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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!

What can Google Analytics tell Financial Advisers?

Online marketing tools have changed the game in relation to marketing by financial advisers. These tools offer a number of benefits; immediacy, better targeting, cost effectiveness and fantastic insights through the analytics available.

 

Most advisers are pretty clear about these advantages, however many still run online marketing campaigns without really leveraging the power of the analytics available. Now there’s no doubt that Google Analytics is a bit of a monster, there’s a huge amount of data available, to the point of it being a bit overwhelming! So here are some of the most useful measures available to you, to help you really maximise the potential of your online campaigns.

 

Some basic trends

The following measures can give you a good sense overall as to whether recent marketing activities are working or not, when you look at the trends over the period of the campaign and compare them to previous periods.

 

  • Number of visits: This gives you a good sense of whether your activities are increasing traffic to the site or not. The number of page views is another measure of this.
  • Number of visitors: Are your activities driving lots of visitors, or are the same people tending to return on multiple occasions.
  • New v Returning Visitors: Are you attracting high numbers of new visitors to your site for the first time, or are you mainly only attracting existing users back? This might suggest your marketing efforts are not reaching new audiences and need to be reviewed.
  • Pages per visit: Once people are landing on your site, are they having a good poke around (as you want them to do), or are they leaving quickly?
  • Time spent on site: Similar to the last one – is your content actually engaging the user to spend time reading the content or are they leaving quickly?
  • Bounce Rate: The big baddie… are people leaving the site from the page they entered without bothering to check out any other content?
  • Number of views on devices: This is becoming more and more important. Where are people viewing your website and as the number of views increase on phones and tablets, how does you site appear on these devices?

 

Once you get a handle on these, you’ll start to get a sense of whether your efforts are moving in the right direction or not. And then you can start to get into some really useful analytics…

 

Where visitors are coming from

The acquisition section gives you great insights into the sources of your traffic. Are most people arriving directly by typing in your URL, is your website address memorable? Or are they searching for your site in Google and if so, what keywords are they searching for to end up on your site? Once you know the keywords that people are searching, you can make sure that they are included in your website content and in any blogs that you write.

 

If your traffic is coming from social media, you can drill down and see which channels are delivering traffic. Is it the post that you are sharing on LinkedIn or is it your Twitter feed that’s driving your traffic?

 

And then when they get there…

The Behaviour section in your analytics gives you great insights into what people are actually doing when they land on your site. Apart from some of the trends mentioned earlier, there are other really useful insights to be gained in this section.

 

You can identify which pages people are entering your site on. This will help you analyse the traction your blog posts are achieving (or not). You can also see which are the most frequently viewed pages; this will give you a sense of the areas of main interest to the readers. Of course when you then overlay the time spent on each page and from where people are exiting the site, you start to get a real sense of where content is strong and where it is weak. You can then ensure that you have crystal clear “Calls to Action” on these high performing pages, giving you the best chance of turning these readers into enquirers and hopefully customers!

 

You can then run the reports across multiple dimensions for some really useful insights – find out where your traffic is coming from and also where it is landing. This might demonstrate the success of your blog for example, and the channels through which people are finding your content.

 

You can also set goals for your site – for example how many people are signing up for your newsletter or are downloading your brochure, and keep track of your progress against these goals.

 

Check out the spikes

The spikes in activity, either in visitor numbers or page views can be very revealing. When you dig into these, you will usually find that a marketing activity or other event is behind these spikes. This can give you really useful direction for future marketing activities – a campaign that you are thinking of running, where to attract future traffic to the site or the type of content to be writing. At a minimum, it may well give you some confidence that your existing approach is the correct one!

 

These are just some of the insights that can be gained from Google Analytics. I’d suggest you go in and poke around; you’ll be amazed at the valuable information that can be gained!

 

Are there any other particular analytics that you find useful? If so, let us know through the comments below.

4 Apps to help Financial Advisers deliver Great Content

Financial Advisers often ask about the challenge of coming up with a constant stream of content for blogs, newsletters and other online activities. They often ask me about how to come up with topics to write about, to find good content on the web to share and then how to manage all this content effectively.

