8.5 MIN READ
Boost website traffic, be found by potential clients, get your name out there, and build brand awareness within your niche—what’s this secret sauce, and how do you get extra on the side? We’re talking about SEO, and with all of these potential benefits, it’s no wonder you’re considering what it can do for your independent RIA. But how do we go about getting results, and more importantly, are these results even realistic for a non-expert?
I’ve worked on the “front lines” as a marketer of small businesses for a decade, including a one-year stint at an SEO agency back in 2012. I often see SEO experts and software solutions write zealous blogs that sing praises of the strategy, and while they’re not falsifying those radiant testimonials, it’s essential that we cut through all the hype and establish down-to-earth expectations.
My comments here are unlike many of the articles you may be reading online, as I am going to be open with you about my pragmatic approach to SEO, a perspective I’ve shared with many XYPN members as their Marketing Coach. Consequently, this blog is not all rainbows, roses, and SEO dreams come true—instead, it’s real. So, let’s get down to business and consider what SEO means for your independent RIA.
What is SEO, really?
SEO is a method for altering digital assets in a particular way so they can appear prominently in search results. It stands for “search engine optimization.” Simply put, SEO efforts can help your content appear when someone searches for it.
As an example, let’s say you offer financial planning for army veterans. You’d be pinching yourself if your website was the first one listed when people Google the phrase “financial planning for army veterans.” SEO is the kind of backend work that can make that “I must be dreaming” moment happen.
However, before we go on, it’s important for you to know SEO doesn’t stop at Google. This methodology can be used to help your work appear in search results on any platform with a search bar. Think about that—it’s a big deal. Other prominent players frequently mentioned in the SEO game are YouTube (for videos), iTunes (for podcasts), Amazon (for books), and all other social media platforms, really.
Sounds powerful, right? There is no denying SEO has power and value. The real question lies in how to tap into that value.
Where the SEO rubber meets the RIA road
On your journey to building an RIA, you’ll hear about SEO and likely do some work on it. That's fine. Some chatter about SEO is expected, and some work on it is in your best interest. In light of that, I’m excited to list a few valuable resources to help you along with that within this blog. The rubber meets the road, though, when it comes to investing resources (time and money) into your SEO strategy.
I get asked by advisors all the time if they should spend considerable resources on these efforts. Here’s my bottom-line message: SEO is a gamble. It works for some and not for others. It could work for you this month and not the next. No expert or software can promise results because there is no guarantee with SEO.
Acknowledging this should inform the way you think about your involvement. You don’t need to avoid SEO, but you should know what you’re getting into. Similar to the advice you may give a client who wants to invest $10k in their friend’s new kombucha venture, I say proceed with caution.
SEO has the potential to bring you quality leads each and every month, or zero clients, ever. Knowing this upfront will help you decide what resources you want to invest in the effort and put your expectations for results in a healthy place.
Realistic SEO coaching for independent RIAs
If and when you decide to spend some time or money on SEO, here are a few points to illustrate how I might coach you through it.
Know the basics.
Spend five minutes learning what SEO is from a literal standpoint. Read this article, and maybe one more today. Learn where SEO practices can be applied and which of those use cases might matter to your situation.
You likely have a website, so I recommend you go find the resource about “how to apply SEO keywords” provided by your website host and bookmark it for future use (no need to read through it now). Open your calendar and schedule a few hours to work on your website’s SEO on a slow day next month. For today, keep reading, and I’ll share more about what to do on that day.
Imagine your ideal client avatar is on Google at this very moment and searching for something. What might that be? A recipe for dinner, perhaps. A gift for their kid, maybe. A question related to their finances? Also possible. In that case, consider what they might be typing into the search bar.
Next, picture that same person using social media later tonight. What platform is their go-to, and would they use it to search for something? Could your future efforts on SEO matter on this platform? Maybe you can’t imagine them searching “financial advisor” on YouTube, but they might search for book summaries, and that’s something you do.
Whatever your avatar might be searching for, take 10 minutes to familiarize yourself with what SEO could mean for you in application. This mental exercise is worth doing. Stepping in the shoes of your ideal client is always helpful and can shape how you view marketing opportunities.
List key phrases, not keywords.
Keywords are the backbone of every SEO strategy. In fact, I’d say keyword choice is the most important part of this work. However, it’s a misleading descriptor. “Keywords” are not just words; most SEO is done by using phrases with multiple words. In the biz, marketers call them long-tail keywords, so think of phrases instead of stopping at “finance” or “planning.” Brainstorm a list of full phrase searches that an ideal prospect would type into a search bar and write those down.
Don’t trust your first ideas.
Okay, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. In the last section, I asked you to brainstorm a list of key phrases your ideal prospect would be searching for. Next, it’s time to get critical of that list.
