Today, Google updated its list of banned advertising content to include “cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice).”
This comes as Facebook made the same decision at the end of January. While Facebook’s prohibition of cryptocurrency-related ads came into effect immediately, the Google ban will not begin until this June.
The value of Bitcoin dropped by 9.1 percent in the wake of this news. Critics contend that this overarching ban may hurt the legitimate use of cryptocurrencies, while crypto detractors are pleased that cryptocurrency fraud will soon be significantly restricted.
In June, Google will also prohibit ads related to Binary options, a type of financial contract that promises either a fixed amount of compensation or nothing at all.
Google’s quest to stamp out payday loan advertisements from its paid search results has caused collateral damage to merchant cash advances. That’s because the two-word term cash advance, often synonymous with payday loan, appears to now have a blanket restriction that blocks ads whenever that term is included in search, regardless of the words that come before it or after it.
Merchant cash advances, however, are commercial factoring transactions with no relation to payday or consumer finance.
A user on the deBanked forum first alerted me on October 5th and deBanked conducted tests from internet connections in two states to see if we could replicate the results. Below is a sample of our results:
|Keyword||Google Adwords Status|
|merchant cash advance||BLOCKED|
|business cash advance||BLOCKED|
|get a business loan||ACCEPTED|
|loan for my business||ACCEPTED|
|cash advance for my business||BLOCKED|
|business loan companies||ACCEPTED|
|merchant cash advance companies||BLOCKED|
|factoring or business loans or credit cards||ACCEPTED|
|factoring or business loans or merchant cash advances||BLOCKED|
|loan from ondeck||ACCEPTED|
|cash advance from ondeck||BLOCKED|
|consolidate cash advances||BLOCKED|
No such block exists on rival search engine Bing.
Though Google has not said this, the mass removal of payday lending ads, once a massive source of revenue for them, is likely the result of government pressure. Over the last two years, federal regulators have begun targeting lead generation sites that direct users to lenders in a misleading manner.
Unless Google fixes the glitch that caused merchant cash advances to get wrapped up with consumer cash advances, the organic search results will experience a huge boost in value. Last month we reported that companies like OnDeck, Fundera, and Nerdwallet were winning the search engine optimization battle for several keywords including merchant cash advance. Absent any ads, those companies and several others will now benefit from a stream of free traffic and applicants for which their cost of acquisition will be zero dollars.
Perhaps little has been mentioned about this ban within the industry because the end result is FREE leads for those that rank well organically. Long live SEO!
For quite possibly the first time ever, Google has blessed merchant cash advance with its own array of In-depth articles. What are In-depth articles? Why, they’re featured stories at the bottom of the normal search results. The In-depth feature launched in 2013 and has only worked for certain keywords.
Today it appeared for the very first time for the keyword merchant cash advance
Since Google experiments constantly and shows different results to everyone, it’s possible that you’ve been seeing this for some time already.
I had this to say about the feature 16 months ago:
If you’re wondering how websites can prepare themselves to benefit from such rich snippets, I published Schema.org Markup and Rich Snippets for the Little Guy back in August 2013.
Businessweek, NY Times, and Forbes… I’m not surprised that they’re the chosen publications. Truth be told, there may not have been enough written about merchant cash advance to implement this feature until now. Consider this a milestone.
There’s a lot of players at the alternative lending table but there are two that have won a string of lucky hands to put them on top. Neither were the first to draw cards, nor do either of them offer something that everybody else does not. These two lenders have something in common of course, special favor with the Internet gods. Is the game rigged?
OnDeck Capital is the most celebrated alternative business lender of our time. Their daily repayment loans and fast approval times are a hit with customers. In fact, as told in their recent securitization prospectus, OnDeck has been eroding its reliance on brokers and third parties to accommodate growth through their direct channel. Direct has been good for OnDeck, very good.
LendingClub on the other hand is the big dog in consumer lending, having funded more than $5 billion since inception. Every month they shatter the previous record for volume of loans funded and they’re expected to go public within the next year. LendingClub continues to pound their distant rival Prosper in monthly loan production. Are they just better at marketing?
Curiously I can’t help but notice they have something in common, they’re both owned by Google. Google Ventures led OnDeck Capital’s series D round and Google Ventures’ Karim Faris sits on OnDeck’s board of directors. Similarly, Google owns a minority stake in LendingClub.
While neither is outright owned or controlled, It’d be surprising if Google didn’t do something to foster the success of their investments. What could a billion dollar Internet giant possibly do to give them a little push?
Stop backlinking and SEO. The game is rigged
If you reproduce a search for the same keywords, you should know that results vary depending on what kind of device you’re using (mobile vs. desktop), what zip code you’re in, what time of the day it is, whether or not you’re logged into Gmail/Google+/Youtube, and whether you’ve searched for related topics before. I performed my searches with a fresh desktop browser on a Sunday evening in NYC with all cookies, cache, and Google account sessions wiped clean.
You might not get exactly what I get and I realize that obfuscates the conspiracy I’m trying to establish here. If you do witness peculiar keyword domination though, keep an open mind that there might be more going on than good SEO and strong natural backlinking brought on by mainstream media publicity. Plenty of big businesses that dominate offline fail to rank well in the top ten results online.
Search engines say that if you’re popular, you’ll rank well. But there are plenty of cases where ranking well has made businesses popular.
Maybe, just maybe the game is rigged…
In late 2013, consumer peer-to-peer lender Lending Club announced their plans to start offering small business loans. That caused a stir in the merchant cash advance world for a few weeks, but the hype died down. The general consensus was that there would be little to no overlap between the applicants each target.
To this day, I continue to doubt that the overlap will be anything less than substantial. Nik Milanovic of Funding Circle would probably disagree with me. The main argument has been that Lending Club will only target small business owners with good credit, which assumes that businesses with anything less are the only users of merchant cash advances. Not to give anyone’s figures away, but I have seen data to suggest that a large segment of merchant cash advance users have FICO scores in excess of 660. Somewhere along the line we convinced ourselves that merchant cash advances were for businesses with really bad credit. That was never the purpose it was intended for, though it’s true that many applicants have low scores.
Historically, merchant cash advances were for businesses that posed a cash flow risk to banks. Split-processing eliminated that risk by withholding a percentage of card sales automatically through the payment company processing the business’s transactions. Funders today that rely on bank debits for repayment don’t have that safeguard, but they make up for the risk they take by doing something banks don’t do, require payments to be made daily instead of monthly. This allows businesses to manage their cash flow throughout the month and enables the funder to compound their earnings daily. It’s a phenomenon I wrote about in the March/April issue of DailyFunder (Razzle Dazzle Debits & Splits: Daily is the Secret Sauce)
According to the Wall Street Journal, Lending Club will require a minimum of 2 years in business and participation will initially only be open to institutional investors.
Lending Club’s website states that they will recoup funds on a monthly basis via ACH and that interest rates range from 5.9% APR to 29.9% APR + an origination fee. Terms range from 1 to 5 years and there are no early payment penalties.
TechCrunch openly pegs CAN Capital and OnDeck Capital as chief rivals for Lending Club in the space. CAN has enjoyed frontrunner status in the industry since 1998 and while they have been tested in the last 2 years, they haven’t come up against something like this.
In the same Wall Street Journal story, Lending Club’s CEO, Renaud Laplanche lays out who his competitors are with his quote, “The rates provide an alternative to short-term lenders and cash-advance companies that sometimes charge more than the equivalent of 50% annually.”
But will the impact be felt right away? In Laplanche’s interview with Fortune, he claims that it’s very likely they’ll focus on the 750+ FICO segment first, where institutional investors will be comfortable. But make no mistake about it, that will change quick, especially with a probable IPO in the next 8 months.
Is Lending Club really all that big? To draw a comparison, RapidAdvance got a $100 million enterprise valuation when they got bought out by Rockbridge Growth Equity about 6 months ago. Lending Club on the other hand was valued at around $2.3 billion at that time. It took OnDeck Capital 7 years to fund $1 Billion in loans. Lending Club is funding a billion dollars in loans every 3 and a half months. Granted, they’ve all been consumer loans, but let’s not kid ourselves about their capabilities.