So to help you with this challenge, here are just 4 apps that I use, that help me hugely in developing a constant stream of content for my own activities. At the end of the day, I think that being organised is such a huge element of successfully addressing this challenge. The other good thing about these Apps is that they are available online, as an App on your PC or Mac, on your tablet and on your phone. As a result they are always with you and they stay synced across all of your platforms, so as you update a note in your phone for instance, it then carries across automatically to every device.

In terms of coming up with topics of original content to write, you need to keep your eyes and ears wide open, all of the time. As you have conversations, attend presentations, read material etc., you need to constantly be thinking, “Is there anything in this that I can write an interesting short article about?” or “Is there anything in this topic that I can write an alternative angle / opinion about?” And once there is, this is where the first App comes in.

 

Evernote

This is a great app for capturing ideas, thoughts, notes etc. You can type notes into Evernote, copy in web addresses, copy webpages, attach documents & presentations and even record audio files. This is particularly useful if you have a load of thoughts in your head and just want to capture them – record them as an audio file and tidy it all up later…

I use Evernote all the time for a whole range of reasons now, apart from this content challenge. You can set up different notebooks within it for personal use as well as business use and you can attach tags to every note to keep any related articles together. The days of forgetting great ideas are behind you if you get into the habit of using Evernote.

 

Slideshare

This is a great source of ideas and of little pieces of “colour” for articles. It is basically an online presentation forum, where users upload copies of their presentations. There are now over 10 million presentations uploaded on Slideshare so there is no lack of ideas there… So if you have the germ of an idea, it is a great place to get some different thoughts about a topic for you to develop out some alternative perspectives in your article.

Also, the content is free to use. The content is shared on Slideshare for the use of everyone, so help yourself if you want to reuse or remix some of the slides on it.

The next 2 apps are the two that I use to sift through a potentially vast amount of content, in order to find articles that I think are relevant and interesting to my target audience (in my case financial advisers). The aim here is to become a trusted source of useful content, helping my audience with sales, marketing and strategy challenges by sharing good articles, and saving them the bother of having to go searching for these articles themselves.

 

Feedly

Have you seen the little orange buttons on web pages with 3 little white lines in them? These are RSS (Really Simple Syndication) buttons, which enable you to have content sent to you as it is uploaded on the web – this might be from a blog, a news feed etc. However (thankfully) you’re not sent an email every time something is uploaded. Instead it is sent to a reader, which gathers all of these articles in one place. Think of a reader as an enormous in-tray or magazine rack for online articles, waiting for you to go through them. Sounds a bit daunting I know…

Except when using a reader (my favourite is Feedly) you can flick down through hundreds of articles in minutes, reading only the headlines if you want, dipping into an introduction if your interest is piqued or indeed the full article if you think it is actually worth reading. And you can mark them all as “Read” very easily as you go along, ensuring those particular articles don’t appear again. You can categorise the different feeds into groups, which can further help you speed up the process too. The benefit of Feedly is the time it saves you in getting through huge numbers of articles.

 

Pocket

If Feedly is your magazine rack, Pocket is your scrap book of articles that you have “cut out”. As you quickly scan through all of your articles in Feedly, some will catch your attention for you to read later when you’ve a bit more time on your hands. So with 2 clicks, you put them in your Pocket! Again you can tag articles for different purposes – it might be to share out later, to rewrite with your own perspectives, to help you develop a new angle for your proposition etc.

You can then go back into Pocket when you want to carry out an activity (for example share some content through LinkedIn), and simply click on the article that you’ve saved for that very purpose.

These 4 Apps are simply invaluable to me. Without them, I’d struggle for a constant stream of content, would forget ideas I have and would never find again great content that I’ve found on the web to share or write about.

With the help of these Apps, my challenge is having a few too many ideas and being in the fortunate position of trying to decide the better ones to use. This is a result of organisation, not creativity!

Are there other good apps out there that you are using to address your content challenge?

LinkedIn for Financial Advisers – Part 3: Driving your Business Forwards

This is the third of 3 articles about LinkedIn, and in this one we examine how you get LinkedIn actually working for you to help drive your business forwards.

In the first article we looked at how you build up an excellent profile, to position yourself to get LinkedIn working for you. In the second, we looked at how you expand your network to build audiences to allow you leverage the real power of LinkedIn. Now we look at how you actually use the platform.

 

Don’t Sell!

