Yeah. Let's skip over that.
Now, you may have noticed that I quite like trying to predict upcoming trends and intents in Google search results.
As part of this excuse-to-avoid-work pursuit, I’ve got a dashboard of around 500 high-volume, super-generic/short-tail keywords that I monitor for any ongoing changes.
It sounds a lot more grand than it is - it’s really just a terribly hacked together BigQuery mess that imports data from Google Sheets, Ahrefs and SerpWoo.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve spotted an interesting development in Google UK. What follows is me probably spending too much time worrying about global macroeconomic trends and concern for the future of the population, when it’s probably down to links and PBNs.
But let’s take a look anyway. The keyword is “loans”.
I’m going to use Ahrefs data and links for this post, so you can follow along.
Around about October 2019, a new page appeared for the term “loans”, popping into page 2 quite quickly.
Loans2Go is a subprime lending company that provides short-term loans at ridiculous interest rates for people with nowhere else to turn (payday loans, basically). Keep that in mind as we dive further in.
The page has existed from at least February 2019, according to archive.org.
What we can’t exclude from this analysis is the use of PBNs and other masked links. This could definitely be the case, given that we’re dealing with a payday loan website. However, in my admittedly brief footprint search, I came up short with any evidence that they’re using this method - at least extensively. Either that or they hired an expert, like Julia Logan.
So if links aren’t cutting it, could it be the onsite content?
There’s nothing on the page itself, visible or otherwise, to suggest the content is exceptional. If we try and quantify it, MarketMuse says it’s pretty much bang average for the “loans” keyword.
And Clearscope says largely the same:
Those are just “page-level” scores. MarketMuse can give us a bit more analysis on the overall website’s “topic authority” for “loans” and related topics. And while Loans2Go covers other loans topics in decent depth, it’s again nothing spectacular - and definitely pales into comparison vs the competition it has around it like MoneySupermarket, and other sites it’s beating, like the Post Office and a couple of legacy UK banks.
OK, so it’s not G R E A T C O N T E N T ™ that’s winning the day. What else could it be?
......Maybe it’s because they’re running Yoast?
(This site still runs Yoast - you don't need to tell me the irony thx)
But seriously, what’s going on?
I believe that this is Google reacting to the intent of its searchers, and understanding their “true” needs when searching for “loans”.
Fast forward to December 2019, and Loans2Go is now ranking in position #4 for “loans”.
It’s sole point of difference vs the competition is the fact that it’s a subprime lender. It specifically offers lending to those with poor to zero credit rating.
I believe Google started an experiment that looked at promoting a subprime lender in its results for a broad term, like “loans”, because its clickstream data was telling it that there has been an increase in people who:
make that search, and
Before or after making that search, have performed a search along the lines of “loans for bad credit”, “payday loans” etc.
AJ Kohn explains syntax, intent, and clickstream data far better than I do in his plethora of excellent blog posts, and also in his quotes for the second part of my latent intent series. But to paraphrase and bastardise his words: the algorithm is constantly monitoring what people’s actions are after a search. If Google finds that people are modifying their broad searches (“loans”) into more medium/long-tail searches (“bad credit loans”), it may attempt to rank a page that matches the searcher’s need higher in its results. Similarly, if it finds users are seeking out this type of result themselves, it may promote it.
This begins to venture into the “is CTR a ranking factor” debate and I’ll just leave this here.
In this particular example, I think that Google:
Launched the experiment in October
Kicked it up a notch in November
Decided it was a success in December
If “success” is premature, I think at the very least Google wants to test it further, for longer. And not just because of the improvement in Loans2Go rankings.
The purple line there tracks the emergence of another subprime lender: Likely Loans. The interest rates for Likely Loans aren’t quite as lolwhat as Loans2Go, but the website and the lending company would still be considered subprime.
We’ve got the same situation for this result as well: no significant improvements to links, content, or site structure over this period where it’s seen improvement. Interestingly, Google has just decided to rank the homepage - despite the fact it has a dedicated landing page for bad credit, and that the homepage and the rest of the site is geared towards that type of audience as well.
With Likely Loans now hitting #5 at the time of writing (Dec 2019), it seems to me that Google believes there is a growing need for subprime lending websites in broad “lending keywords” in the UK.
Let’s do a quick sense check: would that be indicative of the economic climate?
Well, just in case you missed it, Britain has been going through - at a glacial pace - the process of leaving the European Union. Regardless of what you think of the result, the way in which the withdrawal has been handled has been of the most epic clusterfuckerly proportions. Economic growth has been somewhat turgid, wage growth for a large part of the population has been non-existent, while the cost of living index for that part of the population, plus many others, has risen at a much faster pace. These aren’t all problems that are a result of the Brexit process - the long-term inability to save because of historically low interest rates is a problem shared by the EU nations, plus the US, thanks to the “wonders” of Quantitative Easing. But regardless of the merits of the napkin economics, I think it’s fairly safe to say that, in the last few years, more people in Britain have been - I believe the term is - “fucked over”, and are having to resort to more borrowing.
Throw in the fact that it’s Christmas - and you have a bit of a perfect storm.
With people potentially having to take out loan after loan, and eating into their credit rating, subprime lending options may become their only option. If people are then finding those options via a Google search, this will all feed into its algorithm, and Google will adjust its results accordingly.
It’s a pretty depressing state of affairs. In this case, Google can’t really be blamed - it’s just giving the results that people, reluctantly or not, want.
To try and support this theory, I wanted to see if there were any subprime lending search terms that were seeing an increase in monthly volume. Clearscope has a great keyword tool, called “trending” to help find these opportunities quickly. These were the results it gave for the term “loans”:
The first 4 results the tool gives are all subprime terms. Oakham and Dot Dot are payday/short-term loan lenders, while the other keywords speak for themselves.
So there you go. This post started off as a) a sad attempt to blog for the first time in over a year and b) to give a real-life, current example of how Google understands latent intent, and adjusts its results accordingly. However, in the end, I’ve just managed to bum us out.