So, why do you want to do press outreach anyway? Well, given all the changes that Google has made to the way we can build links over the last few years, links from the press are one of the few true good links left that will remain good for years to come. We can’t really use directories anymore and guest blogging must be done on a much smaller scale. All of the ways we used to syndicate content no longer work for building links. Now, in a nutshell, you have to deserve to earn a link, and once you actually deserve it, you need to know how to tell people that you deserve it. That’s where reaching out to journalists comes in.
Why are press links so good?
Well, in general, press sites tend to be sites that are authoritative and trustworthy as far as Google’s algorithm is concerned. They are difficult to get, are usually given because you deserve them rather than because you paid for them, and generally they have to go through at least one level of editorial oversight. Another valuable aspect of press links is that one link can lead to many links. Many sites syndicate or reprint content, especially from the big news sites, and so getting a link from one of them can frequently lead to getting a link from many.
Before we really get started on how to do press outreach there are a few things to consider:
- Don’t just focus on getting a link. Traffic that you get from press links is also valuable. Even if you don’t get a link a mention of your website or “citation” is also a signal to the search engines that your site is valuable.
- Doing press outreach isn’t just for big national sites. Even smaller sites can take advantage of it even if it’s on niche news sites, and local businesses can focus on local news sources.
- Any link that is as valuable as a link from a good trustworthy press site is difficult to get (that’s why they are so valuable)
- This kind of link building can be either very labor-intensive and/or expensive i.e., HARD WORK
- You have to be prepared for rejection. You’re likely going to reach out to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of journalists and get very little response.
Preparing To Do Press Outreach
Before you get started there are a few basic concepts that are critical to any press outreach campaign:
- Have something to say: it should go without saying that if you don’t have something that’s not only interesting to you, but would be interesting to the journalists’ readers, then there isn’t much reason to reach out to the press.
- Be newsworthy: as above, have something worth writing about. This doesn’t mean that you’ve redesigned your home page, launched a new and improved widget, or that you’re having a Black Friday sale. Have a look at the stories that get written up on the sites you’re going to approach. If you don’t have something equally newsworthy you need to start with that before you worry about how to reach out.
- Be helpful: journalists and bloggers are extremely busy, are usually writing to a deadline, and sometimes have limited resources at their disposal. The more useful you can be to them, the more you can help them write the story, the more resources you can provide them, the more likely they’re going to be to listen to you and write about you.
- Know your stuff: whether you’re reaching out for your own business or for a client, you must be an expert in the subject matter you are discussing with the journalist. If you seem to hesitate, don’t appear to know what you’re talking about, or don’t know more than the person you’re talking to, why would they need you as a resource that they quote in the article?
Another step to take care of, before you get started on your outreach campaign, is to ensure you have a decent press/media page on your site. This gives you a place to send writers to find out a little bit more about you. It also serves as a bit of validation as to why you are trustworthy and to show you know what you’re talking about. There are lots of good press pages out there. I’ve included an example below of one that I was involved in building, but you’ll want to think about what elements are right for you to include. Generally a good press page includes:
- A basic explanation of your company, what you do, what you are really good at, and who any authoritative sources are in your company
- Proof of why you or your company are expert in your field
- Any social proof that you are worth talking to. This may include actual numbers of followers on social media, if those are significant and impressive numbers. It may also include links to authoritative sources have written about you before. In the example below we included the logos of some trusted authoritative sites. This gives anyone who might potentially write about you some peace of mind because “these outlets have written about this company so I can probably trust that I won’t look foolish if I also quote them as a source”. One more note on referencing previous press mentions is that I would actually link to the articles that were written about you. In some cases it looks less than trustworthy to simply have logos on your site as there’s no backup as to whether the article was actually written about you or whether it was favorable.
- Include as many ways to contact you as possible. Don’t waste a journalist’s time making them hunt down how to get In touch with you or making them jump through hoops. If possible I’d include an email address on this page that gets monitored regularly and if possible even a phone number.
