SEO in the Forex Broker space

 

The FX space is competitive. Very competitive. Top brokers post earnings in the hundreds of millions per year and the total retail market volume is almost $5 trillion a month. FXCM and Forex.com alone spent more than $17 million on advertising in Q1. Publishers the better for it (FXstreet posted earnings of 515K a month) – there is a huge incentive to do well in the search engines’ organic results. This post looks at the SEO efforts of GFT Forex, Forex.com, FXCM and Oanda, four well known US forex brokers.

Comparison

Below table shows the total number of links, and the total number of linking root domains by broker (one domain can have more than one link).

 

As you can see, link-wise, GFT is clearly doing the worst out of these. FXCM and Forex.com are running head to head and Oanda trailing a bit behind. However, if you look at it on a domain level, Oanda clearly pulls ahead (more below).

The same picture is shown in the search results, below rankings for these brokers on some of the top FX-related keywords:

FXCM

FXCM get’s some of its most important links from DailyFX.com. DailyFX is FXCM’s publishing site which attracts a large audience of forex traders (and links from a huge amount of publishers). I’ve talked about this a few times and it shows that besides using the publishing site for advertising, brand building and pr purposes it is also a great SEO strategy. FXCM also own quite a few sites they link to their main site.

Forex.com

Forex.com (GAIN capital) has a great domain – it’s a category killer and it gives them an ‘unfair’ advantage in the search engines. Every time anyone links to their site, it’s a ‘vote’ for the keyword Forex, besides the fact that an exact match domain is seen as a sign of quality by the search engines. Besides this, they have bought a few links on important financial sites as well as a large amount of lower quality links with the anchor text ‘Forex’ and ‘Forex.com’.

Oanda

Oanda’s search engine strategy is different. They use a subdomain for their main brokerage business (which seems strange given it brings the majority of revenue) which can be found at fxtrade.oanda.com. Their front-page is basically an SEO pre-page with links to link bait and inner pages with correct anchor text. They seem to have built their entire internet presence around SEO, which explains the fact that they have never really done any advertising yet manage to be the 6th largest broker in the world. The majority of their links come from bought and sought links for currency converter tools which are easier to get than links straight to a brokerage company, they then pass that link equity to their brokerage page at fxtrade.oanda.com with appropriate anchor text. There’s also few bought/built links to that subdomain.

GFT Forex

GFT has recently started a strategy like FXCM in launching FX360.com but they are not fully utilising it for SEO purposes.  They don’t seem to have many bought/sought inbound links which explains their lagging behind the competition in the search engines. Not much to say since they don’t seem to do much for SEO (which explains their rankings)

How can these companies improve their rankings?

Out of all of these, it seems FXCM has its house in order most. If they were to rebrand their brokerage domain to CurrencyTrading.com (hint: it’s seems to be for sale) or FXtrading.com (also for sale) they would be able to catch up to GAIN capital’s Forex.com (note that forex.com is a brand, not the company name). I would not recommend going with a short ‘Forex’ domain since that would cause brand confusion (even though ForexCM would work with their brand, it is too similar to the competition).

Forex.com should do something about its link profile, they should focus on getting high quality links instead of the many low quality ones they have currently. I would recommend they look into building a property (that is either officially their site or not) and use that to link build the lower quality links (ofcourse building this publication branded GAIN/Forex.com would also have other benefits).

GFT has lots to improve. Their publishing domain FX360 has no ‘proper’ links to the GFT company site, their homepage has very little relevantly anchored links either and they haven’t secured many good inbound links.

Oanda has their house in order but my personal opinion is that they would do better if they didn’t work with different subdomains. The way they are currently link building there is an unnecessary layer between the properties and it makes their brokerage business get less benefits from their currency rate links. I would put everything on the same subdomain. Also – not SEO related – their homepage doesn’t seem to be catered for the majority of their visitors which are looking for the broker…not the currency rate tool. They have a blog which they should also link to more from their homepage (there is a top bar that should be anchored ‘Forex Blog’ and linked to that site).

