Lane Kareska is Content Director and Matt Pelkey is a Senior Content Manager at OppLoans, a Chicago-based startup that provides non-prime borrowers with a reliable alternative to payday lending.
Read on for a transcript of their presentation at our November 15, 2018 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where they described how they got the state of California to link to their site by creating quality content.
Lane Kareska: My name is Lane Kareska. I'm the Content Director at a firm called OppLoans. My partner here is Matt Pelkey, he is the Education Director.
The totally legal department-approved title of our presentation is: "Here's How We Led with Quality Content to Drive High-Authority Links." The actual title of our presentation is: "Here's How We Got California to Link to Us. Which We Did."
By way of introduction, who OppLoans is: OppLoans is the highest-rated online lender serving the non-prime customer market. We got our start in 2012, but we truly look at our year-zero as late 2015, which is when we hired Jared Kaplan as our CEO.
A number of – yeah, shoutout to Jared. A number of us know Jared. He came from Insureon, another great Chicago startup.
When he came on board, his first task was really to transform what was a small number of brick-and-mortar lenders throughout Chicago offering small-dollar installment loans into basically a five-star financial and technology services firm, which is what we are today.
If you flash forward three years, these are the numbers that we point to. We have 5000 five-star customer reviews on Google, which is crazy when you think about what our line of business is – how many people actually love their lender. In our case, they do. We have an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau.
We regularly receive industry partner awards from folks like LendingTree, Credit Karma, people that you would know. Our growth rate is pretty explosive. We've experienced 1500 percent growth in the last three years.
We're roughly at a headcount of about 300, and we've delivered an emergency credit product to about 200,000 customers.
This morning, actually, we were listed on the Deloitte Fast Technology 500 – I think number 86. And we've been in the Inc. 500 for the past three years consecutively.
We also regularly get workplace culture awards from the likes of Chicago Tribune. Glassdoor recently named us the sixth best place to work in the country. So that's particularly exciting. Very quickly, that's a little bit about us.
Who is our audience? Our audience is half of America. And what we mean by that is that half of America actually has a subprime credit score. It's pretty depressing, but it's totally accurate.
Eight out of 10 of us live paycheck-to-paycheck. 60 percent of us can't afford a $1,000 emergency and 40 percent of us can't afford a $400 emergency. So, it's a pretty dire situation, and it absolutely creates the need for a responsible installment loan product that's designed to be repaid. And that's what we offer.
From a content perspective, the way that impacts us is our customers are coming to us from a position of need. When we author content and when we issue marketing materials, it really has to check three boxes.
The first: we have to advocate for our customer. We have to show them that we're in their corner.
The second is that we have to be educational. We have to provide information that's usable and actionable.
And the third is: we have to be approachable. It's a tough topic. People don't want to think about debt. They don't want to think about money and how they don't have it.
So, we certainly can't be intimidating and we certainly can't be inaccessible. And it helps if, from time to time, we're actually even a little bit entertaining or funny.
What we'll talk about today is a mini case study of a marketing initiative that Matt led that checked all three of those boxes very successfully, also brought us business value, as well as some grand returns. So, Matt.
Matt Pelkey: Thanks, Lane. So, as Lane mentioned, we rebranded in 2015, and that really provided a backdrop for the situation that we face.
We were starting from scratch, rebuilding our website, and our content team was tasked with two key objectives. One: go get links to boost our search engine rankings. And two: build brands.
We activated a number of content campaigns and launched a couple of content channels, but what I'm going to talk to you about today is a piece of content that proved most successful. And I'm going to walk you through our thought process that led us to it, as well as the steps that we took to create it.
Our solution was something called OppU, and it's a financial education site. It teaches the fundamentals of financial literacy through interactive quizzes and videos.
It's aligned to national standards for financial literacy, and it features, among others, former Bears player Israel Idonije as one of the narrators. So, how did we decide on this?
Ask the right questions
When evaluating potential content that we wanted to pursue, there were four questions that we asked. And here's what they are.
One, pretty basic: will people want to link to it? How much of a demand is there for content like that?
Second question: who will want to link to it? This is where those things will be coming from. Will they be high-authority sites that provide SEO value, or will they be lower-authority sites that don't as much?
Third, how tough will it be to get somebody to link to it? This is a practical consideration. It's essentially how often is the site updated, and how responsive is the person who is updating the site?
And lastly, what's the competition? This is fundamental. If there's a lot of similar content out there that's far better than yours, it makes it really hard to pitch your content when you're doing link building.
Get the answers
The next step for us was answering those questions. The best way we found to do that was to find existing content that was similar to the content that we wanted to produce. In this case, we looked at one site in particular. It was produced by Visa. It's called Practical Money Skills, and it's a financial education site – essentially what we wanted to do.
We used an SEO tool that many of you are probably familiar with – Ahrefs – that let us take a peek at the sites that were linking to it. And then, with that, we were able to answer all the questions that we had.
[Question from crowd]: What was the site that you used?
MP: Ahrefs. It's Ahrefs. You can see all of the inbound links to any site or page on the internet. We plugged in Practical Money Skills, and then we got a list of all of the sites that linked to it. So to answer the first question, "Will people want a link to a financial education site?" The answer was a resounding yes.
There were 9,500 dofollow links. Those are links that are passing link equity and providing SEO value – a huge number of them. So there's lots of opportunity for us. Who will want to link to it? Ahrefs also breaks down the domain, so you can see where those links are coming from, and they were getting really good high-authority links.
63 of them were coming from government pages. 256 were coming from colleges or high schools. About 1,800 were coming from dot org domains. That's likely nonprofits.
How tough will it be to get somebody to link to it? You can look at all the pages that are linked into a particular site, and – a quick glance at those – we were able to find one in particular that really piqued our interest. It was on the California Department of Education's website.
And what was particularly promising about it, was – in addition to being a list of financial literacy resources and so obviously a good target – it had, at the bottom, a contact.
It had a name, it had an email address, and it had a phone number. That's exactly what we're looking for.
What's the competition? There's actually a lot of pretty stiff competition out there. So just a quick Google search – we're able to find a number of competitors who had very resourced financial education sites.
The bar was high, which we had to meet, and we did meet. But looking for an additional value prop, we were able to provide our content for free. A lot of the other financial education sites were subscription services and paid. So in link building efforts, we were able to tout free resources and distinguish ourselves from competitors that way.
What were the results? We reached out to the California Department of Education, said, "Hey, check out these financial literacy resources," and they took a look at them, loved them, and added them to their site. So we got a link from them. We also got links from some other government pages that had less financial literacy resources.
We got links from Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Maryland. We got links from colleges, education journals, nonprofits. Overall, really good high-authority links coming from those highly sought-after dot gov, dot edu, dot org domains.
All of this is to say that OppU met the two objectives that we were tasked with. It helps to grow the company and shepherd in the success that we see today. I think we can take questions now if anybody has any.