As a financial institution, it can be very difficult to attribute a return on investment (ROI) on your marketing campaigns. Sure, you can use the Google Tag Manager to track all of your digital marketing efforts on Facebook and Google, but what happens once your potential member applies for a loan? For the majority of community banks and credit unions, they push their traffic to an online banking portal to run their credit. This is where the digital trail of many marketing campaigns goes dark, because Google won’t connect the dots between the clicks from your ads to new loan applicants because this data spans across two separate datasets.
Twenty or thirty years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a business that didn’t list their company in the phone book. Yet in today’s world, this is what many businesses are doing by not having an SEO (search engine optimization) strategy.
How does an SEO strategy affect your business’s ability to gain new clients? 81% of the US population searches online before buying a big ticket item, and 75% of those people never scroll past page 1 of Google’s search results.
So simply put: if your business is not on page 1 of Google’s search results, your business does not exist to your potential customers!
Why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) matters
People are looking online for businesses like yours, so it’s your job to understand the steps you should take to make your website as Google-friendly as possible. This process is referred to as SEO or search engine optimization.
Companies that rank on page 1 of Google search results acquire 91.5% of all traffic. The scraps are left to everybody else.
When you rank on page 1, you’re seen as an authority in your market, whether local, national, or global. Even if the highest ranked company isn’t the top rated or the highest grossing, it can seem that way to prospects. Younger, newer companies can quickly outrank you if you don’t prioritize SEO.
You might be getting results from other strategies like business partnerships and paid advertising. But if you’re asleep at the proverbial SEO wheel, your competitors will easily acquire your potential customers.
Old school SEO tactics don’t work anymore
When you’re researching SEO tips and services, it can feel like everyone is saying to do this and not that. Read too much contradictory advice, and you’ll want to give up.
Don’t worry. The reality is, there are things that work, and also black-hat tactics that are definite no-nos.
In the early days of SEO, black-hat activities included:
- Keyword stuffing – You know those articles and pages that stuff the same keyword or phrase into every other sentence? Yeah, don’t do that.
- Fictitious link building – Sure seemed like a good idea at the time to set up fake websites to give yourself backlinks, but Google caught on and penalized the perpetrators.
- High volume, low quality content – Back in the day, sites used to churn out dozens of blog posts per week in a race that cared all about volume and nothing about quality. Boy do we feel bad for anyone who ever worked at a “content mill.”
The old way of doing SEO will actually hurt your current rankings and lower your chances of appearing at the top of page 1, which means less potential customers.
It’s all about Google’s algorithm
We know what Google doesn’t want, but what about what it does want?
Google has created and continually improves one of the world’s most complicated algorithms that considers over 150 factors when ranking thousands of websites in a few milliseconds, for a single internet search. It does this with no thoughts, feelings, or desires. The algorithm not only determines the rank of websites, but it also measures the desire and intent of the person performing the search, based on their online behavior. Then it matches up all these data sets to display their search results.
In addition to how they gather data, Google is always updating their algorithm to deliver higher quality search results. And while much has been said about the constant Google algorithm updates, only a few updates have had a big impact on best practices.
Most updates are simply maintenance tweaks to their core algorithm, and minor features such as marking HTTP sites as “not secure.” (No reason to freak out there, you should always have HTTPS sites anyways. An SSL certificate is always best practice, so that site visitors know that any information they enter on the site is protected.)
There’s much hoopla and hype, but fortunately what Google “wants” so to speak, is clear.
Google’s algorithm prioritizes:
- Domain authority
- User experience on site
- Search term relevance
- Updated content (you should post and update your content regularly, but never prioritize speed over quality)
Next up, we’ll explore the difference between onsite and offsite SEO, and then give you six actionable steps so you can apply everything you’ve learned.
So what does a modern SEO campaign look like?
Now that you understand the basics of what Google’s algorithm deems as relevant, let’s break a modern SEO campaign down into six steps you can start implementing today.
1. Reverse engineer your top-performing competitors
Use the free tool called UberSuggest to see what key phrases your competition is currently ranking for. Then add those top keywords to your website by either updating the current content of your website, adding a new web page, or creating a blog post.
Don’t worry if your competitors are out-ranking you! You can also use Ubersuggest to spy on your competition to see why they’re ranked so high. In my experience, it’s often because they have other relevant websites that link to their site. These are called backlinks and they’re a big deal in Google’s eyes (for more on backlinks, see #5, below).