The key to using LinkedIn successfully is to realise that it is not a tool for selling. If you sell, you lose! Instead LinkedIn is all about building engagement… and this engagement in turn helps you build stronger relationships, establishing you as a valued expert, which in turn can lead to significant sales opportunities.

You see, as you build influence, you actually don’t need to sell. By positioning yourself as an expert and making people aware of the breadth of your services and the quality of your opinion, your audience will automatically gravitate towards you when they have a need in your space.

 

Add Value

To build engagement, you must add value. The value that you can add is through influencing your network, through the provision of expert, valuable content. By becoming the spokesperson in your network about all topics relating to financial planning, advice and personal financial services. By becoming the go-to person when your network has any query in relation to your areas of expertise.

 

Is that it? It’s all about content?

Well actually no, there are more opportunities than that. But content does sit at the heart of adding value through LinkedIn. There are really two types of content that you need to consider and both are equally required.

First of all there is original content. This is content that you write yourself. Like this article, you might not be the first person to write about a topic, but crucially you are putting your own spin on the subject and trying to make it relevant for your particular network. As a financial adviser, you could consider writing about market changes, developments in the investment world, helping your network to make sense of legislation changes that will affect their personal finances. You can help them improve their business, solve a problem or it may be as simple as helping them improve their personal financial habits! There are endless subjects to write about. You only need to write short articles, maybe 700 – 1000 words, house the articles on your website and then share the articles out via LinkedIn.

The second type of content is curated content.  This is content that you come across on the web, written obviously by someone else that you believe your network would be interested in reading. Sharing this content can make you a valuable conduit within your network, educating them, providing them with useful information, further establishing your position of value and positioning you as the person to talk to when they have a query or issue in the financial services space.

However a word of caution; I suggest you can’t have one without the other. There are many users of LinkedIn who only share curated content and never write anything themselves. While this is obviously better than nothing, their connections will wonder – what do these people actually think themselves, are they an expert or are they only good at spotting other expert writing? As a result, while their intentions are good, these people will struggle to build up a position of influence, as they are not really putting their own heads above the parapet at all…

 

It’s about more than content

Beyond sharing content, LinkedIn offers you lots of opportunities to engage your network and further build your role as an expert voice. There are a number of ways of increasing your visibility, while also adding value;

  • Comment on your network’s updates: When you see an update posted by member of your network that was particularly interesting or useful, leave a comment! So many people just don’t bother and miss a great opportunity. In the same vein, if you disagree vehemently with an update, don’t be afraid to leave a comment. Once you leave it respectfully, you are further positioning yourself as a person of opinion and your views worthy of consideration.
  • Introduce people within your network: An example – someone in your network is looking for a marketing specialist. Introduce them to me! I will be forever in your debt and will make sure I return the favour many times over. And the same will apply to others. These are referrals you provide without being sought, and will earn you significant engagement with people in your network.
  • Be visible in groups: There are approx. 1.8 million groups now on LinkedIn with over 4,000 of these in Ireland alone. Surely there is an opportunity in there for you to become an influencer?  Find a group that potentially will be fertile ground for you to build connections (and in time new clients) and then start participating in the group. Post content, comment on discussions, ask questions. Be an active participant.

 

These are some of the ways that you can use LinkedIn to build influence, create engagement, build stronger relationships and ultimately help ease your path to sales. LinkedIn offers huge opportunities for financial advisers, and more and more of you are demonstrating your commitment to this platform every day.  Consumers at the end of the day don’t want to be sold to all of the time and LinkedIn offers you that chance to build a relationship with them, with a view to developing sales opportunities in the future. Oh and don’t forget, it is free – all it costs is some of your time.

If you have any comments about this article or indeed the earlier articles about LinkedIn, please leave them below.

LinkedIn for Financial Advisers – Part 2: Building up a valuable network

 

In this second of three in-depth articles about LinkedIn, we take a look at best practices in building a strong connection base and set out some tips for financial advisers to develop a valuable network. This is a really important step in actually using LinkedIn to deliver value, the subject of the final instalment coming up in a few weeks time!

 

LinkedIn will help you!

To start building up your network, take all the help that is available. The bigger and better our LinkedIn networks become, the more we will use it as a platform and the more valuable LinkedIn as a company will become. So LinkedIn help you broaden your network in a number of ways.

