Ultimate Guides to Digital PR

Digital PR is taking what public relations used to be offline and multiplying that exposure online through the creation of engaging content. It does not just sit in the “SEO” bucket but within the wider marketing team. It is a way to increase exposure of brands through online coverage on well known sites, social media platforms and generating high quality links and referral traffic.

Digital PR should not be confused with link building as links are earned through the exposure of the content and the relationship the PR team have built with the respective site owners and news outlets.  Digital PR is an area we have not touched upon much on Tea Time SEO but it was one of our most popular topics to date.  On the show we were joined by three PR professionals who shared their insights and experience from working both agency and client-side in the US and in the UK.

A big thank you to our guests Abi Bennetts, Amie Sparrow and Jess Peace for giving up their time and sharing their tips.

Chapter 1. Introduction to Digital PR

Considerations for agencies setting up digital PR

Before setting up your digital PR goals, determine what your offering is going to be. You’ll have different goals if you’re working on a digital PR offering as an agency versus in-house. First we’ll look at setting up digital PR in an agency environment. Here are some questions to guide you: 

Are you going to offer digital PR as a bolt-on service to a larger SEO package or as an integrated part of a content marketing or PPC campaign? Are you using digital PR to boost SEO work, or even to gain backlinks to new content pages included in your content or overall marketing strategy? Digital PR can stand on its own, but it’s also very handy to use it to boost wider marketing efforts. 

You’ll also need to get down to details and to think about how you will deliver your campaigns. Is it going to be a ‘traditional PR’ function where you’re creating monthly standalone digital PR campaigns for the client, relying on hero campaigns to get coverage for you every month? Or are you going to approach it with foundational link-building pointing to evergreen assets on the website? Both have their merits, but it depends what your goals are. If you need a big splash, fast, perhaps monthly campaigns are the way to go – if you are in it for the long haul, steady linkbuilding might suit better.

At Blue Array, many of our clients have digital PR and SEO services so they are able blend our expertise. For example, if an SEO expert works on a certain web page for a client one month, then the following month, the digital PR expert could create an asset and a campaign leading back to that page to supercharge the SEO work that’s been done. Of course, each could have separate goals with completely separate road map lines but it’s advantageous to work together when possible.

No matter how you answer the questions above, it’s important to have really good PR internally as well. It’s something that’s easy to overlook, but having high visibility within your agency will help in so many ways. Everyone in the agency needs to know what digital PR is and what it could do for your clients. For example, an SEO Manager is doing a backlink report and they see a need for the client to have a stronger backlink profile. If that manager is familiar with your digital PR work, they’ll know that it can build strong backlink profiles for brands. Perhaps they then recommend digital PR to the client on your behalf, or come to you to ask you to have a look to see if the client’s brand could benefit from these services. Making what digital PR can do, and its associated ROI, really well-known will really be helpful for SEO deliverables too.

Considerations for setting up digital PR in-house

If you work in-house, some of the same questions above still apply, of course, but you need to think more about how you’re going to form the department or job role. There is definitely value in performing consistent outreach to existing assets on your brand’s website, like evergreen articles or tip sheets, for example. It may not move the needle as quickly as other methods but as long as you are linkbuilding to relevant, high-quality websites and offering quality, unique content, you will get some positive responses sooner or later. Patience (and sometimes a thick skin) is needed though.

Another way to generate many great backlinks is through providing media commentary. #JournoRequest on Twitter is an excellent resource. In my last in-house role, our team would earn around 20 to 30 backlinks consistently each month, just through providing media commentary on newsworthy issues alone. We didn’t have to rely on campaigns or spend a lot of money creating multi-level marketing campaigns that may or may not work, or ones that may or may not land with journalists. Expert commentary is actually quite reliable for backlinks every month. Providing expert commentary is also really helpful for building relationships with journalists. Oftentimes a journalist is looking for commentary after submitting their article and getting feedback from an editor who says the article needs a bit more. For you to be able to come in as the saviour and offer value to a journalist when they’re desperate for a comment on deadline – well, that journalist is certainly going to remember you next time. What a great way to start a relationship with someone. We should always try to be helpful and not the stereotype of the annoying PR who’s the enemy of the journalist.

