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4 Key Ingredients for Your SEO Recipe

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of getting traffic to your website from the listings on search engines.

To facilitate our clients’ understanding of SEO, I often describe the most popular engines—Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.—as the librarians of the Internet. Their core task is to collect information and catalog it in a way that helps people immediately find what they are searching for. To store information, every search engine employs an algorithm; think of it as a secret recipe that turns information into search results. Therefore, SEO is the process of ensuring that your website possesses all the ingredients that match search engines’ recipes (algorithms). For financial advisers, like other business owners, search results are very important, as they increase the odds that their business is easily found on the Internet.

How can you assess whether or not your website has a suitable online presence? Here are a couple of very simple tests to conduct on your own:

  • Type the name of your business in your favorite search engine. If that name does not show up in the first page of the ensuing search, you need to implement SEO.
  • Conduct an Internet search using popular terms that your prospects may use to locate an adviser—financial adviser, financial planner, investment plan, retirement solution—and add the name of the city/town where your business is domiciled. If the name of your practice does not appear in the first result page, you need to implement SEO.

Analysis of Your Social Media Assets
If both tests yield a “positive” result, you may want to seriously consider creating a SEO strategy. However, before you hire a firm to help you with that, I suggest you do a quick analysis of your social media assets.

In addition to your website, do you have a blog and/or a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook? Are these platforms working in synchrony? The correct approach in using social media is to establish an ongoing and consistent conversation that drives traffic to your website with the ultimate goal of converting visitors into clients. In marketing lingo, this is defined as a hub-and-spoke model.

It will also be extremely beneficial for you to establish the core objectives of your SEO efforts. The clearer these goals are, the easier it will be to measure them and assess if your SEO strategy is working for you.

Zero-Cost Strategies
What follows is a series of suggestions and zero-cost ideas you can implement to create an SEO strategy that will help you achieve an effective online presence:

1. Get Google Analytics
Go to Google and set up Google Analytics (www.Google.com/analytics) to find out the most common terms/search words people use to find a financial adviser (it is free), and ensure that such terms are included in your website and social media interactions. The more specific you get with your keywords, the better your chances of ranking high in search engines. Strategically place those keywords throughout your website content. For example, if you target the key phrase “529 plan,” make sure you create content about it and provide ideas and tips on how to open a plan and maximize contributions.

2. Localize
Optimize your website for local search by ensuring that you have a detailed listing of your practice on Google Local (www.Google.com/local/add) and other engines such as Yahoo, Bing, etc.

3. Blog It
If you do not have a blog yet, consider creating one as way to increase your website ranking in the search engines and boost your brand exposure. Managing a blog can be time consuming. However, it will help you to attract potential clients.

4. Use Video
Consider using videos on your website and/or blog. It will enable you to achieve two key strategic goals: increase the time visitors spend on your site, and boost your SEO ranking. Google’s algorithms assign higher ranking to those web pages more frequently visited and where surfers spend above-average time. Algorithms work on the assumption that the longer a visitor stays on a page, the higher the quality of that page’s content must be. A YouOn TV study revealed that web surfers spend on average 48 seconds on a specific website. When a site features a video, average time jumps to 5 minutes and 50 seconds. This is especially true for educational/informative videos versus those just selling a product. Consequently, creating a video that addresses your key audience’s problems and issues and provides tips and actionable ideas will help you drive prospects to your website, keep them on it and achieve your SEO goals.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio Pannunzio
President
i-Impact Group Inc.
Greenwich, Conn.


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Revamp Your Billing System

Many advisers have a tedious and time-consuming bill calculation cycle, often based on Microsoft Excel. This can cause cash-flow delays or create workflow bottleneck problems for the operations team. Billing systems today need to be able to interface with many other systems to ensure a smooth billing process. The more automated the process, the less human error is likely to be introduced.

A billing system needs to integrate with the portfolio accounting system to recognize/create the accounts, households, billing schedules, asset classes, security master, client addresses, etc. Bidirectional synchronization with the portfolio accounting system, financial accounting system and CRM helps reduce data entry errors.

For example, a firm’s CRM adds a new client. The CRM should automatically update the billing system with the new client information, which adviser manages the account, etc. The billing system should alert the billing manager of new clients, so the appropriate billing and fee schedule, asset classes and addresses are set up for the client. When the invoices are ready, they would go through an approval cycle. The appropriate transactional information should be sent to the portfolio accounting system, which in turn, updates the custodians so that the fees are taken from the account. Parallel to this, the financial accounting system needs to receive its set of transactions, and finally the client’s invoices need to be put on the client portal or mailed.

