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Organic Search vs. Paid Search

Which is the best for financial advisors?

Speaking as someone who has spent hundreds of hours helping financial advisors generate reliable, qualified leads over the years, I understand first-hand what an important goal this is for many people. I also understand that there’s no “one right way” in which to do it—every business is unique and you need the type of strategy that will play directly into that fact, broadcasting exactly what it is that makes you unique to the widest possible audience.

Not too long ago, I was speaking to a prospect on the phone about the shape that their marketing strategy may take for the coming year. They’re a smaller firm—with under $50 million in assets under management —and they’re more reticent to do paid advertising as they’ve only ever relied on referrals in the past and have never done much in the way of digital marketing. This prospect was clear—they’re not running the type of business that has $1,500 to spend on a financial advisor Google Adwords campaign. At best, they have about $500 per month that they can devote to basic remarketing and retargeting to get people to visit their site.

But still, they were looking for a way to grow their digital presence as they know full well that marketing is really all about building relationships. Building relationships, in turn, is really grounded in building trust by communicating value. To put it another way, they knew they needed to provide as much free information to solve problems on behalf of their own prospects as possible, they just weren’t sure entirely how to do it.

For a lot of organizations, pay-per-click or financial advisor PPC campaigns are an excellent first step. With this client, however, they didn’t necessarily want to devote the type of money necessary to really start to see results. Some keywords they were targeting were in the $30 range – which is far higher than many firm budgets out there. They didn’t want to essentially throw money down the drain by not keeping up on the negative keywords, or putting forth the effort to constantly perfect and evolve their collateral and landing pages to see what works to generate predictable, qualified leads.

In other words, this prospect was frustrated and was at a loss for what to do next. Thankfully, there were options available to him – and to you – in terms of inbound strategies that come from search intent. There are two, in fact, that are certainly worth a closer look.

Organic Search vs. Paid Search: Breaking Things Down

Organic search marketing strategies and paid search are similar in that they’re both effective ways to get a steady stream of predictable new leads directly to your (virtual) doorstep. The paths they take to accomplish that goal, however, are where the major differences begin to creep in.

Organic search engine optimization, also referred to as SEO for short, is all about leveraging the unpaid, natural rankings determined by search engine algorithms like Google to your advantage. The more organic content you create that is clicked on and trusted by audiences, the higher that content – and the domains associated with it – rank. At that point, your financial advisor pages are more likely to be seen and clicked on when people in your target audience search for products and services like yours – thus allowing you to grow your online presence over the long-term.

Paid search, on the other hand, is something a bit different. Financial advisor PPC, or pay-per-click advertising for RIAs, is a great example of this. Here, you’re spending ad money to get your content in front of your target audience. These ads could be anywhere your target audience is — Facebook, Gmail, Youtube, a Google search, or other sites that participate in the Google Display Network. Most of the time, you’re paying only when consumers actually interact with your ad – meaning that you’re paying to attract people who are likely to be interested in what you have to offer in the first place.

Both methods, SEO and PPC, have their advantages, to be sure. Consider the following statistics from Hubspot, a digital marketing authority, on PPC:

  • According to one recent study, the top three paid advertising spots on Google get about 46% of ALL clicks on the page.
  • The same source revealed that PPC ads can easily boost brand awareness by as much as 80% in some situations.
  • At the same time, however, there’s something of an elephant in the room that must be addressed – that is, the increased use of ad blocking software by consumers around the world. According to another recent study, about 30% of all Internet users now use ad blocking software of some kind. Google has even launched its own ad blocker to help facilitate this behavior.
  • Based on that, it should come as no surprise that almost 80% of all users ignore paid ads in search results entirely.

Again, none of that is to say that paid search isn’t worth your time – or your investment. Even though 80% of people ignore paid ads, that still leaves an impressive 20% who embrace them. A big percentage of people use ad-blocking programs for their web browsers – but that number is unlikely to ever reach 100%.  There are still a tremendous amount of short-term gains to be had to that end. It’s just that, for businesses as highly specialized as financial advisors already are, taking an “organic-first strategy” will likely yield better, more predictable gains over time.

