Essential Guide to SEO and SERP Performance At Your Financial Institution

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(Last Updated On: July 24, 2020)

The web has a lot of pages. Like, a whole lot. At the beginning of 2020, there were over 1.74 Billion websites. The chances someone will make their way to yours randomly is unlikely. So targeting, promotion, and SEO are all essential.

We spent a lot of time discussing Search Engine Optimization, so you’re quite the expert. Now you’ve got your content firing on all cylinders; what do your visitors see? That’s the topic of this article: The Search Engine Result Page (SERP).

Understanding the parts, features, and behaviors of SERPs empowers you to take advantage to enhance financial institution growth. That’s for new and existing account holders. Ready to dive deep into searches? Great, here we go!

What is a “SERP”?

From your perspective, this is the most important page on the web. Wait, more than your own homepage? Yep. Because before anyone ever sees your page, they have to get there. And they do that in two ways: Typing your address or following a link on the search result page.

Thus, some first experiences with your financial institution are actually on the Search Engine Result Page. So what is it?

Easy answer: A SERP is any result page for any search you conduct. No matter the search engine. We’ll assume Google in this article, as they consist the majority of searches in the United States. Others have similar functionality.

Search Result Illustration

Usage of Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs)

When you perform a search (assuming you don’t hit “I’m Feeling Lucky”), you get a result page of some kind. We’ll call that “Page 1”. Everyone’s a big fan of page one. It’s easy to see why: Who goes on to see even the second page of results?

Not many. Google’s click-through rate (CTR) for page one was 71%. In fact, around 95% of all web search traffic happens on that first page, with 67% of the clicks going to the first five results. It pays to do all you can to appear high on relevant searches.

Be honest, when was the last time you scrolled to the bottom of a search page, or, even crazier, continued to page 2…or 3? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

As a marketer, your goal is to get on that lucrative first page, ideally, in that coveted first five results. And you’d do it for search terms that aren’t just your institution name, while also managing to avoid paid results. Plus, your results would have all the Google goodies.

Wait, what? We’ll get to that below, I promise.

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What to Expect

You’ve set yourself up for a worthy, yet worthwhile, challenge. Real estate on SERPs is at a premium, no matter the device (and mobile is rapidly becoming dominant). Relevant paid results (ads) take up a lot of that precious space (except for adblock users, still a minority).

As you read, expect to learn what is possible on an SERP, as well as strategies you can take to increase the chances of getting that coveted visibility. There’s no magic pill or code. Google’s algorithm is a trade secret and highly complex, but it rewards good practices.

SERPs are also far more than simple text lists. We will cover the most relevant “features” your prospects and members might see. And each takes different strategies to “earn”.

Before diving in, it’s important that you understand the fundamentals of SEO. Without that knowledge, it gets a lot harder to achieve these positions. Think of SEO as your Google instruction manual.

SEO Tiles

We’ve written and acted extensively on SEO efforts. This article brings that learning to you. Throughout, we’ll share guidance on which functionality to target and how you might apply each moving forward.

This article will help you with two things:

  1. Understand the range of SERP types
  2. Learn how to tailor your content to maximize the chance of “earning” these advanced displays

Today, a simple search can create definitely-not-simple SERPs. There’s a lot going on, depending on what you want to find or do. Let’s go through a few and how each may be of value to attracting and engaging your account holders.

Plus, by the end, you’ll better understand how designing to earn these SERP types can be a component in growing your financial institution.

SERP Types

From products to locations to common answers, there is a SERP for many requests. Here are some likely ones to see.

What’s Near Me?

How many times have you used this search qualifier? You don’t want to just know about dry cleaning; you want to know of dry cleaners near you. The “coffee near me” search is common and specific enough that it gets a special SERP. It’ll look a bit like this:

Coffee Near Me

These will be coffee shops near your current location (if shared, or by estimated location using your account info or IP address). Notice how much great information you get. I mean, it’s everything you wanted to know, right? Where, how good, what makes them different.

Plus, pictures! We all know what they say about pictures. And that’s in addition to a map, which I use all the time because being on one road can mean it’s really close or really far.

Below this engaging list (does anyone even bother scrolling?), you get basic search listings.

Coffee Site List Serp

Sure, it’s fine, but it’s boring. At best, you’ll get some, well, “Best of” lists and maybe some star ratings. The former comes from being featured on prominent sites (inbound links, my friends!). The latter cannot be forced. Google decides who gets their review stars.

Why care about this SERP?

I’d bet a common search query from your members is, “nearest CU branch/ATM to me”. If you have all this information current in your Yelp, Google Business, and Facebook pages, it will be more likely to appear. We’ve got way more on Local SEO that helps you prep this content.

