How to Earn Links by Doing Something Truly Newsworthy via @jeremyknauff
Public relations and link building go together like chocolate and peanut butter. But in order for PR to play an effective role in your link building efforts, it requires the right approach.
That means you need to first have a story that, from the audience’s perspective, is worth telling.
BUT just because you’ve got a great, newsworthy story, it doesn’t mean that you’ll earn links.
In fact, many news publications make it a rule to use the nofollow attribute or even not to link out at all in some cases.
This isn’t a reason to not use this approach though, because coverage in trusted publication, especially one with a large audience, carries value that goes beyond the potential link.
As a result of other people seeing the story there, you may earn valuable links from other publications. And we already know that search engines often ignore the nofollow attribute.
That being said, once you have a newsworthy story, you’ll have to pitch it to the right people at the right time in a way that makes the value to their audience immediately and clearly obvious.
Unfortunately, a lot of people try to take shortcuts here. These shortcuts might include:
- Simply submitting press releases to aggregators like PR Newswire.
- Blasting self-promotional stories to media contacts.
- Indiscriminately pitching media contacts regardless of relevance or lack thereof.
Doing these things will not only ensure that you don’t get any coverage or links, but it will also ensure that your future emails, tweets, and DMs get ignored.
It might even ensure that you get beat like a piñata.
And you’ll deserve all of those things.
OK, so now that we’ve talked about what we should specifically not do, let’s talk about what we should do. This part of the conversation should be a lot more fun. And perhaps less painful.
First, we’ll start by doing something newsworthy.
The first and most important thing you need to know here is that the term “newsworthy” can be both objective and subjective.
So what makes something newsworthy?
The criteria might depend on:
- What’s going on in the current news cycle.
- The publication or the location.
- Being the first, the biggest, or a particularly good or bad story.
In other words, like most things in the SEO world, it depends.
But for the sake of example, some things might include:
Inventing Something Useful and/or Interesting
The iPhone, when it first came out, was a perfect example. Tesla was another.
But you don’t have to invent some cool new high-tech gadgets to leverage this approach.
In fact, your invention can be boring and low-tech provided that it solves a specific problem.
Roof max recently did this when they announced their invention of a solution, that when sprayed on a roof, extends its life.
While inventions like this aren’t generally seen as cool compared to those in the tech world, they are definitely newsworthy because they solve a big problem for a lot of people.
To get the most from this approach, you’ll need to invent something that solves a specific and important problem. Ideally, for a lot of people.
Doing Something That Will Impact a Specific Group
People are tribal. You need to look no further than a typical debate on Facebook to see that.
But this isn’t anything new.
People have this mentality because it has played a critical role in our survival. That makes leveraging tribalism a powerful way to earn media coverage and often, links.
One great example of this is the annual Military Influencers Conference, which gets a ton of media coverage because it provides an opportunity for veterans to network, while both learning from and mentoring, fellow entrepreneurial-minded veterans.
There are several ways to specifically impact a specific group
- Hosting events for a specific group of people.
- Lobbying for or against a particular law.
- Making a sizable contribution to a particular nonprofit organization.
- Launching a nonprofit to serve a specific group.
- Taking political action for a particular cause.
Just know that when you take this approach, you will turn some people off. That’s OK, though, because that’s an important part of building a passionate audience.
Achieving a Significant Milestone
A milestone could be a lot of different things:
- Number of employees.
- The size of a deal.
The thing is, in order for anyone to care, it will have to be something objectively significant.
Like the largest real estate deal ever in your city, the greatest number of people employed in your industry, or the fastest growth in the country.
One example is Sourcetoad, which was recently included on the INC 5,000 list. That’s a significant milestone in and of itself, but the fact that it’s a relatively small local company helps to get local media particularly excited.
The downside to milestones is that they get old pretty quickly.
You can only yammer on about your achievements for so long before people start to tune out. Or worse yet, start to cheer for your failure.
Doing something that’s truly newsworthy isn’t going to happen overnight.
Anything that would warrant positive media coverage will generally require a fair amount of work to achieve. That means weeks, months, or even years of work.
But that’s OK because it also means fewer of your competitors will put forth the effort.
There are also a lot of smaller things you can do in the meantime that can result in publicity, which may lead to links. This might include:
Contributing to Charities
Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?
Just about five years ago, you couldn’t go anywhere on social media without seeing someone dousing themselves with ice water in increasingly ridiculous ways.
The ALS Association used this to generate awareness and encourage donations to help fight ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). This earned them countless media mentions, social posts, and an enviable number of links.
While you may not have the budget, media contacts, or as powerful a story as The ALS Association, you can still leverage an event – physically or digitally – for charity, which you can use for your PR and link building efforts.
The key is to find a charity that you are actually passionate about because there is no faking authenticity.
Next, you’ll need to genuinely help them to raise money and donate money yourself. We talked about authenticity earlier, so you’ll have to put your money where your mouth is.
- Bunker Labs: On a mission to help veteran entrepreneurs
- Local distillery teams up with specialty sauce maker to raise money for tornado relief
- Bay Area celebrities fight lung cancer in the Lip Sync for Lungs Live Battle
Offer a Scholarship
I’ve seen many military organizations do this for children of veterans. But you can offer a charity based on any criteria you want. That might include:
- Family or personal income
- Overcoming challenges (Kids who grew up in the foster system or worked to get out of gang life.)
- Choice of major (Science, engineering, education, etc.)
- Industry (Could be based on the industry they’re leaving, or going into.)
And the scholarship doesn’t have to cover the entire tuition. Personally, I would aim for a few thousand per recipient.
