From an anonymous search engine marketing company working in the payday loan space. Published anonymously to avoid possible retribution from Google or other companies.
Google has taken some dramatic steps in recent months to address quality issues in its search results. Since the beginning of 2012, Search Plus Your World, Panda 3.2, Ads Above the Fold, Venice, Panda 3.3, Panda 3.4, Panda 3.5, Penguin, Panda 3.6, Knowledge Graph, and Penguin 1.1 updates have all been rolled out in addition to countless other changes to ranking factors, the algorithm, and the search results page.
So why are the results to some search queries still so bad?
Payday loans, while much maligned, are a credit product that some un-banked and under-banked Americans are forced to rely on. Regardless of its politics or opinion of the product, as the arbiter of search, it should be Google's goal to serve the highest quality, most relevant, and authoritative results to its users in the organic results, in the local results, and in the paid results.
Google is miserably failing to accomplish this.
What is a user's intent when entering this query? While it could be an information query (e.g. What is a payday loan?), given the nature of the product and its short sales funnel, logic suggests it is probably a transactional query, meaning the user wants to know where he/she can get a payday loan.
What does our user find when they conduct this search?
The first result is a local result for the actual physical location of Moneytree, a bricks and mortar lender, which is a good result for the query, given that the search was conducted in Seattle.
The second result (first organic result) is for a dance studio's website that has been hacked and is redirecting/loading a broken lead gen or affiliate site. This site, according to OpenSiteExplorer, has 192 linking root domains, none of which include any anchor text about “loans” or “payday loans.” The spammers who hacked the domain most likely 301'd other domains they control to this one, probably cloaking them so only Googlebot sees them.
Razvan Gavrilas of CognitiveSEO conducted a more detailed analysis of this site in this post, showing that 40% of its link profile had been added in the previous two weeks and that it had the exact match anchor text “payday loans.”
When this site gets removed, the people behind it can point those domains elsewhere to create a new spam or hacked site rank. If the domains they are 301'ing are devalued, they can drop them and replace them with others from an almost infinite supply.
The third result is not much better. It is ranking because it has “Seattle” in the domain name, signaling to Google that it is geographically relevant. The site itself has virtually no content. The content that it has is either spun or is clearly written by a non-native speaker, and the application link redirects to a third-party lead gen site that isn't even encrypted by default, even though it asks for banking information and a social security number. OpenSiteExplorer shows a domain authority of 38 and only 27 commonly used anchor texts, nearly all of which contain the term “payday loans,” which is clearly over-optimization.
The next four results actually aren't terrible. There's a page on that lists local bricks and mortar stores in Seattle, a link to Advance America, a direct lender with bricks and mortar locations, a link to a Wikipedia article, and a link to an information page on the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions website.