Thanks to a combination of both the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) upcoming Consumer Duty, and Google’s very own EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) principles, websites within the financial services sector have to work within strict guidelines.
On one side, the FCA keeps a close watch on how financial services brands market themselves, paying particular focus towards the words they use, and the information they convey. On the other, financial services websites face even more scrutiny within the platforms they attempt to gain visibility on, with Google having definitive criteria on what makes a website worthy of appearing within search results.
Across both of these, one common goal is shared: grant consumers (searchers) with the most trustworthy outlets worthy of their attention. Complying with one set of these guidelines is difficult enough, but meeting the needs of both at once can feel like a major challenge.
Having worked across some of the biggest names in financial services, the battle with EEAT is a tale we’re used to telling. This made us curious around how some financial services websites are handling the task.
Our sector wide audit
To see how the financial services sector stands up against EEAT, we compiled a list of 50 recognisable, established UK financial services brands. This included:
• Banking and building societies
• Price comparison websites
• Investment firms
• Consultancy firms
Our audit criteria
Before rating each site, we needed to establish our criteria for awarding points. This criteria was determined based on Google’s own Search Quality Rater guidelines, as well as our own experience as a digital marketing agency.
Each website was evaluated by the same person in the same time frame against the same criteria: how well they complied with the four main areas of EEAT.
|– Author bios, including the content written within them. |
– The presence and type of visual content on display (paying particular focus to explainer infographics, graphs, and real-life photography).
– Referenced experience with the problem at hand within article content. – Reasonable recommendations and opinions, with caveats, where subjective fact is less possible.
|– Highly detailed content that gives original insight and value. |
– Evidence of expertise in content, with statements such as “I’ve seen in the industry over the last decade how this thing became really important and is now less so, for this reason”.
– Featuring, and referencing, external and internal research.
– Purposeful content that achieves its stated goals and simplifies decision-making.
|– Quantity of articles that are relevant to the website’s position within the industry. |
– Features, mentions and backlinks from other highly authoritative websites.
– Appropriate schema markup language
– Strong authors with large social followings and industry prominence.
|– Case studies and testimonials present. |
– Error-free, up-to-date content.
– Customer service contact information.
– Updated About Us page on the website.
– Pictures of staff or real people on the website.
– No broken internal or external links
– SSL certificate enabled – HTML sitemap present, with XML sitemap sent to Google
– No 404 pages
– No content which could deceive people or be harmful to them
– GDPR-compliant website
The points in bold were held as our main aspect for determining compliance, with the following points being used to award additional points.
Points were awarded on a scale of one to three depending on the level of compliance with the above criteria, which was judged qualitatively. For example, if an author bio was nowhere to be seen, no points would be awarded. However, if an author was referenced and linked to within a piece, with there being a page dedicated to showcase that author’s experience, three points would be given.
We also analysed how accessible the websites were from an SEO perspective.
Points were then awarded on a scale of one to three depending on the level of compliance, the best possible score being 12.
What we discovered
Out of the 50 websites we looked at, only one of them managed to get a perfect EEAT score. This means that 49 of the UKs top financial services websites are suffering in at least one aspect of Google’s EEAT recommendations.
The average total score across all websites sits at 9.6 with scores ranging wildly across the board. One website belonging to a global household brand even managed to net a perfect zero across all aspects.
Looking into the categories, we see that price comparison websites are among the top performers, with an average score of 9.4 thanks to high performance in Authority and Trust. Building societies emerged as the worst performing category, mainly being hindered by a lack of points in Experience in conjunction with relatively low scores in other aspects.
Price comparison websites were the only category type to achieve a perfect score in a specific category, which was achieved in Authoritativeness.
Problems with trust and experience
Across all four aspects, financial services websites mainly struggle with conveying two things: Trust and Experience. Combined, Trust and Experience had the lowest score that we’d seen.
This is despite the FCA placing a great emphasis on increasing consumer trust within the financial services sector. Our findings show that 84% of these 50 websites have more work to do to prove they are a trustworthy outlet.
Likewise, Google’s newest E, experience, provided an average score of just one out of a possible three, showing that even financial services websites are struggling to convey what Google is looking for.
Some interesting parallels can be drawn when different categories are pitted against each other.
Price comparison websites vs financial consultants
Both price comparison websites and financial consultants scored strongly in our tests, despite being more prominent in different areas.
In a largely business-to-consumer setting, price comparison websites focused primarily on trust, with plenty of reference to awards won and articles produced around the comparison services offered.