Lending Club is funding more consumer loans than the entire merchant cash advance industry is doing combined. Thanks to the peer-to-peer model, they have infinity capital at their disposal. We can pretend that no one with good credit ever applied for a merchant cash advance or we can acknowledge the 3 billion pound gorilla in the room.
Lending Club and other peer-to-peer lenders that follow them will disrupt the alternative business lending status quo.
Previous articles on this subject:
Will Peer-to-Peer Lending Burn the Alternative Lending Market?
If you noticed a shuffle in search rankings for industry keywords last night, it’s because Google unleashed Penguin 2.1.
Penguin 2.1 launching today. Affects ~1% of searches to a noticeable degree. More info on Penguin: http://t.co/4YSh4sfZQj
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) October 4, 2013
Penguin focuses on spammy or purchased backlinks so if you did one or the other, you probably got harmed. Given the high cost of traditional marketing and Pay-Per-Click Internet Marketing, many funders, ISOs, and lead generators have turned to SEO to boost their visibility in organic search. Whether undertaken by inside employees or outside contractors to do the job, there is no doubt that building links has been part of the strategy. Some have had major success in rising up through Google’s search results but most haven’t. It’s not easy getting to page 1, but if you get there, don’t celebrate. You won’t be there forever.
Less than two weeks ago on DailyFunder, someone took to the board to pat themselves on the back for ranking #2 for the keyword: merchant cash advance. Wikipedia is #1. They admitted it took a lot of hard work over the course of 8 months. Last night they were thrust back to position #65. That’s on page 7 where they will never be found. 8 months of work for 2 weeks of ranking. You might be saying, “Well my SEO guy will just roll with the punches and get us right back.” Unfortunately with Penguin, it doesn’t work that way. Penguin is basically a permanent penalty, an algorithmic barricade to prevent you from ever ranking for your keywords again. According to a poll on Search Engine Roundtable, only 7% of respondents claimed to have made a full recovery after Penguin 2.0. Most SEOs would advise that you torch your domain, buy a new one and start a whole new website. That’s not exactly an easy thing for a big brand or company to do.
There’s a flaw in all the SEO being done in the merchant cash advance industry anyway and that’s the notion of being on page 1 to begin with. If you read David Amerland’s Google Semantic Search, he explains that “there is no longer a first page of Google”. The results you see on the first page of Google depend completely on whether or not you’re using a desktop or mobile device, what zip code you’re accessing the internet from, what you’ve searched for in the past, and whether you’re logged into your gmail account. And if you use Google+, then forget it! The first page results for someone that uses Google+ are ultra personalized. To rank on their first page, they’ll pretty much need to follow you socially first.
So if you’re thinking about ranking higher in search as a means to generate more leads, you sure as heck better understand how the results work these days. What you see on your screen is not what I see on mine. A site that’s #65 for me, may be #4 for you.
The other angle of Google’s foray into Semantic Search is their desire to be an answer engine, not a search engine. Google wants to answer questions for searchers without them having to click a link. Here’s an example of Merchant Processing Resource acting in that role:
What is voice authorization you ask? Boom! Answered! No need to click anything. That’s where search is going. What this means for companies that are trying to get customers is that they either need to become the absolute authority within their industry or they need to throw in the towel and do Pay-Per-Click.
When I search for merchant cash advance from my desktop in NYC, 7 out of the top 10 results are not company pages, which is astounding considering how much effort companies are putting in to rank high for this keyword. I see:
- 1 Wikipedia
- 4 News articles
- 1 Press release
- 1 Youtube video
Did you get hit by Penguin 2.1? Are you optimized for Semantic Search?
Previous merchant cash advance SEO articles:
How Kabbage is building a social media marketing empire
Take a look at what Kabbage has cooked up:
Like Kabbage on twitter or Facebook and your approval amount gets extended automatically. This helps Kabbage accomplish two goals:
1. Spread awareness about their brand to the followers of the people Liking and following them.
2. Identify the public social media accounts the business is using so it can monitor what they’re doing.
You can learn about how Kabbage feels about businesses that aren’t using social media in the patent’s summary. Under Description, Section 2:
Social networking is growing at an exponential rate and businesses that are not exploiting social networking sites such as FACEBOOK and LINKEDIN are considered falling behind the times.
So why is this a patentable invention? A merchant’s approval amount is increased automatically by an algorithm that checks to see if a merchant performed the action of Liking or Following. So if you think that’s a great idea and want to do something similar, you’re a bit late. Better Call Saul… I mean Kabbage to license the use of such technology. It works as such:
The above aspects can be obtained by a system that includes (a) approving, by a cash provider, a user for a cash line wherein the user is permitted to receive cash up to the cash line; (b) causing an offer to be displayed on an electronic output device associated with a user’s computer, the offer being to increase the cash line when the user takes a particular action comprising associating the user’s social networking account with the cash provider; (c) determining that the user has taken the particular action; and (d) automatically increasing the cash line.
The term merchant cash advance is explicitly used twice in the patent but it also goes to cover any kind credit line or loan being program. This is actually an incredible patent to be in possession of because it’s such a great idea. Imagine telling a merchant approved for 5k, that they will get an extra $200 just for following you on twitter and another $200 just for liking you on facebook. It may not seem like much on a $250,000 deal but Kabbage does a lot of smaller sized advances where the $400 combined approval bump is a sweet incentive for merchants.
Marketing in this industry is expensive and this is one of the more innovative models I’ve seen.
Part of keeping up with the merchant cash advance industry means reading up on the press releases published online, but it’s not such an easy job. Legions of funders, ISOs, and lead generators are competing for valuable real-estate in search results and they’ll use every trick in the book to get it. It almost always comes with a price and these tricks don’t always work. By tricks here, I’m referring to using optimized anchor text in press releases as a way to build backlinks.
Have you ever seen a press release with thin information but lots of embedded links that say something like “best small business loan companies”? There’s a reason for that. These companies are trying to manipulate PageRank, a Google search ranking factor that calculates the value of the page the link is on, calculates the value of the website it’s on, uses the anchor text as a signal of what the page is about, and then passes that value onto the destination page. PRWeb has a solid PageRank of 7 out of 10 and last I checked, they don’t nofollow the links. That means a webpage can gain some serious ranking points by using optimized anchor text in a press release. But that’s just on PRWeb’s domain. Consider the fact that press releases are usually syndicated to tens, hundreds, or even thousands of other websites, most of which will keep the links intact, and multiplying the value being passed to the destination site.
One press release could result in hundreds of powerful ranking signals for the keyword, “best small business loan companies.” Now if there were on-page signals for that keyword and additional external factors at work, then there’d be no reason for that page not to rank high in search results for best small business loan companies. And so anyone not totally asleep at the wheel has been using that method for months, if not for years.
There’s only one problem. Google’s Director of web spam (yes, this is a real title) had said back in December of 2012 that links in press releases shouldn’t count.
The Internet went wild over this statement especially since his choice of words implied that there is a chance they did count, he just wouldn’t expect them too. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) diehards decided this was a battle worth fighting and optimized anchor text in press releases became more used than ever before, that is until Google decided to take action.
Wouldn’t expect was apparently proven to mean definitely does. The fact is that links in press releases were passing PageRank and the sites on the other end of them were getting valuable ranking signals. That’s why to this day we see merchant cash advance releases read like an itemized list of keywords on PRWeb…
The best merchant cash advance company has announced a new program to help provide bad credit business financing to restaurants in need of a fast cash loan.
If you’ve stopped reading the article at this point, you’re in trouble. The gravy train is no longer running express. Less than two weeks ago, Google conceded that optimized anchor text in press releases works and are a form of cheating the system. That means that overuse or quite possibly any usage of a keyword rich anchor in a release means your website is at risk of a rankings penalty. Google advises that in order to be safe, webmasters should nofollow the links. There’s just one problem with that; Credible wire and release services do not under any circumstances allow companies to code in HTML attributes in their releases, rendering this feat impossible.
That means the burden of nofollowing the links is on the release services and syndicating websites, something that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Release services have not been shy about the potential SEO benefits they can provide, with some going so far as to offer paid consulting services to clients on how to optimize their anchor text for search engines. To them, a crackdown on links in releases means a crackdown on a very profitable portion of their business model.
