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Gisele Navarro

Operations Director at NeoMam Studios

A short disclaimer before we get started: There’s a big fat chance that I’ve added “digital PR” as a skill on LinkedIn or that I’ve used it when writing my bio for a site. The reason why I’ve used “digital PR” is because “digital PR” has become a keyword that people use when they are searching for link builders who can get links from big media sites. And I am one of those people.
Okay, let’s do this.

A couple of months ago Danny asked me to write an article about digital PR so that we could rank for the term.

After researching what content already exists about the topic, I realised that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation around the relationship between PR, digital PR and SEO, more specifically between digital PR and link building.

If you google ‘what is PR’ you’ll learn that:

“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. It looks after reputation, with the aim of earning support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish goodwill between an organisation and its publics.”

If you google ‘what is link building’ you’ll read multiple rewrites of the same thing:

“Link building is the process of getting other websites to link back to your website.”

And if you google ‘what is digital PR’ you’ll find definitions that are less straightforward:

“Sometimes called link building, digital PR involves creating content with a unique hook and outreaching to journalists in order to get link. It sits where public relations and SEO blend into one another.”

“Digital PR centres around people and how you can make them feel something. Examples of this include shocking statistics, fun quizzes and stories on current topics that will help, inform or entertain your consumers.”

“Digital PR is essential to business growth if you’re looking to attract new customers, raise your company’s profile or increase your organic search ranking on Google.”

So, is digital PR a type of link building with content that can help you tackle both your SEO and PR goals at the same time?

Let’s talk.

What you need to know about building links with content

Did you notice that the number of surveys that REVEAL stuff has gone up by the hundreds in recent years? Or that suddenly many newspapers started pushing brain teasers with headlines asking if you can spot [enter whatever random / seasonal thing here]?

digital pr survey quiz

Surveys and brainteasers are the new infographics. They can have a fast turnaround in terms of production so if you have a juicy budget, then you can pump out a bunch of those a month.

Pair one of these babies with a shocking or seasonal topic, a press release and a subscription to a newswire service and, baby, you’ve got some newspapers covering your stuff. That’s you doing digital PR, the late 2010s way.

Well, of course, there’s more to it than that:

There’s the publicly available data angle, the interactive angle, the re-imagined angle, the map angle, the most Instagrammed angle, the crowdsourced photos/drawings/stories angle, and so many others.

Some are cheaper to produce than others. Some will resonate better with certain publishers. Some will become an asset on your site that continues to build links over time. Some are harder to pull off.

But all in all, these are all ways in which people like me manage to build big links that seemed to be unattainable 10 years ago when we were all publishing spun articles on EzineArticles.

Here’s the thing though:

You can’t get too picky with your links when you’re casting a big net in order to land as much coverage as possible in a short period of time.

You will get nofollow links in the mix. You will get mentions without a link. You will get reposts. You will get syndicated articles. You will get low authority (and sometimes malware-riddled) scrapers. You will get Tumblr, Blogpost and WordPress posts. You will also get people writing about your content (or your business) and saying that it’s absolute crap.

You will get everything and anything because we’re talking about the Internet here and when the Internet takes over, you lose all control.

This is the dream of an SEO team who wants to create content that keeps attracting links way after the outreach has stopped – that is, of course, as long as they are after organic links and are happy with a mix of authority metrics, types of sites, follow/nofollow, ccTLDs, anchor texts, etc etc etc.

It is also the nightmare of a PR team who wants to control the conversation that is being brewed on the Internet concerning their brand.

So, the idea of digital PR being this prodigal child of SEO and PR is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.

We’re talking about two different practices with different places within the organisation.

I can hear you arguing with me right now, saying stuff like “that’s an old fashioned way of looking at it, the world has moved on, SEO and PR are two sides of the same coin, it’s all about positioning a business in front of their potential customers.”

Step away from the keyboard and join me on a little exercise so I can show you what I mean:

Imagine that tomorrow a bunch of social media pros start talking about Audience First SEO and they go all out proposing big changes to the way we’ve been looking at site structure. They explain that they truly understand how people interact with businesses online thanks to their years of experience developing social media audiences. They say that Audience First SEO sits where social media marketing and search marketing blend into one another.

That’s us saying we are some sort of journalist whisperer PR messiah that has come to save the World Wide Web from all those unlinked brand mentions while increasing brand awareness, boosting reputation, attracting investors and influencing purchases – all this whilst growing organic search traffic.

