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Tuesday
Feb242015

Before You Go All-In On Facebook

“We’re starting to think more seriously about Facebook…”

I’ve heard this more than a few times from firms over the last six months. Typically, the firm has excelled with something else social (e.g., blog, Twitter account or LinkedIn company page) and believes it’s ready for something more challenging while potentially more rewarding.

The size of the social network itself (890 million daily active users in December 2014), its 2014 surge and the engagement potential all make Facebook impossible to ignore if you’re a marketer in 2015.


Mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketers absolutely should consider participation (beyond the base camps many have already set up) on Facebook for their own strategies. Not knowing what your business or marketing objectives are, not knowing what your client composition is, not knowing what your content and other resources are, etc., I can’t go much further than this.

…Except to encourage you to temper your enthusiasm by drilling into Facebook’s sensational traffic and engagement numbers. Financial services, let alone business-to-business organizations, cannot expect the same pick-up that other industries famously experience.

For some level-setting, let’s first take a broad look at social media and financial services. Afterward, we’ll zero in on Facebook.

10 Finserv Brands Dominate

There’s no shortage of ebooks and whitepapers about social media and financial services, but this Shareablee presentation delivered at a State of Financial Services Webinar in late November is distinguished by the data it presents. Unfortunately, the Webinar isn’t available on-demand.

Shareablee takes care to report financial services subsegments, noting that the lowest percentage (61%) of Investment Products & Services brands have social presences. Banking, insurance, loans and even payment services brands are more active. Data quoted is from January through October 2014. Note that LinkedIn isn't a platform included in this report. The annotations on the following slides are from me.

Within Shareablee's Investment Products & Services brands category are diversified firms and brokerages that are probably beyond your competitive set. They command the greatest share of voice.

Here’s the sobering slide: The top 10 brands dominate, representing 66% of all activity. If you’ve been successful, by your standards, with anything in social media, you are to be congratulated. It’s not easy to make an impact.


Next check out the Shareablee slide of Facebook sharing in particular. Despite all the hoopla about Facebook in 2014 and despite the pick-up of insurance and banking content, note the so-so sharing of investment product/service content.

This gets to the core content challenge of asset manager posts on Facebook. If you are not a Fidelity or Vanguard, if you don't sponsor community outreach programs (e.g., charitable benefits or sporting events), if you're new to engaging with a community and if the bulk of what you have to post is investment strategy and market insights, let’s be realistic about how much sharing your repurposed posts are going to get. How comfortable is a suit and tie at a barbecue?  

Minor digression: Before we leave the Shareablee deck, see the slide that shows the types of posts that people engage with. Across all financial services segments—but especially investment products and services—it’s photos! If you make just one tweak to your social strategy in all of 2015, please let it be to post more images.  

Does Facebook Drive Traffic?

Why take on another social network and especially Facebook? To drive both brand awareness and Website traffic. So, does Facebook drive traffic? All of the above was a prelude to encouraging Facebook-aspirants to watch the following Whiteboard Friday video, published on The Moz Blog last week. A transcript is also available on the page. 

It’s an engaging 17 minutes but if you’re short on time, here are a few highlights.

4:00: The Moz’s Rand Fishkin says the average page per visit of a Facebook visitor is about 1. “It tends to be the case that when you're in that Facebook feed, you're just trying to consume content, and you might see something, but you're unlikely to browse around the rest of the Website from which it came.” 

This compares to the average 3-5 pages consumed by people who arrive directly on your site and to Google search-sourced visits (2-2.5 pages on average). Obviously, you’ll want check your analytics to see how your various traffic sources perform.

6:48: But, Fishkin notes, “Facebook's likes and shares are very indicative of the kinds of content that tend to perform well in search. So, if we can nail that, if we understand what kinds of content get spread socially on the Web and engage people on the social Web, we tend to also perform well in the kind of content we create for search engines.”

7:38: Fishkin begins his top 10 tips for Facebook optimization. 

