Fine-Tuning Your Financial Services Site

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There's a bit of a paradox at work in putting together a financial services site that performs well, keeps its members coming back for more and keeps drawing in new members. Your site needs to be logical and intuitive for new members, yet useful and sophisticated enough for seasoned members. When you find that balance, you bring people back again and again.


Financial services sites have several tools at their disposal to make them attractive. The most essential are calculators/trackers, news feeds and customized content.


• Tools of the trade. Interactive applications such as retirement calculators, mortgage calculators and portfolio managers give your members something useful and valuable: information. And they know they can come back at any time to use your tool box again as their needs change.


Portfolio managers are especially useful. Tracking becomes a sport with some investors. If you make it easy for them to set up their portfolios with your tools, they're likely to spend more time on your site. With an interactive portfolio database, you give your members one place to check their holdings. You can make that service even more valuable by sending out e-mail alerts during times of severe fluctuation.


• Feed me. How many news feeds do you see in a day? Too many news feeds are too general. They need to be timely, relevant and important. News feeds keep your members updated on the latest news in the financial field. Whether you e-mail the whole story or send reminders to come back to the site to get the news, the key here is to be as granular as you can get to your member base. Get personal (more on that later). Cater to their interests. If they don't care, they're out of there.


When executed properly, a regular news feed is a great way to keep in touch with your members. You provide a useful service and you stay on their radar. And as long as you can maintain that balance between providing enough information without going over the edge and becoming an annoyance, your value will hold.


When you strip away all the bells and whistles that show up on a financial services site, it's content that is key. When it comes to their money, people want real information, not fluffy features. Financial services sites are doing more to provide relevant content to their members. Some sites generate their own content on a regular basis and channel it out to members; some even license their content to noncompeting sites to drive traffic back to their own site. Other sites distill information from several reliable sources, package it and send it out. You can tap into an organized information mine like that to increase your content and enhance the value of your site -- sometimes at no cost to you.


However you get your content, be sure that what you send to members matches up with their preferences. People respond better to custom-tailored content than to something that looks like it came off the generic information rack.


• Customization counts. In truth, the more you can customize your site -- or your site's response -- to your members, the better off you will be. Over time, people will be very selective about the e-mail newsletters they read. The more relevant the newsletter, the better its chances.


You can make your content more relevant by approaching personalization from a proactive, strategic position. "Smart Personalization" a July 1999 report by Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, MA, underscores the need to be intelligent about the way you use personalization. Bottom line: Learn what your users want/need, and give it to them. Don't use their profiles against them with blatant targeted marketing and irrelevant content. They will unsubscribe faster than you can send out the next newsletter.


Each time you reach out to a user -- a first-time visitor or a longtime member -- ask yourself: "Is this interesting?" Make the effort to reach out to your visitors and members. Get their feedback. Follow up by fine-tuning the focus of your site. The payoff will be more and happier members.


Don't make your members work for their information. Find out their needs and take care of them. That will keep them coming back.
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