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3 Reasons Why Your Credit Union Website Doesn’t Matter*

Originally published on CUInsight.

If members are using your credit union website, have you already missed an opportunity?

Make your website great at attracting new members. Your online banking and mobile apps should serve member needs, or provide an easy path to the solution. In other words, your credit union website doesn’t matter (*for members).

After such a statement, you might expect all the site design firms to prepare “why your credit union website is essential for members” articles. Hey, if I have that kind of influence, wow! They would still be misguided.

Here’s 3 reasons why your site doesn’t matter (to your members):

  1. Many websites are trying to do 2 things, educate members and attract new ones.
  2. Automatic pre-approval systems can display personalized loan product offers.
  3. SEO can be optimized to attract new visitors (and create new members).

In research after drafting this piece, I found a fitting resource from CU industry site design firm BloomCU. Written in 2016, it helps credit union staff ask the right questions when setting up their site. Though dated, they got this close to realizing my position.

1. “Attract” & “Educate” Work Poorly Together

Browser with Site Thumbnails
It’s easy to just be another tab.

Ok, let’s say we agreed your site isn’t for existing members; that doesn’t mean BloomCU’s guidance is wrong. Just recognize that your vision and goals for the site might be slightly different. What is it trying to accomplish?

  • Help a member find resources or take action towards some goal?
  • Convince the visitor to become a member of your credit union?

Most sites look to achieve the first goal. That makes the latter more difficult.

Connect with visitors by illuminating the pains they currently have, then explain how your credit union can solve them. Show, don’t tell, by featuring applications and other processes that are surprisingly fast, easy, and attuned to their needs.

Too many sites try to achieve both goals. A single page may promote the benefits of membership, but also guide members to taking action towards some task. Unlike those musical mashups on Glee, they struggle to accomplish either.

A Shining Example

One of our clients actually achieved this step on their own! Take a look at Wellby Financial‘s new design, language, and overall site. It’s focused on attracting members by highlighting their specialities.

Conveniently, if existing members arrive, it gives them information they may also want to know, while not compromising the primary message.

And the Other Direction

Sometimes, credit union websites end up becoming, “hey, let’s just put this somewhere” repositories. One large client has an unformatted sidebar list of over 20 links. They are unrelated, unsorted, and have no connection to the page you are currently on.

Your mobile app and online banking systems are 100% for serving members. Let your site be at its best attracting new ones. Eager to show me how your site has a strong member focus? That it clearly integrates into your app to address questions and guide towards new products?

Nice work. Two questions:

  1. If your site is tailored so well towards your members, where are you selling people on the credit union?
  2. What drives new membership growth?

Make Your Website “Community Central”

People Looking at Wall of Photos
Not literally, but representation is important!

Leave your website to present how your credit union serves members, the community, and what you can provide to make the visitor’s life better (financially and otherwise, by addressing their pains). Then provide real-world examples. (Another time to “show, not tell”.)

Definitely include interviews with members (in text and video), featuring their actual photos. I may use stock imagery, but you shouldn’t! (Speaking of…) Humanize your credit union!

On this note, I love when credit unions use imagery from the communities they serve. Even better when the photographer is a member (always include a credit with their home city and “member since”).

Sidenote: This is where your social media engagement comes into play. It’s a fun circle. Your site portrays the credit union as a welcoming community featuring content by your own members (because it’s owned by them, of course!). Social media solicits that content from members, helping foster the welcoming community.

2. Automatic Pre-Approval Systems > Generic Loan Info Pages

Website on Computer
Booorrriinng.

What’s more engaging for a member? To learn about your loan offerings on a series of webpages, or get proactively notified of the loans they can get right now in the app? With a tap (or click, if they’re computer people), they can see rates for all products in one place.

To take advantage, all they need to do is press Apply. Since the pre-approvals are already done, they don’t have to go through lengthy applications. You may have heard of CuneXus. It’s a great system that grows lending. It can also be really expensive for your credit union.

My own company can help you get similar proactive approvals on your lending products. So far, we’ve been blown away by the capability and ease-of-use. And that it’s integrated into other valuable services means costs are more manageable.

Sure, I’d love to chat to see if this system is a fit for your credit union, but I’m a terrible salesperson. I’ll just encourage you to improve personalization and engagement, even if it means using a competitor’s (great, but definitely more expensive) product.