First of all, you can download your email contacts into LinkedIn. This is very straightforward if you use Gmail, it can be a bit trickier to download directly from Outlook. An alternative is to download your contacts from Outlook into a .csv (excel) file and then upload this into LinkedIn which will then identify which of your email contacts have LinkedIn profiles. This saves you going searching for each of them individually. You then have the option of inviting each of these email contacts to join your LinkedIn network.

LinkedIn will also identify from your profile your school, college and previous employers. Using this, it will suggest alumni and ex-colleagues that you can consider connecting with.

On an ongoing basis, LinkedIn will examine your connections and your 2nd & 3rd level connections and will suggest people for you to connect with. This is extremely useful, in fact many people express to me how impressed they are by the intuition of this feature! This is on your homepage and well worth checking out regularly.

 

Think what you’re trying to achieve!

At this stage, start thinking about why you are going to all of this trouble. At the end of the day, you want to build up a valuable network of connections that ultimately may be helpful to one or both of you in a business context. You are looking to connect with clients, potential clients, business partners, introducers etc. And this works both ways – sometimes you are the client! Through your network, you are looking to provide value to your connections and/or indeed receive value from them.

So does it make sense if the lion’s share of your connections are other financial brokers? There is definite benefit in connecting with other advisers who you collaborate with or bounce ideas off for your mutual benefit. However I think that competitors should make up the minority of your connections, particularly where neither of you in reality will be looking to add value to each other. LinkedIn is not a glorified address book, it is far more valuable than that! But more about that in my final post on the subject of LinkedIn….

A question I’m often asked is, “Should I accept every connection request?”

There are many different views on this one. My own approach is to accept connections where I believe that there is some chance, even remote of one or other of us providing value to the other. I also consider how the approach was made, whether I think the person wanted to connect with me or was just spamming out invitations – see the section on manners below.

Groups are another rich source of potential connections as they offer opportunities to interact with people with common interests, challenges etc. Add value here and you will quickly build up a broader network.

If you have accepted connections in the past that you now want to remove, LinkedIn have made this very easy. You can now break the link with a connection, and the good news is, they are not even aware that you’ve done so. However, if you want to re-awaken this connection in the future, you will need to re-invite them to connect again.

 

Have a process to grow your network

It is really important to have a clear process for growing your network that you then carry out consistently. I think it’s all about striking while the iron is hot! After you have met someone who you would like to have in your network, you should straightaway check if they are on LinkedIn and if so, look to connect while you are still fresh in their minds. Once connected, you have opened the door to a value adding relationship in the future, even if you don’t see them again for some time. I encourage advisers to set aside even 10 minutes a day to reflect on who they met in the previous 24 hours, and then connect with them.

 

Don’t forget your manners!

My biggest bugbear with LinkedIn? This is when I receive a connection request where I don’t know the person, just receive the bog standard invitation request and I get a sense that the person was just spamming / firing out connection requests in all directions. So I’ve a few rules…

  1. Never send out the standard LinkedIn connection request. Personalise every invitation, even if it is just a reminder of where you met, a suggestion to meet for a coffee or some general business observation. The point is to show the person that you want to connect with him / her and are not just trying to drive up your connection numbers. Yes, this is slower as you have to send out each connection request individually, but definitely worth it.
  2. It is ok to look to connect with people in your connections’ networks, after all this is a key benefit of LinkedIn and what makes it tick! However there is a way to do it. As an example, let’s assume I’m connected to Joe who in turn is connected to Sam, who I don’t know. I want to connect with Sam to build a business relationship. Yes I can go directly to Sam and say why he should connect with me etc. However there’s a strong chance that he may just ignore me, as he doesn’t know me. Instead, do what you do offline. LinkedIn has a facility by which I can go to Joe and ask for an introduction to Sam. This is very powerful. Now Joe is doing me a favour (which I hopefully can reciprocate) and now Sam is much more likely to connect, both as a favour to Joe and also because of the professional approach used.

These are just a few thoughts on growing your network. In my final post on LinkedIn coming up in 2/3 weeks time, we get to the real meat of this series – using LinkedIn to add value.

If you’ve any thoughts on growing your LinkedIn network, please feel free to leave comments below.