Conclusions

Ok, a short and not very in depth or scientific discussion of the FX brokerage field and their SEO efforts. I hope it gives a good overview of the industry and the different strategies out there. I think the strategy of building a content site to attract links and build broader links to and then linking to the main sell site with tight anchor text is a good SEO strategy. Couple this with a great domain, good on-site SEO (ie having the relevant front-page links and inner pages) and quality links to the main site and you have a winning strategy. Execution is another question all together – I’ll save my thoughts on that for a later time.

If you have any questions, comment below or find my contact details on Google (search for ‘Bart Burggraaf’).

 

Deaf Mutes

“Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write. They cannot write advertisements, and they cannot write plans. They are helpless as deaf mutes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. ” David Ogilvy

Stop sending me Press Releases!

Giving the financial media something to talk about is more than sending a press release about your boring feature/hiring/award/new product to 12.000 journalists. Sure, it works for SEO – adding links from auto feeder blogs and the like – and for showing journalists and clients something is happening in your company, but almost never does a journalist write more than 10 words about your PR. If it was a story worth writing, you wouldn’t have to put out a formal PR for it.

The solution often is to do ‘something’ together with the media. For instance, at one major financial company, I organised an industry wide survey together with some key media partners. In return for promoting the survey (and the brand!) in editorial and banners, writing about the results (and linking to the company site!) I gave them some money and promised to cross-promote their brands in all publicity around the survey.

The client got around 3000 survey completions (which is a big chunk of the whole market), but more importantly, a good amount of leads that saw the survey promotion and decided they wanted to check out the trading platform. Lastly, the financial company got quoted in a number of important main stream financial publications and gained much good will and credibility in the market. All at a very low cost.

Besides surveys, you could do a conference, give away, webinar or other event. There are many ways to do this, and as long as the program has a connection to your product almost always make direct financial sense (as opposed to indirect, where you calculate the value of good will etc) not in the last case because media will barter cheap promotion and editorial for cross exposure.

If you have any questions, comment below or find my contact details on Google (search for ‘Bart Burggraaf’).

You are not your Boring Advertisement.

Financial companies are especially good at making corporate advertisements that are boring and uninformative. Running an advertising campaign is usually synonymous to stock photography, a blurb that brags about the company and a big logo. Even if ads are Direct Response focussed, most are nothing more than a regurgitation of product details.

Partly because of legal and compliance’ effect on marketers creativity, partly because of the inherently uninteresting nature of their products – the boring financial ad is here to stay. The good news is that almost none of your prospective customers will pay any attention to this kind of advertising.

When you do see response, it’s because of timing. Being there at the right time – when a prospective customer is looking for a solution – is valuable for many reasons. The brand ad will of course also help in brand recall and when the time comes for a delayed buying decision the prospective customer will usually consider those brands with a bigger presence more carefully. This because trust is partly a matter of longevity, meaning brands that have money for a large presence and lots of customers are implicitly trusted because of the apparent scrutiny, time and customers have given it.

All of this is to say that your ads might be working somewhat, but you are throwing away money. With the markets quickly commoditizing, companies now need to foster trust by talking and listening with their audience. They need to be more like online media companies.

I wrote about this before but I am certainly not alone in noticing that more and more companies are becoming media companies and publishing, collecting and facilitating information that helps their target audience become ‘Prosumers’. These companies become publishers because it grows a healthy ecosystem around the company and its products that directly reaches their target audience in a trusted and authentic way, without bought advertising.

Since trust is the number one factor influencing financial services buying decisions, can you afford not to enter the conversation?

Stay tuned for more on this.

Using Freelancers for Financial Marketing

I’m often surprised how de-sensitized people in the financial industry are to the prices of professional services. The high brow agencies they use don’t blink while charging 1500USD an hour and quoting 6 month timelines.

To be fair, due to legal and compliance, regulations and the sensitive nature of information, managers in the financial industry need to be able to trust the quality of work – and are willing to spend to be able to do that.

Even though you might use these types of agencies for some of the work, most work can be done much quicker, cheaper and better by freelancers (or small agencies). The ‘problem’ is that freelancers need oversight and direct management and almost the sort of field knowledge you wanted to hire in the first place.

