Up until the last decade or so, many banks and credit unions didn't even have websites allowing consumers to access existing accounts, open new ones or apply for loans. Today, however, financial institutions not only have these sites, they are more focused on the mobile experience and creative apps that allow consumers to, for instance, deposit checks via their phones or get texts after they use an ATM.

However, financial firms should make sure that their website is helping generate and retain customers before launching into more advanced mobile ventures. A website should influence customers to talk about their experience in a positive way, which helps expand a bank's presence. A poor website experience, conversely, will lead to complaints and could dissuade new customers from signing up for products and services.  

For instance, when a consumer first visits your website, they should immediately know who you are, what you value and what you do well. It is difficult to be all things to all customers, and even more difficult to get that message across on a single Web page, but it's important to consider what a current or prospective customer initially sees when they enter your website.

Understanding how people look at websites, what they want to see and what will drive them away is extremely important. Does your website make it easy for a prospective customer to see where to sign up for an account, research interest rates or apply for a loan or credit card? These options should be on the forefront of what your bank provides to visitors of its website.

Make the site simple with great images and large, clear call-to-action buttons and hyperlinks. It should be easy for the consumer to initiate a relationship. Give them simple and clear options regarding how to sign up online or call your bank. Ideally, provide the option to set up an appointment at a nearby branch if they would rather come in and talk to a representative.

Lastly – and this is where many websites go very wrong – make information about your products, rates and fees readily accessible. Consumers love to comparison-shop, and when they feel that they have enough information, they will make a confident and educated decision. Advertising your rates and fees up front can help turn visitors into long-term, loyal customers.

The Web designer Alex Sylvia provided one example of a simplified but extremely intuitive landing page when she designed a hypothetical one for Sovereign Bank in an effort to illustrate how it could be improved upon. This example, published on the blog of the Web design firm Fresh Tilled Soil, allows consumers to easily find how to log into online banking, find an ATM or bank location and access information such as rates, sign-up information, etc.

It's easy to get carried away with keeping up on the latest technological developments in banking, but for financial institutions, the key to a successful online presence is getting the basics right first.

Jeff Bartlett leads ConsumerTrack.com, which owns www.GoBankingRates.com, a website that helps consumers searching for banking products, interest rates and personal finance news.