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For link building purposes, some clients are just more desirable than others. There are some sites that are exciting, because the minute you land on the homepage you can immediately think of 100 angles to attack from. The content ideas start gushing like a loose fire hose; resource lists, articles, widgets, games, quizzes, contests, you’re soaked with ‘em.
Then there are the others. The kinds of sites that account managers play hot potato with because no one wants to condemn their team to chasing down links in what seems like a dead end niche.
Sooner or later though, you’re going to deal with a client whose site makes you wish you’d gotten a degree in advanced chemical engineering, just so you’d have a clue what their products do. That’s what happened to me not too long ago. While we were discussing his online audience he said he felt like it was extremely limited in scope. Directly, he was right, indirectly however… I saw potential.
Whether you’re looking at a client’s site or dealing with your own site’s bland subject matter niche sites have some obstacles to overcome. You may be facing a minimal following, complicated concepts, advanced technology, industrial hardware, jargon, and sometimes just plain boring or disgusting subject matter. When you’re in that situation, you’re up against a wall from the beginning. For starters, there’s a finite selection of people on the web even talking about topics that are directly relevant to you. Then once you eliminate competitors, big business, porn and web garbage from that group, your link building pickings are looking pretty slim.
So what are a niche site’s options? Give it up? Accept a fate in search obscurity? Never.
I say the ways for a niche site to appeal to a larger audience are really only as limited as your ability to think outside the box. Oh no, I didn’t just say that did I? Yup, I did. While I totally hate that over-used cliché, I am actually going to talk about the box. Literally. Here is one of my favorite content brain storming techniques for finding new ways of connecting difficult niche sites to subjects with a broader demographic.
4 Degrees of Separation.
Your website is not Kevin Bacon. You don’t get 6 degrees, you only get 4. But most of the time that’s all you’re going to need. I believe that any subject which can be associated with your product or service within four logical connections is fair game for content creation, and from there, opportunities to get links.
So, now we get to the literal box. Suppose I sell card board boxes. I’ve written all of the articles I can think of about what my boxes are made of, the sizes and styles of boxes. But for some reason my article on “corrugated card board” isn’t bringing in the links the way I’d hoped. Well maybe it’s time to play 4 degrees of separation. Ready?
The First Degree:
Start with your product or service. What is it? What is it used for? What does it do?
The Second Degree:
Where, how, when, or why is your product used? Who uses it?
The Third Degree:
For once, the 3rd degree is the fun part. This is the part I call “Free Association”. Some improv games use this, psychiatrists use this and content teams and link builders can use it too. Take whatever answers you came up with in the 2nd degree, isolate one of them and begin to free associate from that idea, what words and concepts come to mind? What you come up with here will lead to…
The Fourth Degree:
This is where you wind up with a tangential concept, a broader subject that you have arrived at through logical connections from your starting point. Select one of your free associations that you feel has promise and explore the content possibilities surrounding it.
Let me demonstrate with The Box.
Degree #1 – My product is a card board box. It’s used for putting stuff in.
Degree #2 –Stuff gets put in boxes for moving, organizing, cleaning, packaging, storing and shipping. Everyone uses boxes, from individuals to big companies.
Degree: #3 – Isolated Idea: Moving – Moving is associated with real estate, homes, moving companies, mortgages, moving for a job, moving because of children, moving for family, moving to a better climate.
Degree #4 – Tangential Concepts: Moving tips as they relate to packing, choosing a new home, how to decide if a job is worth re-locating for, what to look for in a school district, how to become a snow bird.
From this list I’d probably start with a detailed article about how to pack your entire life into boxes efficiently. But is there an audience for it? Let’s see.
All in all, I’d say yeah, there is definitely some interest in that topic, and more than a few places where a really a good article could be pitched.
You can also keep all of the other ideas that you didn’t use right away, many of the concepts you come up with through free association may warrant further development. And if you’re having trouble getting started, Google’s Wonder Wheel can be useful for jogging your creativity
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking; any card board box site that is NOT talking about packing strategies is totally missing the resource boat. Going from “Cardboard boxes” to “moving tips” is WAY too easy a leap. I completely agree with you. How about something a little more difficult? How about something like Hydraulic hoses?
Degree #1: My product is Hydraulic hoses. Hydraulic Hoses are used for transporting fluid in hydraulic vehicles.
Degree #2: Hydraulic vehicles, are used in construction and maintenance, (I.e snow plows), and people who own or work with hydraulic vehicles use or rely on hydraulic hoses.
Degree #3: Isolated Idea: Construction – construction is associated with buildings, architecture, safety, and urban development.
Degree #4: Related concepts could be: construction site safety, America’s fastest developing areas, construction regulations by state, safety gear on construction sites.
