Having a website as a financial advisor is increasingly shifting from a "nice to have" to a necessary minimum just to establish that the advisor is a legitimate professional in the first place. If your business cannot be found online, then it's almost as though the advisor doesn't exist. Yet at the same time, just having a website isn't enough; it has to convey credibility and trustworthiness to prospective clients to really be an effective marketing tool for the business.

In this guest post, business consultant Maria Marsala shares her checklist of 19 ways that financial advisor websites can be made more credible and trustworthy. From the importance of having your own domain name - for both your business and your email address - to eliminating annoying flash and pop-ups, to making sure that prospective clients can learn the information they need, Maria's list helps to ensure your website is up to speed in today's environment.

Whether you're looking at creating your first advisory firm website, upgrading and replacing it to something new, or simply looking for a checklist that you can use to review your own site and perhaps make a few tweaks, I hope you find today's guest post to be helpful!

Picture of Maria Marsala

(Michael's Note: This post was written by guest blogger Maria Marsala, who is the Founder of Elevating Your Business, a consultant, coach, and strategist for financial advisors. You can find her on Twitter at @MariaMarsala or e-mail her at eyb@ElevatingYourBusiness.com.)

Have you ever visited a web site and been attacked by screaming pop-up ads, gotten lost in a clutter of banner ads, had things flash and go boom? Have you visited a site and the information and brand didn't match what the person was selling, or it wasn't as professional as it needed to be? And have you ever visited a site that was informative, easy to navigate, and generally enjoyable to peruse?

Which site gained your trust? Which site would you revisit? Which firm’s newsletter would you want to read? The more user-friendly building tools you use on your site and the more “on brand” your site is, the more levels of trust you'll develop with your visitors. With this in mind, here are expert tips for making your financial advisor website more trustworthy...

Financial Advisor Website Tips

1. Purchase an appropriate domain name

Paying for your own domain name builds trust and looks professional. You can ensure your own domain name will be free of all advertisements (except products or services you sell or recommend). Your own domain name will have YOUR name listed as its owner, because you pay for it yearly or every few years (and you don't want a designer to hijack it). You want to sell your visitors on the content of your site – not the products of other advertisers. For years we've purchased domain names from Dynadot.

2. Use your domain name email addresses

When searching for a host for your site, look for packages that include POP3 accounts and NOT alias accounts. This will enable you to send email from your site (you@YourBusiness.com), which are perceived as more professional than seeing you@FreeEmailAccount.com. It is easier to trust someone who has evidently made an investment in his or her business. When you use free email accounts, or the email address from your ISP (you@YourEmailProvider.com), it’s perceived that you’re new to business or are in business while you wait for something better. You get your domain name email addresses from your hosting company. We use Hostgator.

(Michael's Note: Given how inexpensive it is to register a website - only about $10/year! - I'd also suggest you obtain the website for your last name or full name {if they're not already taken!}. You never know if you may want it in the future!)

3. Include contact information

Provide as much information as possible to help your prospective (and current) clients contact you. Things like: phone numbers, hours of operation (including time zone), Skype address, a business mailing address, and an email address are basics on a site. PO Boxes are not considered addresses. Many companies won’t deliver to PO Boxes, and may be skeptical about doing business with you if you use a PO Box or PMB address. They want someone to contact and write to when and if there are problems. Work from home? Add a suite or building number to your home/apartment. Or use a mail forwarding service for a real address.

4. Add contact links

Place at least two ways for your visitors to contact you on each page. The top navigation bar and somewhere on the bottom of the page are where people will look for this information.

5. Watch your dates

Are your dates current? People prefer to see a current copyright date on the bottom of sites. They also expect to see a blog post from the current month on your blog, too. Sharing events? Make sure the dates are current, or if the event is over, add a link for them to contact you to get on the mailing list for the next round of classes/seminars/etc.

6. Include a personal touch

Studies have shown that after viewing a home page, the next page people read — and spend a lot of time on — is your “About” page. The About area of your website would include your bio, the bio of the firm, the bios of your team, etc. Include links to their LinkedIn profiles and email addresses or phone numbers if you wish, too. You don’t have to put everything on one page. Consider creating an About the Founder, About the Team, and About the Company pages. Don’t make it look as though your site’s owners want to be anonymous, which obviously generates suspicions.

