SEO for Financial Services: Developing a Winning Strategy

A guide to SEO Strategy for financial services

Financial services companies operate in highly competitive markets. Cost per customer acquisition is high, and customer loyalty in younger, digitally-savvy audiences is on a knife-edge. Marketing teams have never been under so much pressure to deliver more with so little – yet still they’re tasked with relentless growth.

The answer, or at least a large part of the solution, is to add breadth to the diversity of your traffic sources. Marketing teams have an opportunity to exploit the power of organic traffic growth from ‘free’ channels, including search engines, through technical SEO, content marketing and digital PR.

Why do financial services brands need to grow organic traffic?

Many organisations still haven’t reached full maturity in their organic marketing capacity. So, the courageous, future-facing brands who are willing to double-down in this area will be at an advantage and reap the rewards for years to come. Providers who can deliver a compelling and reliable digital model, while retaining traditional values around trust and service, will be best placed for the competitive battleground ahead.

To help you notice and understand these organic opportunities, we’ve put together a series of four guides covering the main aspects of SEO for Financial Services.

There are three core pillars of SEO: On-page, Off-page and Technical. These areas are inextricably interlinked and highlight the fact that SEO, as a channel, is made up of multiple specialist disciplines. To make the most of these pillars though, you will need a winning SEO strategy, backed up by data, to inform your actions. This first guide will focus on the steps required to create that, including understanding your market, conducting keyword research and making the most of SERP features.

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Understanding your market

The first step in establishing a winning SEO strategy is to gain a thorough understanding of consumer search behaviour.

Financial services is a broad vertical and although there are commonalities, every sub-sector will have its own nuances. For SEO specifically, the typical way to understand your market and these nuances is through a keyword research project.

Before diving in, we’d always recommend an initial discussion with your product and sales teams. The insights gained from talking to product experts can be hugely beneficial when you are trying to determine relevancy during the keyword research process and how to best categorise queries into topical clusters – a process that isn’t always straightforward!

If you are a larger FS brand, you may have an extensive portfolio of products, not all of which will be covered on the website itself. In this scenario, relying solely on the existing pages to determine relevancy can result in valuable opportunities being discarded. Again, discussions with product experts will help highlight these easily-missed opportunities.

Product and sales teams will also have insights on the types of consumers that typically buy a product (which will commonly be distilled into buyer personas), as well as when consumers buy. This is extremely important within financial services, where buying behaviour is frequently dictated by both seasonality and life stage. A good example of this is students and current accounts.

Before going to university, many prospective students will search to see which banks offer an interest-free overdraft to specifically for student and open an account.

When an account is opened, the consumer will often stick around long after they have graduated, and the overdraft has been taken away. In fact, according to research from Finder, 56% of Brits stick with a current account for more than five years – something that’s great for credit score.

So, for those working in retail banking with a relevant product, it would clearly be beneficial to spend a fair bit of time researching search behaviour for this life stage, and carefully consider seasonality, when planning editorial and content distribution strategies.

This type of research is key to understanding your market and building an effective SEO strategy.

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Seasonality for student accounts peaks in August and September before the new term begins.

Performing keyword research for financial services

Once a thorough understanding of the target audience and product has been developed, the keyword research phase can begin.

There are detailing the different approaches you can take when going through this process. At a high level they can be clustered into two distinct groupings:

  1. Finding related queries using ‘seed keywords’ (your newfound product knowledge will help here!)
  2. Finding related queries using brand or competitor ranking data

As part of this process, we’d also strongly recommend speaking to your paid search team and leveraging any data they can provide. Armed with this information, you essentially have a list of transactional keywords that convert well on search for your brand, painstakingly refined over years of testing. Not using this would be criminal.

Once you have completed the initial phases of this process, you can use the data to understand key consumer behaviours and start producing relevant content.

Understanding demand

As you work your way through your product offering and keyword research, it will become apparent which queries drive the lion’s share of the search demand. You will also start to notice commonalities in the ways users structure their queries.

Many sectors within the financial services vertical could be described as ‘head-term heavy’, meaning that a large proportion of the demand is clustered around a small number of keywords.

To illustrate this point, take a look at the transactional search demand within stocks and shares isas:

In this dataset, the query ‘stocks and shares isa’ has a massive 78% of the total search volume. In cases like this, the keywords give brands a clear indication of demand and further their understanding of the market and the type of content they should focus on.

