- SEO for financial services places a strong emphasis on trust.
- Speed, security and privacy are paramount when it comes to financial services SEO.
- Humanizing your brand is helpful in building trust with your audience.
- Align your content to audience segments, life events, and customer journeys for better SEO results.
- A challenge for any financial services firm looking to develop content and optimize its website is compliance with rules by regulatory bodies such as FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority).
- Even so, there’s no reason financial services content should be boring – create unique and engaging content.
- Strategic off site SEO signals credibility, helping to improve your rankings in the SERPs.
- Local SEO tactics make it easier for customers to find your brick-and-mortar locations.
Financial services SEO – how it’s different
In the financial services industry, trust is everything. That makes it a natural fit for the best practices that underpin SEO, a field that is also driven by trust (between search engines, websites, and users).
Although there are aspects of search engine optimization that are universal, you can’t just write an SEO strategy for an ecommerce site and re-use it for a financial services website. SEO for financial services is unique, as we’ll discuss throughout this post.
How unique are these considerations? Well, let’s start with the fact that Google’s algorithm shakeup in the summer of 2018, coined the Medic Update, appeared to target medical sites and “Your Money, Your Life” (YMYL) sites specifically.
On the algorithmic end, a possible shift took aim at low-quality, irrelevant content across all industries. And on the manual end, a new mandate was released to Google’s quality raters that required them to hold YMYL sites to higher Page Quality (PQ) standards than those of other websites.
According to Google, any page that could have an impact on the user’s current or future well-being (physical, financial, safety, etc.) should be vetted more carefully for E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness). Financial services websites, including those covering banking, investment, insurance, etc., can easily fall under the “Your Money, Your Life” umbrella.
It should be noted that Google updated its Quality Evaluator Guidelines in May of 2019 by including E-A-T as a factor within PQ rather than referring to it as a separate entity.
In other words, if you’re giving financial advice, it better be good, it better be trustworthy, and it better be written by an expert.
Where SEO is concerned, this means taking a rigorous, disciplined and careful approach to content marketing, trust factors, and page quality of financial services sites — far more so than if you were blogging about Father’s Day Gift Ideas for an ecommerce website.
In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into how the individual components of your SEO strategy should be treated for a financial services website.
Technical SEO for financial services
The good news is, technical SEO is technical SEO! Begin with a complete website audit to uncover any issues that might impact crawlability and usability, and prioritize your findings. Just like any other website, certain technical priorities will be obvious. (Are there erroneous noindex tags on all of your resource pages, or is your robots.txt file accidentally blocking important pages from being crawled?)
If technical issues impact any of the following, you’ll want to bump the fix to “high priority:”
Page load speed is a Google ranking factor. With this in mind, it’s critical that your web pages load fast and don’t cause your site visitors to wait.
Beyond that, speed impacts user trust and usability, and this is an especially important consideration within the financial services industry. People may forgive a slower website if they’re just browsing around reading articles or blog posts, but if your website times out when they’re trying to enter their bank account number, they may think twice about using or working with your financial institution.
Slow websites with a poor user experience can become, to the customer, an unconscious indicator of the overall customer experience. In other words, make sure your website runs like a new Lamborghini.
Within the financial services sector, the routine security checks that are usually performed during an SEO audit — like confirming a sitewide https prefix with an up-to-date SSL certificate, or verifying that the CMS software is the latest version, etc. — are not enough.
You’ll also want to check for rogue indexed subdomains and other information that you don’t want to show up for branded search queries. Sometimes websites are vulnerable to data breaches because, plain and simple, they just don’t realize they’re sharing it. Hence, a full site crawl as well as analysis of what’s ranking in the SERPs and available in the XML sitemap are necessary.
In addition, including a security service notice in your global footer (e.g., “Norton Secured,” “SiteLock Secure,” “DigiCert Trusted, ”etc.) reassures your site visitors that your website is well protected.
