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In search of lost Zopa

Posted on 05 Sep 2007 by Ed

Zopa search results

Imagine, if you will, that you’d never heard of Zopa. A horrible though, I know. But fear not: chances are we would be brought back together by the wonders that are Internet search engines. Zopa has managed to gain a foothold on the prestigious “first page of Google results” for quite a few queries:

  • “lend money” 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th and 9th
  • “borrow money” 1st (just above the UK government)
  • “lending” – 1st and 2nd
  • “social lending” – 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, …
  • “p2p loans” – 1st and 2nd!
  • “lend my money” – 1st and 2nd
  • “great returns” – 1st and 2nd
  • “borrowing” – 4th (just below Wikipedia)
  • “safe and simple borrowing” – 1st and 2nd
  • “peace of mind loan” – 1st
  • “how is APR calculated” – 6th (behind BBC)
  • “no banks” – 1st and 9th

…not to mention:

  • “zopa” – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, …

And I’m sure there are plenty more interesting ones out there to find.

And this is quite surprising to us. We did take search into account when we last redesigned the site, but we didn’t try to game Google, or do anything aggressive.

All we actually did was: use clean HTML, have clear human-readable URLs, feed Google & Yahoo sitemaps, and make sure to use the right metadata for each page. This is all basic stuff that makes your site easy to parse. It was actually mostly done to help the blind rather than Google.

We archived this using a small in-house templating system that assembles each page from content files.

Use Clean HTML

HTML is designed so that the code only marks out the semantics of the page.

<ol> <-Start an ordered list
  <li>Item One</li>
  <li>Item Two</li>
</ol>

The user’s browser then adds the numbering and indentation to that list. The designer can add external rules through a system called CSS, but the browser decides for itself how to best fit the content to the user’s device. Clean HTML will work well on mobile phones, speech readers, and dozen of devices the original author never planned for.

Dirty HTML looks like this.

<br /><br />
<font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="0">
©2003-2007 MySpace. All Rights Reserved.
</font>
<script type="text/javascript">
</script>
<img src="http://nb.myspace.com/isf.gif" />

This one doesn’t actually matter too much with search engines as they’re scanning for text. It does matter a lot for selling to older people with poor eyesight, there’s more business there than you might think.

Clean URLs

If you look your address bar as you move around our site, you’ll see links like http://www.zopa.com/zopaweb/public/lending/what-people-are-saying.html These ‘pretty’ URLs are easier to remember and type. They’re also used by search engines to work out what a page is likely to be about.

Sitemaps

Both Google and Yahoo have online tools that let you submit content directly to them. This is a great way to make use that your legal small print, and other important but seldom linked to content, gets indexed properly. The easiest way is to catalogue the URLs on your site into a single XML file and point Google at it. Yahoo does exactly the same thing, but with a different format. For more details see . You can also submit RSS news feeds to Google which leads to much faster indexing, as the spider can just pull one file to read all the new content.

Metadata

HTML defines specific areas where you can tell a search engine directly what your page is. The ones we use are the title and keywords. Out templating system lets us set these directly on each page to make sure they’re indexed under the right words.

But the main reason Zopa ranks so highly is you. Over the years, Zopa has accumulated 646 natural links from blogs, newspapers, homepages, Italian comedians… you name it! These links represent the trust and interest of the internet.

(And they’ve probably helped us jump over a dozen other sites that were splurging £££ on link farms and consultants!)

Tags: press

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