8:56: A social referral/introduction may lead to subsequent Website exploration. Here's a brief discussion of setting up analytics to track future visits from social referrals, and see this post for more.

12:43: Fishkin discusses limitations on the reach of brand content, a relatively recent adjustment Facebook made to dim the effect of what had been overwhelming brand content. The objective is to enable personal content, typically valued by users more, to resurface.

14:27: Facebook is difficult to "game" nowadays but it is still possible to “game human psychology,” says Fishkin. “If you can find the angles that people care about, that they're vocal about, that they get engaged, excited, angry, passionate, of any emotional variety about those things, that's how you tend to trigger a lot of activity on Facebook,” he says. Don't produce that kind of content yet? You'll need to.

If Facebook is a frontier you aim to settle in 2015, I'm rooting for you. Of course, an asset manager can succeed on Facebook. Just do your preparation, make sure you understand the level of new effort required, including some level of advertising spending, and be sure to track your results/effectiveness.

Wednesday
Feb112015

Now For Something Different: Morningstar’s Performance Clock

The old way involved closed doors, guarded discussions and hushed voices until an organization was ready to unilaterally spring change on its business partners and customers. (And we wonder why that didn’t always work so well?)

That’s not how change is introduced today. More often than not, the new way starts with an idea—sometimes not fully baked—and involves pilot tests, trial balloons, beta launches and other forms of vetting by "the crowd."

For example: Have you seen the “performance clock” published in the February/March 2015 Morningstar Magazine? This link will open page 34 of Morningstar’s Nxtbook magazine reader, you might need to give it an extra second or two.

The performance clock offers a different way of looking at monthly returns of indexes or securities over time. It appropriates the face of an analog clock, showing monthly returns for the 12 months of a calendar year. The length of each line shows the absolute performance for each month. January is at the 1 o’clock position. Green lines present positive months and negative months are shown in red. When the returns or losses are small in some months, the lines very short.

“We’re thinking of making it a regular feature in our Data Dashboard toward the back of the magazine,” Editor-in-Chief Jerry Kerns told me in a response to an email I’d sent. “It would track the performance of [market] indexes throughout the year.“

In the note accompanying the feature in the magazine, Kerns asked for feedback, including whether Morningstar software users would want to see an interactive visualization. Per the new way, why invest programming resources unless there’s some demonstrated user interest in it?

Morningstar acknowledges that the visualization conveys the same information as a standard bar chart. In answer to a direct question from me, Kerns said, “I think it could replace monthly bar charts. It hammers home that volatility comes not just from the downside.”

Kerns elaborated, “I think the clocks work best when they’re being used to compare or provide context. Say that the performance of two funds with similar mandates is correlated—both funds produce positive and negative returns during the same months. But what if one fund was more volatile—its up and down months were more extreme? The performance clocks of these two funds, presented side by side, would show that. The volatility of the one fund would really stand out.”

I like the clocks and found myself spending much more time with them than I would with bar charts. I appreciate new efforts to aid investor understanding. At the same time, I should admit that I’m a pushover for whatever's new.

Does The Clock Toll For You?

Every mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketer knows to keep an eye on what Morningstar’s up to. In fund communications alone, we have Morningstar to thank for introducing the style box (in 1992, according to this corporate PDF) and of course there are the star ratings that appear on most fact sheets and fund profile pages.

I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a new and improved visualization from Morningstar might eventually influence your presentations of market or fund performance.

Who else has a say in how fund companies present data? The financial advisors who distribute your products, the wholesalers who represent them, FINRA, Compliance, your fund data automation vendor, in-house designers all have a stake, too.

Just to test the waters, I reached out and asked Synthesis and Kurtosys, two marketing communications automation solutions providers mentioned here before—see this post and this—for their reactions. These people are information design professionals, with the battle scars from having to automate scads of data, graphics and text for an array of asset manager communications. They are not easily impressed.

“How would the performance clock work, either in fund fact sheets or online?” was what I wanted to know.

