Linkdex Market Analysis: US Personal Finance, 2016

How Nerdwallet’s long-tail con­tent strat­e­gy dom­i­nates the US Per­son­al Finance indus­try.

Analy­sis of con­sumer search data for per­son­al finance ser­vices in the US has revealed that Nerd­Wal­let out­per­form all main­stream bank­ing and cred­it insti­tu­tions with the great­est share of organ­ic search.


Our Research

A key find­ing of our research found that Nerd­Wal­let, a finance infor­ma­tion and pro­duct com­par­ison web­site, have a mar­ket lead­ing posi­tion in the US organ­ic search results, attract­ing share from 22.3 per­cent of all search­es across our per­son­al finance key­word set.

Our research, which explored 5,000 key­words rep­re­sent­ing over 7.5 mil­lion month­ly search­es in the US across 2015, and focused on pop­u­lar finan­cial key­words (“bank accounts” and “cred­it cards”), vari­a­tions on those top­ics (“best stu­dent bank accounts”), and also long­tail search­es (“best 0% cred­it cards for trav­el”), placed the finan­cial affil­i­ate in the top posi­tion across the over­all mar­ket.

To focus our analy­sis specif­i­cal­ly around per­son­al finance, our research includ­ed only key­words relat­ing to ‘bank accounts’, ‘sav­ings’, or ‘cred­it cards’ – in oth­er words, mat­ters of every­day finance. We exclud­ed key­words relat­ed to ‘loans’, ‘mort­gages’, ‘tax’, ‘invest­ment’, ‘insur­ance’, and ‘busi­ness’ and ‘com­mer­cial’ finan­cial prod­ucts from our key­word seed lists (as the­se prod­ucts war­rant their own analy­sis) and skew the dataset relat­ing to every­day finan­cial prod­ucts.

Our resul­tant key­word set is mod­elled below (with each term weight­ed by its month­ly search vol­ume, and then nor­malised to assist in visu­al­i­sa­tion). This report high­lights key sta­tis­tics, explores our find­ings, pro­vides some obser­va­tions, and details our method­ol­o­gy in more depth.

us-personal-finance-all-keywords

Key­words in our research data set, weight­ed by search vol­ume, nor­malised for dis­play


Our Findings

Overall Market Winners

In total, Nerd­Wal­let have 22.3 per­cent of the over­all share of search. Sec­ond placed com­peti­tor creditcards.com pos­sess 15.03 per­cent of the over­all share of search. Cred­it Kar­ma who oper­ate a sim­i­lar ser­vice to Nerd­Wal­let, have 3.23 per­cent in fourth place.

Bank of Amer­i­ca is the best per­form­ing finan­cial insti­tu­tion with 6.12 per­cent of the over­all share of search, the only bank to place with­in the top five. Wells Far­go, US Bank, and Sun­trust were the oth­er banks to place in top ten (with 2.47, 2.09, and 2.05 per­cent respec­tive­ly). The rel­a­tive­ly poor per­for­mance of banks in win­ning share of search was a note­wor­thy dis­cov­ery and will be dis­cussed in fur­ther detail lat­er.

Finan­cial pub­lish­ers thesimpledollar.com (3.45 per­cent), and forbes.com (2.51 per­cent) both per­form well with­in their niche with edi­to­ri­al con­tent for per­son­al finance.

Analysis: Page-level insights

Closer exam­i­na­tion shows that NerdWallet’s organ­ic per­for­mance is built, at least in part, across a breadth of pages on their web­site which are high­ly vis­i­ble for a range of pop­u­lar key­words.

The fol­low­ing graph rep­re­sents the ten most vis­i­ble pages in the sec­tor; those with the great­est share of search.

