How-To: Google AdWords Basics for Banks and Credit Unions

A recent poll conducted by The Financial Brand found that 57% of banks and only 23% of credit unions utilize search engine marketing (SEM). Clearly there are many financial institutions that have yet to embrace this powerful approach to marketing.

AdWords is Google’s flagship advertising product and main source of revenue, generating revenues of USD$23 billion in 2009. Both Yahoo! and Microsoft offer SEM programs similar to Google.

How does Google AdWords work? It’s easy. Once you’ve created an AdWords account, you can define the “keywords” (search terms people use) that will trigger your ads, along with a bid for what you’re willing to pay when someone clicks on one of your ads. Then, when people search Google for the keywords you’ve selected, your text-based ads will be shown as “sponsored links” on the right side of the screen, and sometimes above the main search results (depending on a myriad of factors).

Clickthrough rates (CTR) for the ads are about 8% for the ad in the top position, 5% for the second one, and 2.5% for the third one. Search results can return anywhere from 0 to 12 ads. Google limits the number of ads displayed above its organic results (the ads in gray boxes) to no more than three.

Google’s AdWords platform is as remarkably simple as it is robust. You can specify daily and monthly budgets. You can create campaigns, clusters of keywords and groups for different ads. The level of granular control you want to apply is entirely up to you. You can even choose the websites on which you’d like your ads displayed.


You can limit your ads to display only in specific cities, postal codes or within a certain number of miles from an address you provide.

Most financial institutions will find AdWords’ geographic search parameters particularly appealing. You can specify that your ads display only within a certain number of miles/kilometers from a physical address, or in certain cities or ZIP codes. Community banks and credit unions should make the most out of this feature, helping them save money on their AdWords budget, but geographic targeting is something every financial institution — even the mega-banks — can utilize effectively.

If you need some help getting started, check out Google’s guide for AdWords beginners. They also have an excellent 36-page PDF you can download. If you feel overwhelmed, you might want to try working with an SEM consultant.

What’s It Cost? What’s It Worth?

How do you know how much you should bid on the keywords you’d like to purchase? Well, Google has a tool for that as well: The Google AdWords Traffic Estimator. Here you can look up what the bidding ranges are for your desired search terms, and see how frequently people are searching for your keywords. Google will even tell you how competitive a phrase may be, so you’ll know how aggressive you have to be with your bids.

The Financial Brand has assembled a database of keywords financial institutions might be commonly interested in buying, allowing you to compare relative costs. The “Cost/Click” column gives you Google’s estimated average cost-per-click (CPC). Remember, Google displays your AdWords ads for free. They only charge you when someone actually clicks on your ads. The “Searches/Month” column shows you how many people search Google for that keyword or phrase in an average month, so you can get an idea for how many impressions your ad could yield. The “Competition” column shows you how competitive the bidding environment is for each keyword or search term.

Bids can range everywhere from 1¢ all the way up into the hundreds of dollars, depending on how desirable and competitive the search terms are. If you want your ad displayed when someone searches for “Ally Bank,” for instance, you’d only have to bid 5¢. But if you want your ad to pop up when someone Googles for “Capital One,” you can expect to pay around $27.19.

General Banking Terms

Because so few credit unions use SEM programs, the term “credit union” is cheaper than “bank” across the board. You’ll notice that more broad keywords like “bank” and “credit union” are much less expensive than geographically specific terms like “Los Angeles bank” and “Chicago credit union.”

Keyword Cost/Click Searches/Mo. Competition
bank $3.04 24,900,000 low
community bank $1.21 368,000 none
credit union $1.63 6,120,000 none
credit unions $1.12 165,000 low
interest rates $6.14 550,000 high
bank fees $3.42 33,100 low
green banking $3.43 880 moderate
Chicago bank $3.70 74,000 low
Chicago credit union $2.46 4,400 none
NYC bank $4.99 18,100 low
Los Angeles bank $7.36 18,100 low
California credit union $1.01 40,500 none
Seattle bank $3.52 18,100 low
Seattle credit union $1.69 5,400 none
Colorado bank $4.30 60,500 low
Iowa credit union $0.81 12,100 none
Phoenix credit union $2.09 1,900 none

Checking, Savings & Deposit Accounts

As you start to get more focused with your search terms, bidding costs go up. As you can see, bidding gets more expensive and more competitive for specific products and services. If you’re going to pay upwards of $10 for people to click on your ads, then you damn well better know how to convert them into new accounts. (Hint: Simply directing them to your standard, basic page for ‘New Accounts’ on your website ain’t gonna cut it.) Google AdWords campaigns are always more effective when you build a dedicated landing page for each ad (or groups of ads) you create.

