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This article was published on January 6, 2021


‘Tangential’ content is the link building tactic your brand is missing out on

‘Tangential’ content is the link building tactic your brand is missing out on
Amanda Milligan
Story by

Amanda Milligan

Marketing Director, Fractl

Amanda Milligan is the Marketing Director at Fractl, a prominent growth marketing agency that’s worked with Fortune 500 companies and boutiq Amanda Milligan is the Marketing Director at Fractl, a prominent growth marketing agency that’s worked with Fortune 500 companies and boutique businesses alike. Throughout her content marketing career, she’s directly managed the creation of 200+ content campaigns, led the strategy for 20+ clients, and run the 30-episode podcast Ask Amanda About Marketing. She spoke at the 2019 SMX Advanced conference and at Pubcon Pro Las Vegas 2019.

Branded content is crucial for many reasons: communicating the value of your product/service, helping people make buying decisions, providing pertinent information to your primary audience, and more.

But if your marketing goals include earning high-quality backlinks, building your brand awareness, and increasing your organic traffic, tangential content needs to be in your content strategy.

So what exactly is it, and how can you incorporate it into your own content calendar?

Defining tangential content

Tangential content is content that is related to a brand’s industry but is not related to its core branding. It doesn’t refer to a product or service offering, nor is it a bottom-of-the-funnel effort to convert.

In the spirit of showing and not telling, here is the difference between content that’s more tangential vs. content that is more topical.

On the top, you see a tangential piece of content by Hershey that provides tips to families on how to be safe when trick-or-treating in 2020. Does this have to do specifically with buying candy? No. But does it provide value to their target audience, candy fans? Yes.

Below that, you’ll see something a little more topical: a recipe that includes a Hershey’s product. Even this piece has a touch of tangential in that it isn’t directly about purchasing the candy, but the candy is necessary for the activity, putting it more on the tangential, product-related side.

Who’s using tangential content

My team and I were wondering the same thing, as we’re huge advocates of the strategy and have been using it for our clients for years. 

So we decided to look into it. We examined the content of all the brands nominated for the 2020 Content Marketing Awards and found a majority of those companies use tangential content on their blog.

That’s a large number of quality content marketing programs using tangential content on their blogs! 

But it’s not just blog content. 31.3% of the brands we analyzed also had tangential off-site content, meaning content they used to acquire earned media. This is what we do at Fractl, and I’ll be showing an example later in the post.

This is why I’m so surprised tangential content isn’t talked about more, and frankly, I think nearly all brands should be giving it a shot because of the advantages it brings.

How you can benefit

Tangential content is powerful for a few reasons.

First, it unlocks a new, broader audience, who becomes aware of your brand and enters the top of your funnel.

Second, since it’s not as salesy, it can help you build backlinks to your site, which builds the authority of your brand and improves the standing of your site in Google’s eyes.

And third, though a bit more nebulously, having to come up with tangential content ideas prompts you to zoom out a bit and explore other issues and interests your audience has, leading to more robust audience personas.

Let’s look at some real examples of how these benefits come into play.

A great example of on-site content is Canva’s Color wheel, which helps you determine which colors go well together.

I’m assuming Canva wanted to broadly target people interested in design elements, as they offer a design tool. 

This makes this strategy really smart, because they created a useful calculator people probably bookmark, share, and link to. (In fact, this page earned more than 4,000 engagements on Facebook, according to BuzzSumo.) And even though it doesn’t relate directly to signing up for Canva, it still appeals to the broader audience they’re interested in connecting with.

Another example is a project we did for Hire A Helper, a company that assists users in finding movers. We didn’t do a project about moving; instead, we surveyed 1,000 people on how they interact with their housemates to unearth new insights about quality time.

Here’s one of the graphics we created based on our analysis of the results.

Because this content is not only relevant to people moving but anyone who’s lived with someone else, it’s much more widely appealing, which is something publishers look for, too. Oftentimes they want what they write about to be significant for a majority of their readers.

We pitched this content to writers and earned coverage on Better Homes & Gardens, which syndicated to Allrecipes and Yahoo!

Without this new, tangential data, it would have been much more difficult for Hire A Helper to reach these large publication audiences and get the SEO benefit of earning high-authority backlinks.

Creating/improving your own tangential content

For tangential content to be worth the effort, it needs to appeal to a larger audience than you normally target, or at least a new audience that’s still somewhat related to your industry. 

This requires a new perspective throughout your entire content process.

Here’s how I recommend tackling tangential content:

  • Expand your keyword research Use a tool like Keyword Surfer and get lost in related searches. Explore what related topics people are interested in that you might have stayed away from since they don’t tie to your core branding.
  • Get inspiration from other industries — Competitive research is crucial, but our team has found that if you get stuck only looking at other brands in your own industry, you won’t find the creative inspiration you need to think outside the box, which is required to come up with great tangential content ideas.
  • Think laterallyWhen you have a list of subtopics related to your core brand, ask yourself: what else is relevant to this topic? For example, if you’re a car insurance brand, what else is related to driving? Work commutes, singing in the car, safety, family vacations… the list goes on and on.

Conclusion

My suggestion isn’t to throw away your topical content and make everything more general. But I do think all content marketers should take time to see if tangential content will help them achieve goals they haven’t been able to reach through topical content alone.

As long as you’re still providing value to your audiences and creating engaging, accurate, and new tangential content experiences, there’s a good chance it’ll boost your brand awareness and traffic.

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