Londoner by birth, Scot by accent, Niels is Copylab's managing director of the UK and Europe.More articles from Niels Footman
In fact, Google rankings may matter more than ever, and especially in asset-management marketing.
Why? First of all, for a variety of reasons, asset managers are increasingly having to gear their message to end-investors while learning how to communicate with them directly.
Secondly, following a transformation of the sales process in recent years, buyers are today far less inclined to consult sales people for information than they once were. Indeed, according to a Gartner study, potential customers are on average 57% of their way through a purchasing process before they have any contact at all with a supplier.
This means that both end-investors and intermediaries are increasingly educating themselves before entering into any investment decisions.
Google has of course been at the forefront of this trend towards self-enlightenment, providing almost limitless, indexed information about practically any topic. And as it has evolved, Google has placed ever-greater emphasis on providing information that is timely, relevant and genuinely useful to the reader. To this end, Google algorithm updates have, since at least 2015, placed a premium on delivering “quality” content.
Which raises the question…
Broadly speaking, previous guides to search-engine optimization (SEO) emphasised time-honoured tactics such as keywords, backlinks and alt text on pictures.
These tactics remain important, but they have evolved. Whereas once it would have been sufficient to focus primarily on keywords or enlist an SEO specialist to generate high volumes of backlinks to your site, Google not unreasonably concluded that this wasn’t the best way to ensure it was delivering relevant, useful results to its users.
And this goal – usefulness and relevance to consumers – underpins everything Google is trying to achieve and, indeed, its entire business model.
So rather than emphasising the importance of producing “SEO-friendly” content, Google has pushed ever harder to reward “quality”. In its Webmaster guidelines, Google defines the basic principles of quality content as follows:
As ever, Google avoids spelling out precisely how to rank highly in its results. But in an excellent follow-on piece, Kathryn Aragon at Crazy Egg looked to flesh out how “quality” can be achieved. Key attributes she lists are:
This fifth point may be somewhat jarring to salespeople. After all, what is the point of marketing material if not to drive sales? But this apparent contradiction goes to the heart of what Google defines as quality: content made not for search engines – or for salespeople – but for users.
And if we recall, most buyers aren’t ready to consider specific purchases until they have progressed a fair way through the customer journey. For those people, real value comes not through product promotions, but through an opportunity to learn and gain value.
All of which sounds nice in theory, but how does this translate in practice in our industry? To find out, we analysed the questions people are asking about asset management and the investment industry, so we could see which content was being highly rated by Google.
First of all, helped by Wordstream, we compiled a list of nine of the most prominent keyword phrases in wealth management: ethical investment, invest money, active vs passive investing, pension fund, investing lump sum, investing for income, investing for retirement, unit trust and pension drawdown.
We then fed those keywords into Answer the Public, which generates lists of the most commonly asked questions on Google. For a search term such as “pension drawdown”, those questions could range from “when can I draw down my pension?” to “which pension companies allow pension drawdown?”
After weeding out duplicate inquiries, and questions with specific mention of a product, company or place (eg, “where should I invest in Canada?”), we fed the remaining questions – 323 in total – back into Google, using incognito mode to rid the searches of bias.
We then compiled a list of all the organic hits (ie, excluding ads) from asset or wealth managers that appeared on page 1 of Google results for a given question.
As a point of comparison, we also included results from investment service Hargreaves Lansdown, which is squarely in the wealth-management business but as a middle- man for stocks and investment vehicles rather than a seller of its own investment products.
The top 10 companies (11 in total, as the bottom three companies were joint eighth) whose content generated the most top 10 hits on Google were as follows:
Of the companies we analysed, Hargreaves Lansdown and Aviva were by some distance the most successful in gaining page 1 hits on Google. Though both companies had a reasonable spread across the keywords (Hargreaves Lansdown seeing results in six categories, and Aviva in five), they had areas where they enjoyed particular success.
Specifically, Hargreaves Lansdown and Aviva respectively generated 26 and 28 page 1 hits around the keyword “pension drawdown”, while Aviva garnered a further 17 in questions about “pension fund”.
But what we really wanted to know was, what was it about these companies’ content that chimed with Google’s standards? And did this provide support for the idea that “quality” is what drives better results for investment marketers?
To assess this, we looked at the most successful individual pages in our results and measured them against each of the five criteria listed above. Though no measure is perfect, the way we gauged “success” was the number of times an individual URL showed up in different searches.
(For instance, as the table below shows, with the keyword “invest money”, Hargreaves Lansdown had a single URL show up on page 1 of nine different questions.)
Next, we wanted to assess whether these pages had met Google’s apparent standards for “quality” content. If we recall, these are as follows:
As this study’s whole method is based on questions real people are asking via Google, we can assert that all of this content offers “quality” according to criteria #1.
For criteria #2, we looked at how dominant a company was within the given keyword. Our thinking here was that if a company has a dominant position for a particular keyword, that company has prioritised that area as a differentiating factor.
For criteria #3, we gauged “trust” by measuring the credibility of individual web pages and the site (or domain) where they live. To do this, we fed the page URLs through leading SEO checker ahrefs.com, which monitors backlinks to given web pages and their domains, and apportions a score based on the backlinks’ volume and credibility.
We used two ahrefs measures: the URL rating (UR), which measures the backlink profile of the individual page, and the domain rating (DR), which rates the backlink profile for the whole site. (A backlink profile is an aggregate score involving both the volume and quality of backlinks.)
For criteria #4, we fed the text on the page through readable.io, one of the most popular online readability tools. Readable.io provides various measures of a text’s readability, so we decided to use one of the best known, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL), which basically measures what level of education someone needs to be able to understand a given piece of text.
Readable.io created the following graph to illustrate what the FKGL scores mean:
For criteria #5, we employed a more subjective call by looking at how much space on each URL was devoted to selling the company’s products.
At the top of the list was Aviva’s page on pension income drawdown:
Our results showed that Aviva achieved 28 hits for questions based on “pensions drawdown”, making it the most successful company for that particular keyword.
Incidentally, Aviva also got the most hits for “pension fund” (17 in total), suggesting that Aviva is successfully carving out a niche for itself online with pension-related content aimed at everyday investors.
For backlink rating, we found that the domain rating (DR) was much higher than the individual URL rating (UR) (80 vs 12). This pattern was repeated across all the most popular URLs; we will return to this point later.
The FKGL for this page was 7.1, making it safely accessible for a broad audience. And as for promoting its own products, the Aviva page is quite restrained, interspersing informational content with a few links on how to get started on a pension drawdown plan with Aviva, or how to transfer a plan from a different provider.
An overall look at the Aviva page shows that it clearly answers relevant questions in an easily digestible, well-presented and broadly impartial manner. Whether or not readers end up using Aviva products, they could gain a useful, top- level introduction to the issues around pension drawdowns from this page.