Last month we looked at three marketing ‘wins’ all too often overlooked by advisers and planners.

    The second of the three discussed the importance of building and maintaining a positive online presence.

    This is important for several reasons, not least of which is that many people considering making contact will check you out online beforehand.

    They might just want your contact details, or they might want to carry out more in-depth research before getting in touch. Either way, it means Googling you; and the more impressive the results, the more likely they are going to make that call.

    An effective website is a key part of impressing online. A quick win though, it most certainly is not! Despite that, we’ve noticed that, eager to see their site go live as soon as possible, far too many advisers and planners rush ahead and fail to prepare properly.

    The net effect?

    A site which they’re not happy with, and one which will probably be far less effective than they hoped.

    To avoid falling into that trap, here’s a list of five things you should do before embarking on developing a new website (with a bonus pointer thrown in for good measure).

    1. Understand your current website

    You wouldn’t make changes to a client’s portfolio before analysing the existing holdings. So why would you develop a new website without understanding what is and isn’t working on the existing one?

    You might be surprised and find elements which are working well. These can be replicated in the new site, with other areas added and amended as necessary. But until you analyse Google Analytics (as a minimum) you won’t know what’s working and what isn’t, and you won’t be making decisions based on all the available evidence.

    If any marketing agency recommends developing a new website without taking the time to understand how the existing one is performing, run for the hills.

    2. Think strategically and understand your target market

    A website should always be designed with your and your visitors' aims at its core. Different objectives and target markets mean there isn’t one formula which will always work. It’s therefore imperative that you understand both your target market and what you want to achieve. 

    In their enthusiasm to finish the project, it’s perhaps understandable that some advisers and planners overlook these crucial steps. However, without understanding what you want your site to achieve how can you develop an effective strategy? And, without understanding your target audience, how do you know what will appeal to them?

    You can’t and you don’t, which is why thinking strategically is so important.

    3. Collect social proof

    Social proof (the thoughts and words of others to demonstrate the value you add) is vital to developing an effective website.

    Gone are the days when a page of anonymous testimonials (which only 1-2 per cent of your visitors will look at anyway) was good enough. We’ve become more suspicious online, and less easily impressed. That means we all need to up our game.

    We believe there are gold, silver and bronze levels of social proof.

    Gold: Client videos explaining, among other things, why they chose your firm and the benefits of working with you.

    Silver: Written testimonials, attributable to the client, which also show their location and the date they became a client (to illustrate the longevity of the relationship with you). Ideally, these should be accompanied by a photograph of the client.

    Bronze (by a distance): Anonymous testimonials.

    Add reviews from Google, Facebook, VouchedFor or TrustPilot into the mix, plus data from client surveys and you will have an enviable bank of proof demonstrating the value you add.

    However, it doesn’t happen by magic. Building the social proof which sets you apart takes months if not years of work. Collecting social proof should be part of your onboarding or periodic review process. If it isn’t, it’s time to change things.

    4. Start thinking photography

    Too many websites are impersonal and consequently less effective. Images of you, your team and office will lift the site, setting it apart from others.

    We don’t recommend having the images taken before you’ve spoken to the website designer. However, you can start to lay the groundwork. Think about which members of the team you want on your website (we’d recommend everyone, from the owners to the newest apprentice), start drawing up a shortlist of photographers and build a list of the types of images you like. 

    5. Start thinking about design

    It’s important to strike the right balance here. Starting with an idea of what you are aiming for will help your designer and developer. However, go too far and you risk doing their job for them, or worse, taking the design in the wrong direction.

    Nevertheless, it’s important to consider what you are aiming for. That’s not necessarily the same thing as what you like. Remember, you might not be one of your target clients. What you like might not be right for the visitors you are trying to attract. In fact, those two little words, “I like”, can be the two most dangerous in website design.

    That’s why it’s crucial to visualise the project through the eyes of your clients, which is why step two is so important.

    Finally, don’t restrict your research to the websites of your peers and competitors. Step out of the financial services bubble and consider other sites.

    Take a little time

    Your website is a significant investment of time and money. What’s more, you’ve probably put off relaunching your website more than once, so a further delay to make sure you get it right shouldn’t be too painful.

    A little patience could save you from making a costly mistake. As tailors say: “Measure twice, cut once.”  

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