By William Furney, PR & content strategist, Reachology
To link or not to link – that is the question, and should a digital PR agency chase?
One of the main differences between traditional and digital PR is that, with the latter, often there are links involved — and they can have a major impact on a company and their website’s fortunes.
That’s because links are still seen by Google as one of the main ways to determine which websites are authoritative and worthy of returning high up in results pages, and which are low-quality and not worth ranking. The idea behind it is websites link to others, in their articles and blog posts, to provide facts and information that back up what they say — a kind of journalistic credibility and additional reading for visitors. These external links are an element of the sort of quality content that Google insists on.
Along with all the coverage online, a good digital PR agency also offers the tantalising prospect of links in top-tier publications. These are the kind of connections that marketers drool over, and they’re also the gold-dust type that money cannot buy — because they’re, generally, not for sale. It’s called earned link building, and it works when you devise a killer digital PR strategy that lands heaps of exposure, and hopefully links, in major online media.
But what happens when that story you’ve spent weeks or even months working on lands in The Times, Guardian or other top newspapers – their web versions – and there’s no sign of a link? And your client is asking why not, and demanding you ask the digital paper to put one in? It’s the bane of many a PR, and a journalist, and can lead to an immense amount of frustration, on both sides.
Dear journalist, can you please link my client?
There’s no harm in asking, right? That’s certainly our view here at Reachology, and we know many other digital PR agencies feel the same. So when we see campaign coverage across an array of websites, and some don’t have links to our client, we just go ahead and ask the writer, or editor, if they wouldn’t mind including one – for the benefit of their readers, and, obviously, us.
We especially do this if we’ve generated data, by commissioning a survey on a particular topic, and subsequently write a press release announcing the key findings. Often the figures will be published in a client blog or elsewhere on their site, and we see no harm at all in asking a journalist who wrote a piece based on our efforts to link to the data. This provides the source of their article and therefore credibility to their piece, and is particularly important in a time of media agendas and fake news.
So what happens, and what kind of reaction do we typically get? It varies. Some journalists will happily add a client link, while others may be less amenable and say they “don’t link to commercial entities” – as if a company (of which they are part) was some kind of dirty enterprise that muddied their pristine editorial endeavours. They’re happy to take our hard-won work for free – just don’t ask them to give you anything in return.
Are mentions just as valuable as links?
Why are so many of us getting all het up about links anyway? Doesn’t a mere mention of a company or its brand rate at all? It may surprise you to know that Google says yes. Mentions of a brand online without a link are known as implied links, or non-linking citations, and back in 2014 were believed to be the future of link-building and search engine optimisation (SEO) – a forecast built on a patent Google filed in 2012 about ranking search results.
So it turns out that the more a brand is mentioned online, the more Google takes notice – even without links – and therefore ranks it higher. Just as links between websites are indications of authority and trust, mentions of a brand or company demonstrate a buzz that shows they’re being talked about, and are becoming increasingly popular, for a reason that must (although not always, as in the case of a crisis) be positive.
For us, and most of our clients, a blend of links and mentions is the way to go. But, as we said, we will usually always ask digital publications to add a link to a client article we were responsible for – sometimes clients will even chase us and request we do so.
As an example of how instantly valuable a mention can be, compared to a backlink, one of our clients was recently featured in The Telegraph (UK), with a mention and not a link. Straight away, Google Analytics showed a marked spike in traffic, and one of the directors told us they had experienced an uptick in sales at the same time. We had landed coverage for the client in The Independent just before that, with links to their site, but there was no noticeable increase in site visitors or sales; but with the online paper’s high domain authority, the client will, over the long-term, benefit from a boost in their SEO and visibility.
Links, publications and best PR practices
Let’s leave the final word on PR and chasing links to Jon Gerlis, public relations and policy manager at the UK-based Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
“Including links is at the discretion of a publication and a good media relations strategy should reveal this in advance and will help manage client and organisation expectations,” he told us.
“Even if publications do provide links, PR practitioners should consider what value they add to the reader experience and the story. A good approach is to consider links as a ‘nice to have’ – not something that should be relied on.”
We certainly agree.
Looking for a mix of top-tier links and equally valuable mentions for your company and its brands? We invite you to talk to the digital PR experts at Reachology, by booking a free initial consultation now.