How to rank without backlinks

How to rank without backlinks (A case study on Page Financials)

When trying to dominate the SERPs, backlinks matter, but they are far from all you need. I recently discovered the niche of micro-loans because of how my bank sends me daily messages asking me to take a loan.

I did a quick Google search to see how competitive the landscape is on the internet. What I noticed is what led me to write this. I focused on Page financial because someone mentioned them to me, and I can see lots of opportunities for them if they took the time to improve.

Using Google advanced search to find Page financial competitors

I need to know who they are competing against to see how tough this niche might be. 

I tried this search command, [related:pagefinancials.com], to find competitors but it did not yield any result. If a niche is crowded and I do not get any results with that advanced search command in Google, then it is a clear indication that the niche is not optimized for SEO.

Finding Page financial target keywords

I can tell Page financials is a company that gives loans from their homepage, but it is not prominent enough. The amusing thing is the entire jumbotron on the homepage is an image too. The copy on the page is not text, so there is no way for Google to crawl the content.
So far we can tell the company is about loans. 
We checked the title tag to find more keywords. You can type this in your browser window [view-source:https://pagefinancials.com/] and use [Ctrl + F] to find what is in the title. Search for <title>
We found more keywords. This is what was in their title tag [<title>Page Financials | Personal Quick Cash Loans | Investments | Target Plans </title>]
Typically, the brand name should come last, and the keywords you are trying to target should come first.
Next, we check their <H1> for more keywords. Amazingly, they have 6 H1 tags with no content in them. Big error. You should have only 1 H1 tag, and it should contain your main keywords too. From primary indication, it is clear that there were no SEO considerations when building this site.
So far, we can tell that keywords related to Loans are what they are about.

Using Google related searches to understand what Page financials is about

Typed in the brand name to Google and realized it has 1600 searches a month. This tells me they have a good brand presence. 
Other related keywords we found include: page financials nairaland, page financials recruitment, page financials app, page financials loan, page financials customer care, page financials careers, page financials loan calculator, page financials internet banking, page financials address, et al
It seems Page financial is a top spot for recruitment, but I am sure that is not what they are trying to sell.
The related searches reviewed to us that they are a microfinance bank too. Now let us go find Page financials competitors so that we can see what they are doing better than them.

Finding Page Financial competitors

I tried a bunch of keywords related to loans.
Keyword 1: Get loans in Nigeria (50 searches per month)
As expected, ads are being run because that is a transactional keyword that shows the user will most likely convert after. Renmoney ads looks the most convincing. I am sure they get the most clicks too, not because they are in position 1, but because their ad is better than everyone else.
Also, a blog post from a site with low domain authority occupies position 1. That position can quickly be taken away from them, which is another indication about how unoptimized this niche is.
Keyword 2: Instant loans in Nigeria (390 searches per month)
No one running ads, and Page financials not ranking. 
If you look to the left of the screenshot, there are a couple of loan related keywords with lots of search volume. For some of those keywords, both Page financials and Renmoney run ads, but neither of them rank well. If they spent that ad money in fixing their SEO, that will change the game for both of them.
Keyword 3: Loan in Nigeria (6000 searches per month)
These are a lot of searches for a keyword everyone in the niche should care about. Unfortunately, Page financials does not rank for this and they are not running ads either. By now, you get the point. There are a lot of keywords related to loans and many of them with high intent, but Page Financials is not ranking for most of them.
Page finacial competitors that I discovered include: renmoneyng, rosabon-finance, fastcredit, beeland, Fint, Quick check, Specta, Penny lender, and Credit check. There are a lot more, but you will think that for an industry that is very crowded, they will be super competitive.
An interesting thing I noticed about this niche is that some of the sites there are hacked, even the ones that rank for good keywords. Without looking too hard, I noticed rosabon-finance.com and fastcredit-ng.com were hacked and have a lot of gibberish pages on their website sub-directories.
Also, looking at the backlink profile of Rosabon-finance I can tell that they have built very shady links.

Analyzing Page financial Competitors traffic data

Using Ahrefs, I tried to find the keywords that brought traffic to their websites.
Keywords driving traffic to Page financials
Keywords driving traffic to Page financials
Keywords driving traffic to Rosabon
Keywords driving traffic to Rosabon
Keywords driving traffic to Renmoney
Keywords driving traffic to Renmoney
Keywords driving traffic to Fint
Keywords driving traffic to Fint
Keywords driving traffic to Fast credit
Keywords driving traffic to Fast credit
A recurrent theme in the keywords that drive traffic to most of these sites was that the keyword was a modified of their brand name. E.g: Renmoney [brand name] + loan [keyword]. This is because most of these sites are offline brands (renmoney is one of the biggest brands), so there are a lot of people looking for them online. Unfortunately, the experience of using their websites is very daunting, but I am sure most of them have vastly superior offline experiences compared to their online business components.
Fint and Fast credit were the only sites I checked that ranked well for keywords that were not modified with the brand name. Why is that?
The reason is not backlinks.  Both of them have a worse link profile than most of the other competing sites. It is because their on-page SEO is better than the other sites, and trust me, they still did a poor SEO job. 

Comparing Page financial competitors

I have taken 5 pages that are about personal loans from different competitors to Page financials, and I did a very basic analysis. Here are my findings:
What is good: Very good design, good on-page content. H1 tag is SEO optimized. The page has 4 backlinks, 2 of which are from reputable sites.
What is bad: Title tag is not SEO optimized. H1 tag was used too many times. On-page content can be infused with more keywords. No meta description.
What is good: Page is filled with relevant content. Content is written in a very easy to understand manner. And the content is rich with relevant keywords. Keyword-rich title tag,
What is bad: Title tag too long. No meta description. CTA does not work. Bad use of H1. The page has no backlinks.
What is good: Great design. Page has 9 backlinks, but only 1 has a good reputation.
What is bad: Content can be better SEO-optimized. Bad title tag. Poor meta description. Poor H1 too.
What is good: Good meta description. Content is okay, not good, just okay. Page has 15 backlinks, of which 4 are very good. 
What is bad: Title tag can be way better. No H1 header on the page. 
What is good: Great design
What is bad: They missed out on the essence of having a website that can help them acquire users by offering an app only. Products that are not used frequently (E.g: Payday loans) should have a web component has a big part of their business.
What is good: They have content on the page.
What is bad: Bad title tag. No H1. No meta description. No backlinks (but they have the strongest overall backlink profile).
If these sites fixed these basic things that are wrong with them, they would rank better in Google. And backlinks are the least of what they need to fix first.
If I were to recommend fixes to Page financials, they will be:
  1. Run Adword ads on keywords referring lots of traffic to competitors. E.g: Renmoney loan
  2. Invest in creating better landing pages. Make your landing pages longer. The landing page is a sales page. Do enough to sell your product. The customers you are about to acquire want to be convinced they are making the right decision. And those that already know you will click the CTA quickly.
  3. Fix on-page SEO issues especially related to content and technical SEO
  4. Create content and landing pages for all your keywords
  5. Build good and reputable backlinks.

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