Links are bread and butter for us in the digital PR world. We can’t get enough of those beautiful, do-follow, high-tier links. Of course, the more quality links the better. Now take a deep breath and sit down before reading this next part. What if I told you it’s time to shift your focus away from newsworthy links and instead focus on content that’s relevant?
I know, I know. Links are life! At least for our industry. Don’t worry. I’m not telling you to abandon ship when it comes to link building because obviously, that’s integral in what we do.
But I do think it’s time we change our perspective a bit.
In the wake of Google’s helpful content update and an explosion of AI-generated content (courtesy of ChatGPT), everyone is keeping a close eye on what Digital PRs are producing. That, on top of the increasing saturation of the Digital PR industry, means it’s well past time we start making some changes when it comes to content.
Let me be the first to tell you: shifting your mindset to relevant content isn’t always easy, especially for certain client industries. I get it. When I think of relevant content, I honestly think about being back in college. It reminds me of students writing papers on subjects they don’t care about.
Their only focus is hitting a certain word count and satisfying a metric. Digital PR doesn’t have to be this way!
In a way, our DTC team has a leg up in this department. Our entire Digital PR team comes from a news background. We are well-versed in becoming experts on new subjects in a short amount of time. I’ve taught myself about everything from bridge construction to the importance of the piping plovers (literally the cutest birds you’ve ever seen).
So, where am I heading with this?
Relevant content doesn’t have to be the bane of your existence, nor does it have to be boring. In fact, it’s up to us to use our digital PR magic to make it fun. But let me first explain why this is so important right now. Why on earth is the industry shifting this way?
If Google’s 2022 content update reminded us of anything, it’s that stellar content is a movie star and the fans are your audience, not the director (AKA Google). We know that posts with a people-first approach perform better than keyword-stuffed content designed exclusively for SEO purposes.
But Google’s update goes further than that by asking if your content “demonstrates first-hand expertise and depth of knowledge.” Stop for a second and read that again. Expertise and knowledge. While I absolutely obsess over some of the incredibly creative, off-the-wall, tangential digital PR pieces I’ve had the opportunity to create… I’ll be the first to admit that I may have pushed the limits on some of them.
One episode of The Digital PR Podcast by Propellernet (shout out to Louise Parker and Steve Baker, I’ve been loving this podcast) was specifically devoted to relevancy in our industry.
Guest Gisele Navarro, the CEO of NeoMam Studios, discussed the topic. One part that really stood out to me was her emphasis on the need to position your client as an expert in their field. She said you should always be able to explain why your client created a campaign.
I know I said at the start that we shouldn’t be creating content for Google, but obviously, we have to keep an eye on what it’s doing. Since, in my metaphor, Google is the director, we need to follow its guidance.
This helpful content update is a good reminder that although we love the spotlight, we need to make sure we’re tapping into the core message of our campaigns. We want to leave the audience with something to take away at the end of the night instead of just a good tune they’ll sing on the drive home and forget once they go to sleep.
There’s been an explosion of recent interest in AI, courtesy of ChatGPT. It’s been all the buzz in our industry, especially at Digital Third Coast. All of a sudden, content pieces that would normally take hours upon hours of research, writing, and editing can be completed in seconds to minutes using AI.
Having never been a Star Wars or Star Trek nerd, I’ll admit that when I first heard about it I wasn’t impressed (and here is where I’ll publicly post an apology to my boss who has a deep-found appreciation of ChatGPT). I was a little prideful at first thinking, “How could a machine create content better than me?” Then, I had it write a poem about my cat, and I fell in love too.
All jokes aside, AI is here to stay.
So, not only do we have to make our content stand out in an increasingly saturated digital PR industry, but we are now also facing off against a machine that can spew out decent relevant content in way less than half the time it takes us to go through our email inbox in the morning. Not cool.
It’s up to us in the digital PR world to adapt to AI and learn how to use it in our digital PR strategy.
Confession time. When I think of tangential content, I think of a higher quantity of links and top-tier DA links. When I think of relevant website content, I think of a low quantity of links, lower DA links, and very unhappy clients. Obviously, no one wants those!
If you’re afraid of taking the leap into the world of content relevance, believe me, I get it. But relevant content isn’t something we should be afraid of at all. In fact, it’s time to embrace it.
Our agency did an analysis of more than 300 digital PR campaigns we created over the span of 2019 to 2023. It confirmed what we long suspected: relevant content marketing campaigns don’t earn as many links as tangential campaigns. We analyzed each individual campaign and ranked it on a scale from 1-5 to make this analysis between relevant, neutral, and tangential content.