Although it’s possible to do all this with spreadsheets, it may not be ideal. I know of an advisory firm that billed a third of its accounts each month of every quarter (i.e., billing every month). As the firm grew, more and more complexity was added to the firm’s spreadsheets and to their processes that updated their various systems. Eventually, billing time increased to a full two weeks each month for two full-time employees. As a result, for 15 years they could not take a vacation during billing days!

As you think about your firms billing needs, be sure to understand the various touch points involved, including:

  • To what extent is my CRM involved?
  • What data does my accounting system need?
  • What work is involved in getting my portfolio accounting system to integrate with billing?
  • Who should have access to billing information? Larger firms need access control to billing software.
  • How much flexibility does my billing software need to have?
    • Should it handle related households, aggregated for discounted tiers?
    • What is my firm’s approval process?
    • Can the billing solution split fees and commissions the way my organization wants?
    • Can it handle held-away assets?
    • Can it create an easy-to-follow audit trail?
    • How easy or hard it is to issue refunds, adjustments and issue the one-off invoices?
    • How would billing work with my client portal?

I hope this information is useful in selecting the right billing solution for your firm, and we hope your choice will enable you to take vacations without impacting your firm’s revenue collection!

Hemant MoreHemant More, CFA
CEO
Arcons Technology Inc.


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Going Paperless: Cloud-Based or Enterprise System?

The cloud. It’s everywhere. From personal use of storing photos and music from our smartphones to syncing seamlessly with our desktops and laptops, it frees up a lot of storage space and eliminates the need for an external hard drive. But what does it mean for financial planning professionals who want to go paperless?

What are the considerations a firm owner or IT director needs to consider when going paperless? Are there advantages of cloud-based electronic document management systems, or are enterprise systems—which are housed on a company’s server rather than in the cloud—a better option for some?

Here, I’ll take a look at these options and help dispel the myths of both types of implementation to make the options more clear.

Enterprise Systems

Enterprise document management systems—systems for which you buy paperless office software to add to your own system and infrastructure—are ideal for small and mid-sized firms that have in-house IT support and back-up servers to provide an extra level of security. They’re also a good fit for those firms that aren’t quite comfortable with storing sensitive data on the cloud, and for those that are waiting to see how effective cloud-based security systems really are.

If you’re the kind of person who waits until a manufacturer puts out a second generation of any given product (think Apple’s iPhone) so that they can iron out the wrinkles, you’re probably playing a game of wait-and-see with how the cloud performs when faced with potential security breaches. So, in the meantime, an enterprise paperless office system, like SAFE, that you can maintain on your site might be an option.

Cloud Systems

On the other hand, cloud systems, like SAFE CLOUD, have a few advantages over enterprise systems.

One of the biggest advantages is the often robust IT team that staffs the paperless cloud platform’s back-end. For firms that are just getting started or for those that outsource IT needs, having a team of experts backing up their cloud systems and monitoring the security and updating available features is often a benefit small businesses find attractive.

The paperless cloud option also provides less hardware upkeep as well as peace of mind for business owners in the wake of natural disasters; in-office equipment isn’t compromised and sensitive documents are kept safe, translating into dollars and time saved getting back to business as usual.

Evaluating the Solution

No matter what route a firm decides to take, out-of-the-box or in the cloud, there are three major benefits to managing documents virtually: increased efficiency, impenetrable security and immediate accessibility.

There are also a few standard questions you should ask as you research third-party document management providers. These include:

  • Is the paperless office solution configurable? Is the electronic document management software designed to work with your current software? Does the paperless workflow in the solution interface well with your workflow? Any new system comes with a learning curve, so it’s important that the solution be as configurable as you need it to be.
  • If you’re going paperless in the cloud, how often is information backed up?
  • If you’re choosing a hard install of enterprise electronic document management software, how often is the software upgraded? What are the fees associated with an upgrade? Is there a yearly maintenance and support fee?
  • For cloud-based paperless office solutions, what is the subscription fee to use the service? What does the fee schedule look like—is it per year, per person, or both?
  • Is the paperless office solution scalable? Will it accommodate your business as it grows? If so, what are the fees for extra/additional seats?
  • Does the electronic document management solution offer a mobile application? Business being what it is today, people need instant accessibility to key documents on the go. It’s important that a paperless office solution provider be in step with this need and provide a solution to make it happen.

Andrew BaileyAndrew Bailey
President
Cabinet

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