Are these 'must-have' elements on your website?

Keep it simple when establishing credibility and connecting with clients online, experts say

Mar 10, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Joyce Hanson

Most financial advisers agree by now that a strong online presence starts with a well-designed website.

“Websites are definitely becoming simpler,” said Kristen Luke, president and chief executive of Wealth Management Marketing Inc., noting that advisers should seek to focus on the client and provide “a call to action” that offers the next step to take in terms of financial planning.

She also recommends firms use video (“It's easier to watch a video on a mobile phone than to read text,” she said) and start a blog, which helps with search engine optimization.

A close look at a handful of strongly designed adviser websites suggests there are five best practices when creating a new site or relaunching an established one. These practices were developed by advisers who refined their websites over several years with a process that comprised analysis of online metrics, marketing research and trial and error.

1. Establish business expertise.

Tim Walla, founder of Walla Street Wealth Management Inc., wanted to do “something that was different than everything else out there” when working on a redesign of his firm's website with his director of communications.

Using SquareSpace.com as their hosting company, they agreed that they wanted to establish credibility with clients and prospects “in a matter of seconds,” Mr. Walla said.

For example, they placed announcement on their home page establishing Walla as the only registered National Football League Players Association adviser in the Kansas City area.

“Establishing credibility needs to be done immediately on the home page,” Mr. Walla said. “You need to capture the viewer's attention in 10 seconds. You will be sized up and judged on your home page in no time flat.”

2. Make it personal.

Lauren Lindsay, director of financial planning for Personal Financial Advisors launched her firm's first website in 2006. A former English major, she believed that her writing skills were better than the average person's, even though she wasn't a professional writer.

When thinking about her firm's message and how to put it into words, she talked to a coach, Ginny Hudgens, who recommended web designer “Make It a Great Day”.

Of primary importance to Ms. Lindsay was her desire to project an “open, approachable, friendly and welcoming” image for her firm.

When her team members sat for photographic portraits to appear on the website, they vetted one another's photos.

“The poses are relaxed,” Ms. Lindsay said. “There was a lot of discussion and debate. We're trying to make the website a service that's more accessible to clients and prospects.”

3. Create strong visuals.

Sunit Bhalla, principal of OakTree Financial Planning, had a previous career in the technology industry, so he knows how important it is for websites to have an impact on viewers.

He used this knowledge along with advice from his wife and his National Association of Personal Financial Advisors “mix group” to give him the courage to include photos and videos of his family on his firm's website.

The visual impact has paid off, Mr. Bhalla said. Google Analytics show that most viewers first go to his home page and then on to his “Who We Are” profile page, where his family pictures reside.

“I was sort of torn about showing images of my family,” he said. “I want to be professional but give a feel for being real people.”

4. Keep updating content.

When David B. Armstrong, managing director and co–founder of Monument Wealth Management recently relaunched his website, his intent was to create a more visually appealing design that allowed for continual updates.

“I really want it to develop into an educational website for people who have questions and are seeking answers about anything to do with wealth management,” Mr. Armstrong said.

His “Off the Blog” blog gets a routine refresh every Monday by 6 p.m. Writing for the web gives him the added advantage of reaching out to clients and prospects, he said.

“If I see that Jim Jones from an event has shown interest in me on my blog, that's a powerful piece of intelligence,” Mr. Armstrong said. “If I've met him, we've connected and he has searched my blog, then it's time for me to pick up the phone. It's not a cold call anymore.”

5. Engage clients and prospects.

Jim Ludwick, founder of MainStreet Financial Planning Inc., also has found that a website is an excellent way to engage with clients and prospects.

When he and his partner, Anna Sergunina, recently agreed on a succession plan that involved Mr. Ludwick's exit strategy for the business, they filmed a video of Ms. Sergunina announcing her deeper engagement with the firm.

More recently, Mr. Ludwick and Ms. Sergunina have continued to promote their firm with each of their Twitter feeds, which run alongside each other on MainStreet's home page.

Ms. Luke said the cost of a website can range from no outlay, through a service like WordPress.com's free software, to as much as $65,000. Typically, though, a website launch will cost an adviser $2,000 to $5,000 — and that price includes a customized web template, adviser logo, periodically refreshed content and some social-media services.

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