What To Talk About
I’ve already mentioned a little bit about what not to talk about. What are good things that you should talk about? Some of the things you want to think about leveraging before you start crafting an outreach strategy for stories you could pitch to a journalist are:
- Are there any current events related to your business or for which you can offer resources or an authoritative opinion? Current events don’t just have to be in the news. They can be sporting events, local festivals, conferences, etc.
- Are there seasonal events coming up that you can provide resources for or for which you could provide an interview?
- Do you have any major news about your company that is newsworthy enough for someone to write about such as a complete site relaunch, you’re launching a mobile app, etc.
Keep in mind that major events about your company are not “we’ve launched a new product” or “we’ve redesigned our homepage” unless you are a major brand. You need to have something that when looked at objectively is truly interesting enough that someone might want to write about it.
Finding Prospects To Reach Out To
There are lots of great tools to use to find writers and journalists to reach out to. Most of these require a varying level of budget and which one is right for you is really going to depend on both your financial and person-power resources.
Vocus is a very powerful marketing suite with a large range of abilities beyond just reaching out to journalists. I won’t go into all of the details of what it can do here as this is not really a product review for Vocus. For our purposes it can be very good for finding journalists, searching for them by which topic they write about, getting their contact information, and even seeing the editorial calendars of what they’re planning on writing about in the near future. One drawback of focus is that it can cost upwards of $800 per month.
Cision is a tool that colleagues of mine have used, though I haven’t ever used directly. It’s another one that’s good for finding journalists and for being able to contact them directly through the software. It’s far less a large marketing suite than is Vocus, but costs much less said about $1000 per year.
Now if like me when I first started trying to undertake press outreach you really don’t have any budget to speak of there are some other things you can do. Some of these include:
- Finding prospects through the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)
- Back Links
Finding Prospects In The SERPS
This essentially entails simply searching for high level keyword phrases on Google that are related to your topic area. I recommend using double quotes around your search phrase when you search for more than one word such as “Cyber Monday” including the “ characters”. This allows you to find results where only both of those words appear together rather than one word or the other. From there the process is basically to comb through many pages of results looking for people who’ve written about your topic before. I would look through at least the first 10 pages of results and record any URLs where someone has written positively about your subject matter. Obviously if they’ve written with very negative opinions about the area you’re involved in you may not want to approach that person to write about you.
As an aside, if you want to learn all about how to customize your Google searches even more to narrow them to very specific results I highly recommend reading Google Power Search by Stephan Spencer, and not just because I’m the technical editor of the upcoming edition
There are a few tools you can use to help speed up the SERP scanning process by either automating or outsourcing this work. If you’re looking to outsource it I would look at sourcing overseas employees where you can generally get a good web researcher for approximately two or three dollars an hour from a source like Odesk. If you go that route make sure you do some research on how to find good outsourced employees. There are also some good software solutions that allow you to scrape search engine results. One, quite frequently used by spammers, but which does quickly automate the process of returning web results for a keyword search is Scrapebox.
Another solution, which is relatively new, is called Scraperr.com. Scraperr scrapes the top 500 Google results for a given query and allows you to view them or dump them into a spreadsheet like the one below. This allows you to very quickly scan for URLs that look like articles on your subject matter and ignore the rest.
Google News is another great place to do your keyword searches. It is, almost by definition, news sources that have written about your subject. It’s pretty self-explanatory – go to Google News do your keyword queries and look for likely looking articles. One nice thing that Google News has started doing fairly recently is including links directly to the authors Google+ profile, where you can sometimes find contact information for that author.
Narrowing Searches in the SERPs
For some searches you do there are going to be a huge number of results in Google. One of the things you can do is narrow down your searches to a specific news site using a query similar to “keyword phrase” Site:example.com e.g., “Black Friday” site:cnn.com or “cyber Monday” site:mashable.com. This has the effect of performing your search only on the specific site you are targeting.
Finding Prospects Through Back Links
I don’t often recommend mining your competitors’ back links looking for link opportunities but one place they can be useful is looking for press prospects. There are lots of good tools for going back link research including:
Essentially you’re basically looking for the same info here as in the SERPs. Look through lists of your competitors back links to see who has written about them in the past. These may be good targets for you to approach to write about you.
