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Letting your communications drift

So you finally decided to start sending out a regular email newsletter or regularly updating the blog on your website. Well done to you! The first issue of your newsletter is full of promises about your new newsletter keeping clients and other contacts informed and educated. And then the newsletter delivers this in spades! Roll on to a month or two later and the next edition is due to go out. You’re busy, it’s the middle of pensions season and the markets are in turmoil. You just about manage to cobble the newsletter together, everyone moaning about not having enough time. And then that’s it, the next edition never see the light of day…

Unfortunately this happens a little too frequently among financial advice firms. So apart from a bit of a gnawing sense of failure within your own firm, what messages does letting your communications drift say to your audience?

You don’t have an opinion

Your clients and prospective clients want to hear your opinions about current events. Whether they are about how they should (or shouldn’t!) react in the current market turmoil, your views of any changing legislation that will impact the personal finance world or indeed developments within the life and pensions market. Your opinions may reassure investors, allow you to demonstrate your expertise and show that you have your finger on the pulse.

Of course if you’re not sending out these opinions, exactly the opposite applies. And then your clients don’t know where you stand on these topics. And of course then there is the very real risk that they will find their way on to the email database of another Financial Broker who provides them with this expert opinion all of the time. Who will they want to deal with – the person with their finger on the pulse or the person without?

You’ve run out of ideas

Of course email newsletters also offer you the opportunity to educate your clients and prospects. You can remind them of the value of getting advice from a Financial Broker, set out the benefits of having a risk appropriate investment portfolio, remind them of the importance of having the right income protection plan in place and how to ensure that their legacy on death is not a worrying tax burden for their loved ones.

But then when you stop, have you demonstrated all that you know, that you’ve shown the breadth of your knowledge? So what about the topics that are worrying your clients that you haven’t covered? You don’t want them thinking that maybe you just don’t have knowledge in that particular area…

At the end of the day, your clients can be a rich source of content ideas. Ask them for topics that they would like covered and then write about them!

You just don’t care

Of course this is the real worry… that your clients will think that you simply have lost interest and don’t really care about your marketing and your business. That you have simply slowed down a bit and are coasting…Of course this will set off alarm bells in their heads about your approach to your wider business, your clients and their personal financial affairs. Are you just punching in time there too?

At best, your clients might just see all of this as a bit unprofessional – starting a marketing initiative that you’re unable to continue. Is this how you want them to view your business?

StepChange provides content to Financial Brokers who don’t have time to write it themselves and a newsletter service to manage the whole process of sending out regular fully personalised and branded communications to your clients. And we’ll deliver these on time, every time!

Bowl your Clients over with your Content!

One of the main marketing challenges faced by many of the financial advice businesses that I meet, is around the production of good quality content that will really help them engage their clients. Here are a few thoughts to help you overcome this challenge.

Be Organised & Committed

The secret ingredient! We’ve all faced that looming deadline for “my turn” to produce that article we’d promised to go into a newsletter or as an update on the website. It’s tough when you’ve no idea what you’re going to write about! The good news is that you’re not alone, this is the single biggest challenge faced by everyone tasked with writing content.

To avoid this, set up a “Content Calendar” for the year. Get all the potential contributors into a room for an hour or so and brainstorm loads of article topics. As potential subject areas come to mind, drop them into the calendar with a few bullet points of what the article might cover.

What will this achieve? First of all, it gets you started each month – you know what you’re going to be writing about. Secondly and as important, as new ideas come along over the year, they get inserted ahead of other articles that mightn’t be as strong. So now you’re driving up the quality of your topics. You’ll actually find after a while that you’ve too much content and now can actually start being selective about what you write. Hard to believe but it happens, every time you have a Content Calendar.

And once you start, stay committed to the process. Don’t stop now!

Be Relevant

Your audience are far more likely to engage with your content if it is relevant to them. So as you develop out your content topics, spend some time thinking about them from your audience’s perspective. The latest developments in investment software or some obscure technical point about pensions might be of interest to you. But your clients probably won’t give a hoot!

They want to know about topics that will impact their lives, so put yourself in their shoes and develop your content with them in mind. Of course you need to know who your audience is before you can do this. Are they business owners, professionals or are you focused on personal protection etc. for families? If you have very diverse audiences, you might need to target specific content at specific people. All pretty straightforward to do with the wonders of modern technology!

