There is no doubt the online search activities of our society will increase as technology continues to get faster, easier to use and more mobile. Traditional referrals will not go away, but they will be complimented with online research, increasing the importance of a strong online presence.

There will also be a subset of prospective clients that come to advisors without a referral. A good portion of that direct business will result from advisors showing up high on search results. To do this well, advisors need to be competent when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).

To help, here are 8 SEO tips put together with Brien Shanahan, founder of SEO4Advisors and a recent presenter at NAPFA's 2011 Practice Management and Investments conference:

1. Titles

The name for the webpage should be accurate or descriptive of what is on the page. For example, do not just label a page "services," title it "financial planning services." Shanahan recommends keeping titles to 65 characters and using different titles for each page. This also means behind the scenes, page titles should not say "Welcome to ABC Inc." on every page. They need to be customized. By keeping page content targeted, your page titles can also be targeted and that will help you rank higher in search engines.

2. Descriptions

Each page on a website should have a 'meta' description that tells the search engines and web searchers what the page is all about. The description is displayed below your page title in search engine results and should entice web searchers to click on your entry, while accurately summarizing the page's content. A common mistake of advisors is to try to load the meta description with keywords rather than trying to appeal to what the web searcher is looking for.  The worst mistake is to not have any meta descriptions at all.

3. Formatting

Headers, bold text and bullets can help by indirectly telling the search engines the keywords you want highlighted.

4. URLs

Non-friendly website address information should be avoided. For example, when you look at your web pages, do they have URLs that do not make any sense or are there words included that provide clues about the contents of the page? Try to get your top keyword for a particular page in your URL, page title, and within the content of your page.

5. Keywords

The language your prospects are going to be searching for should be utilized. Often this means avoiding industry jargon. Instead, know your target markets and the words they use. Additionally, if your prospects are from a certain region, using that location's name can be helpful. Use the terms folks are searching for and harmonize them with the title. [More advanced advisors can use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and Keyword Rank Checker tools to know what key terms drive results and to have a better idea of what the competitive landscape is.]


6. Local SEO.

All advisors should have a local focus both in their website keywords and by setting up a Google Places profile, which allows your firm to show up on Google maps and local (city or state) searches. You should fill out your profile completely and list your firm in more than one category. Pictures and even videos can be uploaded.


7. Inbound links.

The more relevant links pointing toward a website, the more credible search engines think it is, providing 'domain authority.' This will give your website an edge over the competition, especially for more competitive keywords. But beware of vendors trying to sell you hundreds or even thousands of inbound links. Search engines look at your portfolio of inbound links and may penalize you for too many unrelated, low-quality links.


8. Analysis.

Know where traffic is coming from (e.g. referring sites, keyword searches, etc.) and know what activities are driving the traffic. A tool like Google Analytics can provide this information for free.

Final thoughts On SEO
"The key reason advisors need to know the basics of SEO is because without any SEO, they're nearly invisible to search engines. They can spend thousands of dollars on a pretty website, but if they don't have any page titles, keywords, meta descriptions, or SEO-friendly URLs, they aren't doing a good job of getting their message indexed by search engines. And if they aren't getting indexed properly, people won't be able to find them on the Web.," said Shanahan.

He continued to say, "What's nice about good search engine optimization is that it can be done once and keep working for you for years. That way, advisors can do a bit of work up front and have Google keep giving them free referrals thereafter."

As a whole, advisors are far behind in this area, but they all want traffic to their sites. The smart marketers will better understand SEO and dedicate resources to rank higher on search results to be more successful.

Note: As always, check with your compliance department for your specific guidelines on what your organization will allow you to do.

Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas. Read more at
www.byrnesconsulting.com.

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