JournoRequests

Expert commentary is probably one of your most effective strategies depending on  your industry. Ego-baiting is another approach. Let’s say I really wanted to be featured in Abby’s newsletter, or on her website. Perhaps I would offer to interview Abby for my own website. Then I would publish her interview on my website and send it to her and say, “I’d love it if you could include a link to the article on your website or in your newsletter.” It’s a tried and tested method that usually works. Even if someone declines to link to it from their site, they’ll usually give it a polite RT or post it on social media.

Expert-Comment

There are lots of different strategies that you could use as an in-house brand. These examples show that it doesn’t always have to be campaign-based, there’s loads of other approaches. And also it’s worth looking at what is unique to your brand, and examining what internal data you may have that can be useful to the media or to other websites and brands. What internal data do you have on your customers? What information do you have, that no one else would have, that would be interesting to a journalist? Also, if it’s not super interesting, you could always layer it with something that is more timely and relevant. Oftentimes we’ll look at what internal data a client has and then look to see how we can layer that with Office of National Statistics data or US Census data or something similar. So then we’re really creating a unique research strand that no one else can offer to a journalist. 

It is really important to collaborate internally as well. It has to be really well known within the company what your goals are for digital PR, and that it’s not the same as what the goals are for corporate PR. Make that really well known so that when other areas of the business see potential opportunities, they can identify them and bring them to your attention.

What do you want from digital PR?

It pays to think what you want out of your digital PR before you start forming the offering – figure out what the priority lies.

I want the SEO benefits

If you’re mainly looking for the SEO benefits of digital PR, you want to target sites that give do-follow backlinks, have high domain authority and low spam scores. These are some really helpful tools that will help you identify those: Hunter.io, the no-follow Chrome extension, Moz, Majestic and Authoritas backlink analysis. 

Google prefers a natural mix of backlinks and there are going to be dofollows, nofollows, unlinked mentions, all of that stuff is a healthy part of a healthy backlink profile. However my thinking with my team is, why not target what you actually want? So most times we target our campaigns to the websites that give dofollows. If my campaign gets picked up by a media brand that gives no follows, then it’s great, but it’s not really what I want – I want the dofollow backlinks. And usually I find that if the campaign gets picked up by, for example, any of the JPI media titles that give do-follow backlinks, some of the smaller editorial websites are going to pick it up anyway, so there will still be a natural mix of do-follow and nofollow backlinks.

Product Extensions

I want the referral traffic

If you mainly want referral traffic, then you want to target sites that are a little more generous with their backlinks, and it won’t matter if the links are do-follow or no-follow or even sponsored. Remember you have to have a reason for someone to click, so you can’t just rely on a hyper-linked brand mention anymore, there won’t be any motivation to send people to your website ‘just because’. Back in the day, it might have been just a matter of course, as a matter of identifying the name of the brand or something, but nowadays you need to really compel people to click on your site. So maybe that’s when you send an overview of facts to the journalists for an article, but you have a more in-depth report on your website, or perhaps you have more in-depth graphs or other assets on your site that would compel a reader to want to learn more about the topic, knowing that they’re not going to be able to fit it all in the article. There’s a lot of ways you could do that to increase your referral traffic. Here are some helpful tools: Google Analytics, URL tracking tools like Google URL builder, even email tracking tools like Mailtrack work for this.

I want to improve E-A-T

If you’re just looking to improve your site’s expertise, authority and trust (EAT), you wanna target anyone and everyone who is relevant to your brand. So anything relevant to your brand, that’s your main priority. It doesn’t matter what kind of backlink it is, even if it’s just a brand mention that will be fine as you’re going for a natural mix. Obviously, the sites should have good metrics, but even a few sites with only half-decent metrics won’t hurt – Google expects a natural mix so you can imagine it would seem out of place to have only sites with very high DA.

The spoiler of it all, is that a single digital PR campaign can hit all of these goals. You can definitely craft campaigns that hit all of these, but it’s great to start by looking at what your main priority is first.

