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Oh, The Tangled Webs We Weave...
July, 1999- PA Banker Magazine
By Maria T. Brady
Contributing Writer

Shakespeare would be amazed how the definition of "Web" has evolved. Millions of surfers and businesses are astonished at the possibilities of the World Wide Web. So how does one begin to build an attention-keeping Web site? What are the pitfalls to avoid? How can you entice visitors without getting them tangled and frustrated at your site? This article will present fundamental ideas to consider when initiating development of your bank's Web site.

It is estimated "that total electronic commerce will account for as much as 6% of United States' Gross Domestic Product by 2005." Over 70 million people worldwide access the Internet. The potential for business is exponential. However, prospects, also known as "Web Surfers", have a very limited attention span. Moving to another site is just "a mouse click away." Presentation is key in maintaining your visitor's attention and encouraging movement through your site.

How can a community or regional bank capitalize on Internet opportunities? We know that someone in Alaska or Asia isn't your target audience. Your bank
focuses on the local community or region. One idea is to use the bank's site as a sales tool, building awareness of products, services, rates or the bank's history and community role. Other special interest sections could be a community bulletin board with special events, small business tips or other interesting information. Another way to utilize your site is to target and attract younger customers who may otherwise turn to alternative banking solutions.

The future of any business lies in the ability to adapt and capitalize on changing environments. Believe it or not, almost an entire generation has quickly learned to maneuver on the Internet and have benefited from the many conveniences it provides. Unlike the babyboomers and retirees who relish in the personal touch, the "youngsters" - age 2 1-30 are motivated by ease and convenience. This generation can surf the Web for music, download it and never have to leave their desks. Within the next five years, online users between the ages of 2 and 18 will number 42 million. Through educational, yet entertaining sites like Nick Jr., even toddlers can benefit from the Internet.

Today's college graduates enter a work environment demanding more than a 40-hour week allotting little free time. Online banking is very attractive to this group, allowing funds to be transferred at 10:00 p.m., bills to be paid at
11:00 p.m. and online trading to be done during lunch. A teller knowing the Generation X person by name, may be important, but not the deciding factor in selecting a banking relationship. Irwin Bank and Trust Company located in Irwin, Pennsylvania, a growing suburb of Pittsburgh, recently went online with very positive results. "Initially, our site was designed to provide a comprehensive overview of our products and the benefits of banking with us. Now, we are considering online banking," said Charles Urtin, President and CEO. Shortly, the bank will conduct a survey online and through customer statements about the appeal of telephone bill paying and online account service. Participants will be automatically entered into a prize drawing for a vacation. Currently, Irwin Bank customers can access account activity and transfer funds through "In-Touch Banking", a telephone-based, automated system. "In-Touch usage continues to rise indicating convenience is important to our customers," added Mr Urtin.

The Web functions as a directory tool allowing people to access a wealth of information, such as interest rates, and to make an educated buying decision. People find you on the Internet in two ways - your specific bank name or by "key word" searches. Your bank's name needs to be a registered domain. Upon registering, no one else can use your name. You can register online at At this Internet site, you can research name availability and register your bank's name for a fee. In some cases, a bank may already have your name in another part of the country. You could, for example, simply add "PA" after your name to help differentiate.

"Key words" are words entered in the key entry box that triggers a search engine to help find your site. Some large engines are Yahoo Excite, Lycos and Infoseek. The more "key words" found in your site, the better your chance of having your site appear after the search is completed. It is a challenge to rise to the top. However, a good Web designer knows a few programming tricks to enhance your chances of being seen. Instead of visitors using general words in a search (like banking or loans), they may enter specialty services like, home equity loans, small business loans or special lending programs. These "key words" should be found on your home page and throughout your site.

The site should be defined by the "user" not the "creator". For what purpose will people visit your site? How can the site help the visitor do business with you? Design your site with multiple audiences in mind - including existing customers who already contribute to your bank's success. Treat each group "individually" by offering specific information relevant to their needs to ultimately generate business. Drive your visitors to a desired action. Surfers tune into WIIFM - What's In It For Me. Quickly and clearly communicate the benefits of visiting your site. A site map or flowchart is an excellent tool to quickly outline the functions of your site. This navigational tool will allow your visitor to find information faster and enhance movement throughout your bank's site.

