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Newsletter #1 - Internet marketing basics

Newsletter #2 - Local and National marketing

Newsletter #3 - Locals and Directories

Newsletter #4 - Media buying

Newsletter # 1 - Internet Marketing basics

Internet marketing basics for the insurance agents

The writer, an expert in developing client server and web based financial systems, designed numerous systems and provided usability and marketing related site traffic analysis including data mining for some of the most heavily visited sites including 3COM, Wall Street Journal, consumereports.org, Vistaprint.com.

What is the Internet marketing? Clearly insurance agents as well as other professionals exploring the web as another storefront would ask the much simpler question: How do I get leads off my site?

That is the question we will address in this newsletter.

SIDE NOTE: Before delving into the specifics I will note from the experience that in the financial services industry there is more to the Internet marketing than bringing visitors to your site. Large financial institutions also want to target certain types of visitors and that has it's implications on which distribution channels to use etc. etc.

Below are the main marketing methods to bring customers to your site:

  • Internet Search Engines
  • Internet Local Directories
  • Banner Ads/Links on regional/local Web Sites
  • Search Engines PPC (pay-per-click)
  • Insurance portals
  • Conventional advertisement on local printed media or business cards with web site address prominently displayed.

Internet Search Engines

What is a search engine?
Disclaimer: We give a simplistic explanation.

It is basically a huge electronic Rolodex - index stored somewhere in a search engine's database.
Google has their index database, Yahoo has one etc etc. The difference between Rolodex and electronic index is that while in Rolodex you can only arrange cards by one parameter (usually it is a person or organization's name in the alphabetic order) the electronic index allows to sort text pages efficiently by all words in the dictionary at the SAME time.
Each search engine provider has an automated web surfer program called spider or robot that crawls over the WWW and collects pages for indexing. In simple terms it just goes over all known web addresses and collects every page it can reach following links.

Now what happens when a web surfer types in on Google or yahoo screen a search phrase like "auto insurance agent Brighton MA"?
When surfer submits the request the index program at the Google's server will make all the pages containing ALL or some of those available to search engine' web site for display in the surfer's browser page by page. But in which order to display? What decides who goes to the most coveted first page? That process is called Ranking and search engines rank web sites by Relevance and Popularity.

Disclaimer: true algorithms of the likes of Google etc. are trade secret and changed with time. The factors mentioned here are incomplete and reflect what most trade publications consider the most significant factors.

Relevance:
Index counts (with possible weighting factors) the relevant words in the content of the pages of the site, in Title, Meta Tags (not visible). What does it mean "relevant"?
Clearly in our case it means a lot of words that pertain to the insurance area.

For example we designed our template sites so they have plenty of relevant words like auto insurance etc etc. We designed content specifically targeting Search Engines. Also Our Content Management System (Site Admin System) allows agents to change Title and Meta Tags to the most appropriate for their business like "Orlando Florida health insurance life whole life ..." etc etc. to make it even more precise.
The more relevant words a site contains the more relevant it is to a particular search phrase.

Popularity:
How many other sites link (i.e. point) to that site. As a general rule, the more incoming links point to a web site, the better that site will rank in the search engines. The reasoning is: the more other sites refer to you the more important and popular content you must have.

IMPORTANT NOTE: not all incoming links are created equal! The links from 1. More popular and 2. More relevant sites count more!

How can you improve your site's ranking? As we noted we took care of contents. We analyzed best ranked sites and made sure that the relevant insurance words are there. Also as we noted we support editing of meta tags and Title.

As far as popularity is concerned we only can help so much by using our main site, www.sites4agents.com, to provide links to a number of our customer web sites from miscellaneous pages. We do it in a round robin fashion going over the whole customer list chunk after chunk for each request.

But the bulk of works lies with the site owners!

YOU need to market your site via banner exchange or placing links to your site to your local community portals etc etc. It also increases the number of links pointing to your site. More about is later.

Local directories

Lately a number of leading search engines (to increase their own traffic) started providing free local business directory listings. It is a good way to market your site locally.
It is free to place your business address and web site there (you do need to register). In that listing you get a free link to your site.
There is a number of other free directories both national (like dmoz.org) and local, where you can place a link to your site for free.
We will be distributing those urls to our customers periodically.
Another good place to put your site is with the carrier sites you have appointments. Make sure that your agency listing with each such carrier has your up-to-date web address.

Regional/local sites

Some of them can be expensive so it is better to avoid them. The best idea is to go to the second or even third tier sites covering your area. They dont have much traffic but it is all local and they will welcome a little bit of revenues off advertising.
Always try negotiate their commission on a per success basis first!
You can also do link or banner exchange with them.
That is why our Site Administrator allows install with upload of banners by site owner. For example your insurance agency can install travel agency banner and travel agents will display your banner (see our sample agency www.sampleagency.info)

PPC (Pay-per-click)

Some people may not know the term but everybody who used Google or Yahoo at least once have seen them:
when search results are displayed in your browser on the very top and on the right margin there are paid advertisements. They are also known by their Google name, AdWords.