Pages serv­ing “cred­it card” relat­ed search­es, includ­ing high vol­ume phras­es such as “best cred­it card”, and “cred­it cards for bad cred­it” account for six of the most vis­it­ed pages in the sec­tor. Serv­ing the­se kinds of search­es, the creditcards.com home­page takes the great­est share of search for an indi­vid­u­al page with 5.63 per­cent of the over­all share of search.

In total, Nerd­Wal­let have four of the ten most valu­able pages cater­ing for per­son­al finance. One in par­tic­u­lar, a com­par­ison page list­ing the “best cred­it cards” on the mar­ket wins a note­wor­thy 3.6 per­cent of the over­all share – in oth­er words, if this page were a web­site in it’s own right, and all else being equal, it would place fourth amongst the over­all web­sites.

Winning ‘comparative search’

So what makes web­sites such as Nerd­wal­let and creditcards.com so suc­cess­ful? One fac­tor has been their abil­i­ty to adept­ly provide com­par­a­tive infor­ma­tion on numer­ous finan­cial prod­ucts, span­ning mul­ti­ple brands. It is per­haps, some­thing that per­haps gives them a nat­u­ral advan­tage over finan­cial brands who only offer their own finan­cial prod­ucts.

Organ­ic search is the most trust­ed source of infor­ma­tion for con­sumers 1, and many rely on the chan­nel for com­par­a­tive infor­ma­tion about prod­ucts. When users search with the inten­tion of com­par­ing var­i­ous prod­ucts, we define this type of search as ‘com­par­a­tive search’ because cer­tain nuances and vari­a­tion of key­word lan­guage imply the seek­ing of com­par­a­tive infor­ma­tion (e.g. queries which quote “best”, or”rates” mod­i­fiers, plu­rals includ­ing “sav­ings”, “accounts”, and also “for x” ter­mi­nol­o­gy in search­es such as “best cred­it cards for trav­el­ling”).

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the­se kind of com­par­a­tive queries com­mand high­er search vol­umes than those that do not.

The fol­low­ing scat­ter graph shows dis­tri­b­u­tion of com­par­a­tive and ‘non-com­par­a­tive’ search for key­words accord­ing to our seg­men­ta­tion, as well as the equiv­a­lent media val­ue for each key­word (CPC mul­ti­plied by search vol­ume). The dis­tri­b­u­tion shows a greater num­ber of com­par­a­tive key­words in out­ly­ing areas, where search­es that elic­it com­par­ison com­mand high­er search vol­umes and have a high­er equiv­a­lent media val­ue than those that do not.

The affiliate advantage?

As a finan­cial affil­i­ate, in some ways Nerd­Wal­let (and the same is true for creditcards.com, and creditkarma.com) have an advan­tage in that they are bet­ter able to cater for the high-vol­ume search phras­es in which con­sumers are seek­ing to com­pare prod­ucts. In the­se instances, Nerd­Wal­let is able to meet the need of con­sumers who are look­ing to find the most com­pet­i­tive pro­duct on the mar­ket.

In this way affil­i­ates and com­par­ison ser­vices, and also to an extent pub­lish­ers, are able to nat­u­ral­ly cap­i­tal­ize on the full range of prod­ucts that brands are mak­ing avail­able to mar­ket.

Brands on the oth­er hand are some­what restrict­ed in that they can­not offer whole-of-mar­ket infor­ma­tion, but this is not to say that there isn’t oppor­tu­ni­ty for them to expand and opti­mize share of search with­in the key­word sets with which they are oper­at­ing.

This is a fas­ci­nat­ing mar­ket to exam­ine. With the incred­i­ble vol­ume of con­sumers who are search­ing, and the cost of adver­tis­ing around those search­es, it becomes appar­ent that the stakes are enor­mous. There’s a huge amount of mon­ey being fought over by some of the world’s biggest brands in a very nar­row space – yet the land­scape is chang­ing, and play­ers like Nerd­wal­let are demon­strat­ing how sim­ply hav­ing a strong con­tent strat­e­gy and good SEO can dis­rupt an entire mar­ket. The banks and tra­di­tion­al insti­tu­tions in the space will need to care­ful­ly con­sid­er – and poten­tial­ly rad­i­cal­ly trans­form – their long-term dig­i­tal strate­gies if they want to main­tain mar­ket share.”

