How to Get Links from Journalists

Getting links from established media can often be a difficult and daunting task. Content-led sites need an extremely good reason to link to you and with journalists working in high-pressure environments (often) with a print deadline as well as an online remit; any ill-conceived approach may be shot down in flames.

Here’s some advice for how you can approach journalists:

1. Know Your Journalist and Media Well

If you’ve identified a target media you need to first research the most appropriate contact for your story (more on “the story” later). If you can’t find much in the way of editorial/staff details on the website, then pick up a hard copy of the media you’re targeting.

When it comes to more traditional media, many are led by the print version. In there you will find the “strapline”; which will give you the names and job titles of all staff on the publication. (Remember — what goes in the print edition goes on the website too!)

Once you’ve identified the name(s) of the most appropriate journalist you can then research their writing online, to check they are indeed the most appropriate.

In this example, New Scientist provides a URL to a page on their website, with a list of names of all staff — from editorial to web developers!

New Scientist URL

2. Have a Story

If you want a link on a quality online media, then you need a story. Assuming you’ve already identified the appropriate media through your link prospecting research and the relevant journalist, you now need to give them something that’s going to make their product more interesting, temporal, and relevant to their readers.

Generally a news story must be something that is quantifiable. Who cares if your client has produced 1,250,000,000 toilet rolls in 2010? Nobody!

However if you quantify the news, “the most toilet roll produced by any toilet roll company in a single year” and add a tangible comparator “when lined up side by side, would stretch around the earth’s circumference more than three times,” then the mundane becomes of interest.

“Quantifiable” news is generally the first, most, largest, highest, smallest, loudest, quietest, farthest, lowest, etc.

3. Write a Press Release

Unless your story is a “hold the front page” kind of issue, you will certainly need a press release. While I’m not about to open a debate on the difference between journalists and bloggers, one key point to consider is that journalists will have attained their status through the study of journalism at a higher educational level, or have worked their way up through on-the-job training at a media outlet.

In both cases, the most common and accepted method of communicating the details of your story to a journalist is to use a press release. Here are a couple tips:

  • Don’t waste time with any elaborate keyword, synonym or antonym research and placement within the release (it will be re-written).
  • Don’t spend a day on extensive link and anchor text analysis. Definitely ensure your key two or three links are in place, but be prepared to lose some, and accept that the journalist will place the links where they feel most appropriate.

If you have no idea how to construct a good quality professional press release, then do refer to this guide, written by PR expert Claire Thompson of WavesPR, specifically for search engine optimization (SEO) professionals.

4. Pick up the Phone

You should definitely follow up, particularly with your top five media targets. Here’s the thing: don’t call and say “Hi — I’m calling from ‘X’ and just wanted to check you had received the press release we sent a couple of hours ago?” as the answer is likely to be “Yes, I’m sure we did, along with the 50 or so other press releases I’ve received today,” followed by a slamming noise.

Instead, provide something of value that will add additional interest and depth to the story and distinguish your press release from everything else the journalist has received that day.

Try “I sent you a press release this morning and I’ve just been sent an excellent infographic that really captures the key data that I can offer you exclusively.”

Video is an excellent incentive and accompaniment for online coverage.

5. Settle for the Citation. Live to Fight Another Day

So you manage to get the content placed in your target media but there’s no link, or the link is on a “noise” anchor, or is nofollowed.

Do not call a journalist and ask them to place a link after the fact, or insert an additional sentence and drop the link on your anchor. Could you imagine the professional affront if a journalist responded to your press release e-mail, advising you to change your client’s homepage H1?

Unless you’ve already cultivated a good relationship, asking a journalist for a link after the fact may even lead to the story being pulled, and in some cases an alternative piece being ran, without links and a much less positive angle.

Instead, settle for the citation and use the opportunity to cultivate a relationship.

Follow up with a thank you e-mail or quick call and mention something of value (e.g. “Thank you so much for the piece on the toilet roll production. It was really clever the way you managed to work in the reference to our stance on environmental issues, and actually we’ve got an industry-wide report coming out in April, so perhaps we can chat about an exclusive a little closer to the time?”).

Final Health Warning

These tips are intended for SEO agencies and online marketers working for small to medium businesses. In some cases link builders won’t be at liberty to work in this way, due to the objectives of PR teams and brand managers. However, learning to work with your client’s PR team and involving them in your link strategy is always a valuable exercise.

Above all, be clear as to who “owns the message,” and ensure that the content you’re positioning is approved by all stakeholders.

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