As interest rates rise and financial institutions face mounting pressure to fund lending with a reasonable cost of capital, acquiring new core deposits and customers affordably is paramount.
Against this backdrop online-only banks thrive, accounting for nearly 12 percent of all new primary banking relationships in the U.S. What’s more, BAI Banking Outlook findings show that more that three in four millennials—77 percent—would prefer to open deposit accounts online, followed closely by 63 percent of Gen Xers. With loans, online is the preference for 60 percent of millennials and 51 percent of Gen Xers, according to BAI statistics.
Traditional retail banks have responded to the rise of online-only players through investing in mobile technology and a streamlined digital customer experience. But more can be done to connect with consumers, and it starts where digital shoppers typically begin their path to purchase: on a search engine.
Leveraging search helps traditional banks reach consumers in a new way, on a channel they already use. And it proves surprisingly cost effective—especially when search engine optimization (SEO) combines with targeted search engine marketing.
To better compete with digital-first players and grow deposits, financial institutions must capitalize on consumers' use of search by identifying the up-funnel opportunities where awareness starts—and engage them with content and maximizing efficiency.
Identify up-funnel engagement opportunities
First, consider what prompts consumers to undertake a new account signup. There typically exists some amount of inertia in consumer banking, given that they typically stick with their existing financial providers until a life event prompts them to change.
Your challenge is to uncover what triggers a consumer to shop for new financial products, then identify where in the consumer purchase journey your brand can join the conversation.
For example, consumers might migrate their checking accounts upon moving to a new city; seek to open a savings account if they learn a baby is on the way; or investigate CD accounts if they anticipate a tax season refund.
It's important to start where the buyer journey begins—the event or events that trigger financial product research—to draw a complete picture of what interests your customers. The better you understand them, the more effectively you can engage and target them.
Specifically, it’s imperative to know what keywords and keyword themes your customers use when they search. This information can drive your entire digital strategy: from what to say in your ads to the design of your website architecture.
Engage with content across the purchase journey
Keywords are especially valuable for developing on-page content.
Aggregators such as Bankrate and NerdWallet dominate search engine results pages (SERPs). That’s largely due to how they invest to create and promote compelling content.
Notably, this content often serves a more educational than transactional purpose. Although aggregators do sell financial products, their content typically runs along the lines of "How interest works on a savings account" or "Best practices for building your credit score."
Financial services organizations underinvest in this kind of "supporting content," which presents a powerful opportunity to differentiate yourself on the SERP. It also contributes to brand equity. If you establish yourself as a trusted source of information early in the path to purchase, you are more likely to stay top of mind when the shopper makes his or her buying decision.
To maximize the performance of supporting content, you must first identify what your customers want to know. Though it may sound simple, many often neglect the need to address customer intent in content development. Exhaustive keyword research helps you understand the questions consumers consider most pressing, upon which you can develop content that addresses their concerns.
Keyword research is especially important for higher-funnel terms, an area that financial institutions tend to ignore and can serve as a compelling brand differentiator, even against the aggregators.
One example of an early-funnel search is “difference between CDs and high-yield savings accounts.” While most banks maintain separate pages for their CD and savings account products, they likely do not have a page that compares both products to each other—and that the searcher would find useful in this example.
Maximize efficiency: supplement with paid search
When content harmonizes with technical implementation and site architecture, you'll find yourself well positioned to rank organically for the keywords your customers seek. That's extremely important as 75 percent of all search engine clicks land on organic links.
Paid search also plays a role in moving shoppers through their purchase path. For example, you can opt to dominate the initial rankings page by occupying the top one or two paid positions in addition to your organic links. This strategy of real estate maximization can establish your authority for a particular topic or product.
Historically, paid result positions or the links at the very top of the SERP have a total click-through rate of 25 percent to 30 percent. If you capture one or more of these top positions, you can greatly increase the odds of acquiring a click-through into your purchase funnel.
Investing in paid search represents a common approach in enterprise digital marketing because the conversions are more direct, making it easier for marketers to be held accountable to these metrics.
But because three in four SERP clicks are on organic links, it's far more cost effective to focus on SEO first (via keywords and content) than target search ads on terms that show high conversion intent. This approach maximizes cost efficiency while it continues to drive the kind of down-funnel traffic that leads to account signups.
Consumers already use search engines to gather information, weigh options and navigate the product landscape. Increasingly they turn to search for the financial product they need as well. By deploying paid search ads in harmony with smart investments in SEO, you'll capture the consumer's attention all the way through the purchase funnel. Showing up at the right time, pointing to the right content and presenting the right message won’t be perceived as an intrusion—but rather the extension of welcome, helping hand. That is, after all, what they ultimately search for.
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Tony Hooper is vice president, Strategic Accounts and Vertical Head, Banking and Financial Services at iQuanti, Inc.