Jono Alderson
Jono Alder­son

Glob­al Head of Dig­i­tal, Linkdex

Rest of the market

The find­ings above show that the finan­cial affil­i­ates have an inher­ent advan­tage when it comes to the over­all mar­ket, and espe­cial­ly when con­sumers are mak­ing com­par­a­tive search­es.

To see what the land­scape looks with a more lev­el play­ing field, we graphed the most vis­i­ble web­sites for key­words exclud­ing those that imply com­par­ison from the search results. The remain­ing key­word set was left with phras­es that do not specif­i­cal­ly imply a need for com­par­ison, such as “online bank­ing”, “check­ing account”, and “apply for a bank account online”.)

Whilst Nerd­Wal­let still fig­ure at the top, their lead is great­ly dimin­ished, with just 15.38 of the over­all non-com­par­a­tive share of search. Bank of Amer­i­ca, already estab­lished as the best per­form­ing bank, fol­low close behind with 14.75 per­cent.

As expect­ed, banks per­form much bet­ter when com­par­a­tive search key­words are exclud­ed, and in total there are six banks in the top ten web­sites, Bank of Amer­i­ca, Sun­trust, Wells Far­go, US Bank, Chase, and Ally.

Analysis: Page-level insights

With com­par­a­tive search key­words fil­tered out pro­duct and ser­vice pages cater­ing for check­ing or sav­ings accounts come to the fore, with Bank of Amer­i­ca and Sun­trust win­ning the great­est share of search for this par­tic­u­lar key­word seg­ment. Wells Far­go, US Bank, and Chase also fea­ture in the top ten pages with their check­ing and sav­ings account land­ing pages.

It is inter­est­ing to note that Nerd­Wal­let still per­form strong­ly with two pages here, a blog post detail­ing the “best sav­ings accounts” and a page advis­ing on “bal­ance trans­fer cred­it cards”. The fact that they have pages able to win share in this seg­ment even with com­par­a­tive key­words exclud­ed is a tes­ta­ment of the health and robust­ness of their over­all organ­ic search posi­tion.

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Further website analysis

NerdWallet (nerdwallet.com)

us-personal-finance-nerdwallet

Key­words from which Nerd­wal­let derives the high­est vol­umes of esti­mat­ed vis­its, based on rank­ings, search vol­ume and click-through rates, weight­ed for dis­play.

To take a closer look at NerdWallet’s per­for­mance, we plot­ted their per­for­mance for both com­par­a­tive and non-com­par­a­tive key­words, show­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion and equiv­a­lent media val­ue for all of the key­words with a top three rank­ing posi­tion.

Imme­di­ate­ly vis­i­ble is the large num­ber of com­par­a­tive key­words for which Nerd­Wal­let have a top three rank­ing posi­tion, includ­ing the high­ly searched-for term ‘best cred­it cards’, and a num­ber of key­words which each attract between 12k and 35k month­ly search vol­ume. Using an esti­mate of media val­ue (CPC mul­ti­plied by search vol­ume) we cal­cu­lat­ed that in total Nerd­Wal­let gain 81.5 per­cent of their over­all media val­ue from com­par­a­tive key­words.

How­ev­er the most dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of their pro­file is the num­ber of key­words for which they have a top three rank on low­er (sub 10k) search vol­umes. Shown by the dense clus­ter of com­par­a­tive key­words in the low­er left – low-vol­ume key­words form 99.3 per­cent (all but 17) of NerdWallet’s 2,598 rank­ing key­words cov­ered by our report. Such search­es, typ­i­cal­ly longer-tail phras­es with low­er search vol­umes, are per­haps not as valu­able as more pop­u­lar head terms indi­vid­u­al­ly but the sum total of all the­se terms can be worth a great deal.