We found more relevant campaigns (campaigns ranking in that 1-2 category) earned less than half of the links earned by tangential pieces (campaigns ranking in the 4-5 category). Neutral campaigns (category 3) were by far the most successful, earning nearly double the links compared to tangential pieces.
So, why did we put hours of research into this? We’re not using it as proof to give up on relevant content. Far from it actually. Instead, we are using it to set expectations.
As we shift into a world filled with more relevant content, that also means we need to shift our goals.
As an incredibly optimistic person, I will forever strive for campaigns to earn dozens of high-quality links. I know. I’m the person in the room who is always “glass half full.”
However, our research shows relevant pieces are more than likely to earn a handful of links instead of dozens like their tangential counterparts. But is this a bad thing?
It means we need to be honest with both ourselves and our clients. After getting a taste of high-performing campaigns (in relation to link quantity), clients need to reframe how they view success when it comes to our digital PR work. However, it’s not up to them, but us to help them see that less newsworthiness does not mean less success.
Obviously, a link is a link. We’ll never say no to those, but there’s also a growing understanding and acceptance that lower DA, relevant links are just as beneficial– if not better– for businesses!
For example, if a cross-stitching site is continuously getting links from lower-tier crafting outlets, that will signal to Google that the website is an expert in that field. It will also help the site rank for keywords relevant to what it offers. That will help draw in more traffic from the right people!
Because at the end of the day, if someone looking for information about restaurants lands on this site after seeing a tangential digital PR campaign, they won’t find the information they need. But, if, say, a relevant campaign about making your own cross stitch pattern brings in someone who is hoping to learn more about cross stitch… voila! They’re in the right place and our fictitious cross-stitch site may have found itself another customer.
Now although a relevant piece may be less newsworthy, you shouldn’t throw newsworthiness to the wayside. So, how do you create relevant content that is also deserving of media placements?
If you got to this part hoping to learn about the secret to making newsworthy content… I’m sorry to report I don’t have it. My team often jokes that if we knew how to consistently create viral pieces we’d produce those digital PR campaigns every time! But there are some things you can do right now to make sure your relevant work stands out in this crowded industry.
Similar to tangential content pieces, you need to take into account your audience, but I’d argue this is something you need to be even more considerate about when it comes to relevant work. In my mind, relevance is often synonymous with niche content, and understanding where your client falls in that realm is vital to creating content worth covering.
I’m not saying that you need to go to the outlets and influencers you’re targeting and make copycat content. But I think there needs to be additional, in-depth research on your targeted audience before creating the piece.
If you create a general car campaign that you hope will resonate with someone who writes specifically about spark plugs, you don’t want to realize they don’t care about the piece after you’ve spent hours creating it. So, do your research and be sure to know what relevant outlets you’re hoping to get coverage in for your client. It may take some extra time, but in the end, it will be well worth it.
Research is always crucial to creating good content, but doing your SEO homework is vital for relevant work. Keyword research needs to be a priority. A KOB analysis can help ensure that you’re targeting the right topics for your client’s industry and working in a space that will resonate with the right people. But how does that make it newsworthy?
The definition of newsworthiness is not the same for relevant content as it is for tangential. While tangential pieces are meant to get links all at once, think of relevant content as that slow burn. These pieces are the turtle in the race with the hare. The end goal of relevant content is to get links over the span of months to years from related sources.
Client branding is a trickier topic. I’ve found making relevant content for a dental company is 1,000 times easier than making relevant content for a company that helps train office workers on very specific software. Obviously, dental work affects every single person in the world, and software training on a certain tool is really only limited to those who use it or are thinking of using it.
So, how do you create relevant content for these more difficult clients? First, don’t ignore their branding. Branding will play a part in your work whether you want it to or not.
Sometimes a client’s name and website are incredibly user-friendly and you know right away what products or services they offer or sell. Others, not so much. That can make the process of promoting your hard work a lot more difficult, especially if it does not initially come off as a trustworthy source for journalists.
It’s frustrating, but we didn’t sign up for digital PR because it was easy! It might be useful to do a SWOT analysis of your client’s brand and positioning within its market to both understand your client– and its audience.
If you know branding is going to be a struggle, be sure to connect with journalists in the industry you’re working to get coverage in (this is a good reminder for any digital PR work- tangential or relevant). Foster those connections and use those relationships to make sure you’re on the right track with the pieces you’re planning to create. Touch base with those journalists to let them know what you’re working on and see if they have any initial interest in the piece.
When it comes time to promote the piece, leveraging those relationships will become even more important. Journalists will be more trusting of the client you’re promoting because you’re a trustworthy source. I get it – who has time for this? But it’s well worth doing because we can’t do the work we love WITHOUT journalists.