Some Reservations

Stipulated: There’s no doubt that a tabular presentation of fund return data is the most complete information a fund company can provide. If the clock visualization was used to present fund performance and/or index performance, it would likely be supplemental as most fund company graphics are.

Even so, the fund automation vendors have their reservations.

On the plus side, said Synthesis product manager Noel Rodolfo, “One of the benefits of this chart is that it should take up less real estate than a bar chart (even with data labels added, as I would suggest). And the clock hands’ length is the absolute value since positive/negative is denoted with a color. Nice, that will save some space.”

However, Rodolfo noted that reliance on color alone for positive and negative returns will be a challenge for the color blind. Ultimately, he thinks a benchmark comparison—involving two clocks side by side—will be more difficult and take the user too long to analyze the differences.

“I’ve seen these charts used by the fund ‘technicals’ on an institutional level, at French and Swiss firms mostly,” said Matt Stone, marketing director for Kurtosys.

Stone called clock charts interesting but confusing. “They save space and can help report on seasonality, but they are frighteningly hard to read for most. Both the positive and negative values go in the same outward direction.”

Stone said Kurtosys doesn’t see much reinventing of the wheel related to fund performance. On the other hand, marketers are turning to infographics for “the freedom to experiment and be more original. But the aim,” Stone reminded, “should always be to provide clarity, precision and efficiency.”

Your turn—whether you’re a marketer, financial advisor or Other—to weigh in on the performance clock. Your comments are welcome here, of course. You might also want to share your thoughts with Kerns. After all, early response from our crowd should be the benefit of Morningstar’s providing a first look. 

Thursday
Feb052015

Commenting On Asset Manager Websites—And Some Said It Would Never Happen 

In the brief history of blogs on mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) Websites, the stickiest point of contention between Marketing and Compliance has been the ability to accept and respond to comments.

Marketing: “But if we don't allow comments, how is this different from any other page we publish with market or investment commentary?”

Compliance: “Well, you’re the ones who want to call it a blog.”

As it happens, this stalemate was short-lived. In the last few years, marketers have prevailed, successfully making the case for the benefits to the firm of using comments to listen, learn and demonstrate responsiveness. 

Quite a few firms have opened their sites and blogs to comments. Such permissions have been accompanied by yards of moderation rules and disclosure but that’s to be expected.

Even in the absence of comments, there are more and more signs of a firm’s desire, or tolerance, for a two-way dialogue. And, the hint of the presence of a community can be found on domains controlled by asset managers.

I believe that firms’ generally positive experiences fielding comments on platforms they don’t control (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) have led to less anxiety about the risk of comments posted on sites they can control. Moderation capabilities—including simply choosing not to allow the posting of a submitted comment—can go a long way. It’s also true that the firms are not the troll target that many feared.

Here’s a quick status report on how asset managers are inviting feedback on the content they publish. I should note that this review is happening just as a few well trafficked Websites such as Bloomberg Business and Copyblogger recently dropped comments. They say conversations belong on social media.

Go Big

The BlackRock blog has started to embrace commenting in a big way. See the center bar on its home page which contains a question related to the most recent post. The Add Your Voice button links to a comment box at the bottom of the post. Clicking on the BlackRock tab prompts a flyout box showing rankings of all discussions and commenters.

Last September, we looked at BlackRock’s advisor community site, which was an ambitious undertaking. This is a natural extension for the firm to encourage blog visitors to “join the conversation” and, from the looks of it, relatively simple to execute using a Disqus integration with the WordPress blog.

Blogs that publish comments are some of the industry's best, including Pioneer’s FollowPioneer, Putnam’s Advisor Tech Tips, Russell Investments’ Helping Advisors, SEI’s Practically Speaking, Vanguard's blogs and Wells Fargo’s AdvantageVoice.