Keyword Cost/Click Searches/Mo. Competition
checking account $10.35 301,000 high
checking accounts $11.03 368,000 high
savings account $10.52 450,000 moderate/high
savings accounts $9.76 110,000 high
interest checking $14.62 22,200 high
free checking $14.10 110,000 high
business checking $13.93 49,500 high
money market $11.00 301,000 high
ATM $1.96 550,000 low
debit card $5.43 301,000 moderate
overdraft fees $2.34 33,100 low
no overdraft fees $0.05 1,900 moderate/high
online banking $8.42 2,240,000 none
mobile banking $2.32 33,100 moderate
direct deposit $2.75 135,000 moderate


As you might expect, lending is the most competitive segment of retail banking right now. What’s it worth to you to have hot, relevant lending leads delivered straight to your online doorstep? Financial marketers who know how to make Google’s AdWord system hum are willing to pony up $5-$20 per click. If you think that sounds expensive, think about how much it takes to produce and air a TV spot. What’s the cost and ROI on that?

Keyword Cost/Click Searches/Mo. Competition
home loan $16.49 1,830,000 high
home loans $20.51 673,000 moderate/high
mortgage $15.05 9,140,000 moderate/high
mortgage rates $13.78 823,000 high
refi $17.78 60,500 high
refinance $14.38 1,000,000 high
loan $9.75 9,140,000 moderate/high
personal loan $5.68 823,000 high
HELOC $17.27 60,500 moderate/high
home equity $24.95 550,000 high
auto loan $7.56 673,000 high
auto loans $9.95 246,000 high
car loan $7.03 550,000 high
boat loan $6.69 40,500 high
motorcycle loan $7.00 14,800 high
student loan $20.97 1,500,000 moderate
student loans $12.30 823,000 moderate/high
business loan $5.99 301,000 high
business loans $6.85 301,000 high
credit score $10.03 1,000,000 high
credit report $13.46 1,500,000 high
free credit report $15.64 673,000 extreme
FICO score $9.65 110,000 moderate/high

Credit Cards

Capital One is among the many companies who believe it’s necessary to bid for Google AdWords on their own names, slogans and other trademarks. The reason? If Capital One’s competitors are willing to buy ads using the company’s name, that means another credit card marketer could appear above Google’s organic results whenever someone searches for Capital One. The astronomical prices for search terms associated with Capital One suggests that the company is artificially inflating bids in an attempt to thwart competitors tempted to draft off the credit card giant’s image and advertising. (Note: Capital One purchases different derivations of their name, including “CapitalOne” and “Capitol One.”) This is almost purely a defensive strategy.

Keyword Cost/Click Searches/Mo. Competition
credit card $12.29 6,120,000 moderate/high
Capital One $27.19 1,500,000 low
CapitalOne $18.59 1,500,000 low
What’s In Your Wallet? $12.27 1,300 none
Visa $3.47 3,350,000 moderate
student Visa $2.51 60,500 moderate
Mastercard $6.31 550,000 moderate
AmEx $9.42 368,000 low


If you think it’s unfair or “playing dirty” to buy AdWords ads when people search for your competitors, get over it. It’s smart business and smart marketing. There’s nothing remotely unethical or illegal about it. If you wrestle with the morality of it, tell yourself you could be saving people from making a big mistake. If you are indeed the better choice over your competitors, then you are actually performing a valuable consumer service when you place your ad in their way.

Keyword Cost/Click Searches/Mo. Competition
Bank of America $1.42 6,120,000 low
BofA $2.18 246,000 none
BofA branch $0.05 12,100 low
Bank of Opportunity $0.05 2,400 moderate
Keep the Change $1.65 22,200 none
Wells Fargo $8.27 2,740,000 low
Wachovia $3.08 1,830,000 none
WaMu $11.35 301,000 none
Citi $4.91 550,000 low
Navy FCU $0.05 368,000 none
Navy Federal Credit Union $0.80 301,000 none
Pentagon FCU $2.53 33,100 low
BECU $2.91 74,000 none
Kinecta $4.99 18,100 none
DFCU $1.01 14,800 none
Wesabe $0.05 2,900 low
Ally Bank $0.05 49,500 moderate
ING DIRECT $8.66 201,000 low
USAA $3.13 823,000 low
Schwab $5.47 550,000 low

Examples of Google AdWords Ads

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