Where Link Building and PR Collide

We all know the importance of PR and especially digital PR. And similarly, the importance of SEO and more specifically, the role link building plays within SEO.

Now, there are a lot of agencies doing PR. And there are also many link building services out there (such as my own agency, The Links Guy).

But what people often fail to put together is how PR and link building can work in synergy. They are 2 different services, but the longer I’ve been doing link building campaigns – the more I’ve realized these similarities and how if you want to maximize your success, you need to take the best bits from both skill sets!

The Good and The Bad

PR, when it’s done correctly, is great for building brand awareness, the ethos of the brand and is responsible for the perception of a brand.

Where PR does sometimes fall down – is being able to measure the true impact of a campaign. (And metrics like AVE don’t count, unfortunately!) And the main goal of PR tends to be to just get as much coverage as possible. Within that though, you will get some links. But there’s only the potential to get links – rather than it being an integral part of the campaign.

With link building, its strength lies in being able to tie in well with good on-page and technical SEO, allowing you to improve rankings for specific keywords and drive organic search traffic. Therefore, you’re more able to measure success with KPIs surrounding traffic and search engine rankings.

Where the issue lies with most link building services, is that there are most SEO professionals who are inevitably only thinking about the technical aspects of SEO and are chasing something called “link equity” (or link juice as its sometimes known).

Link equity is a search engine ranking factor based on the idea that links have value and can pass authority onto the site being linked to. And many mistakenly base this link equity only on metrics like Domain Authority (DA) or Domain Rating (DR) –  which like AVE, mean nothing in isolation. So much so, that they become the primary focus of the campaign, often at the expense of trying to build links that are relevant and which have the ability to drive relevant referral traffic as well. 

How Link Building Can Learn From PR and Vice Versa

If you really want to ramp up your success  – and look beyond just building links to get links or doing PR to get coverage, the following are areas where the 2 skill sets converge. 

Being creative with niches

Here’s where I think link builders excel, and that’s in thinking out of the box with the niches and target sites to reach out to. After all, getting brand coverage on the Sun or The Daily Mail, may look good on paper, and from a link building perspective, they are very high authority and have a lot of traffic. But is the audience of the site you’re getting coverage on, in line with the target audience you’re trying to reach? That’s where you need to be imaginative and start doing research into where your target audience is, and where you think you’ll stand the best chance of driving visitors through and converting into sales (which is the whole point of getting traffic!)

So as an example, when working on a campaign with a supply chain & logistics company, rather than just go for huge news sites or tech publications like TechCrunch – we started to experiment and reach out to companies that ran blogs and online publications in the same sector – such as supply chain associations, retail news/retail associations, and training providers in these sectors. While the sites are (in comparison to large news sites) on the small side in terms of traffic – the coverage we would get would be very much in line with the audience we are trying to get in front of and more likely to convert into enquiries. 

Creating the content angles

In addition though, once we do agree on coverage with these sites,  we need to have the right angle and make sure that the ideas we have are going to hit the right mark. Anything too advertorial or too brand-centric may not work and you will often have to be a bit more subtle, so this is where the “PR approach” is needed with your content.

Some approaches you can take:

  • Think about what’s trending in the news or in that industry, and create something that piggybacks off that trend.
  • Is there something that your company/brand does or is doing, that is going to interest the audience?
  • Is there a seasonal event or an upcoming theme you can create a content angle around? These types of ideas can be planned out in advance. 

Maximising the SEO impact of your coverage

Once you have an idea of your target sites and what your angle is, this is where you need to put your SEO & link building hat on.

  • Are there any keywords you can incorporate on the page in order for the post or press release itself to rank? If a journalist/writer from the target site is writing the article themselves you may have less control over this, but going for a specific topic can mean you’ll rank the piece for specific terms and drive some organic search traffic as well.

    Here’s an example of an article we landed for a client on The Metro, where we got coverage and a link which drove several thousand visitors in referral traffic. But in addition, even once the initial coverage subsided, the article itself also ranks for its own keywords and drives even organic search traffic on an ongoing basis (At time of writing it receives around 700 visitors a month according to Ahrefs.)


