As with all industries, modern-day marketers of financial institutions are tasked with fulfilling on a myriad of items unique to the digital age. Websites, marketing automation software, social media strategy, paid advertising options, and a staggeringly long list of potential content types make up the selection of new tasks these marketers need to wrestle with. Given the breadth of options, and the often limited resources of financial institution marketing teams, decisions have to be made where to invest time and money. Especially in the case of smaller financial institutions, there is one channel that is essential to drive growth, increase awareness, and establish a competitive edge: local marketing.
Local marketing in 2015 goes beyond just having your company listed on Google Maps. It is a diverse, cross-channel marketing effort spanning directories, maps, content creation, and more.
Why local marketing?
It starts with the fact that Google has now confirmed that more searches are performed on mobile devices than desktop every month. Combined with the fact that Google has adopted a mobile-first mentality in how they approach enhancements to their search engine, the following statistics become even more compelling:
- 53% of mobile searches have local intent
- 89% of participants admitted to searching for a local business on their smartphone once a week or more with
- 58% searching at least daily.
- 18% of local searches lead to [conversion]
- 94% of smartphone owners look for local information on their phone
- 50% visit a [business] within one day of a local search on their phone
- Local searches are more than 2X as likely to lead to a [conversion]
For small and regional financial institutions, local marketing can enable them to continue to compete in the “global village” of financial services.
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4 Pillars of Local Marketing
If local marketing has never been an initiative in your organization, the initial launch can be an intimidating prospect. There is a long list of tasks that fit within the sphere of local marketing, but they can all be filtered down to the 4 Pillars of Local Marketing:
- Reputation Management
Each of these “pillars” plays a big part in performing well within local search results, staying top-of-mind with potential account holders, and maintaining a positive standing in the local marketplace.
Anyone who has dabbled in digital marketing understands that search engine algorithms place a lot of emphasis around links. Natural backlinks from trustworthy, authoritative websites are considered powerful tools for improving rank, while unnatural backlinks from spammy, manipulative websites can be hugely detrimental to a company’s performance in search engine results. These same ideas extend into local marketing in the form of citations.
How do links and citations differ? A link, or backlink, is a hyperlink that points users and search engine bots from one webpage to another. Citations can contain a hyperlink, but must contain the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of the business it is meant to endorse. There are two main elements of citations that search engines use to assign value: consistency of NAP, and authority of the citation source.
Consistency of NAP:
The cardinal rule of local search is simple: You must identify and stick to one consistent NAP for your business. This is an important step that many companies overlook in the process of developing their website and other digital assets. If your company’s official name is ABC Corporation Inc., but you want to be known as ABC Corporation on your website and across the web, then you need to ensure that everyone on your team is aware of the official name of the company, and optimizes accordingly.
Another common discrepancy that companies run into is their address. There are many possible variations in each element of an address, which leads to inconsistency. For example, if the company’s address is 555 East Main Street, then the decision would need to be made whether to abbreviate any pieces of the address. The same extends to how the phone number will be written out.
Authority of the Citation:
As with developing a backlink strategy, marketers need to carefully identify authoritative sources for citations. Some common citation sources are national directories (Yelp, yellow pages, etc.), local directories (KSL in Utah/Idaho/Nevada area, Kudzu in Georgia/Alabama, etc.), and industry-specific directories. It is important to acquire a good balance of citations from each of these categories, where relevant. It can be a challenge to identify which directories are authoritative, but these lists are a good place to start for any company:
In addition to these citations, it is important to claim and optimize maps listings on Google and Bing. These listings should be considered mandatory, as they increase visibility more effectively than nearly any other citation. Maps listings show up at the top of local searches, and listings on these platforms generate visibility on mobile apps as well. Maps listings and directory listings should be claimed for each physical location.
Benefits of Citations
The layout and composition of local search engine results pages have changed dramatically over the past several years. These changes have increased the need for an optimized local marketing effort. As more and more 1st page real estate is being dedicated to maps listings and directories, gaining 1st page visibility for searches with local intent has become increasingly difficult. See the below screenshot of a results page for the search “find a credit union”:
As with all local searches, the results shown above follows the 3-pack, which is a list of 3 results from Google maps. The following 10 results are all industry directories of some form. While they are taking up the whole 1st page, this provides savvy financial institutions with an opportunity to easily gain 1st page exposure, albeit vicariously.
Directories like these earn and maintain their organic exposure through fulfilling search engine user's needs. In this case, that need is to find credit unions in their area. Because of this, directories are very motivated to accept submissions from, and even proactively search for, credit unions to fill their ranks. Through performing keyword research and search engine analysis, marketers can quickly identify which directories to reach out to and establish a relationship with.
Appropriate on-site optimizations of your website and landing pages is as, if not more, important than building authoritative citations and backlinks. While citations will increase your overall visibility and generate some traffic to your site, if the site they are pointing to has not been optimized and is not user friendly, then the value is lost.
