5 Ways to Optimize Banking Websites for Lead Generation in 2018

In a mobile-first world, the front door to your financial institution is just six inches tall. Here's how to optimize your website for today's new digital realities while improving SEO and generating more leads.

A website is one of the most powerful tools in a bank’s marketing arsenal. It works 24/7, never takes a sick day and uniformly conveys brand culture and messaging. Yet many banks struggle to get their websites discovered by more than their existing customers.

If you’re looking to acquire more accounts, loans and credit applications online, these five digital marketing tactics will help move your website to the top of search engine results and ramp up its lead generating power.

1. Adopt a Mobile-First Mentality

In early 2015, mobile searches outpaced desktop searches for the first time. Because of this growing trend, Google is making the shift to a mobile-first index, which it expects to complete in 2018. Once the transition is complete, the mobile version of a bank’s website will determine its rankings for searches performed on both mobile and desktop devices.

In addition, data shows that 76% of smartphone users who search for local businesses visit one within 24 hours. This includes searches for terms like “community banks” and “banks near me”. If your bank’s website isn’t ranking in these searches or offers a poor mobile experience, you are missing out on potential new customers.

Financial institutions can position themselves to capitalize on an increasingly mobile market by ensuring their websites are as mobile-friendly and locally optimized as possible. You can test how mobile-friendly your website is using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

Mobile Optimization Tips:

  • Compress images
  • Minify code
  • Utilize caching
  • Avoid blocking CSS or JavaScript
  • Don’t use flash or pop-ups
  • Local Optimization Tips:
  • List the names, addresses and local phone numbers of all branches
  • Include your city and state in title tags
  • Use a consistent name, address and local phone number across directories
  • Create separate directory listings for each branch

2. Do Your Keyword Research

Taking the time to understand how customers think and search for your services is key to getting your website found online.

Search engines love content that answers questions and engages visitors. If your website content is thin, filled with duplicate content or doesn’t offer more value than your competitor’s website, you’re missing an opportunity to generate new leads.

Google’s free Keyword Planner and Google Trends tools will allow you to see how frequently words and phrases related to your services (a.k.a. “keywords”) are being searched, as well as which topics are trending. You can then work to develop content around those keywords and trends.

For example, if keyword research shows that consumers are frequently looking for mortgage calculators, make sure that you 1) have a mortgage calculator on your website, and 2) invest time in creating optimized content that will help your webpage get found in search results.

Webpage Optimization Tips:

  1. Start with long-tail keywords (less competitive 2-4 word phrases)
  2. Put the primary keyword in the H1 tag (header)
  3. Put top keywords in the title tag (avoid stuffing)
  4. Use keywords in webpage content (avoid stuffing)
  5. Use keywords in ALT tags (image tags)
  6. Incorporate keyword synonyms

When optimizing content, avoid forcing keywords into places where they don’t fit contextually. This is known as keyword stuffing and will result in a search engine penalty. Webpages should always be written for people first and search engines second.

3. Optimize for Semantic Search

Search is changing. Advancements in technology have fundamentally shifted the way people look for information. Instead of typing short queries like “auto loan rates” into a computer, voice applications like Google Now, Siri and Cortana allow users to perform natural language searches, such as asking: Which banks offer the best auto loan rates?

This shift in how people search for information has forced search engines to adapt. Algorithms have become more intelligent, moving away from ranking webpages based on keywords alone and growing into artificially intelligent (AI) algorithms capable of machine learning (i.e. Google’s RankBrain).

Today’s search algorithms seek to understand both the intent behind a user’s search, as well as the context of a webpage. This process of delivering search results based on user intent and contextual meaning is known as semantic search.
Content with a strong question/answer focus is more likely to capture traffic from semantic searches. Think about the top “what,” “why,” “how to,” and “how much” questions asked by your audience and create content that clearly answers those questions.

In addition to your primary keywords, use companion words that help to contextualize the meaning of your webpage. For example, if the primary topic of a webpage is “checking accounts”, words such as “online checking”, “debit card”, and “checkbook” will all serve as contextual clues to search engines.

4. Evaluate & Grow Your Backlinks

Backlinks – links from other websites to yours – continue to be one of the strongest ranking signals used by Google’s algorithms. To put it simply, the more links you have pointing to your website from relevant and authoritative sources, the more Google will trust that you are offering quality content and the higher your rankings will be.

That said, not every backlink is a good one, and search engines frown upon websites that use certain types of link schemes to try and manipulate rankings.

Start by taking stock of your existing backlinks with the help of a backlink analysis tool. Backlink analysis tools work by scanning a massive in-house database of webpages and looking for links to your website. While not free, many tools do offer free trials.

