Google struck again late on Friday the 17th with a refresh of the Penguin Algorithm. As posted on Search Engine Roundtable, the algorithm is still rolling out and will continue to do so over the next few weeks.
Those familiar with Penguin know that it targets backlinks, specifically: paid links, spam links, bad links, the whole gamut. Hit the trigger and your site can virtually disappear from search.
I monitor several keywords in our niche and I haven’t noticed much of a change between what I see now and what I saw prior to the 17th. Truthfully, some of the companies I see popping up now in the first 2 pages are exactly the type of companies I’d expect to see on a list offline. That’s a good indicator that something is going right.
The exact search results are different for everyone but amongst the top 20 results for the search term merchant cash advance, I get:
- Business Financial Services
- Capital for Merchants
- CAN Capital
- Merchant Cash and Capital
- Retail Capital
Years ago through spam manipulation, the first few results were dominated by random lead generation sites like fastcashfunding4unow.com. I see very few sites like that these days ranking well.
If you were wondering where your organic site traffic went in the last week, there’s a good chance you got Penguined. Good luck getting out of that!
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 what is likely a Knowledge Graph hiccup, Google is giving New York-based AmeriMerchant a wonderfully free source of advertising. Merchant Cash Advance is a product in a multi-billion dollar a year industry. What is a merchant cash advance, you ask? Why it’s something that only AmeriMerchant invented and offers apparently.
What’s perhaps more ironic is that AmeriMerchant is famous for overturning another company’s patented claim to merchant cash advances. In the mid-2000s, AmeriMerchant led a charge against the alleged merchant cash advance inventor AdvanceMe. In a landmark case that overturned AdvanceMe’s patent and put AmeriMerchant’s CEO on the front page of the New York Times, merchant cash advance became the property of no single company. Today, merchant cash advances are offered directly or indirectly by more than a thousand companies nationwide.
I wonder how much AmeriMerchant is banking off this…
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:
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:
Almost 1 year ago to the day, I wrote a piece titled How the Facebook IPO Affects the Merchant Cash Advance Industry. In a most fitting way to commemorate this anniversary, it was reported early this morning that Google Ventures and Peter Thiel are investing in On Deck Capital (“ODC”) through additional Series D Financing. Thiel is especially symbolic in this case as he was the first outside investor in Facebook back in 2004.
But don’t expect Jesse Eisenberg to be called upon to play Noah Breslow or Mitch Jacobs in a movie about small business lending just yet, as the ODC story is a tad less revolutionary than facebook. Or maybe it’s not. Google Ventures is not one of the usual backing suspects in the MCA industry, but their involvement in this case is a perfect validation of my prediction 1 year ago.
Merchant Cash Advance financing turns 15 this year and split-funding goes back more than two decades, but the best of times are just beginning. On September 19, 2012 I bid farewell to an era and made my case for the one I foresaw on the horizon. Facebook wasn’t the first social network on the Internet, nor was their concept original, but they changed how we interact with strangers, friends, and family members online forever. There is a familiar trend with ODC and even Kabbage, two names that every journalist appears obligated to mention these days when writing about Main Street. Perhaps their technology based approaches send a tingle up the leg of the mainstream media or maybe they’re just really changing the game. They definitely appeal to the Silicon Valley crowd in a way that the old guard of Merchant Cash Advance companies apparently do not.
“Old guard, did you just say old guard?!”
Contrary to urban myth, On Deck Capital and Kabbage are not taking on small businesses all by themselves. They are but a fraction of the overall alternative business lending market with the leaders being anything but old guard. Debt and Equity are pouring into these firms and there are no signs of it letting up any time soon. I can’t go a day without a fund, lender, or investor reaching out to me in some way with the hope that I can steer them to a funding provider in need of a capital raise. Their options to get in now are running low and my advice to them is to set your sights lower on ISOs. The big funders have got capital covered and the ISO market is the next gold rush.
The industry can’t grow without originations and most funders depend on some level of ISO business (a few entirely) to hit their benchmarks month after month. So the funders do their job well, but the lead generators are driving a large percentage of the growth.
In March, I attended the Search Marketing Expo in Silicon Valley. In a sheer twist of fate, at the same time a Merchant Cash Advance guy like myself was touring the campuses of Facebook and Google, it appears that Facebook and Google were busy touring the campuses of a Merchant Cash Advance company.
The connection between Silicon Valley and alternative business lending is beginning to run deep, very deep. I think we’re soulmates. Only time will tell.