Stick to basics: the stakes are high for banks to retool their Web sites so that they are easier to find and simpler to use. The winning solution: focus on the design fundamentals.
Did you know that more than half of all customer interactions with banks are now done remotely? Or that online customers are 22 percent more profitable than branch-only customers? Or that attrition rates for online customers are 83 percent lower than for off-line customers? This is why Web sites matter now more than ever.
According to a recent CheckFree study, 75 percent of U.S. households are connected to the Internet, and 80 percent of these connections are broadband. The ubiquity of fast Internet access has made banking and bill payment the fastest-growing activities online. In fact, for the very first time, Internet-connected households are paying more bills electronically than with paper checks.
Online bill-pay customers carry balances 50 percent higher than customers who pay bills via traditional means. Higher balances mean more core deposits, and in banking today, the competition for core deposits decides winners and losers.
The stakes are high. Timely deployment of new payments services like remote deposit and expedited bill payment are strategically crucial. Protecting core deposits, capturing Generation Y and acquiring new accounts all require getting it right when it comes to your Web site. But in 2007, what does "getting it right" mean?
It's a simple matter of focusing on the basics. The bottom line is that your Web site must be easy to find and effortless to use. Making this happen is the trick. In the spirit of getting it right, here are some timely tips.
Is the bank easy to find online? For the answer, search variations of the bank's name online. How high is the bank on the results list? Is it on the list at all? You can have the best Web site on the planet, but if customers and prospects can't find the bank online with a quick word search, it's all for naught.
Before you improve "findability," first ask yourself this simple question: Does the bank want to be found? And, if so, by whom? Identify the market, age, demographic, geography, and social/ civic habits of the consumers and businesses the bank wants to attract. And be sure to consider hacker radar, i.e., how conspicuous the bank wants to be among hackers generally. The more targeted the tactics for being found, the less likely the bank will be on the radar of those from whom the bank wants to remain invisible.
How to be found
All major search engines are constantly searching and indexing the contents of the Internet. These indexes are then prioritized according to a site's key words, popularity and ad sponsorship. Instead of waiting to be found and indexed, the bank should register its site proactively with the major search engines. Selective use of HTML meta-tags (Web page text that is invisible to site visitors but detectible by search engines) is key. Whether you pay a third-party service to maintain the bank's search engine registrations or do it on your own using free services like www.dmoz.com, just ensure it gets done regularly.
Top five website 'findability' tips
1. Register the bank's Web site with the top 20 search engines on a monthly basis.
2. Use choicest meta-tag values to ensure that target market/prospects easily find the bank. For example, if you want to be found primarily by clientele in a particular region, use the name of the town, city and/or county as a meta-tag value. If the bank is a niche service provider, make the specific names of your specialty products and services (both in professional terms and layman's language) a part of your meta-tag family.
3. Monitor the Web sites most visitors come from or go to; adjust meta-tag values accordingly and consider placing ads with these Web sites. If the bank does not have a Web site traffic reporting tool or service, make this a top priority. It is impossible to know how the Web site is doing or whether it's improving without basic site traffic metrics at your disposal.
4. Own/register alternative iterations of the bank Web site's name and redirect these alternative sites to the bank's true Web site. If, for example, the bank owns www. xyzbank.com, the bank should also acquire the ".net," ".org" and ".tv" addresses too. This is also added protection against phishing and pharming schemes.
5. Place ads/links where prospects are, e.g., Google, local chamber of commerce and so forth.
Once the site is easily found, its usability becomes the priority, and usability is all about speed, relevance and reliability. In other words: Is the Web site quick and easy to navigate, does it host current and accurate information, and can a customer transact with the site in a commercially reasonable amount of time?
On the bank's Web site, online customers should be able to find what they're looking for intuitively--and within four clicks. Three dicks is even better, but five or more clicks and their patience wears thin. According to Keynote Systems Inc., in San Mateo, Calif., the time it takes a customer to log in and check an account balance at 10 top e-banking websites averages 7.84 seconds--almost 45 percent faster than three years ago. As for reliability, the mine top 10 sites boast an average login success rate of 99.04 percent. These are the benchmarks against which the bank's Web site must compete.
