Watch our video interview with Nathan Barnett, CMO at 71a, to discuss 2021 finance industry trends, SEO in finance services overview, consumer buying behaviours and impact to the leadership agenda.
Nathan Barnett, CMO at 71a
The pandemic's effect on organic performance really varied by industry. Some of our experts reported increased traffic and demand, while others saw peaks and dips throughout lockdown.
Lockdown has hit customers searching to take control of their pension. But after the initial shock, we saw a big uptick in people doing all sorts of life admin, including consolidating their pensions into a new plan. As a result organic performance increased significantly. Our visibility was already optimised which helped us to attract more natural search traffic.
Naturally interest for car finance dipped significantly when covid hit last year. But with a huge pent up in demand from around June 2020, the market has remained quite stable ever since, with impressions slowly starting to surpass 2019. The never ending core updates and SERP changes are the bigger challenge to performance…
We saw a large increase in organic traffic over the first lockdown after an extremely quiet first 3-4 weeks in March & April 2020. The organic performance of Firstmortgage.co.uk improved in Q2 2020 and drove record levels of enquiries, so much so that we turned down our paid advertising by 75-80%. The housing sector was lucky and experienced high demand during lockdown as people looked to move out of the cities or to bigger houses.
As a relatively new business, covid hasn’t had a significant impact on SEO or the approach we’re taking. However, the impact on certain industries led to demand increases/decreases and disruptions that differ from the normal yearly cycle, such as travel insurance where we’ve had to adapt.
Generally speaking, organic performance took a hit throughout the lockdowns and hasn’t yet got back to normal from a revenue point of view.
There have been gains made by individual sites, for example from the page speed and core updates, but generally it has been tough to drive performance against a low base rate and little travel and leisure market to speak of.
During the pandemic, new business performance was significantly down universally, with customers more interested in managing or cancelling products, rather than taking out new ones.
With many businesses not having digital processes in place to handle this change in consumer behaviour, the main focus for many was signposting users to the right answers to their questions to avoid backlogs of customers wanting to speak to someone.
We’ve seen a big increase in search demand due to the Covid outbreak in spring 2020. Due to lockdowns and local restrictions people were looking for other ways to send money and turned to digital providers like WorldRemit. Naturally, we saw a significant increase in organic traffic on the back of it.
Our experts agree that organic search has always been valuable; however, its value became more prominent during the pandemic when other channels fluctuated.
I don't think it has changed, we have always viewed organic search as a quality acquisition channel. It attracts customers searching for your solution and they tend to be more serious. Would you transfer all your life savings to a company you don't know? Most people wouldn't. Organic performance customers have done their research before they decide to transfer their money to us and therefore they tend to sign up with all their pensions and not just opening an account to try us out.
Organic search has been a strategic marketing channel for us for a few years now. Covid didn't really change that but I suppose what it did do, is highlight the importance of channel mix and not being too reliant on paid media. We do a lot of competitor analysis for our vertical and it’s clear to see that a lot of businesses have realised how important a channel like organic search can be in uncertain times.
Not especially, organic has always been a key driver of new enquiries for us. We recognise that the reliance on organic enquiries almost exclusively will not last and expect the ratios to return to around pre-Covid levels over the second half of this year.
Organic search remains a priority in the business and the company understands the importance of the channel. We work in a collaborative way with teams across the business to reach mutual goals.
Yes, fundamentally the best digital-first businesses have always looked at providing journey paths for existing customers, however this has become crucial as customer retention has become key to many businesses.
From those in the intermediary, lead generation and the affiliate spaces, protecting their existing serp real estate has been critical too, holding out for a return to normality and growth.
Several of our experts say technical SEO and the addition of new content continue to be priorities. Our experts are keen to respond well to customers' needs and support them during the pandemic, a time when trust is crucial and customers need support the most.
