by Kristen Luke
Websites have become fundamental marketing tools for businesses of all sizes and across all industries. Today, it is considered more acceptable for a business not to have a brochure than not to have a website. Yet too many advisers quickly throw up a website, call it done and neglect it from then on out. Although it is true that most quality clients will come from referrals, introductions, networking or other face-to-face interaction, a website plays a critical role in the sales process. Your website is likely the first place a prospective client or center of influence will go to research you and your firm, so you want to make sure it accurately reflects your business.
If your website has been neglected over the years, it is probably time for a redesign. The website development process, from copy writing to design, can be long and frustrating even with the help of a professional. To make the process quicker, easier and perhaps even cheaper, you should spend some time on the front end planning and strategizing. Although professionals can help you with this, ultimately only you know what you want, so you are a vital part of the process. To streamline the website redesign process, follow these six steps.
Step 1: Define the Purpose
Before you begin developing a website, think about its purpose. Do you want it to be a digital brochure for your firm or do you want it to be a lead generator? Do you want it to be a resource for existing clients or will you use it to establish credibility as an expert within a niche market? Not all websites have the same purpose, so clarifying your specific goals at the beginning will ensure that the final product meets your needs.
Step 2: Research Website Designs
If you hope to end up with a website that you are completely satisfied with, you'll need to communicate your expectations to the person building your website. This process begins with you researching other websites that appeal to you from a design standpoint. The quickest way to find websites of other financial advisory firms is to visit a registry site like FPA's PlannerSearch (www.FPAnet.org/PlannerSearch/PlannerSearch.aspx), NAPFA's "Find an Advisor" service (http://findanadvisor.napfa.org/Home.aspx) or Brightscope's adviser listings (www.brightscope.com/financial-planning/find/firm). These sites have links to thousands of other advisers' websites and will give you a good sample of designs for inspiration. Choose a handful of designs that you like and make note of the similarities. This will help you identify and communicate the elements you prefer. For example, you may notice all the websites have a blue tone. Or they may all have a minimalist design. Or they may all feature pictures of families. By providing clear and specific direction about design to the website developer, you're more likely to get what you want.
Step 3: Develop Messaging
Although you might not ultimately be the person who writes the copy for the website, you should provide the copywriter with direction about the message you want to convey. Begin by outlining the website's menus and pages. Review other sites to choose the organization you think is best. In addition, viewing other sites will likely spark ideas you might not have previously considered, such as having an "In the News" page to highlight media appearances and press releases.
After you have developed the outline for your site, you should find examples of the type of messaging you want to use on each page. Review the wording on different websites and note the pages that you feel accurately speak to your target market and about your firm. For example, you may find a website with a good explanation of the difference between fee-based and fee-only advisers you would like to emulate. Provide these examples to the copywriter for direction.
You should also research key words people are using to find financial advisers in your area. You can use a free tool such as the Google AdWords keyword tool (adwords.google.com) to research these words and phrases and to help you choose the ones appropriate to your business. Because generic terms such as "financial adviser" are popular and unlikely to drive traffic to your site, you will want to choose more specific terms. For example, "Denver financial planner" is a better phrase than "financial planner." Provide these words and phrases to your copy writer to integrate into the messaging.
Step 4: Determine Functionality
In addition to serving as a brochure for your firm, a website can be a useful tool for your clients and prospects. It's a good idea to understand what type of additional functionality you would like to add to your site before you begin the design process. Such items might include blogs, calculators, market snapshots and client portals. When researching other websites for design and messaging, you can also take note of which functionalities you would like to add to your site. Incorporating these features at the beginning of the web design process is easier and less frustrating than trying to add them later.
Step 5: Choose Images
It is common for it to take many hours and several rounds of revisions for a web designer to find the perfect images for your website. You can simplify this process if you already know what images are available and what you like. Review stock images to determine which ones you prefer. After reviewing websites in step two, it should be clear to you what types of photos appeal to you. For example, you may like landscape photos, photos of families or photos specific to your local market. When you have identified a photo theme, visit a stock photo site to see what is available. If you are on a budget, a visit to iStockPhoto (www.istockphoto.com) may accomplish the task. If money is not as much of a concern, higher quality photos can be found at Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com). Make note of the image numbers so you can easily find them later when you are ready to design the website.
Step 6: Continue to Update Your Site
Redesigning a website is a significant undertaking and is not something you will want to do too often. In order to avoid redesigning your website every few years, consider it a work in progress. Add new content on a monthly basis in the form of blogs, articles, podcasts, videos, calculators, press releases, newsletters or other tools. Think about new ways to drive traffic to your website and collect contact information, such as offering a free download for an ebook. Review and update your site twice a year to keep it current and accurate.
A website is one of the most valuable marketing communication tools available to you, if not the most valuable. Allocate sufficient time to build it correctly once and then to continue to care for and nurture it. By following these six steps, you will be well on your way to developing the perfect website for your business.
Kristen Luke is president of Wealth Management Marketing Inc. (www.wealthmanagementmarketing.net), a firm dedicated to providing marketing strategies and support for independent financial advisers.