Feeling Lucky? Getting Results in Search

By Andrew Miller

How does your bank stand out in a sea of blue links? So many websites have a financial interest in reaching the top of Google’s search results. We analyzed search results for popular keywords like “banks near me” and “banks in (city)” from more than 300 markets to understand how banks can capture more searchers’ attention.

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Your bank’s website certainly competes for eyeballs against other banks in your market. But did you know that nearly 50 percent of Google’s top 20 search results are occupied by online directories, social media sites, reviews sites, job boards, government websites and even food banks?

Each of these categories offers something different to a search engine user, but many bank marketers fail to recognize them as competitors. Even if these other sites aren’t competing for deposits, they are competing for eyeballs in search results and siphoning traffic away from bank websites.

Failing to develop a competitive response strategy leaves you vulnerable to shifts in Google’s ranking algorithms and limits your visibility in other high-ranking sites. Even though every market is unique, our research highlights opportunities at the national, regional, and local levels to elevate your bank’s website in search results.

A breakdown of competing websites by category

Most people searching for “banks near me” are looking for a financial institution in their community. In addition to bank websites, Google also returns online directories in about 22 percent of their results, led by branchspot.com and yellowpages.com. Reviews sites such as yelp.com occupy another 7 percent of the search results on desktop and mobile devices.

A smattering of other categories round out the top two pages of search results. Most noticeably, smartphone search results are heavily influenced by Google’s own local search results from Google Maps and Google My Business. This is an important distinction that I will dig into shortly.

In many U.S. cities, especially those with fewer bank branches vying for attention, local government and news websites often rank well as they tend to be authoritative and trustworthy sources of information.

Not all search rankings are created equal

While it’s true that bank websites occupy 67 percent of Google’s search results on desktop computers, our analysis shows a dramatic difference in the types of sites that rank at the top, middle and bottom of the first page of results.

Banks have a decent chance of ranking in the top three search results on desktop computers (below), but review sites and directories take more than half the search results in positions four through eight.

We can’t ignore smartphones, which account for about 60 percent of Google’s search volume. Google’s own Google Maps/Google My Business listings (the “local pack”) occupy the top three organic search positions and push actual websites below the fold.

This forces users to scroll further down the page, past reviews sites and directories, before bank websites grab a foothold at the bottom of the first page.

Take action: Distinguishing opportunities from competitive threats

So how can your bank show up in Google’s search results more often—and closer to the top? How can you be where consumers are most likely to find you?

  • Understand your local market competitors. Run a few searches on desktops and smartphones in your markets to scope out your local competitors. Use “incognito mode” or “private browsing” in your browser to see search results that are less personalized to your browsing behavior.
  • Aim for the top three positions for desktop searches. Users overwhelmingly click on sites in the top three positions. These highly coveted spots favor bank websites with strong SEO over directories and reviews sites. If your bank does not rank in the top three, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see large amounts of traffic from competitive keywords. Non-bank competitors begin to squeeze out bank websites in the middle of page 1.
  • Own your local listings to capture mobile users. Google Maps/Google My Business results are much more likely to show up in the top three positions for smartphone users. Review your local SEO strategies to ensure your branch details are updated in your Google My Business account. A robust local SEO strategy and positive reviews from happy customers will improve your chances of appearing in these prime positions.
  • Seek out local directories to expand your visibility. Listings in top-ranking directories can indirectly help a consumer find a bank in your area, but your ability to stand out from your peers is limited and may require paid premium listings. Spend 15 minutes every month exploring the directories that appear in your local search results and look for opportunities to improve the accuracy or prominence of your listings.
  • Monitor review sites and respond when necessary. Given the visibility of Yelp reviews in Google’s results, it’s imperative that you stay on top of your star ratings and reviews. While you cannot prevent unhappy customers from airing their grievances, you can respond in order to signal that you are trying to take corrective action and encourage your best customers to leave their own reviews.
  • Watch your banking competitors, but don’t obsess. Banks with winning SEO strategies proactively seek to create better content that answers visitors’ questions, improve user experiences and shorten the customer journey to a conversion point. Keep tabs on your competitors over time, but don’t let their zigs and zags distract you from executing your strategy for long-term success.

Search rankings are just an indicator of how Google seeks to answer users’ queries at one point in time. They frequently change and should not be viewed in isolation. However, observing trends and looking for opportunities is a surefire way to understand how Google sees your bank in relation to your competitors.

Andrew Miller is co-founder and VP for strategy at Workshop Digital, a digital marketing agency in Richmond, Virginia.