There are more than 12,000 financial institutions competing for your members’ attention in the US alone, and it’s a safe bet that every single one of them has a website. Fortunately, credit unions have an advantage that big banks don’t – their own fields of membership. Tailoring online offerings directly to your field of membership is the key to connecting with new or existing members through search engines.
With search engine optimization (SEO), web content is tweaked according to a number of evolving rules so that the information appears among the top results on three major search engines: Google, Yahoo, and Bing. All three provide targeted results using an algorithm that determines which websites best meet the searcher’s criteria.
Back in 2005, SEO functioned by matching the keywords searched with those appearing on a website. If someone searched for best credit union in Washington, DC, the top spot would go to the site that had the most instances of best credit union in Washington, DC in its text – simple as that.
Now, however, when someone types best credit union in Washington, DC, Google uses its mind-boggling powers to check that person’s history online before coming up with an answer. For example, Google will check the person’s Yelp reviews or YouTube views, even likes from Facebook friends. It checks which other sites the search engine user has visited, and it traces the individual’s IP address to see where the person is located. In this case, the top credit union will be the one with the most likes by the searcher’s Facebook friends, is near restaurants that the individual has Yelped, is located close to the person’s office in Washington, DC, and serves the same SEG. Is the person consistently reading online medical journals? Then NIH Federal Credit Union is a contender. Has the searcher pre-ordered tickets for an Army Navy game? Navy FCU comes out on top instead. Is the individual reading blogs written by federal employees? Maybe NARFE Premier is a good fit. One-size-fits-all has no place in search results, and this gives credit unions a huge opportunity to shine.
Own Local Search Results Through Branches
It’s no secret that credit unions tailor their services to suit their members’ needs. Fortunately, this effort translates extremely well to SEO. The most obvious example is branch locations. Credit unions put tremendous effort into deploying a branch strategy. To reap the rewards of this strategy online, take advantage of all of the location-based business profile websites. Start with the biggest — Facebook — and trickle down to sites like Yelp, YellowPages.com, FourSquare, Google+, LinkedIn, ReachLocal, and Local.com to name a few.
By filling out listings on each of these sites, credit unions can achieve three goals at once.
Increase online surface area by creating more opportunities for members to find them in diverse locations.
Appear in more than just the number one spot. Why stop there when numbers two, three, four, and five are equally important? Each of these listings is a stand-alone website so if several branches are equidistant from your member’s Internet connection, they will all show up in the search result, providing multiple opportunities for engagement.
Ensure that only targeted individuals see the results. If a credit union’s local listings are set up properly, it can effectively rule out people who aren’t existing or potential members.
As a bonus, this strategy also allows credit unions with a wide field of membership to have a strong presence in their members’ virtual lives when a physical presence isn’t always possible. InTouch Credit Union (Plano, TX, $817M) had several goals in mind when it created a Facebook page for each branch. Although SEO was certainly on the radar, the goal behind this online strategy was to engage with potential and current members. By starting with Facebook instead of other listings, InTouch essentially created multiple opportunities for the credit union or one of its branches to appear on search engines. In addition, these pages helped members establish a connection with not just the credit union but their branch as well.
The positive SEO effect was a nice by-product, but the primary result was creating a virtual hub for people with an actual or potential connection to the credit union.
“If we wanted to get up to 1,000 likes overnight, we could,” says VP of Marketing and E-Commerce, Tim McCoy. “However, we would have no guarantee that we’d be reaching our members or people who could be members. Just getting numbers for the sake of it would not help us reach our goals in a way that provides value to the credit union and our members.”
This statement sums up the difficulty of a modern online marketing strategy because getting ranked number one doesn’t necessarily produce a tangible return. But being number one for a specific financial product or service is incredibly valuable. That’s how credit unions can connect with new or existing members seeking a financial service that the cooperative already provides.
Use Diverse Content To Connect With More People
Although local listings are the most obvious way to reach members, people typically use other financial terms in the search, such as a certain type of loan, perhaps one for a wedding or for a borrower with weak credit. Specific product offerings help financial institutions stand out to those search engine users.
Most credit union websites have sections on loans but don’t draft the content about specific types of loans for SEO. Organizationally this makes sense, but it’s not congruent with the way people search. As of May 2014, the most widely used online search related to loans isn’t loans; it’s loans for bad credit. The second most widely used search is loans with the lowest rates. When drafting the content for any website page, credit unions need to include terms such as lowest rates or bad credit to appear in response to the two most common loan-related searches. However, when the page offers limited space for content, another option is to add a blog or create separate microsites on a related topic. A well-maintained blog on a website is just as valuable as several badly maintained microblogs or Tumblrs.
InTouch Credit Union currently maintains multiple blogs, including one on its website,and another that is in the process of moving from a separate domain. Topics run the gamut from property reclamation to the occasional health and wellness post, and the overall theme of the blogs is information that enhances financial well-being.
“For the most part we want to keep it in line with what the credit union is about,” McCoy says. “We will post about rest and relaxation or physical wellness because financial health is affected by everything.”
Publishing a blog and creating content that addresses multiple topics is a necessity when search results are so personalized. A potential member looking for a loan might be reading some health and wellness blogs first. Assuming two financial institutions offer the same loans but only one publishes a blog with an occasional health and wellness article, the top ranking will go to the credit union with the more diversified content because it satisfies more of the searcher’s online history. By connecting with members through a variety of topics, InTouch is also working in tandem with SEO.
Like local listings, this tactic also addresses multiple goals simultaneously.
By ranking in response to a specific term, the credit union has the chance to acquire a member just when that person needs a personal touch the most.
Because microsites are separate URLs, the same credit union might dominate the top five spots that come up in the search engine, thereby increasing the cooperative’s online surface area.
As useful as trusted local and social media sites are, a website is the institution’s primary vehicle for introducing itself to a potential member. By creating multiple websites, credit unions can ensure greater diversity among search results.
The rules for optimizing search engines are constantly evolving, but they actually follow a cooperative spirit that credit unions will recognize. The idea behind SEO is to provide users with the best search results that meet their needs. Credit unions practice this every day by adapting their products and services to the needs of their members. The challenge is taking the personal relationship credit unions have with members and transferring it online. By using certain keywords and strategically placing them on various web pages, credit unions can use search engines to expand their membership and their reach.