In fact, we even dive deeper into this specific SERP below.

People Also Ask

At the bottom of almost every search is a “People also ask” section. It does exactly what you’d expect; shows questions other searchers ask. This is an advanced version of “related searches”.

People Also Ask SERP

Why care about this SERP?

Use the questions listed to better understand what your account holders want to learn, then check to see how you rank for those results.

Discover More Places

If the search implies looking for physical places (like our coffee shop example), you may also get some additional recommendations. Someone looking for a coffee shop may also want breakfast, or dessert, or just a place to chill on the wifi.

Sidenote: That last possibility is literally why Capital One Cafes exist. Of course, they’re all closed now due to coronavirus concerns. You might see shaded and semi-climate controlled outdoor versions of this concept in a socially-distanced future.

At the end of this section, you’ll usually get the old standby, “Searches related to”. It’s not advanced, pretty, or dynamic, but it’s effective in an, “I write better on the typewriter” kind of way.

Coffee Related Places SERP

Why care about this SERP?

Their suggested topics can connect people to your competition, especially if it’s helping them discover other banking institutions. Ask your social media and SEO people, but most likely, you’ll want account holders (and potential ones) to take action before getting down this far.

Shopping

If you took that sample search of “coffee near me” to just “coffee”, Google now assumes you want to make it yourself. I guess you’re just too worn down to even drive somewhere, so it’s time to load up the French press or Keurig (with reusable or biodegradable cups, please!).

Caffeinated (or decaf, like me) sidenote: San Francisco Bay makes some great coffee with biodegradable cups. Featured in the above link.

Ok, back to that search for coffee. Do it and you get instant shopping links. Literally, to products, right there in the search. Careful when you look for products; finding them on your doorstep the next day isn’t unusual.

Coffee Product List SERP

You may notice the “Sponsored” tag above this section. These results are paid advertising in a more unique manner. Not just a search ad, but a detailed product listing. Way more compelling to the typical visitor.

Why care about this SERP?

For your financial institution, it’s not that important. Unless you do merchandising!

SERP Features

Many times, the search isn’t suited to a place listing, product page, or map. How often do you look to answer a question, get it on the search result, and never even bother going to the link?

That’s not by accident. Here’s what a searcher will see if you happen to earn an individual listing:

SERP Text Result

Sure, it’s fine, but boring, and doesn’t stand out. What’s not included are the 10 or so other results that look just like it. This is where your content creation and SEO efforts align. Find ways to fine-tune your content to earn prime real estate on SERPs.

Features are some of the best spots on a search result. Let’s be honest, between the result above and this one, which would you give more credence (and be more likely to visit)?

SERP In-Page Snippets

Exactly.

Why care about this SERP?

We search to get an answer to our question. We’re also really lazy. So we want the fastest answer to our question. What’s faster than right there? Your goal as a marketer is to create content that gets placed in that spot. Even if you earn #1 organic ranking, this is still better.

Ok, this section was a bit misleading. We made you think that Features was a single thing. It’s not. There are a range of SERP Features you can achieve, and some may be more relevant to your goals. Continue on to see the most common ones below.

Then, we’ll share some tips on boosting your chances of ranking for them. Sorry, these placements cannot be bought. While Google loves ad revenue, they value providing the best answer to the searcher’s question. They’ll happily also take your money.

The Variety of SERP Features

Browser Tabs and Thumbnails

In the dark days of the internet, search engines had two kinds of content on their SERPs: Organic and paid listings. It was simple. And to get anything of value, you had to visit the links. The search engine was just that, a machine to get you to your destination.

Today, it’s a fully-apportioned luxury vehicle. Once inside, you may not want to leave, no matter how appealing the desired stop!

That’s definitely Google’s goal.

Now, SERP Features add to this experience with on-page content that answers your question without visiting a single result! Some of this fanciness is automatic on their end, but a lot of it you can design to more likely earn.

Look for the “How to get this” sections as we review the most common SERP Features.

Paid Results

Paid results are just what they sound like: ads. These are all the sponsored pages that you see across the SERP (unless you’re using an Adblocker). They come in all forms, depending on what you’ve built and bid to display. Are they an important part of your SEO goals?

Maybe. If you’re doing paid social media marketing, it might make sense to connect these efforts.

How to get this

Build ads. Specify keywords, retargeting, or page visit activity. Pay search engine.

Rich Snippets

Typical search results are snippets of information. You get the page title, URL (site address), and meta description. That’s about it. Perhaps it will also share the last time you clicked that link (and have Search History active).

