What is Digital PR?
This article was last updated in February 2021 after Google’s John Mueller publicly stated that he thought it was a pity that digital PR often gets bucketed with spammy link building.
A couple of years ago Danny asked me to write an article about digital PR so that we could rank for the term, following the advice of a tech SEO guy.
I didn’t know what to write about so I went online and read everything already ranking for ‘digital PR’ to find out if there was anything I could contribute to the conversation.
At the time, most articles basically stated that digital PR was link building with content aimed at journalists. And there were also other words that would pop up consistently such as data-led, quizzes, hooks, buzz, social, SEO, brand, sales, and of course, public relations.
Most of these articles presented digital PR as a must for every business that was serious about being a business.
As a business owner myself, reading that made me want to write an anti-article aimed at the small business owners out there trying to figure out whether digital PR was right for them.
I wanted to be blunt and show that there is more to consider before investing in a new shiny thing.
Now, here’s the thing:
Digital PR done right can be awesome. It can tell the story of a business, help spread a message, build authority, connect with an audience, improve a brand’s reputation, make a product desirable, attract hard-to-get editorial links.
The same can be said for great social media management. Or great advertising. Or great content. Or a great website.
But digital PR can come with a hefty price tag too, and those few thousand dollars might not seem much to some but they can make a big difference to a small business.
And as with everything, unfortunately there are plenty of snake oil salesmen out there benefiting from the hype.
Things You Can Do for Your Business Before Hiring a Digital PR Agency
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:
1. If you haven’t yet, take control of your business. A repeatable process, employees that act like owners and accurately forecasting revenue can be a key to consistency and growth. Read The E-Myth Revisited, The Great Game of Business and Traction.
3. Make your business an active member of your community. Build relationships with other organisations, support local initiatives and groups, take part in events.
4. Do your research to identify the keywords customers are using to find businesses/services/products like yours + ensure your site’s content has includes those keywords AND has been written with people in mind.
5. Connect your site to Google Search Console and check if there are any indexing or technical issues getting in the way of your site ranking on Google. Make sure to keep checking GSC to understand how people interact with your site and find opportunities to capitalise on what’s working and fix what isn’t.
Lastly, you can explore link building tactics that require a low level of investment on your end but that can help build your site’s authority.
How to Build Links Without Hiring a Digital PR Firm
If you are reading this article while researching ways to build links back to your site, you’ll be glad to learn that there are different tactics you can choose from depending on your situation.
Got no budget, no time to create new content and nobody on your team who can help?
• Make sure all your social media profiles include a link to your site.
• Find and claim your business on Yelp.
• Sign up for a Yell/YP listing.
• Create a Crunchbase profile.
• Submit your site to industry-specific and local directories that get indexed.
• Find out if any of the people you do business with lists their partners/providers/clients on their website (with a link). Tip: Keep an eye out for testimonials or case studies they might be featuring on their site – a quick email with your experience would be all that you’ll need.
• 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.
• Fix any broken backlinks coming to your site and find opportunities to boost key pages with internal links. Here’s some tips on how to do both.
Got a company news section on your site? Or maybe a blog?
• Create an RSS feed, make sure every post includes an internal link to a page on your site and wait for scrapers to steal your content.
• Submit your news feed to RSS directories for more links.
• Syndicate your articles to Medium, BlogLovin, and your LinkedIn – and if it fits you can also consider GrowthHackers, Biz Sugar and Business Community. Follow these best practices when republishing content on other platforms.
Got no budget or interest in creating content? Can someone on your team 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 reach out to see if that broken link could be replaced with a link to your site. If you use Ahrefs, you will find this guide handy. If you can’t spend a dime, then follow this process.
• 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.
• Is your business on Twitter? Follow #journorequest, the hashtag used by journalists and writers looking for sources for their upcoming articles. Read this article with more info and tips.
Got the capabilities to create linkable assets for your site?
• 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 and pitch them ideas for articles you could provide. Tip: This is a must-watch video if you want to try this.
• Do keyword research to determine if there’s any type of stats your customers, or people in your industry, may be looking for. Compile them all into a page and keep the page updated as new stats come in. Here’s a good resource on this approach.
• Identify problems your audience suffers from and develop content that provides solutions. Read this guide to get started.
• If you want to explore other opportunities for producing and promoting link-worthy content, I’d recommend you to read these dos and don’ts before you start with your brainstorming.
Investing in developing these skills internally can pay off in the long run. Year after year, I’m pleasantly surprised to see the outstanding results achieved by in-house teams.
And it all starts with the one thing you can’t help but to do all day: thinking about your business.
From where I see it, there’s a part of the digital PR industry that is just rebranding link building.
Link building is still being pushed around and deemed immoral/deceitful, but the reality is that hundreds of link builders have been creating link-worthy content and promoting it by approaching big media sites for many years.
NeoMam is 10 years old so this “content-led” approach to securing editorial links that drive traffic, boost social media engagement and increase search visibility has been in place for at least that long.
Not all link building is bad the same way not all digital PR is good. Spammy people are going to spam.
The surest way to guarantee that your business won’t be tied to irrelevant content, poor outreach practices and undercover link buying is to hold the work/results you’re receiving to the same high standards you hold anything else in your organization.
Don’t put all your money and your trust on something just because of a tweet you saw or a newsletter you received.
Not every business needs to run digital PR campaigns the same way not every business needs a weekly podcast. And that’s okay.
All those Twitter threads, articles, service pages, webinars, videos, interviews, conference talks and LinkedIn posts out there that say that digital PR is ‘essential to business growth’ are not giving you the full picture.
You know your business better than anyone else. You are the one who defines what success looks like and what growth means in the context of your business.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are thinking about your business, budget and goals first.
Don’t just blindly adjust the sails of your ship to follow the crowd. Sometimes a promising island is nothing but a mirage.