How to Get Local with Your SEO

By Mitul Gandhi

Whether you manage one bank branch or a hundred, you’ve no doubt noticed seismic shifts in customer behavior in recent years. More customers are choosing online-only banks and are brand agnostic when they need an ATM. Even loyal customers no longer feel tied to a single branch—and why should they? It’s easy to search “bank near me” on Google and find what they need no matter where they are.

These aren’t just anecdotal changes: In 2015, Google announced that more searches took place on mobile than desktop. Last year, the search giant noted that nearly a third of searches performed on mobile are local (e.g., “bank in midtown Manhattan”). And according to research performed by seoClarity, about four in five searches are indirect—meaning people are searching “bank near me,” not “Acme Bank near me.”

What does this mean if your goal is to increase traffic and bring in new customers at your branch? Showing up in local searches is more important than ever, and that will continue.

The good news: there are simple, concrete steps you can take to make sure you appear in the results when your potential customers are searching. The strategies that get you there are part of what’s called search engine optimization (SEO).

The part of SEO most relevant here is optimizing your local listings. Local listings serve a vital purpose to your off-page and local SEO performance. Their primary function is to keep your bank’s basic information updated for search engines.

Here’s an overview of where to start to make local SEO work for you.

Step 1:  Compare financial performance at branches.

If you’re in charge of multiple branches, how do you prioritize local SEO efforts? I’d recommend comparing branch performance and starting optimization with your weakest branches.

As you compare performance, note when falloffs happened. If they were in the last two to three years, mobile search could be the cause. In other words, fewer people may have come through the doors because more people were looking for banks on mobile devices—and your branch wasn’t showing up in the results. If they seem random, they might correlate with a bad review you never noticed or a competitor upping its SEO game.

Once you know which branch may have the biggest opportunity, it’s time to start investigating potential causes.

Step 2: Update your contact info.

The first thing to check for underperforming branches is your Google My Business (GMB) page. GMB is the service Google provides to pull business information for those local search packs you see when you look for things like “ATM near me.” It offers markup that businesses can include on their local pages to highlight information like whether a business is currently open, how busy it is at various times, and even reviews and images.

Before I go into how to update your GMB profile, let me first clarify why updating it is important.

When we talk about mobile search, we’re mostly talking about mobile searches on Google. In fact, more than 77% of searches performed globally are Google searches. That means that, if you want to be visible in search, your biggest single lever is optimizing for the mobile results Google shows.

If you’ve never claimed or updated a GMB profile, check out Google’s GMB guide (it’s only five steps). Once you’ve claimed your business, be sure to update your:

  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Operating hours and location information
  • Contact information

Filling out this information is what lets Google show your branch when people search. Claiming your profile also lets you reply to customer reviews—which I’ll go into more in a bit.

But GMB isn’t the only place your contact info should be updated and easy to find. If you have a website, a Facebook page, a Yelp page, or any other third-party listings, make sure visitors can easily find it there, too.

Step 3: Monitor and analyze your current search performance.

This step is perhaps the most time-consuming, but it can offer you a real edge over bank branches that aren’t thinking about their search visibility.

Here’s the basic idea:

  • Most people are performing indirect (non-branded) searches.
  • You need to know what they are searching when they’re looking for a service like yours.
  • When they do these searches, you want to show up (ahead of your competitors).
  • To maximize your chances of doing that, you have to keep an eye on search engine results pages (SERPs).

One of my favorite free tools Google offers is its Keyword Planner, which lets you see how many people are searching for keywords each month. (Today, you can see only ranges, but if you set up an AdWords account, you can see exact numbers.)

Even better? The Keyword Planner also offers a suggested bid for those doing paid search. Combined, search volume plus recommended bid give you an idea of how competitive a term is.

Of course, this is a high-level overview.

If you want to get really serious about tracking keywords and performance, there are SEO experts, agencies, and platforms to help you scale your results. But you can discover a lot of things on your own if you’re willing to do a little digging. I recommend starting this way:

  1. Brainstorm ways your audience might search for you (e.g., “bank in Chicago,” “bank branch in the Loop,” “24-hour ATM Chicago,” “24-hour ATM Mag Mile,” etc.). Think of the services you offer, landmarks you’re near, and other ways people might be looking for you.
  2. Visit Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Type the searches you’ve brainstormed into the search bar. What you’ll get is not only the number of searches for that exact term but also search volume for related terms—often hundreds of them.
  3. Make note of some of the most interesting and relevant terms (an Excel sheet is usually helpful here). It may make sense to have a column for search volume and one for recommended bid.
  4. In an incognito tab or on your phone, search the terms you highlighted to see whether you’re showing up.
  5. If you’re not in search results, it’s time to optimize your website. This process can get detailed and complex, but you can make major progress by implementing the basics.

Step 4: Set up an ongoing review process.

The first three steps provide a snapshot of how your business is doing right now.

But we all know that the digital marketing landscape changes every day. Even if you’re killing it in local search this week, you could fall off the SERPs in a month. The best way to make sure fluctuations don’t take you by surprise is to set up a system for monitoring them.

There’s no one way to do this, but consider including the following in your regular reviews:

  • Branch monitoring in GMB.
  • Keeping track of reviews.
  • Monitoring the SERPs.

Again, this process can take lots of time. But you’ll want to think about whether you can afford not to show up—and show well—on local searches.

Mitul Gandhi is chief architect and co-founder of seoClarity, a provider of search engine optimization with revolutionary machine-learning technology that delivers up-to-the-minute data and unique insights, and partnerships with our team of advanced data scientists.