LinkedIn – Part 1: Building an effective profile

This is the first of a series of 3 articles on the subject of LinkedIn for financial advisers. These articles are going to cover the following;

  • Building an effective profile
  • Developing your LinkedIn network
  • Using LinkedIn to engage existing and prospective clients

Here are the steps to build an effective profile!

 

Introduction to LinkedIn

For those financial advisers not familiar with LinkedIn, now is the time to change that… Basically LinkedIn is your own personal website where other users can learn about you as a business person and connect with you. In my humble opinion, a strong presence on LinkedIn is no longer optional as more and more clients research financial advisers on LinkedIn and use it as an important source in determining the professionalism and credibility of advisers. If you’ve no presence, potential clients will wonder why.

LinkedIn was launched in 2003 as a social network for people in professional occupations. It has experienced explosive growth, now with over 225 million users worldwide in more than 200 countries, with membership growing at the rate of 2 people every second.  It underwent an initial public offering (IPO) in May 2011, with its shares opening at $45. These are currently trading at well over $200 per share, the company having a market cap in excess of $21bn. I fully expect that with this membership growth rate and the financial value of the business, it is here to stay…

While I’m not personally convinced that many users in Ireland are using LinkedIn to actually find a financial adviser, it is being used more and more by people to research an adviser before contacting you. So it is critical that your profile does you justice. The question is; how do you achieve this?

 

Take the help available

LinkedIn wants each of us to have as rich a personal profile as possible. To help us, it has a very useful feature called “Improve your profile”. This is a big blue button, up near the top of your profile, beside your photograph. Use this. It is LinkedIn’s way of guiding you through each section of your profile in turn and encouraging you to complete every section.

Your aim should be to fill that blue circle called “Profile Strength” in the right hand column as much as possible!

 

It’s not “once done, forever forgotten”

Your LinkedIn profile needs to be kept current. So if you change jobs, get a new qualification, pick up new skills or join any new networking groups etc., you should update this on your LinkedIn profile.

I encourage people to take 10 minutes every month or so to quickly read down through your profile. Is there anything to add or indeed just some language that could be strengthened?

 

Put up a photograph

There is no good reason not to put up a photograph! Any prospective client will want to know what you look like. The photograph should be a professional headshot, not one from a night out! Using a good photograph further enhances your credibility.

 

Your headline is very important

Apart from your name, this is the first section that people read so it is very important. You’ve 160 characters to say what you do. This is not “Managing Director of ABC Financial Services”. Instead it should explain what you do, particularly if you have a target market in mind, for example “Expert financial planner & retirement adviser for professionals and business owners in the Fingal area”.

 

The summary section is your elevator pitch

This is the first section below your photograph so again it is very important. I believe these are best written in the first person, as it makes it more personable and “from the heart”. The summary is your opportunity to set out what makes you different to other financial advisers, so to my mind this is where you talk about the expertise you offer, the client-focused approach that you use, the value gained by your rigorous advice process. This is where a prospective client will think (or not) that you are the type of person they want to work with.

 

Recommendations are great!

LinkedIn recommendations are hugely valuable as they come from real people, offering strong feedback on your services. Value these as they are a great endorsement for you personally and are a great asset in attracting potential clients.

Less valuable are endorsements, which are simply “one click” endorsements of particular skills that you have. These are much easier to give and get and so are much less valuable than recommendations. However I don’t discount them totally, as they offer a bit more colour to your LinkedIn profile.

 

The rest is important too!

And then it’s a case of filling in the rest of fields, giving other LinkedIn users a real sense of your experience, your interests and why they should have you in their network. Make the content as rich as possible, adding links to your website, other social media assets and now you can also add presentations, videos and publications. All of this makes your profile more engaging.

 

And what about search results?

Having a content rich profile will help you to show up higher in LinkedIn search results. In fact by including keywords such as “financial planner Ireland” in as many fields as possible on your profile, this will help you achieve a higher position in search results for those keywords. As mentioned earlier, I’m not convinced as yet though that people in Ireland are using LinkedIn to find a financial adviser. In my view they are using it more for research purposes of advisers that were recommended to them.

In any event, having a strong profile is worth the effort and is a cornerstone of optimising your presence on LinkedIn. Over some upcoming blog posts I’ll look at building your LinkedIn network and using LinkedIn to engage people.

If there are any specific questions that you have in relation to LinkedIn, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below.