Advisors are not using search engines for marketing. Some think it is beneath them. Some think the leads they'll get will be of little or no value. Most are just too busy to do the research and find out the truth: that marketing this way can generate strong business leads.
To find out how advisors can use search engines to improve their marketing, I interviewed Google AdWords expert Howie Jacobson, Ph.D., the author of AdWords For Dummies (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007). Jacobson is not only informative but often very funny, and can make 407 pages about a subject like search engines a breezy read.
Gluck: Let's start with the basics. What are Google AdWords and why should financial advisors care
Jacobson: AdWords is Google's paid inclusion program: If you do a Google search, you'll see a bunch of things down the left side of the page. Those are known as organic listings, which Google has determined are most relevant to your search. Then, at the top and on the right, there are sponsored listings, which people have paid to put in front of you when you type in keywords they've chosen. You have to bid enough, and your ad has to be performing well enough in Google's eyes to get to the top. But sometimes you don't want that.
Gluck: Why on earth wouldn't you want to be the first sponsored link?
Jacobson: The higher you are on the page, the more you pay. To be No. 1 may cost more than you can recoup. The cost of an ad may drop significantly as you go down the page. You might pay $13 per click for the first spot and only $7 for the fourth-and 35 cents on page two. Where you should be depends on how much you can afford to spend to acquire a customer.
This is called pay-per-click advertising, and Google revolutionized the concept by rewarding relevance for sponsored listings the same way it had for organic listings. With other search engines, a human editor had to approve keywords and ads, which could take days. With Google, unless you trigger a filter-you're selling drugs from Canada or porn or Viagra-your ad will be approved and go live within five to ten minutes. You get immediate gratification.
Gluck: Financial advisors complain that search advertising only brings strangers to their Web sites, and nobody's going to hire a financial advisor based on a Web site.
Jacobson: That's probably exactly right. But that's like saying, "What's the point of trying to make friends with a stranger?" At some point, everyone is a stranger. You have to figure out who your target market is. What are their concerns? A search is driven by someone having an itch he wants to scratch. "Should I keep my money in mutual funds given the current downturn? Should I buy gold? Should I put all my money in my mattress?" If you have an answer for people who, by virtue of their searches, seem like they would be good clients, you want to lead with helpful information that turns you into an expert in their eyes. Google rewards you for that. But if someone clicks to your site and is back at Google four seconds later, and if that happens a lot, Google will conclude it's a low-quality site-and lower your ad's position or make you bid more.
Gluck: How do you make your site high quality?
Jacobson: Forget about Google and make a site for human beings. Google tries to simulate what happens in the academic world, in which papers and books are judged according to how many people cite them in their own work. Google looks for links to your site from other sites. The Internet is voting and Google tallies the votes.
Blogs are great because you can invite comments. Every time the page changes and the Google program that crawls the Internet looking for data comes back to your site, it says, "Oh, it's changed again." And so it comes back sooner and sooner.
The way to get clients is not to try to get them, but to be the heart surgeon everybody wants when they're in trouble. Why would someone hire you? Because you have knowledge that surpasses what they could get elsewhere or create themselves.
Gluck: You're not necessarily trying to make somebody a client the first time he comes to your Web site.
Jacobson: My fantasy is, someone spends four hours on my Web site, reads every word, bookmarks and prints out every page, and tattoos my Web address on her arm. She has 100 different ways of finding me again.
More likely, though, she comes with a keyword search that shows she has a problem I can solve, looks at my site and says, "This is exactly what I need." But then the phone rings or she has to go to a meeting. And she never comes back. That's why I try to offer something of value in return for contact information.
Gluck: Let's talk about a search-based campaign for a hypothetical advisor. I'm Tom Franklin, in Phoenix, and I want to manage money for people with at least a million dollars.
Jacobson: Are you looking for clients just around Phoenix?
Gluck: I'll take clients from anywhere, but 80% of my business comes from the Phoenix area.
Jacobson: With AdWords, you can decide exactly what area to target-the entire world, individual countries, states, metropolitan areas or specific parts of a metropolitan area.
Gluck: So I can have a campaign just for wealthy parts of Phoenix?
Jacobson: Yes. You can also say, "I want to show my ads in The New York Times online business section or the site for the Phoenix daily paper." Anything's possible, but it gets complicated. One shortcut is to look at what your competition is doing.
Gluck: How do I do that?
Jacobson: Let's consider Tom Franklin in Phoenix. What would Tom like to be known for?
Gluck: Suppose he says, "My keyword is 'financial planning' or 'wealth management.'" How's that?
Jacobson: He'd better have a big budget and a lot of patience.
Gluck: Even if I'm narrowing the focus to Phoenix?
Jacobson: If you choose "financial planner, Phoenix," that is a big topic, and not the type of search people do when they're hungry for something.
Gluck: What are they more likely to search for?
Jacobson: People search to solve problems. But we don't have to guess. We can go to Google and find how many people are searching for given terms. Open a free AdWords account and you'll see something called the "keyword tool." Type a keyword and it tells how many people searched for that word. It also gives synonyms and related terms and how many people searched for those. Just type in "estate planning." You'll get hundreds of ideas.
You want to put yourself in the mind of the person who typed that term. ... If someone types "camera," it may have a very different meaning for her than it does for someone else. But if she types "Canon EOS 40D camera with 12 megapixels," I have a pretty good idea what she's thinking.
Gluck: You can also use specific search terms to take people to specific pages. Explain how that works.
Jacobson: You can send people to your main site, but you could also take them to a specific page. ... You can create a page just for a particular keyword, just for that ad. If you're doing college financial planning, I would create a page called "How to Save for College." Then offer something in exchange for someone's e-mail address. Say, "Get my Seven Mistakes Parents Make When Saving for College," and have a teaser that makes him want the information.
Gluck: Are financial advisors actively using Google AdWords?
Jacobson: Let's do a test. If I type "financial planner Durham, N.C.," where I am, I'm sure I'll see a bunch
You know what? I see only one local planner using AdWords. The pitch from that one is, "Consult our certified financial planner for advice on your plan!" How exciting is that?
What if it said, "The market's tanking, mutual funds are shaky, here's what to do now"? You need something that jumps off the page and says what's in it for the reader.
Gluck: If you work with someone as a consultant, what's the most important thing you provide?
Jacobson: I like to teach people how to do search advertising so they can do it themselves. And that means understanding the mind of your market. There's a Mel Gibson movie, What Women Want, in which he gets electrocuted and all of a sudden he can hear women's thoughts. Online, you really can do that. What I do with AdWords and Web sites is teach people the techniques. You can become exquisitely sensitive to what your market wants.
Andrew Gluck, a longtime writer and journalist, is CEO of Advisor Products Inc. (www.advisorproducts.com), a Westbury, N.Y., marketing company serving 1,800 advisory firms.