We’ve been doing some basic research for a financial institution as to how NerdWallet.com is seeing such rapid growth in the organic search space over the past year.  In doing a passive review of their strategies, I was wholly impressed, and wanted to share some of my findings as a means of highlighting concepts/strategies that should be embraced:

Why does NerdWallet.com rank so well?

    1. They create/publish 4-5 great new pieces of content each day — The pace of production is important only as it pertains to their ability to rapidly increase scope for keyword coverage.  The depth, timeliness, and helpful nature of their content serves them well not only as establishing themselves as a “breaking” source for information, but as a reliable and helpful source that is likely monitored and emulated by others, serving as additional validation for them as an authority.
    2. Topic coverage is all things finance, and they are not “brand loyal”. This allows for them to do comparisons of various brands, creating a more helpful resource, and further allow for full coverage of topical relevance in the finance industry.  Google’s patent update for pagerank references the concept of “seed sites”, and my team and I have been speculating the potential of industry specific clusters of seed sites that could be used in measuring distance to authority in a link graph. If these speculations were true, I would expect a seed cluster in the finance space would look like google.com/finance, reuters.com/finance, finance.yahoo.com, invostepedia, financial times, etc.. and would be surprised if NerdWallet didn’t make their way into one of those clusters or at least be adjacent to a seed because of their ability to be an authority across all aspects of the sector.
    3. Intent of search is having a significant impact on rankings.  As you can imagine, consumers searching for non-brand finance related terms/queries are typical in the research phase of the funnel, and are therefore more likely to desire unbiased/neutral information and/or comparison information.  As such, these types of sites are gaining a further boost while actual financial institutions are taking a lesser role unless their brand is introduced into the query.  From an SEO perspective, this shifts the focus from attempting to rank #1 to attempting to get love from #1.  Fighting intent query changes is going to be a losing battle unless you can evolve to meet query intent. I would recommend a focus identifying ways to partner with the “3rd party” sites to not only hedge for algorithm changes, but to further develop relationships/exposure across those sites that currently/will rank.
    4. Nerdwallet.com/press highlights some of their capabilities of drawing attention (and links) from mainstream news/information sites.  As financial institutions have limitations per compliance requirements, they sit at a disadvantage to sites like NerdWallet, as they (NerdWallet) are free to publish rates, fees, etc.. as well as leave up content pages highlighting past/expired promotions, which financial institutions cannot do.  As they are also able to offer these types of facts/statistics to consumers without the need for a zip code submission (or other user action), NerdWallet and similar sites are seen as an easy citation source in others posts/articles/news/etc.
    5. They are opportunists!
      1. As a trusted resource by consumers, many other sites are going out of their way to brag/link whenever they get a mention on NerdWallet (e.g. titleclose.com showing off on homepage), which is accelerating their authority growth.
      2. Their tools/resources are also becoming a staple used by financial consultants/columnists, etc. (e.g. http://asklizweston.com/ credit card finder in sidebar on homepage, and more links littered throughout her site).
      3. Their ratings content are also earning links from major sites, including city government pages (e.g. http://www.owensboro.org/).
      4. Because they are an informational site and not bound to compliance/regulation, they can write articles like – https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans/recommendation-letter-graduate-school/ or https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/university-sponsored-checking-accounts/ – which has earned them links from a large number of major universities.
    6. Altruism is baked into their brand.  They give back to the world by offering free financial advice to help you make better choices.  Whether its getting a better rate on a student loan, finding the best credit card to save money, get a great promo on a checking account, or more.. they have ingrained a concept of helping the consumer first.  They’ve even started to push https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/universities/ — to offer free content/guides to schools to help their students become more financially literate.

NerdWallet is proof that a culture of giving/helping combined with high-quality resources/product/services creates a sustainable digital marketing strategy. Of course, I’m sure they couldn’t do it without an amazing team of people, and I encourage their bosses to buy them more beer. I could spend hours dissecting their SEO strategies, as they have many.

Ultimately it boils down to they are a high quality content producer in a topic niche that demands content/information over transaction… so they clearly meet the need of the search consumer.