  Wealth management customers at all levels rely heavily on digital to help them make decisions at every step of their journey, meaning your website has to (1) make it easier for people to find you, and (2) make it easier for people to like you.

Being ‘found’ is a function of both the searchability of your website (more on that later) and the extent to which it stands out from your competitors. (Chances are your website can be improved in both these areas.)

Being ‘liked’ is a function of the impression your website creates on people, and the ease with which it answers the questions they have as part of their research process.

Website design

Many advice websites today look like they all came from the same design studio a decade ago. Indeed, as Natasha Janssens, founder of Women with Cents, recently suggested to participants in an industry webinar:

“Every website looks exactly the same – they have the same type of stock photos; you’re all talking about the same lingo ‘and we’re all here to serve you and we do financial planning, and we do investments”[2]

With one study[3] suggesting that around a third of investors will visit at least 7 sites in their financial research process, standing out from the crowd becomes even more important.

There are several important considerations that flow from Janssens’ observations:

  • The actual design of your website: The colours, the layout, the use of imagery, the ease of navigation.
  • The information contained on your website: Does it make it easier for people to choose you to help them? Is the language approachable?
  • Alignment with your target audience: If you serve a particular audience (retirees, HNW, millennials, professionals), does your website make that obvious?

Spring cleaning tips for your website

  1. The right imagery can help you seem more approachable and also give a sense of the clientele you serve. Ditch the stock images and instead use professionally taken photos of you and your team ‘in situ’ helping clients (rather than stiff, corporate headshots). If you can’t get actual clients just enlist the help of some ‘extras’ who are representative of your actual clients.
  2. Many advice websites reflect the false assumption that the most important thing clients are looking for is your service offering and your qualifications. In actual fact, these ‘hygiene factors’ are way down their list, with research[4] showing far more importance is placed on ‘softer’ attributes such as communication, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and your values as an individual and as a firm. Your website is a chance to articulate your values and portray yourself as warm and human and approachable. Your experience and skills can be communicated via stories of the clients you help – which you can do through testimonials and case studies.
  3. Your branding should extend not just to your logo, but also a typeface and colour palette, and your website should reflect all these elements of your visual identity. Also remember some colour combinations don’t work well from a readability perspective (white text on a black or coloured background is harder to read than dark on light). If all you have is a logo, think about investing in the help of a designer to build your branding tool kit; it needn’t be expensive.
  4. Skip the jargon. Consumers don’t understand it or like it.

Making your website more searchable – less is NOT more

It is estimated[5] that over 90% of website pages get no organic search traffic from Google (the world’s dominant search engine with a market share[6] of 93% compared to Bing’s 3%).

This matters, because in Australia, there are literally tens of thousands of monthly searches for the term ‘financial adviser’. And that means that the websites that are optimised for search are likely to be getting the lion’s share of the traffic, and the leads.

Several surveys suggest that being on the first page of a Google search is crucial, with only a quarter of all searches going to page two and beyond[7], and remarkably, less than 1% of searchers clicking on something from the second page[8].

Although Google’s page ranking algorithm is a closely held secret, there are enough pointers in the public domain to help us understand what they are looking for:

  • Content that helps contextualise your relevance to a search: this includes having enough content (experts[9] suggest about 300 words per page) as well as technical considerations such as the right headings and meta tags (your web developer will understand this).
  • Mobile friendliness: around two thirds of all searches are done on mobile[10]. Make sure that every page on the site is usable on mobile devices. Sending users to hard-to-use sites doesn’t reflect well with Google, and sites that don’t measure up will be penalised.
  • Page loading speeds: Google wants to avoid websites with slow loading pages (which can be a function of your server, or the content contained on the pages).

Free Google tools to check key website metrics

Google offers a comprehensive range of free tools to help you see how your site performs against important criteria. These include their ‘mobile friendly test’ and ‘page speed insights’ tool. Just google them and paste in your URL!

Social media

Whilst there is no disputing the importance and effectiveness of social media in reaching advice audiences, advisers need to be aware of the changing social media landscape. According to Netwealth[11], for example, the proportion of advisers using Instagram for their practice more than doubled between 2018 and 2020.

