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Content Shout-Out: How REI Outranks Wikipedia

In the Content Shout-Out Series, we find examples of exceptional, interesting content that adds unique value to its brand and audience. Our hope is to showcase great creativity and best practices in our industry, and to help our readers continue to conceive of content in fresh but attainable ways. 

A Well-Deserved Content Shout-Out to REI

We’ve all been there. You’re trying to keep up with someone in conversation, and they drop the name of a trendy outdoor sport you’ve never heard of. You nod, smile, and surreptitiously search for “stand up paddleboarding.”


The result that appears for this and similar queries is dominated by REI’s “Learn at REI” series. The content includes informational and how-to articles and videos related to its product lines, like “How to slackline” and “Bicycle Commuting Checklist.” This content consistently ranks well, and in the case of [paddleboarding], it is the #1 result, impressively beating out Wikipedia on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages, that is).

…You know you’re doing something right when you outrank Wikipedia.

This is a well-deserved Content Shout-Out, as REI is the poster child of quality content marketing. REI’s marketing team wins SERP after SERP by providing great writing, niche expertise, and searcher satisfaction for targeted verticals.

So what’s in the secret sauce?

REI’s marketing team wins SERP after SERP by providing great writing, niche expertise, and searcher satisfaction for targeted verticals.

REI’s video content is pretty AND smart

Don’t be deceived; the beautiful sprawling shots featured in REI’s outdoor videos are focused and economical. In the paddleboarding video below, you can see a product in every shot.

The videography is varied filmed from in front, behind, under and even on the paddleboard itself. Everything is focused on the product, showing the paddleboard from every angle.

The video shows different locations — one tropical and then another more temperate — suggesting that this is a sport for every climate.

The video narration carries you downstream, towards a purchase. It answers these questions, in this order:

What is standup paddleboarding? Why should I do it? What kind of boards are there? What are a paddleboard’s features? What kind of board is right for me?

REI also self-hosts these videos, a tactic Daniel Vassiliou advocated in a Conductor blog post last April. The success of the “Learn at REI” is compelling support for his argument. Their self-hosted videos on everything from side planks to snowshoeing earn quality links and natural traffic for the REI domain.

The “early” content marketer gets the SERP

Let’s zoom out: the big picture strategy REI’s marketing team employs is creating content earlier in the buyer’s cycle; they offer content to consumers while they are discovering and researching not just transactional queries like “stand up paddleboards for sale” or “best standup paddleboards.”

This isn’t just about the errant hope that an early-cycle buyer will see and internalize your brand (though that’s certainly a benefit). There’s also the opportunity to create a path forward to purchase on your informational page—REI has links to paddleboarding gear on its informational pages.

But that’s not all: if you write truly useful how-to and informational content like REI’s, you may naturally rank well and gain search visibility that you might not have otherwise.

See how, in the SERP below, REI’s informational content gives it a presence where its product pages are not ranking:

REI ranking in Google resultsIn fact, REI’s content has actually risen in the SERP ranks in the last few months. In the above screenshot, taken in September 2013, REI ranks #3 for [buy paddleboard online].

Below is a snapshot of January 2014. In that four month time period, REI’s standup paddleboarding article has risen to #1 in the natural results. That’s right; this how-to, informational, early-stage buyer’s cycle content has beaten out the product pages for a transactional query.  There’s the power of quality content right before your eyes.

REI in the Google results

Wins like these won’t be taken away, because REI’s team has found a way to impart “useful, concrete knowledge” in niche topics, just like Matt Cutts is always suggesting.

REI’s how-to, informational, early-stage buyer’s cycle content has beaten out the product pages for a transactional query.

You can read more about creating content early in the buyer’s cycle in a post by Nathan Safran: Stop Crowding the Register; Entering Early in the Buyer Experience Cycle Pays Off. Our CEO Seth Besmertnik spoke about this too, in last year’s C3 keynote. Just another good reason to sign up for C3 2014!

Want more Content Shout-Outs? Check out our last post on ATG Stores.

Banner image via Boardsports.

2 Responses to Content Shout-Out: How REI Outranks Wikipedia

  1. Eric White says:

    This is an awesome content shout-out/insight. I bet REI will continue to see high SERP-rankings especially with Google’s growing focus on answering questions in search, as opposed to strictly providing articles that match keywords. REI be killin’ em!

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