There is no question that a robust web presence is a necessity these days for financial planners. Whether prospects find you through a referral or via a Google search, most are going to check out your website before they decide to do business, says Mike Berry, CFP, founder of Legacy Wealth Management in Grand Junction, Colo.
"We are primarily referral based," Berry says. "We do very little marketing, and the majority of all the dollars we spend on marketing are for the website." But that site you created several years ago (or more) - and then left to languish - may have become a liability. You should be continually evaluating your site, and then improving and updating it accordingly.
Use these 15 strategies to keep up with the times and, more important, address the needs and interests of your prospects and clients.
1. COMMIT TO CHANGE
Legacy Wealth used a template to create a website several years ago just to get a presence on the Internet. Berry now says that was a mistake. "We created the site in the mid-2000s because we felt we needed to have one," he explains. "However, we did not manage it very well. It was a canned website that we got through our broker-dealer. We added a few things to it, but it just kind of sat there."
Berry and his partner eventually realized that if their firm was going to have a site, it should at least be useful. "We had hired a junior advisor, who was in her 20s," recalls Berry - and that junior advisor joined forces with Sondra Pace, Legacy's 20-something director of operations and registered assistant.
"Both of them had a lot of ideas for making our site better," Berry says. "They continued to encourage me and my partner to update it, and we finally did."
2. KNOW YOUR GOAL
When designing or redesigning a website, first determine what your goals are, says Loic Jeanjean, director of sales and web marketing for Advisor Websites, a Vancouver, B.C., firm that specializes in helping financial advisors design and manage websites. Do you want your website to generate new business? To serve existing clients? Should it do both? Knowing that answer will drive your site's offerings.
3. DEFINE YOUR AUDIENCE
"You also need to understand your target audience and what their needs are," Jeanjean says. "You want to be able to provide prospects and clients with content that is really of interest to them." For example, if your target client base is physicians, you will want to provide specific content that will be of interest to them, with an emphasis on planning strategies for doctors.
4. EYE THE COMPETITION
Next, check out your peers to see what they offer. "You want to make sure that your site is different from your competitors' sites," continues Jeanjean. He recommends comparing your existing site and your planned site with the sites of all of your competitors within a 30- to 50-mile radius.
Decide why a client would want to work with you as opposed to your competitors. "Then, make sure that you feature what is unique about you on your website," he says.
5. PROMOTE YOURSELF
To drive visitors to his site, Laddi Jhuty, CFP, of LSJ Wealth Management in Fremont, Calif., attends a lot of community functions. "When I talk with people, I give them my card, which has my website on it - and then they go do the research on me," he says.
When Jeff Dvorak, CFP, opened his own practice a year ago, his primary goal for creating a website was to provide a background and reference presence for people he had already met and provided a business card to. "I wanted the site to be a place they could learn a bit more about me, my philosophy and my strategies - information over and above what we would have discussed briefly in person," says Dvorak, founder of 4D Financial Advisors in Glen Ellyn, Ill.
6. GET FOCUSED
Not every website needs to be comprehensive. "A lot of advisors have so much information on their sites that it is almost overwhelming," Dvorak says. "I wanted my website to tell a story, rather than list all of the services I provide."
His client base is in the 50-to-65 age range, and most are still working, so they aren't spending a lot of time searching the web, he says. "I didn't want to have so much information on each page that they would not want to bother reading it." In fact, a lot of new prospects have told Dvorak that they liked his site's simplicity.
If your goals don't require a detailed site, a quick and simple site may be a legitimate choice, says Heather Hinkle, vice president of product marketing and support for Emerald Connect, a San Diego consulting and services firm that helps financial planners create and manage websites.
"One of the reasons for having a website may simply be to show that you have a legitimate business and that you are credible," she explains. "As a result, some advisors will choose a site that doesn't have a lot of depth."
7. DEVELOP BRANDING
A website should be an extension of your own brand, Hinkle says. "It should be a reflection of you and your philosophy, as well as your areas of specialization." Look carefully at all aspects of your site - including your logo.
In looking for ways to update Legacy Wealth's site, Pace realized it was missing graphics that showed what the advisory firm was. "We didn't want just words to help people see who we are," she says, "so one thing we did was create a medallion on our home page."
