Google Ranks Top Financial Planning Firms' Websites (Infographic)


Financial Planners Infographic Download

Google claims well over 60% of search engine market share. And although many of Google's ranking factors are private, they have made some public. Not only have they publicized them but also built tools to test the quality of your website.

The Tools

There are two main tools Google has built:



The Hunch

I was reading Barron's and came across their top financial planners list. We work with many financial planners and I played a hunch that even the top financial planners would have woefully inadequate websites.

We ran the tests and visualized the data. The overall average score for all four factors as failing.

The Response

The typical response to such data is that their website is neither eCommerce nor a large lead-gen tool. While this certainly bears some weight, it misunderstands how people use web properties. Even if the conversion happens offline, one's website is the first and primary location for learning about a person, company, and brand.

Malcolm Gladwell detailed in Blink that first impressions are made extremely, quickly, accurately, and immutably. And today, the large majority of first impressions are web impressions.

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Posted in Visual Communication, Marketing, Web Design

Stuff We Love

Digital marketing has changed a lot. Surprisingly, it has not changed the effectiveness of direct mail. There is simply no substitute for holding a piece of mail, feeling its texture, and opening the folds to discover. Just for fun, we have put together some infographics to illustrate the data that demonstrates that direct mail is alive and flourishing.


Posted in Visual Communication, Direct Mail

Why Your Content Sucks; or, The Future of Content

Posted on May 11, 2015 by John Higgins


Content Marketing is at this point an old buzz-word. The importance of content production is old hat. Many marketers, however, do not see the traffic or conversions promised by such production. Mere content does not by itself attract attention. Content must have the following properties:

  1. Quality
  2. Specificity
  3. Seriality
  4. Consistency
  5. Visual


Blah, blah. We know. But quality is easily faked. Quality should describe not just the value of the content but whether it meets a desire or need in the market. Stock imagery sites are full of “quality” content in the sense of displaying formal compositional and lighting skill. But much stock photography does not actually function to do anything—just like the image above. A perfectly designed hammer is no use when a screw awaits turning.

It is well documented that people ignore contentless content. Eye-tracking studies indicate that people are (subconsciously) very good at skipping over images that are stockish in nature.


Every company is part of an industry. To be part of an industry means that you share a common goods and services with all other companies within that industry. That’s not bad, it is the nature of an industry. That is how you have an industry. If grocery stores were 30% the same and 70% different they probably could not be categorized as grocery stores. The problem is that most companies want to produce content that focuses on those shared goods and services.

People are interested in the specific, unique things. When you are sharing content, is it specific and unique? Who is this child whom this non-profit is supporting? What are his favorite books? What are his quirks? What are the three funniest things he has said in the past year? How does he mispronounce words he’s learning?


This is the most underused criterion of content creation. Creating specific projects provides opportunities for people to participate in specific ways. For instance, every weekend Instagram has a Weekend Hashtag Project. On Mondays, they share some of the best submissions. Not surprisingly, Monday is the day of the week where they receive the most comments (data from PicStats).


A brand is simply a person writ large. Content is the communication in a relationship. People will only frequent your website if there is expected and consistent communication between the brand and the customer.

It is fascinating to compare the top viewed videos on youtube to the top subscribed channels. There is not a large correlation between the two. The channels that have the most subscribers (and I’m sure the most engagement, although we don’t have data on that) are those channels that have consistent content production.


Most of the information we take in is visual. Visual information is processed at an astoundingly faster rate than verbal information. Furthermore, certain types of information are much more easily understood visually. But care must be taken and clipart avoided. Poor visual utilization will do more harm than no images.

Check back because we will write a blog post on each of these criteria in order to provide in depth and concrete examples and instruction regarding best practices.

