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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jul 2 , 2021

Leveraging paid search for banks and other financial institutions helps you target the right audience, grow your client base, and boost ROI.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Best practices for paid search campaigns in these industries
  • Why keyword choice has a major influence on your ROI
  • How strong landing pages help to win conversions
  • Particular keyword considerations for banks and credit unions

For most people, money is a major focus — and, often, a huge source of stress. This is just one of the many things living through a pandemic has thrown into sharp relief.

Many people have learned the hard way just how unprepared they were for even small financial emergencies, let alone the kind of repeated fiscal blows and prolonged economic devastation that followed.

As things reopen and life returns to varying degrees of normalcy across the globe, many are making their finances more of a priority and seeking financial services that can help. 

While finances have always been important, what’s changed is how we manage our money and how the financial institutions we trust with it operate. 

Why marketing matters for banks and credit unions

Marsh and McLennan Agency reports on an Accenture survey that found 31% of banking customers would consider banking with an online platform like Facebook, Amazon, or Google if they offered the same type of services as their current bank. 

There are ever-growing numbers of mobile-only branches popping up, along with financial technology (fintech) startups like Robinhood and Acorns offering apps that support investing and other innovative financial services. Clearly, there’s plenty of competition in the banking space. 

For seasoned financial professionals, this isn’t exactly news. But it does highlight the fact that customers looking for financial services have widely differing expectations. There’s also a growing trend when it comes to what younger generations expect from their bank. It’s not just about customer service and rates, it’s also about ease of use and value alignment.

Competition for financial services customers has moved to a new playing field. Most people now seek financial services by searching online, leaving banks and credit unions no choice but to follow.

How paid search can benefit banks and credit unions

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the fast-growing approach to reaching potential new customers online via various search engines like Google and Bing — which you shouldn’t ignore. Microsoft Advertising offers more than you may think. Banks and credit unions can use paid search to target people searching for financial services.

The bottom line for banks and credit unions in digital marketing is the same as other business aspects: To get maximum ROI, grow your customer reach, and beat the competition. While there are more than half a dozen types of banking institutions, we’re focusing on “consumer banking” — mainly retail and commercial banks and credit unions. (Though many of these tips will also apply to other financial services.) 

hawksem blog: paid search for banks

As you increasingly zero in on the search terms you want, the bidding costs may well increase. (Image via Unsplash)

PPC and SEO: different but complementary

Search engine optimization (SEO) and SEM are vital to a well-rounded digital marketing strategy. SEO helps to build your site’s authority and visibility in organic search results. Paid search helps attract people to your site by targeting your personas. 

For pay-per-click (PPC) or paid search, marketers bid on keywords or terms so their ads appear in the paid listings at the top of the endless search results. Whenever a potential customer enters a keyword that triggers your ad and takes the desired action (e.g. clicking, viewing, converting, depending on ad type), you pay a fee.

Paid search ads run immediately, providing nearly instant results. By contrast, SEO is a slower, more long-term strategy. Rather than reaching out for leads, the aim is to draw them in while illustrating that your institution is trustworthy and credible. Plus, SEO can lower your per-visitor cost in the long run.

Pro tip: Make sure to optimize for user experience on your site. Google’s page experience metrics are currently rolling out and will take effect completely by August 2021.

Know the cost and benefit of your keywords

Different keyword search terms vary greatly in cost. This makes it crucial to find the most effective terms for your organization, products, services, and other features. 

As you increasingly zero in on the search terms you want, the bidding costs may well increase. For example, bidding gets more expensive and competitive for specific products and services. If you’re paying when searchers click on your ads, then aim to convert the largest possible percentage of those clicks.

Prioritize creating proper landing pages

The selection and drafting of content for your landing pages should rank at least as high as the quality of your ad. The ads bring in potential new customers. The landing page must sell your products and services to them. Therefore, having an ad that clicks through to your homepage, or to your “New Accounts” page, is far less effective. 

You should have different, tailored landing pages for different ads, ad groups, and products. Ad campaigns are more effective when you create dedicated landing pages.

The more aligned the landing page is with the user’s keyword, the more likely they are to convert. If a user clicks an ad triggered by searching “small business account features” then lands on your homepage which doesn’t mention the keyword, they’ll likely bounce. This costs you their business and the cost of their click.     

The goal of the landing page is to draw visitors into a “sales funnel.” The funnel generally moves from greeting, to providing information, to soliciting questions, to investigating your products, to taking action. An action could be providing an email address, buying a product, or participating in a live chat.  

Designing and writing copy for landing pages is its own skill. And since paid ads leave little room for photos or videos, your landing page copywriting must make every word count.

hawksem: paid search for banking blog

The ads bring in potential new customers, but the landing page must sell your products and services to them. (Image via Rawpixel)

Targeting your audience through paid search

Choosing the right keywords, ad copy, and landing page content all hinge on understanding your customer personas. It’s important that everything is properly aligned. 

However, if you don’t know and understand your audience, it might not matter. Everything should be aligned with them as well. Let’s discuss the things you need to know about your audience and why.   

Who are they?

Knowing your target audience’s demographics helps to tailor the keywords, ad copy, landing page, and offer to their specific needs. For example, when advertising mortgage services to an audience of mostly young couples and parents, you might include keywords like “first home” or “building a life together” or “bigger home for a growing family” in your ad or landing page copy.

Is your audience mostly wealthy executives looking to invest? You’re better off using financial phrases like “great investment,” “house flipping,” and “great ROI” instead.