2. Use Ubersuggest for keyword research
In addition to competitor research, you can also use Ubersuggest for keyword research. Type in the kind of business you run and your location, and you’ll see dozens of related search terms that you can target in your current or new web pages.
3. Optimize your onsite SEO
Onsite SEO is the practice of making your website as Google-friendly as possible.
Once you’ve determined which keyphrases your competitors are ranking for, which ones they’re missing, and which are the most important that you want to rank for, you can:
- Target one main keyphrase per webpage, including related secondary keyphrases
- Write meta data such as meta descriptions and SERP titles that include your target keyphrase
- Place your target keyphrases sparingly in content
- Publish fresh content monthly
- Include alt image tags in all images on your site and blog posts
- Create a consistent naming convention between page names and URLs
- Optimize your website’s speed
4. Manage and update citations
A citation is an online directory that lists your relevant company information. With over 1,000 online directories on the web, it’s important that your phone number, website, and office hours are accurate and consistent across many of them. Here are some of the most relevant citations you can optimize:
- Google My Business
- Yahoo (yes, some people still use it!)
5. Increase domain authority with quality backlinks
A backlink is a link from one website to another, and they’re often a major contributor to any successful SEO campaign. For example, a mortgage broker wants to create a high-quality backlink. So they reach out to Quicken Loans to write a guest blog post that appears on Quicken’s website. The blog post credits the mortgage broker by mentioning their name but more importantly, Quicken Loans links to the mortgage broker’s website.
Google loves this because you’re making their job easier: when someone searches the internet for ‘mortgage broker,’ Google considers over 150 different factors that determine how a website ranks in a matter of milliseconds. One of the biggest factors is the relevance of a website. So if Quicken Loans, one of the largest mortgage companies in the US, is linking to this mortgage broker’s website, this is considered a high-quality backlink and it results the mortgage broker’s website ranking higher.
If you discover (after using UberSuggest) that your competitors are actively building quality backlinks, you definitely can’t skip this step or your chance of outranking them is very low. Even if your competitors don’t have a lot of backlinks, you’ll quickly gain ground on them by establishing some.
In addition to using UberSuggest to see what links your competitors have, you can use HARO (Help a Report Out) to acquire backlinks on your own. HARO helps journalists to source experts on a variety of topics. The journalist provides some details about the article they’re writing and a few questions they’d like to ask an expert in that specific field. Respondents email the journalist answers to their questions for a chance of being featured (and linked to) in their upcoming article. This is another free service and it’s very worthwhile since many regional and national publications request expertise. The end result is that quality backlinks increase your domain authority which gives you a higher chance of ranking for your desired search terms.
Backlinking is often viewed as the cornerstone of a modern SEO campaign. Once your website is optimized (see #3), your SEO strategy must focus on gaining these kinds of backlinks to outrank your competition.
6. Optimize your Google My Business page
You’ve probably noticed the Google Map at the top of some search results pages, for things like “San Diego dentist” or “Bay Area defense attorney.”
If you have a location-specific business, then you must show up in that local map. It’s featured very prominently above the rest of the organic results. What makes this difficult is that Google will only list three businesses, and to see more business listings you must click on the ‘More Places’ button, which very few people do.
So to increase your chances of appearing, you must optimize your Google My Business page by inputting your address, phone number, website domain, hours of business, and photos of your business, employees, products, and happy customers.
Lastly, you must get online reviews! This not only produces more potential clients when they read your reviews, but it also factors into your organic ranking within Google’s online directory. This step cannot be skipped over for any business! Companies that have a ton of positive reviews almost always rank at the top of Google which means they also get more potential customers.
Following these SEO best practices will ensure that your business stays relevant and your potential customers can find your website. But if you’re new to SEO, there’s a lot to take in. So turn these six steps into weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks. For example, you can check your citations quarterly, write a new blog post for a relevant keyphrase monthly, and ask for reviews from only your new, satisfied clients every week.
You can’t master SEO overnight, but if you want to create more sales and make it easier for your potential clients to find you online, it’s time to make SEO a priority.
As an attorney, you’re in one of the most competitive locally-based industries, where your competition’s solution for gaining more clients is to out-spend everyone else. This might have worked in the 90’s when the yellow pages and newspaper ads ruled the day. But this doesn’t work anymore.
Admit it, the odds are stacked against you: as a credit union or community bank, you’re competing with national banks on a local level. That means your limited resources and budget are going head-to-head with their million-dollar national marketing campaign, legions of locations and employees, and their well-established brand name. So how can you win?