An SEO Expert Shares Best Practices, Common Mistakes and Easy Wins

Marketers in every industry struggle to keep up with search engine optimization. Jason Hennessey, an SEO consultant who has written several books on how to improve a website's Google rankings, sat down with our team to explain how banks and credit unions can apply his strategies. In this Q&A, he tackles six common questions about SEO, sharing some mistakes to avoid and easy wins. One takeaway: Tools like calculators can help bring in traffic.

Search engine optimization is a moving target. But if marketers — in banking or any other industry — don’t keep up, it’s a major liability.

In early 2023, Google wrapped up its helpful content update, and by midyear, its primary analytics platform, Google Universal Analytics, was replaced by GA4. The snippet features in search results also are becoming more relevant, so consumers can quickly get the answers they need to a question, without actually having to click on the link provided.

All of this introduces big changes for people in marketing, who have to work out the impact on content strategy, social media strategy and website design, among other things.

So we took our questions about best practices to Jason Hennessey, an SEO consultant and author of two books on the topic, “Law Firm SEO” and “Honest SEO.” He shared the mistakes he sees companies making, what content banks and credit unions should create to earn some Google love, and more.

What follows are excerpts from the interview, lightly edited for clarity.

SEO Missteps: Failure to Keep Strategizing and Erratic Internal Links

Q: What are some of the key SEO mistakes you see?

Jason Hennessey: A lot of people think SEO is just kind of “one and done” — that’s a mistake. People hire a consultant to come in, and they audit the website and say, “Okay, great. We checked that box, right? And it’s good now, right?” That couldn’t be further from the truth.

After you fix the website, you’re publishing more content, and things are breaking again. Every week there are new things, there are algorithmic updates. You have to make adjustments.

The second thing is your internal links. Most people don’t realize how valuable they are. One of the most underrated SEO tactics, in my opinion, is internal linking as you publish content. If you give employees the wherewithal to just internally link wherever they want, that creates a big mess. And it really confuses Google. I see Fortune 500 companies get that wrong, and I see small businesses get that wrong.

Jason Hennessey quote a lot of people think SEO is just kind of one and done that's a mistake

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on SEO Strategy

Q: How is AI affecting SEO best practices?

Jason Hennessey: We’re doing all kinds of things with AI.

For instance, most people use Google Translate on their website. You go to a website, and say, “Hey, translate this to Spanish,” but it’s just using JavaScript. There’s nothing in the back end, it’s just swapping out the actual content.

We’re actually using AI to kind of take it one step further. We can take a whole website, translate it to multiple languages, and then put it into a proper URL structure — where it actually will actually translate the whole website — and get it indexed into Google.

Another thing that we’re doing is: AI basically listens to customer service calls. It’ll curate questions from the calls and feed it to the content strategist. Then, when they’re coming up with content ideas, rather than do research, they’re actually pulling from real questions that people are asking.

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Optimize for Higher Google Rankings Locally

Q: Is there an opportunity for banks and credit unions to rank regionally versus nationally? For example, maybe I’m at a bank in Arkansas, and I have a home affordability calculator. Do I have to compete against Wells Fargo for traffic to my calculator or is there a way I can rank in Arkansas?

Jason Hennessey: Google understands the relevancy of where somebody is doing that search. It’s tricky though, right? Wells Fargo is everywhere, so if you’re Wells Fargo, you’re probably just going to be competing nationally.

But if you’re a local bank, and people do a search for the best bank near them, there’s a good chance that your local branch will rank in that smaller market.

Let’s say I’m doing a search in Santa Clarita, Calif. Google recognizes I’m doing a search from Santa Clarita, so it wants to serve up content that is very localized to where I’m conducting the search. The only way that these websites would actually rank is by having pages of content that are actually optimized for Santa Clarita.

It’s the same thing for FAQs. Google is so sophisticated. You can’t be intimidated to write content that addresses FAQs, because you will probably get localized traffic if you write that content in your area.

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The SEO Challenges of Rebranding a Bank or Credit Union

Q: How do you approach rebrands, especially when a client is looking to change the URL of their website?

Jason Hennessey: You can kill a website if that’s done wrong, just like that.

Usually, when we take on a client, we do a technical audit of the website and we’re able to diagnose how many “hops” there are. This page, which was published in 2012, is linking to this page, which then gets redirected to this page, which then gets linked to this page and so on.

The problem is Google’s trying to follow the link in the redirect, and every time it does that, it loses more and more value.

That’s one of the first things that we look at. We put together the hop report, figure out that these 20 pages have 10 hops, and how we need to go in and fix that. It takes the knowhow to audit the page, what tools to use to crawl it, and then to put a strategy in place.

Easy SEO Wins for Banks and Credit Unions

Q: Is there low-hanging fruit, such as pieces of content, that are easy SEO wins for financial institutions?

Jason Hennessey: Calculators perform very well. Or if you can build tools that make somebody’s life a lot easier, those will always perform very well.

It’s the same anytime you can leverage the word “free.”

We did a campaign advertising “free legal chat” for a law firm. When people do a search for “free legal chat,” the site ranks number one, because people are spending so much time on the website going through chats. It’s the best user signal for Google.

Also, I’d say, digital PR campaigns, as a way of trying to get more links back to the site. Conduct studies like the best cities to finance a car or the cities where people drive the most exotic cars. Then build a press release that goes out to the media. That’s how you’re able to get links that your competitors can’t easily clone, by doing more of those types of studies.

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The Helpful SEO Tools Marketers Should Use

Q: You talk a lot about some of the more common SEO tools: Google Analytics, Google Search Console, PageSpeed Insights, SEMRush, Ahrefs. Are there any other major tools you look at?

Jason Hennessey: Those are the everyday tools that we use for the most part.

But there are other tools. We use one called Screaming Frog SEO Spider, which is more of a crawler. There’s a site called Sitebulb, which you can use to reverse engineer the technical aspects of a website. There’s a tool called Link Whisperer, which will help to build better internal linking strategies.

My go-to’s on a daily basis would be the Google tools that give you empirical data. SEMrush is what we use for the tracking of keywords on a daily basis. I’d say those are the core.

Do you have an SEO question that’s not answered here?

Email your questions to [email protected], and we’ll work on getting the answers for you.

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