Websites are now a major source of lead generation, so projecting the right online image is crucial for advice firms. story/Miranda Brownlee
Websites are the referral based nature of financial advice means practices can sometimes be sceptical of investing money and time in developing a professional and engaging website for their business.
What advice firms may not always realise though is that a website often forms a key part of a consumer’s decision to adopt (or not adopt) a particular adviser.
Ensuring a website immediately captures the attention of visitors with a visually appealing layout and clear, concise messages can therefore be vital in attracting clients to the firm.
Outsource or DIY?
One of the first decisions a practice principal must make when developing or updating their website is whether to construct it themselves or outsource to a web design company.
Cameron Howlett of Moran Howlett Financial Planning has used both methods for his firm’s website. In the past he handled the design process himself but now he chooses to outsource.
While sites like Weebly and Squarespace allow a business to set up a website relatively easily and offer specific financial services themes, this can mean forgoing the professionalism that comes with outsourcing.
“These days, your website is your marketing brochure so it needs to be great – it needs to reflect everything that is your business in a concise and easily understood manner. That’s why we chose to outsource,” says Mr Howlett.
Practice principals looking to create their own website will need graphic design skills and an understanding of how search engine optimisation (SEO) works, he says.
“They need some sort of artistic skills to be able to work out what colours go with what backgrounds and what colour fonts they should use,” Mr Howlett says.
For principals who choose to outsource, Mr Howlett recommends companies that allow the firm to maintain and run its own website on an ongoing basis.
Craig Armstrong of AMP-aligned Coral Coast Financial Planning holds a similar view: “If you want to change one little thing, you don’t want to have to write a whole letter and a spiel to someone to change a couple of words on a page – you want something that’s interactive,” Mr Armstrong says.
For Greg Major, director of AMP-aligned financial advice firm Blueprint Wealth, finding a web designer who was locally-based was just as important since the firm wanted a close collaboration on the project.
“In the end, that decision paid off, as we spent considerable time together going over content and design elements,” Mr Major says.
Regardless of whether an advice firm outsources or develops their website in-house, they first need to decide what to include on the site as well as the key message they want to project about their business.
Susie Munro of financial services marketing company Sixpence Media, says practice principals need to start with a plan, thinking about what they’re trying to achieve from the website and then beginning to map it out.
“Start with post-it notes and a marker pen. Brainstorm all the things that need to go on the website, stick them to the wall and move them around and figure out the structure and layout,” says Ms Munro.
“I think the time you invest upfront in doing that means that whether you’re outsourcing or doing it yourself, you’re going to end up with something that fits together as a whole.”
Mr Major says an advice firm should also consider the amount of money and time they are willing to contribute.
“It takes time to generate good content, to sit with designers and agree on layouts, themes, mood, features, [and work] with marketing agencies,” he points out.
What to include
Deciding what sort of pages and features a website should have will depend heavily on the individual practice and its target market.
In terms of pages, Ms Munro says advice firms are generally best keeping it standard – a home page, a couple of pages explaining how the firm can help people, an ‘About’ page, possibly a blog, and a ‘Contact’ page.
“I normally keep navigational levels pretty thin; I don’t have deep layers of menus,” she says.
Mr Howlett says that for his business, the home page, the About Us page and the Contact page attract the greatest number of visits. While he initially considered the list of services page an important inclusion, according to Google Analytics it is the least looked at.
Although pages such as descriptions of staff and client testimonials may not be necessary for every advice firm, some advisers feel these pages can help establish trust and a connection with the client.
Nathan Manning, partner at marketing and SEO services company SEO Gorilla, says adding descriptions of staff members along with photos can help personalise a website.
“One of the things we look at when reviewing a website is credibility factors – anything that reassures someone visiting the site that the company is the right company for them,” says Mr Manning.
Similarly, Mr Armstrong regards staff descriptions as an important page.
“It allows [clients] to create an affiliation with the staff members before they’ve even met them,” he says.
Home on the range
The first page of an advice firm’s website generally aims to immediately draw client interest with a single, concise message about the business.
Mr Howlett says a business has only six seconds to capture the attention of visitors to its website so the first page needs to be “excellent and engaging”.
The key message he chose to reflect in the case of his own business is the fact that the practice is independently owned and fee for service.
“We just wanted something very simple that hit the mark immediately,” he says.
Images of scrawled diagrams used on the home page and throughout the website portray the firm’s ethos of being independent thinkers, he explains.
Mr Armstrong, meanwhile, believes the home page needs a “catch phrase to endear the client”.
“You go onto the front page of our website and there are seven words in our catch phrase and a small blurb on some of the services we have,” he says.
Retaining as much clean space as possible on the website to ensure a clear and visually appealing layout was also important to Mr Armstrong.
“A website is visual media, and you’ve got to use that,” he says.
Content and SEO
Regularly uploading content to an advice website can be a useful way to increase website traffic through what is known as search engine optimisation (SEO).
Mr Howlett says Google “regularly looks for updated content”, so discussing a topic at specific and regular times – such as a current news story – will mean Google can reach out to your site and grab that content when people are searching for that particular information.
“So blogging on issues that arise at any specific time will help drive more traffic to your site,” he says.
Mr Manning says advice practices should ideally direct their content at two or three target markets rather than using a general ‘scattergun’ approach.
“When it comes to standing out from your competitors online and providing content to your ideal clients, it’s better to be something to someone than nothing to no one.”
To make a website more visible – or ‘crawlable’ to Google – advisers should focus on using the terms their potential clients are searching for, says Mr Manning.
“There are also technical factors which help improve the crawlability of a site and Google actually provides best practices on what you should do,” he says.
Google advertising and promoting content through social media will also boost site visibility, according to Mr Manning.
Uploading content, whether it’s downloadable documents or short videos, is also an “effective way to establish trust and position yourself as a thought leader in that field”, he says.
However, Mr Howlett warns advisers that they need to be careful not to overwhelm clients with content.
“If people have to spend 20 minutes reading the content on your website when you’ve only got six seconds to grab their attention, they’re probably not going to read it,” he says.
Ms Munro believes certain website features, such as ‘sliders’ that flash across the top of the site with large pictures, should be left off a business website.
“The studies have shown people don’t look at it because people see it moving and think it’s an ad,” she says. “Often each slider has a different message on it so there’s no clear single message.”
Advice practices can also overpopulate their site with corporate language and jargon if they are not careful.
“[Advice practices] just need to be true to who they are and [construct] the wording in the same way they would speak to a client,” she says.
Finally, in Mr Howlett’s opinion, websites that aren’t updated regularly can often look outdated.
“You can tell the ones that were done four or five years ago using the technology that was around then,” he says.
Updating the website for a practice is an “ongoing business expense”, he adds.
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