As a financial advisor, it can be difficult to market your firm and get your message out, especially with the rules and regulations that come with working within the financial industry. We work with a lot of advisors on their organic search rankings and the discussion of Google and online reviews is one that comes up constantly but for a very valid reason! Online reviews are typically a big question mark for advisors being in such a highly regulated industry.
The financial services industry is changing and advisors are now getting more and more clients from their website, inbound marketing and other digital marketing efforts versus the traditional word of mouth referrals, direct mail postcards, etc.
However, the power of a customer testimonial is so incredibly strong for your advisor business! In fact, according to Inc. 91 percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Furthermore, 68 percent of people form an opinion after reading between one and six online reviews. So, when getting around the red tape of the industry and trying to go beyond your website, how do you go about getting these Google reviews that are so important? Keep reading to find out!
The Importance of Google Reviews for Financial Advisors
Online reviews are not testimonials because you (the advisor) cannot control them. ANYONE can leave a review for your business on Google (and many other sites for that matter). And as long as you are not responding to the reviews at all (either positively or negatively), then you are not in breach of Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. That’s because when a client writes and publishes a Google review, THEY (the client) are the publisher. Google is the owner and administrator.
This is important to keep in mind when dealing with compliance standards. But why should financial advisors use Google reviews in the first place? Here are three strong reasons why they’re so important:
1. Most Prospects Will Check Out Reviews
When leads turn to Google to search for an advisory firm, they will more than likely check out the reviews and those with more stars will bring more confidence to the searcher, as this proves that many people have found the work with your business to be favorable.
2. Reviews Build Trust and Authority
In a sense, reviews serve as a referral for businesses. Prospects are able to read why your firm is a good choice from people who themselves have tried your service and can vouch for it – what we refer to in marketing as “Social Proof”. According to a Pew Research Center report about reviews:
- About 82% of American adults consult online ratings and reviews when making a first-time purchase
- 40% of Americans indicate that they nearly always turn to online reviews when buying something new
- Almost 50% of Americans feel that customer reviews help “a lot” to make consumers feel confident about their purchases (46%) and to make companies more accountable to their customers (45%).
In the above image, Retirement Matters has great reviews all with 5-star ratings. Not all reviews receive write-ups, as well, but it’s a great way to go even further into detail about why someone chose to give a company a 5-star review. It builds trust and accountability when you can read about someone else’s great experience, and this will really boost rankings.
3. Google Reviews Can IMpact Local SEO rankings
Advisors who have collected reviews will be well-positioned because Google reviews also improve search rankings. Why? Think about it – Google wants to give its users the best possible experience. There are essentially 3 things that google reviews do that work to improve your SEO.
1. LOCAL CUSTOMER REVIEWS BUILD TRUST
Google trusts what other people say about your business much more than what you say about it yourself. Of course, you can taut all the benefits of working with you on your advisory firm’s website, and explain the value that you provide to investors — but when those same investors freely offer the same opinion via a review, Google’s sees their feedback as more trustworthy.
2. POSITIVE CUSTOMER RATINGS DRIVE MORE TRAFFIC
Think of your own search behavior – whether checking out a new restaurant, searching for a hotel, or finding a lawyer – how important are the reviews of that business in making your choice? For many people, reviews from other customers or clients mean everything. In fact, BrightLocal, found that 57% of consumers will only use a business if it has 4 stars or more. If your business has a solid star rating with lots of detailed reviews, searchers are more likely to trust and click on your website. This added traffic sends a signal to Google that your website is authoritative, and thus worthy of a strong search ranking.
3. LOCAL REVIEWS TELL GOOGLE WHAT YOUR SITE IS ABOUT
When you’re building a website, having keyword-rich, detailed copy that describes who you are, what you do and who you serve is essential to good SEO. Well-written copy (that fully describes what your business is about) and an informative site-map makes it easier for Google to crawl your website; in turn, this increases the likelihood Google will serve up your website for online searchers.
The Google reviews your customers leave serve a similar purpose. These online reviews let Google’s robots know what your site is all about, AND can even help fill in gaps that your website’s content may have missed.
For instance, maybe you have started offering hourly planning or a subscription service, or you have a really great monthly educational training that you do with all your clients – but you have never added information about this to your website. Clients who love this service and mention it in a Google review are providing the search engine with missing information about your business.
So, the next time a potential client searches “hourly financial planning near me” Google will keep you in mind.
What is Compliance Approved When It Comes to Online Reviews?
Okay, so I know what you are thinking. “Compliance says I’m not ALLOWED to have Google Reviews!”
Again, let us repeat – When it comes to Google reviews and online reviews, the SEC is clear about what is inbounds and out of bounds or not advisable.
Below is the testimonial rule as written:
Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 generally prohibits any investment adviser from engaging in any act, practice or course of business that the Commission, by rule, defines as fraudulent, deceptive or manipulative.
Rule 206(4)-1(a)(1) states that: [i]t shall constitute a fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative act, practice, or course of business . . . for any investment adviser registered or required to be registered under [the Advisers Act], directly or indirectly, to publish, circulate, or distribute any advertisement which refers, directly or indirectly, to any testimonial of any kind concerning the investment adviser or concerning any advice, analysis, report or other service rendered by such investment adviser.
So again, online reviews are not testimonials. This is because you (the advisor) cannot control them.
ANYONE can leave a review for your business on Google (and many other sites for that matter). To test this yourself – Google your business. You’ll see your business come up and the option to leave a review. As long as you are not responding to the reviews at all (either positively or negatively), then you are not in breach of Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
That’s because when a client writes and publishes a Google review, THEY (the client) are the publisher. Google is the owner and administrator.
In Terms of Compliance It is Okay For Advisors To:
- Be reviewed on Google by others
- Run ads on the review site alongside reviews of their firm as, long as it’s clear that the ad is sponsored content, and the receipt or non-receipt of advertising revenue does not in any way influence which reviews are included or excluded from the review site
- Direct people to the Google page containing reviews in newspaper, radio, television ads
In the review above for Forward Thinking Wealth Management, having a review like this is a great way to boost rankings. Hiring a financial advisor can be a very big step for someone, after all, they are going to be dealing with your money and helping you plan your future. So when you see this kind of positive review about the great advice and how transparent he is, that really helps build accountability and trust for an advisor.
It is Not Advisable For Advisors To:
- Re-publish Google reviews to their website, social media accounts or elsewhere on their owned digital channels.
It Is Not Okay For Advisors To:
- Draft, submit, and/or directly or indirectly author reviews in their own name, a third party’s name, or an alias, assumed or screen name
- Pay or otherwise compensate someone to post a review
- Publish review(s) in newspaper, radio, or television ads
- Have an employee or supervised person write and/or submit a review
Can Financial Advisors Respond to Google Reviews?
We recommend to clients that they do not respond or reply to any Google reviews they receive whether they are positive or negative. The bottom line usually is that an advisor could be in violation of the testimonial rule if they make themselves a publisher by either (a) compensating a reviewer or (b) authoring and/or posting anything – including responses to reviews.
If you respond to positive reviews – it could be interpreted that you are trying to entice clients to leave good comments. If you respond to negative reviews defending yourself, it could be interpreted that you are trying to dissuade commenters from leaving any negative feedback. So unfortunately, it is not advised to do either.