If you have the time, by all means go ahead and find a freelancer. Sites like elance.com, guru.com and odesk.com have plenty of people with relevant experience but a search for ‘xxx + consultant OR freelancer’ will usually work as well. In addition, almost all knowledge needed to manage an effective project is available on the internet.

If you don’t have the time for management of these freelancers, the best thing to do is to find a temp project manager to do it for you. This person can then hire the freelancers as needed, make a project plan etc. You can find a person like this through specialist recruitment (on the function side, not industry side) or through the above mentioned sites. Of course what you would have just done is form a small agency. As you know, they also come ready-made.

Changing your Marketing Strategy – and the Pretty PowerPoint to back it up.

Yes, you could hire an expensive market research consultancy. No one ever got fired for treating their boss to a 100 slide powerpoint on What a Genius Strategy you are currently pursuing. Nothing has to change, keep calm and carry on.

But if you’re ready to do some corporate-style soul searching, the tools to do so are readily available. It’s a good idea to schedule a whole day twice a year to do this research properly but I suggest you take a few minutes each day to keep up as well. So without further ado, here’s the skinny:

1. Listen where your target audience talks

Blogs, forums, social networks – the magic triangle of customer feedback. They are easy to find, just search for phrases like ‘top * blogs about xxx’ or ‘xx forum’ or look for ‘xx directory’.  What is your audience saying about you? About your competitors? About your product category? Make some notes as to the specific aspects of products they discuss (both positively and negatively) and save the links.  Also Google for your company name + review and note what it says.

2. Read industry sites and magazines

If you’ve been in the industry for a while I’m sure you know the publications that everyone in the industry reads. If you don’t, ask some colleagues or your industries’ association.  When you get your hands on these publications, take a look and see who is advertising and what USP’s they are focussing on , who gets quoted in articles and what about, what topics are discussed that are frequently focus pieces and – most importantly – make notes of what direction the industry and your individual competitors are going.

3. Understand the media landscape

What does your audience read? Do you have enough of a marketing budget to brand yourself in the heads of your entire target audience? Or do you just want to be there when they want to buy the service you provide?

You should find out what the strategy of your competitors is (and what messages they focus on). Online, this is easy. Have a look at the doubleclick ad planner tool. It allows you to search by category and keyword often searched by visitors of certain sites, look for sites that have similar visitors etc. Doing this you might find out that people that search for ‘Forex’ are found on fxfisherman, forex-tsd, actionforex etc.

It basically gives you a complete list of all important industry media. Be sure to look for several variations of your main keywords (ie look for FX, Currency and foreign exchange as well as Forex). When visiting those sites, make notes of all the banners and the USP’s they mention. Click on the banners and read the articles to get further info.

 Secondly, have  a look at Google’s ad preview tool. It allows you to see your competitors’ search ads by market, and is a great tool to see what USP’s work and which don’t. After all, a good search marketer keeps on testing, and chances are that the top advertisers have done plenty of testing and refining of their messaging.

4. Get your competitors to market to you

Go to the sites of all your competitors. Sign up for their newsletter and see how they market to you. Write down all the good stuff.

5. Talk to your sales people

What objections to your product are most common? What counter arguments do your salespeople use? Advertising is salesmanship in print (to steal a famous line) so your salespeople are usually a treasure trove of marketing related information about your company, your competitors and your target market. Ask them what their perfect customer would be. Ask them what changes they would do to the product (if there were no limitations) to ensure they make the sale to that customer.

6. Get competitors over for a job interview

Ok, this one is not for everyone, but I know several companies that employ this tactic for competitive research and a fresh look to their business model. You might end up hiring the person as well. Be sure to be frank about your intentions, and mention you are not necessarily looking for someone right away, if that’s the case.

7. Look at your numbers – understand them

Can you quantify your sales funnel? At what point do people drop off? Have your sales people call them and ask why. Take a look at your client base. Which 20% are bringing 80% of the profits? Find out what they have in common both on paper and in one-to-one interviews. Where did these people hear of you? What made them become a client of your company? Plenty to learn.

