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Practice Management

How to build yourself a compliant and effective web presence

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

As technology has evolved, marketing communications have been dramatically enhanced. For example, a stagnant magazine article can now be an interactive iPad experience. Although a majority of us do not have the cutting-edge gadgets, most adults in the United States do have access to a computer and possibly a smartphone. As a result, the way we absorb marketing messages is changing.

Online communications will become an even bigger focus for a business looking to grow, and advisors are no exception to this trend. Thus, as a whole, they need to adapt to be more successful online. For many reasons, advisor websites in banks often suffer in comparison to those of other industries.

The main reason that bank advisors are behind the curve is—you guessed it—an avoidance of compliance and legal restrictions. The financial services industry’s environment of conservatism, created by FINRA and the Securities and Exchange Commission, sometimes lead advisors to adopt a “why bother?” attitude and steer clear of the hassle of getting marketing messages approved. Although it can be an uphill battle to get website content that may be considered “advertising” approved for publication, in the long run it can pay large dividends.

The good news is that, with Website communications crossing over into the world of social media, companies like Socialware, Arkovi, and Smarsh are making the battles easier to win by making it easier to keep track of online information. Socialware and Arkovi capture activity on public social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Smarsh provides hosting solutions for archiving electronic communications, including e-mail, instant messaging, mobile messaging, and social media platforms (through Socialware).

Here are 10 tips to help improve a website that is falling short.

1) Usable. Is it clear and logical where to find things on your site? The navigation should allow visitors to follow the path of least resistance in finding the content they’re looking for. One common mistake advisors make is that they never researched their prospects and clients before developing a website, and it shows.

2) Likeable. Does the site deliver something helpful, educational and entertaining? Industry jargon may make an impression on your fellow advisors, but it’s not the language of your target audience. The best sites engage the visitor with issues he or she is interested in. Add humor if it’s relevant. At least add personality, as many do not consider financial services an interesting topic.

3) Up to date. Is the website stagnant? Content needs to be fresh and flow on a regular basis to keep visitors coming back and to improve social media exposure. It makes sense to get multiple items preapproved in order to have content “on the shelf,” ready to use when needed. Remember, content does not purely have to be on financial service topics. It should appeal to the interests of the target audience. Just make sure it stays on brand. Depending on the website traffic strategies, new, preapproved content should be uploaded on a daily or weekly basis.

4) Calls to action. Are visitors being asked to take action where it’s needed? Make it easy for someone to click on a related page to continue growing awareness, sign up for a newsletter, follow you on social media pages, or call or e-mail for more information. In most cases, the ultimate goals should be client retention and/or new business.

5) Each page should stand alone. Is the homepage the best thing about your site? With search engines and social media, visitors often go directly to the page they’re looking for, circumventing the homepage. This creates a need for important marketing messages to be consistent on all pages. Remember, there might be only one chance to differentiate yourself from the competition.

6) Innovative. Does your site look dull? A modern site, if professionally designed, is a positive brand impression for prospects and clients.

7) Searchable. Is the website easily found? It’s important to use the right search terms, tags, etc., to increase search engine optimization (SEO). Also, with compliance approval, have as many relevant links from other websites direct to yours. These things, along with increased website traffic, make the advisor’s name and the content easier to find when individuals search through on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Have other related sites link to your site. The higher the search engine results, the more instant credibility you attain.

8) Creative. Is your site one-dimensional? The old saying “a picture tells a thousand words” is true. With podcasts and videos, you can now get a message across in multiple ways, other than just flat text. Make sure colors, messages, etc., match your brand strategy. Consistency is key. For example, a Website should limit the number of fonts it uses or if it mainly uses photography, a random cartoon might not fit. The look, feel and tone are often a prospect’s first impression, so make it a good one.

9) Scannable. Is it easy for visitors to quickly get what they need? In an era of information overload, make it easy for the visitor to find the information they want. Keep content clear and concise or you will lose the reader. Remember, some white space is often a good thing.

10) Shareable. Does the functionality exist for visitors to pass along your content? Make sure “sociable” applications are installed on your site. These allow visitors to forward your Web content or links to their network of contacts to allow for viral marketing. This functionality should be on every page. Icons of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are great examples of how sharing can be encouraged. There are many other social bookmarking and sharing buttons to consider, like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Yahoo! Buzz.

If you’re planning to make changes to your website, make sure to have an analysis of the current state of the site. Advisors should monitor traffic, leads and conversions resulting from their online marketing strategies. They should know where visitors are coming from, what they are viewing, how often they bounce (i.e., just look at one page), how often they return, etc. Google Analytics is a free tool that can provide all this information for a website for any date range. By having a starting point and taking advantage of analytics, advisors will be able to improve their online marketing efforts throughout the year.

Make sure there is bait on the hook. Advisors will be evaluated by their Websites before they even get calls or e-mails from prospects. A good website is the bait that will make it easier to hook prospects. The worse a Website is the more fish will swim away, often without an advisor even knowing it, as you only get one chance to make a great first impression.

Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy and business development.


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