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A financial marketer’s guide to organic rankings

“Organic” traffic. What is it? Well, if you’re completely unfamiliar with digital marketing, think of organic traffic like the people who happen to walk to into your branch. They aren’t responding to a promotion you’re actively pushing. They’re not long-time account holders in for a visit. 

These are people who need a product you offer and find you simply based on your convenient location. 

In search engine optimization, much like a brick-and-mortar business, location is everything. Not where your branch is located physically; rather the position you show up in when people search for your products on Google, Bing, or another search engine. 

We call that your “ranking.” To oversimplify, when you search for a term (say “auto loan,” for example) and you see your institution at the top of the list, you would rank No. 1 for that term. In fact, anything in the top three is considered prized real estate.

It’s an extremely valuable position because if you can establish your spot there and hold onto it, you become the natural destination for consumers whose search intent lines up with the product you’re offering. 

You don’t have to spend any extra marketing dollars to reach these new customers. They come to you. 

Getting to a top ranking is the difficult part. It starts with creating great content that actually answers the questions that your target audience is searching for.

But what goes into those rankings? Let’s start with the basics.

 

What happens when a user searches for something I offer?

When a user types something into a search engine, the words they use to search are called “keywords.” Based on those keywords, a search engine returns its search results. The information you see on the search engine results page (SERP) can be categorized into three different types of results. 

  • Organic search results.

  • Paid search results.

  • Local search results (or a local 3-pack).

At first glance you may not notice the differences in these results, but if you understand what you’re looking at, the distinctions are pretty clear. 

 

What is the difference between organic, paid, and local search?

Organic search results are the webpage listings that most closely match the user's keywords based on relevance. We also call these “natural” search results. The “paid” search results are the ones that companies bid on. Think of these as promoted results. And the local search results are specific to where the searcher lives (pulling in relevant queries from local pages only).

Organic vs. Paid:

Again, the difference between organic search and paid search is simple: it's the cost. While organic search focuses on unpaid rankings in search results, paid search focuses on paid rankings. There are rankings and ways to optimize for each, but organic is much better value for marketers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is how you improve your organic rankings. Search engine marketing (SEM), on the other hand, focuses on paid search.

Organic vs. Local:

The main difference between organic and local search is that local SEO has a geographical component. You can think of local rankings as a subset of organic rankings. If a user searches for “[product or service] + [a specific location],” the search engine knows that the search has local intent. And the goal of search engines is to give the user exactly what they're searching for. When you have great content that’s search engine optimized — plus you’re also in the same geographic area as a search query — you’re likely to perform well in both organic and local results.

 

Why are organic results important?

Organic results are free of extra marketing dollars. Your only input is time and effort. A lot of users also trust organic results more than the paid results above them (the ones that are clearly called out as “ads”). Not only are organic search results an affordable way to drive traffic, you’re also building trust with those users that you’re an authority on the subject they’re searching for. 

You can also rank for terms that have “high intent” — meaning the user is more likely to convert into a customer based on what they’re searching for. For example, someone who searches for “open a checking account online” has much higher intent than someone who simply searches for “checking accounts” — the latter more likely to just be gathering information. Ranking well for terms that are both high volume and high intent keywords can be a great way to both get traffic and drive qualified leads. 

 

How does organic SEO work?

When a user searches for specific keywords, there are multiple ranking factors that influence Organic search results. You can break these ranking factors down into two categories — 1) On-page SEO, and 2) Off-page SEO.

On-page SEO includes the changes and edits you can see and feel. Things like the headlines and subheads in your content itself, the information and words you’re using in your content (and how well that aligns with what the user is searching for), plus the overall user experience (for example, how long it takes your site to load). 

But it also includes a few best practices to make sure the search engines pick up on the quality of your content, like providing alt text to describe your images (which search engines can’t see) and a logical URL structure for the pages on your site. Plus, including internal links (links that go to other pages within your website) so a search engine can determine the pages that are related. All in all, it involves optimizing the HTML code, content quality, and content structure of your site.

Off-page SEO, on the other hand, is what you can’t see on your site itself. It refers to all the SEO practices that take place outside of your website itself such as backlinks, social signals, and other factors. One way to think of this is the transfer of “link juice.” If a really reputable, famous website starts linking to your article on a topic, they’re going to pass some of their link juice on to you — giving you more credibility with search engines that your page is an authority on that subject. Both the quality and the amount of sites that link to your site are important. 

That’s where your outreach efforts like PR pitches, research studies, blogging and guest blogging, and social media marketing come into play. Those can all be powerful forms of link-building, when you do them right. 

 

What are the most important organic SEO ranking factors?

Content is king. This is especially true for banks and credit unions. Don’t just take our word for it — Google said so themselves in their official Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. That’s because banks and credit unions fall into Google’s “Your Money, Your Life” classification.

According to Google, “We have a very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, or financial stability.”1

Of course, that doesn’t mean super-high-quality content will get you to the top spot all on its own. 

Though Google’s ranking formula changes and updates each time they tweak their search algorithm, these basic factors are still essential to show search engines that your site has the expertise, authority, and authenticity to give users the answers they’re looking for. 

On-page ranking factors:

  • Page content

  •  H1 tags (your headlines)

  •  Title tags

  •  Website security (includes “https”)

  •  Page speed

  •  Mobile friendliness

  •  Internal linking

Off-page ranking factors:

  • Link building

  • Social media marketing

  • Blogging (and content freshness)

  • Third-party reviews 

 

How long does it take to get organic traffic?

Search engine optimization doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for Google (and other search engines) to recognize and index any changes you make to your site. Your traffic should increase slowly as you climb the organic rankings — the higher you move, the more traffic you gradually receive. 

As you improve the quality of your content and marketing, you should also start to get more backlinks from other sites, social mentions, and overall link juice to boost your rankings. 

On average, it typically takes 4 to 6 months to see meaningful organic traffic from your SEO updates. That time is measured from the very start of your campaign. The sooner you start optimizing your site and content, the sooner you can drive better, more relevant traffic to your site. 

The work you put in today can have big returns — without taking money out of your future marketing budget. So go ahead and get started. You’ll thank yourself two quarters from now.

 

1 Source: https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en//searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf

Tags: Marketing, Strategy