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Journalism, 'Churnalism' & the Sticky Subject of Anchor Text Links

stott-nichola
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When it comes to more traditional media, anchor text links have always been a sticky issue. However, the journalism profession is coming under increasing scrutiny of late for a number of reasons, including the:

  • Increasing backlash against low quality syndicated content.

  • Propensity for large media to simply recycle a lot of press release material (churnalism).

  • Adjunct of media-activity-meets-search-results-quality in the recent Panda update.

Here is some advice on how (and when) to approach the press with an anchor text objective. Also, we'll examine why this is becoming more difficult, what is happening in journalism and public relations (both pre- and post-Panda), and how this may impact you.

Crafting a Well Written, Tailored, Newsworthy Press Release vs. the Churnalism Backlash

As recently as a few months ago, I would've argued that writing a good, individually tailored, and newsworthy press release was perhaps one of the best ways to ensure your content (including anchor links) would appear on a traditional media site. It has been quite common in the past for even extremely high-profile media to reproduce large chunks of press release material, proving to be a great bonus for search engine optimization (SEO) professionals as well as PR.

On the flip side, this leads to swathes of replicated content all over the internet, plus a decline in investigative standards.

Media Standards Trust recently launched a website, Churnalism.com, which allows the user to paste chunks of content into a "churn engine," which compares the text against a database of articles from the UK press and BBC, providing a "churn rating" output. The Guardian were given access to Churnalism.com pre-launch and found "that all media organisations are at times simply republishing, verbatim, material sent to them by marketing companies and campaign groups."

While I would still advocate using the press release as a medium to communicate a story to press, my point is that there is increasing focus on quality in the media. Syndicated and replicated content is now firmly under scrutiny and drawing criticism.

Consumers want interesting, original, informative content. It's good that we're seeing search engines seek to downgrade farmed content, at the same time as a spotlight on related poor quality content, from those that control and disseminate.

The PRD (press release distribution) Industry and the Panda Update

At a Social Media Week event in early February, I saw Rob Shepherd, MD of UK based global press release and online news specialists Press Dispensary, speak about the importance of creating newsworthy, bespoke press release content for distribution. At the time of the event, Google had just announced algorithmic changes were coming, to combat duplicate and low quality content, specifically content farms (this was the Panda update warning shot).

Shepherd maintains that Press Dispensary had always advocated creating tailored press releases to be distributed to quality sources. When we spoke, Shepherd told me that in the past Press Dispensary had actually lost business by refusing to distribute identical press releases to content farms, so strong is their position on this.

In today's climate, this message is now somewhat justified. Shepherd maintains that we get the best results in terms of both message and links "by creating professional, newsworthy press releases; which are distributed by sometimes traditional PR outreach methods, combined with quality channels."

Interesting that it seems the press release is still a well-received device and that the PR industry is well in tune to the objectives of the SEO industry and extremely aware and up to date with Google's stance on poor quality unoriginal content and content farms.

How to Ask for an Anchor Link (After the Fact)

Setting aside the merits and issues surrounding press releases in the current climate, I wanted to get the PR professional perspective on approaching traditional media for an anchor text link, when a story has already appeared. I asked PR expert Claire Thompson, my business partner at SEO PR Training, for her advice.

Thompson states that the most important thing to remember is that "it is absolutely not the job of a journalist to assist you in your marketing activities in any way." It's a journalists' job to inform, educate, entertain, while offering something of value and interest to their readers.

With that in mind, approaching a journalist for an anchor text link may only be advised when you really do have something of additional value for those readers or an excellent relationship already.

An example Thompson gives is, if your client offers a therapy service which a journalist has written about, do you have any additional information on your site (such as quantifiable facts and figures or a case study that proves the efficacy of the service) that the journalist could link to, thereby providing greater depth of information and credibility for their readers?

Thompson also advises that a thorough understanding of your media target is of utmost importance. Tech writers and bloggers tend to be more SEO savvy and more likely to consider a request, providing it is positioned correctly. Something that Bas van den Beld, editor of State of Search, would certainly agree with.

"In general I don't mind people asking me to change an anchor text link, as long as it is relevant, said van den Beld. "I am not changing a link from a brand name to 'UK SEO' for example, that is just too obvious. It should be a relevant request which doesn't have 'linkbuilding' written all over it. Important with that is also how they ask the question: do I know them already, are they polite?"

I wrote a post once about what linkbuilders shouldn't do when asking for links and surprisingly enough many still don't get it, even though I tell them how they should approach me. Too many aren't even being nice.

The best chance you have with me is if you know me (really, don't just add me to IM and think you know me that way). So build up the relationship.

How to Ask for an Anchor Link (Prior to Publication)

If you genuinely have a great piece of content to promote, offering an exclusive with one media source is often a good way to help develop a good relationship, whilst putting you in a slightly stronger position to be able to make desired anchor text requests known at the outset. Again, the relevance and additional value of the anchored content is still of paramount importance.

Thompson advises that you set a deadline for exclusivity, as some press may verbally agree to an exclusive, though fail to publish in favor of another story. Cover your bases by offering exclusivity if published before "X" date, and if not then offer the story to additional identified targets.

In Summary

Approaching press and more traditional media for an anchor text link is becoming even more of a relationship-led exercise in today's climate. Scrutiny surrounding the wholesale reproduction of press release content, plus increased awareness from within media and PR service providers as to the impact of syndicated and farmed content, means that a one-to-one approach is becoming increasingly favored.

Positioning an original, newsworthy, quality piece of content in a way that is tailored to your target media and their respective audience is becoming the favored option. In short, the methods used by link builders and PR professionals are becoming increasingly aligned.

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