Building a new bank website from the ground up, from analytics to the big reveal.

By: Alexander Acker, June 09, 2015

Thanks to the Financial Brand, Adventure House was honored to be the host agency of the Website Makeover session at the Forum 2015 conference in Las Vegas.
At the Forum, we revealed two brand-new website concepts for a local New York bank live on stage to a receptive crowd of almost a thousand banking industry marketing professionals at Caesar’s Palace.

Similar to a reality TV format, the audience had to make a choice between the two distinct website approaches and vote for their preference on their mobile phones at the end of the event. Prior to the reveal, we walked the audience through the website development and decision-making process.

The audience had to make a choice between the two distinct website approaches and vote for their preference on their mobile phones.

The bank: Ridgewood Savings Bank

Ridgewood Savings Bank was selected from a handful of hopeful banks to be part of the website makeover this year. Ridgewood is an icon in the New York banking community and was founded almost 100 years ago in 1921 by 14 local Ridgewood residents who wanted a better bank that’s “for the people, by the people.”

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Ridgewood Savings Bank branch on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills

Today, Ridgewood is the largest mutual savings bank in New York, with $5 billion in assets and 34 branches throughout New York City, Long Island, and Westchester.
Ridgewood’s advertising and marketing have evolved over the last few years, leading with a new tagline of “multiply the good.” As described by their ad agency, Fifteen Degrees, “Ridgewood’s new campaign is led by an emotional TV spot. The commercial reminds the viewer that life is a culmination of financial decisions, decisions that ultimately form a unique and beautiful story for each one of us.”


Current Ridgewood Savings Bank TV advertising

Whereas the bank’s advertising and marketing have reached a whole new level, both strategically and creatively, its website is in need of an update. It needs to be updated to reflect current Web and mobile standards, extend the new brand experience to the online space, and compete effectively in a saturated New York banking landscape.

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Current Ridgewood Savings Bank website

Reviewing website analytics

One of the first steps in Web development is data analysis. Ridgewood granted access to our development team to review their analytics, and we were able to take a close look at how their customers are using their website, what devices they’re using, what they’re clicking on, and more.

In reviewing their website analytics, it was clear that their site visitors were much more consumer-focused than business-oriented because of the volume of weekend sessions. On B2B websites, Web traffic will drop to almost zero on Saturday and Sunday because most people don’t work on weekends. Ridgewood’s website has significant traffic on weekends, so we know we’re speaking to consumers. In addition, we learned that their website visitors are very local to the New York city area, and over 76 percent are returning visitors, most of whom visit daily a couple of times per week.

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The data also showed us a number of different insights, including the Web browsers and devices visitors were using, such as mobile phones, tablets, or desktop computers, in addition to the key activities that were performed more than all others. The four key activities that Ridgewood’s Web visitors performed most were: finding the location and hours of a branch, contacting a bank representative, logging in to online banking, and finding current rates.

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All of the findings and recommendations from the analytics phase were summarized in a data analysis document to ensure accuracy in the subsequent phases.

Re-engineering a better information architecture

A better information architecture means a better logic and flow to information and page structure to create a simplified experience for the user.

Like many banking websites today, Ridgewood has quite a few pages on their website. Having a lot of pages results in overly segmented content and requires a lot of clicking to navigate through the site. Additionally, having a lot of pages means needing a much more complex navigation system. This can create a confusing or frustrating experience for Web visitors. It can also make the site look more cluttered.

Currently, the Ridgewood site navigation is organized by products. As a result of this system and the current information architecture hierarchy, the website today has 122 pages.

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By reorganizing the information according to user needs, as well as simplifying and consolidating the site content, our team was able to reduce page count by 55%. This approach resulted in an overall decrease of website pages from 122 to 50 pages.

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A reduction in page count means a better user experience for the site visitor: less clicking around from page to page to get to the desired content. But it’s also a much better experience for the website administrator in terms of website page management in the content management system (CMS).

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Alexander Acker, president of Adventure House, walking the audience of nearly 1,000 attendees through the website makeover.

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From left: Nathan Crandall, interactive producer at Adventure House and co-presenter; Julie Perezaj, internet marketing manager, and Matt Schettino, AVP and marketing director at Ridgewood Savings Bank

Building a better website

The Forum presentation was a unique situation and time. It was the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight weekend in Vegas, and the town was buzzing. We needed to create and build not one but two websites for Ridgewood and the audience to review and vote on. We brainstormed internally and decided to draw a line in the sand: create one option that leads with products on the home page and one that leads with the Ridgewood brand. The conversation we hoped would ensue (and later did) would ask a core question to banks: “Do you lead with bank products or rates (a commodity), or do you take the time to build, differentiate, and lead with the brand attributes and value?”

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The two website options presented were named Product Forward and Brand Forward, respectively. Both options are clean, simple, engaging experiences created specifically for Ridgewood Bank and employ the learning from the analytics phase.