Achieving speed, reliability and consistency of experience is no small feat. Customers access the bank's Web site with variable Internet data speeds, computer speeds, screen resolutions and browser window sizes. All of these variables and their ongoing evolution across the online masses must factor into every Web site design decision. Otherwise, the bank's Web site may unwittingly alienate a significant segment of its online clientele.
Top 10 website usability tips
1. Place login on home page, and provide demos/tours for first-timers.
2. Ensure entire home page is completely visible without scrolling.
3. Ensure online visitors can get from point A to point B in four clicks or less.
4. Ensure nonsecure page refresh rates are less than 2 seconds.
5. Standardize navigation scheme throughout the Web site.
6. With online applications/forms, limit choices: Specify missing Information upon submission and use drop-down menus for all fields that solicit standard responses.
7. Use layman's language; avoid acronyms.
8. Use consistent language (e.g. "submit" vs. "send") and standard denotation.
9. Provide specific feedback, such as confirmations and task progress indicators. If an error occurs, message should specify what happened and how to fix it!
10. Be concise everywhere and always! We don't like to read online!
When writing for a Web site, many make the mistake of writing for readers of hard copy, rather than readers of online copy. There's a big difference between the two. Online reading is 25 percent slower than paper, and readers in general don't like reading online. Specifically, online readers don't like to scroll, so keep page content within the initial browser frame and be as concise and succinct as possible. Summarize and use bullets to convey major points.
Getting it wrong: common mistakes
Getting it right is just as much about what you don't do as what you do. Most important, don't flood online customers with cross-sell ads while they're trying to complete a task. An ill-timed, intrusive pitch for an additional product or service can be annoying. Never forget: It only takes one bad experience to drive an online customer away, especially when the competition can be reached within a few clicks.
On the other hand. giving the customer the right message about the right product or service at the right time will be welcomed and rewarded. Rotating unobtrusive yet relevant dynamic banner ads based on customer conditionals at login improves the user experience and increases bank sales. Customer conditionals are standard queries against the specific customer's data. e.g., does the customer carry excessive checking account balances, carry loans that are about to mature, or have an upcoming birthday? If so. rotate the banner ads that best meet the customer's current profile. Your click-through rates will improve dramatically.
Security, security, security
While the ubiquity of broadband access has made online banking one of the fastest growing activities online, it has also made our country the biggest phishing and pharming target in the world. In the United States. there is simply more to steal faster online. Preserving trust in this often precarious space is no small thing. Striking the right balance of security and usability just might be the biggest challenge of all.
Many banks make the mistake of thinking that usability and security are always mutually exclusive, 1.e., the more usable a Web site is, the less secure it must be, and, conversely, the more secure a Web site, the less usable it must be. Wrong. Today's authentication and transaction analysis technologies provide for the best of both worlds: first-class security that doesn't degrade the user experience. Why is this important?
According to Javelin research, people who monitor their accounts online are far less likely to be victims of fraud and suffer much less loss on average when they are victimized. The average loss for off-line victims is $4,500 but only $551 for those who regularly monitor accounts online. In other words, when banks make security decisions that unnecessarily complicate, frustrate or make less convenient a customer's regular access to his/her accounts online, the bank has effectively increased that customer's risk for ID theft, and, by association, the bank's risk too.
Today's behavioral analysis and online session/device profiling can, to a reasonable degree of certainty and in conjunction with a standard password challenge, authenticate a customer's identity. If the customer's behavior or device profile is unusual in any way, then and only then, the customer is challenged for an additional factor of authentication.
Those banks that universally force all customers at all times to satisfy multiple challenges will realize the ultimate bank Web site irony: Too much security can make the customer less secure. And this is why, when it comes to the bank's Web site, getting it right has never been more crucial.
Lee Wetherington is senior vice president, Goldleaf Financial Solutions, a provider of a suite of technology-based products and service to community financial institutions, including website design and hosting services. The company is Located in Brentwood, Tenn. Website: www.goldleaf.com