Fine, but not helpful to get right to the page (or answer) you want. That’s where rich snippets come in handy. A rich snippet gives a tailored “site map” as well as other relevant information. It’s great, though not automatic.

Here’s what Navy Federal has as their rich snippet:

Navy FCU SERP Rich Snippet

How to get this

Continue on for the not-short answer (sorry!). There are a lot of possibilities and all involve some effort on the part of your marketing team, content creators, and web developers. The results are worth it.

Structured Data Markup

Your web team must add structured data markup to help search engines know what content matters (and what you offer). For example, in our coffee shop example, some stores will provide customer ratings, popular products, and pricing in their rich snippet.

Woah, woah, woah. Back up a second…structured data markup? Yeah, I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. I know that’s a term you’ve probably never heard. Until we needed to build our own knowledge, we hadn’t, either. And it’s a rabbit hole.

Think of it as the map to all your important information. There’s even a standard across the internet for what can be included and how it gets formatted: Schema.org. Don’t worry, that site is incredibly hard to understand. It’s not you.

Matrix Code
There is no spoon, ahem, data.

Google provides a Structured Data Markup Helper to help tag content on your existing pages. This generates code you can add to your site. It’s a good place to start to understand what’s possible and if your existing content has enough information to display.

However, you’re not going to use that tool on every page of your website. You will need something that handles it more automatically, or at least assists as you build. That exists, too.

If you have a WordPress site, try the Schema Plugin. (They have a more limited free version to get started.) This lets you place the structured data markup into each page.

Then, when you want to know how it’s working, run it through Google’s Rich Results test.

Structured Data helps you tell search engines exactly what you consider important on each page. Then, they will share that with searchers. In this case, existing or potential account holders. And don’t you want to make their journey easy at all phases?

Listicles

Here’s a term you’ll hear SEO people talk about all day. And the common person sits and thinks, “Listicles? Are those like popsicles? I could go for one.” Sorry, they’re not food. But you do find plenty of “Best of” lists, which can include the 10 best popsicles…or something.

These “buffered lists” (their official term) are what you’re imagining: Condensed lists shown at the top of search results.

Nerd Wallet SERP Listicle

You’ll see them for:

  • ‘Best of’ lists
  • How-to’s or instructional content
  • Ranked items
  • Unranked items
  • Feature lists

What’s so great about getting a listicle displayed? Take a look back at that screenshot. If you were searching for “things to do before applying for a mortgage”, would it catch your attention? How likely would you be to visit that site?

Exactly. This presentation gives your site a huge leg up on other results.

How to get this

To have lists in your content show up as a listicle SERP, help Google recognize it. Like other features, there’s no guarantee, but here’s some best practices (presented in a list, because, why not?):

  • Keep list-based content short and to the point
  • Use a clear framework of code or formatting (eg. Header tags, numbers, bullet points, etc.)
  • Include target keywords in the heading for the list and within it

Google, and other search engines, can reformat your content if it appears to qualify for a listicle SERP, but why make it harder for them? Provide the most obvious and easy to display layout for your chances to increase.

Universal Results

TV and Amps with Records
Music, video, and other media…all in one!

Universal Results are also known as blended results. Think of when you search for a song name. You don’t just get a list of results. You may also see a lyrics column, a heading of music videos, and album song listings.

Multiple media types fit your search, so you get a selection of the most relevant. Otherwise, you’d have to jump between the content type tabs at top for Images, Video, Maps, etc. Which is too much work, right? Show it all right there.

How to get this

Have content from a range of media types. Ensure they are linked together, with the target keywords in each, and shared on public sites. Of course, for Google, YouTube is your ideal video site. This is also where your Yelp, Google My Business, and other pages are relevant.

Local SERP

Hey, speak of local and you shall receive. Yes, local SERP is what shows in that “coffee near me” example from above. It will also show if the search engine knows your location or you enter “in [city/county/region]”.

CU Atlanta SERP Map

Notice the helpful business information you also get. This comes from your Google My Business page. Do you have one of those? Is it updated and complete? We’ve talked about Local SEO before. Others agree. (Did you notice that it’s a “listicle” article?)

How to get this

The major take-home points here are to check your Google My Business, Yelp, and appropriate local directory pages. Give them lots of delicious content (photos, videos, full descriptions, etc.). Each complements the results visitors see.

Vertical Search

When Google needs to pull information from multiple categories to answer your query, it will surface a vertical search result. These are often geographic regions or things to do in an area. For example, “things to do in Hawaii”:

Hawaii Vertical Search SERP

First, there’s no way you’re scrolling past those gorgeous photos. Second, check out the info you get. Basic descriptions, price for airfare, and even cost of lodging. But you searched for “things to do”, not “airfare”! Yeah, Google realized for you to do things, you have to get there.

