This is the first in a series of articles from Jon Pittham, Managing Director at ClientsFirst, aimed at enhancing your brand’s online presence. This month Jon looks at search engine optimisation and how you can use it to build a strong online foundation for your financial planning business.
SEO has been around for a good few years but the uptake within the professional services sector has been quite low. Many firms still treat their website as an after-thought, more like an online leaflet briefly describing their services and contact details, rather than being a fancy shop window that could entice prospective customers.
The tide, however, is shifting. More and more professional service providers are jumping online and creating buyer journeys that begin with a Google search. And it’s a smart investment, as attitudes have already shifted online in so many other areas… how many of us make purchases on Amazon after all?
Many firms still treat their website as an after-thought, more like an online leaflet briefly describing their services and contact details, rather than being a fancy shop window that could entice prospective customers
Having an online presence meets the demands of the modern buyer on two fronts. The first is that prospective customers will want to gather as much information on you as possible as part of their due diligence process, to ensure that your business will answer their problem. The second is that people will self-educate on a topic before picking up the phone to a service provider, this helps them stay informed throughout the sales process.
Knowing that your prospective customers are researching who you are, and what you do, before making first contact, is the perfect starting point to increasing your website’s online presence. The tools you’ll need fall under the acronym ‘SEO’, or Search Engine Optimisation.
To SEO or not to SEO
People who work in niches, like many in professional services, think that SEO is for big companies competing for big exposure. But it works at a local level too, and in any number of specialisms.
SEO is, fundamentally, the continual improvement of your website to enhance your ‘organic search’. It’s a long game that takes time, some effort, and is not a science. There’s no magic formula, but there are three guidelines that every website owner should know:
- Content: What information are you putting on your website? Is the content of a very high quality? Are people search for the content you are writing?
- Code: Can search engines find your content easily? Do you web pages load at a decent speed?
- Credibility: Can search engines trust your content?
These three Cs of SEO are the foundations for any good website promoting services online. But what can you actually do to influence how search engines perceive you, and thus reward you with greater online brand visibility?
Winning the SEO game
There’s no magic formula. The trick is to continually create and publish engaging educational information that takes the shape of blogs, white papers, features, ebooks, downloadable content, case studies, webinars, videos, podcasts and anything else that people will find useful.
Each and every type of content should have the reader in mind. What is your buyer persona? You may have two or three personas, and these are the people you are writing for.
Winning at SEO for every topic is impossible, it’s best to choose a niche, and specialise
Being in professional services, where you might often meet clients face-to-face, presents a huge advantage as you can easily ask your clients what kind of content they engage with.
Winning at SEO for every topic is impossible, it’s best to choose a niche, and specialise. Once you’ve built a solid foundation, you can then move into the next area of expertise and grow your knowledge base.
Where to start?
This is where a team of marketers, SEOs and specialist writers comes in handy, either in-house or outsourced. You need to start with keyword research. This will tell you the amount of search volume behind specific industry phrases that you want to rank for.
As a quick win, you could write a blog post based on this research. For instance, the keyword ‘financial advice’ is searched for almost 2,000 times a month (source: Moz), but with such a broad topic you’re likely to face huge opposition. On the other hand. ‘Do I need a financial adviser for my pension’ is searched 500 times a month (source: Moz), there will be less competition, you’re more likely to rank for that term, and potentially convert readers who land one your website.
Once you’ve written one article, you’ll need a second, then a third and so on. Regular content increases the likelihood that Google will trawl your site, and if the technical side of your site conforms to the search engine’s rules and guidelines, then you’re more likely to gain rankings over time.
Finally, writing short content (under 200 words) will get you nowhere. Aim to produce 500 words as a minimum, anything over is a bonus. 2019 is seeing a dramatic rise in popularity for ‘pillar pages’, these long specialist articles can reach over 2,000 words. We’ve even got the odd pillar page in the pipeline that is over 6,000 words! These monster editorials cover absolutely everything there is to know about a particular specialist subject. This delivers value to the reader as they can remain on that single page to get all the information they need.
What you’ll appreciate is that SEO is measurable. So the more effort you and your team puts into creating awesome content, the more you’ll see the numbers shift in your direction. As we said, SEO is not a science, so we can’t predict what the digital landscape will look like in the next few years. But with the right amount of hard work, your SEO optimised website, and brand, will gain online visibility, drive traffic, and deliver measurable ROI.
About Jon Pittham
Jon founded ClientsFirst in 2010, having previously worked in both plc and SMEs. Having started in what he describes as a ‘broom cupboard’, Jon has grown ClientsFirst from the ground up and continues to take an active role in both our own marketing and that of our clients, as well as setting the strategic direction of the business.
Jon’s most difficult ‘management’ task away from the o‑ ice is keeping three young offspring busy but, when he’s not doing this or anything related to ClientsFirst, he heads out into the great outdoors, with tennis, golf and running the occasional half-marathon amongst his hobbies.