Internet marketing requires a mastery of the search engine and the clean look—plus a willingness to balance general content with segment-oriented material. Learn how to be found—and shine.
By Lauren Bielski,
Getting the gist of key words, managing the “funnel,” and other tricks from interactive agencies and other pros
In the real world, bank marketers use copy and images in direct mail or ad campaigns to lure customers into their ranks. Or, they rely on telemarketing scripts.
In the web realm—which is changing form and function with flustering rapidity as it matures—the banner ad and smartly worded click-to-pay have been the bait.
Among the most sophisticated practitioners, keyword buying from Google and other search engine providers, particularly the purchase of regional keywords, is a newer tactic designed to bring the searcher to your website, where presumably, he or she will find ways to do business with your bank. (Existing customers also get promotional emails, phishing risks notwithstanding.)
What could be simpler? Well, as it turns out, many things. “We’ve had 150 years of learning around print, 80 years around radio, and 60 years of getting to know what’s effective on television,” says Deno Fischer, senior executive at Accenture Marketing Sciences, based in New York. “When it comes to the digital channel, we’ve got about 12 years and only half of them are characterized by use of broadband. We’re all learning by doing.” And, as your channel marketing people can tell you, grasping even the basics of search engine marketing (SEM) takes some doing. Moreover, search engine optimization, that is, designing the bank site and filling it with content that will encourage search engines to index the material there and make the site discoverable is a non-stop act of adjustment.
A quick search on the terms “SEO” and “SEM,” for instance, will bring up any number of blogs, tutorials, and specialists in this decade-young field. Certainly, that alone is an indicator that search isn’t simple.
But what about other web developments—immersive content, FaceBook, and YouTube? Moving graphics, segment-oriented landing pages, or smartly worded ads placed adjacent to social networking sites are certainly options and being considered by several internet marketing leaders. Viral marketing on YouTube can also kick up awareness of your firm.
Peter Sapienza, director of marketing strategy and analysis, for Sapient, a Cambridge. Mass.-based global interactive agency, is already an old hand with these maneuvers.
Sapienza, who works out of the Los Angeles office, is in the midst of developing an updated web strategy, including leveraging social media, for Union Bank of California. While details of the project were scarce at the time of this writing, Sapienza pointed out that UBOC believed that tapping into the online community made sense for a bank known for its community building efforts in its geographic region.
Site as a face of the brand
Search basics and new web developments like YouTube may be intriguing distractions, but before you worry too much about either one, say experts, you need to think strategically. What do you want your website to accomplish? Who, in terms of age, demographic, and requirements, will be constituents of the site?
Then take an assessment of your current website: Does it look 1999? Is it on a manageable platform that makes content easy to maintain? If the website is outsourced, is content driven off a template that allows some flexibility in design, or do you need a new provider altogether?
Whatever else it does, the website should function as a well-designed face of the brand. Sapient, which is also working on a major rebranding strategy for a respected East Coast super regional, explains that a new site look and feel will be a key part of the overall campaign to both punch up and modernize its corporate image. Joey Wilson, director of marketing strategy, interactive media, says that as part of the overall effort, the bank will launch a financial advice blog.
Cantor Fitzgerald, which went with on-demand web content management provider Clickability, San Francisco, knew it needed a look and navigation principal that showcased all of its business units and also showed traders, investors, and international investors information about investment banking and asset management. “We wanted the site to open us up to the global investment community, to be forward looking, yet indicative of our heritage,” says Ted Chamarro.
The site shouldn’t look dated or too static. “It should be clean, modern, and make some use of Flash, video, and Podcasts if that content will make it simpler for the institution to communicate what it has to offer, what it’s doing in the community, or how business is,” says Tim Pannell, president and CEO of Financial Marketing Solutions. While in general the bigger banks have more cause for complicated content, he say he’s worked with community banks, currently including one based in Washington State, that is benefiting from a YouTube viral marketing campaign.
On the other hand, says Joanne McDermott, Accenture’s CRM consulting practice, thinking of the customer first—and thinking of what that customer is using your website to do—is critical. McDermott and other sources pointed out that most people still went to bank sites to get information or make a transaction.
Shifting tides of search
Search itself is tricky. For starters, the algorithms powering the search engines get tweaked regularly. Sometimes their stewards give them an outright overhaul, notes Abu Noaman, CEO, elliance, a marketing specialist based in Pittsburgh. This affects the ranking of search results. In effect, it changes what’s deemed valuable. (And possibly push your bank lower on a search for, say, types of home equity loans.)
“Last year, Google devised a blended search capability,” Noaman explains. “This means that video content, blogs, and other graphic material will be picked up more easily by search engines. Websites without that content won’t rank as high.” For another, some website elements—most notoriously Flash files—can interfere with the way that spiders (robotic scanning software used by search engines) index them, even with blended search in the equation, notes Jennifer Grappone, an SEM consultant and author.