8. Brainstorming about cows that are different

The most successful companies (some would say the only successful companies) are the ones that are remarkable – at least at first. Those are the ones that shake up industries and shift paradigms. Now, we live in the real world, with real limits to how much a company can reinvent itself. But even if you don’t change in such a radical manner, thinking about it in this way allows you to see what direction you could possibly go.

Now, with all of the notes you made on unique selling points, media, competitors and clients, you must now have a good idea of what it would take to really shake the industry up. What competitors are already very different? Is there a position you could take that hits your ideal client and is markedly different than competitors? What would it take to get there? If you do, you might become a  Purple Cow’, as Seth Godin calls it.

9. Test a few new strategies

Don’t change everything over night. Even though you have a gut feeling this will work and half the office is cheerleading you, try to test a few combinations. I hear you think ‘how?’ across the intraweb.

Well, an easy way is to build a few landingpages with the new positions front and center, and sending PPC traffic there (not branded with your company name). When people sign up, send them to a page that explains that your product is not currently available and apologize for the inconvenience. Ask if they would be interested in answering a few questions and find out what made them interested. Take a look at the conversion rates  for each landingpage and collect their feedback. Then pick one or two strategies and discuss them with your ideal clients.

10. Make a pretty PowerPoint

Once all done, it’s time to make that fancy PowerPoint. It will make your boss happy. That’s all for now folks. Kick some competitor ass.

(drop me a line if you have any additional tactics!)

Public relations and social media marketing in financial services

These days financial services rely more on big marketing than ever in order to differentiate their products in an already overcrowded market. Their prospective customers are lost in a myriad of logos, brochure website and other corporate communication material that really all look the same. In order to distinguish themselves financial products companies need to resort to thought leadership strategies.

Thought leadership strategies revolve around content like research and commentary but also the “inside story” of the company, viewpoints on the industry; really anything interesting to your target audience will do. In order to reach them in the place that they are looking for you (your site) it is best to start a blog area, or further integrate the content into your site.

Once you have quality content distributing it is the easy part. One of the most popular ways of doing it these days is by social media outreach, but good old public relations (i.e. press outreach) will do as well.

Email Marketing throughout the Lifecycle

Email marketing has found its place in most companies’ online marketing mix as a customer loyalty tool. More accurately it is used to start a dialogue with leads and customers to increase or generate sales. So we can split post-lead email marketing in two areas; getting leads to become customers and generating more profit from clients. But first, we discuss the usage of email marketing as a lead generation tool.

email marketing for lead generation

Email marketing has its uses in the pre-lead process and is often used in cooperation with a partner by placing a text message or banner ad in relevant newsletters or by buying the right to mail to a partners’ list. Especially the latter requires extra diligence to arrive at an acceptable cost per lead/client.

One way of mitigating the risk of mailing to a rented list (usually you ‘rent’ the database for one time use) is structuring the fee that you pay to your media partner to be a cost-per-acquisition. This means paying for every lead generated as opposed to paying for every mail sent out.

If this is not an option then you should make sure the database is comprised of high quality contacts, that the database is mailed infrequently and that the people in the database have the same demographics as your target audience.

A good way to find these opportunities is going on the websites that your clients visit (ask them!) and looking if there’s a newsletter available. If this is the case then there is often the opportunity to rent this list or place a message in that newsletter. Make sure that if you intend to rent the list that all people in the database have ‘opted in’ to being mailed by partners.

Once you have a shortlist of opportunities you then contact them to ask for rates. With the rates in hand you can now calculate what response you need to make a profit.

Let’s say the list you want to buy has 25.000 contacts in it and has a cost of $3000 for a one time dedicated email. This is how your calculation would look (please replace the numbers with your own averages and estimations).

Cost = $3.000
Distribution = 25k
Open Rate = 28%
Click Thru Rate = 6,5%
Demo Download Conversion Rate = 4%

That means that of 25k emails sent 7000 open the mail. Of those 455 click thru to your site and 18 sign up for a demo. That means that the cost per lead is $166,- (3000/18).