Watch Matt Cutt’s explanation of links in advertorials:
Google offers the following guidance on link schemes:
The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
- Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that violate our guidelines:
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank
- Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank
- Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example:
There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
- Links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites, for example:
Visitors to this page: 1,472
- Widely distributed links in the footers of various sites
- Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature, for example:
Thanks, that’s great info!
paul’s pizza san diego pizza best pizza san diego
Note that PPC (pay-per-click) advertising links that don’t pass PageRank to the buyer of the ad do not violate our guidelines. You can prevent PageRank from passing in several ways, such as:
- Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the < a > tag
- Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file
You can watch John Mueller, one of Google’s lead Webmaster Trends Analyst answer questions to Google’s new link policies in the hangout below:
There are other purposes for publishing thin releases as both Google and Bing can decide to display a snippet of the release on the first page of the results for the keywords used in the announcement. So no, it’s not just about links, at least that isnt’t all of the SEO benefit to be gained.
These news snippets can last up to a week, helping companies that might not be ranking well jump to the front of the line for exposure.
We’re not going to call anyone out by name but ever since Google Penguin 1.0 was released, many merchant cash advance companies and payment companies have hired link removal experts to identify bad links for them and are paying them to have them taken down. The only way to take down a link is to ask the webmaster hosting the site to take it down. Unfortunately, this has led to some companies finding the cheapest link removal service they can find, resulting in a poorly qualified consultant setting off to remove 100% of a site’s links instead of just the bad ones. We know this firsthand because we have had no shortage of e-mails from people claiming to be the hired link removal representative of a merchant cash advance related company.
The e-mails usually look like this:
I am contacting you on behalf of Cash Advance Funder ABC and recently we have been instructed by Google to remove all of our links to have a penalty removed. Therefore we are asking that you remove our spam link from your website. We appreciate your immediate assistance in this matter.
A great way to make sure your website never ranks ever again is to remove all your good links too. We can assure you that links on this website are not bad.
In conclusion, if your hired SEO consultant is still banging away on optimized anchor text in press releases, there’s a good chance now that they’ll be causing damage over the long term. Press releases are for the purpose of making important company announcements and Google is on to anyone using them for any other reasons.
Your press releases might be hurting you with Google. Bing on the other hand…
Other SEO related articles on Merchant Processing Resource:
- Is Google Your Only Web Strategy?
- Google Penguin Kills Survivors
- The SEO War for Merchant Cash Advance Continues
- The SEO War for Merchant Cash Advance
Just as the Merchant Cash Advance industry is beginning to enjoy positive publicity, Google has the potential to set the momentum backwards by pushing terrible results. I’m going to post some Penguin 2.0 epic fails over the next couple days. So check in every now and then to see what’s new. You can also send screenshots of any epic fails you find to firstname.lastname@example.org
Epic Fail #3: Page 1 for the search of Business Cash Advance Companies
Epic Fail #2: Page 3 for the search of Business Cash Advance
Epic Fail #1:
According to Google’s Matt Cutts, Google Penguin 2.0 was fully implemented on Wednesday afternoon. Notice a difference in the search queries today? We’re noticing a lot of activity in the MCA industry. Using a nice little hack, we’ve created a way to track all the responses on Google+ that are specifically tied to Matt Cutt’s blog announcement. See what’s being said below:
A bunch of my risqué comments about what’s right and what’s wrong in alternative lending just got some support. Phew. I happened to be reading the news, you know about Merchant Cash Advance… and I found a delightful article on CNBC today titled, Starved for Cash, Main Street Turns to Alternative Lenders
First, I will merely point out some of my corroborated statements between what I said in The Inefficient Merchant Lending Market Theory on March 5th and the story on CNBC.
Me: How is a business REALLY doing? Reviews will tell you a lot so long as there are enough of them, and not just the star meter, but the actual written reviews. | A business’s whole reputation can’t be assessed from paperwork and credit scores, but it can be by hearing from people in the local community. I would go so far as to say that any business that does not have at least a website, business fan page on Facebook, twitter account, or a reasonable substitute should be automatically declined for financing.
On CNBC: The new crop of lenders are also using nontraditional measures to assess applicants. Those measures can include payroll, Better Business Bureau ratings, Yelp ratings and more.
But more recently, public databases and even social-media activity have been factored into the decision-making process.
“Every restaurant we do, we look at their Yelp review,” said Joseph Looney, chief operating officer and general counsel for cash-advance company Rapid Advance, which consults with data scientists to refine its methods and discover new insights into a business’ prospects.
Rapid Advance considers the mere presence of an active social-media footprint to be a good sign of an active business.
The technology platform of lender IOU Central pulls in data such as personal business credit information, business cash flow, social media rankings, and other information from various databases. It can even consider such factors as restaurants’ health score.
IOU Central’s system taps sources that include payroll data, insurance information, accounting records, and social-media data.
Me: Relying on weak indicators forces lenders to charge higher rates since they must compensate for the risk of unknowns. It also decreases the length of time that lenders can trust their borrowers to hold their money for.
CNBC: Most alternative lenders offer shorter-term, higher-cost loans.
Many rely most heavily on an applicants’ submitted bank statements or other financial data.
Merchant cash-advance companies have been around for years, Breslow said, but they typically made up for sloppier underwriting by charging high rates.
Not so sure about this one. From the CNBC article: “The alternative-lending industry average for a six-month loan was 38 percent when On Deck started in 2007. Now, it’s 15 percent, and Breslow said it may come down further as this underwriting continues to improve.” I don’t believe this figure to be accurate. In 2007, commissions to sales agents were embedded into the cost of a deal. Meaning, if a small business signed for a 1.38 factor rate, the sales office would get up to .10 of it, reducing the funder’s return to 1.28. Additional closing fees could be added on top of it, but were not necessary. With a 15% deal, funders like On Deck Capital expect sales agents to upsell on their own to earn their commission. So 1.15 may be the base rate, but since there are no margins built in for the sales agents to earn a commission, the cost can be upsold to 1.25 or some other figure. It’s true that the cost has come down but it’s not practical to compare 38% to 15% since the latter number is not net of fees. I’m pointing this out to inform merchants about what to expect, but also so people don’t get the wrong idea about how much the price has changed over the years.
Wow: “We have 40 engineers working on this system,” he said. IOU Central’s system taps sources that include payroll data, insurance information, accounting records, and social-media data.” 40 engineers? That’s kind of intense…
Read a story today that pretty much claims FICO is irrelevant in 2013: http://gigaom.com/2013/03/20/forget-fico-how-data-is-changing-the-rules-of-credit-and-underwriting/
I’ve watched this happen a lot over the last several weeks, particularly on Google Plus. Businesses both large and small join a community, start posting links to their blog and then they get banned. Some are posting crap and others are posting genuinely good content, but the good content is being pushed on people and nobody likes that.
Communities and forums exist for discussion, not for marketers to disseminate their blog posts with titles like 10 ways for small businesses to maximize profits. Now there are a few instances where it makes sense to post a link to your website, but only if it truly results in a healthy engaging debate and shares. If that doesn’t happen, then you’re probably in trouble.
I have actually had to watch a few people I know in financial services get the boot in communities, and there was nothing I could do to help them. Their brands have literally been BANNED from talking amongst their peers and potential customers and that’s probably the worst thing that can happen. I’ve all seen hundreds of small businesses make the same mistake, younger businesses that have finally decided to give social media a shot, only to be shown the door 10 minutes after they jump in. It’s disheartening. Many communities don’t offer a warning, so the best chance to let sometime know the basics of human interaction, is to do it before they join anything. If you were thinking of joining a community or have been banned by one, particularly on Google Plus, I’ve written up a little road map titled: Banned from a Google Plus Community?
A man walks into a bank and says “I want to know what kind of programs, discounts, and benefits you offer for men owned businesses.” The bankers exchange glances with each other and reply together, “For men? Sure! We love men!” Sounds a little outrageous doesn’t it? Don’t worry, this doesn’t usually happen, at least not on the Internet. Using Google’s keyword traffic estimator, zero people search for “business loans for men” each month. And why would men search for that? Or rather, why is it that other gender has a tendency to seek gender specific support?
