Focus on what real people really want

Real SEO for credit union websites starts with real people

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most mysterious and misunderstood terms in the world of credit union websites. The standard “SEO tactics” that might work for sites selling shoes or smoothie recipes (stuff like excessive repetition, rephrasing, padding, keyword stuffing, title and meta tag blather, even more repetition, etc.) will probably just annoy members and potential members.

Sadly, there’s no such thing as a magic credit union SEO button that will make it rain new members, loans, and deposits. But here’s how CU websites are really very different, with unique challenges and opportunities – and how your approach to SEO needs to be different as well.

What do real people really want to do?

CU websites are not places where people hang out and socialize, shop, or browse casually; your members and potential members are using your site to get something done or find information they need. Credit union websites should be slippery, not sticky.

The SEO buzzword here is “intent”, which simply means the actual goal behind a search. What are people trying to accomplish? It’s crucial to understand this, and to get very specific about the kinds of intents you see and want to encourage.

Credit union websites are weird

The truth is, most of the analytics tools and SEO practices out there don’t quite get CU websites. So you have to figure out what’s important and what’s not, and develop an understanding of how real people are actually finding and using your site.

To give just one example, 99.9%+ (usually much more) of the searches that land people on a credit union website are variations on the CU’s name. In other words, they’re already aware of and looking for a particular CU, but hardly anyone ever actually Googles generic products like “car loan” or “checking account”.

However, people do Google their problems and concerns, so there’s often untapped opportunity to create good content around that; things like “credit score”, “repo” (which is sometimes people looking for bargains on repossessed cars, sometimes people worried about their car being repossessed; think about intent carefully), “refinance”, “budgeting”, “consolidation”, “solar panels”, etc.

How-tos and explainers are another mostly untapped opportunity to create truly useful website content – and a great way to increase satisfaction while decreasing service costs.

You have more than one home page

Here’s another example of a universal CU website oddity: the most-visited page (after the home page) is almost always the online banking product page. That’s often because people Google for the online banking login – terms like “BlahCU login” are pretty common.

Even though your login is probably on every page, Google looks for the word “login” and plops them into the product page. Many members just bookmark that page and may never see your home page again. So the conclusion is (hopefully) obvious – to reach these members, you have to go where they are, and pay more attention to the content on this page. Treat it as a second home page.

The same goes for other commonly bookmarked pages, like rates or calculator pages. So, for example, you might want to separate your deposit and lending rates onto different pages (so you can see who is looking for what) and think about what you might want to say to the rate watchers.

Credit unions are local. Very local.

That’s kind of an obvious statement, but it’s also an important SEO advantage. Google pays attention to where people are, and prioritizes locally relevant results. One advantage is that your competition for clicks is more local.

However, Google also needs to clearly understand where you are. That happens in two primary ways; Google Business, and your website content.

The first is fairly easy. If you haven’t done so already, sign up your CU on Google Business, claim your locations, and make sure the info is complete and accurate. Add some photos, descriptions, hours, etc. to help members and potential members find you through Google and Google Maps.

On your website, make sure it’s crystal clear, on every page, exactly where you are on this big blue marble spinning through space. A surprising percentage of credit union websites don’t mention a city or state anywhere but on a locations page. There are dozens of “tri-state areas”, and 38 places named Centerville in the US. Be specific, and make sure this info is in the footer and meta tags on every page.

And of course, your local focus is another advantage when it comes to your content strategy: you have a much more specific idea of what local people are thinking about. For example, do you make loans for solar panels, lake houses, hunting cabins, airplanes, or snowmobiles? Are people more worried about a government shutdown, the cost of tuition, or the fate of a large local employer?

Internal search data is gold

The search engine built into your website is an important way people find what they need – and an important source of data (and if it’s not, let’s talk ASAP). In fact, we’ve found that a lot of mobile users (the majority of CU website users) pretty much ignore the navigation and use the internal search… as long as it works well.

Logging and understanding internal search data is an important way to keep a finger on the pulse of how members are using your site – and how you can make improvements so more people find what they need.

Use the real language real people use

One often-overlooked opportunity for content improvement is simply making your website easier to understand. There are three main ways to do this: re-organize around real-people mental maps, not your organizational or product structure, use natural language (the real words real people use) instead of jargon, and reduce the reading level so that more people will understand your content faster and more completely.

Focus on what real people really want, not gaming Google

These are only a few examples that barely scratch the surface of how to make the most of your credit union’s website. The overall point is that you’ll find far more success focusing on what real live people actually want and need rather than worrying about clicks and keywords. Yes, the data is very important, but it’s far from the whole story.

Sound familiar? It should – that focus on people is the whole idea of credit unions in the first place. It’s all about “people helping people”, and it’s what credit unions do best, whether it’s face to face or online.

Brian Wringer

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