Many advisers believe that search engine optimization (SEO) is the silver bullet of marketing. If only you can rank in the top of the search engines, your lead generation problems will be solved, and steady prospects will flow right in. Unfortunately, this mentality often leads to wasting money on outdated techniques that promise to improve your ranking. A focus on the customer can give way to “keyword stuffing” or paragraphs full of meaningless hidden text meant to trick search engines into improving your ranking.
SEO is a complex, ever-evolving field that can confuse even experienced online marketers. Incorrectly executed optimization techniques are not only ineffective, but they can result in penalties that lower your rankings. In extreme cases, overly aggressive SEO can cause your website to be permanently removed from the search indexes entirely!
A robust SEO strategy will take time, resources and patience to deliver results, but every adviser can get started on the path to success by focusing on these five steps to an SEO-friendly website:
1. Set SEO goals.
Everyone talks about wanting to “get to the top of Google,” but for what exactly? What are the top few search terms that your best prospects are using to find and engage with an adviser? If you don’t know what terms you are trying to rank for, you’ve set a goal that you can never achieve. For example, San Francisco Certified Financial Planner is my top search term, so I focus my efforts (and measure my success) on ranking for that term. Use Google’s free keyword tool to identify the most relevant and highly trafficked terms that relate to your practice.
2. Gear everything on your website to humans, not search engines.
One of the most common mistakes I see is websites designed with misguided attempts to perform well in search engines. Examples include repeating the same keyword over and over, long lists of “financial adviser” appended to every city and town within 100 miles, and endless lists of links that make the site nearly impossible to navigate. Not only do these tactics fail to curry favor with search engines, they will wind up alienating many of the visitors you are hoping to attract. Create every facet of your website with your ideal client in mind. It’s the best way to demonstrate the value you can provide to prospects and will actually help you perform better in search rankings.
3. Title tags are the most important SEO facet of your website.
Every web page should have a title tag, which is a simple description of what the page is about. Google and Bing view title tags as the most powerful signal you can provide about the content of a page, and they factor heavily into ranking. They are also generally used as the headline in search results, so what you put here is usually is what is displayed as a bold blue headline to your search listing. Be sure to include your target keywords in the title tag and vary the title tag on each page—repeating the same one on each page will work against you. Make your title tags pithy and compelling, and absolutely avoid cramming keywords into your title tags. Title tags can be updated with any HTML editor, or are often created in the “title” field in most website creation software packages.
4. Your website should grow and thrive along with your practice.
Just as your clients and prospects will visit your website from time to time to see what’s new, so will search engines. Fresh, high-quality content, such as articles, press releases and blog posts, demonstrates that your website—and business—is healthy and thriving and is viewed very favorably by both search engines and prospects alike.
5. Learn the fundamentals of SEO
SEO can be a very intimidating phrase, and confusion and misinformation about it seem to abound, perhaps especially so in the adviser community. Although the art and science of SEO can get incredibly complex, the fundamentals are really quite simple. The good news is that for most advisers, ranking for their top search terms is a very achievable goal, especially within your local geographic market (i.e. Indianapolis wealth managers or Houston financial advisers).
Invest a few hours to learn the basics so you can have more informed strategic discussions with an SEO consultant or web designer, or you may decide to try doing it yourself. SEOmoz is where many SEO experts turn for education and advice, and they publish a great free Beginners Guide to SEO to help anyone get started. Google publishes a very useful Starter Guide as well.
Kristin Harad, CFP®
Marketing trainer for advisers