Meanwhile, consultancies (a predominately business-to-business service), focused mostly on the expertise held, by highlighting the experience of article authors.
Banks vs building societies
Despite them having similar customer bases, the most drastic differences we discovered were between banks and building societies. Although banks outperformed building societies across all aspects, both failed to excel in trust.
Banks fill the experiential gap left behind by building societies, whereas building societies focus more on authority. This is likely due to a more specified product offering, meaning a slightly narrower focus.
Insurers vs price comparison websites
Insurance companies have a hard time in the UK search market as price comparison websites dominate the space. This ultimately leads to many insurers receiving a sizable chunk of their business through comparison site referrals.
As you can see, it’s an all-out defeat in every single aspect of EEAT for price comparison sites. Insurers do come close in terms of expertise, which highlights an opportunity for them to overtake PCW, especially given their amount of subject matter experts.
Investment firms vs insurance companies
Despite a comparison of insurance companies and investment firms seeming odd, there is some sense to it. Both types of businesses are focused on some form of asset management and protection; investment firms protect your money, and insurance brands cater to your health and wellbeing.
This similarity is further enhanced when we look at the above EEAT profile. Both types are clearly aiming for similar areas of strength, but insurance falls behind in just about every one – although, there is a visibly closer gap in trust.
This could mean that the trust aspect of insurance hasn’t been fully fleshed out just yet, at least not to the same degree that it has within investment.
Bonus points: accessibility
In addition to EEAT, we decided to run some accessibility audits on these websites in attempt to build a wider picture of each category and because of Consumer Duty’s specific call out regarding accessibility.
Across the board, websites scored an average of 2.83 on accessibility. This is to be expected, as more and more websites in general begin to optimise for web accessibility. Of course, scores did fluctuate in our tests, meaning some service categories are lagging slightly behind. We even discovered that the highest scoring websites had plenty of other accessibility errors, the were just fewer relative to the research sample as a whole, meaning that no one has cracked the case just yet.
Insurance, price comparison and financial consultancy websites all tied for last place with a score of two, while banking websites came out on top, followed by building societies and investment firms.
UPDATE: We have a webinar on June 15th covering this in further detail – we will cover the research findings in greater detail, alongside what you can do to take advantage of the opportunities of joining the dots between EEAT and Consumer Duty compliance.
Common accessibility issues in financial services
While conducting our research, there were a few key accessibility problems that kept recurring. These included:
Insufficient colour contrasting
Web users with low vision have difficulty discerning low contrast visuals. This means that the colours used on backgrounds and text elements must have a high level of contrast to improve distinguishability. While this can cause stylistic complications, accessibility criteria demands a contrast ratio of at least 4:5:1.
Page zoom disabled
We discovered a few instances where the ability to zoom in on pages was disabled via backend code. This again is problematic for web users with low vision, as some may depend on the ability to zoom in order to read text.
Lacking alt text on imagery
Imagery is often used to annotate content on a webpage. Sometimes, imagery fails to load, leaving nothing but a blank space. In addition, screen reading software is unable to analyse images, instead relying on the alternative text tag to relay information to visually impaired web users.
Internal and external links are a common part of SEO best practice. These links must be highlighted via an alternative colour compared to non-linked text. Failing to correctly discern anchor text apart from regular text makes keyboard-only browsing more difficult, as users may struggle to navigate towards the pages being linked to.
Inorganised heading tags
Heading tags help both Google and web users determine the hierarchical structure of a web page. Starting at h1, these heading tags must be laid out in ascending order as the web page continues. Jumping from h2 to h4, for example, may throw off the structure of the page and make navigation (and crawling) more difficult.
Content not contained with HTML landmarks
Much like with heading tags, page content is best kept within specific areas on a webpage. This is best accomplished via HTML landmarks, with either <nav>, <header>, and <footer> tags, or <div role=”navigation”>, <div role=”header”>, or <div role =”footer> tags.
Need help with your EEAT compliance?
If your financial services brand is struggling to nail EEAT principles, you’re not alone. As you can see, the financial services sector has a major issue with its EEAT compliance, with there being various issues experienced across even the most reputable financial services websites in the UK.
Our experience with financial services brands has enabled us to circumvent these complex issues and improve EEAT conformity via a mixture of SEO services, content marketing and digital PR endeavours. Get in touch with us today to arrange a call with our team and see how we can help.