marketing

“You Can’t Stay Static”: Paul Teitelman and the Building of an SEO Firm

June 30, 2019
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seo

Paul Teitelman SEO ConsultantHow does someone become an SEO expert? How does someone found a successful  SEO consultancy firm? For Paul Teitelman, his road to SEO mastery and independence started by admitting he knew nothing about the industry.

Beginning in the late noughties, following his graduation in Marketing Management from Dalhousie University, Teitelman went to an Interactive Advertising Bureau job fair, pitched himself to his soon-to-be boss, and replied, “No! But I’m your man. I’ll learn it all,” when asked if he knew anything about SEO.

Thus began his tenure at Search Engine People, one of Canada’s first Search Engine Marketing companies. Here he entered as a Link Ninja and learned the trade by implementing SEO campaigns for both Fortune 100 and 500 companies as well as for local businesses. From this, he advanced to a managerial position, in which he led teams of SEO specialists who were responsible for ensuring clients would appear at the top of Google search pages. And then, in 2011, Teitelman left Search Engine People to make his own way, becoming the CEO and founder of his self-titled, Toronto-based SEO consultancy firm.

How did the move to independence pan out? Well, as of June 2019 he has hired his 25th employee, his team is kept busy servicing the needs of clients, and he experiments with pioneering SEO strategies and theories within his own blog network. Claiming that his firm offers “the best of both worlds” as a result of him having worked on both ends of the SEO spectrum, Teitelman explains that clients benefit from his offering of the transparency, promptness, and directness that are inherent with small firms; and that he reaps the reward of an agency price tag, a perk that comes with producing consistently successful SEO work.

“YOU CAN’T STAY STATIC”

seoWhen asked about how others could follow in his footsteps, he said, regardless of the industry, whether you’re an SEO expert or broker, that “you can’t stay static.” Emphasizing the necessity of having foresight when you leave your old job, Teitelman notes that entrepreneurs need to stay ahead of the curve of trends, be that an update to Google’s search result algorithm or a niche opening in the alternative finance market. As well as this, Teitelman highlighted the importance of being secure in that knowledge that when you leave to make it independently you will have a list of clients to take with you, who’ll keep you from leaving yourself high and dry.

And much like how the merchant cash advance scene in Canada has seen an increase in both interest and product knowledge amongst customers over recent years, as has SEO. Subject to myth-making and conjecture as a result of its technical lingo and specialized nature, SEO has long been the victim of misunderstanding according to Teitelman, who says those who are curious about the service “shouldn’t believe everything they read on the internet.”

Going on to say that “the more education customers get, the more exciting the industry becomes,” it’s clear that Teitelman is looking forward to the future of SEO. Time will tell if his offer back in 2008 will be matched by interested industries, curious about the possibilities that SEO promises and willing to “learn it all.”


Paul Teitelman is also speaking on a sales and marketing strategies panel at deBanked CONNECT Toronto on July 25th alongside Smarter Loans President Vlad Sherbatov and SharpShooter Funding Managing Partner Paul Pitcher.

How Should a Funder Market?

February 20, 2019
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brainstormingWhether it’s marketing to ISOs or for direct leads, funders have different marketing techniques that suit their size and business philosophy.

Credibly, a New York-based company of 160 employees, works with LendingTree and uses Google and Facebook for leads. But Director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Jeffrey Bumbales said that advertising on large pay-per-click channels may not be the right move every funder.

“If you’re unsure as to whether [Google or Facebook] are worth pursuing, lead generators are a great benchmark. If your average cost per lead is more expensive than the market price, you’re better off allocating your spend towards the lead generators and other channels.”

Credibly has used LinkedIn for marketing, but Bumbales acknowledged that the platform can be very expensive. They have used Sponsored InMail, which sends direct messages to targeted business owners. Bumbales said this can be very effective, but it requires you to have at least one person managing the responses, which can be very time intensive.

Bumbales also emphasized the importance of diversifying lead sources such that you never have more than one-third of your marketing spend devoted to one source.

Heather Francis, CEO of Elevate Funding, never devotes more than one-third of her marketing in any one area. That’s because she doesn’t really do any marketing. Yup. Elevate, a funder of about 20 employees in Gainesville, FL, gets by just fine without marketing.

