Mortgage Marvel is the nationwide, online mortgage-shopping service that provides quotes from multiple lenders in privacy. Rick Allen is the director of strategic initiatives for Mortgagebot, the company that powers Mortgage Marvel. For this installment of In This Corner, he discusses how he's developing strategy for the new business that will compete with some industry giants. Mortgage Marvel is guiding borrowers to lender's sites. What is it doing for smaller lenders looking to compete with larger companies? This question hits on one of the core values that Mortgage Marvel delivers to both consumers and lenders. The 140 participating Mortgage Marvel lenders include a mix of national lenders, large credit unions and banks, and local credit unions and banks. For lenders, Mortgage Marvel basically levels the playing field; with smaller lender’s rates being displayed in their designated geographic territory on equal footing with larger competitors. The annual percentage rate (APR) is the default sorting criteria for Mortgage Marvel listings, and - while consumers can sort the result by other criteria if they choose to -there is simply no way for "deep-pocketed" lenders to "buy" their way to the top of the listings. This approach also ensures the best experience for borrowers, enabling them to see the results in the most meaningful way for their individual needs - whether that’s the lowest rate, the lowest closing costs, or a known lender. Mortgage Marvel meets consumer expectations by delivering unbiased results from a broad array of lenders. Mortgage Marvel visits jumped 142% from 2008 to 2009. What strategies has the company implemented to grow so fast? Since its inception, our primary focus has been on building the best product in the market – a site that exceeds shoppers’ expectations for real-time, accurate, anonymous, and actionable information on the Web. Our efforts were initially validated at Mortgage Marvel’s launch when it was selected as “Best of Show” at the Finovate 2007 Conference in New York City. Our approach has been further validated through word-of-mouth growth in 2008 and 2009, and through outstanding user feedback. In fact, a recent survey of Mortgage Marvel users indicates that 92% of them are satisfied with their experience on the site, 92% would refer the site to a friend, and 81% rate it better than competitor sites they had visited. Our product-development efforts also include search engine optimization (SEO) – structuring the site for the highest possible placement in the organic results of Google and other leading search engines. These efforts have succeeded in landing first-page placement for keyword groups such as “mortgage comparison” and “today’s mortgage rates” and are being redoubled in 2010 for terms such as “mortgage rates” and “Chicago [or other city] mortgage rates.” Building public awareness is also a key component of our marketing strategy. Our belief is that a great product is the most important part of a successful, long-term marketing strategy. Delivering a revolutionary mortgage-shopping experience, coupled with consumer awareness through word-of-mouth distribution, targeted media attention, and SEO are the keys to our growth in 2009. What preliminary numbers are you seeing in the first quarter of 2010? It's no secret that mortgage-origination volume is down across the board in the first part of 2010. In fact, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) estimates a 40% drop in origination volume in 2010 vs. 2009. For Mortgage Marvel, Q110 volume was roughly flat vs. Q409. However, we expect business to rise over the second half of the year as our efforts to further enhance the product, improve our SEO success, and gain additional awareness take hold. Google recently entered the online mortgage-shopping market with the launch of Google Comparison Ads for Mortgages. What strategies are you initiating to compete with that giant? Certainly, it merits attention from competitors any time Google enters a market. But it’s simply too early in the lifecycle of their entry into this market to assess its impact. From a global perspective, however, we see Google's effort as a positive development. We believe that it’s only a matter of time before online mortgage shopping - and applications to support it - are as common as online banking and online bill payment. From this perspective, the attention that Google can bring to the technology is priceless. Our strategies to boost market share include further product enhancements, improved placement in search-engine organic results, and consistent media coverage. Recent user satisfaction and usability studies reflect that visitors are highly satisfied with Mortgage Marvel, but there is always room for improvement. We're using visitor feedback to make the product better. In addition, we distribute Mortgage Marvel’s rate-shopping functionality is distributed to third-party websites such as Saveology through application programming interface (API) technology, so part of our market-share gains will come by maximizing that type of business-partner relationship. In summary, we are working to increase market share through continuing enhancement of our market-leading functionality, expanded SEO efforts, additional media awareness, and API-based third-party distribution of Mortgage Marvel functionality.