As of the date we used Google’s keyword traffic estimator, the data showed there are approximately 4,650 searches for “business loans for women” each month on average. It seems men want business loans but women want business loans with them in mind. Tweak the query just a little bit more and it reveals that 51,570 people are looking for “grants for women” each month, which equates to an astounding half million inquiries plus a year! So ladies, What makes you look for something so gender specific?
Perhaps it has something to do with the odds having been stacked against them historically. In 2007, only 30% of all privately-owned American firms were owned by women. While that’s not exactly light years away from equality, women owned businesses only accounted for 11% of all firm revenues and just 13% of all firm employment, meaning of course, that their businesses tended to be smaller. Maybe women choose to be smaller and less involved in ownership, or maybe and far more likely it’s because men had been rigging the game for such a long time.
Up until 1988, lenders could deny women credit if they did not have a male relative co-sign for them. The Women’s Ownership Business Act, symbolically named House Resolution 5050, sought to end the lingering discrimination against women. It also:
established the National Women’s Business Council, a public policy advisory body comprised of women business owners and women’s business association representatives. Its mission is to promote initiatives, policies and programs designed to support women’s business enterprises at all stages of development, and to serve as an independent source of advice and counsel to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues of importance to women business owners.
I used the word lingering because the 1974 Equal Opportunity Credit Act already made it illegal for lenders to discriminate against applicants on the basis of gender, and at the same time barred discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, and age. Apparently, this wasn’t enough. This law went into effect 39 years ago and still after all this time and additional legislation, women and other disadvantaged groups still don’t have a level playing field. Change has not come easy.
Even if gender discrimination were to be totally eradicated (and we’re not saying it has or hasn’t been), many women still have their guard up. If they had to choose between a lender promoting loans and a lender promoting their desire to lend to women, the latter would probably offer a bit more comfort. They also seem to know that after years of discrimination that there are actual benefits to being a female entrepreneur these days and they want to take advantage of them. For example, the Women’s Small Business Accelerator of Central Ohio, a non-profit group, offers support specifically for women owned startups. Organizations like this are necessary because equality isn’t achieved just because a law says it’s so. At some point, the group that was disadvantaged needs a boost to capitalize on the equality they’ve finally been given. That’s good news for ladies in 2013 because there’s a lot of organizations out there that are willing to give them that boost.
At the same time, there are lenders that do not offer any incentive at all for women, but don’t discriminate against them either. These lenders tend to advertise in print and on the Internet that they have financing programs just for women and yet they offer no actual edge over male applicants. Instead, these lenders are simply acknowledging that some women are wary of bias, and are making it a point to communicate that women will be accepted equally. Equally is the key word there since if lenders actually deny male applicants in their pursuit to approve more female ones, they will be in violation of the Equal Opportunity Credit Act which protects gender as a class, not women. Tricky eh?
Lenders spend big bucks on marketing financing programs to women, so why don’t they use the same tactic to appeal to men? I mean, considering a Google search of “business loans for men” seems to turn up nothing of relevance, it looks like there’s a vast untapped market to corner. Perhaps men would start searching for programs marketed towards them if there were actual lenders speaking specifically to them. But that is a dangerous road, and one after years of inequality screams lawsuits. Even if lenders did not actually give preferential treatment to men, the appearance of a good ‘ol boys club would probably be enough to make people uncomfortable.
Would you publish an ad with the title, “Fast Business Loans for Whites”? Probably not, even if it was effective in attracting caucasian borrowers. But do a search for “Minority business loans” and you’ll find there’s a lot of programs openly targeting minorities. And just as I suspected, Google reveals that a significant amount of minorities are searching for financial help specifically for them, and not just financial help in general (There are about 570 searches a month for the exact phrase “minority business loans”).
And so it looks as if financial companies have adjusted their target markets at least when it comes to messaging. Lenders that do not custom tailor messaging to specific groups such as women business owners can find themselves having a difficult time competing. Anyone can offer business loans, but if they’re not responding to the personalization that some applicants are seeking, they may be missing out on a lot of potential customers. Personalization should be incorporated into any advertising campaign anyway, so long as it doesn’t rub people it’s not targeting the wrong way.
A television commercial that uses pickup trucks, power tools, and Clint Eastwood would probably entice males to apply for a business loan if that’s what the ad was selling, but it’d be a good way to alienate women, especially given the history of inequality. With nearly a million queries made each year by women seeking either loans or grants, they’re not a market you want to turn off. Saying you’ll help women shows you get it, but saying you’ll help men shows you don’t. But at the end of the day, we’re all equal 🙂
Everyone agrees that the Merchant Cash Advance (MCA) industry has grown substantially over the last few years. Our best calculations estimated that $600 million in MCA deals took place in 2010. Some believed that figure was too low, especially when Capital Access Network (CAN) projected they would fund $700 million all by themselves in 2012. Could CAN really be funding more alone than what the entire industry including them funded in 2010?
The debate starts there because they have put a large focus on their NewLogic subsidiary, a company that specializes in short term loans, not MCAs. And like NewLogic, much of the growth the industry experienced in the last few years has not been centered around split-funding purchases of credit card sales, but on the alternatives. We’ve made it a point in previous articles to point out the lack of consensus on what the product is being called now, especially since everyone is offering their own version of short term financing. We even went so far as to say that by 2015, the term MCA won’t even exist anymore. We may have exaggerated a bit, but after playing around with Google’s Trends tool, we realized that prediction was much more than a hunch.
If MCA has grown so much in the last few years, why is it that 38% more people searched for MCA on Google in December 2007 than they did in December 2012? Why is it that searches for MCA information peaked in February 2009 and never recovered? According to Google’s search data, nearly 50% fewer searches are being made for MCA today than there were three years ago.
Notice that MCA as a term did not really exist on the Internet prior to June 2007. We presented our estimate of when that term was coined in Before it was Mainstream. It first appeared in print in May 2005, but didn’t pick up traction until March, 2006 in private Internet forums. The first Merchant Cash Advance Internet blog began in July 2007, weeks before people began to first start searching for information about the term. It is very likely they were also trying find the blog itself.
So is Google’s data just plain wrong? Is something fishy? The only thing wrong is the belief that the MCA industry is just about MCAs. The creation of alternatives and the recent practice of private labeling have contributed to the decline of MCA.
three new terms: merchant loans, ach loan, merchant financing
Business Cash Advance takes a dive. Seriously, who calls it that anymore? Merchant Funding is on the way back up.
There were 500% more searches for small business loans in April 2004 than there were in December 2012.
So what does this all mean? We leave you to draw your own conclusions. 2007-2009 was a period of sudden mass awareness of MCA but there has never been as much money in the industry as there is now. There are experts that say business owners feel that the recession never ended, causing them to continue hunkering down instead of seeking financing to expand. There are insiders who will attribute this to the negative stigma the product had and the need to call it something else. We believe the most likely suspect though, is the fracturing of the MCA industry. It’s possible that people aren’t typing “small business loans” or “merchant cash advance” into Google because so many companies are promoting alternative financing options that people are looking for those specific products instead.
Whatever the answer is, it appears that alternative business financing has grown tremendously but the MCA term has not. Share your thoughts about this with us. We want to hear theories.
Here’s an interesting trend: blog posts on the subject of the “decline” of social media. Within 90 seconds you can locate three such articles on Forbes.com:
- 3 Reasons You Should Quit Social Media In 2013
- Facebook, Twitter? Can The Decline of Social Media Come Fast Enough?
- Why I Dumped My Smartphone – 2 Months Into Building My Personal Innovation Lifestyle
OK, so three articles can’t be considered a “trend” – but they definitely provide some food for thought.
Should You Quit Social Media in 2013?
The very notion that people are suggesting there might be value in at least “taking a break” from social media should get our attention. Take the three reasons J. Maureen Henderson gives in her article for doing so:
- It harms your self-esteem
- Your blood pressure will thank you
- Online is no substitute for offline
Henderson is speaking to personal self-esteem and gives the example that there are those of us who might feel better about ourselves if we weren’t constantly exposed to technology that forced us to compare ourselves to and compete with over-achieving peers. Yes, it can be personally humbling to discover the jerk you sat next to in biology graduated from Harvard when you barely made it out of State. Small business owners overdosing on social media just might have a similar problem trying to duplicate the social media activities of large competitors whose marketing budget is a big as their small businesses’ net worth – which can be very discouraging and demotivating.
