The Financial Industry Make sure your financial website contains this list of essentials, avoids easy-to-make mistakes and is visible in the right places.

By Elizabeth Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When a client checks out a financial site, it's to compare loan rates (if it's a lending institution), investing information and/or stocks or commodities prices, or to check the past performance of the business. Including these elements in a financial firm's website will also help it be well-ranked by search engines.

The Essentials
The site needs to be presentable, professional and clean-looking. Provide easy access to information with consistent menus throughout. If your site is not there yet or hasn't been updated in two to three years, consider a redesign. During redesign, ask your web designer for a clean, fresh design using "CSS" (cascading style sheets) rather than "tables"--this will make you sound like an expert and will help you tremendously in search engine optimization (SEO).

Have a sales call on the homepage that lets the customer know why he should use your business. What makes your business different and why should the visitor come back to your site? Include a financial news feed and a stock/commodity ticker, or a loan rates feed with RSS subscription capability on the homepage. Also, you want to minimize the number of images so the vital information stands out, but make sure it's not too plain. White and brighter colors work best as long as it looks professional.

Keep complete and up-to-date information on all the financial services your business offers, and/or advisors your firm has, and the history and performance of the firm. Security and correctness of the information, however, is important, so make sure you have a secure environment and a designated employee who fact-checks content before it's published to make sure it's compliant. You may want to consider using a product like Adobe Contribute, which provides a built-in approval process before being able to publish content and has a very secure multi-user environment.

Your site needs to become an information resource for the customer it serves. Whether the customer is looking for quotes, past results of the firm or loan rates, your site has to readily provide most of that sort of essential information on its homepage.

Update the content on your site daily, especially the homepage. As a rule of thumb update the look and feel of the site every year to make it stand out as fresh and on-the-ball, but keep the main areas in the same place and keep as much of the functionality the same or very similar so your regular users will not feel out of place. Your web professional should know what you need in order to be able to do this easily. Don't get stuck in a hosted content management system with limited capabilities; make sure your web developer is able to add functionality to the site easily as your organization grows, and that he's willing to look at other avenues besides a content management system. You should be able to edit your homepage RSS feed daily, so that's a function your web designer needs to make very easy to use.

Have SEO conducted by a professional with a proven record, and make sure it concentrates on services your company offers. If foot traffic is important to your business, SEO should also concentrate on locations in order to drive local searches.

Mistakes to Avoid
Most financial websites that aren't successful in converting customers and aren't successful on the web have the following issues:

Bad Design. Messy layouts and inconsistent menus cause a customer to feel lost in your site. The site needs to be easy to read and aesthetically pleasing. If you know your customers are older, consider using a white background and larger text to increase readability. It's vital to consult with a web development firm and ask them what they can do to improve your site. Consultation services are often complimentary, so be sure to ask.

The site development included "frames." Frames are frowned upon by a majority of the search engines out there. A site redesign and SEO is highly recommended.

The site is not updated regularly. The customer will see the site as stagnant and will not feel the need to come back. In the financial industry, up-to-date information is highly desirable and if not easily found on your site the customer will exit the site. Keep in mind this affects conversion numbers, as a repeat website visitor is more likely to become a customer.

Don't forget to empower people in your organization. Make several employees a part of updating the site rather than having a single individual responsible for the entire site--but make sure you have a point person checking and approving content to ensure it's compliant and correct. Again, you might want to consider using a product like Adobe Contribute, with its built-in approval process and extremely secure multi-user environment.

Content, content, content. If your content isn't organized, up-to-date and easily accessible, or if most of your content consists of bulleted lists, it's time to look into reorganizing and adding more content. There's no such thing as too much content when it's properly organized. If needed, consider using a professional copywriter in the financial field who can work in tandem with your SEO specialist.

No search engine visibility. Has the site ever been analyzed by an SEO professional? Search engine optimization, marketing and promotion are the lifeline most websites need to succeed. Keep in mind that this isn't something to skimp on--use a proven SEO professional who can suggest ways to improve your site before launching into any redesign. From content to design issues, SEO professionals are often able to tell you what your site really needs. Consider this just as important as having a well-designed site.

Poor marketing. Similar to traditional marketing, you need to have a web marketing plan in place and make sure it drives customers to the site and maps that traffic. Make sure a proper web statistics package is in place that can monitor everything a user does on your site. This will help you determine if the customers you're targeting are using the site as intended and will give you clues as to how you can improve their experience.

Places to Be
Be sure to promote your site to most of the web directories including DMOZ. Stay out of link farm sites. Your SEO specialist will also recommend local sites and blogs where a listings, advertising or comments section may be beneficial to participate in. Create a "resources" page with reciprocal links to other financial businesses that complement yours here or abroad--search engines really look for that.

Consider spending some time looking for forums where the services you provide are being talked about and offer basic advice without making it sound as if you're trying to win business by doing so. Add the address of your site and blog as links, if permitted, to your signature. But remember: there's a fine line between a well-crafted response and one that will be perceived as trying to spam the forum.

"Financial News" with RSS Feed and a ticker with an RSS feed should be on your homepage. This will bring subscribers and some syndication along and help you promote your site organically.

Create a blog. This will help quite a bit in promoting the site and allow you to publish company news. Feeds from a blog are great, as they can then be syndicated by other sites, giving you much larger exposure or footprint. E-newsletters are also a great way of keeping in touch with your prospects or current customers, and press releases should always be included in the company blog as excerpts and a link given to the page(s) on your site where the full text of the release exists.

Keep in mind the blog is being read by your customers, so try to keep their interest up with catchy titles and don't get hung up on financial jargon. Beware this content also needs to be compliant. Ask your SEO professional to make sure your blog includes social networking links after each post so your readers can help promote your site. And always ask your employees to frequent and comment on your blog and site, as sometimes their input can be very valuable.

Researched and written by Elizabeth Wilson. Information provided by UrbanVerve a leading web strategy consulting, web development and SEO solutions company and CI Web Design Inc an innovative web design and development company.

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