Google called the series of changes Panda, but the subsequent response on global chat rooms has been less cuddly.
Google has been introducing the algorithm changes in the UK, with panda 2.2 up next, since 11 April. The ongoing changes aim to strip out poor quality, low value sites and replace them with higher quality first page search results.
Like a giant digital school teacher, Google, is discouraging the cheats – the websites that list search terms just to fool the spiders and so on – instead of providing high-quality, original daily content. So far, so good. Mortgage Solutions traffic, for example, from direct searches has risen 8% since 11 April.
However, the concern is, that by tinkering with Google’s original organic search-driven ranking process, the outcome, whether intended or not, is that big brands are the winners.
Google declined to comment. Twice, in fact.
But research from an American site iCrossing showed from February to March, when the US version was introduced, heavyweight brands got 0.20% more traffic.
Culturally, the US has always favoured brands and celebrated biggest as best. It’s a view we are more suspicious of in the UK and that’s why our choices as consumers are also less brand-oriented. Quality, tailored service and eccentricity (sometimes) are celebrated just as much as brand recognition.
So, has Panda, handed lenders the advantage in this modern-day version of David and Goliath, as mortgage lenders and advisers battle on a daily basis to get to borrowers first?
It depends. For brokers, if a client knows the adviser’s name and the firm, an online search will find the adviser’s website. But how about random surfers navigating the sprawling mass that is the worldwide web?
If someone was to search “mortgage,” comparison site Moneysupermarket.com pops up, followed by lenders Halifax and Nationwide, with Wikipedia and the Council of Mortgage Lenders following on. The search term, mortgage advice put broker firm www.mortgageadvicebureau.com in first place, followed by Mortgage Solutions consumer sister-title, www.yourmortgage.co.uk, two leads capture sites and money website www.Thisismoney.co.uk in fifth place.
It seems big brands may have the edge globally, but judging by these search results, the battle is still anybody’s for the big generic search terms in the UK mortgage market. Advisers don’t seem to be losing out to lenders at first glance, even when they might expect to.
But if there’s a lesson here, it’s that consumers are more likely to return to an adviser’s website because they remember the adviser than because of the new website bells and whistles or state-of-the-art Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In other words, business is still driven by relationships, not technology.
Collaborative lead sites with massive budgets and a team of programmers might be a better source of fresh leads for now, but the good news is that for the little guy, excellent face-to-face service and working a client database will also drive traffic.
Will Becker, director at SEO specialist firm Media Ingenuity, which operates lead generator Totallymoney.com, says:
“A good analogy is that internet marketing is growing up and in a way that doesn’t suit small business. Own-brand marketing will continue to get a return, though and that’s the solution to the search term problem.”
Victoria Hartley is editor of Mortgage Solutions