Using content to overcome the cost of search marketing

Published in Global Banking & Finance Review, December 2022

With aggregators hogging the key spots in Google, finance companies need to introduce new tactics if they want to be visible. Garry Hamilton, Chief Growth Officer and Founder of Equator, looks at the importance of content and outreach in this competitive space.


Given the fact Google is one of only four trillion-dollar companies globally at the time of writing, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that spend on search marketing is soaring.


According to research company Statista, in the UK alone search marketing budgets increased by an astonishing 39% from 2020-21. But because it’s big business, competition for space is fierce – and costs are rising accordingly.


Nowhere is this more apparent than in the financial services sector, where companies can be left with a bill comprising £100 per paid-search click. As a direct consequence of steepling costs, price comparison websites took off as an efficient way to drive leads and now account for as much as 90% of some firms’ sales enquiries.


As a result, aggregators have a lot of revenue to plough back into search marketing and are an indomitable force, seizing up to 50% of first-page results. For brands languishing on the second page, the front page may seem like an impenetrable fortress. This outcome can cause a marketer to ask: “Can I buy my way to the front page?”

This outcome can cause a marketer to ask: “Can I buy my way to the front page?”

Staking your spot on the first page

While aggregators hog page one in almost every market there is still room to compete, with at least half of the positions for taking.


The other good news is Google is unlikely to make another move into this space after its failure with Google Compare. With potential anti-trust threats and a healthy revenue stream from the incumbents, the search giant dare not squeeze this space as it has done in e-commerce retail.


Moreover, the search space is changing. While many users will still search for “cheap loan” and similar basic terms, the vast increase in mobile and voice search means the nature of research is getting longer, and search terms more natural in tone. This results in users being much more precise about their needs; for example, seeking “business indemnity insurance for plumbers”.


To grow sales, emphasis must move away from obvious keyword pairings towards audience-specific content that is meaningful, SEO-friendly, and a persuasive tool to capture and convert customers. To understand why, let’s take a look at how this approach worked for a well-known financial brand.

How Axa took on the aggregators and won


One of the world’s largest insurers, AXA typically sees around 700,000 visitors each month. The business has achieved more than 4,500 first-page non-brand rankings. But critically, it has also benefitted from top-of-page rankings that outperform aggregators. For example, AXA’s Commercial Lines business has regularly hit #1 for its largest term, “Business Insurance”.


The business needed to find new ground to build a competitive advantage in a highly rate-led sector. The brief was simple: attract more people without necessarily reducing rates or spending heavily on above-the-line advertising.


This space is awash with aggregators, resulting in ever more price sensitivity. The challenge was to build a compelling customer experience that would transcend simple premium comparison and make people choose AXA Business Insurance – even when it wasn’t the cheapest policy.


This is where content can be more valuable than cash. If done well, great content should be strong enough to attract potential customers and hang onto them as they move through a buying journey.


Analysis and experience showed an opportunity to engage business owners on a deeper emotional level. The strategy that followed revolved around tools and articles that would chime with what was important for potential customers.


Using the simple insight that AXA Business Insurance works hard to make insurance easy for businesspeople, the content strategy was intended to attract more users via search. Users were presented with various dynamic tools to help convert them into buyers. The targeted outreach campaign was supported with best-practice SEO to ensure content found its way to the right people without the need for AXA to pay for expensive media.


Part of this approach was the creation of audience-specific landing pages. This strategy recognised that AXA doesn’t just insure businesses, but individually butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers. All have individual needs and desires as complex and diverse as Google.


How better content transforms SEO metrics

More than 50 pages of unique content answered everyday products specific to each industry such as, “Does this kind of insurance cover spoilage of products?” and “Can I get my baking equipment insured?”


The content resonated with Google and also the target audience. Demonstrating that AXA truly understood the businesses it was targeting and answering their bugbear questions grew conversion. It also did something the aggregators constantly fail to do: be personal and accessible.


SEO is now as much about the user as the product. Focusing on engagement, a better user experience, and greater specificity means lower bounce rate, improved conversion rate, and higher rankings. SEO can work further up the funnel, building awareness and trust ahead of conversion.


With a new strategy in operation, AXA has increased turnover and reached a bigger audience while reducing advertising costs. Net promoter score (NPS), a measure of customer loyalty and likelihood of recommendation, has also improved.


Most importantly, the cumulative effect of building presence and ranking for so many topic areas has made AXA the authority on business insurance, reflected in its top search results positions.

Final tips for financial SEO success

Whether you are using internal resources, an agency, or ideally both in collaboration, you must invest substantially in content and outreach.


Do this by placing focus on your business’s specialisms. You will not beat your competition at everything; instead, go deep and wide within your expertise.


Finally, remember to build content for your audience – not for your products or keyword. This approach delivers a better user experience, improves conversion, and builds keyword relevance across a content pool.


For too long, SEO strategies have continued to consist of marketing teams throwing budget at getting a higher listing. The antidote to this inefficient activity is an ambitious and audience-focussed content strategy.


In this way, financial services firms can satisfy Google, attract target audiences, and beat the aggregators with content that responds to the emotional, not just transactional, needs of the customer.

This article was originally published in Global Banking & Finance Review, December 2022

Read more