Someone has to say it: most of us digital PR types are here for the high-authority links.

If we were to be aiming at boosting reputation, we wouldn’t be fighting with a journalist on Twitter because she didn’t hyperlink a brand mention.

digital PR for links

Yes, you can build links with content. Yes, there are certain types of content that are of interest to big media sites (particularly those who are trying to improve their Chartbeat numbers). Yes, there’s a specific skill set required when you’re pitching stories to journalists.

But no, a digital PR campaign is not a 2 for 1 combo of SEO and PR.

Should you be investing in fancy link building digital PR too?

Even though ‘digital PR’ and ‘link building’ are used freely as synonyms at times, they are not interchangeable practices. Digital PR is just a tactic whereas link building is a critical part of SEO.

Not every business needs to run digital PR campaigns the same way not every business needs a Snapchat account.

If you’re holding top positions for insanely competitive keywords or are trying to rank a site in a highly competitive space, building links from top tier media sites with content can be exactly what you need.

If you’re doing all sorts of link building, including perhaps more aggressive tactics, then incorporating a layer of digital PR can help add more legitimacy to all links.

If you generate tons of data that journalists like to cover often (for example, sports tickets data), then regular digital PR campaigns can be a fantastic tactic for building hard-to-get media links.

But if you are a small business owner whose major competitors are other local businesses and who has a limited budget, then there’s other things you can do to push your bottom line before you even consider digital PR campaigns.

This high-end link building won’t make sense for you because it requires you to invest a lot of time and money, whether you’re doing it yourself or you’re hiring somebody else to do it for you.

According to this survey, content marketing agencies that will launch two to four digital PR campaigns for your business will charge you between $10,000 to $50,000 per month, which amounts to $120,000 to $600,000 a year. And that was back in 2016, I know prices have increased since then.

Before you invest in any expensive digital PR campaigns:

1. Claim your Google My Business listing (or create one) and get your customers to review your business.

2. Make sure you’ve fixed any problems with your website’s copy, usability and design that might be preventing you from generating business once traffic lands on your site.

3. Have a clear technical SEO strategy in place, from target keywords all the way to information architecture.

4. Explore other link building tactics that require a lower level of investment on your end.

Here’s a few good places where you can read more about some of this stuff:

– Local SEO: A Simple (But Complete) Guide

– Website review: Interactive Checklist for Small Businesses

– Keyword research: How To Do Keyword Research for SEO

– Site structure: How to Structure Your Site’s Navigation for SEO and UX

– Content marketing: How We Scaled a Startup from 0 Organic Traffic to 100,000 Visitors/Mo (In About One Year)

– Link building basics: How to Train a Link Builder in 5 Days

What are the alternatives to building links the digital PR way?

link building meme

Digital PR campaigns are not the only way you can build links to your site.

Remember that ‘digital PR’ and ‘link building’ are not interchangeable terms: one is a tactic and the other one is a critical part of SEO.

And it might not be the best tactic to use depending on your business, your industry and your strategy.

Could you build links with a survey that you distribute to the media? Absolutely! But you could also end up with a bunch of missed opportunities unlinked brand mentions. And as far as we know, unlinked brand mentions are not as crucial to ranking a website as links are.

Digital PR is a premium service so if your main goal is to build backlinks, then you might as well explore other possibilities that could be better suited for what you need and what you’re able to afford:

Want highly relevant links? Not too fussed about reaching big media sites? Got the capabilities to create in-depth content? Got time to build links over a long period of time?

Consider targeting links and resource pages relevant to your industry. Here’s a guide with more info. And if you want to take this to the next level, you should read about Backlinko’s Skyscraper Technique.

Got no budget to create new content? Can spend time digging through the internet and sending emails?

You can identify pages with broken links that could link to your website (and the content you already have) and ask the webmaster if that broken link could be replaced with a link to your site. If you have $67 available, get a starter subscription to Broken Link Builder. If you have a subscription to Ahrefs, you will find this guide handy. If you can’t spend a dime, then follow this process.

Alternatively, if your business has been going on for a while and you’ve accumulated unlinked brand mentions over the years, then it might be time to go ask for those links. Here’s a guide on link reclamation that will come in handy. Or you can follow this other guide if those unlinked brand mentions are connected to content promotion campaigns that failed to deliver on links.

