In the age of social media marketing, the corporate website may seem so 15 minutes ago. Nevertheless, few believe their business can get along without one, and certainly, advisory firm managers understand that a website is as necessary as phone service for a functioning practice.
A financial advisory firm's website is either the first or second point of contact that prospective clients will have with a firm — almost everyone does a Google search before or after meeting an adviser for the first time. If the experience is anything less than positive, it encourages the prospect to move on, perhaps to a competitor.
In contrast, a positive impression can give the prospect a sense of the organization's legitimacy and trustworthiness as a financial partner. Because trust is so crucial to the successful advisory relationship, the firm's website should be doing everything possible to build credibility for the practice and the professionals associated with it.
Website visitors often make unconscious decisions about the related organization based on the most minor of details: a 2002 Stanford research study identified things like spelling or grammatical errors, broken links and outdated information as raising serious doubts for prospects about the legitimacy of that business.
(Related read: How to revamp and refresh your online presence)
For that reason, it is worth giving your firm's website a rigorous review on a regular basis to see it as a prospect might. Try examining it from the following four aspects:
1. User experience (UX): Is your site scannable? In decades of research on website usability, Jakob Nielsen has documented, among other things, that website visitors tend to scan rather than read, at least until they find the information they seek. So keep online content brief: offer in-depth commentary in a video, a slideshow or a downloadable format such as a PDF. Give some thought to how much effort is involved for the visitor to navigate through the website. Information that a visitor might be expected to seek should be easy to find. Anticipate the content most frequently sought by visitors and put it, as often as possible, one click away.
2. Visual design: Visitors appreciate a website that is uncluttered and easy to read. Ensure that the layout, typefaces and type sizes are consistent across the site. Empty space on the page may actually help ensure that visitors read the information you most want to convey. Include animation or sound only if it is the best way to convey information, and only at the visitor's discretion. Also, avoid using imagery and design elements that are merely decorative. Stock photography of the Wall Street bull or the New York Stock exchange does nothing to differentiate your firm from all the others. Instead, use design to highlight the valuable ways in which you are different.
3. Writing style: Is the writing direct and easily comprehensible for the average visitor to the site? Clarity builds trust, and conversely, readership is often lost to an esoteric writing style. Likewise, consider the degree to which the content may come across as “sales-y” or aggressively self-promotional, which readers tend to view with skepticism. Better to understate claims about the organization than to overstate them. Banish exclamation points, flower-y or extravagant adjectives and excessive typographic flourishes. The writing style should give the impression of thoughtfulness, authenticity and integrity.
(More insight: Are PR firms worth the cost for advisers?)
4. Information: Is the website informative in ways that help demonstrate the expertise of the firm? If you have built a specialization around 529 plans, make sure proof is easily available on the site. Provide credentials that support your claims: books and articles written, awards won or other measurements of success, professional licenses, accreditations and memberships, etc. Recognition by independent third parties is particularly influential in building the firm's credibility. Promote the impression of “full disclosure” — provide the relevant details about the organization, its practice areas, contact information and of course, fees. Allow site visitors to research the team: include professional headshots, bios, credentials and areas of expertise, phone numbers and email addresses. As noted above, check regularly to make sure that the site is up-to-date, relevant and error-free: there should be no spelling, grammatical or typographical errors; no broken links and no stale news updates.
The website is an early touch point in an extended process with the prospective client — an opportunity to build confidence in the organization and create an understanding of the value of the services offered. From the client's perspective, finance can seem complex, and investment outcomes difficult to assess. The firm's website can help overcome that perception when it reinforces the idea that the firm and its people are capable and trustworthy.
Marjorie Wilner is founder and principal of MWC Marketing + Public Relations.