For years, I’ve been saying that public relations practitioners should make the best search engine optimization professionals. In fact, I even wrote about it 10 years ago. Little has changed since then.
The premise is simple:
Search engines like quality links.
Public relations professionals work every day to get their clients mentioned in the press. In most cases, the press will provide links in these mentions. These links are far more valuable than any links you can get from other sources.
Building links is the hardest part of search engine optimization (I’m sure some will argue after me on this point – well, prove me wrong).
So if public relations professionals can do the hardest part of SEO, they should be the best SEOs.
But with few exceptions, they aren’t.
There are many reasons that PR folks don’t like SEO. They think it’s just for techies; they don’t want to be seen as an SEO; but mostly they don’t realize the value links can have for their clients or organizations.
But many PR professionals are changing their attitude toward SEO and embracing search. Others, though, are happy to pitch away, worrying more about the ink than the link.
But as a search engine marketer, you have an advantage. You can do what PR professionals do, even if they can’t do what you do.
Here are five ways you can build links using the time-worn media relations techniques that have been practiced for years by PR pros.
1. Find Your Influencers & Create Relationships With Them
SEO professionals are typically tech-minded. SEOs typically work to create scalable solutions that automate everything. No exception in link building.
From e-mail scraping tools to private blog networks, SEOs will jump on any link building tool which promises to create links en masse that they control. Well, at least until Google bans those techniques and the tools start getting websites into trouble.
I can tell you from experience that successful link building is more about quality than quantity. I’d rather have one link from the Wall Street Journal than 1,000 links from Joe Schmoe’s blog. But a link from the Wall Street Journal is difficult to obtain.
You don’t have to go that big.
Finding the influencers in the niche you are working in isn’t hard. It just takes time and research.
Once you find those influencers, engage them. Not by spamming them asking for a link. Really read what they are saying.
Comment. Send influencers helpful articles that have nothing to do with your site. When the time is right, they’ll be more apt to link to what you want them to, even if it’s not quite a fit.
It’s the law of reciprocity – if you do something for the influencer, they will feel that they need to help you out.
PRO TIP: Whenever possible, meet with influencers in person. Buying a journalist or blogger a beer typically has a very high ROI.
PRO TIP #2: Limit your reach. This sounds counter-intuitive, but if you target everyone, you target no one. Identifying the top 10 or 15 best influencers and cultivating relationships with those folks is, in most cases, far more effective than trying to interact with 100 influencers. Everyone has limited resources. Use yours wisely.
SEO PRO TIP: When looking at influencers, look at their search presence. If a decent influencer has a bad search presence, offer them some tips for free. Depending on the influencers, it can be profitable to even offer to fix their site for free. I can say, however, that I’ve turned influencers into clients with this tactic. Again, law of reciprocity.
2. Look for Opportunities That Tie Into Current Events
Many SEO pros already do this, to an extent. But most write an article around something timely and then pitch it.
For many of the top sites, that’s too late.
Have your experts ready to go quickly. When a news story that affects your niche hits, have your list ready and offer expert commentary. Expert commentary almost always comes with a mention and a link.
PRO TIP: Set up Google Alerts around key topics and people in your industry. That way you can know when a big story hits.
PRO TIP #2: Practice getting the word out. Create “fire drills” with your team and client and act like a big news story just hit. This is a good way to get your team and client onboard with what you are doing so you don’t get blank stares or flat or refusal to participate when the real thing hits. This is especially important for SEOs who work with other PR professionals. Get the other PR pros involved in the process. That way they don’t feel like you are taking over their job – a common problem for SEOs who practice PR tactics for link building purposes.
BONUS PRO TIP: Make sure you have your lists ready as much ahead of time as possible.
SEO TIP: In most of these cases, it’s OK to ask if you get a link expert commentary. You don’t need to demand one. In most cases, you’ll get one, but influencers sometimes forget. Better to ask before their story goes out rather than trying to get the link from them later.
3. Use Press Releases for Big News
A few years back, SEOs almost ruined the press release. We found out that a tool that has been used for decades by PR pros also worked to create links on a ton of sites. And so we use them, abused them, and almost “losed” them.
Today there is still some abuse of press releases, but most legitimate services have increased their prices so that sending out a press release is not practical for every little piece of news.
But when you have something big to say? The links are still there. But they don’t come from the syndication.
In fact, most of the links that are syndicated are now nofollowed or carry no value.
Like you (see tip #2), influencers are monitoring for new stories. They will see your press release. If you don’t get any calls, that means you either used the wrong service, didn’t use the right keywords in the release, or your news wasn’t big enough.
PRO TIP: The “emabargoed” release, or a release that goes out to a few influencers before it is syndicated, is a great way to get an influencer’s attention. If you have one that you really want a link from, send them the press release beforehand and ask them not to put anything out about it until it goes live – but make sure to tell them when it goes live. In some cases, you can even let them break the story, which influencers love to do.
PRO TIP #2: If you don’t embargo (or more likely don’t embargo to everyone), you can send links to your release in the sites that pick up the release through your wire service of choice. If you send a link from the Houston Chronicle or even the influencer’s local paper that has your news in it, you’ll get their attention.
SEO TIP: If you work with a PR firm, ask to see their releases before they put them on the wire. That way you can insure that the keywords you want in there are actually in there. PR folks love language, and sometimes use different words than what is searched. Showing them the light in regards to specific keywords is a win for everyone.
4. Look at HARO
Help a Reporter Out was founded by Peter Shankman initially as a Facebook group to help reporters find sources for stories. Shankman knew that most reporters are looking for sources, and PR pros are looking to provide sources.
The Facebook group was such a hit he turned it into an e-mail list. Then Cision bought the whole thing for several million dollars.
Today there are still tons of journalists and other influencers asking for sources for stories. There is a veritable linking gold mine in every issue of HARO. And there are three issues per day.
PRO TIP: It takes some time to really read through HARO every day. If you can, assign someone on your team to be responsible for looking through each issue to see if there is anything relevant for your client or your company.
PRO TIP #2: Follow HARO on Twitter at @helpareporter to see urgent requests from journalists.
SEO TIP: There are frequent questions from reporters around search related subjects. Don’t forget to check it for yourself.
5. Research Your Niche
Most PR pros are news junkies. Many came into the profession from a journalism background. Good PR pros always know what is going in their niche – from the latest rumors down to the competitor offerings.
Most SEOs I know are news junkies when it comes to SEO, but not when it comes to their clients. SEOs miss out on so many link building opportunities when they don’t know the industry they are working in.
For our clients, we try to become experts in their field. We may never know the business as well as the client does, but we can certainly become proficient enough to identify linking opportunities we would never find if we didn’t know the industry.
PRO TIP: If there are publicly traded companies in your niche, read their earnings reports. You can learn a lot from earnings reports, and your influencers may not be reading them, so letting them know what’s up is a way to further the relationship.
PRO TIP #2: If your niche is wide, try to narrow it. The more you can narrow the niche, the easier it is to become an expert. And once you learn one aspect of your niche, it’s usually easier to expand to broader topics.
SEO TIP: Keep tabs on what your competitors are doing in search, what’s working for them, and what isn’t working. Don’t forget to look at their backlinks. By doing this, you will become better at optimizing your own sites.