E47: Optimizing Your Banking Website for AI-Powered Search

A discussion on SEO in the age of AI-powered search and how to optimize your banking website to stay relevant.

Michael Reynolds Welcome, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. Allison, how was the race?

Allison Gibbs It was fantastic.

MR For those who don’t know, Allison did yoga on the track of the Indy 500.

AG I did. I mean, not while the cars were running, but --

MR Well, no, not while the cars were running.

AG But, yes, after practice last Friday, I be-bopped my way down to the track and did some yoga, and it was great.

MR And you won the contest.

AG I did win a contest. Yeah.

MR So the contest was to do yoga and how was it --

AG It was a photo contest that the local yoga studio that I go to here -- they were running this contest. You just post a photo using a hashtag indy500yoga, and it can be anywhere around Indianapolis or even the world. There were a couple of people that posted some stuff from France, which was really cool. And so I just happened to have this moment where I was on the track in front of the pagoda, had a great view, and just decided to stop, do some yoga. I mean, it was 1000 degrees. It was great. It was a lot of fun.

MR And your Instagram account is aackman, correct? So if anyone wants to go see the yoga pose --

AG Aackman.

MR -- you can --congratulations.

AG Now everyone knows my maiden name. [laughs] Never changed it. Sorry, Pat.

MR Congratulations.

AG Thank you.

MR All right. In case you haven't figured it out, we are located in Indianapolis; so the Indy 500 is our claim to fame in the sports world. That was last weekend.

AG We have a lot of other things we do in the sports world, but --

MR Well, we do, but that's the big one.

AG And it's one of my favorites.

MR Aside from that, we are going to have a brief discussion today on search in the age of artificial intelligence. Specifically, what that means is not just the way search engines are processing data, but also voice-powered search and how all of these tools, devices, and apps interact with us in how we search for things today. This article -- we're referencing an article from HubSpot here on how your blog needs to evolve. And I really think it goes beyond that just into your website and your brand in general and how people find your bank or credit union. So when people are searching, they used to search in a very keyword specific context, and search engines were a little bit dumber; they would just basically lock on to keywords and find information based on keywords. So search engines are getting better and better at interpreting people's intent, their overall holistic profile, the history of what they've done on the web and other devices as well. Search engines are getting much better at figuring out the best possible content to deliver to people based on all of these data points beyond just the keyword itself or the keywords. For one thing, voice-powered search is on the rise as well. Allison, you've got an Amazon Echo at home, or two?

AG I do. Yes.

MR We've got a couple at home. We've got a Dot and a regular Echo. The Dot's actually pretty cool; it's like 40 bucks and it's like "this big".

AG Yeah, that's what we have and we have a couple of Fire Sticks as well that are Alexa enabled.

MR Yeah, I've got a Fire Stick.

AG But I'm -- I need to get one of the big Echo's because I want a bigger speaker.

MR The sound is good. Yeah, it sounds really good.

AG Yeah, I want that.

MR So we're getting more and more used to searching via voice. We're also getting more used to interacting with search engines in a more conversational way. There are also data points behind how they deliver information as well. So for example, if you were to visit a certain website in the last number of days, Google's system will know that and will find data on whether that visit was positive for you. If it looks like it was a good fit for you, the AI may decide to push an answer from that same website higher in the stack hoping to replicate your positive experience for others. It kind of learns from your behavior and your habits in order to give you the best information. It's been doing this for a while, but basically, it's getting better and better. Google, especially, is getting better and better at this. I'm sure Bing is, too, but who uses Bing. Nobody, right?

AG Stop. He's saying that just to get a rise out of me. We had a lead the other day that came in through Bing.

MR Did we?

AG Thank you.

MR Okay, well --

AG Yes, I look at it every single time.

MR I'm proven wrong ever time I make fun of Allison for using Bing. It's all good for consumers is the bottom line. It's all good for how we search. We're getting more relevant information; we're getting what we want. And it can be good for brands, as well, especially banks and credit unions, because I think financial institutions are ripe for taking advantage of this. The reason I think that is because so much of the time, the financial industry is so stuffy, full of jargon, so cold and technical, and there's not always a lot of heart and conversation and warmth put into content from financial institutions. I see this as a really big opportunity for banks to really set themselves apart and look different than the others by adopting some of these strategies on how to adapt to search better.

There are three points we're going to cover here. One of them is based on how your content is built. What do you think about how content is built? It needs to be factual, accurate, and conversational. So what does that mean?

AG Yeah, so obviously the information needs to be accurate.

MR It has to be correct?

AG That is --

MR Financial information should be accurate?

AG I know. I know. I mean --

MR You demand too much.

AG We're in an age where we have to say that.

MR -- from us, Allison.