“It’s all word of mouth and networking,” Francis said.

Francis says she loves it when an ISO will say “I keep seeing your [company] name on merchant bank statements,” meaning that when files get circulated, the ISO keeps seeing that merchants are being debited by Elevate.

Francis has taken the approach of letting others approach her company. Kind of like dating.

“We want to work with people who want to work with us,” Francis said. “And in this business, everything is reputational based.”

If there’s anyone who knows anything about marketing, it’s Jennie Villano, Vice President Of Business Development at Kalamata Capital Group.

Villano uses LinkedIn to market to ISOs, posting friendly videos of herself speaking directly to the ISO community on an almost daily basis.

Last year, Villano started a cooking show video series on her LinkedIn page called “Cooking with Kalamata,” in reference to her company’s name. In each video, she invites a different guest to cook something with her in an informal home kitchen setting.

“Cooking has nothing to do with lending, but it doesn’t matter,” Villano told the audience on a marketing panel at last year’s Broker Fair.

The cooking shows allow potential clients to see her in a casual, non-business environment so that even if she hasn’t met many of her LinkedIn contacts, they feel like she’s a personal friend.

“And people want to do business with their friends,” she said.

deBanked Email Campaign Tips

October 30, 2018
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Sending out an email campaign? Here are some helpful guidelines we’ve put together from experience:

1. Choose a well-crafted subject line. If your subject line doesn’t speak directly to your audience and entice them, they won’t open your email and nothing else will matter. Assume your recipient gets hundreds or thousands of emails per day so even if they recognize the sender and subscribed to them, they might not feel compelled to open the email unless they’re convinced they should. Assume that they also receive a lot of spam so something like the subject line “Best deal of the year” could be glossed over by the ever-distracted eye that can’t tell if the email is about Black Friday shopping discounts or their funder’s newest commission structure.

Try to be as specific as possible in as few enticing words as possible. “ISOs, best deal of the year” tells the recipient this is a deal for ISOs, not a deal for footwear at Macy’s.

Consider also: You have to do it in a way that won’t trip spam filters. Even if the recipient’s mail server regularly gets email from the sender, a subject line in all capital letters or lots of dollar signs could send that email to the spam folder anyway. Lines like “Make lots of money” or “Get rich” have a lower chance of making it to the destination. Mail servers remember email they don’t like so one poorly worded subject line today could convince mail servers that your future emails, no matter how mundane, should go there too. So be careful.




2. Draft your campaign in HTML. A standalone image might look really cool but that presents two problems.

  • If the recipient has images in emails blocked by default they will just receive a blank email. NOT GOOD.
  • Spam filters may suspect you are trying to hide your message in a photo rather than in text where the content can be analyzed. As a result, your email and future ones may go right to the spam folder.

Consider also: That HTML comes in many versions that is interpreted in various ways by different mail clients. Stick to HTML 4 (do not use HTML5) and use TABLE tags instead of DIV tags (DIVs are ignored by some email clients).




3. Cap the maximum width to 700 pixels. Remember that your recipient may be reading your email on a mobile device or not have their email client window fully extended on their screen. To prevent loss of readability, think narrow, not wide.




4. Use still images, not animations. Use of images in emails are great, but bear in mind that unfriendly email clients like Microsoft Outlook will not animate an animated .gif file. Instead, it will only display the first frame of the animation as a still image. So if you use animations, make sure the first frame is something you can live with if your recipient is viewing it using Microsoft Outlook.




5. Don’t use huge image files. The perfectly crisp high resolution image might look fantastic but if it’s multiple megabytes, mobile phone users not connected to WIFI may close your email before it even loads. So keep your images to 72 dpi and as little memory as possible.




6. Cross-compatibility. Email looks great on Gmail? That’s a start, but you’re not done. Email clients interpret design cues and HTML differently. Every email campaign needs to be checked in Gmail, Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook, and mobile devices.