Be an Educator, not a Salesman

Your audience will switch off if you spend your time pushing sales messages at them. At the end of the day, they will see your content as simply an ongoing sales campaign and will disengage.  Add value by writing about financial issues or challenges that affect them in their lives, in which you can exhibit your expertise. Aim to be seen as an expert, an educator, someone with valuable insights that will help your clients, rather than a salesperson.

To make this easier for yourself, write about topics you know. This means that you won’t have to spend loads of time researching topics, and this familiarity with the subject will help you write better content too!

You see the world of marketing has changed. Rather than trying to constantly interrupt people with messages to sell, sell, sell; successful advice businesses are establishing themselves as thought leaders, as educators and as experts. So then when potential clients at their own time of choosing have a financial need, they will naturally gravitate towards these advice firms that they already see as valuable.

Be Alert

Great topics to write about will emerge from a range of sources. Presentations you attend, conversations you have, comments from other clients. Once your antenna is up, you’ll start to identify nuggets from what other people say – their challenges, their areas of interest, the issues they want to read about. So write about these!

Also when reading a newspaper or surfing the web, you’ll come across loads of topics of potential interest to your audience. Put your own spin on these topics and write about them too.

Be Brief

Be expert but also be brief. The purpose of your content is to engage your audience, not to demonstrate that you know every intimate detail of a topic. Typically an article of 750 to 1,000 words can be read (and written!) quickly and will perform well in search results. If you only have 500 (good) words though, go with that – don’t pad it out to get to 750 words.

Make your content easy to read too. Use headings and/or bullet points to make it easier for the reader. If the topic is just not capable of being explained in anything close to 1,000 words, break it out into a series of articles. And now the challenge next month has just got easier…

Be Found

What has this got to do with Content? Well, one of the key drivers of strong performance in Google search results is original, good quality content. While this might not have been a driver behind your efforts to produce a regular stream of good content, it’s a very valuable bonus!

At the end of the day, I reckon the initial thought of producing a lot of content is far more daunting than the reality! I hope these thoughts help you with your challenge.






image courtesy of Flickr / Mohammad ALNajdi

How does a Financial Broker rank higher on Google searches?

Many financial brokers see an effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy as the Holy Grail. Consumers search for a financial broker. You appear at the top of the Google search results. The consumer clicks on your website, likes what they see and picks up the phone to you. Oh, if life was only that simple!

The first point you need to realise with SEO is that you are actually pitching the quality of your website to Google rather than the consumers. At the end of the day, Google’s success as a search engine is dependent on them delivering the best results for the search term that is input. If you search for a product or service and the results don’t deliver what you’re looking for, eventually you’ll start to use a different search engine. So Google constantly move the goalposts, by developing new algorithms to ensure the most relevant results are delivered.

Long gone are the days where you simply loaded your pages with the keywords that you wanted to be associated with (pensions, investments, protection etc.). In fact in the early days of search your content didn’t need to make any sense, it just needed to feature the keywords lots of times. These day are thankfully long gone!

So how do you climb the Google rankings today?

 

Set your pages up correctly

This is not the be all and end all any more, but still important. You need to ensure that as pages are added to your website, that they are structured properly. This is usually made easy now by in-built SEO packages but some of the main features to ensure are

  • Your URLs (web page addresses) must be relevant
  • You must use the correct Headings structure
  • You need to give the page a relevant title and description for search results

 

It’s all about content

Content is the juice behind an effective SEO strategy. Original, relevant, fresh content regularly published through a blog / news section on your website is central to successful SEO. Remember that Google want to point searchers to the most relevant websites. Relevancy is achieved by demonstrating expertise and authority in the keyword area, on an ongoing basis through the production of a consistent stream of quality content. Establish yourself as a voice to be listened to and a thought leader in the keyword area, and Google will reward you by lifting you up the search rankings!

 

Social media activity is key

Once you produce great content, the next step is to get it out in front of as many eyes as possible. So lead people to your content, using all the routes available to you. These are primarily via email marketing and also via your social media channels.

Google reward you for this when your network then endorse your content by “liking” it, commenting or better still, by sharing the content with their own network. Google are paying increasing heed to content being shared by 3rd parties, as they view this as an endorsement of the quality and authority of the content.