AG I'm sorry that I have really high expectations for us, Michael. But the important thing about this in structuring your content is making it more conversational. As Michael mentioned at the start of the podcast that the way that we are searching and how we're interacting with Search has changed quite a bit since we first started using Google many years ago. It was all about keywords. Now, it's more about asking questions, it's more about having a conversation, and that's starting to translate to all of these voice search components or these -- what do we call it -- virtual assistant-type platforms.

And so things like what Google would define as "for me" searches -- that we're seeing a rise of searches for needs of a specific individual. When people are starting to ask for things that are individual and specific to them, the information back to them should be conversational as if you're having a conversation back and forth with your users. And this is, I think, a hard thing for some financial institutions to embrace sometimes because we're so focused on the brand and the brand message and making sure that everything is super --

MR Buttoned-up and professional and on brand --

AG -- professional because we're a financial institution. But guess what? You guys are still people, and you're still interacting with people, and you've got to to get into the heads of your users and of your customers and start to answer those questions, so those things -- I'm probably going into the next --

MR Yeah, go ahead.

AG -- the next -- I'm just so excited, you guys.

MR Just barrel on ahead, Allison.

AG I've got all kinds of data points. The next component is, which -- using long-tailed keywords -- that's something that’s not new. That's been recommended for years. But now it's using the long-tail keywords in a conversational way within your content. So the keyword research, of course, you still need to do that in order to identify the topics that you're wanting to write about and also what makes the most sense to write about. You don't want to write a whole huge piece and spend 40 hours on something for 10 searches a month, that probably doesn't make sense. You still want to use some keyword research and identify those long-tail conversational phrases that are starting to be used a little bit more.

Google, like I mentioned, they are seeing huge rise of what they call the "for me" searches or the individual searches. So in the past two years, they've seen mobile searches for phrases -- or for things that include "do I need" have grown over 65%. How much do I need to retire? How much do I need to buy a house? How much do I need to save for my kids' college? Things like that. Mobile searches for "should I" phrases and "should I" questions have grown also over 65% in the last two years. Should I buy a house? What retirement fund should I use? Even things like what should I have for dinner? Isn't that crazy that people ask that -- I mean, I love my Alexa so much --

MR You know what? I think I actually have made that search before.

AG I have -- I would 100% --

MR Nathan says he has too. Nathan's running our board.

AG I mean, I'm totally going to use it this weekend. Another thing with mobile searches over the last two years, mobile searches starting with "can I" have grown over 85%. Can I use PayPal on Amazon? Can I buy this house? Can I buy a new car? People are starting to ask these super personal --

MR Or can I retire with a million dollars?

AG Can I retire? Yes. People are starting to ask these really personal questions and our content needs to reflect that. In order to get to that point, we need to include those phrases within our content. It doesn't necessarily have to be the title. Michael is really good at putting together blog titles --

MR I'm pretty much the best.

AG -- I am not the best. Yeah, ever time I need a title, I always go to either Michael or Stephanie on our team because they're the best at titles. My titles are really boring and not as exciting. But once you get into the content, it's also thinking about how can you apply those conversational phrases as headers within the content. So let's say you're doing a whole guide about buying a house. Maybe it's "how do I find my realtor," or "can I afford this house." Start to make some of those headers more of those conversational questions. We've been doing this for years with FAQ pages, right? I mean, that's basically what an FAQ is. But we're just applying that same concept -- instead of applying the FAQs to your brand, you're applying it to the content that you're writing as well.

MR And then, finally --

AG Answer -- oh I though you were going to go.

MR No, I was letting you --

AG I didn't want to railroad this entire conversation --

MR Dramatic pause.

AG Dramatic pause. Answer lots of questions, even the ones that you think are uncommon ones or that may be uncommon. Because the more that you can write about, the -- you just never know what people are going to ask for. Basically, if you can provide almost the never-ending list of answers to a question or to a list of questions, then your resource is going to become more valuable. None of this is new. I mean, we've been talking about this for a while. We've talked about pillar content, right? Haven't we?

MR Oh yeah for like a thousand years.

AG Yeah, okay. Sometimes -- I talk about this stuff all day ever day. Sometimes I forget what we talked about on the podcast. The content needs to be directed towards your end users, towards your customers. You have to get into their heads. You have to write for them. The more that you do this and the more that you embrace this, then the stronger your brand presence is going to become, the stronger people will feel about you. I know we talked with Garrett a few months ago about how the brand is how people feel about you. And so, obviously, we have the whole component to branding about taglines and all of that fun stuff. But translating all of that to this content and making it more accessible and making people feel like they're there to help you will help increase that brand presence and that brand awareness.

MR As a takeaway, how would you recommend banks start doing search differently?

