Earning Links in “Boring” Sectors

I recently spoke at the UK search conference on a panel about linkbuilding in 2013. Most of the panel (myself included) were much of the opinion that any business can earn its links through the stories it has to tell however an audience member brought up a very valid objection related to industries that might be considered boring, particularly in sectors where an almost exclusive paid linking strategy still prevails. Whilst I can’t suggest that anyone managing a client in such a sector should take a stand and buck the trend (that would have to be a decision taken under one’s own counsel), I know from personal experience that even when your competitors seem to have no other link strategy than a paid one you can still compete in the SERPs with a quality-led marketing strategy rather than a paid-link only strategy. In fact this is a topic that has been addressed many times and in great detail so Imma just leave this one here… with examples from such sectors!

Instead I think there are two issues at play here, the first being unreasonable or old-school volume targets that simply don’t reflect what algorithms are rewarding today. Yes you can rank a site (albeit temporarily) for terms like “car insurance” or “roulette” with a paid volume-strategy and that’s because it’s a flipping weighted algorithm and half a million mediocre paid links “weigh” more than five hundred, good-quality earned links, but the former strategy is not future-proof. Google in particular are getting better and better at detecting and dis-incentivising this practise; plus there is always a tipping point at which six hundred, seven hundred, one thousand good-quality earned links will “weigh” more than those competitor volume-links. If you’re (or your client is) in it for the long haul and marketing a credible brand then really why risk a strategy that could a huge chunk of your traffic out of circulation, plus court the kind of negative attention your client could do without?

The second issue at play that I really wanted to address here is the notion that some businesses and sectors are so boring that they have nothing to say and no audience to say it to. I’d like to challenge that notion fundamentally and look at tactics and resources for earning links when everyone around you is paying for theirs.

  1. One man’s meat is another man’s horse burger.

Friend: “How was work today?”

Me: “Awesome. We discovered some odd syntax in a new clients’ robots.txt file that was causing a weird index loop and creating all kind of duplicate content issues in the SERPs.”

Friend: “Kill me now.”

You get the point of course. Just because a business or sector may be dry as a bone to us it is a source of passion to them and their clients. The fact that a business is a business means that there is a customer base; a desire for the product, a problem that is solved a demand that is met. So what if it doesn’t float our boat?

At the same conference we had in fact just heard tell of a perfect example of this, presented by PushOn’s SImon Wharton, who talked us through their award-winning case-study for client Little Greene. Little Greene make paint. Paint; a topic so boring that we use the drying of it as an analogy for the most boring activity imaginable. Yet as Wharton detailed, to Little Greene paint (and the pride that they take in the richness and range of colours produced) is a point of pride and passion for this business. Little Greene make very high quality paint, which is used by premium decorating services, restoration experts and is approved by English Heritage. Check out this video of the making of Little Greene’s most recent advertisement for a great example of a way to make something that could have been quite pedestrian; instead, visually stunning and an engaging vehicle to convey the passion and quality-commitment of Little Greene.

2. Trade Media

So a business or sector may seem boring to us, however in any sector where there is business to be had there is a trade press about it. One of the oft-cited reasons for difficulties in earning links in such sectors is that there is a lack of online media to approach. Whilst it’s certainly true that there might be less noise, fewer independent blogs and less consumer titles focusing on such products and sectors; that’s just life. There is however, always a thriving (albeit relatively small) community of trades media. I therefore invoke rule 34 on the notion that there’s a lack of online media to approach. If there is business of it, then there’s trade media of it.

Here’s a few little gems…

The Grocer – For all your horse-burger needs

Tunnels and Tunnelling International – Ya dig me?

Microwave Engineering Europe – Not microwaves, but microwaves.

Timber Trades Journal – Got wood

Compound Semiconductors – Not Silicon Semiconductors you fool. That’s here.

Cabinet Maker – I shit you not.

3.  Great Content

Even if your business or industry may be seen as boring, or have little direct appeal outside of its’ own eccentric audience that doesn’t mean that exciting, funny and imaginative content idea are off limits to you. There’s many a B2B or “boring” brand that has created a cult or counter-culture following out of good content. Now this point has been done before in great detail by our very own Hannah, over at SEOMoz, so do read her piece on those companies in “boring” niches who are kicking it.

If you can’t be arsed, then I’m sure she won’t mind me paraphrasing one of the best examples featured in that piece, which is that of Readers Sheds. Yes, it is a thing! It is a thing created by Cuprinol. You know that boring company that produce wood-stain? Maybe the product itself is a bit boring, but what about the very wood we stain? Does that not have its’ exciting applications? I wonder if this is quite a “UK” type thing? We are a nation of eccentrics after-all. Aside. As my fellow-blogger Hannah explains “…people are really passionate about their humble sheds and some people’s sheds are pretty damn amazing. With this is mind, to appeal to all the sheddies out there Reader Sheds run an annual competition to find the shed of the year”.

What’s not to get excited about?

4. Buzz the Brand 

Another way of approaching so-called “boring” products is to look at building a buzz around the brand itself. Ask yourself, five years ago could you ever have imagined anyone expressing excitement about the arrival of a new order of business cards? No. Me neither, but then along came Moo. Moo have created a vibrant brand that offers a great buying experience and customer service, so that the product itself is almost immaterial. Honestly, if you don’t believe me, do a twitter search for [thanks+moo] or [excited+moo] and see for yourself.

Remember people, these are business cards… business cards


5. Take it to the Bridge Human Conclusion

This is a tip that I picked up from PR supremo Claire Thompson of WavesPR. When faced with a product that’s very dull, or has no complete application in and of itself (such as concrete) Claire advocates taking the product to its’ human-conclusion.

As an example imagine a business that makes thermostatic controls. That’s not exciting, right? But what if you talk to your clients and find out where these integrated components end up? What if it turns out that their biggest customer manufactures incubators for premature infants? Then you’ve got a story like “Thermo Controllers Help Save 5000 Premature Babies in Contract to Supply Medi-Systems Ltd.”

If your client manufactures a product that’s part of a chain, talk to them about where their products end up. What’s the real world application? It’s a marketing approach that’s worked very well for companies like Intel. So very few of us would ever need to consider or touch a Xeon Processor, yet we know through the extensive multi-platform marketing efforts of Intel, that their products help our devices work. And we’re very attached to our various devices in an emotional (as well as functional) way.


I’d like to suggest that there’s really no such thing as a truly boring product, business or niche and that with a little thought and creativity we can devise stories and campaigns that can resonate with a waiting audience (Little Greene) or can gain a broad cult following (Cuprinol/Readers Sheds) or can excite and reinvigorate a once non-product (Moo Cards). The stories and campaigns we devise need to be positioned and marketed so that they attract and earn the links, citations and brand awareness that we’re looking to achieve for our clients. Really, I don’t think there’s any excuse for sticking to a link strategy that relies purely on paid links because there’s no other way. It’s just about creating and teasing that story out!