The three biggest problems with advisor Web sites and how to fix them
By Michael Lovas
In this article, I'm going to give you a fast and accurate look at how the vast majority of financial advisor sites sabotage themselves. Based on what I've seen, your Web site is probably making these same mistakes.
This article is the result of a research project looking at financial and insurance sites, including everything from one-man offices to large firms with thousands of producers. I visited about 60 sites, and all but two had the same mistakes. It makes a person wonder -- how could so many well-meaning people get it so wrong?
The reason for the mistakes is simple: The people who put the sites together and the writers do not know that they are violating fundamental psychological laws. They are really good at web design, advertising copywriting, and maybe even search engine optimization, but they don't understand communication psychology or the eye-movement patterns of Web site visitors.
Problem No. 1: No photos of real people
Nearly every financial or insurance site is guilty of this. Either there are no photos at all, or the only photos are stock photography of models pretending to work.
Why is this a problem? After all, you're not selling people, you're selling an intangible product or service, right? Wrong. The only thing you have to sell is yourself. This surely is not the first time you've heard that statement. But maybe this is the first time you can see how it plays out in real life.
Basic psychology follows a pretty simple process. First, people want to know that they are safe in dealing with you. One of the first ways they seek to determine this is by looking at you. Dogs sniff each other and humans look at each other.
People want to look into your eyes and see the quality of your smile. Barring that, they want to know that there are actually real people they can call when they need to -- not a bottomless voice mail system or a computer nerd in India.
What safety message do your prospects get from your Web site? You probably receive a legal disclaimer that no matter how much money the client loses, you can't be held liable. This doesn't exactly garner the trust of potential clients moving forward. Most disclaimers are legally mandatory, and photos of you and your people are psychologically mandatory.
Let me see if I can make sense of this in a different way for you. Why do men wear a tie with a suit? It is an eye-magnet that captures the other person's attention. But, it will only work if you wear a tie. The photos of you and your staff only attract people and make the start to feel safe if you show the photos. By not showing photos of you and your staff, you imply that you don't want people to know what you look like. Not a good decision in this post-Madoff era.
Problem No. 2: Nothing to grab their attention
Actually, it's more complicated than that. It's any combination of the following:
Too many words, sentences that are too long and/or laid out in lines that run too long and/or are in paragraphs that are too long.
For example, look at this screen shot.
Where does your eye go? To the top left, because that's where the darkest ink is. But, that location doesn't tell you anything, so your eyes move on. Where to? Nowhere, because there is nothing at which to look. There are no images or subheads.
When you learn how people's eyes move on your site, you can edit and format the elements far more effectively. Meaning, you can guide their eyes to what you want them to see.
Failing to learn these lessons can be dangerous to your business. If you don't give people something to look at to help guide their eyes, they will simply not stay on your site long enough to get your message.
On your Web site, people tend to actually read very little of your content. Instead, they skim, jumping from point to point in an "F" pattern. Readers tend to look at the first headline and typically read all of it (if it's not too long). Then, they drop down to the next big, bolded line and read some of it. Finally, they skim down the left side of the page, looking for something else to grab their eye's attention.
Studies on this subject all come to the same conclusions:
- Visitors to your site tend to skim, not read
- Visitors read very few words
- Those words are located in predictable locations which lie in an "F" pattern
- If you want to capture your visitor's attention, you have to reformat and edit your Web content to take advantage of how people read Web sites.
- Forget writing prose. Instead, think about your content as if it were a mathematical puzzle.
- Place the biggest impact at the top left.
- Write short, relevant headlines.
- Edit and edit again to shorten your content.
- Text is the dominant lure (on information-rich sites), so it must take precedence over images.
- Avoid designing your content so it looks like an ad.
- If you include ads on your home page, make sure they are directly relevant to your content.
- Do not use trick banners. They annoy people.
Look at this screen shot.
Notice the headlines. What is the primary message in each one? We, us, me, our.... What's missing? The visitor.
The firm behind that site seems to be saying, "We have insurance to sell. Period."
Advisor sites tend to fall into three categories:
1) "All product, all the time." These are completely devoid of any reference to a buyer or a problem the products solve. At least they're honest. They don't claim to care about clients or their problems, unless they represent an opportunity to make a sale.
2) "We are client-centric." But, most merely make that claim without substantiating it in any way. It's not actually dishonest, but it certainly is confusing.
3) "Pseudo-corporate." That's a site that tries to look corporate, and succeeds at merely looking cold.
Consider the opposite of that: "We have no value without you. And, that value is determined by how well we help you, answer your questions, refer you to a specialist, or provide you with a solution."
Our belief is that your Web site is the most important marketing tool. That's because the site is where most consumers go for information about a firm. That makes it the messenger of the most important message in your business.
If it's so important, why are so many so bad? The advisors just don't know any better.
All communication is psychology. The more you know about communication psychology, the better you can communicate. How can you become better at your own business conversations? Learn the psychology of the people you want to help. Then, restructure your marketing to reach them.
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