AG Great question. So there are two different components to this here. You've got your brand products and services, and then you've also got just the high-level content that people are searching for that they may not even necessarily know that they need your products or services yet. When you're talking about the brand products or services, because this article -- I will say this article was really hyper-focused on the blog, but as you mentioned earlier, this should be your whole website. Your whole website should be focused this way. It's not always easy to do that from a financial institution perspective, but it certainly is possible if you guys are willing to embrace it.

From a product perspective -- so in previous years, we would have optimized for "free checking" or "bank account" or "opening a bank account". Now, optimizing for phrases and questions like "what do I need to open a bank account" or "how do I open a bank account online," things like that, providing resources and providing answers. Because if somebody's out there searching "what do I need to open a bank account" and they come across your information, and then oh, by the way, you give them the opportunity to just click a button right there and walk them through everything, then oh, look, they've opened an account.

MR And guess what? These are probably young people who are just getting started --

AG Exactly. Yes.

MR -- figuring out how to do some of this stuff, and --

AG Everybody wants that.

MR Everybody wants the young generation because they will potentially be lifetime customers.

AG Things like when you're talking about loans and auto loans and real estate, so not necessarily --

MR How do I get a car loan?

AG -- exactly. Not types of loans. How do I get a loan? Can I get approved for a mortgage? I mean, that could be a huge one.

MR So many banks are so hyper-focused on product they don't think about what is your potential customer trying to get?

AG And I'm going to say it again, your wonderful brand names for your products are -- you need to incorporate the more common name for it. If you've got different checking accounts, savings accounts, different types of mortgages that have some of those branded keywords, make sure that you have the common keyword in there. Because in the examples that we just gave, I didn't say anything about any specific type or any name. It was all the general words that people use.

MR That's one way to embrace the -- we've talked about the commoditization status of banking, and that's one way to embrace it. Embrace the commoditization status by leveraging what people actually search for.

AG I mean, if you don't do that, you're never going to get found. There. I said it. I'm feisty this morning, apparently.

MR I like it. Yeah so I'd love to hear -- is there anything else you would add in terms of advice to -- you said you had two things.

AG Yeah, so that was the brand side. On the content side, it is going to be -- I think in some cases that banks and credit unions still love to write about themselves in blog posts quite bit and that it is an adjustment --

MR Like using press releases?

AG Press releases and even -- let's say that there's a blog post that's all about retirement planning, whatever the topic is. And it's like and we have this product here and then this person on this team to help you --

MR Yeah, it's all pushing products.

AG And it's pushing products and you need to stop it. Okay?

MR [laughs] You are feisty this morning.

AG Stop it. [laughs] Well, it's not going -- here's what's going to end up happening. If people don't listen to this -- you're welcome to take your own advice if you want to. But if people don't make this adjustment, then their content is not going to be successful. When the content is not successful, then it is assumed that that tactic and that strategy does not work, when in all reality, you just need to re-shift the focus of how you're doing things.

MR Um-hum. Insightful.

AG I'm here for you on Friday morning. It's June. It's a great day.

MR Is that where we wrap things up?

AG I guess. I don't have anything else to say unless you have something else.

MR No, I'm just enjoying the finger-wagging over there.

AG Well, I had a Diet Dr. Pepper this morning, so I'm probably over caffeinated. Full disclosure.

MR Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, and like you said -- I'll just wrap things up for me by saying, you're right. This is nothing new. This is not a -- the whole AI-powered search revolution is not taking us by surprise. It's something that is an evolution. We've talked about how search is changing time over time and every year it gets better and better at predicting people's search behavior. But even 5 years ago, 10 years ago, we were talking about writing content in the form of answering people's questions. I mean, how long has that been talked about? Forever. As long as I can remember.

AG If you go back and look at our blog posts from 10 years ago, I mean, that's all they were, answering questions.

MR Yeah, so this really goes back to, also, are we, as a collective community here, are we going to be followers and wait until the last minute to adapt and change our strategy or are we going to be leaders and are we going to be the one organization out of our peers that does things differently? Are we going to write conversationally? Are we going to take a little bit of a bold stance in answering people's questions that no one else is brave enough to answer on your website? I think the financial institutions that adopt that mindset and take that approach, they are going to reap the benefits long term from this strategy.

AG And don't wait for the next thing.

MR [laughs]

AG That's always -- everybody's always like well, we'll wait until the next thing.

MR And start a podcast while you're at it. Oh wait, that's a whole different discussion.

AG [laughs] I mean, you should. We've given you all kinds of examples.

MR We will wrap it there and say thank you to everybody for joining us today. We appreciate you being a listener. You can find us on the web at capitalpointmarketing.com. Send us a note at podcast@capitalpointmarketing.com with any feedback. We will see you next time.