After You Find The Lead
After you have found an article in the SERPs you need to evaluate whether it’s a good lead.
- Look to see if the article is favorable or speaking negatively against your subject matter.
- What’s the date of the article? If it was written four, five, or more years ago there’s a pretty reasonable chance that whoever wrote the article is either no longer writing on that topic or no longer employed at the same organization where you found the article.
- Check if the article is a reprint. Many news outlets republish articles from the Associated Press or Reuters. Ensure that when you’re looking at the article you’re looking at the original source.
You should also check to see if there’s any contact info on the page the article is written on. You’re looking for email, Twitter, LinkedIn, phone number, etc. If you can’t find contact info on the page you’re likely going to have to do some detective work. Search to see if the site has an author archive. Frequently sites will have a page dedicated to an author where you can find all of their articles and also contact information. Another way to search for an author archive is to search for “author name” Site:example.com which should bring up all of the pages that mentioned that author on a particular site.
If the site just plain doesn’t have an author archive try searching Google for the author’s name. Many authors have personal blogs or other websites with contact emails available. As a fallback, if no other contact info can be found, look for the authors Twitter profile. Occasionally you can find email addresses there or if worse comes to worst you can at least record their Twitter handle.
Information About The Writer
Once you’ve found someone that looks like a good lead you want to try and get as much information as possible about them. Usually journalists or popular bloggers will receive a large number of inquiries and suggestions. To be successful you need either a very compelling story, a more effective initial contact, or ideally both. Finding out a little personal information about a particular writer allows you to customize and personalize the initial contact. Information that I like to record is:
- Beat(s) – Shopping, Tech, News, Business, etc.
- Twitter profile page
- LinkedIn profile page
- Notes/Bio: Twitter bio, author page, or just general notes
Don’t forget that last point. Frequent you can get information in someone’s author bio or Twitter bio that’s going to help you make a more effective first contact. As an example, one writer I was researching is from New York but is a fan of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. Being from Vancouver myself I know enough about the team that when I reached out to her I could include an anecdote about the Canucks, giving me a better shot at getting her attention.
Finding Prospects Through Twitter
The vast majority of journalists are on Twitter. While finding a prospect through Twitter is not as good as finding one for which you have an email address or even a phone number, frequently getting a twitter handle is the best you can do.
In many cases will find Twitter handles as you go as some sites actually include them in the byline.
There are also several good tools for researching journalists on Twitter. The two that I’ve primarily used in the past are Muckrack and FollowerWonk.
MuckRack is a good paid tool that allows you to find journalists by “beat”, save lists, and create alerts to flag you when opportunities might arise. I like the tool and I’ve used it before. It does however cost between $99 and $4495 per month depending on the size of the subscription you need. If you want to be a little bit sneaky/cheap like me, get the $99 month membership, hit it hard for a month, and then cancel the membership after you’ve mined as much information out of it as you can.
FollowerWonk, from Moz, is one of my favorite tools for finding journalist prospects through Twitter. One of the nice things about it is that it’s free. Essentially it allows you to search Twitter bios by keyword, export lists of results to a CSV, and also to look at/export your own Twitter followers.
When searching Twitter bios, as above in the SERPs searches, I like to search for phrases within double quotes to ensure that both of those words are found in the bio. You can see in the example above that a simple search for “retail reporter” has brought back some very influential reporters and has also brought back one who used to be a retail reporter and isn’t any longer. That’s one thing to watch with journalists. They frequently change “beats” and like to reference what they formerly wrote about. You’ll likely find quite a few results were someone has changed beats.
The nice thing with these lists, again, is you can export them to a CSV file, quickly weed out the ones that don’t look good, and sort the others by an “influence” rank, the last day they tweeted, number of followers, etc.
One small caveat with FollowerWonk is that it exports just the Twitter handle with no link to the actual Twitter page. I like to use the “concatenate” function in Excel to join together the “screen name” or twitter handle, with “https://twitter.com/” to create the URLs that go directly to each Twitter profile page.