Understanding what information customers consume before they trust us enough to hit that sign up button will be important. I think we have been successful in capturing customers high up the funnel when they research. We want to make sure we can lead them down the funnel and convert. Finding the balance between strictly providing pension information and a commercial landing page is a fine one, so we always looking to improve that.
One thing Covid taught us is that trust in your finance providers you use is incredibly important when other things around us fall apart. PensionBee remained open for business, we did not experience fall outs on our phone line because we knew it's important to be there for our customers when they need us most. Content in our app or on our site was incredibly powerful to build trust amongst our customers and prospects during this pandemic. We saw how much of heavy lifting content did during Covid.
We've done a lot of work in the first 6 months of this year and I feel our site is in a good place from a technical and on-page content perspective. Our plans in the immediate future are more content, more PR and better UX. I feel the latter is becoming increasingly important.
We have not changed anything in our strategy specifically due to Covid, most activities were pre-planned and we will continue down these paths. The only significant thing we did due to Covid was adding new content on how we would deal with our customers remotely rather than face to face.
We plan to cover all aspects mentioned above as part of an overall organic strategy. In terms of what will see the greatest change as a result of user behaviour it’s definitely the content updates, we’d want to make sure we’re responding to the latest information as quickly as possible to create the best user experience.
Technical SEO has become important from a hygiene perspective, especially page speed due to the Google updates this year. I think adoption of best practices here has been put under the spotlight as businesses try and drive as much from their organic channels as possible.
We’ve also welcomed Laura Rettie to the 71a team as Chief Communications Officer, driving our content marketing, newsjacking and link building efforts, which we see as big growth areas for us this year.
Being a digital money transfer company in a fast moving environment means that technical SEO is always a key area of our strategy. That hasn’t really changed or increased due to covid. However, one thing that has become more important is that we’re now focusing more on being flexible and reacting quickly to changing user needs with all our activities. We learned that unforeseeable events can happen and affect people all around the world so you need to be able to act fast as a business.
Showing the value of SEO to stakeholders and finding people who can write great content seemnto be a recurring challenge in financial services, according to our experts. The challenge of measuring SEO results - which can sometimes take months or years to show - is a common hurdle when communicating value to managers and boards.
Showing the business how much SEO contributes to acquisition remains a challenge. However as we attribute customers on a last touch to SEO, we also use other attribution modelling, such as first touch, to measure the initial intent impact p/channel. SEO is a clear winner there on non-branded traffic. Combined with us being able to measure the revenue/channel, or LTVp/customer and channel, SEO always comes out as one of the most valuable channels. Make sure you can measure your channels and report to the business the impact a channel is having.
My experience is that if you can't showcase value this way, you will always struggle with your managers or boardrooms.
I've worked in financial services for 8 years now and the biggest challenge is always the time it takes to see results. There’s always some quick wins with SEO, but depending on the starting point of your site, it can sometimes take months, even years, to start seeing meaningful results. This is always a challenge when looking to get significant budget signed off.
The biggest challenge we have is finding content writers who understand mortgages/FS and can write in our style, but Covid has not changed this.
The world of financial services isn’t the most interesting topic, and therefore link building is a challenge that requires additional creativity. Also, hiring organic search experts that truly understand and enjoy the subject matter of the channels within the business is tough but something that’s important in order to deliver the highest quality insight.
Talent and expertise in a fairly unique vertical has always been a challenge. Financial services is very much a short tail game, which presents a challenge to getting market share, and it also has stringent regulatory compliance which needs to be understood.
Some product categories are so dominated by price comparison sites that many brands do not consider SEO as a viable sales channel, so senior buy-in for initiatives can be problematic.
Lastly, driving content based initiatives around products that most of us don’t think about, or want to think about to gain traction for link building is another challenge.
One of the biggest challenges for financial services is definitely the complexity it involves. In SEO as well as other areas of the business. Projects naturally involve a lot more teams, approvals and people are spending a large amount of time in meetings. I was surprised how well this has worked when all forms of communication were shifted online basically overnight.