Want to build links you can control within a short period of time? Have the expertise and background to add value to the conversation in your industry? Fancy writing?

You can give guest blogging a try and start putting all that industry knowledge (and spare time) to good use. Get in touch with blogs and publications in your sector that are open to guest writers and pitch them ideas for articles you could provide – you’ll be able to add a link back to your site and you’ll get to pick everything about it.

Got no budget, no time to create new content and nobody who can sit in front of the computer trying to build some links?

Got a blog? Create an RSS feed for your blog, make sure every post includes an internal link to a page on your site and wait for scrapers to steal your content. Add five minutes on top of that and submit your new feed to RSS directories for more links. Add fifteen more minutes and syndicate your articles to Medium, BlogLovin, and LinkedIn Articles, and if it fits you can also consider GrowthHackers, Biz Sugar and Business2Community – here’s some best practices when republishing content on other platforms.

No blog? Make sure all your social media profiles include a link to your site + Submit your site to relevant, high quality directories that get indexed + Create a Crunchbase profile and a Yell listing for your company + Check if any of the people you do business with lists their partners/providers/clients on their site (with a link) + Check if people on your team have a blog and would be up for linking to your site when introducing themselves in their About page.

These are just a few things that you can do to build links to your site. There’s plenty other link building tactics, here’s a full list of them.

All this to show you that there’s more to building links than trying to figure out how to get tier-1 media journalists to link to your content.

Things to keep in mind when choosing the digital PR route

If you’re working as part of an in-house team that wants to produce content that attracts big links, put your link builder hat on.

Always try to create an asset on your site that will generate links over time. There is a place for surveys and seasonal content but don’t get too caught up with quick surveys on trendy topics that will grow old in a week or highly seasonal ideas that offer only one opportunity per year to get you some links.

Now, if you do create seasonal content, aim at producing pieces that can be updated year on year so you can build links over time as you release and re-release the content.

Also, be patient and keep trying.

The reason why so many people say that “with content sometimes you get links and sometimes you don’t” is that this stuff is hard and it takes a lot of experience till you get to a point where you’re consistent with it. The good news is that all that effort is well worth it as this is one of the most creatively stimulating ways in which you can build links back to a website.

If you’re hiring an agency or a consultant to generate digital PR campaigns with the goal of building links, then measure links and don’t get sucked in with PR metrics and goals.

Every time you sign off on a content idea or sit down to review a report, remember that digital PR is the tactic you’re choosing for attracting hard-to-get links back to your site.

Don’t let your budget go to die in a brand awareness exercise that doesn’t deliver on links – hire a PR agency or consultant to do stuff like that for your business.

Why am I shooting down the digital PR dream?

digital PR SEO dream

I choose to build links with content.

I’ve built all the other links and I pick this tactic because I find it continually challenging and more fun, it aligns well with what I’m good at and what I enjoy doing.

I’ve had discussions about whether or not this thing I do should be part of link building efforts. I’ve been told that building this type of links is useless in the great scheme of SEO – I’m talking about links that don’t point to money pages, are not always follow links, are not exclusively from hand-picked ccTLDs, are not always added above the fold, are not hyperlinked with specified anchor texts, are not coming exclusively from entirely relevant industry sites, etc.

And I get it. When you get burned with content-for-links, you regret it big time because it’s very likely that it was an expensive burn.

You trusted in digital PR. You were promised the sky and you put all your budget into it. At the end of the campaign, you received a report with a handful of okay links and a few unlinked brand mentions on sites you recognise. There were also some scrapers and syndicated articles in there that were not even indexed. As soon as the report reached your hands, the links stopped coming and you were left with a fancy looking page on your site with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t align with your business, and over time even the link count went down. That’s your budget for the year gone.

Of course, the above is the worst case scenario.

Building links with content, the digital PR way, doesn’t have to be disappointing and useless but it can be if it doesn’t make sense for your business.

All those articles, webinars, YouTube videos, podcasts, conference talks and social media posts out there that are referring to link building and digital PR as interchangeable terms are not giving you the full picture.

I hope this article helped you decide whether digital PR is a link building tactic that aligns with your business, your budget and more importantly, your SEO goals.

Ps. I’m sorry, Danny, I know this probably wasn’t what you had in mind when you asked me to write a blog post about digital PR.

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