These are connected to Google’s internal tools, as well as tourist websites, hotel booking platforms, and more. In your financial institution’s case, such a result would connect to your website. Vertical search results are set apart at the top of the page in a box.

How to get this

Ensure all aspects of your site are optimized for the search results you want. From financial literacy to low interest rates, these topics are what may get displayed in such a manner. Unless you’re legitimately a “thing to do” in a place!

Knowledge Graph Data

Sometimes a search is a question with a single answer. How many times have you used Google’s calculator? Or shipping status? In essence, any question that Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant can simply answer will do the same on a web search.

These responses come from the Google Knowledge Graph. This is the, “yeah, Google knows everything” portion of the SERP. Often, it will display an unlinked answer, because it just knows.

SERP Answer

Other times, you get a link to the page where it was found. In that case, your organic result just got a massive credibility boost.

How to get this

Create lots of great content on your site. Ensure it is formatted well for SEO. Look up, then answer the questions your audience has. For this type, your answer has to be universally-valid, not just at your institution. Google will only show the answer.

How to Rank for Special SERPs 

With so many SERP possibilities, it seems like you’re bound to qualify for some. Thus, your institution probably already appears for those which matter, right? Probably not.

You need to actively work to rank for SERP Features. To make that task easier, there are tools you can use. Plus, optimizing for these special SERPs can be part of your organic search ranking efforts.

SERP Tools

LED Bulbs and Electrical Tools

Get SERP-specific insights from these sites, then check out our full set of suggested SEO tools:

  • What’s My SERP: Free tool to check the top 100 Google search results for target keywords. Gain an overview of your website ranking.
  • SerpWatcher: One of a series of tools from Mangools (an SEO company) which provides an overview of your (or any) website’s SERP performance.

Creating Better Content to Get SERP Ranking

For the content you create, here are some guidelines:

  • Create content tailored to the SERP you want Google to display:
    • Featured Images: Make sure you’re using high-quality images that are properly sized. Ensure they have proper image titles, filenames, and alt tags.
    • People Also Ask: Write your content to thoroughly answer the search question, and format it accordingly (Ex. Use a subheader to write the question so Google knows that’s what you’re answering.). Restate question in answer.
    • Featured Snippet (Includes listicles): Make your content clear and to the point, then keep it short. Most SERP featured content is between 40 and 50 words.
  • Structured Data: Help Google show extra content in rich snippets. Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
    • Additionally, tag specific information categories and content with the Data Highlighter
  • Research your competition: If they’re ranking for SERP features, can you create better answers or content? Or, are there topics others miss that you can address?
    • Google wants the highest quality answer that their users feel answers the question. They’ll reward those who provide this.
  • Be your member/customer: Your best insights come from studying actual activity from search engines to your site. And from keyword analysis on those who don’t make it to you. How are they actually searching? Some questions to ask:
    • How do they phrase their search?
    • Is it created through voice to text? (ie. Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, or just dictation)
    • Are there small variations in how a common question gets asked? (ex. “How do I apply for a mortgage” versus “how to apply for mortgage”) Targeting the more common usage can boost chances of landing a snippet.

Is SERP Ranking a One-Time Task?

Seedlings in Dirt Pots
Keep planting to keep growing.

Google and other search platforms evolve all the time. They add, remove, and modify features on a daily basis. Their algorithms change more often than that. Of course, we’re not privy to the internal improvements, but the Google Search team does post major updates.

Plus, consumer behaviors follow trends of the economy, news, and more. It’s important for your institution to stay on top of platform updates and behaviors to optimize your content accordingly. That can mean editing existing material or creating new pieces.

SERP ranking efforts are not a one-time task. You must continue to analyze, optimize, and grow with the web.

A #1 organic ranking is amazing, but it can fall flat against a better snippet. Ensure your efforts continue to produce great results for your institution. As search behaviors and technology evolves, your SEO strategy must as well.

Search: One Part of Your Content Marketing Strategy

Website Marketing SEO Scrabble
Put them together to get the points you want.

New to us here at the Learning Library? Welcome and thank you for reading! To your credit, this was a loooong post. Most others are far easier to digest. May I suggest bookmarking this page to come back time and again? That’s your best bet for full understanding.

To our regular readers, you know our love of inbound marketing in all forms. Incredibly, despite its length, this is just one small part of the bigger world of content marketing.

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Until next time, keep (searching) it honest!

This article was composed with the assistance of Ballie Ward.

Joe Winn - CU Geek

Blogger. Speaker. Part-time Jedi.

Focused on helping your bank or credit union grow in the face of emerging challenges.