Once you’ve found reporters on Twitter you want to follow them, and then do all the other best practices for getting someone’s attention and engaging on Twitter (tweeting at them, retreating their content, looking for opportunities to help the motor answer any questions, etc.). In many cases the reporters will follow you back and that allows you to reach out to them through a DM. If not they may become a little bit more aware of you and that can’t be a bad thing.
Another thing you can do here with Twitter bios is look for reporters’ email addresses and add them to your “email” list. It may sound like a fair bit of work but I’ve scored at least a half a dozen interviews this way and half a dozen links from good authoritative news sites is a pretty good thing.
One more thing you can do with FollowerWonk, if you have a reasonably large number of followers is to export your own followers to Excel and search the bios there for keywords like: reporter, writer, etc. one thing to note here is that in some industries it seems like almost every other bio contains the term “blogger” and searching on that term can lead to a lot of unqualified results. Most Twitter profiles also include a URL and many times journalists link to the site they work for. Searching the URL field for terms like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, press, times, news, etc. can also help you find journalists that already follow you.
Other Sources of Leads
While looking at purely online sources is the primary way to look for press coverage that might lead to links there are certainly other opportunities as well. One of my secret weapons is the website www.abyznewslinks.com. This website essentially lists every news outlet including TV, radio, newspapers, and websites for virtually every country, state, province, city, town, etc. You can break these down by media type, media focus, geographical region, and in virtually all cases they include a link to the news outlet’s website. if you’re targeting broadly this can be a very time-consuming task but it is one that can be outsourced. Essentially someone needs to go to each site that is relevant to you and search the site for the best possible contact.
A few other resources are:
Organizing Your Leads
Depending on the size of your outreach list you are going to want to organize it by the type of outreach are going to use for each lead. For example, when I did outreach for blackfriday.com my list was virtually anybody who might be writing about the Black Friday shopping season or anyone who might be doing a TV spot, radio segment etc. and so my list was virtually every news outlet in the United States. In cases like that (I had a list of approximately 5000 contacts for instance) you definitely want to prioritize how you reach out to each source.
Generally I like to sort leads into three groups: high-value, average or lower value, and social media only. The high-value targets might be those from very authoritative sources which are likely to be syndicated in other places or have very large audiences. You likely to want to reach out to those sources with an individualized email, phone call, or even snail mail letter. If you have a large list of average to lower value leads that’s where I would use a more automated email template system which dynamically inserts data like the journalists name, publication, etc. and social only those would be sources where you don’t have an email address and all you have is perhaps a twitter handle.
Doing the Outreach
If there is one thing I could impress upon you as far as doing press outreach it would be, BE USEFUL. The biggest thing you can do to be a success is to make the journalist’s life easy. In addition to just generally being useful to the writer:
- Be Timely: approach them well in advance if you have an event where you have the luxury of advance warning, but not so far in advance that writing about it is not to be on their schedule yet.
- Be Pithy: don’t be afraid to give them lots of useful information but at the same time don’t be long-winded. The people you’re reaching out to are going to get a lot of these kinds of requests so get your point across about what you can offer them quickly and succinctly.
- Be Available: sometimes writers are going to need to speak to you on a very short deadline. If they can’t get in touch with you they may well just move on to their next possible source. There also may be a large time difference either in your time zones or you’re working schedules. I’ve done interviews anywhere from 5 AM to 10 PM when doing press outreach campaigns.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Give Away the Farm: don’t try and tease the journalist by giving them little bit of data or a little bit of the story up front trying to the interview. I found it’s much more effective to give them all the information they might possibly need to write their story as quickly as possible. If they don’t talk to you they are likely going to quote you and frequently they’ll want a quick interview or quote to round out any information you sent them.
- Respond Quickly: a reporter on a deadline is not going to have time to wait around for the first source the contact to get back to them. If they don’t hear back from you quickly they’re likely just going to write the story without you or find another source.
In general when I’ve done email outreach in the past I’ve had a specific target date in mind as an end date to the campaign, usually a specific seasonal event. It’s usually easier to work towards a specific date. Even if you don’t have a specific seasonal event it still easier to target the date of your site relaunch, or other significant news that you have coming out, etc. If you are just trying to get the attention of a journalist or blogger in general you may have to adjust some of the timelines below a little.