Potential red flags to look for when evaluating your backlink profile include:

  1. Links from foreign countries (especially for private local or community banks)
  2. Irrelevant links from unrelated websites (i.e. links from food blogs)
  3. Large numbers of links from a few domains (a.k.a. low domain diversity)
  4. Links from low quality websites (i.e. spammy web directories)

If unwanted links are discovered, it’s important to reach out to webmasters and ask that they be removed. If all else fails, harmful links may need to be disavowed, though it’s best to have an SEO expert perform this step. Inadvertently removing good links can be as detrimental as having spammy ones.

Once you’ve cleaned up your backlink profile, it’s time to build new links (a.k.a. backlink building). When it comes to backlinks, quality always trumps quantity. One backlink from a high authority domain will do more good than one thousand backlinks from lower quality domains.

There are hundreds of guides to backlink building on the web that offer tips and advice for building links. However, the most important thing to remember is that backlinks need to be editorial in nature, or earned naturally. Paying for links on websites to boost rankings is a direct violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Make sure to avoid doing any of the following at all costs:

  • Using only keyword-rich anchor text in press releases and articles
  • Building links on low-quality “bookmark sites”
  • Putting links in the comment sections of blogs
  • Putting keyword-optimized links in forum post signatures
  • Excessive link exchanges (i.e., I’ll link to you if you link to me)
  • Creating new websites just to link to your existing website

The above tactics will only hurt your rankings in search engine results. Instead, focus on creating content that offers value and that people will naturally want to link to. Building links the right way is difficult and takes time, but the payout is significant.

5. Use Paid Advertising

Let’s face it: Achieving the top positions in search results for keywords is difficult, especially in a competitive industry like banking. It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work before you’ll begin to see results. While waiting for your search engine optimization efforts to pay off, you can start driving immediate traffic through paid advertising.

When used strategically, paid advertising is a great tool for generating targeted, quality leads. The required financial investment and expected ROI varies based on the ad platform, target market and advertising channel.

Big advertising platforms like AdWords, Facebook, LinkedIn and numerous ad networks (think DoubleClick and Amazon) offer a variety of different ad types (text, display, native, video) and extensive targeting options to ensure your ads are delivered to the right audience.

Example targeting options include:

  • Home type (home, apartment, condo)
  • Home value
  • Property size
  • Credit card usage
  • Purchase behaviors
  • Household income
  • Net worth
  • Business industry
  • Current employer
  • Company size
  • Job title
  • Political affiliation
  • Life events (newlywed, recently moved, etc.)
  • Age and generation
  • Gender
  • Geolocation
  • Parental status
  • Interests / hobbies
  • Relationship status
  • Education level
  • Device usage
  • Apps usage

Before jumping into paid advertising, make sure you have a good understanding of your target market and the best places to reach them online. There are a lot of places to buy ads, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

You will also want to make sure the landing pages your ads drive traffic to follow a few best practices for optimum lead generation:

1. Avoid sending people to your homepage. Each of your ads should serve a purpose beyond simply driving traffic to the website. Your landing page should offer a cohesive user experience, and the content should reflect what your ad promises.

2. Have a clear call to action. What is the ultimate action you want someone to take after arriving on your landing page? Whether it’s entering their email to request more information on loan rates or downloading a mortgage guide, use language that makes it clear to them what they should do next.

3. Remove the main navigation. This may sound counterintuitive, but with landing pages less is more. Removing the main navigation from your landing pages eliminates the opportunity for visitors to click on links that take them off the page. Multiple studies have shown that removing the main navigation keeps a visitor’s attention on the goal at hand, resulting in increased conversions.

Finally, make sure you track everything. Understanding Google Analytics conversion tracking is an absolute must when it comes to being able to report on the results of your advertising efforts and measuring ROI.

Key Takeaways

Your website is one of your greatest marketing tools. If you’re looking to grow your customer base in 2018, investing in the right combination of SEO and paid advertising is a cost-effective way of achieving that goal.

Your number one priority for 2018 needs to be making your website as mobile-friendly as possible. Then, focus on developing helpful and informative content while keeping a close eye on the company you keep (with your backlinks), and you’ll be well on your way to higher search engine rankings.

If your goal is to generate leads, be sure to establish clear conversion goals and set up tracking that allows you to see how well both your organic and any paid traffic are converting. For the best results, keep landing pages simple and calls to action clear.

Michelle Thompson is a Digital Marketing Strategist at Crawford Strategy. She has more than 11 years of experience in online marketing, including six years specializing in SEO and SEM. Michelle works with businesses ranging in size from national corporations to startups to develop and execute results-driven digital campaigns.

This article was originally published on November 15, 2017. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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