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Understanding SEO Compliance Issues When Working with Advisors

Brent Carnduff
Understanding SEO Compliance Issues When Working with Advisors

As an industry, financial services was slow to adapt to the marketing changes brought about by the Internet.

Although much of this was due to uncertainty in regards to compliance – the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) were very slow to move or to clarify their rules, and large brokerages found it easier to say “no” then to help develop a solution for their advisors – some of the blame goes to the advisors as well.

In 2010, when speaking with many advisors, there was a belief that having an online presence meant a stagnant, pamphlet-like website, and that their prospective clients “were not on social media, and would not search for them online.”

Those that did want to be more involved online felt restricted by compliance issues – there was even a special “compliant “LinkedIn-like social media site for advisors that could not be on LinkedIn.

That attitude has changed dramatically over the years as consumer behavior has shown that perspective clients will search, research and engage advisors online, and younger advisors have moved into more prominent roles within their firms.

Thankfully, the SEC and FINRA have moved forward (albeit somewhat slowly) as well, the last apparent hurdle for SEO being the SECs Guidance Update No. 2014-04 from March of 2014.

Prior to this update, advisors were guided by the Advisor Investment Act of 1940, and most felt like they needed to avoid any sites that allowed for third party reviews – including Google My Business (Google Maps) and Yelp. There were even questions about LinkedIn after they introduced “Endorsements” in 2012.

Any of you involved in local SEO will recognize right away the implications this has for Advisor Local Optimization. Those citations, the resulting traffic from some of the third party sites, and the potential reviews, would all be lost to advisors.

This all changed with the release of the SECs Guidance Update No. 2014-04.

Summary of SEC Guidance Update No. 2014-04

  1. Commentary regarding the advisor on independent, third party sites, where that site allows for both positive and negative reviews to be shown, and the advisor could not delete or edit the content, would NOT be considered a testimonial.
  2. This content can be displayed on an advisor's website or social media site, as long as all comments are included, and they are displayed in a neutral manner (chronological or alphabetical).
  3. Advisors cannot solicit testimonials or reviews, however they can reference that public commentary can be found on third party sites (i.e. See us on . . .)

Marketing Implications of 2014-04

  • Advisors can and should be registered with appropriate third party sites (i.e. Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, etc.) that allow for commentary, as long as the advisor cannot edit or remove that commentary.
  • Advisors should avoid or monitor closely any sites that allow for third party reviews that can be edited by the advisor.
  • Social media sites should either be monitored closely so that any reviews/testimonials that are entered in the “comments” section are quickly removed, or where possible, consider turning off the option for comments or endorsements.

Many advisors are still in the process of catching up – developing more robust websites, applying SEO, publishing more content and becoming more active on social media – but it is happening quickly and has become an extremely competitive marketing environment, especially in the bigger cities.

Advisors are looking for help, but make sure that you’re comfortable with the various restrictions or compliance concerns that they face.

What issues have you faced when working with an advisor, and how have you worked to resolve them? Let us know in the comments.

Care to explore this topic more? Please join me for my SEMrush webinar, Diversify Your Client Base with SEO for FinancialAdvisors, May 14 at noon ET. Register now!

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Brent Carnduff is the owner of Advisor Web Marketing, a boutique Advisor marketing firm specializing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and WordPress websites.
Brent has an MBA in Financial Planning and a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree, and has been working with Financial advisors since 2010.
In addition to his own blog, Brent writes a weekly syndicated SEO column for SteamFeed.
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