It's an amazing feeling when someone contacts your business through the company website and is completely sold during the telephone follow up. Unfortunately, countless professionals end up losing business because their website is poorly designed and doesn’t use an efficient process for generating and capturing leads. I have made a living selling life insurance through my own website and have also worked as an Internet marketer building and optimizing hundreds of websites for other business owners.
Over time, I’ve keyed in on a few specific factors that set a successful site apart from one that doesn’t serve a company well … or at all. The following are five of the most important elements to include on your website to successfully build a business and a favorable online reputation in kind.
1. Professional Design
As a business professional, you must always put your best foot forward to not only attract clients but also to inspire confidence and trust. A website is a business card, a Yellow Pages advertisement, a brochure, a sales kit, a lead engine and so much more. For many, professional web design is simply a re-allocation of marketing dollars, and the money spent on your site will likely result in a better ROI than any other type of advertising or communication strategy.
How much should you invest in professional web development? That depends. The cost of developing a website can range from a few hundred dollars to over $30,000, and that can be for a simple 10- to 20-page site. While you certainly don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars, be prepared to budget between $1,500 and $5,000 for a professional website in the financial services field. While it might be tempting to save money by outsourcing the project overseas, keep in mind web development is one area where you absolutely get what you pay for.
For the majority of financial professionals, I recommend Wordpress websites. Wordpress is a Content Management System (CMS), which basically means it uses a comprehensive template to manage your website. Wordpress is the most common CMS solution available, so finding designers and developers at a low cost is easy. When it comes to hiring a web designer, it helps to choose a designer who has a portfolio of sites that resonates with you.
Warning: If you tend to be a do-it-yourselfer, this isn’t the time to dive into web design and development. Your time is much better spent focusing on other aspects of Internet marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to drive prospects to your website. Just a few years ago, the Internet was flooded with websites clamoring to rank for certain keywords in Google. If you plan on trying some type of marketing plan to trick Google into ranking your website, I have bad news for you: it doesn’t work anymore. The way to be noticed on the Internet and distinguish your site from spammers is to simply be transparent. Let customers know that you are a real business with real people. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is through your “About Us” page.
2. About Us Page with Headshots
The About Us page is one of the most important pages on your website, especially for those who are considering doing business with you. Don't be afraid to use at least 500 words on this page to convey something personal about you and your business. How did you get started? What do you specialize in? What do you believe in? It doesn’t take much to set up, and not having an About Us page is a sure-fire way to lose a potential customer.
Also, make sure to include professional headshots on your About Us page. Executive headshots of you and your staff let visitors know you are a real company with real people. This small step can put you above many other advisory websites that don’t include such information. People are often very wary of things they find on the Internet, so the more legitimate you are perceived the better. Executive headshots typically cost between $100 and $250 and can be professionally edited in Photoshop as needed.
3. Display Trust Signals
The e-commerce industry knows better than anyone that trust is a huge issue on the Internet. Using Trust Seal graphics serve as a risk reliever that can increase conversions by up to 10 percent. In fact, surveys of online shoppers show that one of the most stated reasons for leaving a website is the absence of trust seals. There are specific trust seals you should be displaying on your financial website, including those from the Better Business Bureau, an SSL certificate, a malware scan seal, Chamber of Commerce membership, NAIFA, Trusted Choice and even a custom guarantee seal. Trust seals can be expensive, as you’ll be required to become a member of these organizations, however, they provide ancillary membership benefits beyond the ability to display the digital seals on your website. You don’t need to display every trust seal, though having none at all will be a detriment to building a strong online reputation.
4. Testimonials and Reviews
I love testimonials and reviews. So do prospects. Customers want to know you're competent, and one of the best ways to convey this fact is to let your current or past customers and business partners do it for you. The easiest way to start off is by getting testimonials, including permission to publish them. While there’s no shortage of methods used to procure feedback from customers, I’ve personally found that the best way is to simply call them. Make it easy on your customers, and have them give you a testimonial right there on the phone. Take notes during the call and have your customer sign off on what you have transcribed. Best to have them send a follow up note indicating their explicit approval that you can keep on file.
Warning: Attorneys should pay particular care to the ethical rules in their jurisdictions to ensure that the solicitation and content of any client testimonials fully comply.
Displaying reviews is a bit trickier. There are several new review plugins you can use on your website, although most if not all require monthly fees. The most valuable social proof is from third party review platforms, such as Google, Yelp, BBB and Yellow Pages. They provide the most benefit because they aren’t under your control. A great strategy for leveraging these platforms is to ask customers that you already know love your service to post a review for you on one or more of these sites. Just be careful that you do, in fact, offer a great service because negative reviews on some of these sites can be devastating to your online reputation.
5. Contact Information
I have been an editor in charge of the life insurance category, the industry in which I work, at dmoz.org—Google’s online directory—for many years, so I see just about every insurance website submitted for inclusion. It’s astounding how many of these financial professionals build a website and then neglect to put a physical address anywhere on it. I know many financial professionals work from home these days, but there’s nothing wrong with listing your home address on your site. Even worse are the sites that don’t even provide an email address. Instead, the only way to contact the agent is through a form. I understand people are attempting to avoid getting spammed and that they want their privacy, but the whole point of your business site is to have people contact you. I’ve displayed my email address on my site for years and I do get my fair share of spam, but this detritus is handled exceptionally well by the spam and junk filter that comes with my email system. Your website is a tool to allow your potential customers to get to know you and your business. Appearance and authenticity go a long way on the Internet, so don’t hide.
Brian Greenberg is a multi-faceted entrepreneur currently serving as a founder and executive of multiple online businesses, including serving as President of True Blue Life Insurance.