Digital Strategy beyond Your Walls

By Jim Gibbons

As a community bank enters the digital world, the first investment it should make is a smart website that’s easy to find, easy to use, able to collect useful data, and built to cultivate and differentiate relationships. After all, if you spend a lot of money and energy getting people to your site, it’s best to know what to do with them once they’re there. A previous article, A Digital Strategy from Within, covered practical considerations for an internal digital strategy.

The next step is to turn your focus outward—to the external elements that go into a sound digital strategy for a community bank. Among these are search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing, paid digital media, and retargeting. Social media is a special kind of beast unto itself and deserves its own conversation, so we won’t get into that here.

What follows is a good starting point for building your external digital strategy.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Responsive design (building a site that works on various platforms and devices) is important for the Google search algorithm. But responsiveness is just the tip of the iceberg. Anticipating the preferences of search engines is crucial.

The good news is that search engines are learning to think more like people and less like robots. So one of the best things you can do to be searchable is to create content that is information rich, relevant to your audience, and well written. That said, there are some tricks to improving your ranking for a given word (short-tail search term) or phrase (long-tail search term):

  • Create a custom URL for each page, containing the keyword or phrase for page content.
  • Create a headline containing the key word or phrase.
  • Give each page a unique name that describes its contents and uses key search terms.
  • Create a unique meta description (back-end copy, used primarily for search engines) that uses key search terms.
  • Review the copy on each page, making sure that it uses (but does not overuse) key search words or phrases. Search engines may actually penalize a page for using a search term more than five times.

As part of your external digital strategy, develop an on-page SEO matrix, outlining the long-tail and short-tail search terms for each page on your site. Then apply the matrix methodically as you develop content.

Because the algorithms are always changing (and the search engines try to keep them secret), you may want to work with an SEO firm for advice on specific and current strategies. However, having a systematic approach to on-page SEO will make your site both more searchable and more readable.

Search Engine Marketing

Search terms are not created equal. It can be easier or harder for your site to rank for a specific term, depending on how frequently people search for the term and how many other sites are competing for ranking with that term. In general, you should attempt to build a strategy around:

  • Narrow terms, because your ideal customer will be searching for your specific value proposition.
  • Long-tail terms, because they are less competitive, but more helpful in guiding your best prospect to your site.

For industry-specific terms (such as mortgage or checking account) or for highly competitive terms (business, retail, best rate, banks in XYX city) it is nearly impossible for a community bank to rank based on optimization alone. You’re competing with every bank (including food banks, blood banks, and grassy banks) as well as banking publications that are viewed by hundreds of thousands of people each month, guaranteeing that they’re going to outrank you on a Google search.

Yet, you still need to be found in searches in your community for things like mortgage rates, checking accounts, and retail locations. This is the place for search engine marketing.

Services such as Google Adwords allow you to bid on paid search rankings. Do a Google search for any popular term. You will find organic rankings, from the top of page one, through the bottom of page six zillion. Also, you’ll see paid results (Ads) at the top and bottom of each page. These are Adwords results.

The tool allows you to set a bid on specific terms within specific geographies. The higher your bid, the more likely you are to appear in searches and near the top of the page. For a modest budget, you can dramatically improve your search ranking for terms that are keys to your success.

As you did with long-tail and short-tail search terms, you can create your paid search strategy beginning with a matrix of business lines, locations, and search terms associated with each business line. Ideally, these will include both positive and negative terms, competitive terms, and product features.

You may find a digital marketing consultant helpful in this area, since they will have resources and up-to-date knowledge regarding frequently searched terms specific to your industry, value proposition, and selling area.

Paid Digital Media

More consumers now use online channels as their primary news and entertainment sources, and traditional broadcast and print media continue to shrink. As this trend continues, publications are capitalizing by creating digital versions. You probably get offers almost every week to advertise on the websites of local broadcast stations, newspapers, or chambers-of-commerce. Generally, it is very inefficient to purchase directly from these (or any) publications.

Paid digital is changing the landscape of retail advertising. But so is the way paid digital is planned and purchased. The metrics are simple:

  • Did you reach the audience you were going for?
  • Did you get the click-throughs you wanted?
  • What did users do when they got to your site (i.e., did they purchase or request information)?
  • And (here’s the clincher), what was the CPM (cost per thousand exposures)?

Unlike any media proposition before, digital media is extremely controllable and trackable. The most efficient approach to digital media is a meta approach, using DSPs (demand side platforms) and ad exchanges. This highly mechanized approach functions more like NASDAQ than like media planning and buying of the past.

You establish your criteria—household income, home value, financial behaviors down to the very granular detail (such as “purchased stock within the past 30 days,” or “has X% of assets in money markets and CDs”), and location (down to zip + 4).

Your digital media planner/buyer works with one or more DSP (they can be specialized or general), which works with ad exchanges, to purchase your defined prospect from the universe of advertising inventory.

The efficiency of this approach delivers your best prospect at a CPM that is a fraction of what any given medium can offer you, primarily because a single medium can never deliver the traffic rates that an ad exchange can simulate.

As you work with a digital media professional on your campaign(s), it’s important to remember that strong offers win, high-impact visuals will generate greater interest, and a click has to go somewhere.

Think through the entire path of the selling proposition. Who are you trying to reach? What do you want them to do? Where do you want them to go on your site? And how are you going to capture them and get them to return?


Have you ever shopped for a specific product and then had the sensation that you were seeing ads for that product everywhere you went online? Well, you were. And that’s how retargeting works.

You want qualified prospects who come to your site to stick around, provide contact data via an inbound form, and—ideally—contact one of your bankers for an initial transaction. But realistically, you should expect someone to return three or more times, and visit three or more pages, before he either identifies himself or purchases a product or service.

Retargeting is a digital media tool that captures IP addresses and places cookies, so the ad that brought a prospect to the site the first time can be served to that prospect again as part of his or her online routine (possibly even including social media).

Retargeting involves placing a pixel on your site in order to recognize and mark prospects. Almost any qualified digital media specialist can help you with this, and may even suggest it as a component of a paid digital campaign.

It’s a strategy

As you’re working through your digital strategy, remember that it’s all about seating and supporting a brand, and connecting qualified buyers with great products. It’s marketing. So make sure your digital strategy correlates with your traditional media, media relations, branding, product, relationship, and community involvement strategies.

James Gibbons is president of Gibbons-Peck Marketing Communication, a full-service agency headquartered in Greenville, S.C. The company focuses on branding, digital strategy, and advertising for community banks. Email: [email protected].

Online training in digital, mobile and social media from ABA.