Introductory email: I usually like to send these about 4 to 5 weeks out from my target date. At this point there may not be as much urgency for the journalist to find a source to interview, quote, or write about. In general don’t expect to get much response from this first email. It’s more intended to make the journalist familiar with you, who you are, and what you can offer them. Generally with print media they don’t need as long a lead-time. If you are targeting broadcast media (radio, the local news, nationwide talk shows, etc.) they are going to need a much longer lead-time to arrange interviews or appearances.
Second email: With this email I would recommend sharing much more detailed information about who you are and why you know what you’re talking about. Part of your goal here is to really help the writer write their story. Don’t be afraid to share data, trends, insights, or any information that might be hard to find or take a lot of time for the writer to research. You really want to give them something of value and make their job easier. Don’t be afraid to give away too much; even if you give them most of the information they need to write their article there are very likely to give you credit the least, but ideally you’d like them to contact you for an interview or at least for a “sound bite”.
Third email: With this email I would send it closer to 7 to 10 days out. After that you’re really cutting it almost too close for the journalist to need your input. They may still contact you closer than 7 to 10 days from to the publication date but generally when that happens it’s that they are in a panic to get some information and it’s not something you should really plan towards.
Tools For Doing Outreach:
Clearly one of the things you’re going to need to be able to do this kind of outreach effectively, especially if you’re looking at doing it to a large number of writers, is a way to at least semi-automate and track your emails and responses. One tool I’ve found to be very effective for this is PitchBox. PitchBox is essentially a reasonably inexpensive service which allows you to research potential writers and bloggers to outreach to, create customizable email templates that allow for the insertion of personalized information, automates the sending of those emails in small batches, allows you to do multiple flights of email to the same people, and tracks which people have responded and allows you to make notes about each response. (Disclaimer: I have received no financial benefit for promoting PitchBox but I did receive a three month free membership to trial and learn about the product).
If you do happen to secure one or more interviews there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Be prepared for written, phone, Skype, and even in person interviews
- Make (and use) notes. In your notes keep specific examples, data that supports your points, etc. also remember to include specific points you want to mention about your company in your notes.
- Know your stuff. You need to be a bigger expert on the subject matter and the writer or journalist.
- Be professional. In one interview I did a “shock jock” tried to steer the conversation into some less than appropriate topics. I focused on ignoring that bait and just stayed on point.
- Be flexible with your time. In one case I was told that I would have a five-minute interview at 8 PM and that turned into a 20 minute long radio interview. Be prepared for interviews to run much longer than scheduled, or begin later than scheduled.
- Have a good place to conduct interviews. Whether this be a quiet office at home or a dedicated room with a closed-door at work you need somewhere quiet and where you won’t be interrupted for interviews. It’s particularly embarrassing when you’re doing a Skype interview and someone walks into the room behind you.
- Get media training or public speaking experience. There’s a variety of ways to do this. Many PR agencies offer media training but if you don’t want to go to that expense try speaking at conferences or local meetups, participate in Toastmasters, do lunch and learns with team members or staff, etc.
- PRACTICE. This really is worth doing. Have a coworker or friend actually interview and throw you some curveball questions. It’ll really help you think on your feet and not stumble or hesitate over answers. This isn’t such a big deal when doing a newspaper interview, other than the fact you want to sound like you know you’re talking about, but it’s deathly important for any broadcast interviews such as radio, podcasts, TV, etc.
- Bend over backwards to help the writer. Don’t hesitate to recommend or even source other interviewees, create assets for the writer, offer them images that you have the rights to use, etc.
- Have something unique. Do your utmost to have data or insights that the writer or interviewer doesn’t have access to anywhere else.
Finally, ASK FOR THE LINK! It doesn’t matter if the interviewer article is for radio, local newspaper, TV, or other non-online media. Always ask where the interview will be published, when it will be published, and if can you get a link back to your site. TV and radio can be tough at this one. TV especially seems to frequently let older pages simply be deleted and return a 404 error code, which kills the link value, but it’s still worth it even if the link is temporary and all you get is branding and/or traffic from the interview.