From that list I’d probably choose construction site safety. Sure, it’s not about hydraulic hoses per se, but there is certainly an element of equipment maintenance involved in construction safety and when looking at the link building potential, on one hand I have:
And on the other?
Personally, I’d rather be working with a decent article on the topic of construction safety, which has over more than 20 million results; over the world’s best article on hydraulic hoses which on a good day has only 237,000 results.
And a caveat here, I know NOTHING about hydraulic hoses, I had to ask an expert the how, why and where they are used. It’s ok not to understand a subject as long as you’re willing to ask for details and do the research. A client expects you to be an SEO not an industrial technology aficionado, that’s their job.
Other Relevance Stretchers:
In addition to the “degrees of separation” method for creating ties between limited topics and more mainstream subjects; here are a few other angles worth working when it comes to lifting a niche site out of oblivion.
One I like is discussing how something in a niche fits into the larger picture. For instance, a client once told me a story about how he sold ceramics, a product which has numerous applications, most of which tend to be coma inducing. But there was once an instance where his ceramics were used to improve the performance of military protective gear. Great story, totally blog worthy and it just so happens there are A LOT of support our troops themed blogs out there, perhaps ONE of them might be willing to entertain a guest post? Hmmm….
Another way to find good content ideas for links is by using the product’s life story for inspiration. Looking at the process of a product, how it begins, how it evolves and in some cases, how it ends. Like card board boxes, they begin as a tree and end as trash. It seems there’s a very strong environmental connection there. And if we’re paying attention to social trends, any site which can somehow connect their subject matter to going green has just climbed a very fruity tree of content and link possibilities.
There’s also the option to make a connection between a niche site and current events. Setting news alerts for keywords, and even broader concepts related to your product is a good start. That way if something relevant is mentioned in a news story then you may be able to capitalize on it while it’s still news worthy. Something like a zamboni blowing a hydraulic hose and holding up a hockey game might be a way for a hydraulic machinery site to make a reasonable connection to sports sites.
Then there’s always the personal angle. Whether it’s getting personal stories of how lives are really affected by a product in ways that people don’t often hear about, or drawing a connection to a famous person. It turns out hydraulics were among Leonardo Da Vinci’s favorite areas of study. It also turns out that there are quite a few people who might be interested in linking to an article on Da Vinci.
So you have a bunch of ideas for new and interesting content for your niche site, now what?
Designate a writer – I believe that having a good writer on staff is as important to your marketing efforts as having a good floor manger is to your production.
Put Your Best Stuff First – As you brainstorm content, the question that must be asked over, and over is “Who is going to link to this?” Just because an idea sounds like fun, that doesn’t make it link worthy! Remember that when you’re wondering why your link bait about “Desk Chairs in Oscar Winning Films” didn’t hit the front page of Digg. Editing is a crucial part of the process. Separating the strong ideas from the weak ideas, prioritize and put your resources behind your best stuff.
Decide how you want to present your idea – There are a number of ways to create any content. It can be an article, or a contest or a video, decide on the format, and create accordingly.
Resource Article – This is an article published on your site that is meant to be a resource for other sites to link to. It could be a list of links or an informative article, either way do research include authoritative links, and create it with a list of sites that you intend to pitch it to.
Controversial/Viral Piece – These are meant to generate buzz, conversation and interest. Create it with a specific social networking site in mind. Have a network in place, know what performs well and what gets buried, before you submit.
A Guest Blog Post – A guest post is a blog post intended for another website’s blog. It’s meant to break outside of your normal audience and generate new interest in your site. Ann Smarty has done some great guest blogs on guest blogging. If you want to do a guest post, make contact with your prospective blogs first, pitch your ideas ahead of time to ensure that your post will have a home before you write it.
One final thing, remember these exercises are primarily for brainstorming new ideas for content, and for finding places outside of your usual circle for getting links or pitching guest posts. At some point any niche site runs out of exciting new ways to talk about boxes, or hydraulic hoses or hemorrhoid cream or whatever. The fact is people like to be entertained, engaged or educated. If you can find an way to do that for the general population while discussing the benefits of different types of flanges and flare connections, you sir, are my hero.
In link building, relevance is relative, and sometimes stretching relevance can pay off huge. A good juicy link from a trusted site can only add to your overall domain authority. And if my options are zero perfectly relevant links or links to a tangentially relevant piece, I’ll take the tangent. Every. Time.
What are some of your favorite content brainstorming techniques?
Jennifer Van Iderstyne is the Online Marketing Director for Search Slingshot, an internet marketing company specializing in SEO reporting and consulting based in Albany, NY. Jen can be found on twitter at http://twitter.com/Vanetcetera