Getting a link from a newspaper article is a fantastic way to build your site's authority.
Do something interesting lately? Have a unique site with a controversial twist? E-mail a few reporters who cover your beat, pitch your story, get the ink, get a link, and your site is headed for high authority and the top of the SERPs. If you're really good, you can pitch a story that gets syndicated nationally or you can find a way to localize your story and reach out to news outlets in hundreds of cities nationwide.
Sounds great, right? The only catch is that more news outlets have recently stopped linking out to websites they cover. For example, in a recent Wall Street Journal story about websites that provide on-demand book printing, of the five sites discussed, the reporter inexplicably only links to one of them (yet finds time to include nice photos of the CEOs of the top sites).
During a Q&A session at an advanced search engine optimization (SEO) conference, I took the opportunity to ask to Alex Bennert, in-house SEO at the Wall Street Journal, "Why do WSJ journalists not link to a website they write about, even when the story is about the website?" Her response (on stage) was, "They should be."
After identifying several egregious WSJ stories that were inconsistent with Alex's comments on my blog, Alex responded in a comment, "I strongly encourage them to [link”. But when it comes down to publishing an article, some do and some don't. I imagine that for some, it's a workflow and time issue."
Two weeks later, I had a similar experience with my local paper, the Austin-American Statesman, which gave me inconsistent explanations for their inconsistent linking policy. At first, a reporter wrote, "I got official word from our Internet editor, and the policy is not to include links with news stories."
But then I got an e-mail from the Internet Editor, Zach Ryall, who wrote, "We love to link...Our content management system however, does not support [the ability to create links” at the user level." So to add a link in a news story, the reporter has to make a special effort to request it from the Internet team, which creates a major procedural disincentive to link to websites mentioned in the newspaper.
So to recap, why don't newspaper link? Here are the stated reasons:
- Links take time/effort to include in a story. They're easy to forget.
- The publishing systems don't make it easy.
- It's not always appropriate to link. As Ryall told me, "I don't want to confuse [linking” with providing free advertising that lacks any journalistic purpose."
And putting on my cynical reporter hat for a moment, here are some more cynical motives for not linking:
- To keep readers from leaving the newspaper's site.
- Reporters question the "value of the link economy."
- Nicholas Carr's recent screed in the Atlantic that Google (but really links) make us stupid.
I won't get into an argument over the value of links in a news ecosystem, except to say that forcing readers to copy and paste URLs is a good way to annoy people, and seeing "somesite.com" on a web page in black text without an underline is a digital faux pas.
New Strategies to Obtain Links
Here are some tips to counteract the reasons reporters don't link, and help your public relations efforts yield links:
- Screen out non-linkers from your media list. How to find out? Try Googling "site:nytimes.com intitle:website" (but replace nytimes.com with a news outlet you want to pitch). Find a few stories expressly about websites, then see if they've linked to the websites.
- When the reporter asks you to spell your name and other information, make a point to verify your correct website URL (even if they don't ask for it). It's a subtle hint, but it might just help.
- If possible, position the story about your website, not your company. You can do this by creating and pitching online-only linkable assets that virtually require a link (e.g., infographics, reports, calculators, quizzes, or other online-only content).
- Always include the ".com" in your company name whenever talking to the media.
- Pitch the newspaper's bloggers, not the newsroom. Assuming the newspaper has bloggers who publish on the same domain as the primary newspaper, you should approach them first with your story.
- Target syndication. Just because you don't get a link in your local paper doesn't mean it won't get links if it's syndicated; other newspapers may automatically hyperlink website addresses in stories. Your PR rep can help strategize general stories that are likely to get picked up in syndication.
- Give exclusives to bloggers and online-only publications where you're most likely to receive a link.
Building links via public relations is an effective strategy, but it must be done right. The recent difficulty of obtaining links in news coverage requires some adjustments in strategy for link builders, particularly the number of subtleties that we must help our PR professionals to understand. Getting a link in a news story is the difference between attracting a few thousand readers and gaining the authority that moves your search rankings and helps your website reach potentially millions of new visitors.
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