Puzzling through search also requires strategists to pause and think, overall, about who will be finding you online. “Bank marketers can learn to read the search terms used as indicators of where the client is in their decision making process,” says Accenture’s Deno Fischer.
Some searchers could be existing customers finally ready to sign up for online services you’ve been promoting for months in the branch. Others might be new people moving into your geographic area of operation, or someone price shopping for a deal.
Demand management leads
At the same time that search is changing, so are other rules, without time to gather moss. According to Sureach Vittal, principal analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., Cambridge, Mass., when the economy was humming along and loans flowed, the idea for internet marketing, generally speaking, was overall demand generation.
“It was a volume game and there wasn’t thought about the quality of a given lead,” Vittal says. Now it makes less sense to indiscriminately spend on key words and banner ads and to think more about the types of leads that a bank wants to attract. Vittal points out that demand management is, or should be, the big push online for bank marketers now.
Tim Pannell agrees. As he defines the term, demand management is about identifying segments, placing banner ads in locations on the internet where certain age groups tend to visit.
Vittal mentions this, but he is also thinking more generally about personalization, sending emails with targeted copy and images and delivering images that reflect the existing customer’s online banking habits and even, in a more advanced form, surfing habits.
Thinking of tailoring copy a bit differently, elliance’s Noaman thinks that not adjusting site copy to better reflect the characteristics of a regional market is a mistake. But not just for reason of search. “If you have an interesting story to tell about your company, it should be reflected in the website look and feel.” If you are tied to a region as a community bank, if you are involved in high-profile local projects or have been a part of a community’s renaissance or survival or reinvention with the courting of a new industry, it should be reflected in site copy.
“With search the idea is to drive traffic to the top of funnel,” says Sapienza.
The expression refers to getting people to click on your link, steering them to a given landing page or, in some cases, the home page of the company in question. For existing customers, the idea is to make a new offer, which you advertise elsewhere, easily discoverable. “Assume that existing customers or citizens of the communities you serve will be searching online in follow-up to information that they received elsewhere—that is, think multichannel,” says Mike Swartz, senior director, planning and interactive services, Carlson Marketing in Minneapolis.
Still, experts differed in views on how transactional the website should be with regard to making special offers. Abu Noaman of elliance thought that pop-out forms that attempted to get a customer to take action on an offer in real-time were too pushy and interfered with the branding function of the website, which should be general.
Other experts, most notably Mike Swartz, thought making use of the latest web code to facilitate sign-up for a particular program could be effective and not necessarily take away from a broader brand theme.
Coming up with the right moves comes down to experimentation. “One way to view the website is that it can be the greatest customer touch point there is because it is partially a channel of self service,” says Art Cannon, partner, Chadwick Communications, New York. “You could pay a firm like KeyNote, which tests site usability, or you can gather and act on for free information about how your clients actually use your site,” says Cannon.
Cannon, who was upbeat about the potential of the web for making offers, was equally stern about the actions, or relative inaction, of the banking industry when it comes to the channel. “Banks haven’t done a great job of thinking about the need behind the product,” he says.
Carlson’s Mike Swartz agrees. “Banks have so much customer information that they could use and still be on the right side of regulation, but I’ve seen a reluctance to use it. More importantly, they need to get the blocking and tackling of setting themselves up for search, making use of email, and having an easy-to- navigate site before going crazy over Web 2.0.” BJ
Internet marketing—Terms to know about getting found
Search engine marketing:
SEM is often used to describe acts associated with researching, submitting, and positioning a website within search engines to achieve maximum website exposure. SEM includes tactics such as search engine optimization, paid listings, and other search-engine related services and functions that will increase exposure and traffic to your website.
Search engine optimization:
The process of increasing the amount of visitors to a website by ranking high in the search results of a search engine. SEO helps to ensure that a site is accessible to a search engine and improves the chances that the site will be found by the search engine.
A type of contextual advertising where website owners pay an advertising fee, usually based on click-throughs or ad views, to have their website search results shown in top placement on search engine result pages. Some search engines will make it easy for users to determine which search results are natural and which are paid, while others will mix the results, making it more difficult for users to determine which are the paid search results. Also called “sponsored search.”
Results are returned based on the natural indexing of the Web site, as opposed to paid advertising or editorial changes made by the search engine itself.
Internet marketing resources
http://www.webadvantage.net/webadblog/ This blog is produced by Web Ad.vantage, an agency providing strategic Internet marketing services such as search engine optimization, online media buying and planning, social media optimization, and related tactics. Included in the format is a section on market research statistics, internet regulation, and social media.
Search engine land
http://searchengineland.com/080327-080020.php a news and information site covering search engine marketing, searching issues, and the search engine industry. The site is led by journalist Danny Sullivan, who has been covering search for the past 11 years. It is published by Third Door Media, which also produces the Search Marketing Expo conference series and the Search Marketing Now webcast events.
Visibility: the magazine for online marketing strategies
http://www.visibilitymagazine.com/ features interviews with CEOs, shares opinions, reviews new products and services, rates the best agencies in the internet marketing industry.