My first blogging experience was a website I was involved in during the 2000s called WineInvestor.com. The site covered how to make money buying and selling wine. I blogged every week for about four years. I learned such a lot. Blogging is a clear way to ensure that you really know the topic you are posting about. You have to take complex topics and make them simple to understand to a casual, easily distracted reader. It was a labor of love.
I remember the downer of a Sunday morning knowing that I needed to write something that day and then the euphoria in the evening when I felt I had written something that was meaningful (at least to me). Blogging for me is fulfilling as it combines two things I enjoy: research and written story telling. However it is also time consuming and exhausting. Do you ever wonder why reporters always look so tired? It was the deadline they had to hit the night before!
John Anderson recently wrote a post called "Why You Should be Blogging – Right Now.” In it he outlined the importance for advisors to blog and some tips on how to do it well. This galvanized us into doing some light research into the current state of advisors’ blogging. We reviewed 149 advisor websites from all types and sizes of firms to see how much and about what they blogged. This post tells you what we found and what we deduced from our research.
Few advisor blogs
Despite John’s encouragement few advisors are blogging. Only 23% of the websites had any sort of blog post. Although this is disappointing, it is not surprising. Blogging is time consuming and hard.
Many advisors have built their firms on referrals from current clients and the common wisdom is time spent on referrals has tangible results. But it is difficult to monetize the time spent on writing blog posts. It is possible as part of a broader digital marketing plan, but difficult on its own.
Only 6% of the advisors blogged weekly and 3% blogged every two weeks. When we instituted SEI’s Practically Speaking Blog, we committed to post twice a week. We are obviously lucky to have a staff supporting the blog. For an advisor firm, once a week, at the same time every week, is the ideal. It keeps your client-base engaged and wanting more. It builds your blog into part of the investor’s weekly schedule.
A sad sight is that of the dead blog. This is a blog where an advisor may have had the best intention and started blogging, but then the commitment became too much and the writing faded away. If you find yourself in this understandable situation, it is better to take the blog down. The perception of a dead blog is that your blogging out of date, and so the rest of your services may be as well. We found 10% of advisor websites had a dead blog, defined as the blog not being updated since the start of the year.
If you have a well-defined niche, you will get a bigger bang for your blog buck. The posts can be more specific to your niche and therefore can be deeper and of more interest to your audience. Hal Carmean and his firm Creative Wealth Management write a good niche blog. Hal’s niche is w(h)ealth — combining health and wealth, with the idea that you need both to be fulfilled. Hal has two secret weapons with the blog: Kelly Rakow, the Health and Lifestyle Coach and Ciara Jacobi, the Marketing Manager. Kelly writes posts and creates videos on fitness and health. She also slips in the odd recipe. Who doesn’t want to check out a healthy cookie recipe? Ciara manages the process and feeds the content not only to the blog and the website, but also to LinkedIn and Facebook.
When the advisor firm does not want to focus on a niche, it makes effective blogging harder. In this situation, one approach is the comprehensive blog — where there is a lot of content which the reader can parse to see if there is a topic they want to read about. Key to this approach is a categorization method, where each blog post has a topic tag. This allows the reader to select all posts about a specific topic such as investments, health, or technology. This approach needs multiple contributors with specific areas of expertise.
Jack Hooper’s firm Plan Financial has created such a blog. When writing these posts, it is important that the majority of posts are so called “evergreen,” meaning that they cover topics that do not become irrelevant with age. For instance, health topics and financial basics are better than market commentary in this model.
It is the rare investor who will remember to go to your website to look at your blog to see if it has been updated. The simple way around this, is to have a blog subscription. Placed prominently on the blog is a mechanism for the reader to simply enter their email address and subscribe. When a new blog post is published, a link to the blog is then sent to the subscriber via email. The reader sees that you have published a post in their email and is able to click on the link to see the whole post.
Another basic is more controversial: ensure that each blog post has a date. This way at a glance the reader can see if the post is recent, and in these days of fast-changing news that can be important. The controversial part is that I am starting to see some prominent blogs that do not use dates. I get the argument — most blog posts are ”ever green” and so a date does not matter. However dates are also contextual — if you know the date of the post, you know what was occurring in the news at that time and that can give you more insight.
My last basic is to have the title “Blog” in your main menu at the top of your page or prominently displayed if you have a long scrolling landing page. In my opinion (with no data to back it up), the most interesting sections for an investor who’s investigating your website are: the firm’s team, the services and the blog.
Curated v. original content
There are ways to share the experience (pain) of creating content. There several services that will create content for you, which you can distribute to your clients. This content is designed to be interesting and can be tailored to specific client groups. The firms providing these services break into two groups. There are firms that specialize in providing content as part of lead generation or client engagement. Examples of this are AdvisorStream and Snappy Kraken. There are other firms that provide both the content and the website through which to distribute the content. Examples of this are FMG Suite, Broadridge and Twenty over Ten. The optimal approach is to mix your own original content and your personal blog posts with content provided by these firms. This gives you a break, but also allows professional firms to support you. You can learn a lot from them on how you can improve your blogging.
Blog v. newsletter
Historically mature advisor firms have produced newsletters, some of which are elaborate and detailed. The newsletters were sent originally by post and then more recently by email. Some firms continue to produce the newsletters and have built a reliable process into creating them. The advisors feel that the firm’s brand is best conveyed this way. By and large newsletters have been replaced by blog posts. Whereas a newsletter was typically monthly or quarterly, blog posts are shorter, contain a quick message and are more frequent. I’ve also noticed recently that advisors are starting to use the terms blog posts and newsletters interchangeably.
You know who tends to create the best blogs? Younger advisors. This is obviously a generalization, but more experienced advisors who are trying blogging have a lot to learn from their young colleagues. Young advisors tend to write personally, using their own stories, and are digital natives, used to interacting digitally through all sorts of technology channels to their friends, families and firms. A well-known example of this is Sophia Bera and her Gen Y Planning blog. Gen Y Planning, as its names attests, focuses just on Generation Y clients. The posts are on specific topics of interest to that generation. The website is structured so that not only does the firm put the content out to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but the investor is able to share the content using their own feeds. Sophia Bera is a well-known speaker and advises other advisors on how to effectively use blogging and social media. Whereas experienced advisors use their gray hairs as an advantage, young advisors can use their digital marketing prowess as a clear differentiator.
A good blog post starts with a personal story as a hook, provides easily-remembered, pithy and insightful points in the body and finishes with a final comment with the key take away that the blogger wants you to leave with. We started this post identifying how few advisors are currently blogging. However a blog is often the core of a differentiated advisor website that shows the true personality of a firm. The future of an advisor finding new clients will increasingly be around digital marketing. A blog is the heart of digital marketing.
Hal Carmean, Creative Wealth Management, Jack Cooper, Plan Financial, and Sophia Bera are not affiliated with SEI.
Survey performed from 06/01/2020 to 06/12/2020 by SEI staff.
149 hybrid and RIA advisor blogs were reviewed. Multiple size advisors (all below $500M in assets; all above $20M in assets) were reviewed.
Dead blog was defined as nothing added since 01/01/2020.
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