Simple Getting Started Suggestions for Bank and Credit Union Search Engine Optimization
Have you found that search engine optimization is frustrating, time consuming, and rarely delivers the results you hoped to achieve? SEO for banks and credit unions isn’t a waste of time, but most marketers are using tactics that do not align with the results they expect to achieve. To see a worthwhile return on your SEO investment, you need to first determine realistic objectives and then align tactics that will achieve them. In this post, we'll explore at a high level a few common unrealistic expectations and layout some simple steps to get started with search engine optimization.
Before Starting Optimization, Start With Realistic Goals
Before suggesting specific introductory steps you can take to begin optimizing your website, let’s start by identifying a few unrealistic goals for most bank and credit union digital marketers:
1. Rank at the top in Google search results on any of the following phrases:
- Checking accounts
- Home loans
- Savings accounts
- Low rates
- Free checking
2. Make X, Y, and Z changes to your website one time and see results immediately and forever
3. Spend nothing and see good results
So what makes these goals unrealistic?
Favor Long-tail Searches Rather than Generic Terms To Achieve Top Rankings
Unless you’re managing one of the handful of golden websites with thousands of inbound links, monstrous marketing budgets, and millions of visitors, you’re going to waste a lot of time, energy, and money trying to rank highly on generic banking and financial terms. There is simply too much competition for the typical small to midsize bank or credit union to achieve top 10 placement on those terms. Instead, marketers should focus on unique characteristics of their products that their customers are likely to specifically seek. For example, rather than “free checking account”, a bank in Bozeman, Montana might instead focus on reaching customers by including a location in their search, such as “free checking near Bozeman.” Fewer people will perform this search than the more generic alternative, but if the bank in Bozeman targets that type of keyword in its SEO strategy, it is far more likely to achieve a top three ranking for that search. These types of phrases or keywords are called long-tail keywords and are a much better strategy for most banks to begin with when crafting their SEO strategy.
Test, Measure, and Carefully Track Results. Repeat. Forever.
In search engine optimization, the concept of “set it and forget it” does not produce long-lasting results. Yes, there are certain mechanical or structural components to your website that you only need to setup once and then occasionally adjust, such as page title tags, meta descriptions, and semantically correct code; however, even these elements will still require periodic (or frequent, depending on your tactics) tweaking to achieve and sustain good rankings.
The reality of search optimization today is that it requires constant work. Even if your website doesn’t change often, there are external influences on your search rankings that are changing constantly, such as ranking algorithms, competitors’ websites, customer behavior, and technology evolution. Each of these will impact your site’s search rankings and you will have to adjust your tactics to compensate. If SEO is an important part of your marketing strategy, you must plan to continually invest time, effort, and money into it.
[Worthwhile] Search Engine Optimization Is Not Free
Anything that requires time and knowledge is never free. You will either invest your own time or that of your staff to both gain knowledge and to employ that knowledge in your SEO efforts, or you will need to pay someone else who already has the knowledge to invest their time in your website. Search engine optimization can start as a DIY activity; however, highly effective SEO will depend on a team of skilled writers, programmers, data analysts, and designers working together on a routine basis. You will likely have to pay these people, but if you thoughtfully set realistic objectives and know your potential investment returns, this should be money well spent if you’re carefully analyzing your results and maximizing conversions for the search traffic your website receives.
A Simple Four Step SEO Kickstarter for Banks and Credit Unions
Before you make any changes to your website or start any other search engine optimization efforts, imagine yourself behind a big sound mixing board in a music studio.
Similar to mixing music, search engine optimization requires tuning many individual elements to achieve the desired result; however, turning any single “knob” also impacts elements, so you need to understand and measure how each element that you modify impacts other elements.
One of the best resources to familiarize yourself with many of the key elements in modern search optimization is https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo. This guide will give you a high-level understanding of the principles involved in search engines and how they rank sites. This will help you learn the SEO vocabulary and find optimization opportunities that you can immediately put into practice on your website.
After You Read That Guide, Start With the Next Three Steps
- For each of the published pages on your website, write unique meta descriptions and confirm that they meet the practices recommended in your reading above (length, enticing, accurate, etc.)
- Read the title tag on each of your web pages. Ensure that each page has a unique title, that it accurately describes the page content, and that each page title is roughly 60 characters or less. Read the Moz guide for more in-depth guidance on title tags.
- Read the content on your website. Watch for effective use of keywords for which you wish to improve search rankings. Are you using them in H1 and H2 tags? Are the keywords used together as text in prominent locations on the page? Do hyperlinks in your website contain these keywords? Do you use your keywords in the URLs of your web pages?
Bonus #4: Get access to your Google Webmaster Console at https://www.google.com/webmasters. If you’re already an InetSolution client, then we can help you get setup. If you work with another web developer, ask that person to help you get setup if you’re not familiar with the process. Your developer can also help you to link your Google Analytics account to your Google Webmaster account. Together these tools will show you data that will be useful in your SEO planning, including:
- Search analytics
- Links to your website
- Googlebot indexing status and errors
Finally, remember not to tweak too many items at once. Ensuring that you have accurate page titles, meta descriptions, and well-written content is a critical first step. Once you have all of these items in place, then we can go into more advanced search engine optimization strategies and tactics. Until next time….