7. Email design programs. Some design programs do a decent job of producing HTML-based email-ready campaigns. Others might seemingly look okay but place thousands of unnecessary lines of junk code in your campaign’s HTML that either cause cross-compatibility problems, or worse, exhaust the email client. Gmail, for example, will just stop reading the code if it’s too long and hide the lower part of your campaign design from your recipient’s view. You definitely don’t want that to happen.




8. Be careful what you say. Spam filters are analyzing more than just subject lines. They want to know what you’re emailing about. Terms like Loan, Cash Advance, Money, Get Paid, might make complete sense in your everyday business marketing but spam filters hate these words even if they trust the sender. So limit your usage of them or come up with other terms.




9. Be work-appropriate. They say sex sells, but not here, do not incorporate sexually suggestive phrases or imagery into your campaign.




10. Be legal. Consider that a government regulator could one day get ahold of your email campaigns. Is your campaign truthful? Is what you’re saying and offering legal? If your email isn’t regulator-ready, it’s time to revisit.




11. Allow time for testing, suggestions, and corrections. Always have your campaign fully completed at least two business days in advance of its scheduled delivery. That will allow enough time for testing and to apply changes as needed.




12. Place BIG and obvious calls to action. Your email was perfect and the recipient is ready to communicate with you, but their ever-distracted eye did not see the tiny little text hidden at the bottom that said “email us.” As a result, they closed the email and forgot all about you. Oops!

Every campaign must have a clear actionable.

  • EMAIL US HERE
  • CALL NOW
  • CLICK TO LEARN MORE

Some people are too shy to pick up the phone and others don’t have the hand energy to type out an email saying they’re interested without any promise of when they’ll hear back, so include as many actionables as possible and make them as VISIBLE as possible.

Consider that: Some users automatically assume the top image of an email will be actionable. Meaning if they click it, they expect something to happen like the loading of a landing page. Scrolling down requires work and effort so place as many actionables as high up as you can.




13. Landing page. If your actionable is going to direct the recipient to a website, try not to make it your home page. The best way to lose the user is to send them to a generic home page with a navigation they are not familiar with. If possible, create a simple page that uses language similar to your email campaign with a SHORT web form or highly visible listing of your phone # or email address.




14. Smarter. Not more. If you’re not satisfied with the results of your campaign, having more subscribers the next time around may not be the answer to your woes. Review the above the steps and make changes where appropriate and try again. 🙂

Panelists Share Marketing Advice at Broker Fair

May 20, 2018
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Jennie Villano, Vice President of Business Development at Kalamata Advisors, opened Broker Fair’s “Marketing Your Business” panel by stressing the importance of being personable on LinkedIn. She said that while LinkedIn is certainly a professional platform, warmth and congeniality go a long way. And so does thinking creatively by presenting yourself outside of your professional box.

For instance, about two months ago, Villano started a cooking show video series on her LinkedIn page called “Cooking with Kalamata,” in reference to her company’s name. In each video, she invites a different guest to cook something with her in an informal home kitchen setting.

Villano acknowledged that cooking has nothing to do with lending. But it doesn’t matter, she said. The cooking shows allow potential clients to see her in a casual, non-business environment so that even if she hasn’t met many of her LinkedIn contacts, they can feel like she’s a personal friend. And people want to do business with their friends, she said.

The “Cooking with Kalamata” video posts, which are two to four minutes long, have received thousands of views and Villano said that she has seen an increase in business in just the few months after she started making these videos.

Tom Gricka, founder and president of Bablyon Solutions, a marketing and technology company that services the alternative lending industry, spoke about the importance of communication among different teams within a company.

If a company has a bad month, Gricka said that often brokers will blame the marketing team for bad leads and the marketing team will blame the brokers for not selling well. Gricka said that usually neither party is correct. Instead, he said that brokers should be communicating with lead generators about what they’re hearing on the phone and what kinds of leads they would like to be getting more or less of. Likewise, marketers/lead generators need to listen to what the salespeople are saying so that they can produce more targeted leads.

Finally, CEO of Reliant Funding Adam Stettner spoke about the importance of testing marketing efforts online. And he said to make sure that you’re only testing one variable at the same time.

Reliant Funding started by using direct mail marketing, but Stettner said that if he had to do it over again, he would have started with online marketing. And he recommended starting out with online marketing particularly for companies or individuals with small budgets because online marketing is less expensive and can be more easily adjusted.

