SEO best practices for advisors: Improve your website's search engine ranking

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Key Points

    • Search engine optimization helps boost the power of your website to fill your prospect pipeline.
    • It's critical to start with basic SEO best practices, including a local search strategy.
    • Focusing on your visitors' experience can help you create content that strengthens search performance.

Your firm has worked hard to build an online presence, but is your website doing enough to help prospective clients find you? Search engine optimization (SEO) can help you deliver the content prospects want and rank your firm's website higher in search results.

Why is it important to rank as high as possible in search results? According to a survey by Moz, only seven percent of searchers browse past the first results page.1 If your website isn't ranking on page one of search results, many prospective clients might not even know that your firm exists.

SEO is about taking proactive steps to match your content to what searchers are looking for. Thankfully, you don't have to have an SEO expert on staff to start moving your site up the ranks, at least in the early stages. But you do need a sense of urgency because the longer you wait, the bigger the gap between you and the competition. Use these tips—from beginner level to more advanced—to get started.

Getting to know SEO

In the early days, SEO was mostly a keyword game. Keywords are words or phrases that people search often. Earlier versions of search engines simply scoured websites looking for words that matched common search terms.

Fortunately, search engines have grown more sophisticated over time. Keywords are still important, but today's search engines prioritize fresh, high-quality content that's useful. In Google's own words, "You should build a website to benefit your users, and gear any optimization toward making the user experience better."

Search engines find keywords and other indicators of content quality using automated "crawlers" to find sites and pages that are relevant to a searcher's query ("Find an RIA," for example). Crawlers serve as proxies for real people and look for many of the same things we look for in a useful website:

  • Simple navigation
  • Well-organized webpages
  • Clear communication
  • Easy-to-follow, conversational tone
  • Accurate and useful information

Then search engines index the sites, in essence creating a huge card catalog. Finally, they rank the indexed sites according to popularity.

Search engines assume that the more often a page is cited (based on how often it's linked) and cites other established pages, the more valuable the information is inside because those citations typically correlate with more page visits. However, the quality of those visits matters, too. If search engines think your site is "keyword stuffing," or creating "link spam"—basically plastering pages with links, whether they are useful or not—all those links could hurt your website's ranking because those links are seen as inauthentic to the user experience.

SEO starters: Tackling the low-hanging fruit

Creating a site with content that's useful to clients is the ultimate recipe for search engine success, but it can take time to get in the groove of creating content on a regular basis. Here's what you can do now to strengthen your website's search position.

Master keywords

Search engines use keywords—words or phrases in your site content that match common user searches—to determine a site's relevance. Your first priority is finding keywords that your ideal client would use when searching for an advisor. Start with basic keywords, such as "financial advisor," "wealth management," and "investment advice," but also use more precise keyword combinations that communicate your unique value to advisors. This helps you stand out among the thousands of other advisor sites on the web.

But remember, keyword stuffing does more harm than good, so make sure each use of a keyword is natural and makes sense with the rest of the content on the page. Aways put the needs of your audience first.

Focus on your industry and expertise

What do you do best? What do clients most appreciate about working with you? Answering these questions can lead you to search terms that might best fit your firm. A great way to do research is to ask your clients which search terms they'd use to find you. Another way is using online tools such as Google Keyword Planner or Moz Keyword Explorer to learn the most common search terms in your industry. Or you can type "financial advisor in (your city)" and see what Google suggests in the drop-down menu and which of your competitors' sites show up on the first page. With each of these methods, you won't use every word that comes up, but the words that best describe your expertise are one's to focus on when adding keywords to your online content.

Brainstorm longer keyword phrases

Consider two keyword examples for your site: "Financial advisor" and "Personalized retirement advice for Houston business owners." While prospects may search for the first phrase more often, you're competing against every site using the exact same keywords—and likely ranking lower than more established advisor sites. People may search for a variation of the second phrase less frequently, but you'll rank higher in those searches and attract more qualified prospects. Note that your phrase doesn't need to match a prospect's search word for word. Search engines are smart enough to interpret variations.

Add keywords, but be selective

Populate each page of your site with the keywords and phrases you've chosen. Make sure these keywords are precise, accurately reflect the page content, and fit naturally in the flow of the text. Good keyword locations include the page title, page headlines, first 150 words of content, and link titles. Use these keywords and phrases selectively, as search engines don't appreciate pages that read like keyword spam.

The text that appears in a search, called the meta title and meta description, is also a good spot for keywords. You may need to work with your website developer to revise this text.

