Your website may be gorgeous, but you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t also have a savvy search engine strategy.
By Michelle Brown, Director of Marketing at ZAG Interactive
According to the Search Engine Journal, 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine. So it should come as no surprise that search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) has become a huge priority for many banks and credit unions. But there are plenty of financial institutions out there missing golden opportunities to build business — with digital denizens, one of the most highly coveted segments in banking — because they don’t have a proper SEO/SEM strategy in place. Here are 12 of the most common mistakes financial institutions make in their search engine strategies.
( Note: This article references terms, phrases and acronyms you might not be familiar with. You are encouraged to reference this SEO/SEM glossary.)
1. Treating SEO as an afterthought
Search engine optimization needs to be a priority at the beginning of your project for your strategy to achieve optimal results. A complete SEO effort will influence design, development, site architecture, copywriting, which content management system you select and much more. If you do not address SEO until after your site launches, you risk limiting the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.
2. Using a content management system that is not SEO-friendly
The CMS you choose will go a long way toward defining the success of your SEM/SEO strategy. It’s imperative that your CMS allows for customizable title tags, descriptions and image alt tags while providing flexibility to determine where SEO coding is placed. Also, you need to be able to create customized URLs and implement individual pages with dynamic, database-driven content, such as rates modules. If your CMS doesn’t provide these features, your SEO strategy will not reach optimal effectiveness.
3. Improperly using tags
Tags are integral to your efforts, so you must ensure that your tags are relevant to the products and services your financial institution offers. This requires significant keyword research to focus on the words that are most frequently searched. Also, you need to heed character limitations in the title and description fields and include the most important terms in those fields. Another common mistake is not focusing on a specific geographic area when optimizing. For example, you don’t want to be found on “home loans” but “home loans in (town/city, state, United States).”
( Read More: 10 Tips To Drive More Online Applications )
4. Lacking depth on your website
Search engines look for keywords and your site’s pages contain keywords. So it follows logically that more pages equals more opportunities to rank on keywords. By increasing the page count of your financial institution’s website, you will get priority from search engines because they recognize larger sites with valuable, keyword-rich content. Before adding any pages, you’ll need to conduct the necessary keyword research to determine what people are searching and whether your site contains content specific to those keywords.
5. Ignoring dated content on your site
Like fresh bread from the oven, fresh content appeals more to the end user than stale content. Search engines know this and they pick up quicker on sites that feature content that is regularly updated (Read More: Google’s Freshness Update). You can add fresh content to your financial institution’s site in a variety of ways, such as adding a social media stream to your homepage, developing a blog for your site, or featuring a news and events feed that’s specific to your target audience.
6. No linking strategy
Embedding your site with links adds value to your site, and your site gains more credibility when other sites link back to you, all of which causes your site to rank higher on search engines. Useful information and intelligent ideas will attract readers and give them reasons to link to your site. Also, an internal linking strategy in which you link to pages on your own site makes it easy for search engines to crawl the site.
7. Using pure images as your banner ads
Avoid using banner ads that are pure images because search engines can’t read any of the text within the image… and the text is the most valuable content. Look at this example here and you’ll see all the text in the banner ads is embedded in the image — there is no text you can select, copy/paste, nor anything a search engine can index. Now look at this example and you’ll see how the text is superimposed over the image using HTML.
A good practice is to use one of several free online tools, such as MOZBar, to scan your site and discover what search engines can and cannot see. The results may surprise you.
( Read More: 50 Of The Most Spectacular Website Designs In Banking )
8. Not leveraging social media
Social media platforms should be integrated into your SEM efforts because they’re useful for bringing inbound links to your site. The key is to optimize the descriptions, content and properties of various social media platforms and then maintain regular activity by tweeting, liking, pinning, and +1’ing to add credibility that search engines detect, thus influencing your ranking.
9. Maintaining multiple sites for different devices
Managing multiple sites is not as worthwhile an effort as it may sound. It’s better to invest in responsive design, a technology that scales your website to fit any device so you don’t lose the impact and important content. From an SEO standpoint, one responsive site means that your audience is visiting one location rather than segmenting traffic among multiple sites. That means more traffic to your main site and, in turn, more credibility that influences the search engine rankings.
10. Not understanding the value of pay-per-click
Financial institutions are in a particularly competitive industry when it comes to keywords. You want top ranking for auto loan rates in your geographic footprint? So does every big bank. This is where a pay-per-click campaign augments SEO, because SEO is great but ranking is not guaranteed. With a competitive click budget, your financial institution can use PPC to help secure top ranking on most competitive keywords and terms that are important to your marketing goals. Combining a solid SEO strategy with PPC can help your financial institution compete for search engine-driven visitors.
11. Trying to build your own solution
Defining and implementing an SEO strategy with your in-house team may seem like a good idea at first, but the complexity and ever-changing nature of the beast means you’ll be more successful by hiring a digital agency that specializes in SEO. It’s likely that your resources are thin and you don’t have an SEO expert dedicated to the job, which makes it difficult to monitor changes in SEO and adjust your site in response. And when hiring an agency, keep in mind that sharing your marketing goals with a trusted vendor is the ideal route toward SEO success.
12. Not viewing SEO as a continuous process
SEO isn’t just a one-shot deal. To be successful, you need to keep up with changes in search engine algorithms, and that can be daunting. Google, for example, changes its algorithms 500 to 600 times a year, and that means your website should be evolving. Also, keep in mind changes within the financial services industry and among your competitors. It’s imperative that you continuously monitor your site’s performance and adjust accordingly to maintain a competitive ranking for your financial institution.