Community banks and credit unions have built their brands around supporting local communities, small businesses and economies, but what if your bank isn’t well known by the locals? Today, local brand recognition is threatened by online innovation, as well as by large and online-only banks with deep pockets that have the ability to use search engine optimization (SEO) to reach local prospects before they step foot into any branch. For banks and credit unions looking for long-term methods to thwart large banks’ efforts, local SEO can make a big impact.
Local SEO is all about finding tactics that your bank can use to maximize online visibility on search engines for prospects in your area. This refers to your financial institution’s efforts to ensure that your bank’s website is in peak performance and easily navigable.
Restaurants, shops and breweries aren’t the only institutions subject to the “Buy Local” movement – community members desire to support local financial institutions as well. In fact, 58 percent of consumers prefer dealing with local and regional banking providers as opposed to large national institutions according to a study from Harris Poll. Despite the high percentage of respondents saying that they prefer to work with local and regional bank providers, the number of people banking with community institutions over large bank providers tells a different story. The top five U.S. banks by asset size – Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and U.S. Bancorp – have a combined portfolio that represents 40% of total loans given in the country.
The disconnect is when consumers search online for “banks near me” or “banks best interest rates”, the results often exclude smaller institutions with a lesser online presence. Staying on top of local SEO enhances your institution’s chances of appearing on the first page of Google or Bing search results pages, which plays a significant role in who will gain a visit to their website and, eventually, win the business.
Search engines have one goal: Provide users with the most relevant answers to their search. Often times, that involves searches for local businesses, and four out of five consumers start their search for local products online. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to ensure your financial institution is on top of local searches—with no need for extensive coding knowledge—through simple local SEO strategies.
Start from scratch
A great starting point is to look at is your own website’s content. Are all of the pages updated with the correct contact or product information? In order to rank highly on Google or Bing searches, it’s helpful for financial institutions to think of each page on their website as an opportunity to appear as a search result. But those opportunities can quickly be lost due to minor mistakes, such as incorrect rates or typos.
If published pages include incomplete or incorrect information, not only does it spread false information about your business to prospects, but it can hurt your business’s standing in the community. Stanford Web Credibility Research suggests that consumers judge businesses’ credibility based on their website presence, and it’s difficult enough to hold people’s attention online for more than 15 seconds.
To encourage readers to stay on your site, banks and credit unions can author content that focuses on local news and updates. For example, if your bank is in an area with a heavy college student presence, perhaps it can create content that speaks to student loan best practices, encouraging young, local prospects to learn more through a partnership with your institution.
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Optimize for mobile
Since local SEO is all about making your bank as easy to find as possible, ensuring the bank’s website is optimized for mobile devices is a must. If a prospect searches for your bank on his or her smartphone to only find that the link leads to a site with distorted images, large and small text, or worse, no site at all due to being incompatible, Google or Bing will take that into consideration for its rankings.
Bounce rate, or how quickly searchers exit sites after only visiting one page, is one of many factors that search engines like Google incorporate into its search engine logic. One key to local SEO is making sure that prospects stay on the site longer than competitors, which signals to search engines that your site is engaging and answers searchers’ inquiries.
Capitalize on business listing and review sites
One popular method that prospects seek out before partnering with institutions are review websites. Due to popular sites like Google My Business and Bing Places for Business, customers are now reviewing every business they decide to buy from – including banks, which is why a strong presence on choice listing services is critical for banks focused on enhancing their local SEO.
Have you ever searched for a business on Google or Bing to find one of these on the right side of the page?
These are listing profiles on Google My Business and Bing Place for Business, and they are free to create. Information is drawn from these profiles and displayed on relevant searches that might involve your bank or credit union. For example, if a prospect searches for “banks in my area,” and your bank is within a radius of a few miles, both search engines will include your institution on a shortlist of banks that are in the area, and then place that list near the top of the search page. In addition, both platforms offer maps listing capabilities. If prospects search for your bank, they will be directed to your business listing profile, where they can simply click the map listing and have a map application start a route straight to your institution.
Banks and credit unions should note that it isn’t a must for marketing strategies to involve a marketing budget. Perfecting online best practices, such as regularly updating website pages, and making use of free tools, such as review sites and business listing services, will ensure that the next time a prospect searches for a financial institution that your bank’s name makes the shortlist.
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