Of all the awesome online marketing channels, robust digital tools and data analytics platforms available to banks these days, there is one channel that can impact how well all of these work: search engine optimization, or SEO.
Chances are your online marketing efforts (social, search, paid ads, email, etc.) point traffic to your website. But if your bank’s website and user experience are ugly and sluggish, the greatest online marketing tactics in the world aren’t going to provide consistent success.
So this begs the question: if SEO is something that can affect the overall success of a bank’s online marketing efforts, why do so many banks still struggle with it? From my experience, it comes down to a misunderstanding and being stuck in SEO best practices from 2008 that are now either worthless, or worse yet, penalized.
Being an inquisitive person, I like to ask bank marketers what questions they have about SEO. The most common questions I get are as follows:
- Can you show me a standard SEO plan for banks?
- What are SEO basics that I can do in my limited time?
- How much time do I have to devote to SEO?
- When do I see the results of SEO?
- How often do I need to update my meta keywords?
These questions, particularly the one about keywords, show me that there is an obvious knowledge gap between banks and modern SEO. So I want to clear the air and introduce four concepts about SEO that banks have to know moving forward in the digital age, because the success of their marketing efforts depend on it.
Thing to Know #1: There is no such thing as a set SEO plan.
“What does an SEO plan consist of, and can I see one from a current client of yours?” Sure, but it won’t be exactly what your institution may need. That’s because there is no set template for SEO. As Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, states in an article about SEO myths on the Ahrefs blog:
“SEO is viewed on the outside as a step-by-step process that can be fulfilled for any given keyword or page, but in fact, that process changes for each type of content, each type of site, and each industry because of how engines behave, what opportunities they offer, and how people/organizations in that field operate. SEO is not one-size-fits-all, and that makes it a challenging, complex, but always interesting process.”
Put simply: what works for one bank may not work for another. There are too many influencing factors in SEO for a templated approach to work. There are on-page factors (metadata, content, good coding practices), technical SEO (crawlability, optimizing for page speed, etc.) and even off-page SEO (links, social, directories, etc.). It takes in-depth discovery to find out how a website is currently ranking and how “healthy” it is in terms of SEO.
This isn’t just a good thing to know for when your CEO or executive team is breathing down your neck about getting your bank’s website to perform better. It’s also beneficial to know when trying to fend off cold calls from agencies trying to sell their SEO services. If they start with a price without discussing your needs, what you’re trying to target or without completing a website evaluation, it is better just to hang up or delete the email.
Thing to Know #2: There are basics that you can work on RIGHT NOW.
Yes, even though there is no template for SEO, there are best practices that can help in any given situation. They are the means to an end – not the end itself! – which is a website that is more appealing and enjoyable for your customers to use.
Here are some of basics for you to get started on:
- Each page should have a unique meta title and description. These two important on-page attributes tell a search engine what the page is about, and when written well, can attract traffic from a search engine result page. Try to keep titles to between 50 and 60 characters, and titles between 150 and 160 characters so they don’t get cut off.
- Use H1-H6 tags to make your content easy to read. Your website’s content management system may list these as “header 1”, “header 2” and so on. They help further optimize a page for search engines while also visually separating the page and adding hierarchy for users so they can quickly scan the page. Each page has one H1, up to two H2s and multiple H3s, H4s and so on. Use them in descending order as you move down the page.
- Have enough content, but make sure it’s relevant. Remember your 9th grade English teacher who called you out on your essays for adding unnecessary words simply to hit a certain word count? Google is just like that, except the penalty hits your website. Page content needs to be somewhat substantial (nothing less than 250 words on a page at minimum), but it has to be relevant. If it’s a product or service page, hit on the key benefits, how a customer can get said product or service and then provide any additional resources like frequently asked questions or PDF forms or downloads. The more engaging your content is the better.
- Be smart with images. Yes, visuals are in. But multiple large images can kill your website’s speed and user experience. Be sure to compress any images you want to put on your website using TinyPNG or a similar tool. Oh, and be sure each image has ALT text that describes what the image is and how it relates to your page content.
- Evaluate your website structure. How hard is it for your customers to find your bank’s hours and contact information? As these are two of the most commonly visited pages on most financial websites, you’ll want to be sure they are easy to get to. You should also check to ensure your website’s navigation makes sense to your customers, and that product and service information is easy to reach. This includes cross-linking between pages of related content.
If you want to get “crazy”, here are a few additional tasks you can look at and talk to your website developer about (if you don’t have the technical chops to fix them):
- Put your website through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool and Pingdom’s Speed Test to see how fast it is on desktop and mobile.
- If you have a Google account set up, connect it with your website on the Google Search Console. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have access to a treasure trove of information and enhanced capabilities like setting your preferred domain, submitting an XML sitemap and submitting requests to remove old URLs from Google’s index.
All of this should be done on a continuous basis, which brings me to my next point…
Thing to Know #3: SEO is an every day/week/month endeavor.
The problem I see the most with bank marketers and SEO is that they approach it as an event, not a process. If you look at SEO as something to do once and forget about, you are going to be disappointed when you have nothing to show for the time, effort and money you invested in it.
SEO is a process that it is all about making your website as delightful to users as possible. Google is looking more and more at how users interact with a web page to determine how it should be ranked. This requires great content, but it is not the end-all-be-all. You have to focus on user experience as a whole to make any real progress.
As a bank, there is tremendous opportunity to stand out and crush SEO. But it takes a willingness to do something different. There are hundreds of boring bank websites out there with much of the same content (I looked and had to check my pulse a few times). Why? Because, for the most part, banks offer the same products and services. They may have different names, but a free checking account is a free checking account. This leads to content and user experience that is largely the same from site to site.
But within this monotony lies opportunity to provide a user experience that is truly enchanting, that provides the right information and the right resources to help users (a.k.a. PEOPLE) accomplish what they came to do.
To do that requires constant attention. Much of SEO is not sexy and can’t be plastered on a PowerPoint to show to executives how great you are (unless they love spreadsheets). But the results of a committed SEO program done right will ensure that your bosses think you are amazing!
Thing to Know #4: SEO is a long-haul initiative.
If SEO were easy, everyone would do it well. Google wants to reward the webmasters and marketers who do things right (i.e., what’s in the best interest of users) on a consistent basis. Flash-in-the-pan tactics and trying to “game” the system won’t work and will be punished.
Instant gratification can be found through advertising with Google or through social ads. But even these are imperfect alternatives since they take the quality of the page you are sending users to into account in how the ads are scored. The better your website’s user experience, the better score your ad will get.
If your site’s on-page and technical SEO aren’t right, results from advertising or any kind of search engine marketing will be limited at best and a waste of money at worst.
Focus on User Experience to Breakthrough with SEO
Search engine optimization will continue to be a competitive advantage for banks that can do it well. It may change forms, but as with anything related to online marketing, this is a given. However, as long as Google owns the largest share of search traffic, it’s best to play by their rules. And right now the name of the game is user experience.
As mobile and social continue to thrive, your bank’s website is the ultimate end point for all your online marketing initiatives. Therefore, it needs to provide a seamless user experience regardless of whether users are coming from social media, an email or a search engine result. Websites that measure well in user experience will perform well in search engines.
The financial institutions that can recognize the potential of committing to a thorough SEO initiative and stick with it will be the institutions who will dominate search results in their local area and reap the benefits of doing so.
Want to know how your website is doing for SEO? Simply contact VGM Forbin today and we’ll provide a free SEO assessment for you.