Social Sharing Icons

Simply put, if you'd like your content to be shared more on social platforms, your site or blog needs to offer social sharing icons. And, sharing can be a prelude to commentary that happens on those platforms. This is out of the moderation reach and, unless you have systems in place, out of the awareness of some firms.

I commented on the growing prevalence of the icons on mutual fund and ETF sites, including blogs, in a 2011 post. However, some firms continue to face Compliance resistance.

Comments may be turned off on American Century’s blog, but the social sharing counters and the popup of the Most Popular ranking support the user’s experience. The star ratings and total votes combine to provide an alternative form of navigation courtesy of previous visitors to the site—the reviews they've left behind identify what’s good on the site.       

Making Thought Leaders Accessible

The Voya blog offers an Ask a Question feature. There’s none of the authenticity that comes with published account names, there's no date accompanying the question, the investment strategist who answered the specific question isn't named and there’s no opportunity for follow-up, which blog comments enable. It's a controlled yielding of the floor and the content focus to address what an individual reader is interested in. Despite its limitations, it has the effect of making Voya thought leaders accessible.

Not Now Doesn’t Mean Never

When Vanguard started blogging in 2009, I noted that comments were not accepted. It didn’t take long before comments were enabled and some visitors to the investors blog went to town. At the extreme, 472 comments have been submitted to a 2010 post on When to Start Saving Your Retirement Savings and it continues to top the blog’s Most Discussed ranking.

Vanguard accepts comments on its advisors and institutional blogs, but commenting there is much less common. 

As shown below, Franklin Templeton's Beyond Bulls & Bears blog and a few other firms collect comments while acknowledging they won’t be posting just yet.

Twitter Widgets—Yes, But…

Several firms publish a Twitter widget on their blogs, which would seem to be a low-friction way of presenting commentary from other parties. However, this screenshot from the Principal blog is typical of all embedded tweets that I’ve seen published on asset manager domains. The feed is of the firm’s tweets only as opposed to all replies or mentions. This isn't surprising, there’s no telling what kinds of commentary would be published on an unfiltered feed.

But there's another consideration, too. A Twitter widget embedded on your own site can point visitors to content that you shared either on your site or off. By contrast, the interactions your account has with others would be less valuable and may be less effective in prompting people to follow the account. Even when configured to show just your account's tweets, though, the presence of a Twitter widget suggests the firm's participation in and even availability to the community.

Thursday
Jan292015

Maybe There's A Difference Between Male And Female Advisors

Asset management marketing is getting increasingly sophisticated. To support that statement, I’d point to mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms’ heightened capture and reliance on business intelligence and analytics, integrated communications across multiple channels, the increasing mastery of non-text forms of communicating.

Segmentation, for example, is an area where firms are making strides. The more customized, even personalized a communication, the greater its relevance.

But I’m wondering where investment management marketers are on what may be the most fundamental segment of all: gender. Does your customer relationship management system (CRM) capture the gender of your contacts? Can you/do you run reports segregating male financial advisors from females to isolate differences in response and even AUM and sales?  

My experience, and my impression corroborated with a few additional pings to others in the industry, is that the overall availability of information about the gender of database contacts is spotty.

Gender is a custom field in both Salesforce and SalesPage CRMs. But while it’s relatively trivial to add, it must be identified as a requirement—and at many firms that hasn’t happened. Capturing gender data isn’t a priority for Sales, which tends to drive CRM implementations.

Granted, most of the contacts in an asset manager’s CRM are going to be male. But, according to data kasina reported in 2013, female advisors made up 17% of advisors across all intermediary channels. That's plenty of female names as well as uncommon names or names that could go either way (e.g., Pat Allen) that justify a mandatory gender field.

Learning From Social Media Analytics

The insights being gleaned from social media use are what prompt the question now. Underlying virtually every social platform is a database that’s core to its value. The networks, and third parties with access to the APIs, produce demographic analyses that can be quite helpful to understand who an account is reaching and whether content adjustments are necessary, as is often the case.

To give you an idea, here’s a Demographics Pro analysis of the @RockTheBoatMKTG Twitter account.