Privacy is important in the financial services sector, but being too private with your website can be a detriment to your SEO efforts. Some financial services companies keep content behind a firewall, reserved for those logged into the site. The intent is good, but Google can’t crawl anything behind a firewall! If Google can’t crawl it, well…there’s no opportunity for that content to be found, ultimately hurting your SEO results.
Do your website’s URLs look something like this:
These are examples from the actual websites of Fortune 500 financial services institutions.
With an array of information to organize, with certain technical limitations of web platforms and with security a top concern of your IT team, it’s understandable how URLs can become convoluted. However, if you aim to rank high in organic search engine results, you’re better off optimizing your URLs so that the topic and content that each URL represents is clear to Google.
Schema (structured data)
Google reads what’s written on your web pages, but schema, or structured data, aids in helping the search engine to understand what your data means. Simply put, schema markup is code you can use in your web pages to help the search engines return more informative results for searchers through more detailed categorization of your content. Through structured data, you can enhance the appearance of your search listings through what are called “rich snippets.” This might the addition of your address for a local branch or office, for example.
Schema.org is a collaborative effort among Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex to improve the web “by creating a structured data markup schema supported by major search engines.”
The schema listed at https://schema.org/FinancialService lists “feesAndCommissionsSpecification” as specifically for financial services. This markup can be used for the “description of fees, commissions, and other terms applied either to a class of financial product, or by a financial service organization.”
Other types of structured data that may be applicable to your financial services organization are your locations, hours, telephone numbers, reviews, etc. You can find the latest schema options as well as a historical record of Schema.org markup options here.
You can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper tool to aid you in the development of your code snippets. Use Google’s Structured Data Testing tool to ensure that your schema implementation is done correctly.
On-page SEO for financial services
Beyond technical SEO, in order to maximize your organic search results you should focus on on-page SEO. Optimize each page for a designated unique keyword phrase, selected for its optimal combination of search volume, alignment with searcher intent, competition and relevance. To do this, tasks will include optimization of your URLs, site categories, title tags, meta description tags, H1 and H2 tags, image alt tags, internal linking and on-page content. Be sure that the copy on the page is well optimized to the target topic, delivering clear value to the reader aligned with search intent for the relevant keyword(s).
Are you seeing a theme yet? The content you share in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and on each page in your website is one of the best ways to convey your brand voice.
Make sure it’s trustworthy.
According to a NewsCred’s Trust Transaction Study, there is a major disconnect between consumers and their financial services providers. According to the survey, a third of those surveyed don’t trust their own bank. However, half of this group confirmed that they would trust banks more if the banks provided helpful content. Half of the survey respondents reported that helpful, useful content from their bank would delay any potential thoughts of switching banks.
The lesson? Make sure you are providing helpful, trustworthy content, using the following strategies:
Humanize your brand
Think that dry explanations of your life insurance (or auto insurance, mutual funds, IRAs, bank accounts, etc.) is the way to win over your audience? Think again. There’s of course a place for product details, but it’s not at the forefront of your brand voice.
We as people are emotional before we’re rational, meaning information that makes us feel something will hit us faster, take up more space in our nervous system, and drive us to take action more often than information that makes us think something.
Even your fiscally-responsible, data-driven target audience isn’t off the hook here. Being emotionally-driven on a subconscious level is just hard-wired into our brain’s hierarchy: the amygdala and limbic system, which comprise our “feeling” brain, are both deeper, older, and prioritized before the logic-driven neocortex, our “thinking” brain.
The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found that people with damage to the feeling brain found it almost impossible to make decisions — in other words, Damasio discovered that emotions are a necessary part of decision making. So, if your website is not evoking an emotional response from site visitors, it will likely underperform and will not drive your site visitors to the actions your brand values most.
So while you can and should share corporate information with your customers, make sure they’re feeling something first. That means speaking to them, human to human, via messaging that is friendly, down-to-earth, and emblematic of the experience you want them to have. And it means before they hear about the millions of customers you’ve helped, they’ll want to hear about the one customer who’s just like them.
Way back when, in 2009, after another frustrating banking experience involving hidden fees, unnecessary products, long holds, and complicated conversations, Simple’s future founder Josh Reich emailed his friend (and future co-founder) Shamir Karkal, with some big questions:
“The answer to each question was Simple.”
