In an earlier post, I told you that you should have a good website. Of course, no one wants a bad website, so what do I mean?
You want a website that will be found by the people that you want to find it; be easy for them to use; convey the information you want to convey; and get visitors to do what you want, which is probably to schedule a call or an appointment.
I am going to tell you a little bit about my experience and what I do now, and hopefully you can take away some actionable ideas.
Here is my disclaimer. I don’t have a tech background, nor do I have a marketing background. I am a lawyer by training, for Pete’s sake.
This is what I have gathered through trial and error over the years and it works well for me. My firm is a state-registered RIA with about $70 Million in AUM and roughly 105 clients. So it’s not a huge business, and through July I have gotten 21 prospective clients and 7 new clients signed up this year, just from the main part of my website.
I also have an auto-responder and I wrote a book, both of which are on my website, but I track those numbers differently and they aren’t included here. Sure, both probably help the other results, but I don’t know if they do in a measurable way. Really. I don’t know if I can measure it.
You are going to get a lot of conflicting advice by well-meaning people. I would urge you to think carefully when people say you have to do something or have to avoid something to have a successful website. There seems to be a lot of misinformation in this area and everybody is selling something. I get emails all of the time from people who say they noticed my website is missing this or that and its crucial that I fix it. Some of them may be right, but I don’t know who to trust and it seems to be working just fine.
Since I was curious to see how my site was working, and what might I need to do to it to make it better, last year (2014) at Bob Veres’ Insiders Forum I took up the offer of one of the website vendors for a free 30-minute analysis of my website.
When we had the phone call shortly after the conference, the firm’s rep told me that after his review of my site, the only thing he saw missing was that it didn’t have a wide layout like people prefer now. He also said that new customers of theirs would have to spend thousands of dollars per month ongoing for some time to get sites that were as effective as mine, and that I could save my money, I didn’t need to hire them.
I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear that. Of course, I did spend a lot of money on my website over the years, especially in the value of my time, and that of my interns. I just didn’t know who to turn to. It would be nice if other industries had this thing where they had to put their clients’ interests first, have duties of loyalty and good faith, etc.
In 2005 when I started getting my website together to launch my firm, which wound up launching in February of 2006, I originally used a company that markets within the financial planning industry to help me put it together because I had no idea what to do and I figured they were the experts. Besides, I had a lot of other things to attend to, as you all know.
My website seemed to look good and I thought they wrote good content, but after a while I realized I wasn’t getting much traction with it. It wasn’t getting many hits, no one was telling me they found my business from it, and when I tried to see how it was doing from sites that measure website traffic, it wasn’t even on their radar. So in an act of desperation, I got the book Search Engine Optimization For Dummies out of the library to try to improve it.
Here is also a link to a cheat sheet from the same publisher.
I read the book and tried to follow its advice, but unfortunately, the company that was managing my website was pretty limiting in what it would do for me as far as changes to my site. I got a lot of pushback from reps there and I think they were pretty condescending when, as a financial advisor, I tried to get them to make changes based on a book for dummies, while they were the so-called experts in the field.
I totally get why they would feel that way. If someone comes to you and wants to buy a mutual fund because it was on Money Magazine’s list last year or their neighbor recommended it, you probably wouldn’t be condescending, but you would explain why it might not be a good idea or in their best interests. (They may not have been condescending, it might have just felt that way. It has been a long time.)
So I was really unsure what to do. I finally had a long conversation with the founder of that firm and told him of my concerns. He seemed to consider what I was saying, but ultimately confirmed that they were not going to make the changes to their platform that I thought seemed necessary.
At about the same time, NAPFA member Greg Phelps was on the NAPFA discussion forum offering to start a link exchange. (I’ll explain later.) When I tried to exchange links, Greg said that since the website I was using was built on frames, whatever that meant, I couldn’t take part in the link exchange. He recommended I find a different website company and take part in the exchange.
So I did. I finally switched to a site hosted by Yahoo, using their tool SiteBuilder, trying to implement Search Engine Optimization (SEO), taking part in the link exchange, and doing everything myself.
It was hard, but I could see within a few months that my site was getting more visitors and I was slowly starting to get some prospective clients in the door from my website.
Don’t read too much into the term, SEO is really just making your website so it’s easy for the people you want to find it to find it. If you can show up on the first or second page of search results for the search terms that are important to your business, you can actually drive a good deal of business from your website. As I wrote, through July I have gotten 21 prospective clients and 7 clients this year from my website.
The book advised against using any “tricks” or “scams” and it said to avoid most companies that say they can help you immediately with search engine optimization because they tend to be tricksters and scammers. The basic advice is to create a website with relevant content, update it regularly, and get other websites to link to it. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a little time to do it and it takes some time for you to do better in search results.
A link exchange is where firms exchange links to their website with other firms who do the same, each in the hopes of mutually benefitting. Incoming links to your site from other sites, especially popular or relevant ones, seems to help in search rankings. If a useful, relevant site in your industry thinks it’s worthwhile to provide a link on its site to lead people away from its own site to another site, the search engines tend to think the other site is valuable.
So Greg offered to exchange links with other NAPFA members and many took him up on it. I have links to about 100 other advisors’ sites on my website and hopefully they have links on their sites to mine. (Shoot me an email if you want to exchange links and you don’t want to wait for the future post to describe exactly what I mean.)
In future posts, I’ll write about how to create a website with relevant content, how best to update it regularly, and how to get other websites to link to it.