First impressions matter online, too.
It only takes seconds to size up a business’ website. If the site isn’t fast, easy to navigate, and well-designed, users may click away. For RIAs, the stakes for web visits are high: Unhappy users may take their money elsewhere.
Today, nearly every RIA offers at least a boilerplate website. However, at a time when most consumers go online to search for products and services, basic doesn’t cut it. A website is the cornerstone of any brand’s digital marketing, and a clean design, well-conceived content, and a seamless user experience are the foundations. That extends to financial advisors.
“Your website is your first point of contact, your opportunity to showcase your company culture and to give the story of your firm,” said Alexa Hyman, VP of client solutions for Keebeck Wealth Management.
Depending on estimates, between 50 to 60 percent of all U.S. internet searches now originate on mobile devices, so web designers say it is imperative that websites are “mobile responsive,” adjusting their layout, navigation, and graphics for smaller screens on a smartphone or tablet. Mobile searches for “financial planning” jumped 70% in just the past two years, according to Google, underscoring the importance for RIAs to have websites that adjust to mobile.
Surprisingly, many financial firms have outdated sites that aren’t responsive.
“There is no excuse now for having a site that is not responsive,” said Danielle Zeisler, a senior designer at Industrious, who has also designed sites for financial firms. “There are still so many sites that aren’t and it is a very frustrating experience for the user.”
Another essential ingredient is quick loading speed. When websites take more than five seconds to load, most users will move on, or “bounce,” according to Google research. Newer websites that have back-end technology show up in seconds and allow users to effortlessly move between pages.
These mobile-friendly and quick websites often don’t come cheap, and advisors may be reluctant to shell out for pricey upgrades. Redesigned and rebuilt sites range from lower-cost, template-based sites, which can start from $1,200 to $5,000, to custom-built sites that could run upwards of $12,000 or more, depending on the features and expansiveness.
In a redesign, important components include clean navigation, easily identified call-to-action, such as contact information or an email sign-up, and to showcase important content “above the fold," which is the screen that loads before any scrolling, designers said.
“A good site is not necessarily based on how many pages or how long they are. You need to be clear, concise, and well-organized,” Zeisler said.
So when is it time for an upgrade? If a website is more than four or five years old, web specialists recommend undertaking a review. Updating your site every few years helps keep up with trends in user experience and supporting technology. Web design firm AltaStreet offers clients a package with a site upgrade every three years, while FMG Suite offers a homepage refresh every two years.
AltaStreet has worked with Cannon Wealth Management, INC Advisors, Cornerstone Asset Management, and Family Wealth Planning, among others. FMG Suite clients include Lake Avenue Financial, Demars Financial Group, and Family Wealth Management Group, among others.
One word of caution: When negotiating for a new site or a redesign, check the fine print and understand who owns the site. Some web firms retain ownerships of the sites they create, which could limit an advisor’s future ability to change design or providers.
Along with speedy, smartly-designed websites, users expect robust content. Features like blogs, articles, and video make a site sticky, boosting chances that users will share their information or contact the firm. Email newsletters are also an excellent way to boost client engagement.
Important content pieces include detailed information about advisors’ backgrounds and specialties, as well as biography pages with photos and contact information.
For next-level engagement, RIAs can provide what Brandon Doyle, marketing manager for digital marketing firm Blue Corona, calls “trophy content,” or high value features that showcase financial acumen, including a blog, videos, white papers, e-books, and frequently asked questions. Blue Corona has designed and built websites for Geier Asset Management and XML Financial Group, among other financial clients.
Recently, video is gaining popularity. To start, Doyle suggests filming video bios of your staff talking about their financial experience and life outside work. “That blend of professional and personal is important,” he said. “You’re trying to build trust with the clients and it says you are a real person.”
That’s exactly why Keebeck’s homepage features a banner video of its staff. “We wanted people to see our faces and see we are human, not robots,” said Hyman. Keebeck’s website was designed by New York City-based Leibowitz Design.
However, video scares some advisors, said Solange Jacobs Randolph, senior director of marketing for FMG Suite. “People think they need a studio, a director, lighting, and makeup, but that’s not necessary. You can create simple videos to establish your brand and show your human side,” she said.
A blog is another way to add content and share expertise. “It sets you apart as a thought leader,” noted Dan Stark, managing partner of web design firm AltaStreet.
If you start a blog, be sure to update it at least once a month. “If a visitor comes to your site and sees your blog hasn’t been updated in six months or a year, it gives a bad impression,” said Ellen Krugel, creative director for EPK Design, who has designed sites for financial services firms. “If you can’t handle it yourself, hire a third-party service to provide content.”
Original content also improves web traffic, or search engine optimization. Search engines — namely Google — reward web sites that are rich with keywords and updated content with higher rankings. To improve SEO results, RIAs should make sure key words are peppered throughout their site, including common search terms like “wealth manager” and “financial planner,” as well as more specific searches, such as “college tuition planning” or “how to roll over my 401k.” Also be sure to include your location, awards, and accreditations that could turn up in searches.
To maintain high-rankings, update content and keywords regularly. “You can’t just set it and forget it,” Doyle said. “Six months down the road, your competitor could outrank you.”
Other back-end upgrades can improve user experience. For instance, Doyle recommends all advisors upgrade their security to Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (https), compared to the usual Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http), offering visitors an extra layer of protection for their sensitive financial information.
Savvy RIAs are looking to add secure client portals, similar to doctor’s patient portals, where customers can upload documents and sign paperwork without going to a third-party site. “Client vaults keep your clients on your site, rather than sending them to elsewhere, they are convenient and they are great for going paperless,” explained Stark.
On the horizon, web designers say chat bots, artificial intelligence (AI), and sticky headers, where the navigation and contact information follow users on all pages and as they scroll, are up-and-coming features.
Across any website, the common goal is to build trust. When money is involved, it is winner-takes-all. “Your website is your digital business card. It is essential to capturing prospective business,” said Jacobs Randolph.