SEO versus SEM for Community Financial Institutions

by. Langdon Andrews

Increasingly customers start their search for new financial relationships online. So today, when community financial institutions are looking for new customers they are also starting their marketing online. This has raised the visibility of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) in the financial community and raised questions as to which is more effective.

It is fair to say that SEO is really part of SEM, but SEO specifically refers to attempts to improve your website’s organic (non-paid) search results. Institutions that use SEO ensure that their websites have proper titles, and emphasize keywords in hyperlinks, headings, and URLs. These activities, among others, ensure that searches using keywords such as checking, loans, credit union/bank name, or the name of your town will bring up your institution’s name.

Unfortunately, almost every financial institution uses the same keywords: checking, saving, CDs, loans, mortgages, home equity. Trying to improve your page rank in search results puts you in a head-to-head competition with national and regional competitors and can be very costly.

SEM, a term that includes SEO but also Pay-Per-Click (PPC) search engine advertising,  is a more direct way to ensure that your institution will always get a place on the page. And research has also indicated that clicks on ads are more likely to convert than clicks on organic search results. SEM marketing also allows you to set your budget before hand and test different ads to see which perform best. Many SEO/SEM practitioners also believe that Google takes care of their customers and that SEM improves your organic search results. SEM also has the advantage of being able to bring your potential customers to a purposely built landing page designed to convert visits into clicks to make contact or to open a new account.

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