When you offer less, it’s not really going to help anyone and it’s obvious that you’re doing it for self-serving reasons.
- Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s Scholarship Program
- Codeup’s Women in Programming Scholarship
- Mike Rowe Works Foundation’s Work Ethic Scholarship Program
Offer a Special Promotion
This can be created for or tailored to certain groups of people in the same way I described in the section on scholarships.
It’s important to actually provide substantial value here, though.
A mistake I commonly see is offering a trivial discount just to tie the promotion to a particular group, such as veterans, teachers, or law enforcement.
I don’t know about you, but when I see a restaurant offering a 5% discount for veterans, it doesn’t make me say “Oh, they must really love us – look at the discount they’re giving just because I served!”
On the contrary. Even as bad as I am at math, I can immediately see that the discount here is nothing to be impressed by.
If you want to really get people’s attention – and the attention of the media – make a bold offer. Something like “Veterans eat free on Veterans Day!”
That’s the kind of thing that the local, and in some cases, national media love to cover.
And it doesn’t have to be a discount. A promotion can take a variety of forms.
- South Carolina Ford dealer offers car buyers a Bible, a flag and a $400 gun
- Free entry in Brothel to men who have its name tattooed
- Buy a Hyundai car and if you get fired, send it back
Host a Kid-Friendly Event
If you’re a parent, you already understand the madness that comes with Halloween.
Excited kids, revved into a sugar-fueled frenzy by every kind of candy imaginable, are roving the streets in search of even more candy.
Add to that the fact that it’s nighttime and these kids are often wearing masks that make them oblivious to what’s going on around them, and you can see why some parents would love an alternative.
Churches, daycare facilities, and some other local businesses have been known to host a Halloween “trunk or treat” where kids can more safely trick or treat in their parking lot.
These events also typically have bouncy houses, games, and other entertainment to wear the kids out and ensure they have a good time.
It’s important to make sure your business is relevant, or at least appropriate for kids, though.
No matter how pure your intentions might be, holding this type of event in a strip club parking lot probably isn’t going to earn your business any positive media coverage or links.
- Lowry Park Zoo’s Fright-Free Zoo Boo KIDS
- Christmas Town comes to life as Busch Gardens rolls out holiday lights
- Next Level Church to Hold Helicopter-Egg Drop
Let’s Find the Right Outlets
Once you’ve done something newsworthy, the next step is to find and pitch the right people at relevant publications.
“Wait – you mean people aren’t going to sing my praises for my valiant effort?”
In a word, no.
I’m sorry, but 90 times out of 100, no one is paying enough attention to your company to notice anything you’re doing, so it’s up to you to get your story in front of the right people.
That means pitching contributors, editors, producers, and other relevant media contacts.
Everyone wants to be featured in large national media, including news networks like CNN or Fox, or business publications like the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and Business Insider, but that generally isn’t going to happen.
For many businesses, it’s generally going to be more effective to approach smaller publications first. These publications might include:
- Local news publications
- Local blogs
- Industry / trade publications
- Industry blogs
For television and radio, you’ll generally want to pitch your story to the producer – not the anchors or hosts. But it’s important to find the right producer for the program you want to be featured on.
While this information may sometimes be difficult to find, there are a few ways to dig it up.
In some cases, the producer’s name may be mentioned in the program or listed on the website.
In other cases, you may need to fire up a search in Google or LinkedIn. And a third option is to simply call and ask.
It’s often easier to track down a contact at print publications and websites since the editor and contributors are usually listed prominently.
Editors are typically listed at the front of magazines and can be found somewhere on most websites, while contributors’ names, and often contact information, are included right in the article.
Once you know who you need to pitch, you’ll need to craft your message in a way that makes you stand out.
There’s a fairly easy way to stand out:
Care about the audience.
A lot of people make the mistake of pitching their story from their own perspective, rather than from an editor’s, producer’s, or contributor’s perspective, which all come down to the audience’s perspective.
If you put your own needs first, you’re almost certain to be ignored.
On the other hand, if you can demonstrate why their audience would find your story valuable, they’ll be significantly more receptive to your pitch.
You’ll also need to keep your pitch short. Everyone today is busy, and they aren’t going to read a long email from a random stranger.
Skip the fake compliments and elaborate stories about how you stumbled across them. It’s disingenuous and they’ll see right through it.
Instead, explain why your story will appeal to their audience within a few sentences.
Timeframe: This could take just a few hours, or it might take significantly longer. It just depends on how elaborate your plan is. For example, inventing a new product might take years, while offering a scholarship is instantaneous. Then you have to factor in your time to find and pitch the most appropriate people at relevant publications, follow up, and track your results.
Results detected: Links can start to show up immediately, but it may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days for Google to find them. They may begin impacting ranking just as quickly, depending on the topics you want to rank for, and the authority and relevance of the websites the links are on, but in most cases, you should expect to see a lag time of several months.
Average links sent per month: Stories with a niche or regional interest might acquire only a few links, while stories with a broader interest could generate hundreds or even thousands of links. And in some cases, despite your best efforts and a great story, you can still fall flat. That’s just the nature of the beast—you can’t control the news cycle, nor can you control editors, producers, or contributors.
- Google or Bing
- Links will often be from highly-relevant and authoritative sources, making them generally more valuable than links from many other sources. These types of links can have a significant impact on ranking and referral traffic, and they are difficult for your competitors to replicate.
- Publicity is another benefit of this approach. We all know that getting your brand in front of more eyeballs is always a good thing, and this is a great way to do that.
- Since your company will appear in trusted publications, this will also boost your authority, status, and the trust people have in your brand.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
In-Post Image: Modified by author, October 2019