 

Abe Zeines, Jennie Villano ‘Cook Up’ Buzz

February 13, 2018
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Abe Zeines, of former MCA infamy, is cooking up something new, according to a video that was posted on LinkedIn earlier today. The 2-and-a-half minute clip was produced by Jennie Villano, a top social media marketer who serves as the VP of Business Development at Kalamata Advisors.

Villano was spotlighted for her notable online marketing acumen in a deBanked story last December.

In this for-fun video, Zeines appears to put spaghetti noodles into an empty pot.

Did he win the cooking challenge?

Dear Funders: Don’t Dial ‘M’ for Marketing

October 7, 2016

Photo credit, Bryce Johnson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/brycej/2607596779/

Photo credit, Bryce Johnson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/brycej/2607596779/

Imagine you own a small donut shop in Arizona and receive an email saying, “Hello, I have heard your chocolate donuts are amazing and the most popular item. I work for XX, and we provide small business loans, do reach out to us if you’re looking to take it a step further.”

Versus

Getting yet another envelope in a deluge of mails with a bank-check-like promotional ad for a preposterous amount that startles you for a hot second before it ends up in the paper shredder.

One of these methods is free, personalized and subtle. And no points for guessing which one.

Gone should be the days where funders indiscriminately send out email blasts or cold call merchants offering working capital. But are they?

A year ago, a Wall Street Journal article said,

“A big reason online lenders make heavy use of mail, they said, is that it is still more effective than other types of direct marketing. Across all industries, the overall response rate for direct-mail overtures is 3.7%, compared with 0.1% for both email and social-media marketing campaigns, according to a recent report from the Direct Marketing Association, an industry group.”

Mintel Comperemedia, a database which tracks advertising data highlighted the use of technology as being the paramount shift in marketing for the financial services industry. But is the transition from analog to digital underway? 

For some companies, it is. New York-based SOS Capital does not have a sales team and does all of its marketing on social media. The company sends no direct mailers, limits email blasts and instead scouts for small businesses on Facebook, LinkedIn and Yelp.

With more small businesses ramping up their social media presence, discovering leads has not only become easier but also cheaper. “Small business presence on Facebook is growing every day and finding them there can save you a lot of money,” said David Obstfeld, CEO and co-founder of SOS Capital. “Facebook is not explored by most funders but we have had great success.” The company spent $6,500 marketing to SMBs on Facebook and had 120 conversions over a period of two months.

How does that compare with the conventional methods of direct mail campaigns, email blasts and phone calls?

According to Justin Benton, sales director at leads generation firm, Lenders Marketing, it could cost about $100,000 to send out a million emails to active, verified accounts and as much as a dollar for a nice direct mail, including printing and postage.

“Even though it’s cost prohibitive for some folks and some others think that it’s past its prime, direct mail still wins,” said Benton who urges his clients to consider social media marketing which he says can be “virtually free.”

Discovering companies on sites like LinkedIn and Yelp can offer insights into the business and target customers better. “Calling a lead once and saying the words, ‘business loans’ or ‘working capital loans’ does not work, you need to understand the business,” Benton added.

Digital marketing can also help one keep better track of leads and reinvest in the ones that work. “It’s important to have a leads scoring system,” Benton said. The opposite of that, to him, looks like “Making a gumbo from scratch but you have no idea how you did it and cannot recreate it.”

Competition among financial companies will eventually force them to get more creative with their marketing tactics. Like Partners Funding for example, an MCA funder that markets to ISOs, uses incentives as baits. “If the ISOs fund three deals over $50,000, we reward them with extra points or give them marketing dollars,” said Michael Jenssen, ISO sales manager at Partners Funding, which sticks to marketing through email blasts, calls and exhibiting at trade shows.

Ultimately, the road to a lasting relationship with clients is paved with effective marketing. And the line between pushing call to action and being pesky is quite fine. “Funders have been using the same marketing campaigns and it’s making the clients sick,” said Obstfeld. “There are only so many mailers one can receive. They have to be creative about marketing to people without annoying them.”