Posted in Visual Communication, Web Design

The New Printing Press and Other Good News

What do these have in common:

  • YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world
  • At the end of last year, Instagram surpassed Twitter in number of users
  • In web design, the hero image (and its various permutations) have dominated the landscape

Visual cognition and communication are quickly wriggling their way into into the category of requisite skills. When you apply for a job today, there are a number of baseline assumptions that the employer expects you to possess. They assume that you have sufficient grammatical and syntactical skills to write emails and reports, that you can verbally hold a conversation and give a presentation, and that you can read documents and analyze them.

These skills are assumed. At no point will the the employer ask if you can write a coherent sentence or paragraph, speak intelligently, or read cogently. These are baseline knowledges.

Another One

These were not always taken as basic skills. There was a time when employers would indeed ask about the aforementioned skills. There is always an upward trend in skill assumption. And we are not at the end.

The next skill that will enter the realm of assumed is visual skill, specifically photography and video. Just as writing was once considered a “nice extra”, photography, in some quarters, is considered the same. But that is quickly changing as we move from a word- to an imaged-based culture.

And the democratization of visual technologies (e.g. Instagram, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Snapchat, Meerkat, Periscope, Vscocam, Lightroom) has pushed visual communication skills closer to the category of baseline knowledge.

The Beans

This shift provides wonderful opportunities for many institutions, non-profits, and companies. Simply put, images, either still or moving, brings people closer. We experience things and people primarily through images, so it affords fantastic opportunities for greater relational proximity.

Institutions, companies, and individuals need to start taking seriously training in photography and video as well as integrating them into to their marketing and communication as an essential component. The largest communication channels in the world trade in these media and thus skill and care in production is absolutely necessary.

For global non-profits and corporations, this direction is quite favorable. Apart from technical skill, good and unique imagery depends much on location. And if you are a non-profits with work in a variety of countries, that diversity and uniqueness is priceless imagery.

Just do This Stuff

Here are things that brands need to do to communicate effectively with these new printing presses.

  1. Train key employees in photography and video. Not simply or most importantly technical use, but composition and lighting.
  2. Give said employees photographic projects with narrative frames. The beautiful image is compelling but fleeting. Creating serial projects retains attention as users become increasingly involved with the people and progression of long-term projects and stories.
  3. Begin to include visual skills in the employment processes. Your brand will increase in both its visual assets (as a result of hiring visually skilled practitioners) as well as brand attractiveness as an organization that values not only images but the way the people communicate today.

Posted in Visual Communication, Marketing

Direct Marketing Examples: A gift for you. Where does print fit in the electronic world?


I am a big fan of electronic communication, and I believe it is the center of an organization's brand. When consulting on web development projects, I have recommended that organizations consider how the online world interacts with the execution of their mission instead of thinking about their website as a place to communicate what they are doing.

Yet I am more excited about print work than ever. Why, you might ask? Isn't print just going away? Yes, many forms of printed communication have been effectively converted to electronic channels. But print still has a place. A more special place.

I think of print as a marketing gift to your target audience. What can I create that will be perceived as something special to be received? In a world where so much of communication is electronic, a printed piece perceived as a gift makes a huge impact. Two years ago, I was asked to use quotes of grateful students in a year-end appeal. Instead of sprinkling quotes on a brochure, I made the quotes into a little book (just one color on the cover and two colors for the body to keep costs down). We spent a couple of hundred dollars more for production, but it more than paid for it in ROI. The response rate and giving beat the previous year.

Another reason to be excited about print

Many are mistakingly focusing exclusively on electronic channels to communicate. This makes those who are using printed communication stand out more and receive a better response. When I counsel start-ups, I always suggest that they include some printing in their marketing budget. I wouldn't recommend an overview brochure, but I would take the time to celebrate a holiday other than Christmas with a special mailed greeting or invest in custom note cards if you will commit to using them.

As central as electronic communication is to an organziation, do not forget to include some print communication. Everyone responds well to gifts.

Need help with rethinking your print communication? Want to rethink your electronic communication strategy? Spire2 offers experience with both channels and can help you discover ways to use print and electronic communication more effectively. Contact me here to learn more about ways we help clients reach business objectives or call 630.462.2567.

Posted in Visual Communication, Marketing

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