The content I selected to tweet over the last six years is what attracted this group to the account. Seeing this was both eye-opening and sobering. These people look like they mean business. No, I won’t be bothering them with my real-time insights about The Bachelor.

At the same time, analysis of aggregated usage data is resulting in reports and commentary drawing gender distinctions between what works on social networks. To wit: 

  • “Pinterest’s Problem: Getting Men to Commit” was the headline of a Wall Street Journal article that offered “gender differences in information processing” as one reason for Pinterest’s unpopularity with men. Studies by Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, “have shown that women are able to process information more comprehensively and do so at a lower threshold. Men are more selective and tend to focus on the essentials… 

In other words, Pinterest’s busy design may create an information overload for men. “If this was a magazine, they’d turn the page,” Ms. Meyers-Levy is quoted as saying. “It works for females because they like detail, they like more complexity.”

I read this article and then headed over to a busy, busy fund profile page. Hmmm. 

  • Several conclusions are being made based on differences in how social media is being used. 

Women are more vocal, expressive and willing to share, reports BrandWatch in this post aggregating gender data from multiple social media survey sources. More women use Facebook and Twitter. They’re interested in making connections and staying in touch. More women than men (58% vs. 42%) consume news in social media. The data show that women are more active altogether, more active on mobile devices and more likely to follow and interact with brands.

Men, who outnumber women on LinkedIn, use social media to gather the information they need to build influence—they perform research, gather relevant contacts and ultimately increase their status. 

  • Closer to home, Putnam’s December 2014 research on financial advisor use of social media was the first work (I believe) to report in-depth on advisor gender differences. The findings track other research, showing that women financial advisors do more but also benefit more when using social media for business. The screenshot at right is from Putnam’s infographic and shows that 71% of social media-using female advisor respondents gained clients versus 64% of male advisors. Their average asset gain of $5.6 million is more than three times the median of $1.7 million, slightly more than the average male gain of $5.5 million. 

Most interesting are the gender differences between the social media content that advisors react to. According to the Putnam data, female advisors are far more likely to respond to your blogs, podcasts and slideshows.

Pursuing More Hits Than Misses (Absolutely No Pun Intended)

An irony is that financial advisors themselves are increasingly focusing on gender differences between their male and female clients—with help from a few asset managers’ value-added programs.

Most mutual fund and ETF content teams today are somewhere in between producing just what’s required (the legacy of the good old days when the time and expense of print served as a natural limiter) and churning out as much as fast as they can. As the range broadens and volume rises to take advantage of burgeoning opportunities, the chances are that there will be more misses than hits.

A better command of the demographics of the names in your database could help steer some of this. Also: Tracking such data might help mitigate the risk and/or address challenges that arise when a disproportionate number of females are involved in the process of creating fund communications directed at salespeople and users that skew largely male.

Those of you with consistent, reliable data on the male/female composition of your database have an advantage. You’re able to study and understand any response differences that may exist. You can compare the demographic reach (including gender and other dimensions) of your owned communications with your social communications. You can test whatever content adjustments seem indicated. You could plan all-male or all-female communications, I suppose, but I’d tread carefully making any assumptions there.

Sales may have limited interest in documenting a contact’s gender in the CRM because they pride themselves on knowing the top 250 producers they’re focusing on—they don't have to check to see who's a woman and who's a man! If Marketing’s charge is to better understand and nurture the interest of everybody else, isn’t gender an obvious piece of data to begin to collect and understand?

Thursday
Jan222015

Why Your Site May Be On The Verge Of Losing Lots Of Traffic

Here’s a quick test for you: Search for the ticker symbol of one of your firm’s funds, a big one, a small one, it doesn’t matter.

What’s the top search result? A big ole chart, right? The screenshot below shows the results of a Google search on a desktop and on a smartphone. (Incidentally, note how simple and clean the data display can be when not weighed down by the pesky disclosure that’s required on your site.)