Personal social media activity definitely can get pretty ugly. Name calling, ostracizing, bullying and just generally disrespectful communications can certainly cause your blood pressure to rise. Small business owners can have a similar reaction to preserving and protecting their online brand reputation. While it’s great to be able to communicate directly with customers and clients, the flip side is small business owners don’t have total control over the conversation any longer. Even if you’re monitoring your own platforms (for example comments on your business Facebook page), there’s always the opportunity that you could be missing some “flaming” commentary about your business online somewhere out there on the Internet.
Henderson notes a study stating that one-quarter of those surveyed feel they haven’t fully experienced real-life events due to activities necessary to place those real events on virtual social media platforms. She also points out that most people looking for a job do so online even though 70% of jobs are never posted online and are instead filled via in-person networking. Here is a lesson small business owners might want to take to heart – the impact, effectiveness, and value of getting in front of your customers and clients “in-person.” Real customer experiences are as important as virtual customer experiences.
Are People Dumping Their Smartphones?
We could give you a ton of statistics, but the short answer is a definite NO. As a matter-of-fact, the trend now is major increases in consumers using mobile devices to stay connected online. Some people may be becoming less enamored with “traditional” social media – but we’re definitely going to see an increase (at least for the foreseeable future) in the use of these devices according to a wide variety of studies by reliable resources such as Mashable.
The point is small business owners need to be aware that social media is constantly evolving (and most likely always will be evolving.) And that fact is both a blessing and a curse for small business owners. Certainly having new ways to effectively engage consumers along the “pathway to purchase” is a valuable opportunity. The threat can be not only keeping up with new technologies, but also the ways those technologies impact consumer behavior.
Even “expert advice” can be both confusing and in conflict. For example, here are two predictions in an article you can find at business2community.com:
Joey Sargent, Principal, BrandSprout Advisors: In 2013, we’ll see more social maturity in both B2C and B2B applications. Business will get “social smarts” and more fully integrate social media into their day-to-day operations across the organization. This means less social for social’s sake, and more focus on social media as a legitimate business tool to facilitate communication, engagement and loyalty.
Jayme Pretzloff, Online Marketing Director for Wixon Jewelers: Going into 2013 social media will impact sales more than any other metric because of the continued integration as a marketing platform and the acceptance of users to be marketed to. In 2011, almost 70% of users said that no social media platform influenced their buying decision and in 2012, that was cut in half to 35%. In 2013, this number will be decreased significantly again because these sites have become an integral way to gain access to information on companies, promotions and products.
Bill Corbett, Jr., President of Corbett Public Relations: The hype proliferated by “marketing” people about the tremendous business generating benefits of social media for small business will wind down.
Beverly Solomon, Creative Director at musee-solomon: People are over saturated with social media. They will gradually remove themselves from all but a few networks, blogs, etc. So many ads come in everyday that they have lost their impact. Most people just delete them before reading them. Social media will function more to alert friends of rip-offs than to encourage sales. Only the most clever sales campaigns will have any impact. More and more advertisers will be leaving social media and returning to snail mail, print and other traditional ads. Social media will continue to be a dating hook up, gossip fest and avenue for “gurus” to sell seminars. But real businesses will use social media less and less.
With such conflicting advice from subject matter experts – how is a small business owner to know who to listen to? Fortunately this question is easy to answer: Listen to your customers and clients because they – and only they – know how they prefer to be contacted as well as what the content of those communications must be in order to be of value and meaningful to them. This means small business owners need to find out where their target market “hangs out.” Are they already online and using social media? If so, how and where? If not, why not and what other ways would they like to hear from you?
The one constant advantage of social media is the ability to communicate with your market. But it is certainly not the only channel. As for our position on the matter? We’re making social media a bigger priority. We’ve just gotten more involved on Google+, a social network that just passed twitter and youtube to be the 2nd most used platform in the world.
It might be time for the everyday small business owner to take a peek at the big G, especially if they feel like Facebook isn’t delivering.
A small business owner posted a great question on the LinkedIn group “Small Business Networks for Startups and Entrepreneurs” board:
Are cold calls effective? Or is it old school? For a small company, what is the best way to promote the business? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.”
The small business owner who posted this question got more than her fair share of advice and opinions regarding the practice of cold calling. And, while most every single comment had a jewel of truth and wisdom when it comes to cold calling – the comments also conflicted with each other. For example:
“Not only is it old school but its intrusive and offensive.”
“Cold calling is old school indeed but it is still one of the most effective ways to reach prospects.”
So – which is it? Offensive or Effective?
Fortunately for the small business owner uncertain whether to pick up the phone there was one comment that simply rocked. Sandra Hoedemaker owner of ChefinDemand.com an online business coaching service specializing in providing services to personal chefs, posted a completely different perspective and approach to cold calling – something she calls “Connect Calling.”
Connecting is Warm – Cold is…well, Cold
Those commenters who identified cold calling as intrusive and offensive make a good point. Today’s consumer not only isn’t interested in hearing uninvited sales pitches, they can (and quite often do) find unscheduled sales calls as a definite intrusion into an already too busy day.
Sandra notes that she does, in fact, “cold call” and also indicates that these calls are always most successful when she is able to connect with the decision maker. So far her comment sounds like your run-of-the-mill cold calling advice. However, Sandra definitely breaks rank because she goes on to say that she “doesn’t sell on the phone.”
OK, if she’s cold calling, but not selling – what exactly IS Sandra doing when she makes those calls?
Sandra knows prospects aren’t interested in “being sold” – but they are interested in learning real ways to solve their problems and get their needs met. Sandra knows that the best way to do that is to establish her credibility as an expert who knows how to solve common problems and meet the special needs of her niche. How does she do that? She offers to provide them with carefully selected free services. This allows her to:
- Build her email list and then connect with prospects freely because they have invited Sandra to contact them.
- Stay connected to her prospects via blogging, teleclasses, and other virtual events (she’s also in the process of putting video presentations in place.)
Outside of the above, connecting with prospects versus cold calling prospects has resulted in Sandra receiving referrals and she’s also garnered invitations to speak as well. Sandra has successfully used Connect Calling as a tactic to connect with prospects in meaningful ways. She’s taken an “old school, annoying” tactic and turned it into a powerful tool to build a community of prospective buyers.
What is most impressive about her approach is the opportunity to begin to establish trust with prospects via Connect Calling. Offering useful, applicable free services and information allows prospects to begin to build a relationship where Sandra becomes a Trusted Advisor who’s got their back versus someone trying to make a sale. Sounds more like networking than cold calling doesn’t it?
And when those prospects pick up a phone to make a call when they find themselves in need of services Sandra charges for, Sandra’s much more likely to be the one who hears it ring.
Sandra’s business serves a unique niche – but Connect Calling can be a valid, productive, and profitable tactic to market your small business no matter what market you serve.
We noticed a lot of people sharing and retweeting a link today to a web campaign by Google to create mobile friendly sites. Coincidentally, we’ve been working on “mobile-izing” Merchant Processing Resource for the past couple weeks. We used Google’s GoMo tool to see how we’re doing so far:
2 Seconds and easy to use! Now it’s your turn to GoMo.
Get to our site easily on your phone by typing in MPR.mobi.
Numbers don’t lie.
77% of online consumers surveyed said they want to receive permission-based marketing messages via email. Sounds impressive – but even more impressive when you learn that direct mail came in a distant second with only 9% looking forward to opening their mail box. Interestingly, only 5% preferred text messages. (Source: ExactTarget 2012 Channel Preference Survey)
That’s the good news. After all, email is perhaps the most inexpensive means for small business owners to communicate with consumers. The bad news is – before you can communicate with consumers via email – you’ve got to get their permission (along with their email address.)
Permission-based marketing simply means that you have your customer’s permission to contact them. However, if you’re a small business owner just getting their feet wet it’s likely that 77% of your list isn’t exactly a large number.
Collecting email addresses from customers and clients who have given you permission to contact them is the “Catch 22” and “between a rock and a hard place” of small business email marketing. Obviously purchasing lists of email addresses of consumers who fit the demographic of your customer doesn’t cut it. Emailing someone without their permission to ask for permission to email them just doesn’t make sense – not to mention today’s consumer tends to be totally turned off by businesses that make the attempt. Not too many fans of spam out there.
