10 Questions About Search Optimization for Banking Websites

Everyone's heard about the importance of "optimizing websites for search engines." But what does that really mean when your website has hundreds (if not thousands) of pages, dozens of contributors and an outside agency assisting you with development. Here are a few questions to jump-start your thinking.

1. Does your website team have the right focus?

Responsive design, great features, a rates database, a locations database — these are all necessary ingredients for a new website, and all of them contribute to your performance with search engines. Search strategy touches all aspects of your website, so it’s important to feel confident that your team has subject matter experts who are well-versed in today’s search best practices.

2. What is the address of your website?

Does your institution have more than one name? Many financial institutions have their formal name and then a name everyone in the community uses, often an abbreviation or acronym. Most organizations have — and actively use — more than one domain name. This approach may seem harmless, but not when it comes to search. You need to wrap up all your SEO goodness into one website domain. Using multiple domains and multiple versions of these domains splinters all your SEO juice — search engines view each variation as a different website. And make sure to address Google’s fondness for secure sites using https://. Also ask whether www. is still an important part of your financial institution’s web address, because you really don’t need it. (Note: The Financial Brand has never used www. in any of its website URLs.)

3. Will search engines find your website mobile-friendly?

Google places increasing importance on the mobile compatibility of websites. Responsive design is mandatory, but it’s just as important to ensure that pages on your new website load quickly on mobile devices. Because financial marketers don’t usually drive IT issues like site speed, this requirement highlights the need to build an interdepartmental team that works well together. Developers and IT staffers need to understand the importance of site speed, and work with your search experts and hosting provider to ensure your website is fast.

4. Where does search belong in your web strategy?

More than any other aspect, search and analytics should be part of your web strategy from Day One. Search is intimately tied to the content of your website’s navigation buttons and menus. The organization of content, the headings and labels you use, the names given to product pages and their URLs should all be driven by your SEO strategy. The end result of this work is a sitemap, which guides the design of your website, how the Content Management System (CMS) is set up to hold the content of your site’s pages, and how those pages are positioned for indexing and ranking by search engines.

5. What should you be measuring on your site?

Think big picture here, and let your team work through the details. If your executive committee is interested in driving growth of account openings, loans and investment appointments, your web team should be focusing on those goals. Ensure there is a strong, concise path of clicks and information that lead your site visitors to complete these activities. Then be sure you can measure what took place.

6. Why do you need copy optimization?

Each page should have its own copy theme to support your SEO strategy. Of course your mortgage page will be about mortgages, but does it have useful keywords in its headline, sub-headlines, page name and paragraphs? Does it speak to mortgage solutions specific to your geographic footprint? Search engines look for clues that will help them evaluate how appropriate your content is, and these clues need to be in the right places, using copy that your target audience will (1) search for, (2) find valuable and (3) easily understand. A web writer armed with both copy optimization skills and a list of keywords will need to put these clues where Google can find them.

7. How does your website correlate with your sales and marketing efforts?

Your website should be positioned as a hub for all of your online and offline marketing efforts. Look at your site as an excellent way to see how those efforts are paying off. Local residents may see or read about a branch opening. With planned campaigns you can lead visitors to your website for more information using banners, landing pages and analytics tracking to drive interest and measure it. The same process can be applied to most marketing campaigns, helping provide tangible ROI. Keep in mind that since banking websites rely heavily on third parties for key features like account opening and loan applications, the site tracking strategy needs to play well with those vendors/modules too.

8. What does search or analytics have to do with social media marketing?

If your social media team is creating content that people share on social media, search engines look positively on those interactions. Posts on Twitter, Facebook or other properties can also bring new visitors and returning to your website. Just as these campaigns are planned, so must be the ability to measure their impact and success.

9. How do you track all of these different SEO metrics?

The end result of this planning typically takes shape in your analytics platform as a set of reports or dashboards. But the steps to ensure all of these conversion opportunities are easy to accomplish take shape in navigation options, strong calls to action, and placing the right tracking code in the right places.

10. How do you know what data to act on?

Be prepared to devote some time (and resources) each month for reporting and analysis of results and recommendations for tweaks to performance. Your internal team and/or agency team should be providing this information. Ensuring they understand the institution’s business goals and have taken steps to measure success in ways large and small sets the stage. Analysis and recommendations are essential. If your branch locator is causing site visitors to bail before they ever make an appointment, this needs to be addressed.

Once you’ve invested the resources into redesigning your website, ensure you have a plan to address ongoing campaigns and initiatives, along with measuring their success. This will put you in a confident place when it’s time for that executive presentation on how the website is doing.

Teresa Foreman is a Digital Strategist at ZAG Interactive, a full-service digital agency offering strategy, design, development and marketing to banks and credit unions nationwide. To discuss your search or digital needs with ZAG, call 860-633-4818.

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