You can decide if this number is acceptable, based on your average earnings per lead and desired return on marketing investment.

The content of these emails should be actionable, to the point and promotional in nature. Make sure all the important information is ‘above the fold’ (viewable without scrolling down) and that there is one call to action which is supported by a button that viewers can click.

Converting leads to clients

When someone shows interest online they are usually contacted by the sales department. While this is without a doubt the most effective channel of conversion it makes sense to start a secondary path. Email marketing can be very effective in keeping your product (and their interest in it!) at the top of their mind while at the same time being a non-intrusive means of contact.

Try to keep these emails educational in tone while at the same time discussing your products. The more trading you get your leads to do with the demo platform the more likely they are to become clients and so it makes sense to send them information on it. A good way to do this is a how-to on selected features of the trading platform in a quick step-by-step format. Besides this, a guide on how to open an account and the general on boarding process is advisable.

A more advanced way of going about this is by automating the process based on certain triggers like demo trading behaviour, time spent, contacts by other channels etc etc. There is, for instance, a solution by Interwoven which takes all channels (except for online advertising) and integrates them in this way.

Email Marketing to clients

The basic premiss is that keeping constant contact with clients increases their awareness of your company, which in turn increases revenues.

The optimal use of email marketing to current customers is offering value while keeping promotional content to a minimum. While this is counter intuitive to most sales organizations the best way to generate more sales is actually not selling in this stage.

The customer is already convinced of your product, they wouldn’t be a customer otherwise. Note that promotion of products the customer is not using (or is decreasing in volume with) is usually a good idea.

So, increasing customer loyalty is the objective of email marketing in this stage. The idea is to offer value by sending informational emails like a newsletter. Market news, how-to guides or educational content in general, pod or vod (audio or video) casts and whitepapers are universally well received.

Tracking: What half of my marketing works?

Over a century ago, the department-store magnate John Wanamaker observed, “I know half my advertising dollars are wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

Well, no more. With the help of DM principles we have the potential to know what works and what doesn’t, because whenever anyone does anything online, it’s recorded in a computer somewhere.

If you have a small to medium size website (<10.000 visitors a month) then the way to go is Google Analytics.

GA allows us to set up Conversion Goals. Conversion goals are pages on your site the visitor sees as a confirmation when completing a desired action and, being that this action is what your website is for, are thus very important. By setting up conversion goals you now know what drives conversions on your site.

Keep an eye on calculated performance indicators like:

Conversion rate
The main performance indicator. The conversion rate tells you what percentage of visitors do the thing you want them to.

Bounce rate:
The percentage of people who come to your site and leave right away. This says a lot about the quality of traffic you get from your online marketing campaigns. A sudden peak combined with low conversions often indicates a negative change in traffic relevance (i.e. bad marketing).

Time on site & Page views per visit:
The average amount of time a visitor spends on your site and the amount of pages a visitor visits. A low number, combined with a low conversion rate can indicate irrelevant content or a bad marketing campaign. Conversely, a high number can indicate people not finding what they are looking for. It is best to look at these performance indicators on a channel by channel basis.

Your tracking becomes a lot more actionable when you can say: “While they both have a good CPA, display marketing has a lower conversion rate than SEM. This indicates that there still is some room to optimize. Let’s spend the coming period focusing on Display. ”

Other useful things to look at are; the bounce rate per page to find the weak links in your site and the number of ‘direct’ conversions (a big jump indicates a PR event, offline marketing or an increase of exposure online).

Also note the keywords visitors have used to find your site thru the ‘natural’ search results. Be sure to use the relevant keywords for your SEM. When it comes to optimizing individual marketing campaigns it makes sense to do that in the relevant ad servers, as cost are usually not imported in the web analytics solution and we want to optimize based on Cost per Action.

This way your web analytics become a way of comparing performance across marketing channels and optimizing your web site. When you are ready for a customized solution, the bigger players are Omniture, Webtrends and Coremetrics.