- Why is banking so complicated?
- Can a bank exist to help people, not confuse them?
- What if banks didn’t charge so many ridiculous fees?
- What if your bank taught you to feel confident with money?
It then goes on to further build a connection with the site visitor:
“We hope that no matter what brought you here, whether you’re a poor poet in need of some budgeting help (true story) or a budget-wise financial wizard who wants an account to replace their spreadsheets (also a true story), a round-the-country-traveler in need of a banking experience to support that mobile lifestyle (oh hey, true again), you know that we see you. We see the banking industry and agree that it needs to change. And we’re working to change it for all of us.”
The company doesn’t spend paragraphs talking about the company history and its accolades or its two-factor authentication. It doesn’t overwhelm the site visitor with boring corporatespeak or copy vetting 15 times over by the legal team.
Simple understands their audience is diverse, so they craft copy that tugs on an emotional chord for all different types of people: a poor poet, a budget-wise financial wizard, and a round-the-country-traveler.
Heck, even the company’s Security page goes beyond the stats to focus on being human – because that’s what makes an impact!
Quality content aside, there are numerous signals a website can use to convey trust. Seals, memberships, and awards, for example, are small, non-distracting visual elements that can set customers at ease; and if you have any major press mentions, consider adding a news section that features publisher logos.
Depending on your particular niche within financial services, you’re bound to have trust indicators unique to your sector. For example, if you have a network of financial advisors, a link to BrokerCheck by FINRA further provides added trust to your site visitors.
User-friendly navigation with ready access to reviews, testimonials, data, and other information helps the user feel like you have nothing to hide. Similarly, provide clear, up front contact information.
Active social media accounts is another way of not only conveying trust, but of building relationships with your audience and differentiating your brand from the competition. (Check out NerdWallet’s Instagram, Morgan Stanley’s Twitter, or Mastercard’s YouTube.) Make sure the social media icons on your website are visible, and consider pulling in a social feed featuring customers who mention your brand or use your hashtag.
Notices when a link on your website will take the site visitor to a different organization’s website are helpful for financial services sites. Given that one’s financial data is sensitive, it’s important for site visitors to realize if they are no longer on your digital property, so that they can make an informed decision as to whether to enter any data.
Allowing customers to review their experience and displaying the results on your website is an easy, unobtrusive way to generate trust. Bonus: if you use schema markup to pull rich snippets of your reviews and display them in the SERPs, you’ll take up more real estate in the search results, build trust from within the SERPs and improve click-throughs to your website.
Financial services content strategies
Google places a strong emphasis on quality content and topic authority within the financial sector. As a result, your content strategy is critical to the health of your organic search performance. For your financial institution, advice should either come from or be vetted by the experts like this post from NerdWallet by Gregory Karp, personal finance writer and author of two books on finance.
The following are a number of ways for you to approach your content production:
Aligning content to audience segments & life stages
Another thing that sets content strategy apart for financial institutions is their unique customer segments. While retail companies might be able to define a niche target audience, the financial services sector is far more likely to target a broad swathe of the population with needs that vary depending on life stage.
So, your content strategy should aim to address each of these stages in turn, from the loan-saddled college student to the first-time homeowner to the retired couple managing their investments and aiming to leave something in their wills for their grandkids.
Find the stages and situations that are most likely to reflect those of your target audience. Then, dive into keyword research and produce helpful content for each of these stages. For example:
- College savings center from Merrill Edge’s
- First car buying portal from Chase
- Financial advice for newlyweds from Fidelity
- Budgeting guide for new homeowners from Discover
- Retirement planning center from Vanguard
- Life events portal from Schwab
Or, you can segment the life stages by age, as Voya does with retirement planning:
Each of these strategies can help you increase your search engine rankings by addressing how your audience is thinking about their current financial objectives and challenges, or the specific financial questions running through their minds. By taking this type of approach, you capitalize on the opportunity to gain traction on many long-tail SEO keyword searches.
