SEO is deceiving.
The idea of writing content once and getting boatloads of traffic from it for free sounds enticing. However, few founders & CEOs realize how expensive it is in terms of time and resources.
SEO isn’t difficult from a technical point of view. Sure, you can spend your entire day reading server logs and optimizing crawl budgets, but at its core, it comes down to 3 things:
- Can Google crawl your site?
- Do you have content that satisfies the intent of a specific keyword?
- Are you building links to that content?
It’s more complex than that, but those 3 things are going to take you 80% of the way there.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately simple doesn’t mean easy.
The real roadblock with SEO is processes and resources. To do SEO well, you need consistent access to a range of skills. You need someone to:
- Do the research and strategic work.
- Build or optimize the site from a technical point of view.
- Make sure the site’s UX is good.
- Write and edit interesting content.
- Prospect different link building opportunities.
- Reach out and negotiate link placements.
- Do all of the above over and over again.
The ideal person would need to be a combination of 3 different types of people. A strategic thinker, a creative, and a process-oriented manager. You can find someone who possesses 1 or 2 of these characteristics, but all 3 is hard to find.
And you might be able to go through this process once or twice yourself, but if you’re starting out and haven’t built up a solid bedrock of links, you need to do this consistently.
And that’s the real killer, you need to consistently do something that requires a range of skills. This becomes expensive real fast.
So what can we do about that? How can we start our SEO while still making it somewhat manageable?
The answer is: PR.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at how you can use PR to kickstart your SEO.
Here’s a table of contents if you want to skip around:
- Why PR is a great way to kickstart your SEO
- Starting a PR campaign
Why PR is a great way to kickstart your SEO
Although it sounds like it would be more difficult, getting mentioned in big publications — or writing for them yourself — is a better use of your time when you’re starting out than trying to get links from smaller sites.
With PR, you’re going for quality links, not quantity. In the end, this will save you more time and get your site to improve faster than if you would focus on creating blog content and begging a million bloggers for a link.
These days, the line between link building and PR is quite thin. If you’re going for mentions, it’s almost exactly like it. And if you decide to write for a publication yourself, it’s similar to guest posting. Both require you to reach out to someone and pitch them.
What makes PR different from traditional link building is just the sheer size of the publications you’re pitching.
With link building, you’re pitching sites that are run by a single person or maybe a small team. With PR, a publication has different sections each with its own set of editors that get pitched dozens of times a day.
A second benefit is that it removes some parts of the process. If you’re a more process-oriented person, you can go for press mentions and not worry too much about writing content. If you’re more of a creative, you can focus on writing interesting articles for those publications. Since we’re going to focus on quality instead of quantity, the process becomes more manageable.
A third benefit is a social proof and brand recognition. Being featured on big sites can build trust.
Starting your first PR campaign
Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty aspect of it. Let’s start with who you’re going to target. Instead of just picking random publications, we’re going to be a bit more strategic.
The Dream 100
The dream 100 is a concept created by Chet Holmes, author of “The ultimate sales machine”.
The main concept is simple: Instead of going after everyone, write down the 100 people/publications/buyers that will make the biggest impact on your sales or SEO, and only focus on them until you see results.
For your first PR campaign, write down the 100 publications that would have a disproportionate impact on your results. These could be publications like Mashable, Techcrunch, Fastcompany, etc…
Some of these publications seem unrealistic. That’s a good thing. You’re not going to start out writing for, or being mentioned in, the New York Times, but maybe one day you will.
Don’t limit yourself to big mainstream names though. Just because a publication isn’t well known around the world doesn’t mean you shouldn’t target it. In fact, a smaller publication can be a stepping stone to getting mentions from bigger ones.
For example, Piktochart was founded in 2011 in Malaysia. Since they’re not a Silicon Valley startup, it was hard for them to get the attention of giant publications. Instead, they earned some mentions from Tech in Asia, which helped them get the word out. Eventually, they did end up on the NYT website. Today, they have a site with some serious ranking power.
Once you have your dream 100, you want to start with the smaller publications first before going to the top. Since they’re in your dream 100, you’ll still get a lot of benefits, while making it more likely you’re going to be accepted.
And once you are featured or you wrote a couple of articles you can use those to show bigger publications that you know your stuff.
Finding the right editors
If there’s a surefire way to screw this entire process up, it’s sending generic pitches to editors who don’t care. They’re gatekeepers to the traffic you want, so you have to make sure you make it relevant to them.
A quick way to find the relevant editors is to look at their website and look for a masthead.
This is a list of all the people working for a publication and what they are responsible for. For example, here is the Washington post’s masthead.
Sometimes, though, it’s not as easy as just going to a site and checking the masthead. Some sites don’t put it on their website or they don’t put the different topics next to the different editors. In that case, you’ll have to do some Googling.
