Aug 22 2018
Basis Technologies

SEM for Financial Services: Everything You Need to Know


Financial services businesses have many opportunities to build brand awareness and attract new clients through search engine marketing (SEM). But search engines are constantly changing, making it difficult to keep up with the best optimization tactics without enlisting professional help.  

According to Brandpoint’s State of Content Marketing for Financial Services report, the biggest challenges for financial services marketers are:

  1. Reaching the right audience
  2. Generating traffic
  3. Keeping up with the competition
the biggest SEM challenges for financial services marketers

These challenges can all be addressed when you develop a targeted, comprehensive SEM strategy.

What Is SEM?

There are two main approaches financial services businesses can take to search engine marketing: search engine optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC). With SEO, you create and keyword-optimize your website content to rank well in organic search results. With PPC, you pay to have ads appear in search results using the Google Ads (AdWords) advertising platform.

Example: PPC Ads and Organic Results

Besides optimizing for the right keywords, there are many factors impacting your ability to rank well in organic search results. Google prioritizes older domains with more authority on the web. So while it’s technically free to optimize for SEO, it is a long-term strategy that won’t deliver fast results in the beginning.

PPC can deliver immediate results if you have a big enough advertising budget. Budget-conscious financial services businesses have to balance keyword targeting and ad relevance to attract profitable traffic for the right amount of ad spend.

Read through this entire guide, and you’ll walk away with a clear idea of how to use SEO and PPC to build a comprehensive SEM strategy for your financial services business.

SEO Best Practices for Financial Services

Optimizing your blog and site content for search engines is a great way to grow a steady stream of organic traffic over time. Here are a few important SEO factors that financial services businesses should pay attention to:

Start with Technical SEO

It doesn’t matter what keywords you target or how great your content is, you can’t succeed at SEO unless you first take care of the technical aspects. This is mostly about making sure your website is easy for users to navigate and easy for search engines to crawl and understand.

At a minimum, you should:

1. Perform a Site Audit

The first thing you should do is audit your site for technical problems that could affect user experience. You’ll want to identify and fix broken links, remove/fix 404 pages, and fix any other technical errors. You should also find and minimize the redirects on your site, as they can affect site speed.

There are plenty of diagnostics tools out there that you can use to perform a site audit. Screaming Frog and SEO Crawler are two examples.

2. Improve Your Site Speed

Taking steps to improve your site speed is essential, as it’s a very important rank factor in search engines. As little as a 1 second delay in page speed can equal an 11% loss of page views.

Google has a Page Speed tool that evaluates your site speed for mobile and desktop. It also offers actionable advice on steps you can take to improve performance:

Example: PageSpeed Insights

3. Create and Submit a Sitemap to Search Console

Once you’ve made changes to improve your site performance, create and submit a sitemap to Search Console. A sitemap is a XML file that makes it easier for Google bots to crawl and index your pages.

You can make a sitemap for free using a tool like XML Sitemaps. Then log into Search Console and submit it there.  

Target Long-Tail Keywords

There are tons of relevant keywords that financial services businesses can target for SEO. However, since 75% of users never click past the first page of search results, the real challenge is finding keywords that your pages can realistically rank well for.

The key here is to identify relevant keywords to target that don’t have very high competition. For example, say you’re an accountant. Many businesses and magazines target keywords like “accounting services.” It’s better to identify equally relevant but less searched-for keywords like “What to look for in a business accountant.”

Keywords like these are called long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords often answer common questions your audience asks search engines.

There are plenty of tools out there that can help you brainstorm long-tail keywords. Answer the Public is one free option. Just type in a root keyword (e.g. “accountant”) and it will return a list of questions related to that keyword (e.g. “are accountant fees tax deductible?”):

Answer the Public list of long tail keywords

Start a blog on your financial services site. Your posts can target keywords that are easier to rank for, like these long-tail keywords.

Optimize Your Content

Once you have a list of keywords you want to target, you’re ready to start creating and optimizing your content. You can, and should, keyword optimize the landing pages for your services. However, most of your SEO traffic potential will come from the long-tail keywords that you target on your blog.

So make sure you take every opportunity to create relevant, quality content around these keywords. The average length of content on the first page of search results is 1,890 words. So invest in your content and create something comprehensive with supporting images.

Here are the main areas where you should incorporate your target keyword:

  • The title of your content
  • Your URL
  • The body text, naturally
  • Subheadings
  • Alt tags of one or more of your images
  • The meta description

The last thing to consider when creating and optimizing content for SEO is your disclaimers. Make sure your content is only providing financial advice on topics that you’re legally qualified to speak to. Otherwise you need to have a clear disclaimer that your content constitutes your opinion, and is not to be taken as financial advice.

Financial advice is what Google considers your money or your life (YMYL) content. Search quality guidelines offer more scrutiny for YMYL content. So don’t offer advice you’re not qualified to offer, as it has legal implications and could affect SEO.

Build Quality Links

Creating and optimizing your site content for specific keywords is only the first step in getting search engines to rank it. Google’s algorithms rely on a wide variety of other factors to help determine page rank. One of the most important factors are links.

First work on building internal links between the various pages and blog posts on your site. Google looks at internal links to help understand what your site content is about. So make sure the anchor text you use for your links helps describe the content it’s linking to.

For example, say you have a blog post covering tax deductions for the self employed. A relevant anchor text for an internal link to this content could be “self employment tax breaks” or “small business tax deductions.” Just make sure you don’t use your exact target keyword too much in anchor text, as it can actually negatively affect your page rank.

Next, you should work on building external links from other high authority domains back to your site pages. The more high authority links there are pointed at your pages, the more potential for page rank.