The "look and feel" of your site should follow the site's function. Check out your competitors' site or other companies who offer related products. What do you like or dislike about their sites? Take notes and share your thoughts with your Web designer.

Site definition is under consideration at The Ray Hough Co., located in Muse, PA. This progressive company offers money-saving financial
forms management solutions to institutions of various sizes.

President, Ray Hough stated, "After surveying our customers
and some prospects, we realized that our site's focus should be more than promoting our company. We have good name recognition because our sales team makes regular calls in our market areas, thus reducing the need for all service capability information on our Web site." Hough believes a site can provide value through online requisitioning and order status. "Security is our main issue and we will continue to pursue the opportunity of online interaction." When asked how online automation would affect customer support, he added, "Our customers will have the option to continue interacting with our support team, getting the right answer to their question at any time."

You may be fortunate enough to have a dedicated, professional marketing department to help structure your site, manage communications and promote your products. However, the majority of banks do not have a Web designer on staff because of salary and equipment expenses. Your Web designer is the person who will "make or break" your site.

There's a new buzzword for a good Web designer - "information architect." Your information architect will construct a site that visually attracts your visitor and stimulates interest with well-crafted words. He or she will help define your information requirements and develop a site concept. Information needs to be effectively and logically presented to foster easy movement throughout your site. Another important point, your designer should completely understand the banking business. Stray away' from using "techy" people who can program with HTML (the language used to build Web sites), but lack the communication and marketing skills that make your site memorable and worthy of visiting. Selecting the wrong designer will cost you a lot of money and waste valuable time.

The bank's marketing strategy needs to be reflected in the Web site. If your bank's financial goal is to grow DDA deposit volume by 5%, then promote DDA in your site with banner messages and special offers like free checks for site visitors. Continuity of message is key in establishing credibility, rapport and relationships. If your bank's corporate message or image is "The Hometown Bank That Gives You More." then weave that message throughout the text and visuals in your site.

This is the most important page on your Web site! Deliver creative communication that will hold their interest. For example, a typical bank category may be home equity loans; a more creative approach may be "What's Your Borrowing Power?" or "Affordable Payments Are Here." Benefit-oriented composition will entice your prospect to learn more and make them feel you understand their needs.

Design an attractive page with fast-loading graphics. If your graphics take time to load, entertain your surfer with text. Page loading time is a very important element in site design. Depending upon your target audience, pages of 40K or less will reduce loading time, minimizing prospects leaving your site. Check with your designer to make sure your Web site is compatible with the most commonly-used Web browsers and for different screen resolutions.

Communicate directly, concisely and quickly. Incorporate succinct, clear copy points that allow a quick read, yet will give a solid overview of the bank. Remove flowery, long-winded statements. Benefit- oriented statements work best to convey a message. Remember, less is better. Avoid "techno-clutter". Another buzzword which means too much technology like animation, busy graphics and extra sounds clutter the site and make it difficult to focus or understand a clear message. Do not let "flash and glitz" be the content of your site.

Do not use templates or mass-produced graphics. These techniques make your site "look like all the rest". A talented graphic designer can create a special look for your bank without compromising your "corporate" image. Consider visuals that make your bank unique or those visuals characteristic to your region, like landmarks or special events. People relate to familiarity. Select fonts that are easily read and load quickly. Avoid multiple fonts and background colors that don't compliment which may make reading difficult.

Visitors should be able to contact you at anytime, anyplace in your site. With one mouse click, they should be able to reach e-mail. The bank's phone number should also be listed on every page for quick reference. And, where possible, a contact person should be named, specific to that product or service. For example, contact Theresa Jones, Vice President of Lending at 123-456-7890.

Test your site during all stages of development. Make sure the correct pages are linked together. It's very frustrating to become tangled in pages that are "dead ends." For ongoing monitoring, select an ISP who can provide information on number of hits, time of day and length of visit. However, success measurements for the bank's site should be based on meeting defined business goals like an increase in DDA deposits, an increase in loan volume or number of accounts opened.

