It’s an all-too-familiar clash between SEO pros and journalists:
I have had two PRs emailing me Today asking for a hyperlink to their company’s website in articles I have written.I wish this intensely annoying trend in [generally consumer] pr would STOP.Isnt it enough the company is mentioned without trying to wangle free advertising too.Grrr
— Deirdre Hipwell (@DeirdreHipwell) November 6, 2018
In short, if you have no time to read the full thread, I’ll quickly summarize it:
- A journalist at The Times in the UK had received a link reclamation request from a PR or SEO asking her to link out to the company website.
- Said journalist referred to this as “trying to wangle free advertising.”
- The SEO industry responded as you’d likely expect, referencing why links exist, how if a journalist is prepared to write about a brand they should surely be happy to link out and the general frustration that SEO pros are simply trying to do their jobs when sending such emails.
This got me thinking; this isn’t just an isolated incident.
Was the journalist right to call out this practice? Did some of the SEO professionals who responded potentially misunderstood the context of the post?
Stop Press: You’re Not Automatically Entitled to A Link
Link building is tough. No one is denying that.
SEO professionals need to earn links for their clients. It’s as simple as that in many ways.
But the real question is whether a brand is automatically entitled to a link when a journalist, blogger, or publisher writes about them.
This is often hard to accept as a link builder (for myself included) but we really need to, as an industry, understand both sides of the story and what we can do to work together to ensure we’re landing the links we want (need).
To try and understand this a little better, let’s firstly look at the role of both SEO professionals and journalists in this situation…
- SEO Pro: To earn editorial links from top-tier and niche relevant publications to support the wider SEO strategy.
- Journalist: To tell stories to their readers which they’ll find interesting and engage with.
The “free advertising” comment struck a chord with myself when reading the thread.
Surely, when looked at from this perspective, all PR is free advertising?
Without PR professionals, I can guarantee many journalists would have to spend a lot more time researching stories and content to cover.
I’m biased, I’m an SEO professional.
But simply responding to one journalist on Twitter with comments about entitlement aren’t going to change that, as much as I understand it.
I personally had a huge rant written out to respond with, and then thought the better of it.
There’s a better way to get what we want.
Ensure a Link Adds Value to an Article
Forget SEO for a moment.
Why do links exist?
Let’s take a look at a fantastic reference from Mozilla in relation to external links:
This is as simple as it gets.
Without external links, there is no web.
What’s more interesting, however, is the statement that external links provide information besides the content available on a specific webpage.
The key takeaway here is information.
Is linking to a brand’s homepage giving more information? Or is it more on the commercial side of things?
I’d argue the latter.
How about linking to a brand’s content campaign?
A wealth of data? Research? An interactive tool? Now that’s informational.
In many ways, it all comes down to common sense.
If you create and promote something which adds value on the other end of the link, there’s no reason for a journalist not to link.
They’d be doing so to allow their readers to engage further, to delve deeper into data, or to try their hand at a tool or interactive.
Sadly, I don’t think that this is what the tweet referenced.
3 Potential Link Scenarios
Let’s look at three potential scenarios when an SEO or PR would hope for a link and look at it from a neutral position.
1. You’ve Given a Comment to the Press on a Story
Newsjacking, expert opinion, responding to a #journorequest … call it what you want. It’s fairly standard PR activity, right? Offering comment to journalists to support their own stories.
But just because you’re offering a comment or quote, can you really expect much more than a brand mention?
The question here is what’s the value of a link and in all honesty, the obvious link would be one to the homepage.
How does this add value over a brand mention, however?
Usually, it doesn’t.
There have been some pretty embarrassing instances doing the rounds in recent months where link builders have approached journalists to request brand mentions to be turned into links in completely unrelated scenarios.
A journalist commented on Twitter that they’d been asked to link out to a brand’s site because they’d mentioned one of their physical stores.
But why did they mention the store?
When there’s nothing of value to link to, we shouldn’t really be expecting it.
2. You’re Pitching a Story Where the Link Isn’t Essential
Infographics. Videos. Maps. 3D rendered images.
You know the score. They’re all popular formats with content marketers however they don’t always land links, even when they land coverage.
Because these formats usually make sense within an article (so long as they’re embedded or the key points covered) without linking out.
Admittedly, it sucks when you’ve gone to the effort to produce something awesome and a journalist loves it enough to cover it but doesn’t link. However, we need to try and understand why the link isn’t there.
Sometimes, it’s personal preference of a journalist. For others, it’s an editorial policy not to link out (which, in my opinion, are largely misinformed).
Usually though, it’s simply that it hasn’t occurred to a (very busy) journalist to link out and if you’ve got a smart link reclamation strategy (note: there are far smarter ways to approach link reclamation than going back to a journalist and simply saying “please link”), you’ll see at least some of these mentions turned to links.
In fact, I recently received a response from a publication on a link reclamation email which simply read, “Oh that’s actually a great idea. I’ll do it right now.”
I’d pointed out that they covered just five sets of data from an interactive asset which looked at 35 and suggested their readers may want to see the full list.
The link was added in straight away on a DA 92 publication.
3. You’re Pitching a Story Where the Link Is Essential
The third scenario is that when we produce something awesome, as marketers, which almost requires the link for an article to make sense.
Think tools, calculators, deep-dive research where a journalist would never cover everything in detail yet which readers would likely want to consume.
This is where the ratio between unlinked brand mentions and links shifts.
When you pitch out something where the link adds a whole heap of value to a journalist’s article, it’s only common sense to add it in.
We all know it’s getting harder to land links, but we just need to continue to evolve.
Think like a PR. Execute like an SEO.
If we want the links so badly, we need to think and work smart and find ways to make the link an important part of the overall story and reader experience.
Work It Into Your Campaign Ideation
I won’t lie and say that it’s easy to come up with concepts where the link is a key part of the story.
However, maybe we all need to continue to evolve the way we think.
If an increasing number of journalists truly feel that us SEO pros are doing wrong by asking for a link, we need to take that onboard.
We need to be building relationships with journalists and working hard to help them see it from our perspective while also respecting their own views.
If they really have been misinformed, surely we owe it to ourselves to change their opinion, not to attack them on Twitter?
Journalists aren’t the enemy; they’re a vital part of a successful content-led link building campaign.