Valuable longtail

NerdWallet’s long­tail (loose­ly defined as the key­words they have in a top three posi­tion for our per­son­al finance key­word set with sub 10k search vol­ume) accounts for $2.45 mil­lion of the website’s over­all media val­ue (where val­ue equals CPC mul­ti­plied by search vol­ume); 65.7 per­cent of the total esti­mat­ed val­ue of NerdWallet’s entire key­word set ($3.73 mil­lion).

The­se points are the defin­ing ele­ments of NerdWallet’s suc­cess. Win­ning the­se niche moments is no easy task, and NerdWallet’s abil­i­ty to cre­ate con­tent for both high and low vol­ume search queries, at vol­ume and at scale, is what gives them such a strong posi­tion in the mar­ket.

Bank of America (bankofamerica.com)

us-personal-finance-bank-of-america

Key­words from which Bank Of Amer­i­ca derives the high­est vol­umes of esti­mat­ed vis­its, based on rank­ings, search vol­ume and click-through rates, weight­ed for dis­play.

For con­trast, look­ing at Bank of America’s key­word dis­tri­b­u­tion, it’s pos­si­ble to see how the key­word dis­tri­b­u­tion and val­ue dif­fers to that of Nerd­Wal­let.

Imme­di­ate­ly clear is that Bank of Amer­i­ca earn a great deal of val­ue from two key high-vol­ume key­words, name­ly “online bank­ing” and “check­ing account”. In con­trast to Nerd­Wal­let, com­par­a­tive key­words are few and far between, and in total, just 40.4 per­cent of Bank of America’s esti­mat­ed val­ue is derived from com­par­a­tive search.

An area they clear­ly fall short of the mar­ket lead­ers, is in the num­ber of key­words for which they are win­ning a posi­tion 1–3 rank­ing, for key­words with sub 10k search vol­ume. Here, Bank of America’s long­tail pro­vides an esti­mat­ed val­ue of $610,677 from all key­words with sub 10k search vol­ume, which amounts to 57.6 per­cent of their over­all val­ue from all key­words.

Supplementary research

Banks

The ten banks with the great­est share of search:

Affiliates and publishers

The top ten affil­i­ates and pub­lish­ers with the great­est share of search:

Final thoughts: Understanding the market

From a search per­spec­tive, the US per­son­al finance sec­tor is a unique and high­ly nuanced mar­ket. As a util­i­ty ser­vice with heavy legal con­straints around pro­duct clas­si­fi­ca­tions and nam­ing con­ven­tions, search behav­ior is atyp­i­cal.

In most large ver­ti­cals, key­word usage is broad. Searchers use diverse, var­ied lan­guage to describe their needs, inter­ests and pri­or­i­ties (often over mul­ti­ple search­es). This dri­ves them towards par­tic­u­lar prod­ucts or ser­vices, and gives mar­keters clues into pref­er­ence and intent, which they can use to seg­ment their activ­i­ties and tar­get­ing. In per­son­al finance, this is fre­quent­ly not the case.

For exam­ple, key­words such as ‘bank account’ or ‘best cred­it card’ rep­re­sent the major­i­ty of search behav­iour in the indus­try, and do lit­tle more than func­tion­al­ly describe a pro­duct. In oth­er sec­tors, key­words in oth­er sec­tors like ‘sum­mer dress’ or ‘hol­i­day ideas’ provide mar­keters with more scope to engage, and thus in turn widen the play­ing field.

This lack of diver­si­ty in search lan­guage makes per­son­al finance a very nar­row sec­tor for brands to com­pete in. Search mar­ket­ing as a result is high­ly tar­get­ed, and lim­it­ed to focus­ing on rel­a­tive­ly small set of key­words and top­ics.

Whilst a long­tail does exists (peo­ple have ques­tions around pro­duct types, require advice on gen­er­al top­ics such as sav­ings, and explore specifics around brand offer­ings) the vast major­i­ty of search in per­son­al finance aligns to speci­fic key­words which relate to speci­fic prod­ucts or ser­vice offer­ings.

Con­tent pro­duced by brands in this space tends to tar­get the same nar­row bands of key­words, top­ics and user. It is large­ly util­i­tar­i­an and gen­er­al­ly undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed. Brand and cam­paign activ­i­ty typ­i­cal­ly focus­es on mar­gin­al ben­e­fits on sim­i­lar prod­ucts (APR, bal­ance trans­fer rates, ben­e­fits and air miles, etc) in lieu of being able to tar­get the speci­fic cus­tomer need states and pref­er­ences which the usage of a broad­er set of key­words and top­ics would infer.
As a result it’s hard for indi­vid­u­al web­sites or pages to stand out, or to acquire the kinds of equi­ty and rank­ing sig­nals which would result in them per­form­ing bet­ter in search.

The cost of competition

A fur­ther con­se­quence of the sec­tors nar­row ter­mi­nol­o­gy is that lev­els of com­pe­ti­tion and costs with­in paid search, offline and above-the-line adver­tis­ing are heav­i­ly inflat­ed. Brands fight to win lucra­tive new cus­tomers, but mar­ket­ing in this space is huge­ly expen­sive.

The noto­ri­ous­ly high CPC val­ues for per­son­al finance key­words are a tes­ta­ment to an endur­ing need for finan­cial insti­tu­tions to main­tain vis­i­bil­i­ty and pres­ence in the space. In finance, where high­ly sought after terms can demand dozens of dol­lars in CPC val­ue, the pres­sure has been build­ing for oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for brands to gain trac­tion on more cost effec­tive chan­nels.

Nerd­wal­let have set a prece­dent in how con­tent can be used to win cru­cial organ­ic search share, dis­rupt­ing a high­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, and one where author­i­ta­tive, trust­wor­thy touch­points are high­ly sought after by brands. Espe­cial­ly on com­par­a­tive search terms, their per­for­mance proves that they have under­stood the oppor­tu­ni­ty, and cre­at­ed process­es that can cre­ate and scale con­tent to fit con­sumer needs.

When it comes to search, brands should look to their exam­ple and use their own bud­gets and resources to mobi­lize their own SEO strate­gies, espe­cial­ly with regards to cap­tur­ing the large­ly untapped long­tail, where pro­vid­ing niche infor­ma­tion at scale can add huge val­ue to over­all organ­ic search share.”

Pat Hong
Pat Hong

Con­tent Writer, Linkdex

Key takeaways

  • Seize cost-effec­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties to mar­ket: inher­ent nar­row­ness of lan­guage and ter­mi­nol­o­gy in per­son­al finance has skewed focus towards high-vol­ume terms, and this dri­ves heavy com­pe­ti­tion and adver­tis­ing cost in the sec­tor. How­ev­er, oppor­tu­ni­ty still exists. Dis­rup­tive star­tups such as Nerd­Wal­let prove that pow­er­ful organ­ic search strate­gies that cap­ture both high­er and low­er search vol­ume queries can be a mar­ket-win­ning for­mu­la for suc­cess.
  • Fol­low the lead of mar­ket dis­rup­tors, affil­i­ates and com­par­ison sites: affil­i­ates and com­par­ison sites have set a for­mi­da­ble prece­dent, dis­rupt­ing an estab­lished indus­try on the strength of infor­ma­tive con­tent tuned into con­sumer needs. How­ev­er, this should not be dis­cour­ag­ing for brands as oppor­tu­ni­ty still exists to fight back. Effec­tive­ly, the strong per­for­mance of com­par­ison sites can act as a proof of con­cept, and brands should now look to emu­late suc­cess with­in their own mod­els.
  • Uti­lize supe­ri­or resources, bud­gets, and brand equi­ty to com­pete: brands and finan­cial insti­tu­tions often com­mand huge mar­ket­ing bud­gets, and they should use the­se supe­ri­or resources to get a head start in remo­bi­liz­ing organ­ic search strate­gies to iden­ti­fy and cap­ture oppor­tu­ni­ties.
  • Under­stand and use data to con­tex­tu­alise the nuances of search lan­guage: a key strength that dif­fer­en­ti­ates dig­i­tal­ly native finan­cial star­tups, from estab­lished finan­cial insti­tu­tions, is in their abil­i­ty to under­stand and lever­age the nuances of search lan­guage to inform con­tent. The lan­guage con­sumers use can imply a desire to com­pare, but this is just one way to infer intent. Build­ing a sophis­ti­cat­ed under­stand­ing of search data with­in a mar­ket can bring invalu­able insights which inform con­tent, and also greater knowl­edge of a brand’s audi­ence and mar­ket.

Final note

It’s worth not­ing that noth­ing explored with­in this report is sta­t­ic, share of search can change on a week­ly basis, and the nature of the com­pe­ti­tion means that results can often change. The longer-term trends how­ev­er are clear – pow­er­ful data-dri­ven search and con­tent strate­gies will con­tin­ue to be effec­tive in win­ning con­sumers at indi­vid­u­al moments, and dis­rup­tive star­tups are, for now at least, bet­ter mobi­lized to iden­ti­fy and lever­age the­se oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Any cur­so­ry look at the web­site of any major finan­cial brand reveals high­ly util­i­tar­i­an, func­tion­al pages, copy and con­tent. In con­trast, the affil­i­ate pages are much more ‘human’ – full of con­tent that is emo­tive, respon­sive, sup­port­ive, in-depth and com­pre­hen­sive in it’s cov­er­age, and also exud­ing trust and authen­tic­i­ty sig­nals that users are seek­ing. Brands will need to respond in kind if they are to con­tin­ue to win a sought-after and lucra­tive share of search.


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Methodology

Linkdex iden­ti­fied and cat­e­gorised rel­e­vant key­words rel­e­vant to finan­cial search, and used search vol­ume data from Google span­ning from Jan­u­ary to Decem­ber 2015 to quan­ti­fy demand. Key­words relat­ed to ‘loans’, ‘mort­gages’, ‘tax’, ‘insur­ance’, and ‘busi­ness’ and ‘com­mer­cial’ finan­cial prod­ucts, were exclud­ed from the seed lists to main­tain the focus on per­son­al finance, and as the­se areas rep­re­sent niche mar­kets in their own right.

Top­ics were cho­sen by analysing a pool of major US finan­cial organ­i­sa­tions to iden­ti­fy the types of key­words which they are most com­mon­ly vis­i­ble for, and expand­ed via research of pub­licly avail­able Google search data.

The Linkdex SEO plat­form was used to mea­sure each of the web­sites which appear in Google’s (US) organ­ic search results for the­se key­words, and cal­cu­lat­ed an esti­mat­ed share of search based on pro­pri­etary click­through-rate cal­cu­la­tions, based on rank­ing posi­tion for each key­word.

As well as search vol­umes, the equiv­a­lent ‘media val­ue’ for each key­word – the cost per click val­ue from Google AdWords for each term mul­ti­plied by its search vol­ume – was also col­lect­ed, so as to enable us to under­stand the rel­a­tive com­mer­cial val­ue of each key­word.

This data was then aggre­gat­ed to allow us to iden­ti­fy the most vis­i­ble and most valu­able web­sites over­all, and with­in speci­fic cat­e­go­ry.
Over­all share of search is intend­ed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a retail­er website’s organ­ic search vis­i­bil­i­ty, and not of over­all mul­ti-chan­nel or finan­cial per­for­mance.

References

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