NerdWallet blames Google ranking issues in S-1 filing


NerdWallet, the popular personal finance company, cited Google as a concern for financial growth and said the company saw a Google Search ranking decline in 2017 within its recent S-1 filing.

S-1 filing statements. The S-1 filing specifically cited Google as a factor that “could harm our business, operating results and financial condition.” Here is the full quote:

“We are dependent on internet search engines, in particular, Google, to direct traffic to our websites and refer new users to our platform. If search engines’ algorithms, methodologies, and/or policies are modified or enforced in ways we do not anticipate, or if our search results page rankings decline for other reasons, traffic to our platform or user growth or engagement could decline, any of which would harm our business, financial condition and results of operations.

We are dependent on internet search engines, primarily Google, to direct traffic to our platform, including our website. Search engines, such as Google, may modify their search algorithms and policies or enforce those policies in ways that are detrimental to us, and without prior notice to us. If that occurs, we may experience significant declines in the organic search ranking of our search results, leading to a decrease in traffic to our platform. We have experienced declines in traffic and user growth as a result of these changes in the past, and anticipate fluctuations as a result of such actions in the future.

In addition, Google may take action against websites for behavior that it believes unfairly influences search results. Google does not publish guidelines explaining the types of behavior that may trigger an action. For example, in 2017, Google took action against us which temporarily resulted in lower search rankings and decreased traffic to our website. Our ability to appeal these actions is limited, and we may not be able to revise our content strategies to recover the loss in domain authority, page rankings, traffic or user growth resulting from such actions. Any significant reduction in the number of users directed to our website or mobile application from search engines would harm our business, revenue and financial results.”

2017 ranking issues. “In 2017, Google took action against us which temporarily resulted in lower search rankings and decreased traffic to our website,” NerdWallet said. We reached out to NerdWallet to learn more but the company was not willing to comment. So we dug in using third-party tools including Semrush and Searchmetrics, and it appears the drop in traffic was in May 2017.

Semrush plots NerdWallet organic traffic
Searchmetrics plots NerdWallet organic traffic

What did Google do in May 2017. Google did not release a “confirmed” search algorithm update in May but there was a substantial unconfirmed update in mid-May 2017. I covered it on Search Engine Roundtable, and you can see there were a lot of SEOs that noticed this update too. Glenn Gabe also dug into this update back in 2017, calling this unconfirmed update a substantial one.

So it seems like NerdWallet was hit by this May 2017 unconfirmed update.

Not a manual action. I don’t think this is what Google would consider a manual action, so to say. “Google took action against us” may not be accurate. With these algorithmic updates, Google does not take actions on specific sites but rather aims to improve the overall quality of the search results. With that, some sites might rank higher for some queries and some might rank lower.

To say “Google does not publish guidelines explaining the types of behavior that may trigger an action,” as cited in the S-1 filing, is also not exactly accurate. For Google manual actions, Google specifically publishes detailed information around manual actions, including a tool to tell you if you do have a manual action, what is a manual action, how to fix your site if you do have a manual action, and the list of manual actions you can see.

What was it? I do not believe NerdWallet suffered a ranking issue related to a manual action but rather an algorithmic issue related to the unconfirmed May 2017 update.

Nerdwallet success. But NerdWallet has been super successful with its Google rankings and traffic from Google organic search. Look at this chart from Semrush showing the site going from 6M in visibility to close to 25 million in visibility over the next five years or so.

How did the company achieve such amazing Google organic search success? The Hoth offered some ideas in this detailed write-up from inside NerdWallet’s efforts.

Why we care. If anything, this shows you that no matter how big or small your website or business is, everyone is at risk of suffering a ranking decline in Google Search. Those ranking declines can make or break businesses of all sizes and are clearly cited as a factor that “could harm our business, operating results and financial condition” of NerdWallet. It has been cited by other businesses as well over the years.

No business is immune, which is why diversifying your sources of traffic to your website has always been of huge importance to all online businesses.

About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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