The Mortgage Search Goes Digital: How Loan Officers Can Compete with Online Lenders
By Marc Ferrentino, Yext Chief Strategy Officer

Interest rates on the rise and a lower inventory of homes on the market are tightening access to the housing market. At the same time, nonbank, online-only lenders have boomed, accounting for 73% of loans originated, according to the Federal Housing Authority. With deep pockets and national footprints, online lenders are able to buy ads everywhere that traditional mortgage lenders appear in search, driving up digital ad prices and dominating the paid search market.This has intensified competition in the already highly competitive mortgage lending industry, prompting financial institutions and loan officers to look to their digital strategies to bring in increasingly elusive leads.

This trend is likely to continue in the coming years. And members of the digital-native Millennial generation, who rely on online search to find home loans--and everything else--are taking over as the primary home-purchasing segment of the population--Millennials accounted for 84% of closed home loans in January 2017, according to the Ellie Mae Millennial Tracker™ report. In this environment, an effective organic local search strategy is no longer just beneficial for traditional mortgage lenders; it’s existential.

And yet, a study by Yext, the digital knowledge management provider, found startlingly high error rates in even the most basic online information about loan officers.

Of 5,849 loan officers whose online presence Yext studied across the online ecosystem (including sites like Google, Facebook, Bing, Yelp, and many others), 64% of their business listings contained incorrect addresses, 42% had phone number errors, and 46% had errors in business names. 9.25% of loan officer listings were duplicates, and 57.8% of loan officers studied had no online presence at all.

The mortgage industry has always been about trust. It’s a person-to-person business, and customers are seeking a professional to help them with the largest purchase of their lives. The desire to work with an expert means that the search for loan officers is inherently a local one, and discoverability in local search will make or break a lender. But while mortgage customers still look to connect with a loan officer for advice throughout the process, the customer journey now starts with online search. This is especially true for Millennials; 9 in 10 turn to the internet for help in the homebuying process, according to Zillow.

Therefore, if a prospective homebuyer can’t find you online, can’t see your reviews, or sees incorrect information, he or she will move on, and that lead is lost before the customer ever sets foot in your office. Whether that lead is lost to another loan officer or to an online lender who bought an ad associated with your keyword, the costs of not appearing in the local pack--the top three search results in a given area, can be high.

Reviews are a particular challenge in the mortgage industry, as, while many mortgage businesses collect online reviews on their own websites, most do not leverage them effectively across the digital ecosystem. Younger consumers especially are consulting online review sources like Yelp, Google, and Facebook to gauge the lender that best meets their needs. Cultivating reviews is key to getting found.

The high numbers of errors in mortgage industry information are both a challenge and an opportunity, as loan officers with deep, high-quality information that consumers can see in online search hold a distinct competitive advantage.

Intelligent Search and AI

All of this industry-specific change comes against the backdrop of a seismic shift in the way people use the internet. Artificial intelligence that interprets the intent of the user is ingrained in search engines, map apps, and voice assistants like Siri, Google Home, and Alexa.

Since AI depends on detailed business information to supply users with accurate answers to queries like “Who are the top-rated mortgage brokers in Illinois?” or “Home loan providers New England,” and because voice search often only returns one result, it is incumbent on lenders to build a robust online presence in order to rank at the top for specific queries. Put another way, if the online listings for your mortgage business don’t say things like your credentials, your specialties, and the languages you speak, your customers won’t find you when they search using those parameters.

These trends are here to stay, with voice search already representing 20% of all searches, according to Google. ComScore predicts voice search will reach 50% of all searches by 2020.

Digital Knowledge Management
The problem that the Yext study points to is not a digital advertising one, and solving it carries no cost-per-click. It is much more fundamental than that. It’s a problem of control over digital knowledge--the essential structured information that a business wants to make publicly accessible. Digital knowledge includes everything from a loan officer’s name, address, and phone number to her education, experience, specialties, customer reviews, and more--the building blocks of any brand.

Mortgage search is local, and so effective digital strategy for local search enables loan officers to compete with the big players in the industry.

While some loan officers attempt to correct the information about themselves and their business manually everywhere it lives, the fragmentation of the digital world--with brand information scattered across many sites--makes this an enormous undertaking. And particularly so in a high-churn industry like consumer lending, where loan officers frequently move to different companies and need to update their affiliations online.

The good news is that this is a highly solvable challenge. New tools like Yext for Mortgage can help you streamline and optimize your information so that you appear with correct, consistent information where your customers are most likely to search, increasing trust and your business pipeline.

The Yext Knowledge Engine allows businesses to update their information, from simple facts like addresses and phone numbers to high-quality business descriptions with a personal touch, and sync it in real time across the digital ecosystem, produce local pages for their loan officers to help them appear in searches near them, and generate authentic customer reviews across reviews sites to build credibility and display star ratings in search results. For more information, visit Yext for Mortgage.