Financial advisers typically land the vast majority of new clients from referrals.
Whether it comes from a friend, family member, associate or the barber, an endorsement generally leads prospects to check out advisers via their websites and social-media presences well before a get-acquainted meeting is scheduled.
Yet a significant and perhaps growing proportion of investors are searching for and connecting with advisers online without the benefit of a referral. This is accomplished either by means of a focused search or by discovering the adviser while reading up on personal-finance topics of interest.
How can advisers increase their odds of landing clients that way?
The first step, according to experts, is recognizing that the process won't deliver results overnight. Patience and persistence are essential.
“You need to be visible, credible and build your online presence over time,” said Marie Swift, chief executive of Impact Communications Inc., a marketing consulting firm for advisers.
That online presence consists of a variety of what she calls “digital assets,” which she lumps into three categories: those that one owns, earns or buys. Earned and owned digital assets are more potent than those that are purchased.
Ms. Swift defines those categories as follows:
• Owned digital assets are “anything you control, including the content itself and the timing of its delivery.” The goal isn't limited to putting that content directly in front of prospective clients but also reaching a much wider audience by converting them to the “earned” category.
• Earned digital assets are created when one's ideas and words are restated and attributed to the source by credible third parties, such as journalists. Press releases distributed by services such as Business Wire, PRWeb or 24-7PressRelease, according to Ms. Swift, generally are perceived as having more credibility than material that falls under the third category.
• Bought digital assets include Google AdWords, other forms of online advertising and enhanced directory listings, such as BrightScope Inc. Online member directories such as those sponsored by the Financial Planning Association (PlannerSearch) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (Find an Advisor) fall into this category. Such listings might be free to members, but membership itself isn't.
All digital assets, including blogs, Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter tweets and YouTube videos, should connect with and feed off one another, creating what Ms. Swift refers to as a “digital spider web” to catch prospective clients as they roam the Internet.
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Wealth adviser David Edwards, president of Heron Financial Group, aggressively uses the Internet to attract new clients. He described his digital marketing strategy as creating “multiple avenues of attraction.” It doesn't matter to Mr. Edwards which digital path prospects follow to arrive at his doorstep, so long as they do.
He attributes Heron's doubling of assets under management over the past two years, to $125 million, to his prolific authorship of web-based content, cultivation of news media and assiduous efforts to make his content rank highly on search engines.
After initially engaging search engine optimization assistance a few years ago from a consultant, the firm has since followed tips in “Social Media Toolbook: The Best Free Social Media Marketing Tools” (JM Internet Group, updated 2014).
Internet searches originating from the New York metro area for local financial advisory firms typically produce results in which his small firm outranks that of a large competitor, Mr. Edwards said. His content production and SEO investment are “a force multiplier,” he said.
SEO includes efforts to alter the placement of a website or social-media page in search engine results.
Almost 70% of the 338 advisers surveyed by InvestmentNews in January said they have engaged in SEO efforts.
The SEO process once consisted primarily of incorporating an abundance of key words into the digital asset overtly and via meta-tags but didn't require frequent monitoring.
Today, however, SEO consultants are in a race with the wizards behind the search engine algorithms, primarily Google, to discover the latest refinements to help clients capture the most searches.
Mindy Weinstein, SEO manager for global Internet marketing firm Bruce Clay Inc., suggests “creating a buzz around yourself online.”
Beyond that, she offers the following tips to make advisers most easily discoverable by searchers:
• Use a responsive website design that recognizes whether a searcher is using a computer, tablet or mobile device and automatically adjusts the display accordingly.
• Avoid using “canned” content that is likely to be used by other advisers, because a search engine often will simply show one site using that content and suppress the rest (See story, Page 12).
• Exploit Google. “Google Authorship will identify you as the author of a page; your picture and name will show up in the search results,” Ms. Weinstein said.
• Administer a get-real test to ensure that the content posted and the way the firm's services are described make sense to a prospective client, by having it reviewed by someone who isn't too close to the subject.
• Regularly monitor search rankings, and tinker with content and strategy constantly to improve them.
And don't forget, developing a strategy to get prospects to the firm's website or social-media pages is one thing; turning them into clients is another.
Getting people to surrender contact information once they finally do find the firm's site opens the door to more-direct, customized communication that increases the probability of conversion. High-quality content, such as white papers or newsletters, not only facilitates capturing contact data through sign-up forms but builds the credibility essential to converting prospects who are relying on their own assessment of an adviser instead of a third-party recommendation.
Richard F. Stolz is a freelance financial writer based in Rockville, Md.