Google’s algorithm has changed substantially over the years, but one thing has remained constant: high quality content that prioritizes the user’s needs is of utmost importance. This is especially true for banking providers and other financial services firms.
Google’s 160-page search quality guidelines state that content falling into the “YMYL” category (“Your Money, Your Life”) requires higher quality than others. According to the guidelines, Google states, “We have a very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, or financial stability.”
Obviously, banks and credit unions fall under this umbrella.
So it’s no surprise that half of all financial marketers dedicate the bulk of their website budget to search engine optimization (SEO). They are investing massive amounts of time and energy to appease Google, hoping to generate more organic web traffic from the world’s most dominant digital platform.
Despite all their efforts, it still isn’t enough. Financial marketers’ say their number one challenge is that they lack adequate resources to generate the quality content needed to improve their search engine rankings.
Google’s guidelines also include another section that bank and credit union marketers can’t ignore: “Expertise, Authority & Trustworthiness” — otherwise known as the “E-A-T” acronym. Google lists this as one of “the most important factors to consider” when it comes to overall page quality.
- Expertise – Google’s Search Quality guidelines explain that financial industries need “formal” expertise to minimize publishing incorrect information. It’s best if a certified professional creates the content or you cite a professional as a source.
- Authority – If a professional creates the content, include their credentials somewhere in the post so readers know that this person is an authority on the topic. Google’s quality guidelines also suggest monitoring user reviews, which can determine a brand’s online reputation.
- Trust – Google’s Webmaster Guidelines suggest asking the question, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?” This emphasizes the importance of creating content for the user first, and search engines second.
The E-A-T acronym provides financial marketers with an excellent compass they can use when shaping their SEO strategy. Here are five more tips financial marketers should consider as they plan and create content that generates more search engine traffic.
1. Create ‘Fresh’ Content
Google’s “Quality Deserves Freshness” (QDF) algorithm determines what topics and searches requires the most updated results. According to Google, “fresh” topics are those that include recent events or hot topics, regularly recurring events (conferences, sports, elections), and frequent updates (reviews for the newest version of a product or service). And there are a whole lot of financial service topics ripe with QDF potential.
For example, LendEDU, a site that compares various options for student loans, publishes a chart that reviews banking providers with the most and least CFPB complaints. They update this chart every year to keep it relevant and useful to anyone searching for this information and LendEDU receives valuable organic search traffic because of it.
Publishing about changing rates, regulation shifts or offering a unique perspective or opinion on a recent news topic will help assert your company as a thought leader and authority in the industry.
Regularly keep up-do-date with news in your industry by attending events, subscribing to email newsletters, setting up Google Alerts, searching Google Trends, or curating news content with tools like AllTop or Feedly.
2. Answer Customer Questions
While your web content should answer FAQ’s about your financial institution, quality content is most effective when it answers general banking questions such as defining a term or offering tips to improve credit scores.
It’s this type of content that provides value to readers, attracts visitors to your site, and can result in higher search rankings. A searcher may not yet be shopping for your particular financial service or product, but providing content that answers their questions gets your organization on their radar early; you’re already proving your credibility, authority and trustworthiness in the marketplace.
So what questions are they asking? Talk to your call center and ask your sales reps who communicate closely with the public on the front lines. Figure out what pain points people have, and where they struggle. Develop a formal process or procedure that enables sales and service representatives to relay this kind of information to your marketing team, so you can create website content that answers these questions.
Even if a question doesn’t come with huge SEO potential, there’s still an opportunity for your sales and service teams to use your content. When that question comes up, they can send a link on your website with the answer the customer or prospect needed — much more impressive than using a link from another third-party source.
Read More: 12 Common SEO Mistakes Financial Marketers Make
3. Identify SEO Opportunities Through Keyword and Topic Research
To determine if a topic has SEO potential, first type the topic into Google. Ask others to repeat the search, since results vary widely based on each user’s Google history. Then analyze the results. Are all the top results from big brands or giant media outlets? If so, it will be hard to compete with these sites because they have such a high domain authority.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to pick a whole new topic. Look at the “people also search for” column to find a keyword or phrase that has less competition. The Keywords Everywhere tool is a helpful Chrome plugin that displays the volume of the keyword you input in a Google search, assigns a competition percentage and shows the average cost-per-click (CPC) on AdWords. It also shows keyword opportunities in the “people also search for” box.
Answer the Public is another free, simple keyword research tool. It displays questions that people are asking on Google and Bing related to whatever keyword you enter. When used with the Keywords Everywhere tool, you can assess the opportunity for possibly hundreds of keywords and phrases.
