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Google Reviews Are the New Client Referrals: Samantha Russell

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What You Need to Know

  • Samantha Russell suggests advisors focus more on Google Reviews and consider using the new Google Screened marketing tool.
  • Under the new SEC ad rule, Google Screened could be a huge game changer, she says.
  • It's still early days and advisors and broker-dealer affiliates may want to check with their compliance departments before taking these steps.

Advisors should focus more on Google Reviews and try the Google Screened marketing tool introduced last year to get more website traffic via its search engine and attract more prospects and clients, according to Samantha Russell, chief marketing and business development officer at Twenty Over Ten and chief evangelist at FMG Suite.

In a LinkedIn post on Friday, Russell suggested advisors stop focusing on referrals and start focusing on Google reviews, adding: “Every financial advisor wants more referrals, but getting clients to make those introductions PROACTIVELY can be hard (and puts the ball in their court instead of making the task something you have control over).”

Instead, “what if you could ask clients to refer you just ONCE, and have that referral ‘go to work’ for you again and again?” she asked. Because of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s new advertising and marketing rule, ”now you can,” she said.

To encourage clients to write reviews, Russell suggests:

  • Setting up and optimizing your Google My Business page.
  • Adding a link in your email signature.
  • Emailing your clients to ask them to leave a review for your business.

Google Reviews are effective because clients write a review just once and “thousands of prospects a year can see it when they Google you,” she said. “You can also use it over and over again in your marketing materials: put it on your website, share it on social media, and include it in your emails.”

Google Screened Is a ‘Game Changer’

The much newer Google Screened, meanwhile, provides advisors with a way to increase their visibility in local searches, according to Russell.

In a LinkedIn post last week, she wrote that Google Screened is a “game changer” because it “provides immense social proof” from Google, while enabling users to rank higher in local search results and get a green check mark next to their listings.

To get Google Screened, she said, advisors need to:

  • Sign up for Google Local Service Ads. (No need to run an ad or pay anything.)
  • Get three stars or higher in Google Reviews.
  • Pass license and background checks.

These steps can “can take up to a few weeks to accomplish” but are worth it for advisors because, “to a prospect, it implies instant credibility,” she explained. There is also “absolutely no monetary cost” involved unless the advisor decides to run ads, she said.

What’s Changed Since Launch

Although Google Screened launched last year, Russell pointed out to ThinkAdvisor: “It wasn’t until the new SEC ad rule was rolled out [in May] that most advisors were able to even contemplate using it.”

That’s because, to get Google Screened, an advisory firm must have at least a three-star rating on Google Reviews and most advisors still don’t have any reviews on Google.

The new SEC ad rule, however, “allows advisors to use testimonials and reviews in their marketing and, furthermore, the rule makes it clear that you can proactively solicit/ask clients for these reviews and use those reviews in your marketing,” she said.

Dan Bolton, vice president of brand experience at Riskalyze, also suggested advisors use Google Screened, saying in a recent blog post it represents an “opportunity to put your advisory firm first up whenever someone in your local area needs financial advice…. If we had to give this tactic a Risk Number, we’d say its downside risk puts it somewhere south of twenty.”

The new rule does make it clear, however, that “you cannot cherry-pick which clients you solicit reviews from; you must have evidence/document that you have requested reviews from all clients,” Russell cautioned.

After the new ad rule went into effect May 4, “we finally started to see many more firms signing up for Google My Business accounts, starting to ask clients for Google Reviews, and displaying those reviews as testimonials on their websites,” she said, pointing as an example to WealthKeel in Philadelphia.

More on this topic

The SEC, however, gave advisors 18 months following the effective date, until Nov. 4, 2022, to comply with the marketing rule, she added.

She guessed that “less than a few hundred advisory firms total have implemented” Google Screened so far, noting it’s still “very, very early days on this…. Most advisors I speak with had no idea this was even an option.”

Russell offered this advice to advisors: “Strike while the iron is hot if you can. I predict that the advisors who are the early adopters of this in each city will have a big advantage.”

Potential Obstacles

In response to a query about how broker-dealer affiliates handle compliance-related issues surrounding Google Reviews, she suggests they check with their compliance departments to find out “where they stand with this before you start proactively asking clients for reviews.”

“Your home office may not have the processes in place yet to monitor how you ask for and receive reviews,” Russell explained.

Indeed, compliance experts have been cautioning advisors to tread carefully when using testimonials and endorsements before the rule’s Nov. 4, 2022, compliance date.

Max Schatzow, a partner at the New York-based law firm Stark & Stark who counsels advisors and BDs on regulatory matters, told ThinkAdvisor last week: “We are in this period where investment advisors can operate under the old advertising rule or the new marketing rule.”

He questioned whether the SEC would consider the Google badge a testimonial, endorsement or third-party rating under the new marketing rule.

“Viewing the badge through the new marketing rule lens, conservatively, I think the SEC and its staff could allege that the badge is an endorsement because it indicates ‘approval, support, or recommendation of the investment adviser,’” he said. “Endorsements, even unpaid ones under the new rule, require disclosure to be provided at the time of the endorsement.”

He was “not familiar enough with Google Screened to know whether it is providing these disclosures or capable of providing them,” he conceded.

But he added: “I think there is room to argue that the badge itself isn’t an approval, support, or recommendation and is instead a minimum qualification that anyone can apply to receive as long as they hold the necessary licenses and don’t have any skeletons in their closet.”

The SEC declined to comment on whether Google Screened is compliant with the new marketing rule.

(Pictured: Samantha Russell)