Image by Daniel Voyager
It’s an article of faith in many parts of the SEO industry that publishing content unrelated to your niche is at best useless, and at worst actively harmful to your rankings.
There has been mounting evidence, however, that tangentially-related or even unrelated content can help your site rise through the rankings.
Sheer link bulk, from viral videos, ad campaigns or popular meme macros, can cue search engines to increase your rank.
But why, and how?
Simply measuring for relevance and context is almost impossible when we’re talking about images or videos that strengthen your brand’s position in the marketplace.
Search engines can’t read these media, except in the crudest possible ways, and thus they can’t directly decide whether there’s a brand value attached to them. Therefore, they have to look at patterns and the ways people link these pieces of media to your site, and make a highly educated guess as to how relevant the media in question really is.
A viral video is going to be shared far, wide, and the links tell search engines that it’s somehow related to your brand. It doesn’t matter that it was just a piece of fun that marketing knocked up in an afternoon, it looks like it’s yours, and because of all the natural, easy links it’s bringing in, it looks like your brand is somehow important.
Another way tangentially related or one-off unrelated pieces of work can help SEO is by showing Google that you’re a popular site. People like and engage with you, and by extension trust and endorse you, more than a site which does not have the same quantity of links coming in.
If people like you, that’s reason enough to provide your site as a search result for people. Surely, they’ll like the search results as well.
There are some things about really great content that a search engine just can’t determine.
Ask yourself, for instance, what a cluster of servers would make of an Old Spice advert transcript. Would it even be able to tell that the advert was for Old Spice?
Sometimes, the content doesn’t matter because it’s conveying something to the reader that is lost on search engines. Search engines have to allow for this, or they’d end up disregarding hundreds of highly relevant search results just because they didn’t see what the most interesting man in the world had to do with Dos Equis beer.
Boiled down to absolute basics, good quality viral unrelated (or tangentially related) content, off-site or on-site, can still improve SEO because of the limitations of search engines. They can’t detect intangibles like tone or irony, and they only have a fairly rough idea of brand presence.
So, they have to compensate for this by giving certain forms of loosely-related content a “best guess” value.
This doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to hinge your entire SEO strategy on content like this, though!
Strongly related, good quality, informative content and regular web usability testing is still the way to go with a solid SEO campaign. But fun, less strongly-related content, can have a modest impact on your search rankings as well.
- License: Creative Commons image source
James Duval is a writer and blogger who writes for Strategy Internet Marketing about technology and business.