Mutual funds firms are no longer novices at harnessing the marketing potential of Facebook and Twitter, and have, at least incrementally, been learning to successfully reach investors through social media channels.

But there is another online marketing terrain, search engine optimization (SEO), that has remained largely off their radar, one that could push their brand to new levels of visibility.

Seizing the potential of SEO is still a foreign concept for many fund firms. If they want their brands to stay fresh and competitive, however, they need to be more aggressive in learning the language of SEO. While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are user-friendly, widely used and center on visible interaction, SEO is more the invisible foundation that lurks underneath those social media channels.

SEO involves the science of search engines, understanding how they work, how people use them, and how content can be refocused to direct more traffic to a website. Learning to better capture audiences through search terms and keywords entered into those search engines, and increasing the visibility of web properties will not only help mutual fund firms grow their funds, but help them strengthen their brand as well.

Firms can start by understanding that when they create online content, there are two different audiences: One is the general online audience and the other are "spiders," or the electronic crawlers used by search engines that scour the web for content. It's important to create content that will resonate with both audiences. The key is to write the engaging content to draw in the "real people," while also including the search term language that those "robotic" spiders look for.

A mutual fund firm, for example, might think it's driving traffic to its site because of the new liquid alt it just launched, when, in fact, traffic is being driven to its site because of the fund's focus on lower fees. Google Analytics, or a similar analytics tool, might reveal that the search term "low fees" and not "liquid alt" is what's bringing viewers to the site. It's important to study those key words and build a quality landing page for each major set of key words.

The information-and the right information-has to be readily accessible to viewers. A firm with a website with information on 15 different funds, for example, may need to carefully organize sub-pages by themes, such as ones for "value" or "small cap," in a way that makes sense for search engines. A SEO assessment could show where there are vast opportunities to dramatically increase website traffic through additional search terms.

But SEO does not work in isolation. The process works in concert with the image a firm wants to project, and the strategies and messaging it wants to employ. Firms need to build search terms around those concepts to ensure they are driving the right traffic to their site. They must determine what words and terms are drawing viewers to their site, then decide what they actually want to be driving viewers to their site.

If a fund is one of the top-rated funds in the biotech sector, it should ensure that it's being found with the search term "top-rated fund in biotech sector." That means that term should be incorporated into the website content so spiders can detect it, but it also should work prominently into press releases, quarterly commentary, company news or other publicly available online content to show its legitimacy with the firm.

As viewers become more engaged with the content on a firm's site, and share it, for example, as part of an online discussion of top-rated funds in the biotech sector, that site will actually accumulate "votes" that the spiders monitor. These votes can take the form of back-links and social mentions. But the end result is that a firm will draw that searcher-or potential investor-to its site instead of a competitor's.

That social sharing will prompt the search engines to move the fund firm's page higher up in the organic, or unpaid, search results. That activity becomes a direct influencer over how pages are ranked for their search engine results. Once a firm has managed to hone in on the search terms that are resonating with viewers, it can maximize its relevant content. Then, that content is much more likely to be reshared, retweeted, or favorited.

Ensuring that the SEO and social media efforts are working together is critical. It is a link that is often overlooked by fund firms. Reaching out into those highly saturated social media channels can feel overwhelming, but doing so will be much more manageable if fund firms first determine what it is they're looking for through SEO.

Fund firms, who are still struggling to understand how all these elements work online, can no longer neglect the power of SEO, and need to seize this edge to stay ahead of their competition. They need to take steps to rethink the infrastructure of their websites, and how their brand voice is traveling not only through social media channels, but through the level deeper down that many don't see. In the end, they will be able to see who is searching for them, and how they're being searched for. Firms will capture audiences that are more interested, and maybe even ones that didn't exist before.

Jennifer Connelly is CEO of Jennifer Connelly Public Relations.

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