How to improve your website ranking in search results
How to improve your website ranking in search results
Your site can drive new growth, but only if prospects can find you on Google. Learn how to make your site more search engine friendly—and more useful to clients—with these SEO best practices.
Your firm has worked hard to build a digital presence, creating exciting new opportunities to deepen client relationships and build awareness and credibility with prospects. But making a good impression online requires more than a quality website. To successfully drive business growth and attract new leads, your website needs to be easy to find online. And that starts with being search engine friendly.
The higher you rank on Google and other search engines, the more people will visit your site when searching for "financial advisor" or related terms. How critical is a high ranking? Studies show that 75% of Internet users never scroll past the first page of search results. This urgency is magnified in local searches, where you're in direct competition with other advisors in your area.
Use this guide to help you:
- Grasp the basics of SEO today
- Find out what you can start implementing right away
- Preview more sophisticated techniques
- Learn what to expect from your SEO efforts
Acquiring this prime real estate requires either purchasing ads on search engines or tapping into search engine optimization (SEO), a catchall term for how you improve search engine rankings and drive traffic to your website. In this article, we'll focus on SEO, which covers everything from generating great content for your clients to adding the right keywords to creating accurate page titles.
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. Here are some of the most effective ways to boost your search engine rankings, from low-hanging fruit to more advanced practices.
Getting to know SEO
In the early days, SEO was mostly a keyword game. Search engines scoured websites, looking for words that matched common search terms. But search engines have grown more sophisticated over time. Keywords are still important, but today's search engines prioritize fresh, high-quality content. In Google's own words, "Make your site interesting and useful. Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any other factor."
Learn to speak SEOBacklink: An incoming link from a webpage to another page.
Crawler: A program that travels the web, reads individual web pages, and gathers data for indexing.
Index: A database of web pages and their respective content.
Keyword: A word or phrase that users enter into a search engine.
Search engine: A program that searches the web for relevant keyword matches and lists the top results.
Under the hood, search engines scour the web using automated "crawlers" to find sites and pages that are relevant to a searcher's query ("Find an RIA," for example). Then they index the sites, in essence creating a huge card catalog. Finally, they rank the indexed sites according to popularity and serve them up. Search engines assume that the more often a page is cited (based on how often it's linked), the more valuable the information is inside.
Crawlers look for many of the same things we do in a site, such as:
- Simple navigation
- Well-organized webpages
- Clear communication
- Easy-to-follow, conversational tone
- Accurate and useful information
Like us, search engines don't want to waste time on a site that's poorly organized or confusing. Your task is to make sure your site is neither.
Things are different here
Financial services websites operate in a different space than other business websites. You're not competing for customer reviews on Yelp; you're supporting your referral-based business with content that builds trust and credibility in the eyes of your ideal prospects and clients. When getting started with SEO, always put the needs of your audience first. Providing useful content, tools, and resources will help you meet your primary goal of converting referrals as you create a site that search engines find useful.
SEO starters: Tackling the low-hanging fruit
Creating a site with fresh, compelling content that's useful to clients is the ultimate recipe for search engine success, but it takes time to execute a content strategy. Fortunately, you can implement several tips in the short term to strengthen your website's position in a Google search. As you grow more comfortable with SEO, you can build on this foundation by using more advanced strategies.
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 people commonly 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.
Basic keywords for advisors
- Financial advisor
- Independent advisor
- Registered investment advisor
- Financial advice
- Financial planning
- Personalized financial advice
- Investment goals
- Financial goals
- Wealth management
1. Start by researching keywords for your industry
Search engines aren't fans of "keyword stuffing"—i.e., adding lots of tangentially related keywords to manipulate search engines. Instead, consider your specific expertise and the search terms your ideal clients are likely to use.
One option is to ask clients which search terms they'd use to find you. Another 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 as you type and which of your competitors' sites show up on the first page. This will give you a sense for common search terms and keywords in your area.
2. 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 other site using the exact same keywords—and likely ranking lower on search engines 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.
3. 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.
4. Work with your developer on page titles and descriptions
Page titles appear at the top of your browser tab and as the titles of search results. Page descriptions, also known as meta descriptions, appear underneath the page titles on search results and describe what's on the page. Together, they play a critical role in page rankings and user click rates. Choose titles and descriptions that read naturally and authentically reflect the page content so that search engines know precisely who you are and what you do. Page titles and descriptions are in your site's HTML code, so you may need to work with your developer to update them.
For homepage titles, include the business name and city, plus a descriptive tagline, if you have one, so that you serve local search inquiries.
For interior page titles, describe the page content while including the business name.
Page descriptions are normally one to two sentences. They should accurately describe the page content and inspire people to click the link. Good page descriptions are actively written, action oriented, and unique.
"Financial planning is considered a local service by Google, so focusing on local search is a prime opportunity for advisors. If you're just getting into SEO, this is a great place to start."
—Adrienne Foote, Managing Director of SEO Management, Charles Schwab
Most prospects want to work with financial advisors in their communities so they can build trusted, face-to-face relationships. 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.