Basically an advertiser creates an AdWord campaign for a certain search phrase e.g. "auto insurance texas". He defines header and message and link to the site for a small Ad listing that a visitor that searches for that search phrase will see on the top and on the right margin of the results screen.

When web surfer sees that listing (among others) i.e. it is generated and sent to surfer's browser it is called imprint. Every time a visitor clicks on that Ad the advertiser who created that campaign is charged by the search engine.

There is a caveat: Google (or any other search engine) makes you compete for imprints by the price you are willing to pay for a click. Those who bid the higher price they are willing to pay for a possible click will get most imprints. It is an auction to get imprints. And it can get quite expensive - to get imprints for "auto insurance" type search phrase companies like insweb.com or progressive.com agree to pay $8-10 per click without any guarantee that the visitor will actually buy insurance or even fill in the personal data.

From my experience the most cost effective is actually business insurance related search phrases. One starts to get imprints (and clicks) at about $1-2 per click.

Insurance Portals

There are two categories of insurance portals.
One category is a comparative rating portal like esurance.com or insweb.com. A visitor to a portal selects a line of business, fills in the information forms he/she is presented a list of competing quotes from different carriers. If the visitor who got to that point selects one of displayed quotes he/she is usually redirected to the application form.
If such a portal is an agency they will write policy themselves or a visitor is redirected to the selected carrier to complete the application.
Second category is basically an insurance agents' gateway like http://www.allquotesinsurance.com
After a site visitor fills in the info the email is sent to one of the participating agencies. Clearly the portal charges agencies on a per lead or per success basis. More common is the per lead basis. Some of those portals are somewhat sophisticated and allow agents to report a frivolous request with dummy data and get refund.
Clearly there is a profile for each enrolled agency which defines which lines of business the agency selected to get leads. How are agents selected when a lead is about to be sent? Usually on a round robin basis among those within a few miles radius from where the prospect lives or works.

Digression:
Can the Internet technology allows to trace if a site visitor came directly by typing web address in a browser or came from another site or email by clicking on a link?
Yes it can. In the site log Web server stores all sorts of useful info like time of the visit, what pages visited etc etc. One of the most useful things captured is so called "Referrer" item in the log. It contains another site address from which web surfer got here by clicking on a link pointing to this site. It also captures if a link in email message is clicked. If the a visitor typed web address in a browser directly like reading it from business card the "Referrer" field will be empty!

Using conventional media to advertise a web site.

From our experience it is surprisingly effective. As we explained in the Digression above that marketing channel can be measured for effectiveness. Clearly no log can tell if a visitor saw the web address on a pizza box or on a business card left in a local barber shop etc etc. They all usually go under a single category "Local Printed media marketing". Consistent work on spreading the inexpensive word about the business brings results. Here web site offers convenience of access as opposed to driving somewhere. Also it serves as a first point of inquiry for spontaneous users.

Summary

How effective is the insurance web site marketing?
Is it worth the investment?
Clearly nobody can predict the actual results.
Especially when the effort invested can vary not only in the amount of time and money but also in the effectiveness and skill and flair.
We will present our view on different levels of the effort (again without predicting results whether measured in the site traffic or actual sales).

  • Level 1 - Use your web site as a tool.
    Purchase an inexpensive web site and use it just as a tool for the new or existing customers to fill in the information to save time and avoid spelling errors.
    Service requests like renewal or new vehicle or insurance ID card will help to improve quality of service and save time. At the hosting fee of $100 annual like our service many agents consider it the sufficient return at this point in time.
  • Level 2 - Minimal marketing effort no expenses
    In addition to the level one site use do the minimal research on free directories and register and insert your entry. We give our customers a list of national level free directories and we are building a list of regional ones.
  • Level 3 - Just a few bucks and few hours more
    Find third tier local web sites providing some community related information and make a partnership deal with any of them where you pay not for click but per successful lead. There are plenty of those on the Net.
    Also invest few dollars in business cards with web address on them and spread it around. There are web sites where you can buy 200 cards for under $10.
  • Level 4 - Enroll in inexpensive insurance portal of second category (see above). We are coming out with almost no commission fee in between for our customers in June.

It will be almost free because it will be self managed. More to follow.

Adding to Local Free Directories

Google

http://local.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=7039&topic=1481

Yahoo

http://listings.local.yahoo.com/

Some free directories for local search

Free business directories. A number of online directories provide free listings for specific city or state searches. Most offer enhanced listings, banner ads, and pay per click ads for a fee. Here are two that offer free listings:
SuperPages.com magicyellow.com BizHiway.com


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Our agency has been a client of Websites4Insurance for more than 5 years. We have been very happy with our website. It was easy to setup and easy to change and keep up to date. The user interface is geared to the non technical user. If you need help setting your website up, the technical department can help you make changes to your site. Our customers use the website for all types of servicing and our customers can input information directly into our quoting system. This saves our agency so much time and money. We love it.

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