For Obstfeld, the value in pursuing businesses through channels like Facebook is having more control over deals and interacting with the merchants directly, without any interference from ISOs. “It’s not just about saving money but the control over the deal. When there is no ISO involved, there is no stacking involved.”

The transition to moving all marketing online might be slow but inevitable. Until then, using bank check imagery to promote big pre-approvals will be more than just gags.

Merchant Cash Advance Now In-Depth

December 1, 2014
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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

in-depth merchant cash advance articles

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.

rich snippets

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.

The Funding Calls That Won’t Stop

November 23, 2014
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“Your business has been approved for a loan…”

Last week, Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ 95.1 FM) investigated a trend in the small business community, the use of merchant cash advance financing. The station called me in advance to answer some questions about merchant cash advances and I gave my best explanation of the industry and its products.

Of the discussion that lasted more than 30 minutes, only about five of my sentences made it on the air. While I clarify some of my positions below, it was sobering to learn the context of how they were used, as a defense to real life merchant complaints.

The satisfaction rate with merchant cash advances are pretty high and I say that mainly because it’s so rare to hear complaints from anyone other than journalists that can’t believe anyone would accept rates above 6% APR. And while there are indeed bad actors in the industry (as there are in any industry), the gripe one merchant had about phone solicitations that just won’t stop is a recurring theme.

It’s happening to me too.

As an account representative in 2010 calling real time leads sold to five parties at once, I did what anyone would do, I pretended to be a small business myself and inquired through the website that we bought leads from and entered my cell phone as the point of contact

Ring. Ring. Ring…

Within a half hour, representatives from four companies called me, and I learned exactly who my competition was, how they explained the product, and what they would say to win me over. Two of the four were really good and one even referenced my name personally, saying something to the effect of, “If you get a call from Sean Murray, his rates are worse than mine.” Obviously he had already done what I was doing now, which was pretend to be a small business so he could prove to the prospect he was well informed about the alternatives. He had heard my pitch already and was now throwing me under the bus by planting the seed that I was going to offer something more expensive even if it wasn’t the truth.

In the end none of them won because it was all a farce. One never called me again after the first call. Another kept at it for a week and the remaining two followed up for a month.

And then it got quiet…

I had been marked as a dead lead and forgotten about until three months later when one company sent a follow up email. “Smart,” I thought. But then a call came six months later, and then more emails, some from companies I didn’t originally engage with.

And they continued at regular intervals, every couple of months an email or call. Was it interesting? Yes. Annoying? No.

Until this year.

call centerThe volume of emails have slowed but I’ve somehow ended up on robo calling lists. “Press 1 to talk to a funding specialist or press 9 to be added to the Do Not Call list”

The press 9 option doesn’t work for me. Sure, I might be removed from that marketer’s list, but it in no way removes you from anyone else’s list. I knew that already of course because I’ve been on the other end before.

The first time I got one of these calls, I was excited to tell the sales representative who I really was, level with him, and explain that it was a really good idea to take me off the list. But much like other business loan robo call complaints, the representative wouldn’t tell me anything about himself or his company.

I got yelled at.

Every time I tried to ask a question, he’d get louder, insisting I tell him my monthly gross sales volume for the “cash advance I wanted.”

A rogue actor maybe, but I’ve since gotten additional business loan robo calls and have made no progress in getting myself removed. I just hang up now.

Call it sweet irony perhaps. Or maybe a wake up call (pun intended). I applied on a website once four years ago and the rest is history.

My experience with repeat solicitations is marginal compared to somebody that has actually used a merchant cash advance. With the filing of a public UCC-1, anyone in the industry can easily access that data and convert it into a marketing list. And they do.

Brokers that scorn UCC marketing acknowledge that these businesses could be getting called 5-10 times a day. My own clients had reported repetitive calls back when I was an account representative. And while UCC marketing is very cost effective, in today’s market where more than a thousand companies are offering similar financial products, it’s probably safe to say it’s overly saturated.

And if 5-10 calls per day were even remotely accurate, I’d surmise that level of volume is marring the industry’s reputation as a whole.

