What good is a user-friendly, intuitive, informative, banking website if people can’t easily find it? As the virtual yellow pages of the internet, a good chunk of financial consumers will be looking for a new bank or credit union using a search engine. Even when your domain name is easily remembered, many people will still use a search engine to find a financial institution’s site.
A thorough and well-planned search strategy is essential to ensuring that your financial institution is represented in relevant keyword queries. As cited by HubSpot, 70% of the links search users click on are organic — not paid. Increasing the number of site visitors, search engine optimization (SEO) aims at having your pages appear as high up in the list of free, organic, search results as possible.
Making sure your site plays nice with all the major search engines — Google, Bing and Yahoo — your SEO strategy should bring together design, development and marketing. Now of course, it’s every financial marketer’s dream to have their institution show up in the first ten Google search results for the most critical products (e.g., checking accounts, home loans, credit cards). Unfortunately, the search terms most financial institutions want to rank highly on are among the most competitive and difficult to crack. That’s why SEO success hinges on a number of factors immediately within your control, such as site architecture, content quality and HTML code, as well as off-the-page factors like how other web properties perceive and link to your financial institution.
Financial marketers need to evaluate which general terms their institution can potentially own in its geographic marketplace through localized keyword research. For example, if you want your “Auto Loans” page to rank, keyword research might determine that your city or state coupled with the term “car loans” is searched more, and therefore, should be optimized — loading these geographically-specific keywords into the content and metadata of your “Auto Loans” page.
Use Long-Tail Keywords
If competition remains high even after you’ve appended your site with geographic terms, you should continue drilling down with long-tail keywords. This is a more granular layer of search phrases that are less competitive but likely to result in highly-qualified visitors. Once you determine terms with high opportunity and relatively low competition, then you need to go back and optimize your site accordingly. This involves corresponding backend metadata (e.g., page titles) as well as the actual copy and content that appears on the consumer-facing front-end of the website.
This illustrates how important it is to maintain an ongoing SEO process. Organic SEO is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” initiative. You can’t say, “Oh yeah, we did an SEO project a couple years ago, so we’re good.” Instead, SEO requires continual upkeep. To stay current with shifting search algorithms and fuel your institution’s overall inbound marketing strategy, you need to feed the fresh and relevant content that search engines crave.
Invest in Paid Search Engine Marketing
To complement your organic search strategy, paid search engine marketing (SEM) promotes your institution’s webpages adding some juice to their search engine visibility. As reported in the State of Retailing Online study, search engine marketing is lauded by 85% of retailers as one of the most effective customer acquisition tactics. By running ads on today’s top SEM platforms (chiefly Google AdWords and Bing Ads), financial institutions can promote their brands, services and products. The bookend to your SEO strategy, SEM allows your financial institution to place pay-per-click (PPC) ads for desired, hard-to-rank terms alongside organic search results. So, when it is difficult for your financial institution to appear on first-page results organically, search engine marketing buffers search engine optimization, as paid search ads can generally be successfully placed with a reasonable budget and proper configuration.
Optimize Your Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads
Aligning with your overall online content strategy, PPC ads require the right balance of creative promotional text to get noticed by consumers, as well as the properly weighted search terms in accordance with the search platform’s ad guidelines. Applying advertising and media buying skills, financial marketers must strategize ad creative, placement, spend and audience to maximize the effectiveness of the SEM campaigns. Luckily, the leading PPC platforms offer built-in functionality to assist with creating, budgeting and targeting the ads, along with robust reporting to optimize ads after launch.
Similar to the SEO process, you need to plan and research terms that are in line with your financial institution’s budget and ensure that whatever you’re promoting delivers upon the expectation of the search ad. Additionally, once visitors arrive at your destination page, converting them to action and measuring those conversions takes a mix of marketing skills. For both ongoing SEO and SEM campaigns, financial marketers must continually monitor, measure and adjust, studying what’s working and what’s not and making the proper tweaks to your search strategy.
Driving Traffic to Your Website Via Search
As a primary driver of site traffic, search is an essential function of your financial institution’s overall inbound marketing plan. Organic search engine optimization provides a fertile environment for your bank or credit union’s site to be ranked highly and found easily by consumers. Via paid placement, search engine marketing increases your site’s visibility with PPC ads that specifically promote your financial brand, product and service offerings. Both SEO and SEM work together cohesively and continuously before and after site launches to ensure that customers and members are finding their way to your web properties directly from search engines. As an extremely measurable online marketing tactic, search delivers real return on investment that financial institutions can appreciate in leading consumers along the online customer journey.
Chris Rinaldi is a Digital Strategist at ZAG Interactive, a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, Connecticut, that has built hundreds of bank and credit union websites. You can connect with Chris on LinkedIn, or send ZAG an email.