While banks frequently tout the "multi-channel" experience, consumer behavior tends to fall into predictable digital banking patterns: Smartphones are used for fast transactions, branches are used to process very complex products like loans, and the web is for looking up product information and shopping for rates.
A peek into the numbers behind the web shopping part of the equation reveals a vast revenue stream, a search and display advertising market that's grown to billions of dollars each quarter. Google, in particular, is reaping benefits, as financial services leads the way toward a substantial book of business for the search engine giant.
"Despite the financial meltdown, five years later, Google search for financial information is still the king," says Larry Kim, founder and chief technology officer of WordStream, a search marketing firm that just finished a study of the Google Adwords and display advertising platforms.
To use Google Adwords, advertisers choose keywords or phrases related to their business. When a consumer uses those keywords as part of a search, the ad comes up. While the rates vary, the advertiser is typically charged when people click on the ad, with daily budgets part of the service. The Google Display Network enables retailers such as banks and other businesses to create web advertising.
The study found that finance services is the top advertising category on Google, and the one that pays the highest cost per click. "Financial Services has a higher conversion rate (about 6.1 percent compared to about 5.6 percent overall), which goes into to the cost per click," Kim says.
Finance was the top vertical for all Google related advertising, with State Farm, Geico, Quicken Loans, Capital One and Bank of America coming in as the top financial services advertisers.
Travel, such as Expedia, Hotels.com and Priceline.com, came in second; shopping sites such as Amazon and eBay were third; jobs and education sites such as University of Phoenix and Monster.com were fourth; Internet and Telecom firms such as AT&T and Sprint were fifth; followed by categories such as computer and electronics, business and industrial, home and garden, autos and beauty and fitness.
The mix of quick information on financial products that can be used by consumers for basic research on a series of banks makes it a good fit for Google ads, Kim says.
"A lot of people do their rate comparisons and that kind of stuff on Google...and information about credit cards, loans and other financial services. It's really the place where they go," says Kim.
The study found that beyond the $10.8 billion in advertising revenue generated by Google in the third quarter, Google search ads had 5.5 billion impressions per day and the Google Display Network had 25.6 billion impressions per day. The cost per click overall was $ 0.53 for search and $0.35 for display.
Kim says the cost per click is decreasing, but is offset by the growth in impressions - allowing for an overall increase in revenue. Google's ad revenue is up 16 percent from last year. For financial services, the cost per click is about $3 for search and $1 for display.
Web advertising is in obvious competition with other media, such as television and display, and Karsten Weide, vice president of media and entertainment for Google, contends the ability of consumers to directly engage ads, or to move from information on screen to the bank's site or customer service department, is what makes web search advertising appealing.
"You can close the loop online when you are shopping. If you are looking for insurance or a bank account, you can find information on line, click and it takes you to a page where you can get more information," he says, adding the click-through rates are easy to measure and apply to other performance stats. "You can calculate the ROI (return on investment) for your advertising. You have very good stats."
Regis Hadiaris, director of internet marketing for Quicken Loans, says Google is a part of a wide-ranging digital and off-line marketing strategy that ranges from social media to NASCAR sponsorship.
"We're using all of these pieces, we want to connect with people where they are interested in connecting with us," Hadiaris says, adding that Quicken Loans manages its marketing content in-house.
Hadiaris says Quicken Loans varies its topics for web ads from rates to product information. Like a lot of other financial institutions, Quicken Loans is tapping the embedded technology in smartphones and tablets - such as the camera - and incorporating it into its internet marketing strategy. The company's mobile image app lets users use smartphones to take photos of documents as part of loan processing. The company also tailors its messages based on geopgraphic user tendencies.
"[In Adwords] we have a broad set of topics that we advertise on because we're always trying to find the right ways to reach people," says Hadiaris. "Because we're in all 50 states, we advertise about issues that have relevance to what people are searching for in different areas. We don't have a one-size-fits-all process."
Google's Weide says that as display and search ads expand to tablets and other mobile devices, there are challenges based on security measures that are built into many mobile devices.
"For technical reasons, executing advertising on mobile devices is harder than on the desktop," Weide says.
According to the Google exec, tracking user activity by using cookies (a piece of software stored in a web browser that can be used to measure web activity) is harder on mobile devices than it is on personal computers. "If you go to BMW to look up information on a car, the advertiser can use a cookie to track your activity on the site and feed that into an algorithm to measure your interest in buying a car," Weide says.
Weide says that in the case of mobile devices, that doesn't work, because mobile browsers are typically not set up to handle cookies. This is done for security reasons, but the net effect is it makes it harder to track behavior on an app and thus provide recommendations. Weide says one possible way to circumvent that is to target marketing by a device ID.
"Eventually, mobile advertising will be better than desktop. You get more [visits] than on the desktop, which allows for more advertising," Weide says. "And there's another layer on top of that with the location element that's possible when the customer is using a mobile device, which makes the advertising smarter. The advertising messages could infer your interest in a product based on where you are."
Financial institutions are making major inroads with Google's varied advertising services.