Digital PR is essential within an SEO strategy. There is only so much that can be done on-site, meaning if there isn’t an effective off-site strategy in place, you’re missing out on a massive amount of potential traffic and site authority.
Link building has been a strategy for digital marketers for years. The practice has evolved over time but traditionally involves generating links to your site to increase your site’s authority and improve Google search rankings.
However, digital PR builds strong links and (like traditional PR) builds brand awareness. Digital PR involves creating original, quality content and sending it to media outlets, with yours or your client’s brand being cited as the source of information. We like to refer to it as ‘something a journalist wouldn’t be able to create themselves’, as the stories generally contain lots of data and unique information that can be complex and time-consuming to put together.
What it is and How it Works
In simple terms, digital PR is a marketing strategy used to increase a startup’s online presence. Digital PR/marketing agencies network with journalists, (and sometimes bloggers and influencers too), sending them online press releases to gain high-quality backlinks to improve their Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
When it’s paired with a strong SEO game plan, it is probably more critical than technical SEO (as supported by Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller).
I love some of the things I see from digital pr, it's a shame it often gets bucketed with the spammy kind of link building. It's just as critical as tech SEO, probably more so in many cases.
— 🥔 johnmu (personal) updated for 2022 🥔 (@JohnMu) January 23, 2021
Digital PR Earns the Best Links
This is the exciting part of digital PR, as you have the opportunity to create content that will appear on high-authority websites and be credited to your brand. However, it is important to create newsworthy content to catch the attention of busy journalists. When creating a story is important to think about the following:
‘The pub test’: The classic PR tagline. Is your story something people would discuss in the pub? If not, it’s probably not going to be newsworthy.
Succinct journalist outreach: Whilst it is essential to have a journalist database (we use Cision), it is important to create personalized pitch emails that show you’ve done your research on what the writer covers and what their readers would like.
A good pitch: Research from PR Daily showed that ‘one journalist revealed that they dedicate between 5–10 minutes to scanning their inbox for stories…that means they will eyeball your pitch for about 1 second before they decide whether or not it’s something they want to pick up’ – so it is important to create a subject line (no more than eight words long) and a short email that sums up the key takeaways from the content.
A landing page: This is essential as this is what you want the journalist to link to. This can be anything from relevant and well-designed graphic assets and data visualizations to infographics that show what the campaign is all about.
Quality links vs. Poor Links
Generally, a ‘quality link’ is when your story is published on a trusted website that has a high domain authority* (DA) and the journalist includes an organic follow-link to the relevant landing page.
For example, in this piece of coverage for our client hiyacar on Time Out London (DR 89), the anchor text to the landing page is included on the brand name.
In the past – as the impact of backlinks on a website’s search engine performance became better known – it led to abuses, one of which included paying for links.
As Google’s algorithm uses links as a natural signal, it strictly prohibited ‘paid links’ by developing algorithms with the purpose of identifying websites that utilised unnatural linking practices.
The “Penguin” was released in 2012 and is the most well-known of these algorithms as it greatly altered how digital marketers approached link building.
However, as many digital marketers will know, we are swamped with emails from companies offering ‘100’s of links for £X’ every day, but this should be avoided as the links are easy to be identified and will likely end up having a negative impact overall.
The Story Does Not Have to Directly Correlate to the Brand
The most common mistake with digital PR is the concern that the story doesn’t directly match the brand behind it. However, if the research and content is done to a good standard and it is reliable it will appeal to journalists and gain some great coverage.
For example, our client JustBoilers.com are boiler repair and replacement specialists. We decided that we wanted to make their blog an all-around resource for all things DIY and home improvement with our digital PR campaigns. We then created a campaign: ’What Colour Exterior Paint Is Most Likely To Help Sell A House?’ To do this we looked at online searches for masonry paint and took into account different brands and shades of each colour. We then spoke to an Environmental Psychologist to find out what each house colour means and what we find appealing about each shade.
Making the story about something other than boilers made it more appealing to a wider audience whilst still being about ‘the home’. The story featured on the Scotsman, MSN, Property Investor Today, and many more high authority and relevant publications – all of which included follow links to JustBoilers.com.
It’s Not All About Links
Whilst following links are the main aim of a digital PR campaign, it is also important to take no-follow links and mentions into account.
A brand mention means people reading the piece will still see the name of the brand. While that might not seem as valuable as a link, it still means there’s increased awareness around who you are and you will still be building authority by being mentioned regarding topics you specialize in.
According to Search Engine Land, brand mentions are a signal in Google’s algorithm: “Bing has confirmed that they track unlinked brand mentions and use them as a ranking signal — and a patent by Google (along with observations from many SEO experts) indicates that Google may be doing this as well. As AI begins to play a bigger part in rankings, it’s not unreasonable to expect “linkless” mentions of this type to start playing a bigger role in search rankings. This highlights the importance of being involved in conversations on the web, and the importance of inciting those conversations yourself.”
*Ahrefs definition of DR: “Domain Rating (DR) shows the strength of a referring website’s backlink profile compared to the others in our database on a 100-point scale. It’s essentially a less granular version of Ahrefs Rank (AR).”