To assist in response tracking, encourage your new accounts staff to simply ask how the customer heard about your bank. Gather the responses and place them in a spreadsheet. This is an effective exercise to evaluate all marketing initiatives, not just your Website.

How do you keep in touch with your visitors or customers? E-mail is the simple answer. But just how easy is it to manage? Jupiter Communications found that more than 40% of 125 major commercial sites offered either no timely response to e-mail from customers or visitors or no response at all. E-mail distribution needs to have its own communications flow. Entrust a dedicated employee to respond to e-mail or distribute the e-mails to specific individuals or departments. Security is an issue so your mail keeper must hold information in confidence. Managing e-mail creates a new wave of culture change. However, a diligent response is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself in a competitive banking arena. Commit resources and promise a response time of the next business day.

Create a sales opportunity for your bank. Ask your visitors to tell you a little more about themselves for prospecting opportunities. For example, simple demographic information, upcoming purchases, special events, etc. Motivate them to offer their e-mail address, name and address. A prize registration or coupon for a special offer/gift usually works. Once they have registered, keep in touch with reminders, an e mail newsletter or personalized greetings like an electronic birthday card!

What will attract visitors? The answer lies in your target market. Special economic reports, small business tips, children's activities or an electronic newsletter are some ideas for extra attractions. If the bank wants to attract home equity loans, consider a marketing effort targeting children. Why? Because families with young children are good prospects for a home equity product. For example, create a Small Saver's Club benefiting children. Support the savings campaign with Internet games, craft activity ideas, kid's jokes and safety tips that will be enjoyed by the kids. Then, a message promoting home equity loans could appear to build awareness of the bank's products. Promote the site at local schools and external print ads. With a Kid's Page, the bank acquires a supportive role with children's needs, plus the opportunity for product promotion.

For your bank's site to generate business, it must be promoted. When your site is completely finished and "debugged", promote the address in all external advertising including print, radio and TV ads. Also, promote the site in customer communications like statement stuffers, receipt messages, stationery and on newly-printed brochures. Experiment with grass roots marketing of your site at chamber functions, tradeshows and other people- oriented events. Consider an inexpensive, colorful magnet or other "give-a-way" to distribute at shows. For example, if you're hosting a booth at a mortgage tradeshow, promote your site for payment calculations. Design the site so visitors have to look at your rates before using the bank's calculator. A few promotional dollars can go along way for earning a mortgage customer.

Another promotional idea-team up with local special event coordinators. If your town hosts an arts festival or community days, participate in co-op advertising. Take advantage of sponsorship opportunities, inviting event times and other special event contact information to be posted on your Web site. Promote the event and your site in various event advertising mediums. For example, "Visit the XYZ Bank's Web site for details on artists and exhibit times." A great public relations tactic that reduces advertising expenses and increases site exposure.


  • My Website Is Free Advertising
  • All We Need Is A Home Page
  • Lots Of Graphics Will Grab Their Attention
  • The Longer Someone Visits My Site The More Successful It Is
  • My Son's Friend Can
  • "Program" Our Site
  • We Can't Track Site Hits Or Business Gained By- Our Site

Keeping in mind these fundamentals of Web design will help contribute to a solid foundation for your Website development. Weave a Web that's easy to surf and you're sure to catch a lot of prey.

Maria T. Brady is owner of Marakae Marketing, Inc., based in North Huntingdon, PA. Ms. Brady specializes in financial institution marketing, offering strategic planning, communication programs and Web design. She can be reached at 724-863-3105.

"Consumer Internet tactics won't work for b to b," Hank Barnes, Ecommerce, February 1, 1999

"Overhaul Your Website," Bruce Lawrence, Internet Day, March 11, 1999

"Go For The Gold With The Gold!" Jonathan Cousar, Internet Day, February 24, 1999

CNN Headline News Brief, May 31, 1999

Chuck Urtin, President IBT
Jill George, Marketing, The Dime Bank
Ray Hough, The Ray Hough Co - Financial Forms for Financial Institutions


© 2004 Marakae Marketing, Inc.