Where are they?

Location-based keywords are hugely beneficial! Even financial institutions with nationwide branches or without any physical branches at all can benefit from local searches. Almost half of all searches are local, and Google favors local results.  

What products and services do they seek?

To advertise successfully, you need to know what your audience wants. Some people want to use an app to access their finances. For others, financial education features will be the priority. Knowing this allows you to use feature-specific keywords.  

Which terms do they use for those products and services?

To target the right keywords, you need to know how their search will be phrased. Look into your target demographic and speak with people who fall into those categories to gain insight into the specific language they employ when discussing finances. 

Are they parents who say they want information on creating a family or household budget? What about single executives who talk about features for understanding proper asset allocation?  

They’re referencing the same features: financial planning and investment education. They both want help ensuring that their money goes toward the right things. However, how they say it is wildly different. Wording matters. To use the proper SEM keywords, you need to know how they’ll phrase their search.       

What do they value about what you offer? 

Once again, each demographic can want the same things for completely different reasons. To create the most successful ads, you need to know what people want out of them. 

When someone searches for financial services, it’s not to help banks and credit unions grow or for the pleasure of having money they won’t spend for years, right? Of course not. They do it to get something deeper.

Knowing their end goal and motivations helps you understand what they truly want from you. Underneath the financial language and economic utility, at the core of everything else, there’s a driving emotion. This is what they connect with most and it’s what you need to deliver to satisfy them. 

This emotion-based method helps attract the right audience and address their real concerns. This makes them more likely to convert, improving the best ROI.

Putting it all together in an ad campaign

Let’s go over an example of ads for investment services. First you need to know who you’re targeting. Let’s say they’re 30-something, middle-class parents in the Denver suburbs. Now you can figure out the rest using statistics and talking to members of this group.

They probably want hands-off, professionally managed investment features. They don’t have time to learn about diversification and trades. They’re late for a PTA meeting and it’s their turn to drive the carpool. They likely value financial stability and security and want to know they can pay their bills, care for their families, and still save for college and retirement. Peace of mind is what they really want — not some portfolio, but what the portfolio gets them.

They might not type “I’m afraid I’ll never be able to retire” or “Am I a bad parent if I can’t afford to send my kids to college?” into Google, but these fears might be motivating the search. 

Instead, they might ask “How much does a couple need for retirement?” or “Cost of a college education?” Their search might contain more emotional, value-oriented, goal-specific, or family-focused language. Again, ask people in your target demographics to learn specific wording.

Have more questions about digital marketing for banks and credit unions? Let’s chat.

Make sure your campaign elements are optimized

On your landing page, talk about how your features can help them create a budget, build savings, and have enough left to invest. Highlight the things they care about. Assure them they can provide the best future for their family with your help.  

This all impacts the effectiveness of your ad campaigns. Financial marketers with the expertise to create highly effective Google Ads may be willing to pay from $5 to $20 per click. That means you have to prioritize attracting specific in-market searchers over general ones (“banks,” “credit unions,” “financial services,” etc.). 

Choosing keywords to attract and convert the right people is the road to achieving optimal paid search ROI. Here are a few more considerations:

  • Keep PPC ads local by adding location terms (“Denver’s choice for car loans”).
  • Even if you have branches in other cities, ads can be local if you create a landing page for each one.
  • Don’t overlook negative keywords, terms for which the search engine does not rank your ad (“banking trends”), to funnel out unqualified leads. 

Pro tip: Does your bank have good reviews? Leverage them on your website, landing pages, and elsewhere to gain brand trust

paid search for banking - hawksem blog

The banks and credit unions who come out on top are those that understand paid search marketing is worth the investment of time and money. (Image via Rawpixel)

Branded and non-branded banking keywords

A bank or credit union may believe that it’s essential to bid on keywords like their brand name, slogan, or trademarked products. What if your competitors purchase ads using those terms? Their ads may appear on top of search results whenever someone searches for them. 

The sky-high prices for search terms associated with certain financial institutions suggest these companies purposefully inflate bids to try to hinder competitors. You can leverage keyword planning tools like SEMrush to determine which relevant keywords have high volume and low competition. You can also look at results of comparative (A/B) ads, ad groups, and ad campaigns to find answers.

Plus, consider where your money and efforts are best spent. Ads targeted to people already searching for you specifically might be a waste of money. If they were already planning to visit your site, they aren’t a lead you have to pay for.

Pro tip: So much banking takes place via mobile. Because of this, you want to make sure that your landing pages, forms, and everything else connected to your digital marketing program renders well on mobile.

See how your banking competition stacks up

Because of online marketing and growing competition, the banks and credit unions who come out on top are those that understand paid search marketing is worth the investment of time and money. 

In 2019, Digital Banking Reports found that only half of institutions surveyed were already using paid search marketing, while almost 40% said they intended to adopt it that year. 

See what digital marketing strategies competitors are leveraging and how. You don’t want to simply copy what another company is doing, but you do want to stay competitive and take advantage of all the tools at your disposal.

The takeaway

When it comes to attracting customers, highlighting what makes your brand stand out is paramount to paid search for banks and credit unions. Through marketing, you can show off your strengths and unique offerings while hyper-focusing on your target audience.

By keeping the above advice about paid search for banks in mind, you can begin to build a marketing strategy that’ll be set up to expand, evolve, and increase your ROI.

This post has been updated and was originally published in June 2020.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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