PR For Link Building: 5 Steps To Success

Following Matt Cutts’ latest indictment of guest posting, link builders will increasingly look to PR as a means of obtaining natural, editorially-driven links.

PR has its pitfalls. It’s harder to perform a cost-benefit analysis. Execution is expensive (a press release through a major distribution channel like PR Newswire can cost upwards of $300) and the results are tough to predict (you’re at the mercy of the media and journalists who receive hundreds of releases a day). With guest posting, it’s easier to attribute a cost to link acquisition – you pay a freelance writer x for the content, and it takes you x amount of time to perform email outreach.

I, however, retain great faith in PR as I believe it rewards creative marketers and offers a ‘passive stream’ of links. Here are five steps to create a successful PR campaign.

Step One: Idea Generation


Durex teaming up with Daft Punk to offer ‘get lucky’ condoms, Red Bull sponsoring the Felix Baumgartner space jump to cement its ‘gives you wings’ slogan and Morrisons supermarket changing its Wimbledon branch name to ‘Murriwins’ in anticipation of an Andy Murray Wimbledon win – some PR stunts write themselves.

But for small online businesses with limited resources, reactive PR is harder to execute. PR needs planning, and this starts with idea generation. Here are six questions I ask myself when I’m brainstorming a PR. As a general rule of thumb, I want my idea to answer ‘yes’ to at least two before I proceed.

  • Can the news in the PR be backed up by original, empirical data or footage?
  • Is the PR shocking – i.e. does it lend itself to a controversial, click-worthy headline?
  • Is it contemporary – i.e. does it draw on a topic currently debated in the media?
  • Does the PR challenge the status quo, thus rendering it newsworthy?
  • Does the PR educate or offer clarity on an important or interesting issue?
  • Is the PR inspirational or evocative?

The web is awash with recommendations for effective PR, with contests, giveaways and unusual surveys providing good ammunition. Charitable giveaways and contributions – though unlikely to satisfy much of the criteria outlined above – are a great way of garnering press coverage as they come with a high level of human interest. I can imagine a story like ‘company x goes naked in the office for charity!’ being picked up local papers, regardless of the industry they operate in. My company partnered with The Lad Bible – an immensely popular viral media platform for young males – to offer a Christmas Giveaway. The promotion was endorsed by two models, giving us great brand visibility, 237 comments on the promotion page, and multiple social shares.

My more formal PR campaigns revolve around construing original data because it’s the backbone of factual reporting and credible journalism. If you run a website with a modicum of traffic, you can harvest your own data by launching a poll. YouGov is the most credible, external provider of survey data, whereas Google Consumer Surveys offer a cheap alternative if you’re a start-up with a limited budget.

Given the social stigma attached to the activity, gambling is a notoriously difficult niche for natural link building. But on behalf of, I executed a PR examining gender gambling habits with the headline, “Women spend longer gambling, but lose less than men.” It sourced authentic data from the website’s traffic and attached an accompanying infographic (essential given that 65% of the population are visual learners). Any PR that tackles gender or age, and the associated stereotypes attached to them, is likely to gain traction.

Step Two: Content Creation


Regardless of whether your PR’s based on a video, survey or infographic, you need to create a credible source of information on your company website. This is your linkable asset where journalists are going to look to validate your story. If a survey is the source for your PR, I recommend building a Wiki style page where you break down cross sectional data into relevant sub sections, meaning journalists can skip seamlessly to the relevant parts. This means you can go for an lengthy whitepaper format while keeping it digestible.

The press release itself should contain an irresistible headline, contextual information (why is it relevant?) and a detailed explanation of the event, product or data. A company logo helps cement credibility and brand awareness, and contact information shows your willingness to forge a professional relationship. Roger Wu offers sound advice on how to amplify your content and create the perfect press release.

Step Three: Outreach & Distribution


There are two options for distribution; manual or automated. Automated services such as PR Newswire are popular, but at $5,000 for a yearly subscription and up to $300 for a single release, it’s expensive. However, scraping websites for contact information and trawling Twitter and Google news for journalists is very time consuming.

I opt for a compromise. For $99 per month, provides a database of journalists – who you can target through keyword searches – complete with full contact information. Though it’s not a distribution tool, I can download contact details into a CSV file ready for email outreach. The advantage of email outreach is that I can personalise the body of email to build rapport with the journalist. I can explain the relevance of my PR to their publication and comment positively on their previous work.

Jess Champion from Distilled espouses a slightly different approach: she suggests contacting journalists before your story goes live to pique their interest and make them feel like they are getting the scoop.

Step Four: Reinforcement


Let’s assume your PR has been submitted, and you’re starting to accrue natural links. This is where you can introduce a guest posting element to maximise campaign effectiveness. Take the subject of your PR and draw up a portfolio of satellite articles around it to disseminate to relevant websites (my Moz post discusses these outreach strategies at length). These need only be short and snappy – circa 500 words – but they should incorporate different headlines and angles so your PR cuts through several industries.

I’m in the process of conducting a survey which asks 1,000 Brits, “What would be the main reason for you to visit Las Vegas?” Although I’m primarily targeting gambling and Vegas related publications, the survey’s cross sectional data relating to gender, age and region means it appeals to travel blogs and local newspapers.

The other part of ‘reinforcement’ is tedious but necessary. Several publications will cite your brand name as the source of the information, but fail to include an actual link. In this case, politely ask the editor to insert a link, reminding them its correct journalistic practice and worthwhile to aid reader understanding. You can always add a sweetener – promise you’ll promote the article in your social media circles. That said, be careful chasing authority publications like The Guardian and The BBC up for a link – be happy for the brand visibility and the foot in the door for future press releases and linking opportunities! It’s well known that some publications like The Mail Online simply do not link out.

Step Five: Measuring Success


Measuring the ROI of your PR campaigns is not easy, as there are several ‘intangibles’ which can’t really be quantified. A PR campaign will gain you links and referral traffic (which may or may not convert depending on your market), but it will also generate a social media buzz and brand awareness.

To measure ROI purely from a link building perspective, you can deploy the following formula (alternative ones are listed here):

Cost of creation (i.e. writing resources and survey tools) + cost of distribution (IF you use a PR tool) + cost of link builder (his/her salary per hour) / number of links obtained.

This gives you an average cost per link. In my experience of the gambling and finance niches, companies continue to violate Google’s Quality Guidelines by paying upwards of $150 for a link. The benefit of PR is that you can easily gain 10-15 + natural links through a domino effect – one authority site picks up your story, and over the following weeks a number of others follow suit.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Sam Miranda

Sam works as a content strategist for a network of gaming websites. In his spare time, he blogs for several business and marketing publications such as Moz, Search Engine Journal and GrowthBusiness. Follow him on Twitter.

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