For anyone building links now, the weight of the task couldn’t be clearer. People need them more than before, those looking for links are becoming more choosy and editors/bloggers don’t have enough hours in the day to consider all requests.
Rather than vie for attention against everyone else with content requests I often prefer to start a conversation in a different way – earlier on in the outreach cycle.
Foster the relationship with them and then see if we can work together on some content afterwards.
This technique, which may seem common-sense for some, completely eludes others. To give help steer people in the right direction, here are some of my favourite ways to start the PR/Outreach process.
Why Not Just Ask Them for a Link?
The thought process behind approaching outreach differently is based around campaigns that are in their early stages or for industries which you haven’t worked in before. Many have asked me why I don’t just straight-up contact editors/publications with the content in hand and save some time.
It’s a good point!
In many cases, a great piece of content and a strong pitch should be all you need. But this doesn’t cater for all circumstances.
I like to think of this approach as a way of increasing the likelihood of success for future projects, also by building strong relationships with your key publications/blogs you’re building a future resource that can be particularly fruitful.
A Quick Disclaimer
I don’t want anyone for seeing this as disingenuous, I want people to understand what journalists and bloggers want or need to do their job.
Before you start firing off emails or making calls it’s really crucial to understand this fundamental fact:
- Any exchange you make with a journalist/ or blogger needs to be approached with an appreciation for what’s mutually beneficial.
That’s not to say that you need to be completely altruistic (although a random act of kindness never hurt anyone!), but just understand you can both benefit. If one party feels cheated or wronged, your chances of building a lasting relationship disappears and you potentially lose that resource.
This isn’t rocket science, it doesn’t always guarantee a placement, but it does ensure there’s a healthy respect going on. In my experience, this really does help improve placements!
So here are my methods, I wanted to ensure that where possible I’ve dropped in some examples, but without going into each project in detail so as to leave room for some all-important tips as to getting it right.
1. The Expert Quote Request
We’re starting with a tried and tested method, and to be honest it’s one of my favourites. I know that if you read enough blogs within the digital marketing space you’ll see a range of expert quote blogs, ranging from the mediocre, to the awesome, but their prevalence only highlights their strength.
To keep it really simple, for those who aren’t familiar, this is where you build a piece of content around quotes from authoritative voices within a particular industry. And if you need any more proof here’s a healthy list of reasons why this is worth your time:
1. It Makes for Strong Content – A well-thought question and some industry experts can be a really great resource. It’s also safe to say that if you produce something of merit it also becomes a much easier asset to link to.
2. Engage Other People’s Audiences – By finding 5 or more people who have an existing network within the industry means that the publication and promotion of your content will likely lead to greater exposure. This can amplify your reach dramatically.
3. Builds relationships – Most importantly, this is a great way of building a relationship with an editor or blogger because you’re asking them for something, but for the right reasons – I.e. you want to know their opinion, not because you’re cynically trying to get a link placement.
This method is one of my favourites because it does so many things at once, I’ve gotten client’s regular writing slots at publications and created linkable content that is building authority over time as well as some of the most widely trafficked/shared pieces on their sites.
But just because it can do so much, doesn’t mean that it’s fool-proof.
How to Make Expert Requests Work for You
1. Be credible – A gushy email exclaiming your love for that person isn’t going to cut it – whilst some people are grateful to be asked for their thoughts, if it the ‘expert’ isn’t an expert at all, or has no relevance with the subject they’ll be less happy to give their time.
2. Allow more time than you’d expect – This is quite a time consuming process, finding the right people who will spare a few moments can take time, especially if you’re starting from scratch. But remember, this is an investment, you’re building something greater than the content itself.
3. Do your research – Most experts will be happy to write for brands they’ve not heard of or seen before if they’re confident the end product will be strong. But to get here you’ve really got to do your own research, understand the subject enough so you can engage them on it. This also comes back to the above point of credibility, if you care enough about it to do some leg-work, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
4. Invest in the post-publication promotion – Make an effort to get this in front of other people, put some social budget behind the finished product and let them know you’ve done it. Show them their time wasn’t wasted, and again, show you care about the content.
5. Ensure the relationship doesn’t end once the content is live – This is common-sense really, but follow-up with an email thanking them, share with them some detail about how it’s gone and get some feedback from them.
What you do from here is relatively straightforward if you’ve followed the steps so far. After the expert piece is published approach them with the content you’d like them to feature and engage them in a conversation about it.
Don’t, I repeat, don’t ask for a link straightway, you’re going to come across as insincere and may sabotage the whole thing.
Give it a couple of weeks, wait until you have some content worth their time and then email them with a short pitch. One final tip – reply to the last email you received from them, so they can immediately see who you are, it increases your chances of successful placement dramatically.
2. Ask them for Help
This is a slight variant of the expert comment approach, except that the outputs are pretty different. For me asking a blogger or editor for help can be a really fruitful, not just because of the link potential.
I don’t want to patronise you with a list of questions to ask, but here are some of the things I’ve asked for help on before:
- Feedback on some research findings
- First impressions of infographics
- “Off the record” comment on stories
- Pointers for further research or contact details for people who might be able to help.