Website option 1: Product Forward

Product Forward leads with bank products on the home page. The concept is rooted in the belief that customers want to see great, relevant products and services front and center on the home page above and beyond anything else.

Creatively, the website was designed very much like how a retail store website might function: large visuals with engaging content to draw the user in. Where it strays from a retail store experience is a simplified information architecture strategy that enables us to group more relevant information on each page.

Visit the website. Note that this is a demonstration site and only the home, checking, mortgage, about, and rates pages are live.

Website option 2: Brand Forward

Brand Forward leads with the brand attributes right on the home page. No products or services are featured until you scroll down a little or select a product category. The concept is rooted in the belief that bank products and services are a commodity and that in order to truly differentiate itself, the brand must take the lead from other product-based bank websites that feature “great rates” or “special offers.”

Creatively, the website was conceived as a modern digital experience, aligned to brand advertising, that makes a connection with users in a more personal, emotional way.

Visit the website. Note that this is a demonstration site and only the home, checking, mortgage, about, and rates pages are live.

Conference feedback and a winner emerges

Having seen their website options for the first time on stage, Ridgewood was delighted. They believed the options captured their brand essence accurately and liked the possibilities that both could provide, although they were leaning toward “Brand Forward.”

Questions ranging from “How long does a website project take to complete?” (It depends) to “Should mobile visitors get different content than desktop visitors?” (They shouldn’t).

The conference audience also responded well to the session. A number of Q&A questions were asked of us and of Ridgewood as well. Questions ranged from “How long does a website project take to complete?” (It depends) to “Should mobile visitors get different content than desktop visitors?” (They shouldn’t). In addition, throughout the session, the audience had the ability to provide feedback within the conference mobile app. Some of their feedback is captured here:

Ultimately, there had to be a winner. Mobile voting went back and forth, teetering between the two options and even having them tied at one point 50/50, but ultimately, Brand Forward won by a very small margin. But it wasn’t a knockout win, and people are almost split in their decision.

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Takeaways and five musts for a more successful website today

Drawing a line in the sand between Product Forward and Brand Forward was a great strategy for a conference presentation to stimulate a conversation but may not be the reality for a financial institution that wants both brand differentiation and the ability to communicate special banking products and services. The real world would probably mandate a mix of these strategies, but hopefully the brand is always the hero and the key differentiator to build long-term customer loyalty.

Today, banks need to think differently about their biggest branch: their website. Banks with brick-and-mortar branches have much more competition than just other regional, commercial, or local banking competition on the same block. Virtual and mobile banks are delivering the most convenient, innovative user experiences with dynamic, mobile tools that help customers manage their financial life. As a result, they’re getting very loyal customers. Virtual banks today are what Hulu and Netflix are to cable TV.

Today, banks need to think differently about their biggest branch: their website.

To compete effectively, one of the first steps is to create a better website. Not just a nice-looking website with product information and an “about us” but an online brand experience: a digital journey into the brand promise and how it can create a better today and more secure tomorrow. A website that is not only informational but differentiated, and tailors the user experience based on the device a customer is viewing it from.

Keep in mind these five “musts” before you begin the journey:

  • Review your analytics first to understand how customers are using your site: Knowing what they’re clicking, what they’re not visiting, what devices they’re coming in from and which browsers is just the beginning of understanding customers’ user profiles.
  • Don’t be afraid to have content merged, streamlined, eliminated, or all of the above: The information on your site can probably be more logically consolidated and grouped to reduce pages and scroll longer. It can also probably be communicated more succinctly and creatively to give your financial institution a personable brand voice.
  • Allow for the time it takes to define your unique brand value: Leading with a special rate, product, or service may be a great advertisement to attract customers for a good one-time sale, but will customers be loyal to the brand long term? Take the time to define your brand pillars, differentiate your brand messaging, and creatively express it.
  • Create a user experience with the user’s needs in mind: When creating the new website, ensure that it is optimized for mobile, tablet, laptop, and desktop computers and is a consistent user experience over all user touch points, including:
    • the public-facing website where prospective customers evaluate the brand value and bank offerings
    • the password-protected online banking portal and online app where existing customers will conduct banking transactions
  • Ask people what they want from your website: From focus groups to surveys, get insight from the people who use your site. We interviewed people on the streets of New York City about what they thought about banking and what they wanted on a banking website, and got some very interesting answers.

Read about the press coverage in the Credit Union Times.
See what the Credit Union Times said about our Website Makeover presentation.

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About Adventure House

Founded in 1990, Adventure House is celebrating 25 years of creating differentiated, award-winning websites and digital marketing for companies in a range of industries—from banking, finance, insurance, and trading to education and not-for-profit.

Get in touch
If you have any questions or if you’re interested in your own website makeover, please email Alex at aa@adventurehousenyc.com.