"In fact, the main purpose of the content was search engine optimisation, or ‘SEO,’ which is a common practice for any internet business that wants to appear in searches for relevant subjects."
Let us be clear that search engine optimisation, or "SEO" is the means by which a company that is online targets specific consumers. When creating this page, Wonga made a conscious decision to target students and to appear in relevant searches for Student Loans. It is nonsense to claim, as this apology does, that:
"No-one was directed to this page, nor was it prominently promoted on the website."
Search engine rankings do not require pages to be prominently promoted. The whole point of SEO is that online marketers can direct people to pages through the careful selection of keywords that consumers are likely to use when searching for goods and services.
Moreover, to state that no-one was directed to the page remains inaccurate, as there is a permanent link to it in standard footer menu for the website. Indeed, the Wonga Student Loan page has a link from Wonga's Responsible Lending page, in precisely this format.
Most commonly, standard footer menus include important information like FAQs or Terms & Conditions, so consumers do look for and re-directed by them. Some companies use standard footer menus to raise the profile of all the goods and services they provide, because this ensures that they appear on every webpage.
Profiling goods and services in a standard footer means that there is not one single page on a website from which the consumer cannot be directed to a specific product page - clearly, Wonga's approach to website navigation and SEO. However, by placing this standard footer menu beneath all of its significant achievements, Wonga is also attempting to associate its products with the reputable organisations that recognise the company.
To be fair to Wonga, the company uses a great many tools, tactics and strategies that are common to online marketing. The question is whether these methods are appropriate, when an increasing number of consumers are searching for short-term lending to meet basic living costs, or to service unmanageable debt.
The growth in payday lending is significant, rapid and quite the reverse of any other sector in the UK economy. For this reason alone, it demands our attention. Claims that such lending is fuelled by and essential to lower income households alone, seem to ignore the likelihood that growth on this scale can only be accounted for by a growth in the number of consumers.
Since 2008, Zero-credit has warned that the target market for short-term lending is middle income earners - people who are too frightened, ashamed or proud to admit to a money problem and to seek help. This is tragic when consumers have personal debts to the tune of £1.5 trillion and, rightly or wrongly, austerity measures affect us all.
It is perfectly normal to be struggling in 2012.
All the more reason for Wonga to stop being so naive and to start recognising that it is part of an industry that is actively promoting borrowing as an alternative to seeking advice. As for the trade associations that promote standards for short-term lending? When they have codes of conduct, training, qualifications and audits that match those of Advice UK, The Institute of Money Advisers, the DRF, DEMSA, R3 or the APDSI, only then may they start to take the moral high ground.
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