Go to Google and use “site:[publication’s website] + [subject]” to find articles on a specific topic. For example: site:washingtonpost.com education.
This gives us a list of Washington Post articles related to education. Open them up and look at who wrote the article. If the author works at (or for) the publications, they’re a good person to contact.
Let’s use our education example again. Opening up the first result gives us an article about education technology. If we check the author, you can see that she’s a reporter covering education and foreign affairs. If you have a startup working on educational tools, she’d definitely be someone to talk to.
Go through this process for your dream 100 and you should have plenty of people to contact.
Most of the time the editors will have their email address in their profile. But if you can’t find it, there are other ways of finding their email address. Here are a couple of ways to find it.
Creating a relationship
Now that you have a list of editors to contact, we need to create a relationship with them first. You don’t need to become their new BFF, you just need to find them on twitter and interact with them. Or if you don’t use twitter, you can send them an email with something they might be interested in.
Editors are under a lot of pressure to write interesting stories all the time, so if you can provide them with the one you’ll be helping them out a lot.
The main idea behind this step is to help them out enough that they recognize your name if it shows up in their inbox. Again, you don’t need to become a family friend, you just want to avoid being a random person in their inbox.
Get to know them a bit, ask them questions, comment on their tweets, and just be a friendly person.
Finding a good angle
Now that you’ve found the right editor and you’ve gotten to know them a bit, it’s time to start creating your pitch.
First, you have to find a good angle you can cover. No matter what the subject is, there are always different angles you can cover. You can cover a subject by using:
- Personal experience (ex: you run a startup around education)
- Data you’ve compiled (ex: email marketing stats)
- A viewpoint that’s somewhat unique (ex: going against the remote working hype)
Out of all the different angles you can use, data is probably the easiest one to pitch because reporters (or you) can reference it in a story and it paints a specific image. For example, these email marketing stats from Mailchimp have been linked to from Forbes, Fastcompany, and the Washington Post. Just make sure the data is good. Otherwise, you’ll embarrass yourself and the editor responsible.
Sending a good pitch
Sending your pitch is where the rubber meets the road, and it’s also one of the trickier aspects.
When you run a fairly large website you might get a couple of emails a day of people asking for a guest post or a link. Big media publications, however, get hundreds.
And 99% of these pitches are bad. Here’s one of the editors from Fastcompany:
So you want to make sure your pitch is that one in a hundred. The question is: how?
Think about a time when your inbox was full and you have to go through all of your emails.
How did you determine what to read and what to skip/delete. The first thing you look at is the subject line.
To write a good subject line, you need some intrigue while still making your intentions clear.
For example: Let’s say you’re Mailchimp and you want to pitch your email marketing statistics page to relevant writers/editors. You could use the subject line that companies are doing email marketing wrong. Or that everyone is measuring the wrong thing.
- [PITCH] Why companies are focusing on the wrong email metrics (new data)
- [PITCH] Why most email marketing campaigns are a waste of time (new data)
- [PITCH] Email marketing stats by industry (new data)
If you’re an editor covering marketing, this has enough intrigue to get you to open your email.
Once you have them open your email, your job is to keep it short and sweet and tell them what’s in it for them. Your email should have the following elements:
- A quick and friendly greeting
- The reason why your pitching (and why they should care)
- A call to action
- A quick thank you
Editors are busy, so chances are you won’t get a reply the first time you send an email. Sometimes, you won’t get an answer the second time either.
Instead of getting discouraged, try to imagine what it would be like to receive dozens of bad pitches every day.
Some people get angry at editors for not replying fast enough, so if you can just be understanding of their situation and gently remind them of your pitch, you’ll be 2 steps ahead of everyone.
Another tip when following up is to keep adding value. Give them constructive feedback on their recent articles, send them relevant links from other sources, let them know of interesting stories. It won’t take long before the editor will notice you and either accept or decline your pitch.
That being said, I wouldn’t follow up more than 3-4 times.
If they accept your pitch, great! Start writing or try to get mentioned in another publication. If they decline, accept the loss and move to another one of your dream 100. Remember, you only need a handful of successes to kickstart your SEO.
(Bonus tip:) Optimize your PR articles for an extra punch
If you pitched an article and it was accepted, take some extra time to optimize your own post for SEO. The magazines and website you’re writing for have a massive amount of ranking power, so you can use that to your advantage.
Optimizing your own post can make it so your contribution keeps getting traffic to the publication’s site. This not only helps them but you as well. If editors realize your article gets a lot of traffic it’ll be easier for you to get future pitches accepted.
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Pitch media sounds complicated, but it’s all about being relevant and specific. If you can help a reporter out, they’ll help you out.
Remember that SEO is only one aspect of growing your business. If your positioning is unclear, you can try and grow all you want but nothing is going to stick. If your product sucks the traffic that you’ll get is useless.
However, if you think you’re ready for growth, SEO is a great way to go. And PR is a great way to get started.