Making your site user friendly
The number one thing marketers can do to improve the usability of their website is to take a leaf out of Google’s book: think mobile first. The two primary methods of developing a mobile friendly website are responsive design and building a mobile version of the site. While each of these have their pros and cons, best practice is to develop a responsive design.
Responsive design is a relatively new web design methodology which utilizes CSS to create an optimal experience on all devices and screen sizes. Creating a mobile version of your site uses media queries to feed up a completely rebuilt version of your site, which traditionally lives on a mobile subdomain (i.e. mobile.example.com, or m.example.com). Here are some of the reasons responsive design is the better choice:
- Efficient content development and optimization
- With responsive design you only need to manage one set of content. Building a mobile site requires you to make all changes on both sites, which leaves room for user error.
- Link equity
- If some users link to your site while viewing the desktop version and others link while viewing the mobile version, overall link equity is dispersed across two separate domains.
- With responsive design, all links are pointing to the same domain, providing more overall lift in domain authority.
- Responsive design resizes dynamically to fit all screen sizes, which is extremely valuable in this age of tablets, phones, and phablets.
- A mobile site is a secondary, static site that is only optimized for one screen size, and does not take into account all of the variances in the world today.
- Increases page load speed
- Page load speed is one of the most important factors in building a user friendly site. Page abandonment increases every second, getting as high as 25% higher rate of abandonment at only 4 seconds
Optimize your site with local intent
Along with traditional on-site optimizations, here are some important nuances to optimizing a site for local search:
- Utilize schema markup
- Markup your business information using a generator like the one found here.
- Marking up your NAP information helps search engine bots to more easily identify your NAP information, and can amend your result in the search engine with your NAP
- Amend the various elements of on-site optimization with information about your location
- Including city and/or state in the title tag and header tags, along with marking up your NAP, increases the likelihood of your site showing up in local searches
- Despite the fact that the meta description is not a ranking factor, include information about your location in the description for users
- Include an embedded map on your "Contact Us" page
“Content is king” has been the mantra of the digital marketing industry for years, and for good reason. For both bots and users, content effectively generates all of the signals and positive experience that is needed to drive success for a website.
It’s no secret that account holder acquisition can be a difficult process. Content can help to simplify the process. How? Through generating authoritative, insightful, educational, and, most importantly, free information marketers can effectively set up their business as an authority in their industry. Consumers are far more likely to return to a site, and eventually convert into a customer, if they view that company as an authority.
This content only needs to be seen as “free” to the consumer, but by creating gated content and downloadable content companies can acquire valuable consumer information which provides the company with permission to remarket to those users moving forward.
There are many tools online which can assist marketers in developing a list of content ideas. The Adwords Keyword Tool by Google provides search volume estimates for specific queries, BuzzSumo provides insights into how specific pieces of content have been shared socially, and Google Trends can provide overall trending for specific topics over time. These are just three of the many tools out there that can help build a content schedule based on actionable insights.
4. Reputation Management
This is one area that is perhaps even more important in financial services than other industries. There are a huge number of interactions between account holders and branch personnel, call center employees, and online interactions every day. Each of these interactions has the potential to result in a negative review on Google Maps, social media, or any of the seemingly endless number of online forums. Reputation management encompasses all efforts geared toward maintaining a positive company outlook with consumers, and will work closely with PR.
Reviews: Positive & Negative
All of the map and directory sites previously discussed place value on the number and quality of reviews a listing has. Listings are more likely to show up within Google and Bing searches, as well as showing up more prominently in native search within the directories, if it has received reviews. For some ideas on how to effectively acquire reviews, see this article on Forbes.While having a large number of positive reviews can boost visibility and builds the credibility of the brand, negative reviews can provide value as well.
Unless a company is effectively, and creatively, motivating consumers to leave a review on their listings, negative reviews are going to be far more common than positive. Think about any reviews you have personally left. Did you leave the review after your waitress met your expectation of prompt service, frequent water refills, and pleasant, if unobtrusive, comments throughout dinner?
If you are like most consumers, your reviews have been left after the waitress was unconcerned with your experience, got your order wrong, and left you waiting for your check for 20 minutes after finishing your meal. This is basic human nature. We like to complain. So how can a company turn a negative review into a positive signal? Here are some important steps to turning negative into positive:
- Be aware
- Nothing is worse than a negative review that goes unnoticed by the company. Own your space, and check back frequently.
- Respond promptly
- Your response doesn’t need to be within the next hour, but good companies don’t leave these negative experiences unresolved for more than 24 hours when possible
- Be empathetic
- We have all had negative experiences. It is important to show empathy for the situation that your company created.
- Take responsibility
- Whether or not it was the consumer’s fault, the customer is always right
- Make amends
- There are a huge list of possible ways companies can mend fences with its customers. The more important thing is often just that the company did make amends.
Digital marketing can be a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Especially within the local spectrum, there are some valuable quick wins to be had if marketers know where to look.
Local marketing is the foundation of a successful digital marketing presence, and once it has been solidified the rest of the digital spectrum opens up. Advanced on-site optimizations, conversion rate optimization, paid advertising, content marketing, and social media are some of the many options available.