Search Optimizing Your Insurance Agency Website

26thMar. × ’09

The atmospheric noise about website search engine optimization and search ranking has increased significantly in the last year or so.  Insurance agencies are just as caught up in the chatter as other businesses.  Search optimization (SEO) and rank are complex topics, with signficant business implicaitons, so much so that our company, Confluency Solutions, has set aside at least six separate segments of an upcoming best practice series to deal with that single topic.  At the risk of over-simplifying the matter, I’m going to try and deal with the fundemental issues in this one post.  I’m going to do that in three parts by discussing SEO budgeting, metrics to measure website effectiveness, and evaluating a blandishment fom a company offering to provide SEO services.

I don’t know if the economy is behind this or not (snake oil salesmen seem to multiply when times are tough), but the insurance agencies we support at Confluency Solutions seem to be hearing from more and more individuals and companies that can ‘get you higher search rankings’.  There are legitimate providers of search optimization services (SEO), of course, and I don’t mean to besmirch the reputation of the several companies that deliver top notch optimization services.  I’m just musing on our willingness to listen to money-for-nothing pitches when we are casting about for ways to replace lost income.

The role of SEO for an agency website is complicated because quality of traffic has such a bearing on insurance agency profitability.  Most retail businesses, for instance, do not share this challange.  If someone arrives at www.widgets.com, places an order for a widget in exhange for a few dollars, the costs and profit associated with that transaction are pretty much known right then and there.

When someone requests a quote through your insurance agency website, cost and profitability may not be known for sometime, and sometimes not at all.  Here are a few traffic quality questions that insurance agencies need to concern themselves with:

  • How many quotes will I have to provide for each sale?  Will my conversion rate be too low?
  • If I spend too much time quoting the wrong kind of business, or quoting prospects that don’t convert, how much other income have I forgone from other sources (opportunity cost)?
  • How long will I keep that new customer?  How much service burden will they place on my staff?

First of all, let me try and address the question of how much you should budget for SEO.  I’m skipping right past the question of whether you should optimimize at all – you should.  Let me fram the budget issue in terms familiar to an insurance agency.

Suppose a personal insurance customer pays $4,000 a year to insure a home, cars, and a certain level of life and disability coverage.  If that customer skipped on insurance coverage altogether, they would save $4,000 certain.  If that same customer was involved in a car accident and was sued for $100,000, they would be out a lot of cash in the absence of insurance.  Going in the other direction, that same customer could purchase the most fabulous insurance possible – the highest limits, the lowest deductibles, and buy back all the policy exclusions and limitations – and spend perhaps $20,000 a year in premium.

The right answer for that customer is somewhere between $0 and $20,000 in premium and is a question of balance between cost and risk (and the answer may be $4,000).  For your agency, the $0 in premium is analagous to having no website at all – no money spent, no website traffic.  $20,000 a year might get you a lot of traffic (but not necessarily good quality); so, just with the insurance customer, the right SEO budget answer for your agencyis somewhere in the middle.

Your insurance agency website is an investment in a business tool, and if the investment pays off (ROI), your agency should realize additional commission income in some multiple of the costs associated with the website and SEO.  New income sourced from an agency website is often masked because sales influenced by the website but consummated by phone, for instance.  I’m not going to cover measuring ROI here, but I think it is important to stop and consider there is a level of complexitity to teasing out reliable ROI.  What I am going to cover here are leading edge indicators that will tell you if you are on the right track to acheiving good ROI.  Those indicators are Page Rank, Traffic Counts, and Traffic Quality (I’m going to discuss these in an insurance agency context; for a discussion in a more generalized business context, SEOMoz has an excellent whiteboard on SEO consulting that also addresses these metrics, and I’ve included that video at the end of this post).

Page Rank

This is the easiest measure to latch onto because we all see it when we do Google searches.  It’s also the one measure that is least indicative of SEO success.  Just because one of your web pages ranks in the top 10 in an organic search listing (vs. paid search or local search) doesn’t mean you get site traffic, let alone revenue.  Moreover, you would have to ask what ‘ranks’ and ranks for ‘what’?  Search listings return web pages, not ‘websites’, although search engine algorithms score website quality when performing page ranking.  Individual website pages will rank differently for different search inquiries (that’s the ranks for ‘what’ question).  For instance, searches for these plausible search terms will all display different top 10 lists:  insurance; auto insurance; insurance Asheville NC, Travelers Insurance Asheville NC.  And traffic originating from search on different terms will vary in quality, as we discuss below.

Traffic

This is a better lead edge indicator than page rank because when web searchers click through to your insurance agency website something can actually happen.  That web surfer can come back for another visit, sign up for a newsletter, use an interactive tool, or  – the holy grail – complete an online form or pick up the phone and request a quote.  Without traffic, nothing happens, and since you can have search rank without traffic, traffic numbers are a better measure of SEO effectiveness than search rank.

Traffic Quality

The concept of conversion is not new to insurance agents (e.g., quotes per policy written), and as with quote activity, high conversion website traffic is also better quality.  Not all website visits will result in quotes and commission income on the first go-round, but might produce income later.  Because of that, the definition of conversion should be expanded.  Here are some possibilities:

Average Time on Site; Average Number of Pages Visited; Number of Visits to a Certain Page (like a video, or interactive tool), phone call or email inquiries.

Whatever your definition for ‘conversion’, those measures, like the ones suggested above, should be harbingers of higher future quote and new income activity.  Traffic from e-newsletter mailings and from local search will exhibit better quality characteristics than organic search traffic, and visitors arriving via organic search, but using different search terms, will also exhibit differing quality  characteristics.

Finally, on the last topic, evaluating an offer to perform SEO.  Here are some high level considerations that will allow you to dismiss many offers at a glance:

  • Did the offer come in an email that resembles spam?  Why would the sender use a gmail or hotmail email address instead of an email domain that matches a company website address?
  • If the sender email domain matches a company address, see if you can find a website for that company using that address.  If not, again, why would the sender want to hide?
  • If you can find a website for the company, and they are offering SEO for a fee, see how well they rank for a term likely to be used by a company searching for a provider like ‘search optimiztion consultants’ or ‘SEO services’; many spam emails will suggest the term you should search on, and it may not be one that would actually be used by a company seeking SEO help.
  • Does the offer guarentee to get you top listings?  Nobody can guarentee that because of all the dynamic elements that go into SEO.
  • Is the email offer confined to improving your ‘website rank’?  As noted above, search engines ‘find’ web pages, not websites, and search rank by itself is a weak measure of future ROI.

At the outset I said this was a complext topic, but I hope this post helps your insurance agency evaluate how to fit SEO into your marketing mix.  If not, (this is the shameless self-promotion part of this post), sign up for the Confluency Solutions newsletter and find out when the best practice series (including a robust treatment of SEO) kicks off.


SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday – Do You Need SEO Consulting? from Scott Willoughby on Vimeo

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