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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jun 25 , 2020

How banking institutions can leverage paid search marketing to target the right audience, grow their client base, and boost ROI

Here, you’ll find:

  • Best practices when it comes to paid search for banks
  • Why keyword choice exerts a major influence on your ROI
  • How your paid ads interact with landing-page content to win conversions
  • Some particular keyword considerations for banks

Money is often at the forefront of many people’s minds. This is especially true during times of economic uncertainty. But while finances have always been important to people, what’s changed is how we manage our money and how the banks we trust with that money operate. 

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. 

Add that to financial technology (fintech) startups like Robinhood and Acorns offering apps that support investing and other innovative financial services, and there’s plenty of competition in this banking space. 

For seasoned bankers, this isn’t exactly news. But it does highlight that customers for banking 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 in seeking customers for banking (and all financial services) has moved to a new playing field, since most potential customers for services will start with an online search. Going where the customers are means going online.

hawksem blog: paid search for banks

By conducting paid search for banks, you can target your audience when they’re searching for services you offer. (Image via Unsplash)

How paid search can benefit banks

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the fast-growing approach to reaching potential new customers online via various search engines like Google. By conducting paid search for banks, you can target your audience when they’re searching for services you offer.

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

PPC and SEO: different but complementary

Search engine optimization (SEO) and SEM are table stakes to a well-rounded digital marketing program. SEO helps build your site as an authority and gets you more 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 are more likely to appear at the top of the endless list of search results — in the paid listings that top the results list. If a potential customer who has entered a keyword or keywords into a search engine takes some action on your paid link (such as clicking through to your site), you pay a fee.

Paid search engine ads run immediately, getting you results without delay. By contrast, SEO is a long-term strategy. Rather than being focused on reaching out for leads, the aim is to create a website magnet to draw them in while helping illustrate that your banking brand is trustworthy and credible. Plus, SEO can lower your per-visitor cost in the long run.

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)

Keywords and landing pages

Different keyword search terms vary greatly in their cost. This makes it crucial to discover (through expertise or hard-won experience) the most effective keywords for your organization, services and products, 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 more competitive for specific products and services. If you’re paying when searchers click on your ads, then aim to translate the largest possible percentage of those clicks into new accounts.

This means that the selection and drafting of content for a landing page 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 home page, or to your “New Accounts” page, may not be most effective. 

  • You can have different landing pages for different ads, ad groups, and products. Ad campaigns are more effective when you create a dedicated landing page for each ad or group of ads you run.
  • 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 — such as providing an email address, buying a product, or participating in a live chat.  
  • Designing and writing copy for landing pages (for optimal interaction with ads) is a skill in itself. And since paid ads little room for photos or videos, proper copywriting makes every word count.

Targeting your audience through paid search

Choosing the right keywords comes down to understanding your customers: 

  • Who are they? 
  • Where are they?
  • What products and services do they seek?
  • Which terms they use for those products and services?
  • What do they value about what you offer? 

In marketing lending, for example, you target the right geographical area, the right age demographic, and, above all, the right household income demographic. 

These and other parameters can be specified when you purchase your ad. Financial marketers who know how to make the Google Ads system work for them may be willing to pay from $5 to $20 per click. That means you have to prioritize attracting not general searchers (“banks,” “financial services”) but searchers interested in, say, an auto loan in the near future. 

Choosing keywords to attract the right person is the high road to achieving your target ROI for paid search. Here are a few more considerations:

  • Keep PPC ads local by adding locations 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? See how you can leverage these on your website, landing pages, and elsewhere to gain brand trust. 

Branded and non-branded banking keywords

A bank may believe that, in bidding for keywords, it’s essential to include their own name, advertising slogan, and perhaps their trademarked products. What if your bank’s competitor is willing to purchase ads using those terms? That means their ads may be the one that appears on top of search results whenever someone searches for those key terms? 

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 to results of comparative (A/B) ads, ad groups, and ad campaigns to find answers.

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. 

paid search for banking - hawksem blog

For the banking brands that you compete with, see what digital marketing strategies they’ve leveraging and how. (Image via Rawpixel)

See how your competition stacks up

Because of online marketing and growing competition, the banks 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. 

That would be an increase of almost 80%. But experience tells us many of those who “intend” to get up to speed will postpone doing it. It would appear that banks and other financial institutions are still deciding whether or not they’ll benefit sufficiently from adopting these strategies. 

You can’t beat the competition when you don’t know what you’re doing. For the banking brands that you compete with, see what digital marketing strategies they’ve 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 particular brand stand out is paramount to paid search for banks. Through marketing, you can show off your strengths and unique offerings while hyper-focusing on your target audience.

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

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

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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