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Search Engine Optimization

The online channel is an increasingly critical component in banks' efforts to build market share, improve customer retention and cross-sell. By utilizing search engine-based marketing, innovative banks can drive qualified traffic to their Web sites.

Q: How do search engines fit into banks' online strategies?

Sapna Satagopan, Jupiter Research: In banking specifically, search engines are one of the top tools that consumers use to research for products such as mortgages, loans and credit cards. Six of 10 online mortgage applicants turn to search, making search marketing a crucial visibility zone for banks' products and services. If you look at Yahoo!, for example, there were about 800,000 searches for the keywords "home equity loan" in just February 2006. And this information-seeking traffic is only expected to grow in the next few years with increased usage of the Internet and, specifically, search to help research and purchase decisions. Search engines are offering paid search programs to help banks target consumers, primarily based on keywords.

Lance Jones, Keynote Systems: Banks improve perceptions of their brand when prospective customers have a positive experience exploring their Web sites. The average bank increases its positive brand perceptions by 35 percent once a prospective customer test-drives its site. These increased brand perceptions and a positive online experience increase the likelihood a prospective customer will open an account. ... Search engines are the primary gateway for online consumers to come to explore a commercial Web site. Ensuring prominent ranking in the search results listing, not just the sponsored results listing, is certainly important in driving traffic to your site from a search engine.

Eric Dudley, WebsiteBiz: Sophisticated marketers within financial institutions now view the Internet channel as a viable way to acquire new incremental accounts that are profitable and, in many cases, exceed the investment return of more-traditional channels. Utilizing best practices, banks can optimize the relationship of a keyword click cost to the profitable acquisition of a new account, whether it is a credit card, mortgage or checking account.

Rob Crigler, Avenue A/Razorfish: Organic search can play a number of roles, ranging from customer acquisition to customer satisfaction and retention. On the lead-generation front, organic search can play a significant key role if the institution is willing to invest in content and tools to attract qualified traffic. Examples include financial calculators as well as retirement and college savings planners. This is especially important as users will typically devote substantial time doing research before becoming a customer. And, as customers' needs grow over time, they will again rely upon search to find the services that they are seeking.

Q: Are banks ready to capitalize on advanced search techniques, such as video search, mobility and personalization?

Satagopan, Jupiter Research: Search engines currently are exploring and testing different formats to help advertisers expand their search campaigns. Efforts such as mobile search are effective for the more-local advertisers (especially mobile text messaging), and personalization provided by search engines is currently aimed at results organization and results relevancy. These efforts are working on two areas: improvement of results and increasing the methods of ad delivery.

Jones, Keynote Systems: Banks should first focus on delivering the best online experience possible using current technology and functionality. Many bank Web sites provide demos of their online banking services, but the experience for consumers can be eroded if Flash videos, for example, cause unreasonable load times. Cutting-edge features also must be reliable.

Dudley, WebsiteBiz: Banks are beginning to test these new tactics and invest further when their business acquisition objectives can be realized; however, banks are demanding measurable results and bottomline impact for their investment in these new types of media.

Crigler, Avenue A/Razorfish: Any company with video assets could benefit from video search, which is, as of now, a largely underutilized resource. Whether video is educational or promotional, it is another way to reach your customers when they are most receptive with key information in a format that is easily digestible. For example, video testimonials seem to be particularly useful in making a connection with potential clients in a unique and direct way.

Q: How can banks measure the performance of online initiatives?

Satagopan, Jupiter Research: Banks should effectively tie their keywords to a specific goal (e.g., tying the keywords "mortgage loan" to an ultimate goal of a loan application). Using this as the base of the campaign, banks must evaluate the cost per click for the keywords and measure it against the total search-sourced conversions on their Web site to arrive at an effective ROI. Banks must focus on sourcing the maximum traffic by using keyword and creative tactics such as ad copy and landing page design that will drive this conversion. Banks also should concentrate on the integration of search marketing with offline and other types of online advertising.

Jones, Keynote Systems: An effective research program should involve actually capturing the attitudes and behavior of prospective customers as they interact with the bank's Web site -- and should include comparisons with industry-leading competitors.

Dudley, WebsiteBiz: It certainly depends on the marketing objectives and type of campaign. For example, performance of a search marketing acquisition-oriented campaign typically includes a cost-per-account or cost-per-lead metric. Some marketers that are just launching their search marketing initiatives may use a cost-per-visitor metric in conjunction with a click through rate. At the end of the day, the value of a visitor is only as good as the number of visitors that accept an offer, apply for an account and are approved.

Crigler, Avenue A/Razorfish: Typically, one of the key performance indicators would be lead generation where you are monitoring the quantity and quality of customers successfully completing your call to action. To ensure that your content resonates with your target audience, typical Web site KPIs -- such as unique visits, repeat visitors and organic keyword referrals -- provide the most-effective methods for monitoring success.

Q: How big a problem are rising keyword prices and click fraud?

Satagopan, Jupiter Research: The top concern for most marketers is the rising cost of keyword prices and the competition for those keywords. This high keyword cost raises the campaign budget simply to sustain the current keyword set. As the cost and competition rises, banks should look to diversify their portfolio of keywords to extend the maximum reach and neutralize costs across the keyword range.

Banks must invest in both Web analytics and bid management tools to measure and monitor their search campaigns. Measurement is especially important for marketers concerned with click fraud. While search engines themselves are working to address this problem, banks must establish a procedure to evaluate clicks using tools and passing them through tests that will differentiate the ineffective clicks from the fraudulent ones.

Dudley, WebsiteBiz: Keyword prices will continue to rise until the point that marketers determine the cost outweighs the return. Some marketers may spend irrationally on search when they don't have conversion tracking in place and don't understand bottomline results. As marketers become more sophisticated and employ best practices, competitive techniques will begin to level the playing field. Returns and profitability will drive business decisions.

Click fraud, although difficult to combat, can now be monitored and tracked with the right technology platform in place. When click fraud is confirmed and presented to search engines, credits are applied by the respective search engine in which the offense occurred.

Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio

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