Aligning content to the customer journey
According to the Digital Growth Institute, only 16% of banks and credit unions have a documented digital customer journey. This represents a huge opportunity to differentiate your brand by providing relevant and compelling products, information and support to your prospects start-to-finish throughout their customer journey. Every stage should provide a clear path to the next step, whether the customer is on your home page, product pages or blog content.
Mapping out funnels in your website is a great start, but to truly reduce silos and create a happy customer, you’ll want to integrate the digital journey into a full omnichannel strategy. That means letting your customers pick up where they left off as they move from platform to platform. This will partially be a feat of UX, but consistent, platform-appropriate content is what will smooth over the bumps and make it all come together.
Opportunities in interactive content
Another ingredient in an effective financial services SEO strategy is to incorporate interactive content, such as financial planning tools, calculators, online courses and interactive infographics. For example:
- Cyber security interactive infographic from Morgan Stanley
- Business growth course for women from Goldman Sachs
- Car insurance coverage calculator from Geico
- Life insurance needs calculator from New York Life
- Home affordability assessment from Ally
- Mortgage calculator from Bank of America
- IRA selector tool from Betterment
- Retirement calculator from NerdWallet
Interactive tools are not only extremely useful to prospective customers, but they also can generate significant backlinks to the web pages housing the interactive content. For example, the Bank of America mortgage calculator has attracted links from 348 websites and subsequently ranks on Google page one for approximately 1,170 keywords (Source: Ahrefs).
Opportunities in video
Video is a highly effective way to communicate with your audience. Yet 90% of financial services firms have no video content. This is in stark contrast to the way that consumers and businesses consume information. People watch over one billion hours on YouTube every single day. Via mobile alone, YouTube reaches more adults between the ages of 18-49 during prime time than any cable network.
Eighty-three percent (83%) of marketers (across industries) believe that video is becoming more important in the digital marketing mix. While 66% believe that video produces the best ROI for social media marketing over any other format.
How to leverage video
Video is the perfect medium to break down complex topics within the financial services sector. It allows you to deliver information in a more easily understood, relatable format. One great way to do this is through hand-drawn explainer videos.
Beyond explanations, you can use video to showcase the experiences of your customers as Sun Life does, helping your site visitors to visualize their own aspirational success at achieving financial goals or alternatively how overcome life’s challenges.
Another effective way to use video is to interview your own experts, as well as those outside the company, delivering valuable, helpful insights to your audience.
Saxo Bank uses video in an innovative way, providing a morning analysis of the financial markets and preparing clients for the upcoming trading day every business day in its Morning Call video series.
And don’t forget that you can use your creativity to add personality to your videos, too. In the following video, Wealthsimple walks you through the most important shot in the NBA this past season, and in the entire history of the Toronto Raptors, a buzzer-beater made by Kawhi Leanord in game seven of its playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The automated investing platform pays homage to the Kawhi trade, and then reminds the viewer that Wealthsimple is Canada’s only $0 commision stock trading. Worth the fun? The video garnered more than 85,000 views.
Want to learn more? Check out our complete guide to video SEO strategies.
Opportunities in podcasting
Beyond text and video, your content may also be a natural fit for podcasting. You could record a regular financial Q&A session, or conduct interviews, or provide news and trends updates. Check out popular podcasts like Planet Money or try lower-production but well-loved podcasts like Money for the Rest of Us for inspiration.
JP Morgan Chase & Co. produces an engaging podcast series called My Next Move with JP Morgan. In the episode below, the company features Michael Liersch, a behavioral scientist and head of Goals-Based Advice & Strategy at J.P. Morgan Asset & Wealth Management, who explores the principles of behavioral finance to help people understand their investing and spending behaviors and achieve their financial goals.
To aid in generating SEO value from the podcasts, a transcript is included with each.
A challenge for any financial services firm looking to develop content and optimize its website is compliance with rules by regulatory bodies such as FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority).
FINRA’s Advertising Regulation Department serves to protect investors by ensuring that broker-dealers’ communications are fair, balanced and not misleading and comply with the advertising rules of FINRA, SEC, MSRB and SIPC.
