The Ultimate Guide to SEO for Financial Advisors
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of strategies, when implemented properly, are designed to clarify your website’s relevance, and improve its perceived authority in the eyes of the search engines. The goal of SEO is to increase the amount and quality of traffic you receive from the search engines through industry and location based search results.
SEO is today’s “Yellow Pages.” If you’re not optimized for search, the searcher can probably find you if they already know your name (like the white pages), however SEO will put you in the “yellow pages” where they may discover you while looking for your services.
The Anatomy of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
Google’s SERP is constantly undergoing changes (mostly minor) as Google continues to test, always looking for the best way to provide answers to the searcher’s questions. In addition, the SERPs are dynamic – depending on the type of search, the results page may display differently (i.e. Google maps appears for some searches, but is inappropriate for others). However the display is formatted, there are currently 6 ways to appear in the search results.
1. Paid Advertising (Pay-Per-Click, or PPC Ads): PPC ads are a part of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), but are not directly related to SEO. These ads generally appear at the top and bottom of the SERPs. Companies bid to have their ad appear for specific keywords, then pay Google each time their ad is clicked on.
As seen below, ads recently started to appear in the “local” search results as well.
While not common for our industry, ads can also appear in a carousel.
2. Local Map Pack: Google’s Map Pack appears for broad industry keywords and usually shows up directly below the PPC ads, however it sometimes is placed farther down the page. The Map Pack is influenced by both On-page and Off-page SEO, as well as strategies specific to Local SEO.
3. Organic Listings: Organic listings look similar to PPC ads except that they are not labeled as an “Ad.” These listings do not cost anything, and are a result of being perceived by the search engine as a high authority answer to the search query.
4. Featured Snippets: Google has started answering many direct questions by presenting content directly on the SERP. This is known as Position Zero and is called a Featured Snippet. The following image shows part of the SERP for the search “When should I start social security.”
The searcher can then click on the link for more information or continue to select one of the other listings if the featured snippet doesn’t appear to answer their question. The Featured Snippet can be influenced through SEO.
5. Knowledge Graph: the Knowledge Graph is a panel of information related to the search that appears on the right-hand side of the SERP. It is generally wikipedia type information on a broad subject area, a big company, or influencers.
6. Answer Boxes: For some queries Google also provides “People also ask” boxes with related questions that are clickable for more information.
There are 4 primary components to Advisor SEO:
I. Technical SEO
The User Experience (UX) has become a point of emphasis for Google the past couple of years. This includes many technical elements such as:
- Mobile-Friendly: With the roll-out of Mobile-first indexing this past spring, your mobile website has become the default version of your website – the version Google is measuring. Does the mobile version of your site load quickly? Is all of the content accessible by mobile? Are the links and buttons clickable (not too small or too close together) and the text readable? Have you removed “pop-ups” from your mobile site? Test your pages using Google’s Mobile-Friendly test tool. Even if you’re using a responsive theme, don’t assume that your site is formatted for mobile, test its functionality yourself.
- Loading Speed: It is important that your site loads fasts – for both search engines and your visitors. Even though Google only punishes very slow sites, more than half of web visitors expect your site to load in 2 seconds or less, and will start abandoning your website after 3 seconds. Analyze your site speed here.
- Security: Google wants the internet to be more secure so they provide an SEO boost to sites that are HTTPS (rather than HTTP).
- Site Map: Create and submit an XML Sitemap to Google and Bing.
- Apply AMP if available (WordPress or Custom design): Accelerated Mobile Pages were introduced by Google to allow your mobile content to load faster.
- Apply Structured Data Markup: Code that can be added to websites to help the search engines better understand and display your web pages.
- Add Breadcrumbs: Internal Navigation links that allow visitors to more easily navigate your website, and helps the search engines see how a page fits into your site structure.
- Navigation/Menu: It is important that your site is easy to use. Many SEOs believe that Google uses several “user signals” – i.e. how long a visitor is on your site – to determine how “user friendly” your website is. Make it as easy as possible for visitors to navigate the site and to find the content that they are looking for.
- XML Site Map: A site map helps the search engines find and index all of your pages, and helps them to understand your website and content better.
II. On-Page SEO (On-site SEO)
On-page SEO elements are those associated with your content – your web pages and blog articles. They are generally elements that you can control.
- Create a Page for Each Keyword: In order to rank for competitive industry and location based keywords, you will need to create a unique page around that keyword. In this case, “page” is generic for content, it could be web page, blog post, video, or other suitable form on content.
- Title Tag: The title tag is still your best opportunity to tell the search engines what your page is about. It is usually defaulted to the title of the page or article, but from a straight SEO perspective, sometimes can benefit from a manual overwrite.
- H-tag (Header): Use H-tags to break up and organize the content for your reader, and to highlight your subject area to the search engines – use keywords in your headers where it makes sense. Use one H-1 tag on each page.
- Content Mark-up: Content should include primary keywords (more than once, but not in a forced or unnatural way), plus popular synonyms. Emphasize keywords (or synonyms) by including them in the headers, using bold or italicized text, or by creating a bulleted list. Try to include your keyword early in the content (first sentence if possible, but first paragraph if not).
- Alt. Image Text: The search engines do not see images, so where your visitors see a great graph of the most recent bull market, the search engines see white space. Alt. Text is your opportunity to explain to the search engines what that picture is about – all the better if that description includes your keyword.
- Internal Linking: strategic internal linking – linking from one of your pages/posts to another of your pages/posts – can help boost the authority of targeted pages, may encourage visitors to stay on your site (which is good for client acquisition and can help your seo), and helps the search engines crawl and understand your website better.