How many searches do you suppose your site loses to Google Finance, Morningstar and Yahoo Finance, the sites linked to at the bottom of the ticker symbol graphs?

There’s no need to guess—just check your Webmaster Tools account (Search Traffic/Search Queries). You’ll likely see that your site is being displayed in search results for ticker symbol searches (Impressions) but that you’re not getting the majority of the clicks.

In all likelihood, the information that Google is providing to ticker symbol searchers right there on the search results page is either 1)satisfying the searcher or 2)driving the searchers to Google, Morningstar, Yahoo fund or (for ETF ticker searches) even MSN Money profile pages.

Ouch. This especially hurts because ticker symbol searchers are the most qualified site visitors you could ask for—no doubt you’d prefer them to come to your site, sign up for an email newsletter, ask for more information, check out other funds… Opportunity is being lost because Google (and Bing, too, by the way) siphons interest in the ticker symbols of your products and reroutes traffic.

Now, competition for organic search rankings is one thing. If the authority of your domain is lacking or if you haven’t taken the appropriate SEO steps to lift the visibility of your fund pages, well, then, you’ve had your fair chance and didn’t step up.

But this extraction of structured fund data from a third-party database is different because it’s completely beyond your ability to appeal.

The publishing of fund prices on the search results page has been going on for years. My sense is that asset management digital marketers are desensitized to the traffic/attention that’s being lost. Do you remember that parable about the frog in the water? As long as the water boils slowly, the frog won't jump out because he doesn’t perceive danger. 

The Knowledge Graph And Its Impact

As it turns out, asset managers have had an early taste of what many site publishers are now experiencing due to Google’s implementation of what it calls the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph, according to Google’s 2012 introduction of it, enhances search by narrowing search results, summarizing relevant content around a search query, and facilitating deeper and broader searches. "It currently contains more than 500 million objects, as well as more than 3.5 billion facts about and relationships between these different objects. And it’s tuned based on what people search for, and what we find out on the Web," Google wrote three years ago.

Knowledge Graph-driven search results have become more prevalent in the last year. The goal of Knowledge Graph information, whether displayed in answer boxes immediately below the search box or in a panel to the right of the search results, is to instantly provide an answer that’s relevant to a search query. Relevant answers delivered on the spot are increasingly important as more searches take place on mobile devices. The fewer clicks required on a smartphone, the better.

This is an expanded role for Google. As opposed to just directing search traffic to the most relevant Websites, it’s now taking it upon itself to try to answer search queries. For a current overview of the various search-related initiatives underway at Google (i.e., Voice Search, Knowledge Graph, Google Now), see this Medium post, part one of a series. About 25% of search queries today produce Knowledge Graph answers, according to author Steven Levy.  

While fund sponsors never made a peep about Google effectively hijacking searches for ticker symbols, many Website publishers who explicitly monetize their sites are upset and confused about the rise of Knowledge Graph.

Some object to Google’s “scraping” their sites to extract a result to show in a Knowledge Graph answer box. It’s a backhanded compliment—Google thinks enough of the site to extract answers from it, but that results in a loss of visitors to revenue-producing pages.

It’s easy to see the value that’s being provided to the searcher. If all a searcher wants is a basic definition of ETF, this Knowledge Graph extract from Nasdaq.com might be enough. If the searcher wants to dig further, Nasdaq is in an advantaged position to get the click from the added prominence on the search results page.

Consequently, some search engine optimization experts are pivoting into Knowledge Graph Optimization. Sources of the Knowledge Graph include Google+, Wikipedia, Freebase and Schema, which is structured markup added to Websites to clearly identify standard elements that Google may want to lift. Following the markup standard for Customer Service phone number, for example, can result in Google extracting the number and publishing it with the search results.

Knowledge Graph Optimization prepares Website content for what is effectively syndication of granular content.