FINRA Rule 2210 categorizes communications as: (1) retail communication, (2) correspondence, or (3) institutional communication. These categorizations carry important implications, making an understanding of each category critical to achieving compliance in your online marketing.
Rule 2210 states that “Retail communication” includes “any written communication, including electronic, distributed or made available to more than 25 retail investors within any 30 calendar-day period.” FINRA has compiled a list of commonly asked questions about Rule 2210, along with the body’s responses and guidance.
For a list of commonly asked questions surrounding compliance with financial services advertising regulations overall, check out the FINRA FAQ.
Voice search for financial services
With the juggernaut that is voice search rising in popularity every day, your financial services website has a major opportunity to stay on the cutting edge of user behavior. Capitalizing on voice search means adjusting your keyword strategy to accommodate the type of searches people make via this medium: longer, more natural phrases that use simple and informal language.
You can adjust your content itself, too, to accommodate the needs of voice searchers. Consider adding a Q&A section to your website, such as Ellevest does in its online magazine’s #AskSallie articles. Ellevest’s articles have covered everything from “Should I invest my bonus right away or over time?” to “Should I share the amount of money I make with my kids?” to “How should I think about my financial goals for 2019?”
When people use voice search, they’re looking for answers fast. That means your content can contain bullets, pull quotes, and other user-friendly “soundbites” to deliver that information as clearly as possible.
Offsite SEO for financial services
Your expertly-researched, useful content gives you an advantage in the link building arena: how-to’s and explanations that are genuinely helpful are naturally shareable. Plus, people’s interest is naturally piqued on the topic of saving money, spending money, making money, etc. And guides, interactive tools and content portals often attract a great number of backlinks.
For example, Progressive’s “Answers” portal has attracted links from 444 unique referring websites while ranking on Google page one for more than 4,600 keywords, according to Ahrefs. Bank of America’s Saving & Budgeting portal has captured links from 1,540 websites while achieving roughly 4,700 Google page one keywords.
Another effective means to get your content published by third parties is to create a visual asset that they can re-use. This may take the form of an infographic, data visualization and analysis, presentation, research report, or video, for example.
You can reach out to publishers, influencers and other relevant websites in your industry and ask if they’d like to share the content, or have you supply additional background information to enable them to write a new complementary piece. Or alternatively, if appropriate, you can offer an interview with your crew of relevant experts in the particular areas covered by the source asset.
Link building strategies for the financial services sector should focus on providing the publisher’s audience with as much value as possible. In return, you can potentially gain organic backlinks from high quality and credible sources.
Off page SEO is so critical to your SEO success, that Terakeet has curated a database of more than 9 million publishers from which to target for clients’ Enterprise SEO programs.
WARNING: Stay away from shady link-building strategies like paying for links or spamming the comment section of various blogs. Within financial services, such tactics aren’t just a bad SEO practice; they’re an easy way to tank the trustworthiness of your entire brand.
Local SEO for financial services
Finally, if your financial institution has local branches, you’ll be wrapping a local SEO strategy into your optimization efforts. You can optimize for local search by including schema in your website and by claiming your business in every location on major platforms like Google My Business and Yelp.
On your website, pick a user-friendly way to find the closest location. Having them enter their zip code so they can find their closest branch, for example, is a great idea. Make sure the NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) for each branch is clear and consistent on not just your website, but across platforms; this will reduce potential search engine confusion over each location.
It’s all about trust
Many SEO services don’t understand the nuances of the finance industry, so it’s important to work with a company that understands the space. By following the guidance outlined above, you’ll have a robust SEO strategy that will boost your brand, increase your organic website traffic, and help your customers.
The stringent quality and trust standards that both search engines and customers will be holding you to make for a challenge, but the good news is, you already have a wealth of expertise upon which to capitalize.
By designing a content and SEO process that leverages these experts and makes them part of a smooth and efficient search engine marketing strategy, you’ll come out ahead in the SERPs. And the next time you say “Trust us,” you won’t have to tell people why — you’ll have already shown them!