Study: Financial Services 'Searchers' Shouldn't Be Ignored

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A new study conducted by predictive analytics firm Compete Inc. for Yahoo Search Marketing concluded that consumers reached with search are attractive for financial services companies since they are both wealthy and of strong credit quality.

The finding contradicts the widely held belief that someone who is searching for credit information online may not be creditworthy or a good target for advertisers. Also, such financial searchers are not just searching simply to reach their online banking account.

"A third of people who are searching on brand terms are looking to establish a new relationship or expand their existing relationship" with financial service providers, said Mike Bailey, managing director of financial services at Compete, Boston.

According to the findings, 32 percent of financial searchers are in the $60,000-$100,000 annual income bracket with 34 percent in the $30,000-$60,000 group. Seventeen percent earn more than $100,000 while another 17 percent make less than $30,000.

The study, conducted from September to February, tracked 265,000 financial searches from 76,000 searchers across Yahoo, MSN, Google, Lycos, Ask Jeeves and Hotbot. It is titled, "The Role of Search Marketing in Financial Decisions" and is Yahoo Search Marketing's first study since it dropped the Overture name.

The results illustrate the importance of search in the financial services space, particularly in light of a JupiterResearch estimate that the finance category represented 21 percent of the nearly $4 billion spent last year in paid search.

For example, 47 percent of all searchers online are searching for cards, 31 percent for loans and 22 percent for deposits. But retail bank brand searchers have different priorities: 43 percent searched for cards, 39 percent for deposits and 18 percent for loans.

Bank marketers, therefore, should cater copy and landing page experience for search efforts on their brand terms toward deposits and cards, Yahoo and Compete said. Brand terms give retail banks not just a chance to acquire new customers, but also to poach those of their rivals.

Yahoo's study found that 34 percent of brand search traffic to large retail banks is from in-market prospects rather than customers servicing an existing account online. However, 80 percent of the prospectors researching a bank are competitors' customers.

The aggregated retail bank brands included Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual and Wachovia.

Another finding was the way consumers query for an array of terms in a relatively even distribution. This suggested a need for balance in a term portfolio and optimization efforts.

Deposit and loan searchers showed balance in their types of terms. But credit card searchers lean more toward researching brand-related terms, including partner cards and affinity relationships.

"From a search marketer's perspective, when I establish a portfolio of terms to put a listing on, I want to make sure I have coverage across general terms, specific terms and brand terms to reach all of the consumers investigating the products that I'm marketing," said Justin Merickel, director of the finance category at Yahoo Search Marketing, Sunnyvale, CA.

Perhaps one of the most important confirmations was search's role in driving offline account acquisition.

Credit card prospects find it more convenient to apply online -- 83 percent via the Web, 5 percent through the bank branch and the rest by telephone.

But of those consumers who research their checking, savings and loan options online, one-third to one-half of those who open accounts do so at in-person channels. For example, 56 percent of checking account openings resulting from search were consummated at a branch versus 43 percent online. For savings accounts it was 38 percent in a branch, 60 percent online and the rest on the phone. For loans, the branch's share was 36 percent, the Internet's 42 percent and the phone's 22 percent.

Yahoo and Compete recommended that marketers track search return on investment across all fulfillment channels.

"While searchers show a strong propensity to apply online, marketers must work to tie offline transactions to search as 50 percent or more of the conversion occurs offline," the report said.

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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