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Edward Jones is winning the Google search war

Edward Jones‘ financial advisers tend to land on top when it comes to Internet searches.

The firm, which has 15,000 advisers, is the wealth management industry’s leader in attracting online traffic to their websites from those who search for financial advice and services, according to a new report.

The St. Louis, Mo.-based brokerage firm was most findable overall. It also scored many times higher than all other firms when it came to local search, the results that come up next to the map widget in search engine results, the study by Hearsay Systems and Moz found.

Search engine optimization is an increasingly important measure as more and more buying decisions are being largely influenced by online research.

“Being part of the local community has always been a big focus for us, so with digital marketing we’ve always tried to find investors locally and at the right time,” said Jim Olsen, principal, marketing communications at Edward Jones. “We have placed tremendous effort as the technology has come along to make sure we show up digitally in the local communities.”

(More: Digital marketing strategies take years to perfect, but can yield prospects galore)

The firm spends about 46% of its media investment on digital marketing, mostly focusing on the local digital space. It has custom microsites for every adviser and branch team, and has 8,000 of its advisers engaged in the firm’s social media efforts, Mr. Olsen said.

Morgan Stanley landed second in terms of overall click share percentage and in a separate category of paid searches, or ads, it topped that list of 10 firms. Wells Fargo Advisors and Fidelity Investments were second and third on that list of top paid search leaders, while Edward Jones wasn’t on that listing.

“Only having paid ads isn’t a strategy that is working well overall,” said Greg Kroleski, Hearsay Systems data manager. “Local search presents the most opportunity, and Edward Jones is doing the best with that.”

Firms should strive to have a mix of local search, paid search and organic search, where websites appear based on search engine calculations of factors like geography and reputation of the website, he said.

“Consumers expect businesses to be quickly findable and ready to engage them when, where and how they prefer, even for what are ultimately off-line transactions,” Mr. Kroleski said.

If firms don’t come up in search results, they’re missing a great opportunity to make a great first impression at a time when the prospect is most interested in getting information related to their services, he said.

(More: 7 ways advisers are turning off potential clients)

In fact, about 57% of a purchase decision already has been made through search engine and other online research before a prospective customer engages with a company representative, CEB Inc., the research and business advisory firm, estimates.

More and more advisers report prospects are checking them out online before they walk into their offices. With younger investors, the tendency to research online is even stronger, including looking up those who they’ve been personally referred to by a friend or family member.

“As wealth transfers from older generations to millennials, we think it’s important to be aware that this generation uses online forms of research more than anyone else does now,” Mr. Kroleski said.

All wealth management firms could stand to improve their findability, the report said.

Currently, when someone searches for a common industry term such as financial planner, many of the results point to consumer information or news sites like Forbes or Investopedia, instead of listing sites of an individual wealth management firm or adviser.

In contrast, when you search insurance agent, many of the top results are websites of a particular firm or individual professional who provides financial services, the report said.

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