Why should this matter to you? Besides the knowledge/information this can provide, you’re also establishing a point of similarity with which to build the relationship off.
As with point #1, when you get back in touch, use the previous email thread to respond to, show there’s some prior-relationship there and most of all – be credible and sympathetic to their needs too.
3. Spot Broken Links
This is possibly one of the oldest tricks in the link building book, but there’s always a great opportunity to be had from helping a journalist or blogger by making their website better for other users.
My angle here is doing a good deed and using this to start a conversation which isn’t you asking them for something on the first email. That said, if you’ve been working in this space for a while and are able to react quickly this is a great opportunity to help them out further – by providing them with some new content (possibly of yours).
I’m not going to labour on the exact process for this from a link building side of things (Neil Patel does a great job here), but again, the most important thing to remember here is that you’re adding value to their site, not cynically poaching for links.
4. Contact Them for Support
I stumbled upon this one a few years ago, but found it was a solid way of starting a conversation which could lead to bigger, better things.
Whilst submitting a client’s site to a curated directory (niche-specific I should add!) I found that the category of submission was wrong. On emailing their support address I received a speedy response saying that they’d corrected the error.
Having seen this I saw an opportunity:
- I Conducted a “site: [keyword]” search of their site to see if the niche my client specialises in was covered.
- Saw the results only returned the forum as having discussed the subject area, but there was no editorial content
- I replied to the technical support email noting the absence of the editorial content, but mentioned the demand on the forums. I was forwarded onto the editor.
- Worked with my client to produce a decent guide which answered the questions on the forums.
- Got the link placement and included on the monthly mail-out to 110k people.
Engineering this approach can be a tricky one, as finding technical issues on a site is hard to predict. But the starting point here is having an “in” – the first point of contact is so important, if you can spot the opportunity and then make good on it, everyone wins.
5. Help a Reporter Out (even if it’s not for a client)
This could be just as easily expressed as doing a random act of kindness, but I like to think of it as helping someone else do their job. Producing a lot of content ourselves and occasionally using journo request hashtags, looking for that quote or anecdote to finish your article off can be tough to find.
If you’re watching hashtags like #journorequest or #prrequest (and it’s worth doing!), take a few moments out and lend a helping hand where possible.
But do this even if there’s no obvious opportunity… yet.
The following example was one I responded to because I had some relevant, recent experience.
I helped give credibility to the journalist’s blog – they were very happy and I’ve asked that we keep in touch if ever our paths should cross again.
To repeat, the golden rule here is to email them from the original chain when you do get in touch, especially as it may be a little longer into the future than other outreach efforts. Even if they don’t remember you, they’ll see you did them a favour in the past and be more receptive.
6. Buy an Editor/Journalist a Beer
This isn’t an alcohol-for-links approach, that in itself could be quite expensive. It’s another way of saying that getting out of your chair and talking to people is a strong way of building relationships.
Find out what they’re struggling with, establish if you can help out, if nothing else, show you mean business and can produce something of value.
But don’t spend all the time telling them how difficult links are to build and how much you need them for your clients. This isn’t about you, this is about understanding them, what they need and what you can do to help out.
7. Engage Them in Conversation (about something they’re passionate about)
So this overlaps with point #2 – quite heavily, except that I felt it deserves its own point, if nothing else because you can really gain some brilliant insight here.
The below example is from some communication I’ve had with a bit of a specialist in a tough niche to seed content in. We were having some doubts with an infographic we were developing about 3/4s of the way through, so I did a mini focus group with some key people.
I was surprised with the response as to how candid they were, but exactly their professionalism and passion for the subject coupled with the fact that they didn’t know me and weren’t that concerned about hurting my feelings meant that we got some pointed feedback that was really, really useful.
Needless to say that if you’re able to keep this kind of relationship open with one or more of the other above methods noted here, it’s not too tough to ensure that you continue to work together in the future.
8. Offer Money
This won’t be surprising to some perhaps, but if you’re willing to pay for some ad space it’s easier to get an editorial opportunity. Believe it or not many smaller publishers/blogs are really grateful for this support, after all, it helps them continue doing their job.
But it’s worth saying, that if it’s beneficial to get some ad-space with a publication do it. Just don’t forget that you’ll have someone at the publication who you can now have a good conversation with about future editorial opportunities.
Don’t be too ruthless striking a deal here though, you’re trying to make friends, not alienate people.
The Golden Rule
You’ll see a certain theme running through this, and it’s based around the simple fact that if you’ve started a conversation in a respectful, well thought-out way, you’ll have a greater chance of working with them in the future.
At its heart, this is just fairly basic people skills, but it’s pretty crucial in helping you further your outreach efforts.
Just whatever you do, once you’ve gotten to the stage where they’re willing to take a look at your content don’t send across something that’s lazy, overly-salesy or poor quality. Any journalist or blogger will have time for a contributor who can provide authoritative, credible content on time.
Rather than spending hours contacting hundreds of editors or bloggers with overly-templated emails this method is about maximising every chance by building them ahead of time.
There are no throw-away emails here and every response you get is a possible opportunity in the future. Stay focused and remember, mutually beneficial relationships in this space win for everyone!