 

Don’t ignore Google+

Most people don’t want to hear this as the last thing they want is yet another social media channel to manage. However Google+ is not going away, it is slowly but surely gaining in relevance as a channel. One of the main reasons for this is the weight that Google gives to activity on Google+. Sharing content on Google+ and gaining endorsement from a wide number of followers will really help your performance in search results.

 

Establish your Google+ Authorship

Google have introduced a new feature on Google+ called Authorship. It enables you to establish yourself as the confirmed author of your content. To do this, I reckon the best way for most financial advisers is to talk to their web developer who will be able to set this up for you.

The benefits of actually doing it are twofold. First of all, it helps your performance in search results as it is another positive indicator of your credibility as a relevant voice and secondly, it improves how your search results are displayed. Rather than a simple results line, it will display your photo and name too. This in turn may well help your chances of your link being clicked – compare the difference in the 2 links below.

Search results

 

So, as you can see, improving your ranking in search results is no longer simply about stuffing your content with keywords. Google is full of smart people and we also need to be smart to gain their approval!

I hope some of these points help you in improving your search results. If you’ve any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them below.

Why updating your website blog is worth the effort

A frequent question I’m asked by financial brokers when they are updating their website is; “Do I really need a blog section?” They know what lies ahead of them… the pressure to regularly post new content fills them with dread!

Well first of all, it shouldn’t! It’s not as difficult as it seems, once you are organised! But that is a topic for another day – the purpose of this piece is to set out why it is actually worth the effort.

 

Fresh content is key for SEO

Google keep changing the rules in relation to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and for a very good reason. They want to ensure that their search engine stays well ahead of their competition and to achieve this, they need to ensure that the most relevant results are displayed when a user searches for something.

There is a whole load of factors that make websites relevant, and as a result these sites appear high up in the search results. These factors include (among a number of other factors) the likes of;

  • The structure of the web pages, titles, names etc.
  • Links to the site
  • The amount and recency of content on a website
  • The external references to the content – what others are saying about it.

The last two points are the relevant ones for us here. Posting fresh content to your website is key and the easiest place to do this is through your blog as there are any number of topics that you can write about. Once you write the content, then the aim is to share it with the world via social media and hopefully get people commenting on it – all of this will help your SEO efforts.

 

It helps your own knowledge

This might sound a bit strange but bear with me… Committing to completing a blog (say once a month even) is a challenge. You have to identify topics and then write about them. To do so, you’ll often look for ideas, inspiration or new angles and you’ll do this by researching the topic on the web. This inevitably opens you up to reading new content and gaining a deeper understanding of the topics.

This is a huge benefit of regular writing. If you are regularly researching, you start to find really useful reference points that help to keep your knowledge bang up to date in relation to your areas of expertise.

 

It gives you a voice

Completing your blog gives you an outlet to demonstrate your expertise to the world! It gives you an opportunity to identify a topic of potential interest to your audience, write knowledgeably about it, post it to your blog and then share it out through your various channels (email, newsletters, social media).

While the chances are that at that very point in time, your audience may have no immediate requirement for the product or area of expertise in question (even though this does happen sometimes!), what you’re trying to do is to plant a seed so that when the topic comes on their radar, you become a natural choice for advice on the matter. In any event, regularly posting and sharing content keeps you on your clients and prospects’ radars in relation to all financial advice matters. And let’s face it, that’s a challenge for all financial advisers today – how to provide ongoing value and justify ongoing remuneration. Well this is one part of doing that.

 

It helps you identify “hot topics”

Regular updates to your company blog help you here in two ways. First of all, also as a result of your research before writing, you’ll begin to identify emerging themes about which you can begin to lead your audience.

Secondly as you post content to your site, your website analytics give you some tremendous insights into the particular subjects of interest. You can zero in on the types of topics that are driving traffic, where this traffic is coming from and how engaged reader are by the subjects. You start to get a sense of what your audiences want to hear about from you and this of course should then find it’s way through to your client proposition.

 

It demonstrates that you’re up to date

As potential clients research financial adviser websites, one of the biggest turn-offs is out of date content and websites that are obviously not kept up to date. What does this say about the adviser? Are they up to date in their knowledge? Will their service reflect the lack of care taken with the website?

On the other hand, a consistently updated blog demonstrates the opposite. It shows you have an opinion, the latest knowledge and your finger on the pulse. They’re more likely to pick up the phone to you!

So make it a goal in 2014 to keep your blog updated. It will pay dividends in many ways!