Vanguard's SEO Advantage

It’s been said that success comes from doing a lot of little things right.

Now I’ll concede that search engine optimization is not the primary reason that Vanguard sits atop the mutual fund food chain. But I recently noticed yet another online advantage that Vanguard has over most asset managers: Because it offers an extensive amount of content in front of the log-in to its financial advisor site, that content is well positioned to draw searchers to the site. (Having the resources to produce the content is another advantage, we should note.)

As you can see in the screenshot below from (subscription required), ranked in the top 50 search results for almost 400 organic keywords last month. That—coupled with the more than 8,000 keywords driving traffic to and 38 other Vanguard domains—is impressive. Other asset managers are doing well to rank 300 keywords for their Websites overall, again according to SpyFu.

Zero keywords take searchers to most managers’ advisor-only Websites because, unlike most of Vanguard’s advisor site, all content on the others' sites is locked down. Vanguard's content is working harder and doing more for the firm.

Re-thinking The Advisor-Only Limiter

But, to rank in search engine results is not the first reason you’d cite when appealing a decision that may have been made years ago to lock up all advisor content. That argument should lead with the fact that advisors are likelier to discover and access your content if doesn’t require a password. Content wants to be free! That’s been the clarion call of content marketers for years now, and Vanguard and a few other asset managers are coming to the conclusion that most content created for advisor use doesn't have to be labeled "advisor-only."

Who else besides Vanguard? In the SpyFu research I did, I found that had a respectable 98 keywords driving traffic in October. A few other advisor sites—check out, for example—let unregistered users browse content, although they have yet to break into top 50 results for keywords tracked by EditSpyFu.

Once you’ve won the user experience argument and start publishing your advisor content on pages that can be spidered by the search engines, heightened visibility should result. Advisors and other investment information-seekers will have a better chance of discovering your content through Search.

The Endgame: Visibility, Not Targeting

“Advisors don’t use search engines” is something I’ve heard from asset management staff, mostly on the Sales side, for years. That’s an old saw that just doesn’t cut anymore. More than three years ago, Google and the Financial Planners Association collaborated on a study of advisors’ use of Google for investment research. The study documented advisors’ reliance on Search, including for investment product research. It’s safe to assume that their search engine usage has only grown since 2009.

Indeed, one of Vanguard’s highest ranking search keyword phrases—“credit spread history”—is worded as an investment professional might. What’s more, today a handful of savvy asset managers are paying to appear on Page 1 results, offering content targeted to financial advisors. For example, see whose Google AdWords ads show up when you search for derivations of “alternative investments.”

But don't oversell the value of ranking organically for the purpose of drawing more advisors.

It’s likely that many of Vanguard’s other top 50 keyword phrases (e.g., “what are ETFs” and “millionaire investors”) are being searched by people who are not advisors. They’re everybody else. Through their searches, non-advisors may land on your advisor pages and it will be up to your information architecture and design to convert that interest into something more appropriate for them.

The implication of high search engine rankings is that your firm is relevant on specific terms that people are looking for. You have something that people want. Conversely—hmm, how to put this—no matter how outstanding your content, your mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) company is irrelevant if you’re not visible.

When was the last time your firm considered what really needs to be behind that creaky old registration gate? Maybe you don’t have to stand by while Vanguard, Dreyfus and others pick off all the best keyword searches.