Understanding query structure

To understand what is meant by query structure, we can turn to the different search paths within business insurance. Within this sub-sector, most potential customers search in one of two ways:

  1. By cover type: a search performed for the specific type of policy required.
  2. By trade: a search performed for a specific job type.

In reality, the majority of customers will end up being sold a similar type of policy – a mixture of liability and indemnity insurance, depending on the individual circumstances. But because of the different search paths, it is necessary to build out content in both areas to cater to the search demand fully.

This is exactly what Hiscox has done, with separate product pages offered for individual trades and cover types. Ultimately, understanding query structure will highlight opportunities and allow you to create relevant content that matches search demand.

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Identifying modifiers that alter search intent

In addition to query structure, it’s also important to consider how specific modifiers alter search intent. This can be established by analysing the types of content being returned from a search (i.e. the format and type of site).

As an example, according to data from SEMrush, credit card related queries that contain the word ‘best’ drive an enormous 216k monthly searches in the UK. However, the entire first page of search results is dominated by price comparison sites.

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Credit card companies should then be tempted to remove any queries containing this modifier because the customer intent is to browse a range of options from multiple providers rather than make a firm decision. Cleverly, NatWest has managed to muscle in on the action because it has a broad enough offering to do so – by understanding search intent, and thanks to their wide range of products, they have been able to create relevant content that drives traffic.

That said, it is doubtful that this page will ever make it into the top three search results.

Refining and categorising your research

Once you’ve compiled your keyword list, it’s well worth taking the time to prune it down further, making sure the queries are as relevant as possible to your target audience and products.

Failure to do this will give an unrealistic view of the opportunity available to your brand. This can impact upon the quality of forecasting, performance tracking, content production and optimisation efforts.

To keep your research relevant, categorise the queries in a logical way that makes sense for your business. This could be by product, topic, stage in the purchase funnel or a combination of all three.

Sizing up the opportunity

As helpful as a comprehensive keyword research project is, to get a full understanding of your marketplace, we would encourage you to go a step further and undertake an opportunity sizing project.

Keyword research is inherently binary; It will tell you how many people searched for a commercially relevant term, but what it won’t do is tell you how much traffic you would receive if you ranked in position one or how this would translate into conversions for your business.

It also provides no real context on the level of competition, who the competition are (your traditional competitors may not necessarily be organic search competitors!), or the SERP features that are present (which can impact CTRs by pushing down the organic results).

An opportunity sizing project will provide you with an optimal revenue-focused strategy for organic growth that is aligned with your wider business goals. It will determine what is achievable in the short, medium and long term, so you can prioritise accordingly and maximise your organic ROI.

Going through this process, the key questions to ask include:

If you’re able to answer these, you have everything you need to prioritise your activities effectively and develop a killer SEO strategy.

Using data to drive decision making

For many financial services companies, SEO is still in its early stages as a traffic growth channel.

Knowledge levels amongst many senior stakeholders is low, making education an important consideration. This lack of understanding also creates challenges as the timelines required to show a return may not align with their expectations.

The beauty of undertaking an opportunity sizing project is that it will provide you with sufficient data to head off any unrealistic expectations and keep everyone aligned, even those who are not SEO experts.

We have experienced this first hand, working with a travel insurance company whose CEO was obsessed with ranking for the trophy term ‘travel insurance’, despite this being largely irrelevant to their business (they specialised in policies for over 65s). Focusing their limited spend in this area would have yielded a terrible ROI and was in neither party’s best interest.

Using opportunity sizing data, we were able to quantify that the spend required to rank in the top three for this term was somewhere in the region of £1,000,000, and it would take approximately three years. Thankfully, these numbers were enough to shift their perspective, allowing us to pursue more worthwhile prospects that were mutually beneficial.

Using search data to steer your content strategy

Even with helpful tools like keyword research and opportunity sizing, developing an SEO strategy and applying it to your content production and optimisation activities can be a tricky business. Resources are finite, and the need to both produce and continuously improve content can be overwhelming.

As a result of these pressures, brands far too often jump straight into production, which usually results in content being created that cannibalises on existing pieces or simply doesn’t align with what users actually want.

To avoid this, you can utilise data you have gathered on search demand and intent, as well as your site search data, create clusters of keywords around different topics and then map these to your existing content.

By going through this process, you will easily be able to establish both content gaps and optimisation opportunities and can then prioritise accordingly.