Some of our clients talk about adding personalization features in their websites. That’s cool, I guess. Isn’t that why your mobile app exists? It already knows everything about the member, while also being linked into your core & LOS to let them take immediate action.

Personalized websites are a neat tech feature, but I feel like, for this purpose, they’re the right answer done the wrong way. If your mobile app doesn’t seem up to the task, and your online banking provider wants bags of cash to add features, it’s time to look towards partners.

Get fintech and “big bank” capabilities without needing venture capital or billion-dollar valuations. Unless you want to just keep appealing only to an aging membership (now exceeding 51 on average, according to CUNA).

Combine that age-old (get it?) challenge with over-the-top financial services companies and you’re putting your institution into the “dumb bank” path I first wrote about in 2015.

3. SEO With One Goal

Site Statistics
Design for your goal.

“No PR is bad PR”

Sarah Cooke, former editor-in-Chief, Credit Union Times

If you’re not focusing on your SEO and online presence, then when people search for your credit union, they’ll find predominantly bad news: Robberies, bad reviews, and more. That’s not who you are. Set your own narrative.

Earning your place at the top of (or even in) search results is a science and an art. There’s an industry that exists solely to boost your ranking, highlighting its importance in modern marketing.

Already a challenge; why make SEO more difficult by muddying the site message?

You aren’t trying to convince members to join. And you aren’t showing guests the intricacies of your lending products.

The terminology of a site that’s selling and a site that’s informing is totally different. In my company blog, we’ve covered how SEO can grow your credit union, and also shared the essential guide to SEO performance. Let’s make it bring on new members:

  • Embrace brevity
  • Use keywords (including long-tail, ie. the long phrases people use)
  • Keep an updated blog answering questions people have

Keep it Short

Embrace brevity. I know, even seeing myself write that brings a tear to my eye. Me, the one who excitedly composes 3,000 word articles on a topic. Oh, I’m sorry. I’m being told that’s actually a “short story”. But you read it all, right? Right?

Even this article is probably (definitely) longer than it should be. Luckily, I have wonderful readers like you who get so engrossed, they stick around for the incredible insights.

All seriousness now…get in, make your point, then get out. It’s hard, but it delivers.

Keywords

Use a competitive keyword analysis tool to see the terms people use to find financial solutions. Integrate these terms into your content, from home page to products to blog.

Mention them a maximum of 3 or four times in a page. Too many and you get punished for “keyword stuffing”. Unlike the delicious Thanksgiving stuff, this one is bad and can cause your site to get pushed down in search results.

Long-tail keywords are where your efforts will shine. These are phrases like “where to get a cheap car loan near me”. They’re specific, and also will have less competition, meaning, they’re easier to get in top results (and cheaper for Google Ads).

Blog

Blog SEO Social Media Connected
It’s all connected.

If you’re reading this, then you just answered the why. People look for answers to their questions. Unbiased articles are great ways to address these concerns, then sometimes refer to your products (and membership). Search engines love this kind of content. So do people.

Your Site Matters, From a Different Point of View

When online banking had few features, it made good sense to have a website around providing all the information you might need. Now, your mobile app (which is the primary channel for members to engage the credit union) does tons more.

Build this up so a member can grab their phone and do almost anything in just a few taps. New features (which you can partner with fintechs to get…no need to change your core or LOS) make static info pages obsolete. Personalized options drive action.

My dad (and business partner) wrote way back in 2014: “It’s Not a Website. It’s Another Branch”. At the time, cool fintech stuff didn’t yet exist. Today, though, I wonder if the title would change. “It’s Not a Website. It’s Your Best Member Acquisition Tool.”

Of course, who am I to say? I’m just a geek.

It’s Not You. It’s My Line Width.

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Far be it for me to dictate your relationship with your favorite word processor. Go on, keep your margins at the safe 1 inch.

It’s not as if you’re putting text there anyway. Leave line spacing at double. Since you always seem to need the room.

Ignore the footer field, like you always do! Content at the bottom has feelings, too!

Reading Without Tiring

Well, that got out of hand. On the upside, when was the last time page formatting related to relationships?

Woman Reading on Phone at Coffee Shop

Have you ever read content (online or print) and felt tired by the end? It’s because you need to start exercising. Exercising your use of ideal line widths.

The premise of reading, from a biological perspective, is fascinating. Our brains see each character as a picture, which it associates with those surrounding it (left to right or right to left, depending on your heritage), then interprets that as a word/number/sentence. Incredible!

