Keep it Relevant: Content Strategy and SEO in Traditionally Boring Industries

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I recently got into a discussion on Twitter with a former colleague of mine, after I rather (stupidly) publicly questioned my former employers’ choice of off-site content strategy. There’s more to the story and some stuff I’d like to say, but so as not to detract from the main purpose of this post, I’ll write about it at the end.

A prominent part of online marketing is content strategy. Utilised both on- and off-site, it can help with SEO, in attracting links to a website and also by targeting “long-tail” traffic (i.e. long search terms, such as questions, e.g. “what is no claims bonus”).

You might have seen it too – a lot of websites are now introducing content sections to their sites, or at the very least have gotten a blog, in order to write about their industry. But that’s just it – creating a blog is one thing, but thinking about what to write about can be something else entirely, especially if your industry is… well… boring.

In particular, I’ve seen a number of sites recently that have written content that simply isn’t relevant to their industry. The two who spring to mind are both insurance sites, one of which recently published a blog post on social media predictions for 2012. An insurance website writing about social media. Hmm…

So what’s the problem? Well here are 3 to think about:

1) It just isn’t right – it detracts from who you are and what you do

Ignoring SEO for a moment and looking at it from a purely aesthetic point of view, it just seems odd that Industry A would write about Industry X. We’re not talking slightly off-topic, but completely off-topic.

I’m not saying that the guys don’t know enough about social media in order to write about it effectively (they do engage in it, after all) – that’s not what I have a problem with. I mean heck, it could be the best social media advice ever. But even so, it seems unusual to read a blog post about social media and to see something like “this was brought to you by an insurance company” at the end. At worst, it seems misleading and somewhat seedy – you’re potentially confusing your customers about what you do, and it reeks of ulterior motive.

I’m not just picking on insurance for the sake of picking on insurance – I think it’d be true of any industry. If a doctor were to write about mortgages, and a mortgage advisor were to write about medical procedures, I think that’d be weird too, for all the same reasons.

2) It’s not going to be a relevant link

…From an SEO point of view however, it’s an issue of relevance from a more technical standpoint. If it’s an off-site article or guest blog post (such as this insurance/social media example), then the link is simply not going to be relevant.  It may be a good link in other ways (e.g. PageRank, the traffic it receives, etc.) but the content just isn’t going to match.

Looking purely at the link, with all other factors aside, having a link with “car insurance” anchor text coming from a page that’s all about social media isn’t going to be as good as a link with “car insurance” anchor text that’s all about insurance, motoring or both.

3) It’s not going to generate relevant links

Thinking beyond the post itself, think about the links it will receive, rather than the link(s) it will give (especially if it’s off-site). A social media story is likely to encourage links from other social media sites, making it more relevant about social media, but not any more relevant about insurance. It may receive more links than a piece about insurance would – given the popularity of the topic and the types of linkers in comparison – but they’re still going to be irrelevant all the same.

It’s easy to point a finger and say “don’t do that,” so what should businesses consider doing instead?

If relevant is too hard, then think one step away

In particularly niche, specific and/or dull industries (no offence), thinking of content can be difficult. For example, there’s only so much you can write about when it comes to insurance until you end up repeating yourself and covering the same ground.

So if being 100% specific is too difficult, take one step away. What’s related to:

  • Insurance? Money, budgeting, protection.
  • Car insurance? Motoring, learning to drive, car maintenance, places to drive to, racing.
  • Travel insurance? Travel, holidaying, adventure, exploration.
  • Credit cards? Money, credit, borrowing, debt.

Keep resources focussed and don’t spread yourself too thin

Now admittedly, I know that the site in question do most – if not all – of the above, but the point is that they shouldn’t stray too far away. There must be 1,000s of different topics to write about, if something as specific as insurance only provides dozens.

Writing off-topic content is only going to waste resources that could be spent writing relevant or semi-relevant content, which in turn will encourage relevant and semi-relevant traffic and links. Also, it not only means that you’re spreading yourself too thin, tackling areas that are not your area of expertise, but – as mentioned above – it also detracts from what you really are and what you actually do. Want to be an authority in insurance? Write about insurance and things closely related to it. You’re not going to be seen as an authority on a particular subject if you talk about other things, particularly if you do not even provide them as a product or service.

Ok, so off-topic can work…

Of course, it would be naïve to think that relevance is a necessity, in terms of SEO. It is only a recommendation (albeit a strong one), as it is only one of a number of ranking factors that Google considers (here’s a list of search ranking factors from SEOmoz, based on thoughts from people in the industry). For example, I’m sure a link from the homepage of Facebook would do wonders for a website’s SEO, from a PageRank point of view, but there’s more to life than PageRank…

I can’t think of any examples of off-topic content working well off the top of my head, but if anyone knows of any then please do share them in the comments.

The inspiration for this post

“Think before you tweet, Steve. Think before you tweet.”

The idea for this post came about after something that happened on Wednesday (although that said, it’s something that’s gone on for a while…)

Over the past year, I’ve questioned the content/SEO practices of my former employer, usually over Twitter, which has resulted in a former colleague (who still works there) asking me to “stop slating” them, as it’s “very unprofessional.” The reply has a “ha ha… no but seriously” tone to it, but even so, it’s made me realise that I shouldn’t do it. I have a tendency to tweet before I think, and to be more opinionated than I perhaps should be (publicly, at least). It’s no excuse, but at least I’ve realised it now – better late than never. It’s one of a number of New Year’s resolutions making the list…!

I also realised that simply saying something like “I disagree with that” or “you’re doing it wrong” helps no one, so at least this post acts as constructive criticism, giving reasons as to why I disagree along with what they could or should be doing instead. Hell, it’s only my opinion – and a personal one at that – but it’s better than nothing.

I didn’t want to link to any of the instances and examples (which feels a bit alien to a link builder like me!) but I’m sure the more investigative reader will be able to ascertain where I’ve worked previously (it’s on my LinkedIn profile, which is linked from my About page), and the correspondence between me and my former colleague can be found on Twitter if someone really did want to be nosy.

But oh well, it could’ve been worse… I could’ve written a song about it instead, like I did for a different previous employer. I thought a blog post would be better this time around!

[Random Words image credit: Chris Halderman]


  • b2800

    December 30, 2011 at 10:54 am Reply

    Hi , I recently started working at a new company – And i WILL admit , SEO’s uses soooo many different strategies, My new boss gave me research material , and it completely different stratedgy to what my old employee used. Never the less , the stratedgy works….. Just come to show you , SEO optimization is a never ending job 🙂

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