If you've ever worked with a PR firm to build links, you've probably found yourself in a conversation where everyone vigorously agrees about the power of PR to drive search engine optimization (SEO) results, yet have vastly different ideas about scope and details.
SEO is a relatively new discipline, so it's important we do a thorough job explaining what we need from our PR counterparts. The following letter is designed to be something an SEO can give their PR firm to help them understand the changes they should make to dramatically increase the number of links their effort yields.
An Open Letter to Public Relations Pros
Dear Public Relations:
You probably had no idea, but the work you do is among the most valuable SEO strategies out there. And it's not because you're a press release SEO-optimization guru (sorry!), but because you know how to drive media mentions at scale. And media mentions can drive links.
There are few things that warm Google's heart more about than deep, relevant, high authority links. So this is why we value public relations -- your work drives links, which Google values, and is what drives rankings -- and with great rankings comes valuable traffic.
But to succeed, you need to start thinking in terms of links. This could dramatically change how you search for media opportunities (based on which media outlets give links), what stories you craft (news stories with an online anchor point or resource works best for attracting links), how deeply within the "long tail" of publishers you target for personalized outreach (as deeply as possible), how you prioritize your time (online more than print; any mention with a link will do), and what metrics you report to show your ROI (followed links!).
In this spirit, let's address a few myths and assumptions so we can work together effectively:
PR-SEO Myths and Truths
- Myth: Press release optimization is an important value-add for PR-SEO.
Truth: There are very few situations where the tens or hundreds of transient, low-quality links gained from an SEO-optimized press release will be more valuable than a single link from "earned" coverage. Press release syndication sites tend to be poor signals of quality because anyone use them, even relatively poor websites. In other words, the links tend to be low authority. Also, any good links tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared.
- Myth: PR delivers its primary value in traffic, branding, word-of-mouth buzz, awareness, influencer mindshare, and thought leadership.
Truth: Maybe for some, but for websites that care primarily about organic search traffic (i.e., traffic they get from Google), your value is in links. And since search engines can only see links that stay in place, and only count "followed" links, PR's value to SEO's is measured by its ability to deliver permanent followed links. In fact, to put this in perspective, in most cases, an SEO-driven site would prefer 50 links from no-name, medium authority publications than a mention in a USA Today story.
- Myth: A good blogger outreach strategy is to find the most important blogs in the client's market, get them to cover the story, and the rest will follow.
Truth: A better strategy is to target one or two top blogs but devote the majority of your time to the long tail of blogs. How long is long? In my experience, this can be 200+ highly relevant blogs, some with vanishingly small traffic, in a space like personal finance. Long tail blogs tend to be more receptive to personalized, relevant pitches (especially if you build a relationship with them first), and many of the top bloggers read smaller, upcoming bloggers to find and vet upcoming stories.
- Myth: "Your coverage is driving tons of links."
- Myth: It's a bad idea to push for a link when pitching.
Truth: It is true, asking a reporter for a link directly is gauche; however the way you talk about your client when you're pitching can have a big impact. Practice saying, ".com" after the client's name to reinforce that the story is the website. If the story is about some online resource, be sure to send the reporter the URL (and push the client to create one if they don't have one already).
- Myth: Attracting repeat coverage is a good idea.
Truth: It's true, attracting links from the same media outlet repeatedly is nice because it's often easier to do than obtain coverage from a new media outlet. But the real win in link building for PR is a constant flow of new links from new sources.
- Myth: Newspapers, magazines, and blogs are the best places to seek links.
Truth: Any media outlet that publishes online can give links. Broadcast media outlets that run links alongside stories are worth your attention.
- Myth: Traditional media databases are a good way to build a media list.
Truth: Traditional media databases lack crucial information such as whether or not the media outlet links to websites they cover in stories (google "site:ajc.com intitle:website" and see how many unlinked website mentions you can find) and whether stories stay online or disappear into a news archive. They also tend to have scant detail about long-tail bloggers, which are often your best bet for attracting links. But in my mind, their worst feature is they force users to search for journalists based on publication name and general "beat" classifications defined by the vendor. A much better approach is to search for reporters based on what they have actually covered in the past, using tools such as Google News, Google Blog Search, Google Archive Search, EBSCO, Lexis Nexis, or PRMatchPoint.
- Myth: "Feature coverage" is more valuable than a passing mention with a link.
Truth: As long as a website gets a link in a story, and the story remains online, it's valuable to us. So given the equality in value, why not devote equal resources to monitoring Profnet and Help a Reporter Out as you would pursuing a feature story.
- Myth: A story that appears in a newspaper's print edition is more valuable than a story that appears in its blog.
Truth: Blogs rule; it's often easier to get a link from a newspaper's blog, the link is likely to be a "live" link, and it's more likely to stay online and not disappear into a news archive. So all things being equal, you should pitch the story to a blogger before the print journalist.
The Good News
PR pros and link builders share many of the same core beliefs: that relationship-building is the core skill in our professions; there are nearly limitless ways to create PR and link opportunities; it's important to develop a drumbeat of coverage and links from diverse sources; and becoming an industry resource referenced by news sources is an important goal. Yet too few PR professionals realize how much more effective they could be at driving links with a few tweaks to their approach, or the significant impact on rankings and traffic those links have for their SEO-focused clients.
Hopefully the above list will help PR and SEO align efforts, increase the priority we place on attracting links, and deliver a higher ROI from our work, which is always the bottom line.