If you haven’t read the first part. you should start there: The payday loan bubble (part 1)
I think I mentioned before that I primarily worked in the UK. I lived in Waunakee, WI but I would work building payday loan sites that were located in the UK. All my traffic and customers/leads were from the UK. To see my sites on google, you had to load google.co.uk (not the traditional google.com like you would in the States).
One thing I loved about this specific industry is that there was so much search traffic (people searching for payday loans online in google.co.uk). Everyone wants more money. And they’re apparently willing to pay upwards of 400% APR to get it. The interest rate is a bit misleading. That’s if you kept your loan for a year. They’re supposed to be paid off by your next paycheck (in two weeks). However, your average payday loan consumer typically does not pay them back that quickly. In fact, they usually end up getting multiple payday loans to cover the previous ones. And we were happy to oblige.
Back to the traffic I was getting. It’s free traffic. That’s why we would do it this way. It’s why we worked so hard trying to beat Google’s algorithm. Because if we paid for payday loans traffic, it would be extremely expensive (because it’s worth so much). Upwards of $4 per click I think at one point. To give an idea of what many other keywords would cost, they could be pennies…I could be completely wrong about that amount though, it’s been a long time since I’ve worked in this industry. Your overhead is typically just server costs, automation tool costs, and so on. But it was minimal compared to the return.
Having this much free traffic allowed for a lot of split-testing. Split-testing is when you send one visitor to your site, to one version of your landing page, and then sending the next visitor to a different version so you can compare how well each one does. Then you would send everyone to the winning one, to get a higher conversion rate.
So I started doing some market research. Payday loan sites over here in the USA looked completely different than the ones that show up in the UK. The US sites looked more professional, more like bank sites, more stiff etc…. The UK sites would have funny mascots or logos, typically drawn like it was a cartoon. So I hired designers to start working on mascot type logos and site templates for me. My first iteration was called “Jack Rabbit Payday Loans”. I would have a funny bunny as the logo character, and it would be used throughout the site. I think I did it to make the consumer more at ease when dealing with long form applications and financial decisions.
I couldn’t find a version of the Jack Rabbit Payday loan sites I built back in 2012, but I did find a version of my best performing lander. This had a conversion rate of about 15-20% (I think). Whatever it was, it was unheard of in any industry, with any kind of targeted or non-targeted advertising. You can actually see it here: https://web.archive.org/web/20140519000547/http://www.piggy-payday.co.uk/ (this is an archive site that crawls the internet taking snapshots of websites, for historical records). This particular lander made me around a million dollars in the 1.5 years I used it. I used many others though, that made a ton as well. But this was my best.
I typically would use animals… Jackrabbit loans, Donkey Loans, piggy loans, etc etc.. They just worked the best. I did try a few other variations, but none performed as good as piggy. That was my golden egg. And to this day, there’s still piggy loan type copies in the serps (search engine results pages). Not mine though.. They’re just banking on all the conversion testing I had already done.
More and more testing
I would test the titles, the text on the page, the images, the language, the buttons, the text in the buttons, the colors, the logos.. And it wasn’t all about the landing page conversion rates. We had to test various methods of ranking our sites as well. In this era, it was all about backlinks, and the velocity of which you obtained such links. Backlinks are other sites linking to your site. It was the way google measured your site’s worth. Obviously, no other site owner generally wanted to link to these kind of fly-by-night websites. So you couldn’t appease to their good will.
Spamming other sites with your links in any way you can, was the way of the world for us blackhatters… There was a plethora of website frameworks that would allow for user generated content.. Meaning your website visitors could actually add content to your site. This came in many forms.. One was comments. Place a bunch of comments that contain a link to your site, on 400,000 different websites would tell Google that your site was pretty important (this is a very rudimentary explanation but I don’t want to bore you). We would get pretty creative and sneaky when it came to obtaining backlinks.
Eventually it would lead to actually hacking other websites, to alter their sites and add your links in any part of their site you wanted. Or you could just redirect all their traffic to your site if that was profitable. Or you could redirect only Google bots to your site, therefore telling Google this site is moving its site to yours, and it would assign the authority it gave the hacked site, to your site. But if any human visited the hacked site, they would see what they expected.. The site. Not yours.. Therefore you stayed under the radar a little longer.
This was done in many ways that I can’t really write about here… but one method was basically buying these hacked links from sellers that hacked sites and were now renting the “space” on other peoples sites, to people like me. This was done so I could rank my sites higher than others..
There were so many methods of obtaining links. It all depended on how risk adverse you were. My past experience of being a junkie gave me a little more freedom. Gave me a little more room in this area. I never had a problem taking risks (obviously). In fact, if it wasn’t risky, I wasn’t interested. So while other people wanted to be careful, take it slow, play by some of the rules, whatever… I never cared.. I bought hundreds of thousands of domains over the years.. They were consumables.. People treated them like their baby. I treated them like the black sheep they were.
To be continued