Creating a site architecture for search success

Once you’ve used this data to inform your content strategy and assembled your keyword mapping, it’s time to plot the information architecture on your site.

By thinking carefully about the structure of your website, you can ensure that all of the pages on your site are best placed to rank well in organic search.

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Example of a well organised site structure for a larger site.

Site architecture for SEO is an extensive topic, but once it’s mastered, transformative changes can be made to the traffic performance and UX of a site. You can read more about the subject of site architecture for SEO here or read how those principles are applied to recruitment websites here.

As a part of this process, you will undoubtedly identify pieces of content that can either be consolidated or removed entirely. In our experience, organisation and simplification are often two sides of the same coin – the understanding gained from the former invariably leads to the latter.

SERP features for financial services companies

The final element of SEO you should consider when building out your content strategy is SERP features.

Google’s search results have evolved far beyond the classic “10 blue links” results and today’s ecosystem provides a rich array of options for the savvy technical SEO to discover, implement and exploit. Here’s a selection of the most accessible, easy-to-implement and commonly occurring features in today’s search results that could drive additional traffic:

Featured snippets

Featured snippets are boxes that appear at the top of organic search results (referred to as “position 0”). The format of regular listings is reversed, showing a descriptive snippet from the ranking web page, then the source URL for that result immediately below.

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You can easily achieve a featured snippet provided that your page ranks somewhere on the first page of search results. If your page succinctly answers the question, getting the result is a matter of using the correct markup on the page. Take a look at our blog to find out more about achieving these answer boxes in Google Search.

When an answer box appears in the search results, a dramatic drop in click-through traffic can be felt in the rest of the standard organic results. In contrast, the page with the answer box receives a significant traffic boost.

Given the potential benefit from the additional traffic (and the opportunity to take some of your competitor’s traffic), an answer box strategy is a must have in any on-going SEO work for financial services.

Question and answer snippets

A question and answer snippet is a Schema vocabulary intended to mark up any FAQ content on your pages. As you’ll see from the example below, savvy SEOs have found a way to grab extra screen real estate in highly competitive search results using these snippets:

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While there are some studies suggesting that this feature might actually reduce the clicks your page is receiving, we would argue that the right Q&A feature would improve the quality and relevancy of the traffic arriving at your page, and therefore, the conversion rate of your site. These features also push your competitors down in the search results!

Site links or ‘fraggles’

With a simple HTML navigational aid in your content, it’s possible to create sitelinks in your search results snippets. They’re also known as ‘jump-to’ links or ‘fraggles’.

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This feature helps your snippets stand out, and with some thought you can filter the clicks your listing receives and send that traffic to somewhere more appropriate on your webpage.

If you want to experiment with using site links, here’s the Builtvisible how-to guide. By adding a simple process in your content development cycle, it’s likely you’ll see lots of these little features starting to appear in your search results.

Review ratings

Review ratings have been available as rich snippet results for a very long time and are another great way to boost SERP CTR.

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The prevalence of review snippets has decreased over the past few years, following on from the introduction of restrictions to the types of schema that can trigger a review snippet. However, when available, they can be very effective in driving traffic.

One thing to call out is that this mark-up should be ‘per product’, not aggregated across the entire brand. Many financial services businesses use third-party reviews plugins that provide a singular rating and then try and apply this markup across their entire product portfolio. The outcome of this, is usually a rich snippets penalty which prevents any feature from being displayed until this issue is resolved.

If you feel your brand could benefit from using review snippets, you may need to overhaul your existing setup.

People Also Ask (PPA)

People Also Ask (PAA) boxes have become an increasingly prevalent SERP feature since their introduction in 2016. In fact, recent data from Mozcast suggests that PAA features on around 81% of the queries they monitor.

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Scraping SERPS for these questions can be useful for building out your own FAQ pages. We have used this tactic on several sites and found that FAQ sections become an invaluable resource for customers.

You can also use this information to inform your on-page SEO strategy by adjusting the targeting of pages via page titles and headings, or even the creation of new pages.

Finally, topics related to your target keywords can easily be found using PAA data which can help further build out the content of your site and give additional information to users.

Conclusive thoughts

Our next guide will over On-page SEO and will show you how to start implementing this strategy to begin generating quality traffic that converts. Or if you’d like to talk to us about any of this more directly, get in touch via our contact form and we’ll get back to you for an exploratory discussion.

Further reading

We recommend the following resources to continue your research: