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It seems financial muscle doesn’t always translate into online success. 

A recent analysis of the US personal finance sector has revealed that a popular price comparison site outperforms all mainstream banking and credit institutions when it comes to organic search

NerdWallet, a financial information and product comparison site founded in 2009, achieves the greatest share of organic search for typical personal finance keywords such as ‘bank accounts’ and ‘credit cards’. 

Not only does it outperform them, it absolutely destroys them. NerdWallet has an incredible 22.3% share of all organic search traffic for personal finance keywords.

And NerdWallet isn’t the only comparison site to perform better than the major finance firms. Creditcards.com – the second best performing site – has a 15.03% share. 

By contrast, Bank of America – the best performing bank in terms of organic search – has just a 6.12% share. 

comparison sites outperforming big finance brands organic search

In this post I’m going to delve into the report from Linkdex and find out how and why these comparison sites are so far ahead of the competition. 

Is it a simple case of evolution? Newer, faster species outrunning the dinosaurs?

The research

The research looked at 5,000 keywords encompassing more than 7.5m monthly searches in the US throughout 2015. 

Keywords included all popular personal finance words and phrases such as ‘bank accounts’, variations on those such as ‘best student bank accounts’, and long-tail search terms such as ‘best 0% credit cards for travel’.

comparison sites outperforming big finance brands organic search

Check out the report for the full methodology.

What is NerdWallet doing right?

It seems like NerdWallet puts a lot of time and effort into creating content that appeals to its target audience, i.e. normal people searching for straightforward advice about financial products.

Let's take a deeper look at the different types of content the brand puts out... 

Blog content

The blog content is excellent, not only in terms of the content itself but also in the way it is formatted

Each post answers a common question about personal finance, such as how to choose a balance transfer credit card.

nerdwallet blog content

There are also a number of list posts, such as ‘Top 10 credit card deals of 2016’, which in many cases are essentially just rehashes of results from the NerdWallet comparison tool, but presented in a different way that also happens to be search-engine friendly. 

nerdwallet blog content

The formatting, while not perfect, provides a fairly decent user experience.

Lots of subheadings, short paragraphs, plenty of white space, good use of bullet points, key points highlighted, and the copy itself is simple and easy to read.  

nerdwallet blog content

Video content

Again, NerdWallet proves it knows its market. Students or young people looking to get their first bank account or credit card, for example, are likely to be interested in video content about starting their first job.

The speakers in the video below don’t look like bank managers. They look like ordinary people who the target audience could relate to. 

It’s free of technical jargon and non-patronizing – both of crucial importance.

The next video follows a similar format: people talking to the target audience from the same position as them, i.e. recent graduates talking to recent (or soon-to-be-recent) graduates about an issue they are likely to be worrying about. 

Social content

Granted we’re talking about organic search traffic here, so you might question my inclusion of social content. 

But a brand’s reputation on social media can spill over into the SERPs. If you see a list of results on Google and one of them is a brand you’ve previously engaged with on Twitter, you could argue you’re more likely to click that link. 

NerdWallet takes a non-technical, human-feel approach to its social media activity, something vitally important for the type of product we’re dealing with here. 

It tweets about football, for example:

And it publishes behind-the-scenes images (with not a stuffy corporate type in sight), adding to the human feel of the brand:

All of this projects an image that is in direct contrast with the old-fashioned, suit-wearing finance industry and appeals to ordinary people. 

Conclusion: content and UX pays off

It’s impossible to say for definite why the big banks are failing to keep up with their younger rivals, but it is likely a combination of superior content and a much more customer-centric approach to user experience (UX) on the part of the high-performing price comparison sites. 

nerdwallet home page

Linkdex’s global head of digital says:

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. 

For more about financial services content and SEO, check out these posts…

Jack Simpson

Published 16 February, 2016 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

252 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Chase Fox, SEO Consultant at Self-Employed

Not to take away from what NerdWallet does well, but don't you think these stats are a little padded? NerdWallet is a broader financial marketplace, and their next-best competitor doesn't serve half the products they do. Its easy to say they are killing the competition when they play in leagues the others don't. A more honest comparison is needed here

7 months ago

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Pat Hong, Data Journalist at Linkdex

@Jack great write up and some fantastic examples of how NerdWallet use authentic and informative content.

@Chase,

Pat here, I'm one of the authors of the Linkdex report. NerdWallet certainly does cater for a broader range of products than a typical financial brand, so we focused our initial keyword research which relate to "everyday" finance (i.e. "best credit cards" or "highest yield savings accounts 2015") and explicitly did not include niche keywords relating to ‘loans’, ‘mortgages’, ‘tax’, ‘insurance’, and ‘business’ or ‘commercial’ financial products. This levels the playing field to an extent and full methodology can be found in our full report.

Where NerdWallet do have a unique advantage is being able to offer whole-of-market information about competing financial products, which for obvious reasons is something brands cannot do themselves. What we did find was that when we filtered out search language which implied a desire to "compare" financial products, Banks and financial institutions fared much better, but NerdWallet still hold a sizeable lead in share of search (built on the strength of scaled, informative long tail content, which in summation add a great deal of overall value to their organic search share).

7 months ago

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Paul Smith, MD at Analysis and Actio

A bit late on this one but this really isn't surprising when you think of what the user intention is. If I am searching for "credit cards" then probably the most useful page I can find is perhaps one that shows me a comparison of credit card deals. That's why in your example screen shot MoneySavingExpert comes second and third (though that's odd because MSE is a highly UK focused site).
This has replicated across many of our clients including travel and insurance where it is clear that the user intention is for awareness ("tell me about credit cards") through "consideration" (which are the best card deals) to "conversion" (Low APR cards). Brands who try to compete at the awareness level simply run the risk of low quality traffic entering and leaving the "store". Yes chalk one up to brand awareness but all that's happened is that customer has then gone somewhere else. Your brand awareness may have driven entirely the wrong behaviour.
As a result, finance brands need to have a clear online strategy for user experience ... and that's what the comparison sites do well. The only way they can compete (against each other) is to make the site as easy to use as possible. Its close to a 1005 commitment to get the website working. For the banks etc, the website probably represents a small percentage of their budget.
It's no comparison

7 months ago

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