Brooke’s Note: If I am being introduced to a new product and somebody tells me to visit them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, I’m a little turned off. It sounds too involved, intimate and pseudo-social for my taste. On the other hand, if somebody tells me to just plug their name into Google and I see exactly what I need, I am encouraged — even if I end up on their LinkedIn page. With that thought in mind, I found this article to have the right idea.

Our research at PaladinRegistry shows only 14% of financial advisors believe they have an effective Internet marketing strategy that contributes to the growth of their businesses. This article aims to provide tips to save money, reduce frustration and improve results when marketing your services over the Internet.

How not to be ignored

Most advisors have their own websites or their biographies are published on company websites. But based on PaladinRegistry.com surveys, less than 5% of advisors say they generate significant investor traffic on their sites. This is not surprising. Most advisors have template-based websites, and this type of site is largely ignored by the major search engines. You will need a custom website to be successful. See: Outdated RIA websites risk compliance trouble not to mention credibility .

Your biggest challenge is competing with thousands of other websites that are also trying to reach people with money. You need visibility and traffic to be successful. There are two Internet marketing strategies that are available for your use: search engine marketing and search engine optimization.

Bidding for clicks

You can buy instant visibility by advertising on the major search engines using keywords that drive traffic to your website. This process is called search engine marketing, or SEM. You bid for the placement of your advertisement for specific keywords on search engines’ pages. The advisor or firm that bids the highest rate per click gets the best placement on the page.

For example, you bid $15 per click and I bid $12 per click. All things being equal, your ad will appear higher on the page than mine. In fact, I may not even appear on Page 1. Higher is always better, so that investors do not have to scroll to find your ad. See: How Google Love can put an RIA onto an equal marketing footing with BlackRock.

The search engines require a credit card on file with a predetermined daily advertising spend — for example, $150 per day. If you bid $15 per click, your ad will be visible until you receive 10 clicks, then it disappears until the next day.

Earning it

SEM is expensive, and it may not produce the results you need to justify the expense. Your other alternative is SEO. There are no advertising expenses. Instead of paying Google, you pay an advertising consultant. Visibility may take months or years, or you may never achieve the page rank you are seeking.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, determines your organic ranking on search engine pages. For example, every website would like to be listed on Page 1 of the major search engines for specific keywords (i.e. financial advisor, financial planner) that produce the best traffic. You do not pay Google, Yahoo, and others for this ranking. You have to earn it, which is why it takes so long. This may sound more appealing than SEM, but it has a high risk of failure. Thousands of websites want to be on the top half of Page 1 of Google, and there may be five slots.

Another complicating factor is the algorithms that search engines use for ranking the popularity of websites. The algorithms are top-secret and they change every six months so that they are more difficult to scam. Plus, search engine formulas give preference to websites that are owned by non-profits (.org and .edu). See: PR firms must recognize that RIAs answer to a higher authority.

Building a custom website that is search-engine friendly is an expensive, time-consuming process. It is too complicated to do on your own. You will need an SEO consultant, who adds to your expense but increases your odds of achieving your Internet marketing goals. The real work starts after your site is built or re-engineered. You have to continually add new content to the site and get as many relevant websites as possible to link to your site. These activities tell Google your website is active, constantly refreshed, and popular. As I’ve said, SEO can take months or years of work with no guarantees you will attain the visibility and traffic you are seeking. See: What the SEC is up to with its website’s fancy new look.

Watch out for SEO consultants who are scam artists. They promise big results, but fail to deliver. Ask for several references before you select one. Then you should negotiate a month-to-month agreement that includes measurement of results.

Top of the fold

Assuming you have a website, another important process is expanding your presence on the Internet. For example, your goal should be to dominate Page 1 on Google for your name and your firm’s name. The easiest and least expensive way to do this is to write continuous relevant articles and publish them on the Internet.

The more articles the better. You have to publish your articles on a website. If it is your website make sure the site is structured so you can easily add titles, meta-descriptions, and meta-tags (keywords). Or, you can publish on third-party websites that provide these services. See: Advisor newsletters: Compliance-wise, all news may not be fit to print.

Helping investors find you

Once you have built your Internet foundation, the next step is to make sure it is easy for investors to find you. For example, if you are located in Chicago and the investor inputs “Financial Advisor Chicago,” does your website or some document related to you show up? You should test your visibility for all of the key words that investors input into search engines when they are looking for financial professionals.

You may also be profiled on a website that matches investors to advisors. Two examples are PaladinRegistry.com and WiserAdvisor.com. Both have been around for several years and they use SEO and SEM strategies to produce investors that are referred to advisors on their websites.

First Internet impressions

It can be good or bad news, but investors can learn a lot about you without ever talking to you. As the old adage says, “You only have one chance to make a positive first impression.” When investors use the Internet your first impression is electronic.

What exactly do they see? First, they visit your website and review content about you and your firm. Second, they Google-search your name and your firm’s name looking for information. They may be alarmed if they find nothing. A small percentage of investors will check you out on the FINRA and SEC websites. And, they will review your professional profile if you are listed on a third party website.

Building trust online

A high percentage of investors who use the Internet are uncomfortable initiating contact with financial advisors. They have seen too many headlines. Even though they believe they are too smart to select a low-quality advisor, buy a bad product or invest in a scam, there is always the fear they will make a mistake. Such fear creates inertia.

You can facilitate contact with a free offer. Provide information that solves a problem — for example, their fear of selecting the wrong advisor or following bad advice. An idea for a free offer is a document that helps them select advisors with the best qualifications, not the best sales pitches.

Jack Waymire spent 28 years in the financial services industry. For 21 years he was the president of an RIA that provided services to more than 50,000 investors. He is the author of “Who’s Watching Your Money?” the first book that provided an objective process for selecting higher-quality financial advisors. He is the founder of two major websites, www.InvestorWatchdog.com for individual investors and www.PaladinRegistry.com for financial advisors. He is a columnist for Worth magazine, a blogger on major financial websites, and is frequently quoted by the media.