All of our experts have confirmed that their SEO investments have increased. Some have increased in different ways; however, the pandemic forced everything to move online and with that, teams needed to be larger and budgets could move toward where the priorities lie.
Increased since pre-covid, yes.
We have had more funds available for organic development work as we pulled back our paid spend significantly.
Increased, but as a newer company in the industry, that’s in line with the expected growth we need to compete in this space.
Increased, especially in the case of technical page speed changes and content based link building and newsjacking.
We’re currently growing the SEO team and hiring specialised people so yes, investment has definitely increased. I don’t think this is a direct result from the Covid-19 outbreak though, much rather happening as a natural evolution due to the growth of the business. On the other hand, I’m seeing a lot of movement in the SEO job market so maybe there is some sort of trend now as an outcome of the pandemic.
The general consensus here is that there haven't been many changes to how our experts are forecasting.
No, our forecast has remained the same throughout. Market decline isn't something you can predict and should just be a caveat as to why a forecast might not be achieved.
We are finding that now we are returning to pre-Covid levels of traffic and enquiries, and this has made some Q on Q and Y on Y comparisons tricky. The forecasts going forward are based on our historic data from pre-Covid times.
Having deeper insight into which product areas have suffered headwinds in 2021 and those which have grown significantly beyond impressions data has really helped us when forecasting results for clients. The headline impressions data and trends don’t give a true picture of performance.
Without having an insight into how the market is really performing under those numbers, and where the market is headed, certainly helps give accuracy in forecasts.
The answers here vary; however, revenue and traffic were mentioned the most.
SEO is a clear winner there on non-branded traffic. Combined with us being able to measure the revenue/channel, or LTVp/customer and channel, SEO always comes out as one of the most valuable channels. Make sure you can measure your channels and report to the business the impact a channel is having.
When reporting SEO success we always look at what the goal is for the experience we are optimizing. Obviously on retail we very much focus on revenue, AOV and incremental sales. This last bit is particularly important to me. Ensuring we drive incrementality on both new users and orders is key for the long term success of the business. On the other hand, when it comes to content experiences where we expect the users to engage with the assets we produce, I tend to focus on metrics that can tell me how well that content is responding to their informational needs. I particularly like to create custom KPIs made out of weighted averages where I combine time on site, bounce rate, visit depth, etc.
Our number 1 metric is the number of enquiries we generate and this is reported on a weekly basis. Organic traffic, conversion rates and visibility are also important, but more so for the marketing team rather than the wider business.
I see all the metrics above as important, but I think revenue should be the main focus for any business when discussing organic performance.
Organic revenue is always the benchmark of success, SEO should always be about maximising value for customers and clients. Other metrics can provide a leading indicator of performance, such as quality coverage and links, visits, positional gains, CTR returning visitors...etc but ROI is king. Securing long term buy-in and investment is so crucial for agencies, freelancers and in-house SEOs alike.
This interactive table and chart displays the data for 200 different brand domains in the finance sector. Use the drop down category menu below to see how domains in industry sub-categories compare. The interactive chart displays the 10 brand domains with the highest or lowest visibility (overall or by 'Month on Month' or 'Year by Year' difference) across the past 52 weeks. Click on the arrow next to each column heading to view the data in descending or ascending order.
Click domains in the key to show/hide them
Data for the Top 300 Finance SEO League Table has been provided by SISTRIX. The SISTRIX Visibility Index is a value for the visibility of a domain/sub-folder/sub-domain in Google's search results and how the domain has developed with Google. The effects of Google updates on the rankings are also shown in the Visibility Index.
We have tried our best to determine and identified the most relevant and visible domains/folder/sub-domains for the various categories. In some cases we've had to compare on sub-directory level, while in other cases on domains level. There are also those rare cases where the comparison in a category is both for a domain vs sub-category which is because some domains only focus one very niche topics that are covered so we have had to make that exception.