Being Off-Topic, Off-Message, or Off-Brand Can Be Good For Your SEO!

March 20th, 2008

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Originally published in Search Engine Land

Ok, perhaps I’m being a bit provocative here, but sometimes it’s the off-topic, off-message, or off-brand content that earns you the most valuable links—links that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. Those links can really pay the bills, in terms of the extra search traffic and resulting sales. The brand police within your company may pitch a fit, but heck, it’ll be worth it! Here’s how it’s done:

Don’t be afraid to do something off-color. Most folks in the corporate communications, PR, and legal departments shy away from anything potentially controversial. And for good reason, right? Then why would a company selling life insurance online dare to venture into the taboo topic of weird and disturbing death trivia? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what Lifeinsure.com did with their link bait article, “19 Things You Didn’t Know About Death.” With such goodies as “After being decapitated, the average person remains conscious for an additional 15-20 seconds,” you can imagine how much of a hit it was with the irreverent alpha-geeks that make up the Digg community. The article made it to the Digg front page, which in turn got it in front of countless bloggers and social bookmarkers. Surely the success of this article in attracting links has contributed to Lifeinsure.com’s impressive #4 ranking for “life insurance.” Not surprisingly though, this contentious article is nowhere to be found in Lifeinsure.com’s navigation hierarchy, so customers and prospects are unlikely to stumble across it (phew!).

Deviate from your core business. Successful enterprises are built on the relentless pursuit of excellence in their core business, trimming the fat, and outsourcing the rest. It may seem like a bad idea for an SEO firm like ours to own a bed and breakfast directory and a writers community. But the great links these sites attract make it a good investment.

Netconcepts benefits from these links in two ways: link juice is passed from these sites to our own corporate site, and both sites’ rankings have earned (and continue to earn) us a respectable passive income from Google AdSense (six figures for each site, in total, to date). Our firm also develops WordPress plugins and distributes them for free on our corporate site (netconcepts.com). Dedicating resources to WordPress plugin development when the market for WordPress is mostly made up of individuals and small businesses may seem counterintuitive, given that our focus is SEO for ecommerce and that our target market is large, brand name retailers. But it works. Our free SEO Title Tag plugin has been a magnet for links from bloggers, to the point that the traffic to the plugin page now exceeds that of our home page.

Do it for a good cause. The linkerati love a good corporate citizen, so be one. Consider such activities not as an expense, but as an investment that will generate a return in the form of links. With Second Chance Trees, social media marketing agency Converseon really went out on a limb (ugh, bad pun, I know!)—creating a charitable initiative using internal resource and expertise that could have instead been put on to billable work. The idea was to create an island in Second Life where players could purchase a virtual tree with Linden dollars and plant it. This would then trigger the planting of a real tree of the same species in an ecologically sensitive region, such as a Central or South American rain forest. For a charitable endeavor, the payoff was huge. High-value links came from news outlets, the blogosphere, organizations, and elsewhere. Nicely done, Converseon!

Be bold, be off-the-wall. You don’t always have to toe the corporate line. If you’re thinking that this will garner links that aren’t very relevant to your business and industry, you’re probably right. But remember that PageRank is topic independent. Time after time, the tests we conduct at Netconcepts show that high PageRank endowed yet topically irrelevant links still help—and they can help a lot. Definitely still work to acquire topically relevant links as well, but don’t neglect the off-topic ones too.