A good mortgage Web site makes it easy for prospective borrowers to find the information they need and to get in contact with a specific loan originator, while how refinance prospects are greeted online can impact their conversion rates. These and more factors were analyzed in a new study that identifies which mortgage lenders are best and worst at moving qualified online prospects forward in the origination cycle.
Bank of America's mortgage Web site was ranked as the best-performing online mortgage venue in The Consumer Experience of Mortgage Lender Web sites 2011 from Change Sciences Group Inc. The bank's "clarity commitment" was recognized for building trust with customers.
Available online at ChangeSciences.com, the 75-page report costs $4,999.
Behind BofA's No. 1 overall ranking was Chase, then PNC, Wells Fargo and Quicken Loans. Among the 12 Web sites rated, including those of many of the biggest mortgage lenders, Capital One's ranked worst, and SunTrust's was "the most poorly designed financial services site we have seen in a long time."
The report focused on first impressions, loan-search functionality and the ability to move a prospect forward in the loan origination process. It concentrated on how easy the lenders made it for unique loan prospects to find options for unique situations and how clear an overview of the loan process was provided.
Online marketers were advised to assume that loan prospects know little or nothing about mortgage lending.
"Sites that require less effort, while being both informative and persuasive, outperform those that require more effort, are less informative and less persuasive," the report stated.
While more than two-thirds of sites left some user question unanswered, a whopping 83 percent of sites "lack some content that some users consider persuasive."
The authors advised online originators not to make prospects have to dig for rates -- an area where Chase scored high and Quicken Loans fared poorly. Web surfers were lured to the site to learn about offerings, and some sites require lots of digging for rates.
Web sites need to be able to provide loan options even in unique situations, and 17 percent didn't.
Change Sciences praised BofA and PNC because their Web sites make it easier to do a simple information search while making additional information easily available.
"These sites understand that it is not just about getting a low rate; it is about finding the right loan," the report stated.
Wells Fargo was commended for communicating a loan offer on a single detailed page that can be easily compared with competitors' quotes.
Wells also ranked highest in providing a good first impression, followed by BofA and Chase. Key here were cues for getting pre-approval information -- an area that three-quarters of sites failed -- contacting a loan officer and learning more about homebuying. Other factors here included providing some indication of prospective interest rates, an area that a quarter of the lenders failed, and providing information for bolstering trust, a factor missing at 42 percent of the sites.
"The Wells design process is clearly user-centered, taking prospect goals into account," according to Change Sciences. "It builds trust by showcasing the government refinance program on its home page. It is the only lender reviewed to do this in such a pronounced way."
Quicken was criticized for its excessive exclamation points and "relatively low quality look and feel," which might appear "less than trustworthy." The online lender countered this with showing prospects how well the product worked for borrowers -- a move that increases conversions.
Identifying a prospect specifically as a refinancing customer also was considered and lacking at 17 percent of the Web sites. Without such an online understanding, many refinance prospects will be lost. PNC was lauded for its performance in this category -- though finding interest rates and the home lending center can be difficult from the home page of PNC's mortgage unit.
While getting to a real person is difficult on many sites, with 8 percent failing to provide a cue to contact a loan officer, BB&T prominently places a link for a loan officer search on every mortgage Web page. Once on a specific originator's page, the prospect is greeted with an attractive studio photo of the originator.
BB&T's ability to easily connect loan prospects with a real person was contrasted with Quicken Loans -- which channels all prospects through a toll-free telephone number that leaves the impression of being handled by a call center.
One interesting finding was that visual design was perceived by users to be unprofessional at one-third of the sites.
But not PNC's animated homebuying video, which the report called "very well produced" as well as "authentic and helpful."
Also recognized as "high-quality" was the look and feel of BB&T's mortgage site. The report indicated that BB&T has surpassed its competitors in this category.
Other findings included that a quarter of Web sites asked users to do annoying tasks such as duplicate data entry, and 8 percent had "less-than-welcoming" visual elements. Three-quarters of the sites had some instance of navigational challenge, and 8 percent lacked elements needed to keep users focused and on-track.
A quarter of sites made entering data too difficult.
CitiMortgage's site was singled out for distracting loan prospects with an advertisement for a platinum card. It was also missing important cues and had annoying factors.