When A Prospect Searches For You On The Internet, What Do They Find?

Posted by Michael Kitces on Monday, July 9th, 11:04 am, 2012 in Practice Management

As we enter the digital age, gathering information on the internet becomes a regular part of our lives, whether it's looking up the answer to a question, purchasing a product, or looking for a professional to work with. At the same time, many planners have been reluctant about trying to establish a "web presence" out of fear that whatever appears on the internet may be immortalized, good or bad. Yet the reality is that as the number of websites explodes to unimaginably large numbers, most people will only ever see what search engines show them. Consequently, we actually have a remarkable amount of power to "control" what people see about us on the internet, by establishing a web presence to try to ensure that the information we want prospective clients to see is in fact the first thing they do see. Furthermore, the reality is that having the basics like a website has shifted from being a "nice to have" aspect of your marketing, to a minimum requirement just to be deemed a legitimate professional in the first place. And of course, if you're curious about where you stand and what your prospects might see, there's an easy way to find out: when you search for yourself on the internet, what do you find?

The inspiration for today's blog post was a recent conversation I had with another planner, who shared a great deal of trepidation about how when something appears on the internet "it never goes away," and his concern about the potential that someone might say something bad about him online, where it would be immortalized forever.

"It may be there forever," I replied, "but it won't matter if no one can find it. In fact, do you even know what your prospective clients would find if they searched for you?"

What Do You Find When You Search For You?

Of course, the easiest way to find out what a prospective client would see by searching for you is simply to do it yourself - type your name, or your firm's name, into the various search engines, and see what comes up.

Searching For You

What do you see when you enter your name into Google? What comes up first? Is it your firm's website? Is it your LinkedIn page? Is it an article you wrote or were quoted in? Is it something from your personal or social life? Or are you simply getting results from a bunch of other people with different or similar names, who have no connection to your world?

What if you type the name of your firm into Google? Does your firm's website come up as the top hit? Or something about you? Or is it again unrelated content and results that have no connection to you?

If You Don't Exist On The Web, You Don't Exist At All

While you may have just done a web search for yourself, in today's increasingly digital world, it's almost automatic that any prospective client will also do a basic search on you before doing business with you. Even prospective clients who didn't find you through the internet will likely still type your name into a search engine to see what comes up, before deciding whether to do work with you. It's a basic step of due diligence these days, and easy to accomplish from almost any mobile device.

Which means that while many are fearful of what will be found about them "on the internet" - not being found is equally harmful, or perhaps even more so, as it raises the question of whether the planner and his/her firm is even a legitimate business. Because in the end, whether your website is your prospective clients' first impression (because they check you out online before meeting with you), or their second impression (because they check you out online after a first meeting with you), not having any web presence is a bad impression to leave.

Controlling What People Do Find About You On The Internet

Fortunately, you do have power to control much of what people see about you on the internet. While you can't necessarily change what's printed on some other website, the reality is that in almost all cases, people only read what search engines help them to find (otherwise, finding something about you on the internet is actually harder than finding a needle in a haystack!) - which means if you can own what comes up at the top of a search, you can largely control what your clients see.

And in point of fact, you can control much of what comes up at the top of a search, for the simple reason that search engines like Google try to help people find the most important and relevant content - which means if you make the good content about you the most visible, that's what people will likely find first. And in reality, there's a whole process to accomplish this, called search engine optimization (SEO).

Although the details of SEO are beyond the scope of today's blog post, the basic gist is that search engines like Google tend to consider content more relevant if other websites connect back to it. In point of fact, this is one of the primary indirect benefits of blogging and social media for financial planners - all those links that you and others share in the social media world become links pointing back towards your website, that make search engines rank your site higher and increase the odds that if your prospective clients search for you on Google, your website really is what they'll find first.

But the bottom line is that the more positive information there is that is visible and ranks highly on search engines, the less likely it is that anyone could find anything negative about you on the internet, even if it existed and they wanted to find it! Thus, while you can't necessarily control the negative content, you can try to make sure it is drowned out in a sea of other more positive information, from your own firm's website, to quotes in the media, articles you've published, etc.

So what do you think? Do you worry about people writing bad things about you on the internet? Do you do anything to control what people do find out about you on the internet? If you search for yourself and your firm, what does come up on the first page of the search results?

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