Make sure to get a consultancy to advise and implement your choice.

Optimizing your PPC keywords and bids

When looking at the overview of your keywords the first thing you will want to look at is the cost per lead of your highest volume keywords (lead wise). If you have just set up a campaign you will see higher than usual lead prices because it takes a while to get your quality score up (you should be prepared to take a loss for a while).

Looking at the keywords that produce the highest volume you should be able to make an immediate distinction. You can calculate a mean CPL and see what keywords deviate, based on which you can make a list of High, Medium and Low performers.

You can then follow a different strategy for all of these, the basic premise being that you put these groups in their own campaign.

High performance keywords are our stars. Making different ad groups for each individual keyword and writing customized ads will ensure that you get the best out of these HQ keywords. By simultaneously increasing the maximum CPC you will increase your much wanted traffic from these highest performers.

Medium performance keywords are usually the biggest group. Try to group these in relevant (ad group) clusters and spend some time to write relevant ads. Slightly decrease your bids and set the preferred position* to 3 to 5. Lowering the position will give you less – but more relevant – traffic which is what we need to lower the CPA further.

The bids for low performance keywords should be dramatically lowered and the preferred position should be set to 4 or lower.

*enable ‘Position preferences’ in the campaign settings, select the relevant keywords in your ad group overview, click ‘edit keyword settings’ and set a Position Preference.

Secondly we will want to look at our low volume keywords. We want to ask the question ‘why aren’t these keywords performing? There can be a couple of answers, and combinations thereof:

The keyword has a large number of impressions but isn’t clicked much
This most possibly means that the keyword you’re bidding on is not relevant for your business. If you feel this is the case you should delete the keyword. Another possible explanation can be that your ad text is not up to par, in which case you should increase the max CPC for this keyword (for a while) to compensate for the low quality score you now have and write a new (improved) ad.

The keyword has too low a position
If your keyword has too low a position (see Avg. Position) to be clicked a lot your CTR, and thus conversions, will suffer. Generally you will want to be higher than position 5. A quick fix is increasing your bid and seeing if that improves CPA and lead volume over time. If it doesn’t then it might be time to reconsider this keywords’ relevance.

The keyword doesn’t have a lot of impressions despite having a high average position
This generally means that the keyword is not searched for much. Besides showing your ad in additional countries and for additional languages there is nothing much to do about this.

The keyword isn’t active
If you look under status you will notice that some keywords are active while others are inactive. This is usually because of a low quality score. You can try sending the traffic to more relevant landingpages or improve the targeting by putting them in more targeted adgroups (with targeted ads). If nothing helps you should delete these keywords.

Keyword bidding can be done in a more methodical and sometimes even automated way. I have put together my strategy below, but be sure to adapt this to your needs.

  • Great converting keywords and low CPL’s -> Own adgroup per keyword, budget for 100% sov and bidding for pos. 1
  • Great converting keywords and medium CPL’s -> Own adgroup per keyword, budget for 100% SOV but bidding according to lead needs at that time/in that country (the whole quantity vs quality debate)
  • Great converting keywords and high CPL’s -> Own adgroup per keyword, budget for 100% SOV but bidding for lower positions
  • Converting keywords and low CPL’s -> up budget and bids for 100% SOV
  • Converting keywords and medium CPL’s -> same budget but lower bids
  • Converting keywords with high CPL’s -> minimum budget and minimum bids
  • Non converting keywords with low cost and low positions -> Look at relevance, if relevant up bids for higher position in low budget campaign. If not relevant delete
  • Non converting keywords with low cost and high positions -> Look at relevance, if relevant keep as is, if not relevant delete
  • Non converting keywords with medium and high cost -> delete

Then all is left is setting objective standards for High, Medium and Low: impressions, positions, CPL’s, number of leads and budgets.

About Me

Thoughts on Direct and Online Marketing in the Financial Industry. By Bart Burggraaf. Bart is MD/Partner at MGL, a London based Financial Services Marketing Agency. The posts on this blog are the personal opinions of Bart Burggraaf and not the official view point of MGL or any of it's clients.