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Google Business Profile Optimization For The Financial Vertical

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Google Business Profile Optimization For The Financial Vertical

The financial vertical is a dynamic, challenging, and highly regulated space.

As such, for businesses in this vertical, optimizing local search presence and, specifically, Google Business Profile listings requires a greater level of sensitivity and specialization than industries like retail or restaurant.

The inherent challenges stem from a host of considerations, such as internal branding guidelines, accessibility considerations, regulatory measures, and governance considerations among lines of business within the financial organization, among others.

This means that local listings in this vertical are not “one size fits all” but rather vary based on function and fall into one of several listing types, including branches, loan officers, financial advisors, and ATMS (which may be inclusive of walk-up ATMs, drive-through ATMs, and “smart ATMs”).

Each of these types of listings requires a unique set of hours, categories, hyper-local content, attributes, and a unique overall optimization strategy.

The goal of this article is to dive deeper into why having a unique optimization strategy matters for businesses in the financial vertical and share financial brand-specific best practices for listing optimization strategy.

Financial Brand Listing Type Considerations

One reason listing optimization is so nuanced in the financial vertical is that, in addition to all the listing features that vary by business function as mentioned above, Google also has essentially different classifications (or types) of listings by definition – each with its own set of guidelines (read “rules”) that apply according to a listing scenario.

This includes the distinction between a listing for an organization (e.g., for a bank branch) vs. that of an individual practitioner (used to represent a loan officer that may or may not sit at the branch, which has a separate listing).

Somewhere between those two main divisions, there may be a need for a department listing (e.g., for consumer banking vs. mortgages).

Again, each listing classification has rules and criteria around how (and how many) listings can be established for a given address and how they are represented.

Disregarding Google’s guidelines here carries the risk of disabled listings or even account-level penalties.

While that outcome is relatively rare, those risks are ill-advised and theoretically catastrophic to revenue and reputation in such a tightly regulated and competitive industry.

Editor’s note: If you have 10+ locations, you can request bulk verification.

Google Business Profile Category Selection

Category selection in Google Business Profile (GBP) is one of the most influential, and thus important, activities involved in creating and optimizing listings – in the context of ranking, visibility, and traffic attributable to the listing.

Keep in mind you can’t “keyword optimize” a GBP listing (unless you choose to violate Business Title guidelines), and this is by design on Google’s part.

Because of this, the primary and secondary categories that you select are collectively one of the strongest cues that you can send to Google around who should see your listing in the local search engine results pages (SERPs), and for what queries (think relevancy).

Suffice it to say this is a case where quality and specificity are more important than quantity.

This is, in part, because Google only allows for one primary category to be selected – but also because of the practice of spamming the secondary category field with as many entries as Google will allow (especially with categories that are only tangentially relevant for the listing) can have consequences that are both unintuitive and unintended.

The point is too many categories can (and often do) muddy the signal for Google’s algorithm regarding surfacing listings for appropriate queries and audiences.

This can lead to poor alignment with users’ needs and experiences and drive the wrong traffic.

It can also cause confusion for the algorithm around relevancy, resulting in the listing being suppressed or ranking poorly, thus driving less traffic.

Governance Vs. Cannibalization

Just as we already discussed the distinction between the choice of classification types and the practice of targeting categories appropriately according to the business functions and objectives represented by a given listing, these considerations play together to help frame a strategy around governance within the context of the organic local search channel.

The idea here is to create separation between lines of business (LOBs) to prevent internal competition over rankings and visibility for search terms that are misaligned for one or more LOB, such that they inappropriately cannibalize each other.

In simpler terms, users searching for a financial advisor or loan officer should not be served a listing for a consumer bank branch, and vice versa.

This creates a poor user experience that will ultimately result in frustrated users, complaints, and potential loss of revenue.

The Importance Of Category Selection

To illustrate this, see the example below.

A large investment bank might have the following recommended categories for Branches and Advisors, respectively (an asterisk refers to the primary category):

Branch Categories

  • *Investment Service.
  • Investment Company.
  • Financial Institution.

Advisor Categories

  • *Financial Consultant.
  • Financial Planner.
  • Financial Broker.

Notice the Branch categories signal relevance for the institution as a whole, whereas the Advisor categories align with Advisors (i.e., individual practitioners.) Obviously, these listings serve separate but complementary functions.

When optimized strategically, their visibility will align with the needs of users seeking out information about those functions accordingly.

Category selection is not the only factor involved in crafting a proper governance strategy, albeit an important one.

That said, all the other available data fields and content within the listings should be similarly planned and optimized in alignment with appropriate governance considerations, in addition to the overall relevancy and content strategy as applicable for the associated LOBs.

Specialized Financial Brand Listing Attributes

GBP attributes are data points about a listing that help communicate details about the business being represented.

They vary by primary category and are a great opportunity to serve users’ needs while boosting performance by differentiating against the competition, and feeding Google’s algorithm more relevant information about a given listing.

This is often referred to as the “listing completeness” aspect of Google’s local algorithm, which translates to “the more information Google has about a listing, the more precisely it can provide that listing to users according to the localized queries they use.”