(Michael's Note: And be certain to include pictures of everyone in the firm; prospective clients wants to see who they may be working with!)

7. Avoid “enter”, “enter here”, and splash screens

Do you have an “Enter page” on the front of your site? If so, delete it now! You will lose visitors who want information quickly because they’ll go to a rival site instead. Splash and slider pages are coded using Java script or Flash. Search engines don’t read those codes and many companies have shut down the use of Flash on their computers. Worse than an Enter page is an Enter page that forces someone to download a program of some sort, just to read the page. If you want to use Flash pages, fancy pointers, etc., give visitors the option of viewing them, but don’t force these things upon anyone.

8. Make me special

You have 2 seconds for someone to view your website, know that they’re in the right place, and know that you can help them with their problem. You do this by clearly listing your niche and the benefits or results your services or products offer to your target market on your home page.

9. Make it quick

Ensure that your pages load in less than 7 seconds. Most visitors will not have the patience to stick around much longer than that and will simply move on. A site that loads quickly and is neatly designed will show that you are a professional company. It will also boost confidence in your potential buyers. Here are two different website analyzers: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights and http://iwebtool.com/speed_test.

10. Link it

Make sure that all the links within your site or to other web sites are working. Download a link checker and use it monthly. Sometimes, you’ll find that you've linked within your site to a page you've moved or removed. Other times, you’ll find that pages outside your site have disappeared or have been changed. Ask your web designer to design an interesting “error” page that will allow your visitors to get back on track if a page they bookmarked no longer exists. Here is a link to information on a free link checker, Xenu, the link checker we've used for many years.

11. Spell it right

If you want your site to be as professional as it can be, put each page through a spell checker or hire an excellent proofreader. Don’t underestimate the value of a properly spelled site. If spelling or grammar isn’t your forte in life, as it isn’t in mine, hire a proofreader or editor to check what you’ve written, or write for you. There is also a spell checker in MS Word and other document programs.

12. Secure purchases and interactions

The best sites provide the most secure access available to sensitive client information. This includes a secure server, secure gateway, and information that informs your client that access is as secure as is currently possible. Make sure you offer your clients secure access if they're logging into your website to get to their vault, statements, or other personal information. If you don’t they will (and should) do business elsewhere. Secure websites usually appear when you log in to the client area (the main pages don't have sensitive information and don't have to be secure). The domain name starts with https and the addition of that last “s” means the site is secure.

13. Don’t clutter the site

Use lots of white space to “break up” the text. It’s easier on the eyes that way. The only place to NOT use lots of white space is at the top of your pages.

14. Watch your fonts

Save the fancy font types for special items or graphics. Arial and Verdana work well on sites. Times New Roman is best kept for newspapers, magazines, and documents you print or are read away from a computer.

15. Drop it

Eliminate the pop-ups, pop-unders, and banners that wave or go blinkity-blink all the time. While they may get you some attention, you are more likely to turn away or turn-off potential serious clients. Besides, many people shut down their pop-ups in their browsers anyway.

16. View it

Ask your newsletter/mailing list subscribers to go to your site. Ask them if they know what your business is about without scrolling down the page. If they can’t figure it out, fix this. Once it’s fixed, ask fellow LinkedIn Group members to do the same thing. Fix what needs fixing again.

17. Let them get to know you

Strangers visit your website. Your goal, if they fit your ideal client profile, is to turn them into prospects and then clients. But they might like what they see and not be ready to hire you. Give them a chance to get to know you better and give yourself an opportunity to “touch” them. Have a newsletter subscribe box and if possible, a way for them to subscribe to your RSS feed or blog emails on every page of your website.

18. Let them share and connect to you

Include ways for visitors to share you with whatever social media platforms they use by including share links on every page of your site. PLUS, include ways for them to connect with you and your company on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

19. Cater to everyone

Of course you have a niched website, so your site in general is catering to one ideal audience. This tip is more about catering to everyone who views your website. Include alt = ” ” tags with your images to assist those with sight disabilities and the hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who use library-based text-only computer software and web browsers.

So what do you think? Which of these do you view as most important? Are there any that should be on the list that are missing?

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Michael E. Kitces

I write about financial planning strategies and practice management ideas, and have created several businesses to help people implement them.

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