5. Mimic your business card
Just as your business card prominently displays your name, address, email, and phone number, so should your site. 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 site and relevant social media accounts. Make sure it's on your site as text copy, because crawlers won't see your location if it's locked in with your firm's graphic logo.
6. Sign up for local business listings
Many search engines offer free business listings, such as Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. 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 make sure your profiles are up to date and as thorough as possible.
7. Explain yourself in your site copy
Include who you are, what you do, and where you do it prominently on your site, such as on your homepage, offerings page, and About Us page. 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. Avoid putting the same copy on multiple pages, however, because search engines sometimes demote pages with duplicate content.
Ready to take SEO to the next level?
Once you've tackled the low-hanging fruit, it's time to think big picture for your SEO strategy. 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. Just like users, search engines gravitate toward websites that are clear, intuitive, and easy to navigate. Plan accordingly so search engines can gather data as quickly and cleanly as possible.
8. Simplify navigation
Good sites have a naturally flowing hierarchy, from high-level general content to more specific content. Take the time to evaluate the "experience" of your site to make sure it's as client friendly as possible. Can you 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 your site. If information is hard to find on your site or content doesn't flow logically, work with your developer to improve navigation for future updates. With navigation, simple is always better.
9. Optimize your site for mobile
Nearly 60% of all 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.
10. 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 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 such as a blog or an "industry updates" section. Search engines are looking for content that answers specific user questions, so even small updates that address common client concerns can help you climb the search engine ranks.
11. Write what you know
You know how markets work, you know what your clients care about, and you have a ton of valuable knowledge to share. Look for opportunities to share this knowledge on your site. Add actionable info that people can use, with titles that clearly explain the contents within. A blog post titled "10 Essential Retirement Tips for Young Entrepreneurs" showcases your expertise and broadens your appeal to both prospects and search engines.
12. Start small, and don't fret
As a busy advisor, you may not have the resources to write monthly blog posts. Start modestly by setting an attainable goal for content updates, such as adding fresh content for the year-end and tax season and perhaps something lighter for the beginning of summer. As you reach your goal and grow more confident in your digital marketing strategy, you can update content more frequently.
13. Share content on social
Backlinks—incoming links to your site from other sites—represent votes of confidence for search engines. In a search engine's eyes, your content must be useful if other people are linking to it. Share and promote your content on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. This not only creates backlinks from your social accounts but also distributes your content to a wider potential audience, who have their own linking power.
14. Create a backlink network
Look for other ways to generate backlinks. Ask local partners, such as the local chamber of commerce, tax specialists, or investment trade associations, to link to your site. Offer to reciprocate so that both organizations benefit. A strong backlink network can improve your site's popularity and strengthen your centers of influence. Make sure to consult with your compliance team before entering into linking arrangements, however.
What to expect from your SEO efforts
We live in a world of instant gratification, but there's no instant gratification with SEO. In fact, SEO strategies can require months or even years to make a noticeable impact. Why? For one, search engines don't recognize changes instantly. It takes a while to crawl and re-index 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 tips at once. You need time for your strategies to coalesce.
That's why you need to act now. The sooner you begin to harness SEO, the faster you'll see results. The longer you wait, the further behind the curve you'll be.
As with every other business-building activity, perseverance matters. Take the time to learn how SEO works, set goals, and follow through. Commit to working on SEO for a set period each week, or assign the task to a developer, staffer, or third-party agency. Monitor your site's analytics to understand where new site traffic is coming from. If you're not seeing results within the first several months, reevaluate your keyword and content strategy.
Most importantly, always put yourself in your prospects' or clients' shoes. What do they want out of my website, and how can I give it to them? If you tackle these questions successfully, you'll not only become a trusted resource within the financial services community, but you'll grow your business online in exciting new ways.
Start here! Three things you can do right away.
1. Research keywords for your firm, including keywords that describe the differentiated services you provide. Brainstorm internally, use online tools like Google Keyword Planner or Moz Keyword Explorer, ask clients the search terms they'd use to find you, or see what comes up in Google for unique financial services–related keyword combos.
2. Sign up for local business listings on Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. Signing up lands your business in the coveted "Places" directory that appears at the top of local search results.
3. Work with your developer on page titles and descriptions for each page of your site. Choose titles and descriptions that read naturally, authentically reflect the page content, and are action oriented.
Amplify your SEO strategies with the following tools and resources:
- Google Analytics: Monitor your site's traffic to understand what's working and what isn't.
- Google Webmasters Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools: Track your site's search performance and get other insights into your site.
- Google Keyword Planner and Moz Keyword Explorer: Research keyword trends in your industry.
- Moz SEO Learning Center: Learn everything from SEO basics to advanced tactics.
- Bing SEO Analyzer: See if your pages are following SEO best practices.
- Google SEO Starter Guide: Learn how Google approaches SEO.
We hope these tips inspire you to use your website to drive new business growth. Check out, too, the powerful ad campaign we built to help investors understand the benefit of independent advice. Its website offers a directory listing to help investors find firms near them.
If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, consider a custodian that invests in your success. Contact us to learn more about the benefits of a custodial relationship with Schwab.