By Joseph Lowe
It’s no secret that most borrowers research a bank before deciding whether or not to use its services. The question is, what is your financial institution doing to optimize its website so that it’s on the shortlist of banks that show up on a potential borrower’s computer screen?
Community banks often cite personalized service and attentiveness to every customer as a primary benefit. However, small community institutions can no longer solely rely on in-person relationships. According to the 2018 J.D. Power U.S. Retail Banking Study, the most satisfied customers are those that use online and mobile banking, but also visit branches two to three times a month. In order to gain more clients and maximize customer satisfaction, there must be a balance between website visits and visits to the institution.
Google’s Zero Moment of Truth Study finds that 88 percent of consumers research the product or service they buy, consulting about 10.4 sources before making a decision. Institutions that have not updated their website in recent years should ask themselves:
Is anyone in the institution in charge of search engine optimization (SEO)?
Do we compare ourselves to our competitors on search engine results pages (SERPs)?
If your answer to either question is no, consider the following advice.
- Improve the user experience with SEO.
Small SEO modifications to your website might seem minor individually, but they can significantly improve borrowers’ online user experience as a whole. This can be something as simple as revisiting the content related to certain products on your website to more complicated improvements, like redesigning the website’s navigation to point users toward certain products.
The User Experience Professionals Association defines UX as a discipline concerned with all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound and interaction. UX is important because your website is essentially equivalent to a borrower walking into your bank. If customers walks into a store and can’t find the product they’re searching for, then they’ll turn around and leave. Website visitors parallel that behavior. In fact, according to Time.com, websites only have 15 seconds to capture a reader’s attention—a strong UX is a pivotal element in whether or not the reader chooses to stay.
- Outrank your competitors on SERPs.
It wasn’t long ago that consumers would choose their banks primarily on location, but now, the Google search may be the deciding factor in whether a given bank is even seen by a prospective customer. In fact, if your bank doesn’t land on the first page of a search, it’s likely it won’t be seen at all. According to Moz, only six percent of search traffic clicks come from the second page of Google SERPs. Before customers can learn more about what a bank has to offer, they must first know that it exists. Community banks in particular must take the appropriate measures to boost their rankings in the SERPs.
Perhaps the most important factor involved in rankings is keywords. Keywords are groups of words that help search engines determine how relevant the inquirer’s search is to your content. For example, a keyword could simply be “lending,” or it could be lengthier, such as “small and medium-sized business lending,” which are known as long-tail keywords. Keep in mind most searchers know exactly what they want, as over 70 percent of searches occur as long-tail keywords.
Think about your website and the loan concentrations at your institution. Would you benefit from using more specific messaging for loan types that have proven to be more profitable for your bank? Ask yourself whether you are taking up space with keywords that aren’t boosting the rankings for the searches that would be most lucrative for the institution.
- Optimize existing content and produce a blog.
Financial terminology can sound like a foreign language to those who are not finance professionals. And that can become a problem on your website, making potential borrowers feel overwhelmed. While differentiating your products with descriptive and interesting content is a must, it’s important to keep the content clear and skimmable.
That said, your institution may want to connect with customers through a blog, which is an appropriate vehicle for delving into greater detail about products and services. The cardinal rule of SEO is simply to write engaging content—and a blog provides another vertical to do so. Google and other search engines rank relevant and superior content higher on SERPs, and community banks are in a unique position to provide content that caters to customers within the area by focusing on local news and updates.
Not only does a blog position your staff as thought leaders, but it provides supplemental ways for visitors to find your website and explore it. Another benefit of blog posts is that they can be shared online through social media, especially if they provides actionable insights for readers. Writers can easily cross-sell loan products within posts by inserting links to other relevant sources as well. For example, if you’re writing a blog post on C&I lending trends within your bank’s state, you could also link to your C&I lending page, or another credible third-party resource. Keep in mind that when ranking, search engines consider the quality and credibility of the sites that your website is linking to. So external links should be relevant to the content regardless of whether they link internally or to another website.
Optimizing a website for SEO is not an overnight endeavor and takes time to fully implement. However, for a community bank’s website to remain visible, it’s critical to research SEO, ensure high SERPs rankings and prioritize the creation of content that encourages potential customers to stay awhile.
Joseph Lowe is the commercial lending marketing manager at Sageworks, a financial information company.