I’m not a Luddite, one of those 19th-century factory workers who destroyed machines because they thought industrialization would replace their jobs. On the contrary, I love new technology.
In the mid-’80s, I created what has become one of the largest and most successful self-insurance pools in the nation for political subdivisions. Part of this process was a feasibility study: That study occurred prior to the proliferation of Lotus 1-2-3 (predecessor to Excel) so I did all of my projections with an adding machine along with yards and yards of paper tape.
We used two-dozen Apple IIGS computers to leverage our employees’ abilities to could keep the expense ratio for that insurance company under 27.5 percent, which compared favorably to the then-common expense ratio of about 35 percent. Using Appleworks and spreadsheets that I devised, my employees could quote a premium for the average city in under 30 minutes, something that would have taken them five to seven hours using paper and calculators.
In short, I love computers. And, like most, I spend a large part of every day on the Internet learning and communicating with my clients and companies. Even so, I think most of what we read and hear about the success of agents using their individual websites to attract a large volume of new business is a hoax.
The promise (in theory) …
For the last four years, I’ve been involved in creating a large website meant to increase the efficiency of Internet marketing for independent agents. So far our efforts have been one long, very expensive lesson. We’ve invested a significant amount of money and time and have developed a system that works, but not yet on a scale that would satisfy a large paying customer.
The world of websites is highly speculative, as Google sets the rules for ranking on a search-return page and won’t tell anyone exactly what those rules are. The search giant’s fickle and secretive nature has added to our cost and has increased the width of the moat for those who want to develop cost-efficient leads through websites.
A few days ago, I attended an all-day seminar held by one of our agency’s contracted insurance carriers. The instructors stated that if insurance agents:
- created a visually pleasing website,
- posted interesting content,
- included relevant captioned pictures,
- paid attention to keywords,
- properly titled their pages,
- made sure their site was responsive to mobile devices and secure (https),
- claimed the proper local search pages,
- blogged frequently,
- wrote interesting meta descriptions,
- made sure they had positive reviews from clients,
- responded properly to those reviews, and,
- became proficient in website analytics,
… then they would have leads pouring into their agency.
Unfortunately, the average agent who followed this advice would be out of business. They’d have no time (and limited marketing resources) to sell or service their customers, because maintaining a good website and attracting page visitors requires a significant investment of time and money.
Google does offer advice. One of Google’s primary tenets is, “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.” That seems to oppose the primary purpose of the seminar instructors’ list. Similarly, most of what they suggested appears dated and ineffective when compared to current expert opinions.
… and the sobering reality
An Internet pedigree is often defined as your Domain Authority (DA). It is a number between zero and one hundred, with a one hundred being the best. Most agencies have a DA in the teens. Most insurance companies have a DA of between fifty and eighty. DA is believed to be part of the algorithm used by Google. Many think it is combined with Page Rank and several other factors to help Google decide how to rank your page when they respond to a search.
For example, when “auto insurance” is the search term, Google tells me they found 156,000,000 results. The top results are insurance companies with high DAs. Even the mega insurance information website, Trustedchoice.com — which has a high DA — came in on the fourth page on the day of my search. The first independent agent listed was on the seventh page. Almost no one goes beyond the first page, so the worth of coming in on the seventh page is negligible.
A search on “auto insurance” is so competitive that the cost for Pay Per Click for that term is over $73. That is a lot to pay for one website session. Even with a conversion rate of 20 percent, which is aggressive, that would put your acquisition cost at over $350 for just that portion of the expense.
The instructors in our seminar suggested that we concentrate on long-tail search. “Long-tail” are the longer and more complex phrases people use to search. It is widely held that the more esoteric the search, the easier it is to rank on the first page. That is excellent advice. Except in this very competitive world it is becoming harder and harder to rank, even for long-tail.
Our site has well over 1,000 indexed pages. Indexed pages are recognized by Google. Yet we struggle to have about 275 keywords ranked on the first two results pages.
For example, if you search for “what do I do when my car has been keyed” our site ranks second. We don’t have “keyed” as a keyword. In fact, we don’t pay all that much attention to keywords anymore. Over a year ago, Google announced that more than one-fifth of all searches entered in the search bar had never been used before. People are becoming more and more specific in their searches, and are writing longer inquiries.
Google’s bots can read for “context,” so keywords seemingly have diminished in importance. The bots will match inquiries with what they think is the most relevant, unique content. Supposedly if Google finds two pieces of content that are the same on two different sites, they may consider it a deceptive practice and an attempt to manipulate search engine results. Google does not like to be “scammed,” and will punish with low rankings those websites that attempt to put one over on them.