May 29 When financial adviser Rick Kahler wanted to revamp his marketing strategy three years ago, he decided to learn about the hype surrounding "search optimization."
This is the catch phrase for strategies businesses use to make sure their websites are among the first to appear in results from online search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft Corp's Bing.
Trying to show up at the top of prospective clients' Google searches can be time-consuming and expensive, but the effort can reap big rewards. A 2014 Fidelity Investments study found that about 1 in 5 investors said they would use internet research, other than social media and adviser rating websites, to find financial advisers.
Kahler, based in Rapid City, South Dakota, hired a consultant who helped make his site more visible in results for search terms like "financial adviser" and "tax planning." Three years later, traffic to the Kahler Financial Group website has doubled to about 3,500 hits a month. Earlier this week, the site was the first to appear in Google search results for "Rapid City financial adviser."
Kahler, whose firm manages $210 million in assets, said the effort, along with his blog and social media presence, has generated about half his business.
A key to success is maintaining an engaging, consistently updated website. This can include frequent blog updates and videos.
"Google doesn't want brochures," said Kahler's consultant, Brent Carnduff, president of Advisor Web Marketing. "What Google wants is for every business to become a publisher."
Hiring a consultant to help can cost about $5,000 to $10,000 annually, said Mike Byrnes, president of Byrnes Consulting, LLC, a Boston area firm that helps advisers run their businesses.
If you aren't ready for that investment, a few steps can help boost your site's presence.
1. Register with Google My Business, Bing Places for Business and Yahoo! Local. These free services will help your firm appear in local search results, including maps. Make sure your street address appears in your website's header or footer to increase its chances of appearing. Also, register your business on review sites like Yelp and Foursqaure, which often come up in search results.
2. Devote individual pages of your site to each type of service your firm offers, such as retirement planning, estate planning and investment strategies. That will increase your chances of showing up for multiple search terms, Carnduff said.
3. Feature a lot of written content on your homepage, as well as an engaging image. "People like images search engines like text, and you need to design your site for both," Carnduff said.
4. Include a lot of hyperlinks to organizations and publications. Try to get them to reciprocate. Links help establish authority with search engines. Submit thoughtful comments on websites that publish financial articles and include a link back to your own site, said Byrnes. You may ultimately decide to outsource the work to a professional. Focusing on search optimization is expensive, said Kahler, the adviser, but it is the only marketing he has to do. (Reporting by Jennifer Cummings; Editing by Suzanne Barlyn and Meredith Mazzilli)