SEO for Financial Services #4: Overcoming Technical Issues to Boost Your Website

How are technical issues holding you back and what can you do to fix them?

Will Nye

Financial services websites tend to be smaller than those in other sectors.

This means that potential issues, such as crawl budget, are less of a concern. However, it doesn’t mean that technical SEO is less important.

Given the stiff levels of competition, any weaknesses could result in lower rankings. A bad technical setup can actively hold you back and prevent your site from realising its true potential. On the other hand, a good technical setup will put you in a position to be competitive, provided your on-page content and link profile are up to snuff.

What technical SEO factors matter in 2022?

Increasingly, modern technical SEO is presented as a series of activities that are undertaken to improve user experience, and it’s certainly true that UX factors, including page speed, mobile-friendliness, and security, have become increasingly important over time.

However, it’s still very possible for technical mistakes affecting search engines but not users to have a dramatic effect on a brand’s bottom line. In fact, when you consider the expansion of structured data types, you could argue we’re now providing more search engine specific information than ever.

As always, what’s important is providing a good experience to both users and search engines.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, we would recommend looking at crawlability and indexability to check how your website is performing.

In terms of crawlability, you need to ask if key pages can be crawled and if they are well linked to and easily accessible. To answer these questions, check your internal linking, XML sitemaps, pagination, redirects and crawl errors.

To get a sense of your website’s indexability, you need to know if key pages can be indexed and whether lower quality pages are blocked. We recommend checking meta robots tags, robots.txt rules and making sure the main pages have the correct canonical tags.

Common technical SEO issues for financial services websites

The types of technical issues affecting a site usually depend heavily on its tech stack (i.e. server type, CMS, CDN), as well as the way in which the website is configured.

That said, most financial services brands we have worked with have been Windows IIS applications using the .NET framework, with the most popular CMS’ including Sitecore, Umbraco and Kentico.

Some of the most common issues we see with this type of site include:

URL capitalisation

IIS is case insensitive, meaning it will treat both capitalised and non-capitalised URLs as the same. e.g.

This can create a potential duplicate content issue, as Google is case sensitive and will treat either variant as a unique URL.

To tackle this issue, try manipulating a few URLs on your site to see if the capitalised version either 301 redirects to the lowercase version or has a canonical tag pointing at the lowercase version. If it doesn’t, talk to your devs about introducing a redirect rule to enforce lowercase URLs consistently. This is much better than relying on canonical tags, which can be easily ignored.

Note: check your internal linking to see if you already have a large volume of pages indexed/ranking using capitalised URLs. If you do, this change is essentially a migration and will need a bit of extra thought.

URL extensions

Out of the box, many IIS CMS’ have questionable URL handling, resulting in even more duplication.

Common scenarios to watch out for, include:

  1. Homepage duplication
    1. https://www.yoursite.com/
    2. https://www.yoursite.com/home
    3. http://www.yoursite.com/default
    4. http://www.yoursite.com/default.aspx
  2. File extensions
    1. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page
    2. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page.aspx
    3. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page.asp
    4. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page.html
    5. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page.ashx
  3. Host name
    1. https://www.yoursite.com/
    2. https://yoursite.com/
  4. Trailing slash
    1. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page
    2. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page/
  5. Space in URLs
    1. https://www.yoursite.com/your-page/
    2. https://www.yoursite.com/your%20page/

Again, you can solve this problem by manipulating a few URLs on your site to see if the same content is accessible at multiple variants. If it is, introduce the appropriate redirect rules and tidy up any internal linking to point to the canonical version.

Soft 404s

Whenever a 404 page is served, it should also return a 404 (Not Found) status code. Unfortunately, on many IIS sites, a 200 (OK) status code is returned.

This is because, technically, the 404 page template did exist (hence the 200 being returned). A similar thing often occurs with the server error page template, which is served when a 5xx status code is returned.

FS Guide 4_We're sorry imageFS Guide 4_2nd imagev2

Another variation to watch out for is a 302 redirect being served up before the 404 page.

In both instances, the web.config settings should be updated to ensure that every error page returns the correct status code and page template.

Core Web Vitals

Alongside these specific technical issues, making sure other general website factors are robust is essential for both user and search engine experience.

Although it has been a minor ranking factor since 2010, the introduction of the Page Experience update in June 2021 helped reinforce the importance of page speed in search.

Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics are an exciting development in this area because, unlike many prior metrics, they are specifically focused on real-world, core user experience needs.

Initial industry data indicates that the impact from this update has been minimal so far. This is unsurprising when you consider that only 14% of URLs currently pass all three metrics within a competitive data set.

Are Core Web Vitals good for Financial Services brands?

In truth, the ranking benefit of passing the CWV assessments will be heavily dictated by your competitive environment.

Given the competitiveness of financial services, it is not uncommon for sites to be closely matched in terms of content quality and authority. In these cases, factors like page speed can become important tiebreakers.

Then again, many finance companies are in the infancy of digital marketing maturity, meaning the bar is often lower than in other sectors.

Within stocks and shares isas, for example, out of 169 URLs ranking within the top 50, only 79 return field data. Of those 79, only 19 URLs have scores that would be categorised as ‘good’ for all three metrics (a paltry 24%).

This data doesn’t mean you should ignore CWV entirely, though. Page speed enhancements have excellent conversion rate benefits, and competitors may improve over time. Instead, you should think carefully about prioritisation and use your SEO strategy to decide what to focus on.

Overcoming dev constraints

At large, established financial services brands, technical debt can be a big challenge.

Key website components and journeys are often reliant on antiquated legacy platforms, and dev resource for fixes and upgrades is always in short supply.

To maximise the chances of securing resource, it’s absolutely key that requests are clearly prioritised, development and SEO workflows are integrated, and SEO departments are willing to provide a business case detailing the likely revenue impact of the change.

Taking this approach, you’ll be able to weed out many of the ‘best practice’ requests that are not built upon solid rationale and become laser-focused on the most meaningful activities for your brand.

Conclusion

As mentioned, this is the last guide in our series on SEO advice for Financial Services brands and websites.

Often overlooked, SEO is a great tool for boosting the impact of organic traffic growth. While this is important for all brands, it is a particularly pertinent issue for financial service brands that operate in such a competitive market.

By combining a data-driven SEO strategy with on-page and off-page efforts, excellent results can be achieved in terms of traffic and growth. However, these improvements can be dampened by a technically unsound website.

Fixing fundamental technical SEO issues is then the key to maximising your website’s performance organically.

For more information on these other aspects of SEO, take a look at our guides on SEO strategy, on-page optimisation and off-page link building.

If you’d like to talk to Builtvisible about any aspect of its work for financial services companies in the UK and internationally, get in touch via our contact form, and we’ll get back to you for an exploratory discussion.

Will Nye

Will is our Technical Director and leads one of the most revered organic search consulting teams.

With 10 years agency experience to his name, his passion lies in technical SEO. He's the driving force behind our dedicated team of consultants in this area, constantly looking out and ahead for our clients.

He believes that successful client-agency SEO relationships are only possible when technical excellence is paired with effective consulting, and strives tirelessly to foster an environment in which equal value in placed on mastering both disciplines.

When not at work, you can find Will hiking in the great outdoors, pottering in the garden, reading and watching the occasional game of rugby.


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