4 Keys to Improving Search Performance for Banking Websites

Whether your banking website needs a cattle prod or a defibrillator, improving both paid and organic search strategies will bring more of the kind of traffic banks and credit unions need. Financial marketers know that "build it and they will come" does not apply to websites.

Search is a valuable tool for consumers seeking knowledge, guidance and insights. That makes it a powerful engagement driver for brands — especially in the information-intensive financial-services vertical.

As a marketing channel, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) offer both reach and relevancy. By leveraging both paid and organic search, banks and credit unions can not only deliver their sales and marketing messages at scale but engage consumers in times of need.

Reaching people when they are asking a question — what Google calls “I want to know,” “I want to do,” and “I want to buy” moments — builds trust and points the way to a particular product or solution. And because many web searches have local intent, search marketing can be of specific benefit to the brick-and-mortar side of banking.

While search can drive significant business impact, brands must tread carefully to ensure Google’s algorithm rewards their efforts, rather than penalizing them.

With this in mind, here are four key steps in search marketing.

1. Map Search to Your Customer Journey

Take a holistic view of your customer journey: Where can it be impacted the most by search? Ask yourself about the moments of consumer need where you can answer a question, provide a solution, or add value in some other way.

“Start with your customers’ decision journey. Work backwards to identify the end goal of any campaign.”

These moments may be generic searches like “personal loan” or searches for your institution’s specific product. In both cases, investing in SEO and SEM will improve your ranking, increase click-through rates, and drive more traffic to your site. The challenge is to invest wisely.

The best approach is to start with your customers’ decision journey. Work backwards to identify the end goal of any campaign. For example, if consumers looking for personal loans typically visit a branch, one of your loan division’s search marketing key performance indicators may be branch visits.

Adopting this as your high-level goal will then inform the rest of your digital approach. In this example, local SEO tactics — such as adding reviews to your branches’ websites or adopting a new URL hierarchy — may provide the best ROI by making your branches more visible in search.

Meeting your customers at their point of need via appearing in their search results will build long-term relationships and ensure you are top of mind for their financial services needs.

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2. Seek Paid and Organic Synergies for Better Keywords

Keywords are fundamental to SEO and SEM because they determine the search results in which your brand will appear. The customer journey can drive your initial keyword research. But to take keyword strategy to the next level, look for synergies between your paid and organic search efforts.

“Understanding the terms driving organic search to your site can also inform your paid strategy.”

Should conversions be one of your primary SEO goals, for example, look first at your highest-converting paid keywords. Results from paid campaigns can be determined in a matter of days, allowing you to test new ideas and compare strategies. Once you have a high-level understanding of how paid search drives conversions, you can create an informed SEO program that will limit risk. It will also help you avoid the worst-case scenario of running an SEO program for months with misaligned keywords and KPIs.

Paid-organic synergies can drive more traffic to your site, as well. Focusing your on-page SEO on high-volume paid keywords will improve the relevance of page content and increase your search ranking overall. In time, it could drive down your cost per click.

Understanding the terms driving organic search to your site can also inform your paid strategy. Look for long-tail keywords. These are three- and four-word phrases that are very specific. Your competitors may be neglecting such keywords and you can gain an edge by making them part of your search strategy.

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3. Take an SEO Approach to Content Development

Another way to create a competitive advantage is to ensure that SEO best practices shape all of your content. Improving SEO across your domain raises the quality score of your pages, signaling to search engines that your content is highly relevant to the end-user.

“Great SEO relies on keyword density, URL optimization, proper tagging of page elements all matter, and inbound links.”

What constitutes great SEO? Keyword density, URL optimization, and proper tagging of page elements all matter, as do inbound links. (These are hyperlinks back to your site from another web site.) Other websites are much more likely to link to content their own readers will find useful, so the quality of content is critical.

To combine some of the best parts of SEO and SEM, consider investing ad dollars in driving traffic to content (such as a blog article) aimed at awareness or consideration. The increased traffic will not only lead to a higher search ranking for the content but help it get links and reposts. These social shares lead to even stronger search rankings, in a “virtuous cycle” that ensures maximum content visibility.

That increased relevance will, in turn, drive down the bid cost of any search ads pointing to your pages. When you use SEO tactics to shape the content linked to your ads, the cost savings can scale massively. Additionally, by tying your paid and organic strategies together with your content, you see results long after the ad spend has finished.

4. Test and Test Again

Your specific search marketing tactics will depend on the product you are selling and the keywords you are targeting. Regardless of the marketing mix you employ, be prepared to run tests — and then iterate.

Investing time in different approaches is essential. Only after a few months can you generate sufficient results to truly gauge search marketing success. In addition, two to three months is the typical time a content piece remains relevant to consumers.

Testing can take any number of forms. Given the complexity of the financial-product marketplace, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Still, one smart strategy is to keep keywords and bids consistent but test different entry pages.

Imagine that you’re trying to drive mutual fund account opens. You may create conversion pages with clear calls to action and signup links, as well as search-optimized content pages that aim to educate the prospect about mutual funds’ benefits. Point your pay-per-click ads to both destinations, then identify which page drives better results. You’ll gain new insight into what drives mutual fund consumers down the funnel.

For financial-services firms, the digital landscape is only expanding. By 2020, McKinsey estimates, 40% of new financial products will be purchased digitally.

What is not changing is the financial-product buying cycle, which typically involves significant consumer research and multiple touches. There are abundant opportunities on this purchase path to attract the consumer’s attention and drive them into your sales funnel.

Search, by driving engagement in moments of need, is one of the most compelling channels available to financial marketers. In a digital-first world, search marketing has been and will remain a powerful financial-services growth driver.

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