Nearly every planner I coach tells me they want to show up when someone searches “financial planner in [location],” “fee-only planner,” “financial planning for physicians,” or similar broad phrasing. This is where I need to break the news that not only is SEO a gamble, it’s also a competition. Everyone wants those phrases, and the chances of you winning it organically (via SEO) are, in most cases, slim to none. It’s not to say you can’t play the big game, but at least consider your odds of winning.
Instead, I suggest taking significant time (likely several hours in total) to identify the keywords and phrases you want and that you have a real chance at competing for. This is where having a niche or specialty comes into play beautifully. Think about what unique challenges your prospect may be facing. What are they searching for, literally? I’ve seen people type full sentences into Google, and that’s when small businesses often get to show up. What is your avatar typing?
For now, do another brainstorm. Generate ideas based on your specific niche, target client avatar, uncommon-but-great questions people ask you, and logic. Just write these down. You can do keyword research later.
The devil’s advocate might say, “But Carolyn, more people search for those bigger terms than the more niche ones,” and to that, I say yes. Search volume data is clear. However, in practice, the stories behind that data matter. Popular terms are highly competitive, and unique terms are not. Going after lower-volume unique terms can become your sweet spot for success.
To illustrate, let’s say one of your key phrases is only searched 100 times in an average month. 10% of those people click to view your stuff, see your thoughts, think it’s impressive, and one in five book a meeting. You now have two prospects this month from SEO on one search phrase—neat!
Create a boundary.
To avoid frustration or getting lost in the effort, I always suggest that firms define their commitment to SEO before starting the real work. If you look at the next 12 months, what resources do you want to commit to this part of your marketing strategy? Articulate your level of dedication in terms of both time and money, and write those boundaries in big letters on a post-it in your office or at the top of your SEO notes.
Like any game or gamble, SEO can pull people in. It’s easy to want to crack the code, and think “If I just spend a few more days on this, I might strike gold.” Be mindful of this potential rabbit-hole and do what you need to ensure you invest some resources into your efforts but not exhaust them.
Note: For readers who want me to be specific about what’s too much and what’s too little, that’s incredibly difficult without knowing your circumstances. However, if I were Director of Marketing for a firm with 1-2 advisors, then I’d advocate we spend no more than $3,000 and no more than 50 hours in the first year of our efforts.
Think of your marketing time like a portfolio and diversify it. SEO is a riskier bet than other options you have, so please be intentional about putting different strategies in play. I, for one, would be nervous if more than a quarter of your marketing resources went into search engine optimization.
SEO is mostly used to “get exposure” or “get more eyes on” your firm. In the world of marketing, this is called top-of-the-funnel marketing, and there are plenty of strategies you can use to achieve the same goal.
Bonus for XYPN members: review my concise list of other awareness-generating options here.
Leverage resources, but don’t swim in them.
This last bit of coaching for today goes back to the earlier point on boundaries. After this orientation article, you will need to look at SEO resources. My advice is to write down your questions before searching for answers. Sometimes we start with one question, and it creates ten more. Stay in-tune with the essentials you need, and don’t swim in articles for hours.
To help, I’ve listed a handful of focused resources for you.
- Blog: Basic SEO Best Practices for RIAs (See #9)
- Podcast: SEO for Financial Advisors with Brent Carnduff
- Video: SEO for Beginners: 3 Powerful Tips to Rank #1 on Google
- Advisor Story: 2 Actionable Ways to Improve Your Website SEO
- How-To Guide: A Simple Step-by-Step for Choosing Keywords (Exclusive to XYPN)
- Tool: Google Search Console is Google’s own guide for SEO
- Tool: SEMRush is a top-known source that offers a variety of tools
- Tool: Keyword Explorer by Moz
- Tool: SEO Site Checkup to analyze your website
- Training: Backlinko for those who want a deep dive
- PLUS: Find the specific how-to guides for your website host and the content platforms you use. Google for them!
You may have read this article without completing the exercises within it, and that’s totally cool. We all do that at times. But if you do find yourself ready to launch or improve your firm’s SEO, I highly suggest blocking an hour in your calendar to come back to this blog and follow each step. I wrote this with the intention of helping your SEO experience be a more positive one, and my suggestions are grounded in hundreds of marketing conversations with real financial advisors.
Alas, these viewpoints might not make the SEO-evangelists of the world want to connect with me on LinkedIn, but if this blog helps even one of you avoid spinning your wheels, I’ll consider it a blog post well written, and hopefully well read.
About the Author
Carolyn Dalle-Molle is a professional marketer with several years of experience helping small businesses reach their growth goals. Her approach to marketing is both creative and analytical; helping people achieve a creative flow that’s unique and exciting, while using tracking and metrics to learn what actually works for their business. Based in Boston, she's honored to work with XY Planning Network from coast to coast. Outside of work, she enjoys volunteering with elderly, making videos, and traveling with her friends and family.