No one would argue that an online presence has become an increasingly important component of any financial services marketing program. However, most financial services companies are still struggling to determine what online marketing approach will cost-effectively promote their site to those target market segments that are most likely to become loyal and profitable customers.
For a time, banner ads generated large numbers of click-throughs for advertisers in virtually every industry, causing the number of such ads to sky-rocket. Studies soon revealed, however, that these early reports may have been misleading. As the number of banner ads increased, click-through rates fell dramatically. Research into the reasons for this decline revealed a major disadvantage of banner ads. Many click-throughs appeared to occur because the user was attempting to delete the banner. The truth is that, while banners reach a wide audience, a great number of viewers see them as “spam” and delete a company’s expensive advertising without ever viewing their site. Increasingly, banners were seen as an intrusion to be eliminated as quickly as possible.
Search engines offer financial services organizations a more controllable online marketing alternate. Effective use of search engine marketing tools enable organizations to attract a “pre-qualified” audience by screening what the user is looking for against what a company actually offers. As a result, search listings are more efficient than banners in generating brand recall, favorable opinion ratings and purchase origination. At the same time, however, a search on virtually any topic can produce hundreds of pages of Web site listings, and research shows that most users don’t look past the first page of results. In fact, many users will consider only the top 3 or 4 listings. Therefore, it is essential that a site be close to the top of a potential customer’s search to effectively reach its target audience.
Search Engine Positioning (SEP) techniques can help dramatically improve a Web site’s search rankings. Search engine optimization is an SEP technique that has become extremely popular. To optimize a site, a company determines what search terms would apply to their business-e.g., “global investment management” or “managed separate accounts”-and then includes those terms repeatedly on their site. While optimization works, many site owners object to altering their sites just to achieve top rankings.
As an alternative, most major search engines offer “pay-per-click” programs that provide site owners an effective way to achieve successful ranking without changing their sites. These programs rank a Website not by the frequency of a key search phrase, but rather by how much the owner is willing to pay for a click-through generated by a search using that phrase. For example, if a company’s bid of 25¢ is the highest for the key phrase “global investment management,” their listing will be at the top of the “sponsored links” appearing on the first page anytime that search phrase is entered and they will pay the search engine 25¢ for every resulting click-through. However, competitors for preferred ranking against the same key phrase can post a higher bid at any time and, depending on the popularity of the key word, drive the price up to several dollars per click-through.
The key for any company wishing to make cost-effective use of pay-per-click search engine marketing is the selection of very specific, highly relevant keywords that apply to their services and the benefits offered to their targeted audience. More general keywords will generate click-throughs by users who do not have a real interest in their offerings and expertise.
As the importance of the Internet as a marketing and promotional tool continues to grow, it becomes increasingly critical for financial services marketers to familiarize themselves with all of the approaches that can help them effectively leverage its capabilities.