I would like to develop a web presence ‘ what are my options and how much should I be prepared to spend?
There are two main ways to develop a web presence. A bespoke site built for you by a website design company or a template web service that helps you build and maintain a website. A bespoke site is likely to cost upwards of a few thousand pounds, depending on the complexity of the website and you must consider ongoing maintenance fees. A template service avoids paying this upfront development cost.
The best template services will combine the convenience and cost savings of existing template systems with the flexibility of bespoke sites, into a format that is easy to access and update directly by you. This will enable you to personalise the design of your site and take full control over the content and page structure and you will not be limited in the number of pages that can be added.
The cost of these template services vary ‘ for a top level template you can expect to pay £65 a month.
I would like my website to be as interactive as possible so that users return to it ‘ what can I do to achieve this?
If you decide to use one of the packaged website building services mentioned above, ensure you select one that offers the widest range of interactive tools and calculators. Look out for news feeds, a hit counter, customised buttons and interactive calculators that clearly illustrate a number of product types ‘ including mortgage repayments.
Additionally some companies offer plug-in components that can be added to an existing website whether it is bespoke or a template service. These enable your clients to search, compare and buy products such as term assurance or general insurance via your website, while you earn commission on each sale.
Is it possible for my clients to carry out administrative functions on the site to cut down on paperwork and save myself time?
Currently very few of the packaged services available enable you to develop a website that will allow your clients to update their personal records.
However, while some larger advisers have seen significant levels of electronic transactions, many advisers are developing their website as a client servicing tool first and transactional service second. With this in mind it will not be long before the website building packages include this level of interactivity.
How can I maximise the chances of people finding my site when surfing the net?
The key is not to rely on search engines too heavily. There are so many adviser websites using similar ‘keywords’ for search engines that they will only ever be a minor source of your site’s traffic.
That said, it is worth doing but only as part of your marketing efforts. Most search engines have a link from their homepage that will guide you through the process of registering your site with them. Altavista, Lycos, Excite, Google and Scoot are good search engines to target, as are web directories such as Yahoo! and Find.
There are many other free marketing initiatives you can try. Print your web address on all stationery, news letters or correspondence you produce. Tell your customers you have a new website. Build reciprocal links with other sites such as solicitors or estate agents. Use email to highlight specific features or content to clients.
Before you undertake any promotion, make sure you are clear on what you are trying to achieve and ask if this is realistic. Are you trying to promote services to existing clients or attract new customers? How are you positioning yourself and your company ‘ a personal service plus the value of advice or discounts for online purchase? The answers to these questions will help you determine how and where you promote your site.
Is it possible to monitor and track site visitors?
It is very easy to add a ‘hit counter’ to your site and some website building packages will automatically enable you to do this. A hit counter will tell you how many times people are logging onto your website and give you an idea of how widely used your site is.
I want visitors to learn from my site, but at the same time I do not want them to get so much information that they go direct. How can I strike the right balance and entice them to call me?
This is a common concern. However, there are very few financial products that most people feel comfortable researching themselves and purchasing directly. More complex products such as mortgages and pensions are big decisions for most people and while they may do some research via your site, they are likely to want some specific advice, even if it is simply to check they are not missing something. The key is to make it easy for people to contact you from your website by making email links and other contact details available in an obvious manner.
For simpler products such as term assurance, certain investment products and general insurance, people may be more likely to purchase directly. Your website can cater for this by adding in some of the plug-in components mentioned earlier that enable your client to purchase these products directly via your website.
Sue Summers is general manager at Exchange FS