How PPC Content Advertising Might Aid In The Online Battle For Roth IRA Conversions

It doesn’t happen often but sometimes the Universe helps with the blog-writing.

All week I’ve vacillated between two disparate topics: the Roth IRA Conversion Centers that are appearing on asset managers’ Web sites and pay-per-click (PPC) content advertising. Thanks to the Universe for showing a way to address both topics in a single (OK, little long) post.

When there’s a change requiring investor education and a deadline to take action—as is the case with the change in the IRA tax law enabling taxpayers to spread the taxes related to a 2010 IRA-to-Roth-IRA conversion over two years—this is an opportunity for asset management marketers to use marketing to raise assets.


According to Google Insights for Search, interest in Roth IRA conversion as a search term (and related derivatives) peaked in January. That was before many firms had published their Roth IRA conversion content but interest remains high. The opportunity is ongoing.

We’ve gone directly to the Web sites of the largest investment management companies to check out the Roth IRA conversion content developed to attract interest and possibly meet new customers (advisors and investors). Note that this isn’t the way newcomers will get to the sites—if they’re new, Search in all likelihood will have to bring them.

What we’re seeing are a few videos (examples: Nuveen and Putnam), limited HTML content and, as usual, lots of Adobe Acrobat files.

The conversion decision lends itself to calculations, and most firms that have created dedicated Roth IRA Conversion Centers offer at least one calculator. It makes sense that some firms have turned to third parties for interactive tools rather than develop their own. T. Rowe Price uses a Morningstar calculator and Standard & Poor’s powers American Century’s Roth Conversion Analyzer, for example.

But while we acknowledge the speed-to-market motivation that may be driving the decision, we’re not crazy about the use of tools or the hosting of content off a domain, as is the case of Dreyfus’s center and, to a lesser degree, Oppenheimer’s calculator which is off the domain and on a page devoid of all Oppenheimer branding.

Content that’s not on your domain won’t lift your domain in search engine rankings and, in these instances, the user experience suffers.

All in all, it’s not a super search engine-optimized showing for the asset managers, and we have our doubts about how the investment manager content is going to rocket to the top of search engine rankings. One notable exception:, which consistently ranks high on retirement planning search terms.

Which sites are winning the Search competition for Roth IRA conversion-related terms? That's how the Universe leads us to pay-per-click (PPC) content advertising.

Enter Pay-per-click (PPC) Content Advertising

A handful of sites command the rankings for the top Roth IRA keywords, according to broad and exact match search analytics data from Compete and a few paid SEO tools we use.

But before we get to them, let's digress by taking a look at an outlier site that's consistently ranking high in Roth IRA searches: It's an LPL financial advisor's blog, Good Financial Cents by Jeff Rose.

Take a moment to contemplate this accomplishment. Asset manager marketing communications staffs are especially lean right now, to be sure, but an individual advisor has managed to produce enough content and establish enough authority to "beat" asset managers at a game they should have an advantage in. Rose is among the savviest content marketer/financial advisors, but a legion of marketing-minded advisors are right behind him. You can read more about Rose's strategy in this WiredAdvisor interview.

Given the nature of the other high-ranking sites, asset manager content offerings are not likely to be able to "fight" them. But if you or your online advertising resources (if you have them) are willing to explore your options, there might be a way to join them and other retirement planning-focused Web sites.

At this point, I should disclose that several weeks ago I was asked if I’d be willing to review Customers Now, a book on pay-per-click content advertising. As it happened, I regularly listen to the author David Szetela’s PPC Rockstars podcast and I’d been hearing about this book coming together. I accepted the publicist’s offer, received the 84-page soft cover book and have been meaning to get around to writing the review.

I remembered the commitment this week as I saw who was winning the Roth IRA conversion traffic. It’s content aggregation sites, including:, and All of which are supported by Google AdSense ads, a program that involves Google sharing ad revenue with the Web sites.

Cheesy, right? I’ve always thought so, too. But in demystifying how the ad placements work, Szetela makes a convincing case for the practice. It's germane to this discussion as a viable tactic to consider in driving awareness and attention for your Roth IRA conversion content.

According to today, 22 advertisers are bidding for “Roth IRA conversion” as a pay-per-click (PPC) keyword phrase displayed on the search engine results pages. A leading proponent of PPC search advertising, Szetela nonetheless says that such a search takes place later in an information-gathering process. In contrast, pay-per-click (PPC) content advertisers attempt to reach readers on content pages (not Search engines) earlier, during their research and discovery phases.

Advertising on content networks enables advertisers to reach many more people online and before the competition takes place on crowded search pages, Szetela says.

The difference between PPC content and PPC search is that PPC content starts by targeting the customer on relevant but typically niche Web sites. This book serves as a practical guide to using the Google Content Network (whose sites include The Wall Street Journal, Seeking Alpha and Barron’s) and ContextWeb’s ADSDAQ Exchange (whose site says it offers inventory of more than 8,000 vetted publishers).

Szetela describes the significant work required to control the content-matching algorithms to “laser-target” ad placements. Through trial and error, advertisers can adjust the ad creative (yep, Szetela makes the case for the dancing-baby-like animations), target demographic groups and overall assure that their ads appear in context of appropriate, "brand-safe" content.

Will your ad appear on the top sites for Roth IRA terms and will that placement materially help your overall initiative? Maybe, maybe not.

What we can say with near-certainty is that publishing just a limited amount of suboptimized content on your site will not draw visitors on its own. Not on such a competitive topic where content aggregation sites got there before you.

This morning, by the way, we saw T. Rowe Price, continually one of the industry's most aggressive PPC advertisers, on T. Rowe is going for it.

More and more, asset managers are going to conclude that publishing content on their own site is just step one of a two-step process. The second step is to promote the content, using an array of tactics.

To learn more about PPC content advertising as a possible tactic, here’s a (free) Adobe Acrobat file of the Szetela book.

On Friday, May 7, Pat will be moderating a "Connecting Today: How Asset Managers Are Using Social Media and Why" session at ICI's 2010 Operations and Technology Conference. Vanguard, Northern Trust and Stradley, Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP will be the panelists.