So, if you don’t have a list – how do you create one?
The Usual Suspects
It would be hard to find anyone with even a smidgen of experience searching the Internet who hasn’t encountered an “opt-in” when visiting a website. An opt-in is nothing more than a form that serves to ask permission to contact the consumer as well as collect their information. Visitors to your businesses’ website can opt-in to receive a variety of marketing messages from you – for example a newsletter, blog posts, or special announcements (such as a sale.) It makes sense to have opt-in opportunities on every page of your website.
Sounds great but, once again, if you’ve got very little traffic on your website, that translates into very little opportunity to build a Mondo email list. If the obvious tactic of including opt-in opportunities on your small business website doesn’t help that much when it comes to building your list – what other tactics can you employ?
Plenty – here are a few:
If you’re a retailer, make it a practice to ask for (and collect) every customer’s opt-in at the point of purchase. The same goes for B2B small business owners. For example, train your receptionist to ask for opt-in when taking calls.
Display an “opt-in sign up” book where customers and visitors to your office will easily find it. Be sure to include information that motivates people to provide you with their permission (i.e. a description of your newsletter, let them know you routinely email discount offers, etc.)
Do it the old fashioned way. It’s likely you’ve got the phone number of most of your customers and clients. Pick up the phone and call to ask for their permission to be contacted via email.
Contact customers and clients who’ve already subscribed. Let them know you’re running a “forwarding contest” and tell them they will be entered into a raffle for each person they forward your email to. Include a link that says something like “Forward to a Friend” (there are email marketing services that can identify which subscribers actually forwarded their email.)
Ask in-person. We are so “virtually” oriented that the obvious can escape us: ask people to opt-in when you meet them in person. This can be at professional and business networking events – even with that person you struck up a conversation with in line at the grocery store.
Partner with a related, non-compete business. Are you a web designer? Partner with a public relations firm and send out each other’s messages.
Include an invitation to opt-in on all printed marketing material. This includes everything from promotional brochures, stationary, and your business card. It also includes printed advertising.
Last, but definitely not least (and perhaps the most obvious) include a link to an opt-in underneath your email signature.
Merchant Cash Advance (MCA) is
an alternative to a small business loan. Look around. MCA players have spent so much energy on gaining mainstream acceptance, that we’ve become oblivious to reality. We ARE the small business lending market. There are alternatives out there such as credit cards and SBA loans, but they are industries of their own. Small businesses in 2013 really only have one place to obtain fast unsecured short term financing, and that’s here, the MCA industry. That assumes of course that you agree with our definition of MCA, which we stopped limiting to a purchase of future credit card sales some time ago.
Over the past few months, we began to realize that the only small business lenders making headlines are people we know. Is the country that small or does MCA dominate the market that much?
A glimpse at the sponsored advertisements on Bing in the NYC region:
Where are the multi-billion dollar banks? If $15 a click isn’t in their budget, something is wrong, and it may possibly be due to the fact that business loans aren’t on their priority lists.
Lenders, brokers, and bankers on the front lines can’t stop talking about MCA. It is a recurring theme in their columns:
The alternative financing industry is growing rapidly and, I believe, will continue to grow in 2013. These lenders are extremely entrepreneurial and are leaving the banks behind with their speed and use of technology. Many are backed by premier investment banks and Silicon Valley venture capital powerhouses — investors who understand that entrepreneurs and small-business owners are throwing up their hands in frustration over how long it can take to get a loan from a bank, especially if the loan is backed by the S.B.A. More and more businesses are willing to pay the price of the alternative lenders just to be able to get their capital and move on.
Cash advance companies, accounts receivable financiers, factors, and micro lenders all have become increasingly more attractive funders for three reasons: flexibility, use of technology, and speed.
Here’s a dilemma that might have contributed to the growth of MCA… Banks don’t like offering loans and business owners don’t like applying for them if it’s hard:
There’s a large small business segment that needs and wants to borrow on a commercial basis, but their needs are very small. Business owners want $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000 loan–the average is somewhere around $25,000. Traditionally, that’s been a very unprofitable business for a bank. Some banks argue that they are willing to lose money on those loans because they can make it up in deposits. But what happens when the borrower has no deposits? It’s a very tough balancing act.
– The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
A newsletter report that reveals banks lose money on small business loans
Community Investments Volume 8; No 4; Fall 1996
Business owners say the documentation involved is overwhelming. They’ve also found the qualification terms almost impossible to meet.
– Catherine Clifford
Feedback reveals that a burdensome application process and extensive paperwork requirements are enough to discourage business owners even if the loans carry 0% interest.
Thousands of researchers publish statistics on bank lending every month. Not only do they all contradict each other but journalists that use this data to make bold claims often fail to acknowledge that an increase in bank lending has nothing to do with the applicants, the economy, or the banks themselves. It has to do with the Government. We all know that the SBA will cover the losses banks incur, but there are programs that go one step further. The Federal Government actually bribes banks to make loans. For example, the Small Business Lending Fund is a dedicated investment fund that encourages lending to small businesses by providing capital to community banks. Meaning, covering the losses on defaults doesn’t seem to be enough, so they’ll actually provide the money to make the loans as well.
According to the SBA, small business bank borrowing totaled $584.1 billion in the third quarter of 2012. That number dwarfs the volume produced by the MCA industry, but its not an apples to apples comparison. A loan of $1 million dollars is within the range of a small business loan by the SBA, an amount atypical (though not impossible) in the MCA world. Banks are also prodded and coddled by the Government so much that it has reached the extent that we dare claim they are an extension of the Federal Government itself. There’s some food for thought for the Occupy Wall Street movement! They also conveniently got bailed out when they were on the verge of failure, a safety net that MCA companies don’t have.
Subtract the Federal Government’s meddling and there is only one profitable form of B2B lending, Merchant Cash Advance. That is of course again if you accept our definition. There are many young B2B lending firms that claim to be an alternative to MCA, who then go on to describe their product in a manner that is textbook MCA.
Our thesis may be debatable and lacking in concrete proof, but we’re not writing dissertations here. Business owners are increasingly looking to the Internet for loan information and it’s obvious what they’re finding. One would expect a quick Internet search to bring up ads for the billion dollar powerhouses, you know the ones that are given millions to lend out and then millions again when the loans go bad. Instead we find companies owned by friends or friends of friends. The small business loan market isn’t run by anonymous Wall Street kingpins, it’s run by a small community of entrepreneurs that all started from the ground up. Only the community isn’t so small anymore. There was once a handful of MCA companies claiming to be an alternative to a small business loan. Now there are a handful of companies claiming to be an alternative to MCA. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why that is. After years of fighting to be recognized in the market, something remarkable happened, we became the market itself…
– Merchant Processing Resource
Every business wants to be found in search. To most, being found means top placement in Google’s search results for keywords or phrases that are most likely to convert into a lead, sale, or customer. That begs the question… how does one get that top placement?
While many are now accusing Google of monopolizing or manipulating the search results to promote pages and products that earn them revenue, they are still unique in the sense that one simply cannot buy top placement in organic rankings. The Google search system was originally designed to rank pages based on both how many other pages linked to a page and how important those linking pages were. It was a relational system called PageRank that theoretically gave little guys a chance of being ranked alongside or even ahead of major corporations.
When it came to being talked about or linked to from other sites (these incoming links are called backlinks), mega corporations with large sums of money had a tremendous advantage. Media outlets seemed to always be linking to them naturally and they could buy linking ads on websites that didn’t. They could even buy backlinks on irrelevant pages just to up the ante. In 2011, Overstock.com was penalized by Google after one such linking scheme was discovered. Overstock was offering discounts to students and faculty that placed a link to their website on a school web page ending with .edu. It was believed that .edu top level domains (TLDs) carried far more weight than .com, .net, and .org. Overstock tried to capitalize on that.
Where a company ranks in the result listings can mean the difference between success and failure. For the mega corporations, millions of dollars in revenue can be gained by being listed 1st as opposed to 4th. The reality is that searchers tend to click on top results more often, ultimately leading to more sales for the companies that rank well.