I could argue though that when customers have a great many options to choose from, they win. With more than a thousand companies offering merchant cash advances and business loans, it’s truly a buyer’s market. Play all the companies against each other and you should end up with the best possible terms. It’s a great time to seek capital.

Except we’ve got to do something about those phone calls, or at least the robo calls.

Every angry robo dial recipient becomes one less person likely to speak positively about the the nonbank financing industry. Aged leads, UCCs and phone calls might be inexpensive, but the cost to undo negative preconceived notions is immeasurable.

Do you want to be known as the company that helped small businesses or the annoying people that won’t stop calling? If merchants are taking to the air waves to complain, it will only be a matter of time before the FTC and FCC become interested.


Regarding my comments on the radio about APRs and daily amortization, they were pulled from a conversation that compared daily payment loans to purchases of future sales. I DO believe bad actors exist and every business owner should have an accountant, lawyer, or savvy third party review any contracts they enter into, financial or otherwise.

Kabbage TV Commercial

November 1, 2014
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Another company has joined the TV commercial party and this one’s a little different. Atlanta-based Kabbage has chosen Puddles the Clown as their spokesman. What do you think?


Not loading? See it here


Below are some of their competitor’s commercials:






Why Your Deal Got Stolen

September 16, 2014
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trigger leadsBack in April, I presented the idea of trigger leads coming to the alternative lending industry. In subsequent discussions about that blog post, many folks particularly in merchant cash advance questioned whether such a concept could possibly exist or would even be legal.

For those not familiar, this is the methodology behind trigger leads using a hypothetical scenario:

  • OnDeck runs the personal credit of a merchant using Experian.
  • Experian sells the contact information of that merchant to OnDeck’s competitors immediately after credit is pulled.
  • Competitors solicit that merchant and convince them to go with them instead.

Again, the reaction I get to the above scenario by most people is, “yeah, right. I don’t believe that could happen.” But if you look at the raw amount of ISOs complaining their deals got stolen, it’s evident that perhaps there is something else brewing than just the usual assortment of rogue underwriters and shady funders.

Most ISOs are convinced that if their client is working with them and only them, that a shady business dealing has taken place if that client is randomly called out of the blue with the knowledge that they’re pursuing funding. To them, the only conclusion is that their deal got backdoored.

my deal got stolenAnd while backdooring does seem to happen out there from time to time, another culprit may very well be trigger leads. Credit bureaus and big data aggregators are selling credit pull data in real time. UCC-1 leads are leads after the funding has taken place. Trigger leads are leads before the funding has taken place. But do they really exist?

Elsewhere in alternative lending, trigger leads are the backbone for how companies tailor their direct mail campaigns. If a consumer’s credit was pulled today by a mortgage lender, companies like Lending Club and Prosper will make sure that consumer receives a mail ad for a home improvement loan tomorrow.

Today at the Apex Lending Exchange conference in New York City, Ron Suber, the president of Prosper, referred to this trigger methodology as “getting to the right borrowers at the right cost.” In their sector, trigger leads are marketing 101. In merchant cash advance, it’s perceived as a pipe dream. Odds are that whoever is taking advantage of trigger leads in this industry would want to keep all the other players in the dark about it.

As much as you might hate to believe it, all of the backdooring paranoia that’s been rampant lately might actually be caused by the credit bureaus, not the funders. The lesson here is that as soon as your merchant’s credit is pulled, the clock is ticking until your competitors find out even if that merchant talks to nobody else.

I know ISOs want to believe that their merchant is only theirs, but in the age of advanced technology and big data, your merchant belongs to the cloud. As soon as your relationship with the merchant interacts with technology, somebody else will find out about it. And that’s why your deal got stolen.

trust no one

Is Awareness of Alternative Lending Still Low?

July 4, 2014
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are borrowers aware?Prosper’s President Ron Suber and LendingClub’s CEO Renaud Laplanche have previously explained that there is still a large opportunity for growth because most people still don’t know non-bank lending options exist.

As cited on LendingMemo, Renaud Laplanche admitted the reason they are even considering an IPO is “to use it as an opportunity to raise awareness for the company.” He continued by saying that they don’t need capital so the purpose of their IPO aspirations “is a lot of free advertising.”

