Tangential Content Earns More Links and Social Shares in Boring Industries [New Research]

Posted by kerryjones

Many companies still don’t see the benefit of creating content that isn’t directly about their products or brand. But unless you have a universally interesting brand, you’ll be hard-pressed to attract much of an audience if all you do is publish brand-centric content.

Content marketing is meant to solve this dilemma. By offering genuinely useful content to your target customers, rather than selling to them, you earn their attention and over time gain their trust.

And yet, I find myself explaining the value of non-branded content all too often. I frequently hear grumblings from fellow marketers that clients and bosses refuse to stray from sales-focused content. I see companies publishing what are essentially advertorials and calling it content marketing.

In addition to turning off customers, branded content can be extremely challenging for building links or earning PR mentions. If you’ve ever done outreach for branded content, you’ve probably gotten a lot of pushback from the editors and writers you’ve pitched. Why? Most publishers bristle at content that feels like a brand endorsement pretending not to be a brand endorsement (and expect you to pay big bucks for a sponsored content or native advertising spot).

Fortunately, there’s a type of content that can earn your target customers’ attention, build high-quality links, and increase brand awareness…

Tangential content: The cure for a boring niche

At Fractl, we refer to content on a topic that’s related to (but not directly about) the brand that created it as “tangential content.”

Some hypothetical examples of tangential content would be:

  • A pool installation company creating content about summer safety tips and barbeque recipes.
  • A luggage retailer publishing country-specific travel guides.
  • An auto insurance broker offering car maintenance advice.

While there’s a time for branded content further down the sales funnel, tangential content might be right for you if you want to:

  1. Reach a wide audience and gain top-of-funnel awareness. Not a lot of raving fans in your “boring” brand niche? Tangential topics can get you in front of the masses.
  2. Target a greater number of publishers during outreach to increase your link building and PR mention potential. Tangential topics work well for outreach because you can expand your pool of publishers (larger niches vs. a small niche with only a few dedicated sites).
  3. Create more emotional content that resonates with your audience. In an analysis of more than 300 client campaigns, we found the content that received more than 200 media mentions was more likely than low-performing campaigns to have a strong emotional hook. If your brand niche doesn’t naturally tug on the heartstrings, tangential content is one way to create an emotional reaction.
  4. Build a more diverse content library and not be limited to creating content around one topic. If you’ve maxed out on publishing content about your niche, broadening your content repertoire to tangential topics can reinvigorate your content strategy (and your motivation).

Comparison of tangential vs. on-brand content performance

In our experience at Fractl, tangential content has been highly effective for link building campaigns, especially in narrow client niches that lack broad appeal. While we’ve assumed this is true based on our observations, we now have the data to back up our assumption.

We recently categorized 835 Fractl client campaigns as either “tangential” or “on-brand,” then compared the average number of pickups (links and press mentions) and number of social shares for each group. Our hunch was right: The tangential campaigns earned 30% more media mentions and 77% more social shares on average than the brand-focused campaigns.

So what exactly does a tangential campaign look like? Below are some real examples of our client campaigns that illustrate how tangential topics can yield stellar results.

Most Hateful/Most Politically Correct Places

  • Client niche: Apartment listing site
  • Campaign topic: Which states and cities use the most prejudiced/racist language based on geo-tagged Twitter data
  • Results: 67,000+ social shares and 620 media pickups, including features on CNET, Slate, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, Mic, The Daily Beast, and Adweek

Why it worked

After a string of on-brand campaigns for this client yielded average results, we knew capitalizing on a hot-button, current issue would attract tons of attention. This topic still ties back into the client’s main objective of helping people find a home since the community and location of that home are important factors in one’s decisions. Check out the full case study of this campaign for more insights into why it was successful.

Most Instagrammed Locations

  • Client niche: Bus fare comparison and booking tool
  • Campaign topic: Points of interest where people post the most Instagram photos in North America
  • Results: 40,000+ social shares and more than 300 pickups, including TIME, NBC News, Business Insider, Today, Yahoo!, AOL, Fast Company, and The Daily Mail

Why it worked

Our client’s niche, bus travel, had a limited audience, so we chose a topic that was of interest to anyone who enjoys traveling, regardless of the mode of transportation they use to get there. By incorporating data from a popular social network and using an idea with a strong geographic focus, we could target a lot of different groups — the campaign appealed to travel enthusiasts, Instagram users, and regional and city news outlets (including TV stations). For more details about our thought process behind this idea, see the campaign case study.

Most Attractive NFL Players and Teams

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Client niche: Sports apparel retailer

Campaign topic: Survey that rates the most attractive NFL players

Results: 45,000+ social shares and 247 media pickups, including CBS Sports, USA Today, Fox Sports, and NFL.com

Why it worked

Since diehard fans want to show off that their favorite player is the best, even if it’s just in the looks department, we were confident this lighthearted campaign would pique fan interest. But fans weren’t the only ones hitting the share button — the campaign also grabbed the attention of the featured teams and players, with many sharing on their social media profiles, which helped drive exposure.

On-brand content works best in certain verticals

Tangential content isn’t always necessary for earning top-of-funnel awareness. So, how do you know if your brand-centric topics will garner lots of interest? A few things to consider:

  • Is your brand topic interesting or useful to the general population?
  • Are there multiple publishers that specifically cover your niche? Do these publishers have large readerships?
  • Are you already publishing on-brand content that is achieving your goals/expectations?

We’ve seen several industry verticals perform very well using branded content. When we broke down our campaign data by vertical, we found our top performing on-brand campaign topics were technology, drugs and alcohol, and marketing.

Some examples of our successful on-brand campaign topics include:

  • “Growth of SaaS” for a B2B software comparison website
  • “Influencers on Instagram” for an influencer marketplace
  • “Global Drug Treatment Trends” for an addiction recovery client
  • “The Tech Job Network” for a tech career website

Coming up with tangential content ideas

Once you free yourself from only brainstorming brand-centric ideas, you might find it easy to dream up tangential concepts. If you need a little help, here are a few tips to get you started:

Review your buyer personas.

In order to know which tangential topics to choose, you need to understand your target audience’s interests and where your niche intersects with those interests. The best way to find this information? Buyer personas. If you don’t already have detailed buyer personas built out, Mike King’s epic Moz post from a few years ago remains the bible on personas in my opinion.

Find topics your audience cares about with Facebook Audience Insights.

Using its arsenal of user data, this Facebook ads tool gives you a peek into the interests and lifestyles of your target audience. These insights can supplement and inform your buyer personas. See the incredibly actionable post “How to Create Buyer Personas on a Budget Using Facebook Audience Insights” for more help with leveraging this tool.

Consider how trending news topics are tangential to your brand.

Pay attention to themes that keep popping up in the news and how your brand relates back to these stories (this is how the most racist/bigoted states and cities campaign I mentioned earlier in this post came to be). Also anticipate seasonal or event-based topics that are tangential to your brand. For example, a tire manufacturer may want to create content on protecting your car from flooding and storm damage during hurricane season.

Test tangential concepts on social media.

Not sure if a tangential topic will go over well? Before moving forward with a big content initiative, test it out by sharing content related to the topic on your brand’s social media accounts. Does it get a good reaction? Pro tip: spend a little bit of money promoting these as sponsored posts to ensure they get in front of your followers.

Have you had success creating content outside of your brand niche? I’d love to hear about your tangential content examples and the results you achieved, please share in the comments!

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