According to a study conducted by Slingshot SEO, the top search result is clicked 18.2% of the time, whereas the last result (#10 on the page) is selected 1% of the time. These statistics make a few things clear. If you’re not on the first page, you might as well be in outer space. Additionally, a ranking on the first page must be for a search term or phrase that is frequently searched. Sure, we’re happy to be listed 4th for the search phrase “greatest merchant cash advance company in the world,” since it links to our free directory of verified MCA providers, but since no one is using that search phrase, it really doesn’t matter.
A hypothetical business does research and determines that 100 people per month are entering this phrase into the Google search bar: “I want a merchant cash advance this minute.” It looks promising because it shows that the end user is in buying mode. One could make the case that they are more likely to apply for business financing than a user searching for “the history of merchant cash advance.” 100 searches for the initial phrase might seem like an opportunity, but you have to make an effort to achieve a listing for that keyword, at least that’s what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) gurus will tell you.
All Hail the King
Since Google is the omnipotent dictator that determines where every website falls, there is nothing that can 100% guarantee a website will be visible for the terms and phrases a webmaster wants. There is no shortage of tips, methods, and tricks to boost the odds but all of those things require time, money, or both. Neither will get the webmaster far unless the Search Engine Optimizer (SEOer) knows how to modify a website, analyze search phrases, and implement a strategy to increase rankings. If the SEOer isn’t tech savvy, stay away.
The latter may seem innocuous, but both attempt to manipulate Google’s algorithm and can lead to serious ranking devaluation penalties. A penalty can be crippling for a business that depends on acquiring leads or customers online. Worse yet, the webmaster is not tried before a jury of his/her peers before being sentenced to page infinity for all search terms. This is the downside of the playing field Google creates. John Doe business owner can be listed alongside multi-million dollar corporations and can enjoy that visibility to grow into a million dollar business themselves. But if it is Google that brought him into this world, it is Google that can take him out.
In late April, 2012 Google announced they were cracking down on “blog networks.” This algorithm update became known as Google Penguin and hit the web like a hammer. 3.1% of all english search queries were affected. Penalized webmasters that paid to have self-written articles published on other websites to get the link juice were left wondering how the practice could be a violation. Analogies were used to explain that paying to promote oneself is standard business practice. They likened article marketing to the basic trade of journalism. They argued it was their constitutional right to promote articles without fearing the total loss of business or retribution from Google.
Google’s position though is that it is perfectly okay to link to a friend’s website or to pay to have articles placed elsewhere. They respect that those decisions are not theirs to judge in respect to the global Internet. However, if the intent (or perceived intent!) of these practices is to achieve higher ranking in Google’s search results, then they reserve the right to protect the integrity of their ranking system accordingly. Essentially, anyone can do what they want, but it might affect how things are scored within their private system. So if you don’t care about your valuation in Google, you can use all the linking schemes in the world if you so choose. The problem is that most people do care about their score in Google and many people view Google as the global Internet. Google can argue that they are simply policing their own private system but to millions of web users around the world, they are viewed as policing the Internet.
It’s not their fault. Google’s system was so good and their interface so simple, that millions of people started using it and never went back. They became the Internet. Search engines existed previously but had many flaws. Back then, millions of websites that provided answers to questions or sold solutions for problems went undiscovered to the vast majority of humanity. Google found them, ranked them, and then went on to check them frequently to make sure users were still likely to find what they wanted.
They made the world a better place until the laws of their kingdom began to contradict common sense. For example, it would seem practical for a video game company to buy a banner ad on a video game enthusiast web forum. They could benefit from the targeted traffic and hopefully sell some video games. But at the same time, Google might view this banner link as an attempt to manipulate their algorithm.
To resolve this dilemma, Google created a tagging system to allow their search crawlers to identify which links were paid for and then direct their algorithm to make sure the buyers did not benefit in search from them. This directive was controversial because it forced webmasters that cared about their rankings to worry about the nature of their outbound links. Could a website selling banner ads hurt both the buyer and the seller at the same time? They sure could. If buying and selling backlinks is forbidden, then both parties have something to worry about. Today, it is important to include the rel=”nofollow” attribute in html coded links that are paid for.
Since the majority of web users use Google in some way, the challenge and effort to achieve better placement has become a billion dollar industry. Prestigious advertising firms claim they can improve search placement using white hat guidelines Google itself created. The fact remains that there is no way to be safe, no matter how prestigious, knowledgeable, expensive, or innocuous the SEOer is. Having a page on a website that discusses a topic that another page on the same website already talks about can be grounds for a penalty. Interlinking your pages too much can be grounds for a penalty, discussing too many broad topics can be grounds for a penalty. Writing with imperfect english can be grounds for a penalty. Mentioning your product or service too many times in an article or throughout your website can be grounds for a penalty. Not using enough visual aids such as images or videos can be grounds for a penalty. Adding new content to the website too frequently can be grounds for a penalty.
Everybody’s Doing it
Smart webmasters approach the web like their health. Do everything in moderation. It seems like every year there is a study that proves a correlation between a daily household food item with a certain untimely death. We’ve all heard something like this before: “The study determined that people that eat less than 2 carrots a day are more likely to die before the age of 70 than people that eat 2 or more carrots per day.” It’s the kind of fear mongering that causes someone to worry obsessively about meeting the 2 carrot daily minimum only to get hit by a bus as they cross the street three decades before they turn 70. Webmasters can spend their days worried about how Google will view them and ultimately never be found by their potential customers or they can do what everyone else does and work on getting backlinks and add content to their websites.
Is a compliant website that is never found by customers better than a website that has a good run, makes a lot of money, but takes the risk of getting penalized in the end? Some believe it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Afterall, an online business that has no web visitors is not really a business is it?
White hatters, the SEOers that wrongly believe they are immune from repercussions argue that their strategies take far longer to create results because they are in it for the long haul. Coincidentally, these long-haul strategies tend to have a high monthly price, do not guarantee results, and cannot predict what changes Google will make in the future. For example, if an SEOer says their slow and steady method will take 6-12 months, the webmaster should understand that the ranking algorithm could change in 5 months. All the work performed could be rendered obsolete in the blink of an eye or worse, devalue the ranking further from where it was originally.
In the quest for a quick fix or even as part of a long-term strategy, SEOers can’t help but notice that websites maintained by news media seem immune to all the rules. They republish countless amounts of duplicate news reports and they buy and sell exposure like its going out of style. In a way, they are a multiplied version of everything Google says not to do. But while they might get tons of traffic from search engines, they are not entirely dependent on them. Big news media has incredible brand name recognition. An individual seeking information about the Fiscal Cliff may simply type “CNN.com” in the browser address bar and bypass Google altogether.
Companies like Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Fox, and CNN, etc. are highly authoritative and could be categorized as the holy grail of backlinks. If one of the major ranking factors is the importance of the website the link is on, then there is nothing more important than being mentioned by national mainstream news media. The media outlets know the perceived value of their links and are hungry to find new streams of revenue. Thus, an opportunity presented itself to them just as printed newspapers began going the way of the dinosaur. And so they began to peddle link juice.
The age of buying links is not dead and it is now much more difficult for Google to punish the parties involved. Webmasters can pay public relations firms to get a “company press release” published on big news media sites and get the backlink of course. This tactic has been around for years but it has become one of the last great bastions for white hat SEO. Others would argue that social media is the next frontier but for SEOers grinding it out in the trenches, traditional backlinks seem to work better above all else.
Many public relations firms have been warned by Google not to promote the backlinking aspect of their service, but all of them offer some kind of SEO package to target webmasters that are interested in using their service for the purpose of link juice. Searchengineland.com ran a great article that exposed what the press release as SEO tactic revolution has done to the news. (http://searchengineland.com/how-prweb-helps-distribute-crap-into-google-news-sites-140597)
There is now a surge in boring, irrelevant, and oftentimes non-sensical company announcements on big media sites across the Internet. It is a popular SEO method in many fields, making it difficult to find actual industry news amongst the clutter of backlink driven stories.
But if it works, then why stop? That of course implies that it works in the first place. Several days ago, Matt Cutts, the director of Webspam at Google informed inquisitive webmasters that links in these press release articles DON’T COUNT. Helpful SEOers explained to the original poster that most links in press releases have the no-follow attribute added to the links to make sure that they don’t pass juice. Upon our own examination however, we couldn’t find any news media or public relations firm that implements no-follow. It would probably hurt their bottom line if the junk releases they were peddling suddenly didn’t count for anything.