Overwhelmed with results? Try creating “keyword families” and focus on keywords with a low competition score while still maintaining a relatively high monthly search volume. Choose five keywords with the best opportunity to rank and then create specific topics and long-tail keywords for each of those five words.
A long-tail keyword is a phrase that is usually between 4-6 words. It is a more descriptive phrase to target a specific audience with less competition. It’s the difference between the search term “credit union” (short-tail) and the search phrase “credit union vs bank auto loan” (long-tail). Total search volume for the long-tail keyword may be smaller, but you’ll target people who have a specific question you can address.
4. Create Comprehensive Content
Research by Backlinko shows that “publishing comprehensive, in-depth topical content may improve rankings.” Comprehensive content answers searchers’ questions and keeps them on a page longer.
Once you’ve found a word or phrase that you want to target, start clicking through the top results to see if you can create better — more comprehensive — content than the others.
Rand Fishkin, formerly of Moz, championed the idea that content needs to be 10x better than anything else on search engine results pages (SERPs). You not only need to be an expert on the topic and answer searchers’ questions, but it must be done in a unique and captivating way.
For example, if you write a total guide to investing rental properties and cover the process from start to finish, with organized subheads, “pro tips,” data, and real examples, you’re more likely to see success in the SERPs.
However, keep in mind that comprehensive does not mean it needs to be long. The same Backlinko report found that the most of Google’s first page results contain an average of 1,890 words, but every word needs to count. If you’re writing fluff just to meet that 1,890 word count, it will backfire. Users won’t find any helpful information and will leave your page.
So what’s missing from the top SERP of a keyword or phrase that you want to rank for? Maybe it could use a clearer definition of a complex term, or a visual or chart that could help break down the topic so it’s easier to understand. Maybe an original research study will help back up an argument and get more attention. A video or interactive quiz might also keep people on the page longer, which will give your content a positive SEO boost for higher placement.
Unfortunately high-quality content is not easy to produce. But Google tends to reward hard work because people will click on, consume, and share content that’s helpful.
5. Readability and Visuals
It’s estimated that four out five of people scan web pages. Even if you have the best copy out there but it’s formatted in one giant block with few line breaks, it’ll be tough for readers to find what they’re looking for and before hitting the back button.
The solution is to break up copy by using the following formatting guidelines:
- Use headings, numbers and bullet points, and label each section so readers can easily identify what they want to read about.
- Bold or italicize copy throughout the content to highlight key points or use the Click to Tweet plugin, which highlights key phrases, but also encourages readers to share it on Twitter.
- Break up copy by writing in short paragraphs.
Include relevant visuals. Visuals also increase people’s willingness to read your content by 80%. It could be a custom graphic, screenshot with an example, infographic, video, chart, or anything that helps tell your story. (Bonus: Photos can be optimized to appear in Google Image Search for an even better chance for people to find your content.)
Beyond strategic formatting, make sure your copy is easy to read. If you’re writing a blog post for financial industry insiders, then you can use common jargon and phrases will make sense to them (e.g., EHL, HELOC, CFPB, ROE), but if you’re writing content for consumers, you need to simplify the language.
Employ proper grammar rules as well. Obviously, this ensures your brand comes across as professional and knowledgeable (which, as we mentioned before, is critical in YMYL industries like finance), but it also helps with readability. For instance, avoid passive voice, use fewer adverbs and watch for empty phrases and exaggerated marketing speak.
Read More: 10 Tips to Tighten Your Writing
Check the readability of your content with the Flesch Reading Ease score, which is a scale between 0 and 100, with 100 being the most readable. It’s suggested to aim for a score of 60-70 for most adult readers. To measure this score, use a tool such as the Hemingway App, Yoast, or Readable.io.
Here’s a great example of a “readable” post from thebalance.com that appears on the first SERP for the query “what does a credit union do?” The headings and bold words create entry points to help readers skim. There are a lot of points covered in the post, but they are kept to short, concise paragraphs to not overwhelm readers, who are just beginning to learn about credit unions. Remember: Every word counts.
The Long-Term Benefits of SEO
As you publish content, keep in mind that SEO is a long-term play. You might not see results in a few weeks, or even a few months. But as readers click and interact with the content, Google will take notice.
Even when you achieve a top spot in search, continue to monitor content performance and optimize for a better chance of climbing the ranks. A tool like SEMrush helps to identify content with the best ranking opportunities and includes tons of optimization suggestions. This small amount of maintenance work will pay off for long-term brand awareness and traffic to your website.
Valerie Turgeon is the Content Marketing Manager at Brandpoint, a comprehensive content marketing agency that provides expert, customized solutions in content strategy, content creation, and paid and earned media.