Advisers should approach social media strategically, considering questions such as:

  • Is the objective acquisition, or will the channel mainly be used to interact with existing customers?
  • What channel best suits the target audience and the style and frequency of content published?
  • Does my social presence (imagery etc) convey the desired impression?

Delivering content is a commitment, but one worth making.

Australian research[12] found that advice clients want to receive investment-related information, such as company news, market reviews and investment ideas, from their financial planner at least monthly. And social channels can be an easy way of distributing this to a wide audience, especially when the same basic content is used across multiple channels. Consistent with this, the same survey found that around a quarter of advisers are posting to social networks at least weekly, and over 40% are posting at least monthly.

Searchability is also an important factor for social channels, especially on LinkedIn (the second most widely used channel by advisers, Facebook being the most widely used). For this reason, describing yourself as a ‘company director’ or ‘partner’ or ‘CEO’ is less helpful than describing what you do and how you actually help people.

Set up your (free) Google My Business profile and make it work harder

Search for most businesses within Google Maps and you will generally find they have an associated ‘Google My Business’ (GMB) profile. This profile includes basic information such as address, business hours, customer reviews and possibly even some photos.

It’s particularly important given the extent to which consumers localise their search, generally when they are ready to act. This can be seen in the large volume of monthly searches for ‘advisers near me’, as shown in Figure 1, below.

The GMB profile is a powerful tool – so important to consumers that 41% of searchers who come across an incomplete profile will leave that profile and search elsewhere[13].

One of the main flags of an incomplete profile is when the words ‘claim this business’ appear next to the profile. To consumers this signals that the business lacks digital awareness, and/or that the information listed has been automatically populated by Google and therefore may be incomplete.

Somewhat implausibly – given it is free – many businesses still haven’t claimed their profile.

If you don’t have a Google My Business profile and want to grow your business, set one up as a matter of priority and claim your business.

Make sure your profile includes:

  • a clear description of your services and locations, including the keywords people would typically use when searching for advice and helpful information such as where to park, and
  • photos of your office and team.

Most people don’t realise you can also post updates to your GMB profile.

In the same way Google prioritises content across its other channels (YouTube, for example), Google will reward you for taking your profile seriously.

Gather as many Google (and other) reviews as possible

One of the more vexed topics in financial advice in recent years has been that of consumer reviews. The launch of the Adviser Ratings website a few years ago was greeted with apprehension in many quarters of the industry. Some critics feared that there would be too many negative reviews[14], while others feared they would be artificially positive[15].

These fears tended to overlook several underlying realities:

  • consumers are already rating service providers through websites such as Trust Pilot and Google Reviews, and
  • the majority of financial advice clients are very happy, and so a tidal wave of bad reviews is – for most advisers – unlikely.

The power of reviews is enormous, with around 80% of financial services customers[16] saying that reviews are essential to their purchase decision.

Unsurprisingly, Google places a priority on businesses with positive Google reviews, listing the top three or four under the map appearing in localised searches.

Leading advisers have realised that asking for client reviews can be more fruitful than asking for client referrals. In Australia, one high profile business coach working with advisers estimated that website traffic tripled for those firms who prioritised Google Reviews[17].

The Adviser Ratings service is also growing in popularity, and like GMB, advisers should take the time to flesh out their (free) profile. A quick scan revealed that currently most CBD based advisers have full profiles and photos, whereas many suburban advisers do not.

Tips for making client reviews work for you

  • Systemise review requests, embedding them in that part of your client engagement process when they are likely to be the happiest and most willing. This could be when you present your SOA or the one-month post SOA ‘check in’.
  • Consider sending the appropriate link to your clients via an SMS or email for maximum convenience for them.
  • Consider asking new, existing, and even past clients to provide a review.
  • Reply to all reviews – especially any negative ones. Consumers realise that sometimes the reviewer is the problem, not the service provider, and the way you respond can actually enhance your reputation.

Be strategic about your content

As we have already discussed above, advice consumers have a massive appetite for financial content, whether that be blog posts, podcasts, videos, newsletter articles or tweets. The need to feed the ‘hungry content beast’ can be overwhelming for some advisers, especially those for who lack the time, expertise, or desire to create that content themselves.