But not all SEO experts or Website publishers approve of this appropriation of content. Many are product manufacturers, like fund companies, and they’re insisting that they should be able to be both the authoritative source of information and a search destination. For two perspectives, see Knowledge Graph 2.0: Now Featuring Your Knowledge and Knowledge Graph: Does it Make Sense to Optimize for the Google Scraper?

We live in interesting times.

So, where does this leave the asset management Website and Web strategy?

Next: Converting Searches For Fund Names

I remember how shocked my team and I were back in the day when we saw the first analytics that revealed that our site’s Daily NAV pages were the most popular pages. That made sense then for two reasons: 1)This predated the fund data aggregators and 2)advisors habitually used multiple funds from the same fund family—a late afternoon or evening visit to the fund sponsor’s Daily Prices page was all they needed.

The bleak future of sites that relied on single-page visits to pages whose data could be found elsewhere didn’t dawn on us until later.

Let’s turn now to your Web analytics. How much of your traffic goes to your product pages? Today, you may be missing out on ticker symbol searches, but my guess is that you’re still getting the traffic from people who are searching for your products by their names. This includes a long tail of searchers using a creative mix of how they spell, remember or type fund names. 

Such keyword searches are increasingly giving way to semantic searches, in which Google considers user search history as well as other contextual signals. It’s just a matter of time before Google looks at those incomplete, hastily entered fund names, automatically does the translation and understands that the searcher is looking for a fund. The fund data graph will be what's displayed as the top search result for all those searches, too.

The goal is to provide information fast, remember, and displaying the graph with the table of basic return, expense and asset size data is faster/more useful than just offering links to an asset manager fund page or, God forbid, PDF of a fact sheet. The implication for your site: More traffic (opportunity) lost.

This is your risk today. I make the assumption that traffic to your domain is something you want to protect, if not build, for a multitude of reasons that start with brand awareness and lead right up to lead scoring and predictive analytics initiatives.

A Few Recommendations

Here’s what the proactive asset management digital marketing team should be doing, at a minimum: 

  • Use the data available from Webmaster Tools and your Web analytics to get a handle on what’s what. Make sure you understand the sources of traffic to your fund pages and their value to you. How many anonymous visitors convert to newsletter subscribers or registered advisor site users, for example? How much of the traffic that Google sends to Google Finance, Morningstar, Yahoo Finance and MSN Money finds its way back to your site—how much as a result of the editorial versus advertising? 

Track all changes in your volume of search traffic and sources over time.

  • Confront the obvious: Why would a fund searcher be better off coming to your site as opposed to another site?

If you’ve researched a car in the last few years, you know that there are some automobile manufacturers that deliver superior, differentiated experiences on their Websites. Car buyers who rely exclusively on an Edmunds.com or other car review site are missing something if they don’t check out the configuration capabilities and other bells and whistles offered by the manufacturers.

What information can you uniquely offer and attractively/interactively present for product tire-kickers?

By the way, I had the “So, what’s so special about the fund information that appears on your site?” conversation with someone recently, and she answered, “We’re the only source of our capital gains distributions.” Well, OK, that’s a start. Those pages command a lot of eyeballs at this time of year. And yet, very few firms use the margins of those pages to cross-market or otherwise communicate.

There’s no stopping Google so control what you can control—give the site visitors you attract better information and a better experience, and that includes when on a mobile device. 

  • If you think your site offers worthwhile, appealing features and data that deserve the attention of fund data searchers, promote it. Don’t sit back and expect site visitors to find it. 

Make sure your wholesalers are versed on the depth of the fund data available on the site. Promote it on the home page, throughout the site and consider targeted pay-per-click ads. As of now, you can still buy your way to the top of the ticker symbol search. 

As Google gets more grabby to protect its own value proposition, you need to be more aggressive, too.  

  • Finally, if you can’t fight them and win, join them. Google’s evolution of the Knowledge Graph (whose answers are extracted from only the first page of search results) gives you just one more reason to commit to publishing authoritative mobile-friendly content that’s optimized for search.   

Your thoughts?