- External Linking: Linking out to related high authority sites may improve the search engine’s perception of your website and business, and therefore help with your SEO.
- Featured Snippet (See #4 from The Anatomy of a SERP section above): If your post, or part of your post, answers a specific question and you want to have a chance of appearing in Position Zero – as Google’s default display answer for that question – you should format your blog article so that the question and answer appear near the top of your article, like I did with What is SEO?
- Keyword Tag: SEO programs will often provide a space for you to include a list of more keywords (in addition to the one in your Title Tag). While this won’t have any negative consequences, the Keyword Tag is no longer an SEO signal.
- Meta Description: Another option included in most SEO programs is the Meta Description (or sometimes just “Description”). While no longer an SEO ranking signal, it is still an important marketing component in that the text that you include in the Meta Description is often the text that the search engines display as the “description” in the SERP listing. You can see in the SERP image below, that the Title Tag (underlined in red) actually becomes the first line of the SERP listing, and the meta description (outlined in blue) are lines 2 and 3. This means that you MUST write your Title Tags and Meta Descriptions so that they are engaging for your potential visitor as they will be your first opportunity to “sell” to them (convincing them to click on your listing).
III. Local SEO (Google Map Pack)
Local SEO rankings are heavily influenced by your overall on-page and off-page SEO, however there are still steps that are specific to “Local SEO” if you want to be fully optimized.
- Location: Local Search is now searcher-centric, meaning that the search engines want to show results for the searcher’s query that are near that person’s current location. This means that if there is a specific community that you want to rank for, you would do well to have an office space near that community. This means that if you are trying to serve a nearby city from the suburbs, its going to be very challenging (but no longer impossible).
- Create Pages for Local Search Terms: The “Local Map Pack” is only displayed for a few broad industry search queries ( i.e Financial Advisor). It is important that your website includes pages that are optimized for those few search terms.
- Location Based Keywords: Include “location based” descriptors with your Local and Organic keyword pages (i.e. Financial Planner, Boise ID 83706, rather than just Financial Planner). Remember to add “location based” keywords to your content markup (i.e. title tag, within the body, the header, images, etc.).
- Name-Address-Phone Number (NAP): Settle on a NAP for your business and use it consistently across the web. If some part of your NAP changes (i.e. you move to a new location) make sure to update your NAP where ever it appears. It is recommended that you display a “local” phone number. Your NAP should appear on every page of your website (place it in the footer, header, or sidebar).
- Local Search Engines: Register with the Local Search Engines – Google My Business, Bing Places, Yahoo and Yelp.
- Data Aggregrators: Register with the “Local Data Aggregators” – Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, Localeze and Foursquare.
- Build Citations: Citations are online business listings or directories where you can list your business. The Local Search Engines and the Data Aggregators are basically citations, but are more influential then most. The more often your business is “cited” consistently across the web, the more confidence the search engines have in listing it on the SERPs. There is also the potential benefit of the directory sending you traffic directly. A citation could include groups you pay to belong to like the FPA or XYPN, or can be free listings such as Manta or Superpages.
- Reviews: for most industries, collecting positive reviews or testimonials for your business is an important part of the Local Optimization, however while the SEC’s Testimonial Rule allows for use of some sites that accept reviews, advisors should consider removing or turning off reviews when possible, and should not solicit reviews.
IV. Off-Page SEO
Off-Page SEO primarily revolves around acquiring quality and relevant backlinks – links from other websites that point to your site. Although you must first establish your relevancy (Organic and Local SEO) to enjoy the full benefit of any backlinks that you develop, they are generally accepted as being the most important and powerful ranking signal. You can use this “Link Explorer” tool to get an idea of your site’s backlink profile (or that of your competition).
Despite Google’s best intentions, a strong backlink profile does not usually occur naturally.
Google’s theory is that if you publish good content, others will find it, link to it, and the best content will rise to the top of the rankings. It can occasionally still work this way, however because most industry bloggers don’t link out to other sites, and there is so much content created, most blogs go unnoticed by the link creators. Instead, today’s successful content creators must actively plan and work on a backlink development strategy – specific content, specific connections, and specific sharing strategies – if they want to develop a position of online dominance in their market.
The Role of Content Marketing in SEO
The regular creation of high quality, unique content is vital to SEO success. “Content” is most often thought of as being a blog article, but can also include video, audio or visual content. It is important to remember that Google understands “text” better than any other format, so you should also include a text-based version/description of whatever type of content you’re creating.
Content creation allows you to introduce and rank for new keywords, provides assets for link building, and signals to the search engines that your site is actively being updated (meets Google’s “freshness” requirement), and helps develop your expertise in the eyes of the search engines and your website visitors.
Social Media and SEO
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the role of Social Media in an SEO campaign. Social Media definitely does indirectly impact your SEO in a number of ways.
- Your social media accounts do act as citations, and may be the highest ranking outcome when someone searches for you or your company by name.
- It is also a great tool for sharing your content, and can help with link building by making it easier to connect with influencers and link creators.
- Sharing your content on Google+ can result in it being indexed faster than content that is not shared there.
However, Facebook “likes” or “shares” or Google+1’s do not influence your search rankings. Additionally, social media accounts, posts, or shares, do not count as backlinks that help to build authority.
This article was not meant to be a “how-to” guide for SEO, instead it’s more an overview of the SEO process, a response to those who describe “SEO as unknowable” and that all you have to do is “write good content.” However, I will be adding detailed “how-to” articles about each step in the process, so check back or subscribe to receive my blog articles automatically in your inbox. In addition, I will continue to update the steps in this article as the search engines make changes to their algorithms.
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