In casual conversations with business owners, friends, and new acquaintances I’ve asked if they’ve ever heard of merchant cash advance, p2p lending, or companies like OnDeck Capital and LendingClub. The answer is almost always ‘no’.

That means there is still a lot of work to do.

In this CNBC interview Funding Circle acknowledges that many business owners aren’t aware of alternatives and explains what makes them different.

Is Larry King a Funding Spokesman?

June 25, 2014
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This commercial is making the rounds on TV and some folks are wondering if this is indeed Larry King. I think it is:

The commercial states that Larry King is a remunerated endorser of LendVantage and his face is all over their promotional materials like facebook.

Is it him? Follow the thread on DailyFunder.

What if there were Trigger Leads?

April 27, 2014
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Just recently, a user in DailyFunder’s forum complained that a deal of his had been poached by a competitor. There’s nothing new about that story, but it is what followed that drew interest. He was in the process of renewing his client for additional funds, when out of the blue popped up a competitor that called his client to tell them not to sign the contract they had in their hands until they heard his better offer.

As it was suspiciously timed and curiously specific, he decided to reach out to the alternative lending community for their thoughts. One possible conclusion offered was that the competitor was being fed trigger leads.

Trigger leads?????????????????

Forget UCCs folks. UCCs detail transactions that have already happened and we’ve all seen what they’ve done to the merchant cash advance and alternative business lending industry. Companies are scared to file them now. But what if all of your competitors were notified every time one of your deals was submitted to underwriting? You get the app signed, you submit the file, and the next day 10 companies have called your client to offer them a better deal on funding than whatever terms you were about to offer. What gives?

Popular in the mortgage industry, the credit bureaus can actually sell credit inquiry data to lenders. So imagine every time credit gets pulled on a deal, the merchant’s info is sent out to your competitors for a fee.

Dave Sullivan explains Trigger leads below:

There was no way to tell for sure if that was what happened in this situation, and I’ve yet to hear of trigger leads being used in the alternative business lending industry but if someone was getting them, I’m sure they’d want to keep their source top secret.

Can you imagine what kind of chaos would ensue if this became commonplace in our industry?

😉

Your Merchant Cash Advance Press Release May be Hurting You

August 8, 2013
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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.

spamHave 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.

matt cutts spam

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
    car insurance
  • 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
    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.

bing news

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.

Link Removal
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:

Hello sir,
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.

Sincerely
sfahfdspfu547@spamlinkremovalservicecompanyseobest.com

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.

So…
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:


https://debanked.com

Lending Club in Action

May 26, 2013
Article by:

Soon after Google Inc. bought a stake in the personal loan company Lending Club, I apparently got added to their mailing list. I wonder if Google is providing Lending Club with better targeted data to close more loans. They probably are, although I probably shouldn’t be on this list.

lending club check

I have seen the fake check method used many times by companies to excite mail recipients. The envelope also looked pretty fancy and it had a warning notice on it indicating that the contents of the letter were time sensitive. Do mailers still work these days? This leads me to believe they do. After all, I opened the letter and read through everything instead of throwing it away in the trash like I did with the other junk mail I got…

Penguin 2.0 Epic Fails

May 23, 2013
Article by:

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 webmaster@merchantprocessingresource.com

Epic Fail #3: Page 1 for the search of Business Cash Advance Companies
penguin 2.0

Epic Fail #2: Page 3 for the search of Business Cash Advance
google penguin fail

Epic Fail #1:
google penguin fail

Google Penguin 2.0 Hits Search Rankings – Track The Responses

May 23, 2013
Article by:

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:

Your Web Presence Matters to Alternative Lenders

March 20, 2013
Article by:

webA 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.

Side Notes

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/

Don’t Get Banned by Your Target Market

March 19, 2013
Article by:

kicked out?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?

– Merchant Processing Resource
https://debanked.com
MPR.mobi on iPhone, iPad, and Android

Small Business Loans for Men? Not a Good Idea…

March 18, 2013
Article by:

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?

womenPerhaps 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.

business womanI 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”).

business loans for men

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 🙂

– Merchant Processing Resource
https://debanked.com
MPR.mobi on iPhone, iPad, and Android