Crucial to being more ‘content confident’ is ensuring there is a very clear purpose for that content and a very clear alignment to the overarching business strategy. Having a content strategy allows time strapped advice businesses to be more focused about what content they deliver.

Different types of content serve different needs. Australian author and podcaster Trevor Young has identified 5 overarching content objectives: increasing brand visibility, influencing stakeholders, building trust, creating advocates, and establishing leadership. He refers to these as the 5 VITAL pillars[18].

Young further describes the different types of content[19] that can be used across these pillars:

  1. Utility content: Practical and informative in nature
    1. Answers questions people might have about you and your business
    2. Focuses on customer needs and pain points in relation to your category (e.g., educational or ‘how to’ content)
  2. Leadership content: more substantive, thought provoking and insightful
    1. Designed to spark conversation
    2. Includes commentary on industry issues, trends, research, and big picture issues
    3. Can often be shared and attract the attention of the media
  3. Human: Take people behind the public face of your business or organisation
    1. Company news and announcements
    2. ‘Behind the scenes’
    3. Customer stories
    4. Staff profiles
  4. Branded content: Chest beating announcements and content with a call to action
    1. Award wins, new hires, product launches, announcements
    2. Register for a webinar
    3. Subscribe to our newsletter
    4. Follow us on Facebook
    5. Download our whitepaper

In an ideal world, a business will utilise all these types of content to fulfill multiple business objectives. In a practical sense, the business cycle and resource constraints may dictate which of the 5 Pillars, and which of the 4 content types, are the most important at any given time.

An additional input into your content strategy is to ask your clients what type of content they are interested in, noting that the type and frequency, and the preferred channel, is likely to differ across clients, requiring a segmented approach.

And finally, where to source content

One of the biggest challenging facing smaller advice firms is how to source and produce content. Whilst some firms rely on their licensee, self-licensed firms don’t have this option available, forcing them to rely on content purchased from external sources.

Advisers going down this path can choose to work with a specialist financial copywriter for bespoke content, or license more generic content from a number of syndication services. Advisers should be wary of going down the ‘generic’ path however, as consumers will be quite dismissive of content which is shallow and adds little value.

Get started on your spring clean

Whilst the steps above may sound exhaustive, conducting your initial audit of your digital presence can be as simple as Googling yourself and viewing your presence through your clients’ eyes. If there’s no room for improvement, give yourself a tick. And if not, get cleaning!

 

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References
[1] https://www.kitces.com/blog/death-of-referral-marketing-for-financial-advisorsin-investment-news-2016-financial-performance-study/
[2] https://www.moneymanagement.com.au/news/financial-planning/advisers-need-differentiate-themselves
[3] https://www.yext.com/blog/2020/01/2020-search-trends-for-financial-services-brands/
[4] https://www.afa.asn.au/news/whitepapers/the-trusted-adviser-2
[5] https://www.searchenginejournal.com/seo-101/seo-statistics/#close
[6] Ibid
[7] https://inter-growth.co/seo-stats/
[8] https://backlinko.com/google-ctr-stats
[9] https://www.kitces.com/blog/seo-financial-advisor-google-local-search-intent-best-keywords/
[10] https://www.sistrix.com/blog/the-proportion-of-mobile-searches-is-more-than-you-think-what-you-need-to-know/
[11] https://www.netwealth.com.au/web/insights/netwealth-2020-advicetech-report/2020-netwealth-advicetech-report/
[12] Ibid
[13] https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2019/04/04/how-to-claim-and-profit-from-your-google-my-business-listing/?sh=1900ccf43a08
[14] https://www.adviserratings.com.au/news/negative-reviews-a-case-study/
[15] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/apr/21/the-positivity-problem-why-online-star-ratings-are-too-good-to-be-true
[16] https://www.yext.com/blog/2020/01/2020-search-trends-for-financial-services-brands/
[17] https://www.ifa.com.au/opinion/28242-managing-your-practice-s-online-reputation
[18] https://www.trevoryoung.me/vital/
[19] https://www.trevoryoung.me/trevor-youngs-content-groups-model/

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