Web 2.0 and You: What does user engagement mean to your business?
This article ran in an industry publication in 2008, but the topic is more important than ever!
Web 2.0 and You: What does user engagement mean to your business?
Did you know that your prospective client has evolved and is now one of the fastest growing populations online? People 55 and older are turning to the Internet on a regular basis for information, to connect with like-minded others and to take part in all the Internet has to offer. As a financial services professional, it is important that you have an Internet presence, however the marketing tools to promote your services and engage your prospects are equally as important. A standard website isn’t enough – if you don’t engage your viewers, provide valuable content and promote what your site has to offer, how will prospective clients find the virtual highway to your site? And once there, how will you keep them there?
Websites have come a long way. First made popular in the mid-1990s, a website’s original purpose was to serve as a static online brochure, a one-way communication tool to deliver information to a target audience. Eventually, electronic commerce emerged and sites evolved to Internet catalogues commencing the second generation of the Internet, named Web 2.0. Sites became research tools, able to be manipulated to reflect the user’s unique preferences (Wikipedia, Google, etc.). As I am sure you’ve noticed, we are now experiencing the “community” trend, an increasingly popular Web 2.0 strategy, giving even novice users the ability to collaborate with others, participate in open communication, and interact with brands, icons and even fictional characters. Although made popular by sites such as Facebook or YouTube, media companies, Fortune 500 firms and even independent service providers are finding benefits from allowing Internet users to interact with their company’s brand.
The goal of having a website in a 2.0 world is to drive consumers to the site, entice them to stay longer, and convince them to return more often (and of course, tell their virtual and real friends about their experience). Companies that are able to create a unique experience online are at an advantage, as they create the “stickiness” so many brands strive to achieve. In a marketplace of predominately static on-line brochures, such as the financial industry, even the simplest of user-engagement strategies will make a memorable mark on a prospective client.
So how can you create web appeal? To start, your website needs to stand out in the consumer’s mind, so keep it exciting, engaging, informational and educational. Internet users often become frequent visitors of Web sites that provide them with up-to-date information. Consider integrating features such as newsletters, national and especially local news briefs, personal finance articles of interest, blogs or Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds on your site. Keeping a flow of continuously updated information will increase the user return rate on your site and the amount of time each user spends there. Prospective clients will come to learn that if they want information on the latest tax laws, for example, and more on the local impact or how it applies to their specific situation, they should turn to a local resource, which can be your website.
Blogs are a particularly popular feature, and are commonly used as an online diary of thoughts, opinions, news, comments and anything you deem important enough to share with friends, or current and prospective clients. Blogs are used in all facets of life today, for personal updates on family to the posting of opinions on government topics and current events, and more. As a financial advisor, you could utilize a blog format to post articles on timely topics, report on current events offering your opinion or commentary, announce workshops, a new designation, award or membership or just connect with your clients on a personal level by offering updates on your business and even personal life. Letting your target audience know that the site is updated on a regular basis is key. Build loyalty and trust with your website patrons and bring them into your world, while exposing your expertise and offerings in a way that could benefit them and their current financial situation.
Continuously adding new content to your site doesn’t have to require daily or even weekly manual postings. Through RSS you are able to provide your site viewers with the latest daily news as it relates to your industry or expertise. A form of RSS can be a page on your Web site that automatically updates with daily news allowing you to feature financial stories from major newspapers, national magazines, local feeds and more. RSS can also assist with organic optimization, a method for improving your page rank on search engines.
Organic optimization is a result of continuously updated content on your website and an effective way to promote a site with minimal monetary costs (of course, there is the time involved). By featuring news content on a site, if a user was to search for the subject of an article, for example an IRA rollover, and there happened to be an article in Money magazine, the search engine would pull up the hosting site, as well as your site, if the article is attributed to the source. Clicks to your site, no matter how they originate, will assist with page ranking status, making your site one of the first to appear in a user search for a local financial advisor.
Sites using Web 2.0 technology allow for user participation and interaction, such as social networking sites, wikis, blogs, posting boards, reviews, and more. These sites can be effective even if you don’t believe your target demographic is using them. Web 2.0 sites will generally get millions more visitors daily than a small business’s site. If you have a “profile” or posting on such a site, when your name or other relevant search criteria is entered into an internet search, it is likely that one of these sites will pull up first, giving you as a person or entity a high page ranking. Each of these sites should include your contact information and Web site address, linking the user back to your services. This is a “two-click” connection from some of the most searched websites in the world, and the more clicks you receive, the higher your page ranking is organically. Examples of Web 2.0 and the popular sites utilizing this technology include Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Wikipedia
Now that you have successfully attracted web users to your site, make certain they are engaged enough to stay for a while and return often by providing up-to-date interactive and educational information. The more that can be learned from your site and the more a user is engaged, the more reason there is to return and to refer your site to others as a source of valuable information. Popular user engagement strategies include:
Videos on the web are quickly becoming an alternative to traditional television for need-to-know information. This is a great way for a prospective client to learn more about a financial topic and you as an advisor.
If you are hosting a weekly radio program and not archiving your shows on the Internet, you are missing an enormous opportunity to further showcase your expertise and talent.
Archived Webinars and Articles of Interest
A webinar is a term used to describe a “Web based seminar” where a commentator uses a power point or other visual element, accompanied by audio, to deliver an educational message to a targeted audience. An Archives section of your Web site can be used to house articles of interest and third party supporting materials.
Newsletter and other Sign-Up Forms
Always be prepared to collect contact information from users who visit your website. Entice users to sign up to receive free reports, announcements, event notices, newsletters, news briefs or anything else you feel appropriate from your particular firm.
Include a rotating poll on your site with probing and relevant questions pertaining to your ideal user’s specific concerns. This will not only create user engagement of your site, but will also motivate continued user return to discover the results.
Consider quizzes such ‘IRA Rollover Quiz’ asking the user probing questions about their knowledge of IRA rollovers. Users that score poorly on the quiz may have an increased sense of urgency to have their retirement accounts reviewed and call to schedule time with you to discuss further.
A calculator is an interactive and informative application that sparks the curiosity of many. Providing a retirement income distribution or an inflation projection calculator on your site will allow interested users to return often to recalculate their financial outlook.
When websites first became popular, there were a lot of late adapters. The general perception was that websites were primarily for big businesses. However, within time, a website became a must-need for having a successful business, and the lack thereof left a negative perception of the credibility of a company. Eventually, we all must adapt to our customers’ expectations and demand. Integrating Web 2.0 into your site will be no different. In the not so distant future, you will need to have these features to be competitive with the other service providers in your area – be the first in your marketplace, the forward leader for integration.