So, after you have done all the outreach, scored an article or an interview, and you’ve got the coverage there are a few things I recommend doing to follow up. Doing a follow-up can be useful for tracking your success, learning from your mistakes, or reporting back to your client or manager as to the outcome of the outreach campaign.
- Check to make sure you got a link from the article. While getting traffic or brand awareness from an interview or article is great, to ensure you get long term value from it you are really looking to get a link or citation.
- Ask again for the link if you didn’t get it. Even if the interviewer or writer didn’t link to you it doesn’t hurt to ask a second time. They clearly thought enough of you and your information to interview you and publish it so they shouldn’t have a problem linking to you. These are the most legitimate links there are so don’t hesitate to pursue them. You may end up having to ask an editor as often journalists can’t go back and edit articles after they’re published. Don’t be obnoxious about asking as you may want to keep this relationship for the future and try to get more coverage. If you can’t get the link a citation (a mention of your website without actually linking to it) is still better than just getting traffic from the article, and just getting traffic is better than nothing.
- Search the web to see if the article has been syndicated.
- Record all the when, where, who, etc. about the article or coverage.
- Save the articles by taking screen captures, printing them to PDF, etc.
- Set up some Google alerts or other monitoring to watch for future syndication of the same article
Press releases have received a lot of bad “press” recently. This doesn’t mean that they have no value, just that they shouldn’t be used in and of themselves to build links directly to your site. The reason Google is targeting press release links is that, as with many sources of links to your site, they’ve been abused in the past.
You should never do a press release simply to get links from all the places the release is syndicated in. Press releases are, however, still a perfectly legitimate way to attract the attention of the press. If you’re going to do a press release I would look at it much the same way as the email outreach above. Ensure that the press release is actually newsworthy, interesting, compelling information and don’t be afraid to include as much data or information as will help the writer write their article as possible. A “teaser” press release simply designed to try and get someone to contact you without giving them any information, or one about some event significant only to you or your company, is in my opinion a waste of your time. Press releases tend to be a much lower response rate than reaching out individually to writers, and they do have a direct cost to send, but when there is enough urgency or the news is interesting enough I have certainly scored interviews and articles directly from sending out press releases.
Who Shouldn’t Do Press Outreach?
In my opinion doing press outreach for links is kind of like just about any other “link building” now. You have to focus on being remarkable, valuable, insightful, or useful first. Once you have a site, company, product, or information of real value then you can go about trying to get people to pay attention and write about you. In short, have something worth writing about.
Press outreach can be extremely time-consuming in doing the research, the actual outreach, and in doing the interviews. If you don’t have the time or resources to commit to doing it right I would say your time is better used elsewhere.
Be able to make the writer look good. If you can’t make the actual article or coverage better; if you can’t make it look like the writer really knows their stuff and has done their research, I would say you’re likely wasting a lot of your time doing press outreach.
Does It Work?
You may ask “what the heck does this guy know about doing press outreach”. I will admit I’m generally a much more traditional SEO and less of the link builder/PR pro. Much of what I learned about doing press outreach I essentially had to teach myself in a situation where I had zero budget for link building or even for content creation. I was lucky enough that I did have a good recognizable domain to work with for my first campaign (blackfriday.com) and the specific event/season of holiday shopping and black Friday to plan against. In this campaign which cost essentially a couple of hundred dollars, and a whole lot of time, we secured at least 40 interviews and over 80 links from news outlets such as CNN, WSJ, Today.com, CNBC, Fox News, LA Times, Toronto Star, Chicago Tribune, ZDNet, several local radio and TV stations, and regional publications like the Green Bay Press Gazette, the Sacramento Bee, etc.
Doing press outreach for link building certainly isn’t for everyone but if you have the value to provide, and the time and resources to effectively execute an outreach campaign, the kind of links you acquire from this kind of effort are the kind that should be bulletproof from Google updates for the foreseeable future.