For years, companies have focused on optimizing their corporate websites to show off their brands. Fortune 500 companies spend billions of dollars each year on brand marketing and a lot of their digital traffic is driven toward company websites. According to a recent eMarketer report, digital ad spending in the U.S. will be nearly $60 billion this year, over $7 billion of which will be spent by companies in the financial services industry.
But how effective is this corporate strategy in an industry where companies and firms are nearly entirely built on local relationships between advisers and clients? Advisers in local communities gain trust as they build their client base, and in doing so, also enhance the firm's brand. Advisers are essential brand advocates for your company, and in trust-based businesses like financial services, marketing teams need to invest in their local advisers to compete in today's highly competitive market.
There are a number of ways to start shifting the pendulum between corporate and local- field marketing, especially in B2B2C and B2B2B models where advisers and agents are playing middlemen between your corporate offerings and end clients. One of the most effective ways to enable your team is by investing in local, mobile, SEO-driven adviser websites. According to Google, 56% of mobile searches have local intent, so when prospects search online for adviser-related services, your advisers' websites, as an extension of your company's brand, should be front and center. By optimizing adviser sites for local discovery, brand and content, you can build an influential business at both the corporate and local level.
But where do you start?
First, you have to build adviser sites that will show up in local, mobile search results. Beginning in April, Google started prioritizing mobile-friendly sites when returning search results. If your sites don't show up on the first page of a search, it doesn't matter how they look. More searches now come from smartphones and tablets than from laptops and desktops, according to Google, yet only 44% of adviser websites are optimized for mobile use, making them practically useless. If your adviser sites aren't designed with mobile in mind, they're probably not showing up at the top of local search results. You can check to see if your advisers' sites are mobile-friendly by performing Google's mobile-friendly test.
Furthermore, it's critical that when someone lands on your site, it's a great experience. Content should be readable without tapping or zooming. Tap targets must be spaced appropriately, and the page shouldn't contain unplayable content or horizontal scrolling. If your sites aren't optimized for their mobile experience, your company might see a significant decrease in mobile traffic from search.
OPTIMIZE FOR LOCAL PRESENCE AND EXPERTISE
Advisers need the flexibility to locally brand their own pages based on their business, expertise and community interests. Giving your team the ability to post fresh content on their websites also helps their sites rank higher in search engine results. They're the local experts, and they need the tools to update their own sites with information and news for their prospects and clients. Gone are the days when static, business card-like websites would suffice for advisers. When a prospect lands on a website, advisers have one chance to make a great first impression with their brand and expertise. They need the ability to show off their knowledge by sharing information that is relevant to a site visitor, such as articles about investing, tips on saving for college or news about new tax policies.
Advisers also have unique information about local news and insights, whether it's a post about a community event or an article about a regional news story. Advisers who share value-added content are more likely to be seen as thought leaders in their field and can become a go-to source for financial information.
Furthermore, according to one study, website conversion rates are nearly six times higher when applying such content marketing strategies versus not doing so. Since advisers should also be on social media, it's a no-brainer to include social buttons as another jumping off point for the prospect to connect and engage on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, too.
BUILD A STRONG SEO FOUNDATION
To increase the likelihood of adviser sites showing up at the top of search results, you should build your web program on a platform that optimizes advisers' sites for foundational SEO elements. Backlinks are one of the most important factors in SEO. At a minimum, you should ensure every adviser has links to their website from local directory listings (such as Google Places, yellowpages.com and Yelp) and their social media accounts. While you're updating your directory listings, keep in mind that having consistent information like name, address and phone number helps search engines identify and trust your digital presences.
Your web program should also pay attention to the SEO details — one such item is microdata. This encoding method helps search engines understand the content on your sites and create rich snippets in search results. Finally, you'll want to make sure your URL patterns are targeted locally and human-readable. Technology providers for local adviser sites typically provide these core services as part of their solution.
ALIGN CORPORATE BRANDS WITH LOCAL SITES
With your website infrastructure in place, it's time to align your firm's brand with the look and feel of your adviser sites. You're likely spending a lot of money on maintaining your corporate site, but many customers might never hit that site before deciding to talk with an adviser. Smart web programs allow firms to control the balance of corporate and local content on adviser sites. For example, the header of a site might be controlled by your corporate marketing team, so that the group can share a corporate campaign among thousands of adviser sites with a few clicks. This type of distribution extends corporate marketing reach and impact at a minimal cost. It also gives your firm an efficient channel for seasonal promotions and urgent news.
Within financial services, it's important to focus on marketing channels that capitalize on the local, human relationship between an adviser and client. Investing in an adviser web strategy is a win-win at both the corporate and local level because it makes your team more effective and ensures brand consistency from the top down, all the while helping advisers engage clients and grow their business in today's online-first world.
Gary Liu is vice president of marketing at Hearsay Social.