  • If you have a specific product or service page which you’re trying to drive traffic to and improve organic rankings for, try to get it incorporated in the articles you’re doing. You may not be able to control the exact anchor text as publishers often won’t do that as it can look a bit unnatural and disturb the flow of the text. But if you want to be a bit sneaky, use a keyword or associated term very close to the anchor text. This can act as a small signal to influence rankings for that keyword. 
  • And if you can’t get a link to the product page and have to settle for a link going to one of your blog posts, make sure you have good internal linking, and that the blog post links to your product page. Some authority will pass through to the product page. 
  • Lastly, are you even going to get a link? Especially if its a large publication who does not always hand links out, or if its a publication that doesn’t tend to have many guest contributors, it’s always worth asking specifically.We had a massive article on a huge male lifestyle site which was getting us thousands of social shares within a few days… but no link! So I reached out to a specific senior editor, as the journalist wasn’t being responsive, and may not have had the authority to insert links after publishing. We sent this very simple email:

And thankfully we got a link! Here was her reply

Email delivery and performance

You can have an exact publication in mind, and have a good content piece or a super-creative news angle – but trying to get hold of someone and showing them, isn’t always that easy!

Sure, making phone calls and getting out and about is the way a traditional PR would do things. But we’re operating in the digital world and we need to be more efficient with our time and need to be able to scale things up. So we need to have a streamlined and systemized way of getting in front of people – which is something you have to get used to when you’re a link builder!

So, first up is follow-ups. I like to follow up with a contact 3 times – after a few days, after 1 week and then after 4 weeks (as long as its not a time-sensitive story/content idea). If they respond and they’re definitely not interested, thank them for their time and move on.

Just bear in mind, there is going to be a point where it goes from politely following up in case they missed your email  – to being a complete nuisance! So be sensible about this.

You do also want to consider the timing of your emails and when you’re most likely to get a response. I don’t send any emails on a Saturday for obvious reasons. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to get a reply, it’s just that in my own experience, reply rates are lower. I personally find Tuesdays and Thursdays the best days, but make sure you test how your own emails perform (more on this later.)

There are a lot of theories and tests out there trying to figure out the best time and the best day  – but the reality is there may be no “magic” time to send it. This guide can give you a good general rule of thumb to follow through. Just remember to take into account the industry you’re working with, or the kind of companies you’re reaching out  – this is especially important when it comes to PR. For instance, we worked with one client who was also a celebrity entertainer and experimented with sending emails out to specific contacts in the nightlife industry to see if we can get some very exclusive gigs booked at high-end venues. Our strategy here was to actually send them out on a Saturday because this is where they are actually most likely to be in “work mode” and actively on the phone, answering emails as its the busiest time for that industry. And that’s what happened! As you can see from this email from someone at SBE, I got a response around Sunday 7.30 am UK time (which is like 11.30 pm LA time) and got into a conversation with a couple of the guys there to book a performance there in LA.



Moving onto assessing the performance of your emails, I like to send emails using tools like Mailshake or Buzzstream. The reason being I can then track how many opens and reply rates I’m getting. That gives me a gauge of whether my templates are working. If the subject lines are working and I can also split test 2 emails against each other to see how they compare.



So if opens aren’t what I hoped, it means the subject line needs work. If reply rates are low, but opens are high, it means there’s obviously something in the body that needs work, or the email just isn’t congruent enough with the subject line – hint: try not to create subject lines that are too “click baitey”.

The art of creating subject lines is too long to go into detail in this article, but here’s a great guide you can use.

Conclusion

So as you can see, while digital PR has its own merits and can really help a company drive massive brand awareness  – link building, and the nuances around how many link builders work and the more technically minded, SEO approach – also has its strengths.

The more these 2 skills get intertwined, the more that PRs need to learn from link builders and vice versa. Use the best of both, keep your creative hat on when it comes to creating content ideas – whether its “newsjacking” or releasing the results of a survey. But dip into your SEO arsenal and think about the keywords you’ll be using, making sure you get a link and being very strategic about where you point that link

Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash