By: Chris Lewis
If the rise of the content marketing industry in the last decade has shown us anything, it’s that the right content, in the right consumer’s hands, can significantly impact a business’s bottom line.
Of course, content can create cash flow in a number of ways, but one valuable application is by boosting organic search traffic.
So how can a brand boost its organic rankings? By giving Google what it wants.
The idea is pretty simple: Google really wants end-users (like you and me) to find the answers we’re searching for and be able to trust the results we find. If Google thinks those two prongs are satisfied, it ranks websites higher or lower based on the query. By putting something at the top of search rankings, Google is effectively vouching for the source, both in terms of quality (and relevance) of content and trustworthiness of the source providing it. They’re staking their own reputation and business model on it.
Google’s ranking algorithm will likely never be known, as the search giant has made clear that it values content that “demonstrate[s] expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness,” and specifically says that incoming links from trusted websites help determine how trustworthy sites are. This is where link-building SEO strategies come into play, and where there is an exceptional value in a diverse content portfolio.
For brands to be successful in reaping the SEO benefits of great content, they need to develop a strategy that addresses both prongs of what Google is looking for.
The most effective way to do this in a content strategy is to include both niche, topical content and more broadly-appealing tangential content. By tackling both topical and tangential content simultaneously, a brand will both have the answers to the questions Google is asking and will generate the links required for Google to trust the source.
Topical Content vs. Tangential Content
Let’s say you own a store that sells high-end running shoes. You know everything there is to know about orthotics, midsoles, polyurethane, and even types of pavement. If you were to create content, the default would be to stick to what you know best, perhaps blog posts that reveal which running shoe is right for different types of feet, and guides on how many miles you can run before you change your running shoes.
This type of content would be typical of topical content because it relates hyper-specifically to your brand and core audience. The people who search for these questions are likely to be runners, and more specifically, serious runners: the ones who would not only know that shoes need to be swapped out periodically, but would also know their own mileage count on their current pair. This type of information tends to be useful to your audience and lives in a prominent place on your site for people to easily find and reference.
Catering your content to your core audience is crucial, but your sales would increase if you could reach more runners, athletes, or even people trying to hold on to their New Year’s resolutions. This is a much broader audience, and thus it has a much broader set of interests. They might not care so much about mileage on shoes and instead gravitate toward bigger topics like health, wellness, or sports. You might create nutrition and wellness guides, pump-up playlists to run to, or even infographics with Olympics statistics.
These would be examples of tangential content because they don’t relate as closely to your brand and are aimed intentionally at a wider audience.
Note, however, that while these pieces of content might not directly relate to your core offering (running shoes), they are believable, if not understandable, coming from your brand. These types of content tend to be more engaging and widely-shareable than topical content because it isn’t limited by as many brand and subject matter constrictions. It is more likely to be featured off-site and used to build links.
The key is to ask yourself: Even if this content isn’t still tied directly to my brand, is it valuable to my target audience? If the answer is yes, it’s most likely fair game.
How Content Can Drive Organic Search
This from-the-horse’s-mouth report brings up a few poignant truths that content marketers who care about SEO need to know when creating content:
Expertise (read: quality content) matters.
Authority and trust matter.
Google uses links from other websites as a sign they can trust a website.
Links from some sites (like “prominent” ones) matter more than others.
These four takeaways reveal the need for content that appeals to your niche but also to high-authority sites in your industry. It’s difficult to achieve both of these things with the same type of content, which is why we recommend a blend of on-brand, topical content, as well as the more widely-appealing tangential content.
The Case for Topical Content
With targeted topical content, a brand shows off expertise and establishes itself in its niche through relevant links. Because this type of content is generally geared toward a specific audience, publishers and other sites from within a given niche are more likely to link back to topical content as research. This establishes a brand as fitting within the niche and being an authority on the topics that matter to that audience.
Let’s go back for a second to our running shoe store. If Runner’s World links to our blog post, it would be a big deal because it’s a respected publication in the running world. In turn, Google will recognize and process the link internally in the following terms: “If Runner’s World, who is an authority in the running sphere, vouches for them, they must be authoritative and related to running.”
Of course, this is a simplified version of what goes on and the value of a link can extend far beyond the “I trust this site so they’re probably related” relationship, but the idea behind it holds true: relevant links from related sites help identify subject matter expertise and authority.
All of this is added benefit to the real brand value of great topical content, which is that if you produce the answers to questions people in your niche are asking, you’re more likely to become an authority to customers, not just Google.
If there is any consensus about how SEO will continue to evolve, it’s that search engines will strive to deliver a better result by better understanding how users are searching and what users are searching for. This creates a valuable feedback loop for brands, who are doubly-encouraged to produce quality, relevant content.
The Case for Tangential Content
If links are Google’s currency of trust, then tangential content is the 60-hour-workweek job earning the paycheck. By creating content outside of your brand, you’re expanding both your audience and other websites that will become interested in your content with the potential to earn your content valuable links.
Tangential content has a higher chance of generating links from both high quality (very well-respected sites) and quantity (raw volume due to a broader audience) perspective.
More specifically, tangential content is much more likely to earn links from top-tier news publishers, because journalists are more likely to cover a wider-interest piece that will be more relevant to their readers. Journalists are also more likely to publish less commercial-y content, and tangential content is much better at appealing to the masses genuinely.
Link-building is only one benefit of creating tangential content. Because tangential content is trying to catch customers with a wider net, it often creates brand exposure and positive PR for brands utilizing it correctly—it may even be the first exposure many are having to your brand.
As any marketer knows, the ability to relate to a potential customer on their first interaction with the brand can help create a real customer. Further, when the content creation process is unshackled by the brand, tangential content also often succeeds in creating more engaging content and social shares, as people are more easily able to relate to the content.
Pairing Topical Content and Tangential Content for Top Results
Now that we understand what the different types of content are and their benefits, let’s look at a real-world example of a brand utilizing topical and tangential content successfully to drive organic traffic.
Porch.com is a home improvement marketplace that connects homeowners with trusted home improvement professionals. They hired our agency for link-building campaigns aimed at increasing their organic traffic.
Because home improvement is a niche that only applies to certain people, we thought carefully about a developing content strategy that could both provide value to their core audience and build trust from top-tier publications
After looking at the landscape of existing content in the home improvement space, we developed a strategy that included topic clusters related to the home. Some were highly-specific to the home improvement sector, and some were wide-reaching tangential content that partially related to the home, like things you do in your home, family, and where you choose to live.
On the topical side, we wanted to focus on home repair and maintenance, costs, and home upkeep. While these only truly relate to homeowners and people who might need to maintain a home, we geared our content to be useful to people in our market.
For one piece, we looked at Porch’s internal cost data for common maintenance tasks and surveyed homeowners about how often they were doing those tasks. From there, we were able to estimate the annual costs homeowners should expect to maintain their homes.
We also leveraged guest posts and relationships with other brands within Porch’s vertical to drive relevant links. These guests posts on relevant sites raise Porch’s authority in their market segment, both in terms of SEO and traditional PR. Because Homes.com is publishing Porch content, Google can trust that Homes.com and Porch are topically related, and trust Porch more on their expertise on those topics.
In ideating for our tangential content, we looked to create pieces of content that appealed to more than homeowners and home publications. We asked ourselves questions such as, “What do we do in the home?” to come up with ideas. Our answers typically involved food, cooking, family, friends, relationships, and much more. This opened up the number of verticals (and beat writers) we could target, as well as the number of publications (and their readers) who could care and share. We focused on highly emotional content, like a survey where we asked people about how often people in relationships snoop on their significant others.
By expanding our topic base and relating to more people, we also expanded our publisher base, earning links from more than 900 distinct domains and a variety of top-tier publishers.
The results of this strategy? Over the course of a year, we earned 23,000 monthly organic visitors, 425 high domain authority links (DA>75), more than 3,500 press mentions, and more than 37,000 social shares.
The best way to drive organic traffic with your content is by tailoring your content to best serve the audience you need to reach to meet your long-term goals. By mixing topical and tangential content, you help search engines understand your brand’s expertise, define how you fit within your market, and identify your authority.