Finally, don’t forget that you have an expert at your fingertips! Your client knows more about what they do than you! A quick, but very important, caveat- this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your own research. You 100% should still be doing that!
What this means is that you should use your client’s expertise to your advantage. Having a built-in expert means that you have someone who you can turn to during the content creation process. I’ve found looping the client in can help cultivate even more trust and helps that relationship grow a lot stronger as well.
This also means while promoting the piece you can confidently say it is expert-approved, which will make it even more trustworthy for journalists. An important note about this: including clients more in the relevant content process also means it can take a lot more time. I’d encourage you to set strong expectations ahead of time about your process for revisions and meetings. That way you don’t end up going down a rabbit hole and unnecessarily spending too much extra budget and time.
Here lies tangential content: RIP? Not really!
So, what does that mean for the future of tangential content? The industry is split on this, and so am I. Here’s what I think: tangential content isn’t dead. I do think tangential content and the results it produces are important in moderation. It probably shouldn’t be an entire content strategy for clients, but it can be beneficial when done in tandem with relevant content.
When I’m talking about tangential content, I also want to clarify I’m not talking about the campaigns that are completely unrelated to the client as I alluded to previously. When I’m describing tangential pieces here, I am thinking of those that operate in that gray area, toeing the line between tangential and relevance (similar to that neutral category I talked about earlier).
For example, a successful tangential campaign we recently did for a retirement company focused on empty nesters. We surveyed parents who still had children living at home and those who did not to ask them about their situation and how it was (or wasn’t) impacting their retirement plans.
While the piece touched on retirement, its main focus was on how parents are still financially caring for their children. The delicate mix of tangential and relevance paid off in the end. The campaign received more than 100 links!
When it comes to link-building, tangential content can help a company go from ‘zero to hero’ in just days. Links can help the website’s domain ranking over time, and the newsworthiness of tangential content also makes clients much more visible to the public. These pieces can help clients earn high-profile news coverage and connect with an audience they otherwise never would have reached.
Keep in mind, the majority of tangential content also has a very quick expiration date. The pieces are meant to be newsworthy right here and now, so the coverage is never guaranteed to last as long as relevant work, nor will it help your client rank in a meaningfully helpful way.
So, wait. Are you saying there are some pros to tangential content?
Yes. Just because relevant content is taking precedence doesn’t mean that tangential content is gone for good. We just need to stop putting all of our eggs in one basket and let the two types of content work with the other.
|Tangential Content||Relevant Content|
|Broad newsworthiness||Niche newsworthiness|
|Higher link quantity & potentially higher domain ranking||Lower link quantity and potentially lower domain ranking|
|Less relevant links||More relevant links|
|Keyword research important||Keyword research more important|
|Not always a topic of expertise||Highlights expertise|
|Short term gains||Long term gains|
|Fast results||Slower results|
|Full outreach||Little to no outreach|
So, what would the strategy for a tangential campaign versus a relevant one look like?
Let’s say we have a client who sells some of the equipment used to make braces for your teeth.
A tangential piece that we could produce would be a ranking of the top 10 Halloween candies that are bad for teeth. While the concept has a strong connection to the client, it is also a topic that has broader interest and could drum up more news coverage during the Halloween season.
The strategy would be to promote the piece during the fall season to get the client top-tier links and coverage from well-known news outlets. After Halloween, outreach on the piece would effectively be over and work would begin on the next piece of content.
As for a relevant piece, we could create content about how rubber bands work with braces to straighten your teeth. The piece would go into detail about how the process works and its benefits. Limited outreach would be done on a piece like this, if any at all.
Instead, the goal would be for the page to rank better than the competition by using SEO tactics such as focusing on the keywords, title tag, and meta description, as well as including a variety of elements such as videos and graphics. The anticipation would be that the blog post would become a resource and high-ranking page since this is in the company’s wheelhouse.
There you have it. Two very different strategies based on two unique aspects of digital PR.
What’s the right answer? There are strong opinions both ways, but there really is no black-or-white answer here. While the industry has definitely been shifting toward more relevant content, I think tangential content will always have a space here, albeit a smaller one.
Think of it this way, its time in the spotlight is dimming because relevant content is finally getting the opportunity to rise to fame. Cue the applause.
Fun fact: it takes an entire month for your taste buds to change. One month is a long time. That’s 30 days– which is also 720 hours or 43,200 minutes!
All this to say, don’t feel like you have to do a 180 and completely change your tangential ways when you wake up tomorrow. But do think about it when doing that brainstorm with your team next week or when chatting with your client about future campaigns.
It’s time for relevance to take precedence. We owe it to clients and to ourselves.