If your business is location-based, try to get links from other local domains, like your city’s chamber of commerce, local news outlets, and local .gov addresses. The best way to build links naturally from these domains is by distributing press releases and sponsoring local events to get mentioned in the news.

PPC Best Practices for Financial Services  

Using Google PPC ads is a great way to attract immediate traffic and drive conversions on your financial services website. Here are a few important PPC factors that financial services businesses should pay attention to:

Target Bottom-of-the-Funnel Keywords

Your keyword targeting strategy for PPC can and should be different than your SEO strategy. With PPC ads, you have the opportunity to get your ads to appear for higher-competition keywords that you couldn’t reasonably target for SEO. That said, targeting financial keywords can be quite expensive, so it’s important to do your research and discover keywords with the most potential value for your investment.

AdWords has a keyword research tool called Keyword Planner that can help with this. All you have to do is type in a relevant keyword such as “wealth management” and click Get Started.

Keyword Planner will return a list of related keywords along with relevant information like search volume, competition, and bid range. For the keyword “wealth management,” the bid range for top of the page results is $15-$50.

Keyword Planner list of related keywords

If your target keyword is too expensive, you can browse the other related keywords to find ones with a lower bid range. Or you can go back and search for a new query to get an idea of cost.

Since you’re paying for clicks, it makes sense to target bottom-of-the-funnel search queries that suggest the user is looking to convert. “Financial advisor Kennewick” is an example of a bottom-of-the-funnel query. A query like “What is a financial advisor?” would be top-of-the-funnel, as the user is likely just doing initial research.

Narrow Your Audience with Ad Targeting

Keywords aren’t the only way you can target your audience with AdWords PPC ads. It’s best practice to use demographic targeting as well to ensure your ads reach the most relevant audience.

Demographic audience targeting allows you to target ads based on user location, age, gender, and device type. If you offer localized services in a specific city, it’s very important to define the geographic location range for your ads to appear. This is also important for location-based credit unions or banks.

It might also be worthwhile to target using other demographic factors to reach your target audience. For example, if you’re a financial advisor specializing in retirement planning, you can narrow down who sees your ads to people in the retirement age range.

When creating your ad groups, it’s important to use negative keywords as well to help make sure your ads reach the right audience. Say your ads are targeting a broad match keyword like “business accountant”. You’d want to narrow down the queries your ad can potentially appear for by using negative keywords. If someone searched for “business accountant salary” for example, they’re not looking to hire an accountant, they’re probably hoping to become one. So “salary” would be a good negative keyword to include.

Create Compelling Ad Copy

It doesn’t matter how well you target your ads and keywords, your ads won’t get clicks unless the copy is compelling and effective. Even minor changes you make to your headline or ad text can have a huge impact on click-through rates.

The key is to identify a unique value proposition for your financial services business and illustrate that in your ad copy. Take a look at these health insurance ads, for example:

Affordable plans, free quotes, and $89 health insurance are all examples of value propositions the advertisers use to drive clicks.

When creating your ads, you should explore all the optimization options available to make your ads more relevant and valuable for users. You can use ad extensions to include more relevant information with your ad, such as location or call extensions.

Google Ads extensions: location and call

These extensions make it easy for people who are searching from their mobile devices to call or find your business location in their maps application.

Create Targeted Landing Pages

Encouraging clicks on your ads is one thing. The next important thing to consider is what users do after they click through to your site. You’re paying for the click, whether visitors convert or not. So if you want to ensure you have a high return on ad spend (ROAS), optimize your landing pages to drive conversions.

Start by creating your landing pages with your overall SEM goals in mind. If your main goal is to generate leads from your PPC ads, then use your landing pages to illustrate the value of your financial services and include prominent calls-to-action to get more information.

The biggest mistake to avoid is using just a few generic landing pages for every ad type. It takes time and effort, but it’s worthwhile to develop unique targeted landing pages for every kind of ad you display.

Think about the value proposition that you use in your ad copy. If you highlight offering a free insurance quote, the call-to-action on the associated landing page should mention this as well. Ensure your ad and landing page copy line up, otherwise site visitors may get confused and navigate away.

Analyze and Adjust Your Strategy

While many financial services businesses take the time to carefully set up a targeted PPC campaign, it’s a common mistake to set it and forget it. But creating and targeting your ads is really only the first step. Once you start gaining insights into how people react to your ads and ad placement, you have new opportunities to optimize your strategy.

Over time you’ll realize that certain ad copy and extensions are more effective than others at getting clicks. AdWords makes it easy to test this by rotating ad variations and discovering the most effective ones for you.

Over time you’ll also want to evaluate the Quality Score of the keywords you run ads for. You can find your Quality Score in the Keywords tab from the side menu of AdWords. Hover over the status of an individual keyword to see the Quality Score:

Keyword quality score

A low quality score can suggest that your ad copy or landing pages aren’t relevant enough, or that you’re targeting the wrong keywords for your content. Make changes to address these issues and then monitor changes in your Quality Score to measure results.

Lastly, there is bid optimization to think about. You don’t want to spend more money than necessary to get the ad placement you need to drive your marketing goals. While you can make manual adjustments to your bidding as opportunities arise, the most effective strategy is to use a bid management tool to automatically make changes based on ongoing insights from consumer data.

The Bottom Line

Financial service businesses have so many opportunities to attract leads and grow when they develop a comprehensive SEM strategy. Just remember to target the right keywords when focusing on SEO and PPC. Then use these strategies together to maximize your presence in search engines. As long as your content is relevant and valuable to search queries, you should be able to grow a healthy stream of web traffic from SEM for financial services.