While newsletters, local newspaper ads and visibility in the community are all important branding tools, today’s marketing battleground – and that of the future – is digital
But having a great website, and associated social media tools, is no longer enough. You won’t be able to deliver information – or, more to the point, generate leads – if potential clients can’t find your site.
Any online marketing strategy therefore needs to ensure your site ranks highly in Google and similar web searches.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION
A search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy is fast becoming an important way for brokers to gain that edge online.
But according to Jaci Smith, director of Broker Web Services, some brokers have difficulty in seeing the value of investing in an SEO strategy.
“In the past, brokers have been hesitant to implement an SEO strategy because they don’t understand what they should be looking for and what they’re getting for their money,” Ms Smith says.
Broker Tony Bice, a keen SEO strategy user for seven years, agrees with Ms Smith that an overwhelming majority of brokers believe it’s all just too hard.
“They don’t understand how it will reap them the rewards,” Mr Bice says, “but an SEO strategy is absolutely critical to the success of any broker‘s business in the long run.”
There are two ways to ‘optimise’ your website: the first is through organic and algorithmic search results, which are URL and content driven, and the other is through paid advertising services such as Google AdWords.
The latter can cost up to $120,000 per month to have keywords such as ‘home loans’ drive traffic to your site, while the former option may involve hiring an SEO expert or quality web developer.
SEO strategy development will typically begin with a review of your website by a web developer to evaluate how ‘strong’ the content is. The implementation stage would then involve updating content to feature more keywords and importing meta tags that will allow for more precise organic results.
The idea is to enrich your content with the keywords and terms that search engines will be looking for when doing a targeted search.
Louie Ramos of SEO company SearchRight says while there are some straightforward ways in which brokers can optimise their website themselves, they should really hire an expert.
“They need someone with a complete understanding of an SEO strategy but someone who also understands the market so they can drive sales and convert,” Mr Ramos says.
According to Ms Smith, while outsourcing SEO work is necessary, brokers find the prospect of spending money on a process they don’t fully understand a daunting one.
This led her to develop the Broker Web Services programme, designed specifically for mortgage brokers.
“Our basic package features Google AdWords, using Reach Local and an SEO strategy specifically tailored to a broker’s business,” Ms Smith explains. “Being a former broker, I understand the industry so I can talk financial terms with brokers to discover their needs and then translate that into SEO lingo for our IT team.
“This means we end up with a product specific to the broker business rather than something generic that an SEO expert might do for a plumber.”
Mr Ramos agrees that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to SEO strategies.
“It’s about analysing the status of a website, seeing what the website requires to over rank the competition and from there creating a strategy,” he says.
“The words ‘home loans’, for example, are very competitive and sometimes a basic SEO package won’t work on that,” he adds.
Just as there is no ‘standard’ package, prices also vary greatly. Some SEO experts charge by the hour but many also do package deals with a fixed price. Some brokers might pay up to $1,200 a month for their package while other providers, such as Ms Smith, could charge $500 per month.
Brokers should keep in mind that an SEO strategy is a long-term investment and they should therefore brace themselves for a wait when it comes to seeing results.
According to Mr Ramos, the earliest a client in a competitive field will likely see the results of their investment is six months later.
Those brokers who do stick it out, however, will reap the benefits, says Mr Bice, a veteran user of SEO strategies. His ‘First Choice Mortgage Brokers’ ranks third in Google search results for the words ‘Mortgage Brokers Sydney’.
“I generate around 60 per cent of all my leads from this website and the rest from existing clients and referrals,” Mr Bice says.
THE DIY APPROACH
There are several ways in which brokers can improve their website’s performance themselves.
Making sure your home page is set up correctly, with your call to action above the fold is vital, Mr Ramos emphasises.
“Then, once people are on your site, make it as easy as possible for them to click a button and sign up for something because this will increase your traffic numbers and can boost you up the rankings,” he says.
Brokers should also register their business location on Google Places.
“As Google likes to give people accurate results when they combine keywords with locations, this is a very effective tool,” Mr Ramos says.
Brokers should also try to keyword optimise their website by using the same keywords over and over again in their content, Ms Smith adds.
Some brokers, such as Smartline’s Kim Wight, have also sought social media strategies to boost their search rankings. Ms Wight went from being virtually invisible online to hitting pages two and three of Google search results.
“Fifty per cent of the results I’m seeing are through my blogging,” says Ms Wight, who keyword optimises her blogs. She also uses her social media platforms to drive traffic back to her website.
However, a word of warning from Mr Bice for brokers now ready to get going on their SEO strategy: “Don’t use it in isolation due to the long-term nature of it,” he says. “Allocate a certain amount of your marketing budget to it and balance it with other strategies so you can still grow your business in the short term.”
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