We often get questions from advisors seeking to expand their reach using paid search. It’s our suspicion that their interest is piqued by sales calls from SEO companies that promise big results for reasonable costs. In reality, while SEO is a no-brainer for large, national brands that sell online, it may not make as much financial sense for an average advisor.

It’s important to understand exactly what paid search can and can’t do, the results to expect, and how those results may translate into new business. First, let’s review the basics:

“Paid search” refers to paid search engine marketing that directs traffic to your website. There are two basic types of paid search:

  1. SEO. With search engine optimization (SEO), you pay a SEO company a fee so that your website ranks higher within search results for specific keywords of your choosing. For example, after paying $600 per month for six months, my website may come up as the third result for “financial advisor in rancho santa fe ca,” for which it used to come up #20. The idea is that if you rank higher for a certain keyword, more traffic will flow to your website. This principle is supported by data that shows that 75% of people will not navigate past the first page of search results.

SEO consists of two broad types:

First, “On-Page SEO” tinkers with the content on your website, such as page titles and how often keywords are used, to help it rank higher. It also improves the structure and navigation to improve the usability of your site, since Google favors a user-friendly site. Think of on-page SEO as any of the content or design of your website.

Second, “Off-Page SEO” uses tactics such as link building, content creation, and social media sharing to make Google “think” your site is well-connected. Link building refers to bartering or paying for a link to your website to be displayed on another site. Off-page SEO has garnered a bad reputation in recent years for purchasing links in order to “trick” Google into thinking a site is more well-connected than it really is. These tactics no longer work as well and may actually penalize your website.

2. PPC. With Pay Per Click (PPC), you actually pay the search engine (Google or Yahoo) each time someone clicks on your advertisement and is taken to your website. The cost for each click to your website is set by Google and depends on your location and the keywords you choose. Prices depend on supply and demand, or how many advertisers are bidding for the specific keywords. Costs are usually correlated to location, so your price per click in a small town may be less expensive than in a big city.

Between SEO and PPC, about 80% of users click within the SEO section, while 20% of users click PPC advertisements.

Because PPC prices depend on supply and demand, it may be relatively more cost effective if you work in a smaller locality or have a very specific niche. The cost per click for “financial advisor san diego” is much higher than “institutional cash management for school districts in texas.” By narrowing your focus, you may be able to lower your cost per click to your website.

Paid PPC. Since PPC is complex and changes constantly, you may choose to pay a SEO company to help lower your cost per click and improve your results over time. In this scenario, you pay a SEO company directly, who then pays Google out of their institutional account and takes a percentage of your budget or a flat fee as compensation.

Goals of Paid Search

The primary goal of paid search is to drive more traffic to your website. Other ancillary goals are brand awareness, which occurs when someone is exposed to your brand but does not visit your site. Improving your SEO can add credibility to your business, as today’s consumers are used to seeing trusted brands come up prominently within search results. Other strategies for paid search include appearing for competitors’ names or keywords to influence their customers.

What’s the Return on Investment?

The ROI on paid search can be difficult to ascertain and SEO companies will shy away from making any promises in writing. So much depends on an individual advisor’s keywords, website quality, and locality that it’s hard to make accurate generalizations.

That said, here is one real life example. Our “Marketing Makeover” advisor in San Diego improved his “On-Page” SEO by working with FMG Suite to rebuild his website. Once his new site was up and running, he worked with FMG Suite to provide “Off-Page” SEO with our automatic social media tool and custom blogging service.

Then, he worked with Google Adwords directly for PPC services. The keywords “financial advisor san diego” were running at $2.91 per click. With a budget of $500 for the first month, he saw 171 paid clicks through to his website. Of these 171 clicks during the first month, 12 individuals filled out a form on his website. Most of them joined his newsletter mailing list, but three directly asked a question through his “Ask a Question” website form:

  • One asked a question regarding student loan consolidation
  • Another asked whether the advisor helps with LLC creation for businesses (he does not)
  • Another asked about the fees the advisor charges

One promising lead called his office to set an appointment to review retirement savings.

While none of these leads has converted to closed business yet, if we conservatively assume the value of one appointment is $1,000, the ROI for PPC would be 200% for the first month. While the quality of leads and lack of qualification is a concern, over time the advisor is hopeful for a meaningful long term ROI.

The Verdict

The success of paid search will vary with each advisor, their location, and the clients they serve. Advisors in smaller localities with specific niches may see a relatively higher return on investment. Because costs are driven by popularity of keywords, you may be able to decrease your costs and improve your success by embracing a specific niche, at least for your individual paid search campaigns.

However, as with all marketing endeavors in this industry, advisors are limited by how well their website converts visitors to prospects. If your website is not compelling, no amount of paid search will translate to closed business. Be sure that your website includes ways for visitors to engage short of picking up the phone. We can see from our example that calls to action like “Sign Up for Our Email Newsletter” or “Ask a Question” will get much higher participation than a call to action of “Call Now.” Then, be patient, track your results, and work to improve both your SEO and your specific keyword performance over time.

Have you used paid search for your business? Tell us about your experience and we may feature you in a future post.