Think local

Most prospects want to work with financial advisors in their community. That's one reason it's critical to show up in local searches, such as "Houston financial advisors."

Another is the rapid adoption of GPS-enabled smartphones, which automatically display local businesses at the top of mobile search results. Simply put, optimizing your site for local searches is a key opportunity for business development and reputation management.

Mimic your business card

Just as your business card prominently displays your name, address, email, and phone number, so should your website. Crawlers look for this information while indexing so they know which sites to display in local search results. Whether this information is in your header or footer, be sure it's consistent and prominent across your website and relevant social media accounts.

Sign up for local business listings

Many search engines offer free business listings, such as Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. In Google, signing up lands your business in the coveted "Places" directory that appears at the top of local search results. These profiles can make or break a local search for your business, so be sure your profiles are up to date and as thorough as possible.

Describe your firm

Include who you are, what you do, and where you do it prominently on your site. Your "home" or "about us" pages are typically good places for this information. In looking for relevance, crawlers will connect your location with other key pieces of info. With a simple and direct message, you can make it easy for search engines to understand your location, your niche, and your approach.

However, avoid putting the same copy on multiple pages. Search engines might demote pages with duplicate content.

Next-level SEO

Once you've tackled the low-hanging fruit, it's time to think big picture. How can you make your site more interesting and useful? At this stage, SEO overlaps perfectly with your digital marketing plan. An easy-to-navigate site with high-value content will appeal to search engines while turning prospects into clients and clients into long-term customers.

Improve the visitor experience

Although it's easy to get caught up in how your site looks, how it functions is just as important. Like users, search engines gravitate toward websites that are clear, intuitive, and easy to navigate.

Simplify navigation

Good sites have a naturally flowing hierarchy, from high-level general content to more specific content on secondary pages. Ask yourself: Can visitors find different types of content easily? Do the link titles make sense? Compare the flow of your site with that of sites (in different fields) that you enjoy visiting. Interview clients to see what they like or don't like about navigating your site. If information is hard to find or content doesn't flow logically, work with your developer to improve navigation.

Optimize for mobile

A large share of online searches are on mobile devices. Search engines increasingly take this into account, looking for sites that load fast, display properly on smartphones and tablets, and make it easy to find content. Sites with frequent pop-ups, broken links, complicated menus, or duplicate content don't rank as high. If your site isn't optimized for mobile, work with your developer to make mobile a priority for future redesigns. Take advantage of tools such as Google Search Console and PageSpeed Insights to understand how easily a visitor can use your page on a mobile device.

Submit your sitemap

After you've updated your site, ask your developer to submit a sitemap to Google. This file will tell Google and other search engines how your site is organized, making it easier for crawlers to index your site properly. If your site is logical and easy to follow, crawlers probably won't have too much trouble, but it never hurts to be thorough.

Keep your site fresh

Your site probably includes plenty of evergreen content, such as your investment philosophy, team bios, and "contact us" pages. As you get more comfortable with digital marketing, start adding fresh content that answers specific user questions. Google includes at the top of most searches a "featured snippets" section where users can see a question related to their search and then click a dropdown that includes an excerpt from a web page.

Tips for keeping content fresh:

  • Write what you know. Your expertise is what clients and prospects need. If they see your firm as a go-to place for information and insight, they're more likely to want to deepen the relationship.
  • Start small and don't fret. You can't do it all, but maintaining an active presence that communicates that real people who care are behind this firm goes a long way. Set modest goals and find ways to challenge yourself that are fun.
  • Share on social media. Once you create content, it's helpful to get it out there in as many ways as possible. Building up a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can help you establish loyal followers who look forward to your content.
  • Create a backlink network. Backlinks are links from other websites to your website. You can create backlinks by engaging with community organizations, cultivating centers of influence, and writing guest blogs. Just make sure to check with your compliance contact before entering into linking arrangements.

What to expect from your SEO efforts

SEO builds slowly over time. It could take months or even years for your efforts to make a major difference. Why? For one, search engines don't recognize changes instantly. It can take weeks or months for a search engine to re-crawl and re-index your content, and you have plenty of sites to leapfrog. Two, consider the number of financial advisors in your market. Now consider that many of them want to move up the search engine ranks as well. And three, you can't implement all these changes at once. It's going to take time to put the building blocks together.  

That's why you need to act now. The sooner you begin to harness SEO, the sooner you may see results.

What you can do next

  • Enroll in our Optimizing Your Growth Strategy: Website program to identify and act on opportunities to enhance your website.
  • Consider a custodian that invests in your success. If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, contact us to learn more about the benefits of a custodial relationship with Schwab.