There are pros and cons with SEO and PPC for RIAs.

Financial Advisor SEO – Pros and Cons

Pros – Free, stable predictable traffic with prospects that have a higher closing rate due to the intensity of search intent from organic sources. Sometimes the value of this traffic for one page alone can be worth $1000 per month if you had to pay for those same clicks on the PPC side of things. I have one client whose homepage alone is worth $4000 per month.

Cons – Results can take a while. Typically stable, consistent inbound traffic on some key articles that your prospects like to read and will convert on can take up to year.

Financial Advisor PPC – Pros and Cons

Pros – The timeline to results are much quicker, typically within the first 30 to 60 days. Especially if you are working with a firm that is already niched into the RIA industry and have those retirement planning campaigns ready to deploy in your local market with your budget.

Cons – The real negative is that you have to keep feeding the beast. If you stop your ads, your traffic stops as well. There is no permanent traffic flow. And it can be expensive with some keyword like “financial adivsor” for Google search ads, costing around $30. We use more cost effective longtail keywords that are more affordable and can match smaller budgets. Facebook is also an excellent way to target your audience at a fraction of the cost.

Finding the Right Partner is a Balancing Act

At this point, the advice I gave to the prospect I mentioned above – and that I would give to any RIA or other wealth management professional out there – is straightforward. In an effort to get more solid, qualified leads into a funnel with a drip and ideally booked into your calendar, your first step should be to find a digital marketing firm that KNOWS the unique SEO considerations that RIAs have to deal with. This is possible because such a firm will already have a strategy laid out that plays to the strengths of financial advisors in particular.

This type of firm will know exactly what keywords are in play for your market. They will be keenly aware of what backlinks are easy to obtain that will make the biggest possible difference over the long-term. They’ll also know what type of content you need to write to not only take advantage of search volume for your target audience, but to position yourself as an authority in the eyes of these same people as well.

In terms of PPC and other paid search techniques, you should also find a firm that can economize and find those long tail keywords that are more cost-effective but that still get leads anyway. This in and of itself is a perfect opportunity to make something like pay-per-click work even with smaller budgets, in a way that also doesn’t compete head-on against the broker dealers that have million-dollar ad spend budgets.

Ideally, those two firms will be one and the same – one that fully understands the potential to be unlocked by financial advisor PPC and who is ready and willing to make those results happen on your behalf. If you truly want to come up with a strategy that harnesses the principles of “organic-first” but that still lets you enjoy the unique benefits that paid search brings to the table, that’s exactly how you do it.

In the end, I would wholeheartedly suggest that you meet with a digital marketing firm that does both SEO and PPC – with Midstream Marketing being just one example. As stated, we’re a digital marketing agency with over a decade of experience comprised of a remote team of 18 professionals spread across both the United States and the Philippines. Every day, we work closely together to help accomplish the critical goals of our clients – delighting them with the results we’re able to achieve along the way.

Once you find the right partner who truly understands what your business is and what you do, have them take a look at your SEO situation to see what is possible in your unique situation. Remember that even though many of the best practices of SEO are universal, every business is a bit different from the next – especially in highly specialized industries like financial advising and wealth management. At Midstream Marketing, we’ll take the time to learn more about you – thus putting us in the best position to see exactly what we can do for you.

At that point, you can talk to this partner about your preliminary strategy with them to get a better idea of what lead generation can look like with either search engine optimization, PPC or, in the best case scenario, both at the exact same time.

Christopher P. Wendt is president of Midstream Marketing, a digital agency that generates predictable leads for independent financial advisory firms. Over the past 10 years, he’s spent hundreds of hours applying the LeadGen Formula, a proven method helping financial advisors generate more leads. You can reach him at [email protected].

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