Is it game over for PRs when it comes to link building?

Game_Over_Screen

Alex Jones from Hallam Internet shared a new case study around an outbound PR campaign, focused on bloggers. The campaign sought to attract the attention of a bunch of highly relevant bloggers, as well as, hopefully, a few links.

The results show that bloggers are increasingly savvy about the value of linking out to other sites. They clearly understand the difference between follow and no follow, and they’re quite happy to have a commercial discussion (and to name their price).

Google’s recent clampdown on paid (and pseudo-paid) links from bloggers now looks like a reasonable reaction, if this study is anything to go by.

The study

Alex pitched some “interesting and relevant” content to almost 300 bloggers. He cherry picked 60 of them and gave them the personal touch. No budget was mentioned.

The results

Here’s a overview of what happened…

  • Alex had a great hit rate. Around 35% of the 299 he contacted responded – 106 responses in total.
  • Six people said the content wasn’t relevant to their blog. Again, not bad, and better to know this (to update the database, if nothing else).
  • Just two bloggers were prepared to use the content based purely on its editorial value. Two!

And now for the cliffhanger… 

  • More than half of those who responded asked him if he had any budget.

Boom. Hand it over, mister. Gamechanger.

What do bloggers charge?

Firstly, bloggers tend to sell guest posts, as opposed to purely selling links. 

Fees ranged from sub-£50 to £300+ for a link/post, with the most common price point being in the £50-£100 range.

What do bloggers charge for links?

Some bloggers said that links would be nofollowed and posts would carry a disclosure.

Others changed their pricing depending on whether nofollow was applied, or not. There be dragons.

What does it mean for PRs?

Alex says: “It is no big deal if a blogger wants to charge for a sponsored post. I’m just surprised at the number of bloggers who now won’t accept any content unless it’s paid for.”

Indeed. For me, it’s not a surprise that bloggers have matured and regularly wear commercial hats, but if this overwhelming pay-to-play response reflects the wider market then it’s a big problem for PRs.

In the past decade PR has muscled into the SEO space by taking some ownership of link building. This is trickier than ever, and you’ve got to wonder about how sustainable it is. PR is about building relationships and influencing people, not buying media. PRs are not – and have never been – media buyers.

If you work in PR and a key metric is the number of new inbound links you generate, then you might need a slush fund. Or you might need to discuss how your campaigns are being measured.

Any which way, it looks as if it is going to be increasingly difficult to earn links through a blend of charm, targeting, and decent content.

What does it mean for bloggers?

Bloggers need to earn money of course, but a blanket policy of only dealing with PRs if there’s money involved is definitely dangerous and possibly misguided.

Nofollow or not, I don’t think hosting gazillions of paid-for guest posts is a brilliant long-term strategy for bloggers (or media sites more broadly). The editorial quality bar should be kept as high as possible to maintain identity and audience trust. Guest posts and third party editorial compromise that somewhat. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does. Each to their own.

I would say that dealing with PRs is normally super easy as they are, by and large, happy to develop a relationship and give bloggers attention. Bloggers should try stay friendly with key PRs. They are often the first point of contact between bloggers and brands. Continually rebuffing their advances might turn them away forever.

By comparison, and perhaps a word of warning: it’s really difficult to get on the radar of media buyers. Unless you have real scale or influence, you might as well forget about it.

Earning money while staying on the right side of Google is a delicate balancing act. Google will penalise bloggers that accept ‘free goods or services’, as well as those that charge for links. The guidance is clear: “Use the nofollow tag where appropriate.”

By clamping down on bloggers, and making it harder for PRs to be effective at linkbuilding, I sense that Google is actually making a rod for its own back. The demand for discrete link buying will increase, and that’s something much harder to police.

What do you think? Is this study an outlier, or does it reflect a wider market pay-to-play trend?

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