The following is a list of attributes that are helpful for the financial vertical:

  • Online Appointments.
  • Black-Owned.
  • Family-Led.
  • Veteran-Led.
  • Women-Led.
  • Appointment Links.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Elevator.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Entrance.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Parking Lot.

The following chart helps to illustrate which attributes are best suited for listing based on listing/LOB/ORG type:

Image from Rio SEO, December 2022

Managing Hours Of Operation

This is an important and often overlooked aspect of listings management in the financial space and in general.

Hours of operation, first and foremost, should be present in the listings, not left out. While providing hours is not mandatory, not doing so will impact user experience and visibility.

Like most of the previous items, hours for a bank branch (e.g., 10 am to 5 pm) will be different than those of the drive-through ATM (open 24 hours), and that of a mortgage loan officer and financial advisor that both have offices at the same address.

Each of these services and LOBs can best be represented by separate listings, each with its own hours of operation.

Leaving these details out, or using the same set of operating hours across all of these LOBs and listing types, sets users up for frustration and prevents Google from properly serving and messaging users around a given location’s availability (such as “open now,” “closing soon,” or “closed,” as applicable.)

All of this leads to either missed opportunities when hours are omitted, allowing a competitor (that Google knows is open) to rank higher in the SERPs, or frustrated customers that arrive at an investment banking office expecting to make a consumer deposit or use an ATM.

Appointment URL With Local Attribution Tracking

This is especially relevant for individual practitioner listings such as financial advisors, mortgage loan officers, and insurance agents.

Appointment URLs allow brands to publish a link where clients can book appointments with the individual whose listing the user finds and interacts within search.

This is a low-hanging fruit tactic that can make an immediate and significant impact on lead generation and revenue.

Taking this another step, these links can be tagged with UTM parameters (for brands using Google Analytics and similarly tagged for other analytic platforms) to track conversion events, leads, and revenue associated with this listing feature.

Editorial note: Here is an example of a link with UTM parameters: https://www.domain.com/?utm_source=source&utm_medium=medium&utm_campaign=campaign

 

Financial vertical appointment booking exampleImage from Google, December 2022

Leveraging Services

Services can be added to a listing to let potential customers know what services are available at a given location.

add-services-google-business-profileScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Services in GBP are subject to availability by primary category, another reason category selection is so important, as discussed above.

Specifically, once services are added to a listing, they will be prominently displayed on the listing within the mobile SERPs under the “Services” tab of the listing.

financial-brand-services-google-business-profile-mobileScreenshot from Google, January 2023

This not only feeds more data completeness, which benefits both mobile and desktop performance, and increases engagement in the mobile SERPs (click to website, call, driving directions) which are bottom-funnel key performance indicators (KPIs) that drive revenue.

Google Posts

Google Posts represent a content marketing opportunity that is valuable on multiple levels.

An organization can post relevant, evergreen content that is strategically optimized for key localized phrases, services, and product offerings.

While there is no clear evidence or admission by Google that relevant content will have a direct impact on rankings overall for that listing, what we can say for certain from observation is that listings with well-optimized posts do present in the local SERPs landscape for keyword queries that align with that content.

This happens in the form of “related to your search” snippets and has been widely observed since 2019.

This has a few different implications, reinforcing the benefits of leveraging Google Posts in your local search strategy.

First, given that Post snippets are triggered, it is fair to infer that if a given listing did not have the relevant post, that listing may not have surfaced at all in the SERPs. Thus, we can infer a benefit around visibility, which leads to more traffic.

Second, it is well-documented that featured snippets are associated with boosts in click-through rate (CTR), which amplifies the traffic increases that result from the increased visibility alone.

Additional Post Benefits

Beyond these two very obvious benefits of Google Posts, they also provide many benefits around messaging potential visitors and clients with relevant information about the location, including products, services, promotions, events, limited-time offers, and potentially many others.

Use cases for this can include consumer banks that feature free checking or direct deposit or financial advisors that offer a free 60-minute initial consultation.

Taking the time to publish posts that highlight these differentiators could have a measurable impact on traffic, CTR, and revenue.

Another great aspect of Google Posts is that, for a while, they were designed to be visible according to specific date ranges – and, at one time, would “expire” or fall out of the SERPs once the time period passed.

Certain post types will surface long after the expiration date of the post if there is a relevancy match between the user’s query and the content.

Concluding Thoughts

To summarize, the financial vertical requires a highly specialized, precise GBP optimization strategy, which is well-vetted for the needs of users, LOBs, and regulatory compliance.

Considerations like primary and secondary categories, hours, attributes, services, and content (in the form of Google Posts) all play a critical role in defining that overall strategy, including setting up and maintaining crucial governance boundaries between complementary LOBs.

Undertaking all these available listing features holistically and strategically allows financial institutions and practitioners to maximize visibility, engagement, traffic, revenue, and overall performance from local search while minimizing cannibalism, complaints, and poor user experience.

More resources: 


Featured Image: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock



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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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