That medallion contains a couple of compliant brags, including the firm's years of experience and its prominence in the community.
8. TAKE PICTURES
Your website needs graphic punch - but it also needs to create a personal connection.
"One website essential is having your photo," Jeanjean emphasizes. "You would be surprised at how many advisor websites do not include their photos." Stock photography usually falls flat, Jeanjean says.
He points to a test run by Marketing Experiments, a company that compares the use of stock photography versus photos of real people on websites, and measures the resulting impact on click-through rates. "They found that photos of real people outperformed stock photographs by 35%," he says.
In addition to often being irrelevant, some of them are so common that you see them everywhere. "There is one man with white hair I've seen on dozens of sites, and you probably have too," Jeanjean says. "On one site, he is a lawyer; on another, he is a pilot. It drives people crazy."
His recommendation: Spend a few hundred dollars to hire a professional photographer to take photos of you and your staff.
9. EMPHASIZE YOUR TEAM
This is particularly important for advisors working with high-net-worth clients - because high-net-worth clients want to work with teams, Jeanjean says. "They are wary about only working with one person, where there may not be any support," he explains.
Not all advisors have teams, but if you have partners and even affiliations with other professionals, emphasize these relationships on your website.
"This not only provides high-net-worth people with a sense of security, but also shows that you are very well established," Jeanjean says.
10. KNOW THE 3-CLICK RULE
Be mindful of your clients' time: A good rule of thumb is that users should be able to access all of the information on your site in three clicks or less. Any more than that and they possibly won't bother.
And about those "splash" pages, which make people click one additional time to get to your site? Dump them.
"These are a huge mistake," Jeanjean says. "It is one additional click, and it also bothers a lot of people." Furthermore, he points out, a lot of "splash" pages were built with Adobe Flash - and Flash doesn't work on iPads or iPhones.
11. OFFER TOOLS
A vibrant site can offer tools and resources for clients and prospects, says Hinkle of Emerald Support. She suggests creating a learning center, which can include financial calculators, newsletters and research articles that can help answer users' financial questions.
Be sure that articles offer useful content, but in an easily comprehensible tone, she cautions - don't be so sophisticated that you turn readers off.
12. CALL USERS TO ACTION
Even if prospects like your website, you don't want them to drop the ball before following up with you.
To capture users' information so that you can follow up, says Jeanjean, have at least one "call to action" feature on your website: a way for prospects and clients to sign up for your newsletter, download a research paper or even just ask a question by entering their name, email address and other contact information.
13. CONSIDER CLIENT LOGINS
If you want to offer more services to clients, consider adding a secure section of the site where clients can view their accounts and other personal information.
"A few of my clients have said they would like to have a specific client log-in section where I can store certain items that we discuss during our in-person meetings," says Dvorak of 4D Financial Advisors.
"It would be an archive of sorts. This way, they would be able to access this information at their convenience, instead of having to call or email me and ask me to send the information to them again," Dvorak says, adding that he's looking into it.
14. GET SOCIAL
When thinking about your digital presence, you need to think beyond websites to social media.
"We have a Facebook presence and a Twitter presence," says Pace of Legacy Wealth. "Any time any activity happens on any of our three platforms, we make sure that the other two platforms mention that. So, if we post something on Facebook or Twitter, we will have links to our website.
"We also added a blog," she adds, "and we will continue to build on that."
15. HELP PROSPECTS FIND YOU
While Dvorak occasionally gets traffic from people Googling "financial planners Glen Ellyn Illinois," he doesn't rely on it.
Instead, he pays a fee to list his information on the websites of professional organizations his firm qualifies for - including the CFP Board, NAPFA and the FPA.
How do people find those sites in the first place?
According to Dvorak, when people use Google to search the phrase, "how to select an advisor," several articles pop up - and, in numerous instances, the writers of these articles refer to the three industry organizations and "encourage potential clients to visit these sites," he explains.
Since his contact information is on these sites, interested prospects in the region can look for financial planners in his area and find his name, website and other contact information.
William Atkinson is a financial writer in Carterville, Ill.