I don’t need to tell you how quickly this process occurs, since you’re reading without thinking about the shape of every letter.

Doing so is tiring. Your eyes and brain need a break, even if it is shorter than your last “vacation day” (you call that a day off?). The pauses come as you change lines. Think of the last exhausting thing you read. I’d bet the lines were quite long.

Holding Open Book

Researchers at the Baymard Institute learned our focus is best when you write within an ideal line width. The golden range? Between 50-75 characters, including spaces, on each line. They found your “subconscious is energized when jumping to the next line.”

In plain English: You get bored, tired, and otherwise distracted if you cannot be entertained by the mundane process of…WOW, A NEW LINE!

Line Width For Entertainment & All Possible Devices

Man on Tablet with Coffee

With readers viewing your content on any number of screen shapes and sizes, adopting a design which adapts is key. If you find the width cannot be reduced, there is another option: Line spacing.

Remember in school how you double-spaced that paper to hit the 2-page requirement? Turns out, you were right all along. This blog uses approximately a 1.5 line spacing setting to enhance readability coupled with a large font.

It’s your writing. Get it read! Pride aside, ask your marketing team how well a campaign runs if what you produce isn’t perused?

Note: Reading from credituniongeek.com, line width is less than 80 characters.

For further reference: http://baymard.com/blog/line-length-readability

Achievement is a Moving Benchmark

Originally published as feature article in February 2015 issue of student newsletter at my dojo, University Karate Center. Then published on CUInsight.com

Training in martial arts isn’t easy. Same with any other sport or activity. Beginners think, “wow, everyone is so far ahead of me…how could I ever do that?”

As a reader of this blog, you gain valuable insight into my secret life…a martial arts student and instructor. I’ve trained for, let’s just say, a while.

Progress in Life & Training

During my time at the karate school, many students have come through the dojo. Some still train today. Others moved on to different phases (and places) in their life. Most thrilling is welcoming past students back after extended absences due to school, work, or family.

In all of these scenarios, there is a continual challenge of improvement. What do I mean? Well, when you’re doing a thing for a while, you are immersed in it. You gain skills at a nice rate. It feels good.

But then you stop for a long period. “No problem,” you think. “I’ll just get back in the swing of things; I know this stuff!” Except, we all know it’s harder than that.

What you remember as simple isn’t quite so anymore. But you’re committed! You train hard and help regain your previous skills, perhaps even with a deeper understanding. Good for you!

Sure, these are the seeds of a longer discussion, but today I want to focus on what I call the moving benchmark.

As You Improve, So Do Others

The benchmark challenge emerges for individuals both new and long-term.

One recent karateka, as students of martial arts are referred, asked a great question a few months into their training:

“Sensei, how can I become as skilled as the high ranking instructors here? Every time I gain a new insight, they show me another way in which I’m just a beginner.”

Sound familiar? Hint: This isn’t solely about karate.

As you get better, at anything, and you are (really!), those with more experience are as well. You are working towards a moving benchmark. While you train and learn, your teachers get better, too.

Avid readers know what happens now. It’s time to relate to credit unions!

Improvements & Your Credit Union

Paper Notebook with Graph and ChartThat’s a mighty fine marketing strategy you’ve got there. As is your website; the team should be proud. And your member referral program is stellar!

Of course, yours is not the only credit union working on making each area better. Another looks to the same improvements, yet has an additional 25 years upon which to build.

As we tell our students at our dojo:

“It’s not about how long it took to finally start training. You started. And you’re here now. That’s what matters.”

Emulate the Experts

Even Olympic champions look up to someone. It’s how we all work together to improve.

Don’t be discouraged if the expert looks like an expert. That’s literally the point!

Continuous Growth

Embrace our karate school ideals of continuous growth and replicate what works.

We also encourage learning from those both junior and senior to you. Just because they’re a white belt doesn’t mean a Black Belt can’t learn from them!

Finance Flowchart with Laptop on DeskFor you, that means looking to your competition, whether that’s a fellow credit union or regional/national banks. Then remember you’re not competing with credit unions! You can all learn together!

In the martial arts, we use the opponent’s strength to our own advantage.

While sweeping your competition onto the mat may be an untenable act, observe their “movements” (actions, strategies, etc.) and discuss internally how a similar approach might work within your own institution.

The road to Black Belt is a long and challenging one. Also, it never ends. Who says it’s any different for credit union success?

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