A couple of Michigan justices learned a new word when law professor Richard D. Friedman, consultant to one of the judges, mentioned that a point was "entirely orthogonal" to the argument in front of the court. After being met with a "What?" response, Friedman explained the point in question was "at right angles, irrelevant, and unrelated" – in other words, off on a tangent from the main issue.
The judges reportedly got a kick out of the new word, and so did I. As a professional ghost blogger and blogging coach for business owners, I’ve found going off on "tangents" can serve a real purpose in business blog posts. The business blogging challenge is both simple and daunting: How can the content of a business blog stay relevant over long periods of time, without becoming repetitive and even tedious (to both writer and reader)?
On the one hand, blog posts need to stay on task and on topic. After all, the search engines helped readers find your blog by indexing it high on page 1 or 2 (on Google, Bing, or Yahoo precisely because the needs of the searcher (based on the phrase or question they searched on appeared to match what you’re talking about in your blog posts – what you sell, what you do, and what you know about!
But on the other hand, there are two crucial motivations for not being repetitive in blog posts:
- Technical reason: avoiding "duplicate content". Search engines tend to penalize rankings of sites that duplicate content that’s already in the blogosphere.
- Common sense reason: avoiding staleness and continuing to engage readers.
So, how do you keep talking, several times per week over periods of months and years, about essentially the same thing, without becoming either duplicative or stale?
Professor Friedman used a "word tidbit" that captured the concept of a "right angle" that veered 90 degrees "off" the main point. The anecdote made the papers precisely because it was about capturing attention with something unusual and unexpected.
My Say It For You blog is about business blogging. So why, back in August of ’08, did I blog about an advertisement for a piano? I was being orthogonal. Why? To show that in your business blog, you can convey to readers different levels of involvement are welcome and that ultimate buying decisions don’t need to be made the moment a customer "steps into" your website.
Blog posts need to capture readers’ attention in precisely the same manner, by presenting examples and illustrations that don’t at first glance appear to relate to the subject at hand.
Don’t get stale – get orthogonal!