The debate rages on about whether or not the director of Webspam is to be trusted. Is the ranking algorithm as powerful as Google claims it is? Or are they spreading fear and misinformation to make up for their shortcomings? There is a lot of interesting feedback to consider in the comments section of seroundtable’s short article regarding press releases.
In the past, many webmasters have used obvious black hat techniques for favorable placement and gotten burned in the end. Many innocent websites have been caught in the crossfire. Success on the Internet is believed by many to be achieved only by being visible on Google.
Individuals that have never managed a business website in their life have little idea how Google works. They know it will provide them with the answers they’re looking for and rank them in order from best to worst. To everyday users it is nothing short of magic. To an SEOer, being #1 for a search term may mean weeks, months, or years of trial, error, and patience. It requires time, money, or both. It is a tireless quest to become #1 or to die trying. It is the difference between getting 18.2% of visitors for a keyword searched 5,000,000 times a month or 1% of visitors for a keyword searched 100 times a month. It is a battle against not only Google, but against competitors in the same field that are using the same tricks to move up. It is a system that gives little guys a chance to be ranked alongside major corporations. It is way to be found in the sea of a trillion websites. But it is also a dictatorship. Google can sneak into your house in the middle of the night and banish you to page 50 with the accusation that you were buying backlinks. Google can lock the front door of your virtual store to prevent shoppers from getting in. Google can label non-native English speakers as spammmers and silence those that won’t stop writing about the same thing over and over again. This is the challenge with a single company being tasked with policing the entire Internet.
There are alternatives out there like Bing and Yahoo, but the problem is that when people go to those sites, they tend to type Bing or Yahoo into Google just to get there. Such is the habit these days for getting anywhere on the web. In 2008, blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote about this phenomenon. He argued that mainstream users of the Internet do not even know how to navigate it. While tons of responders to the article seem to agree, there are plenty of folks that make a compelling case as to why using a search engine is superior to a browser’s address bar.
It isn’t easy typing https://debanked.com perfectly if you’re a fast typer, which might explain why a significant portion of our visitors type this url into Google instead. They want to get to the right place the first time even if they type it in wrong. They might not even be exactly sure what our website is called or how to spell it. It’s not uncommon to see incorrect urls somehow end up in our traffic reports anyway.
- Merchant Processing Esource
- Merchant Processing Source
- Merchant Processing Resources
- Merchant Proccesing Resource (2 Cs or 1s)
- Merchant Processor Resource
The list of mistakes continues, but Google points them in the right direction anyway. If this didn’t happen, we might seriously consider rebranding the site with a much shorter domain name. Unfortunately, in mid-2010 when Merchant Processing Resource started, we didn’t give much thought to the difficulty in remembering a 7-syllable name, nor the likelihood of miskeying a single character in a 34 character address (www.merchantprocessingresource.com). This shove in the right direction is a benefit that an address bar can’t offer.
The user oriented focus of Google arguably ended once and for all on May 19, 2010, the day they went public. While #6 on the list of Google’s official philosophy is that “You can make money without doing evil,” shareholders may have qualms with #1. It states, “Focus on the the user and all else will follow.” This motto doesn’t scream maximum profit. Besides, being public doesn’t allow Google to focus on the user, but instead tasks them with increasing the value of their stock. Of course they can’t earn a profit if they disregard the users altogether and so they are faced with the challenge of maximizing profit without alienating their users.
Adhering to their own philosophy is tricky, not to mention that many state and national governments believe that Google is manipulating the results to promote their own products. Products? one might ask; What possible products does Google have? Oh you mean you haven’t heard of Maps/Earth, Youtube, Zagat, Google Reviews, Google Plus, Gmail, Blogger, Picasa, Google Wallet, Translate, the Droid OS, driverless cars, the Chrome web browser, or the many other products they control?
Google isn’t content with just controlling search. They want to control the entire Internet experience. Companies like Facebook threaten that monopoly and as such Google has made social networking a top priority to counter them. Not evil?
The Google universe is exhausting. Webmasters must do more than just design great websites to continue enjoying the luxury of being found. Paid links must be marked as no-follow, backlinks on bad websites must be disavowed, private pages must be marked as no-index, similar or duplicate content must be avoided, URLs must be descriptive, title tags should be relevant, HTML should be used over Flash, and moved pages should be redirected if for no other reason than to retain the page value of the original URL.
Is There Life After Dea.err…Google?
As we draw near our conclusion, we argue that Google continues to play a large role in Internet Marketing, but advise that Google is not the Internet, no matter how much you’ve come to believe otherwise. There is LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, web forums, blogs, email newsletters, and a zillion other places to promote oneself and be found. Too many people fail to utilize the infinite other opportunities to market themselves online simply because they believe ranking in Google is the only way or because they’ve received a penalty and give up. “Getting ranked” has become an all consuming challenge that blinds webmasters from their true goal of attracting customers. People bought products and services online before Google came around. They might make things easier for the average user that believes search results are a product of magic, but in reality they are just one of many systems to find things. They are an imperfect ecosystem that has become tainted by their motivation for profit. And let’s not forget the millions of white hatters and black hatters that are driving the algorithm wild as they seek better placement for themselves or their clients.
Do we care about Google? Certainly, but only about half of our visitors originate from the search engine. People actually see us mentioned on LinkedIn, Facebook, and actual trade publications. And guess what? Those people visit us, bookmark us, and return. There may come a day when Google decides too many incoming links from Facebook is grounds for a penalty, causing outrage among webmasters, a move that might force many to give the social network up, and even disavow it officially. White hatters could end up having to eat their white hats down the road. The whole system of the Internet will no longer seem to make any sense. Maybe a reality check is okay. Perhaps too many hours and megabytes are wasted on trying to gain favor with Google. So much junk exists out there these days that isn’t even meant to be read or followed, but rather exists for the sole purpose of gaining link juice. If a poorly designed website in China links to a good website in the U.S., should the webmaster have to spend time tracking it down, identifying it, and disavowing it just to appease the king? Does this make any sense?
The next time you spend $300-$500 on a press release with carefully crafted link text, think about whether or not Google is really going to reward you with placement for a search term. Their director of Webspam says you’re not going to score any points, yet you may believe otherwise. Consider how else that money could be spent online outside the context of Google SEO. Are you looking to attract customers or simply gain favor with a king that MIGHT lead to customers? Imagine for a minute that Google, Bing, and Yahoo have banished you from being found forever. Would you close up shop or start to think outside the box?
White hatters that read this may be mumbling to themselves that they need not think this way because they have a surefire strategy that works, something along the lines of “Content is King.” This “Content” revolution involves publishing tons of articles to ones website to give the impression to Google that a website is constantly being updated with helpful information. An SEOer will tell you that Google “wants” this. In reality though, this has created a new phenomenon, the practice of webmasters spamming their own websites. The content may be informative, well written, and on-topic but if it’s being done to please Google instead of making sales or helping visitors, then it’s really nothing more than the black hat trick of the day. “Content is King,” that is until it’s not because 100 million websites are doing the same thing, leading to a vast pile of junk in cyberspace.
People forget that the word ‘marketing’ exists in Internet Marketing. They focus their time and effort on Internet Manipulation. They either have systems to make a quick buck or they slowly march onwards towards a promise that can’t be kept. As we approach 2013, it remains true that Google can’t be ignored, but the rest of the global Internet shouldn’t be either. There are billions of people out there that are looking for what you offer and you need to learn how to reach them. Coincidentally, there are 100 million articles on the web that claim they can teach this very trade. 99 million of them exist for the purpose of getting a backlink. That means the information is questionable at best. Take a marketing course, read a marketing book, or hire a marketing consultant. Go back to the basics if you must. Plan for the day where you won’t exist in search even though your business exists in real life. If the moment comes where Google replaces the search results with only paid advertisements or you get penalized because you told all of your friends to link to your website, you can shrug it off. If you want to be in Internet Marketing for the long haul, stop thinking about search. Google can’t be your only web strategy forever.
– Merchant Processing Resource