Many financial institutions (and almost all credit unions) have their membership base defined by geographic boundaries. Most credit unions are even bounded by law that all members need to live, work or pray in the areas that the credit union is located.
When people search for financial terms in Google, Yahoo or MSN the search engines don’t put too much weighting on your physical location (by using a reverse DNS lookup) when producing the search results unless you include a geographic term in your search phrase (eg. “San Francisco credit unions”). For example, when I searched for “credit unions” in Google.com (from Foster City, California) the first 100 results included a credit union for practically every state in the USA!
Using Wordtracker, I did some further research and discovered that not many people include geographic keywords when searching for financial services/products. For example, the specific phrase “car loans” is searched for over 15,000 times a month but the phrase “San Francisco car loans” produces no searches (or at least less than what Wordtracker records).
While it is important to produce websites that are “search engine” friendly, it seems like one of the best opportunities to gain additional memberships for financial institutions that operate in a certain geographic area is to use Google and Yahoo’s Pay-Per-Click (PPC) services that display paid ads to only people searching for financial related keyword phrases in the areas they operate. For example, a San Francisco based financial institution could bid to display an ad on the search engine results pages for only people searching for the phrase “student loans” in the San Francisco area. The financial institution could further increase their conversion rates by optimizing the ads to speak directly to these users (eg. San Francisco is expensive but your Student Loan doesn’t have to be).
Here are some screenshots from Google and Yahoo who allow you to display your PPC ads in only selected regions that you define.