Chapter 2. Most Common Misconceptions about Digital PR

I’ve worked in the digital PR industry for just over two years now, however when I first started out in my digital PR career, there were a few things that I noticed, that I now know not to be true. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about digital PR.

1. Digital PR is only about the links

The first misconception then is that digital PR is only about the links. Sure, links are the goal if you’re a digital PR – this is, after all, one of the key differences between traditional and digital PR. But you’d be mistaken to think that links are the only thing we can achieve with our digital PR strategies. From brand awareness and trust, to social engagement, authority building, referral traffic and more – there are so many different metrics you can put in place to analyse your digital PR campaigns and really show that ROI on your digital PR strategies.

We had a really great example of this happening at Digitaloft at the end of 2020. We launched a campaign for a beauty and cosmetics client, which revealed the best and hottest beauty brands in 2020, and as well as building some really topical, high quality links, this campaign (and the corresponding coverage on Vogue got picked up by Huda Kattan herself, who posted the coverage and campaign on Instagram as a post – she also tagged the client and is now following our client on Instagram.

Cosmetify image

Despite our client paying for our digital PR strategies – and the links and coverage that come from these – this type of coverage for a smaller start-up brand is money-can’t-buy coverage with the beauty superstar sharing to her 48 million+ followers. This exposure and engagement from a key beauty influencer within the industry really proves the ROI on a great campaign idea, and is an amazing bit of PR for the brand.

Vogue image

2. All PRs have to be extroverted

Moving on to my next misconception, is around the misconception that PRs are all extroverted. The digital PR industry can feel like quite a loud and noisy place to be in sometimes. There are a lot of extroverts in the digital PR industry, but we’re not all Samantha Jones in Sex and the City (I wish). The main qualities when we’re looking to build our team at Digitaloft, are more around skills such as problem solving and enthusiasm and tenacity. This is because when it comes to pitching a campaign, the whole success of a digital PR campaign rides on the ability to put a great idea out there, and then to push a campaign until it’s maximised all the angles and press opportunities it possibly can.

If you don’t have the confidence to put your idea out there because you think that the loudest people in the room are going to get there first, then you’re never going to get that great idea out of someone. So actually, we really need to be banishing that misconception that you have to be extroverted to work in digital PR, so that those who more traditionally associate themselves with being an “introvert” have the confidence to venture into an ideas session or outreach strategy session and know that their insight and ideas are as valued as the more confident people in the room.

3. You need to have existing media relationships to land coverage

Journalists generally don’t have as much time as they did, to build the same relationships that they were building 10 years ago, meaning the once gospel little black book of PR contacts is no longer as important when it comes to landing features.

I think a great pitch and an engaging story or piece of useful insight rules all. That isn’t to say that relationships aren’t important at all – these relationships are great when it comes to more reactive and product PR. For example, if you can build a relationship with a journalist where they know that you’re representing a client who can give speedy and useful insights, then that’s great and will probably lead you to land some great features for your clients. However I would say that digital PRs shouldn’t feel the pressure to have a really strong black book of journalist relationships, because if you’re offering everything they could want in a pitch, then most writers are going to take you up on that opportunity.

4. All content marketing can get links

It’s easy to fall into the trap when you’re new to digital PR, to think that just because you’ve created a campaign or you’ve come up with an idea and you’ve gone to the trouble of creating this asset, that it’s automatically going to get links. However, all great ideas and content needs that PR hook or headline to land that coverage at scale. To ensure we have this hook all of our ideas are link-worthy and able to land coverage on a large scale, all of our ideas go through a really strict validation process.

This validation process briefly is:

 

  • Data – can we get a strong and credible data source behind the campaign?
  • Has it been done before, or could a journalist do it themselves? You want to be adding value to a journalist’s workload – or doing something they cannot.  
  • Will it resonate with our target audience? So not only will it resonate with our client’s target audience, but will it also resonate with the readers of the journalist that we’re targeting?
  • Who will cover this? For every digital PR campaign you create, you should have in mind a subset of publications and journalists who are going to want to write about your campaign or your story.
  • And then finally, is it right for the client? It can be really hard when you come up with an amazing idea that you’re emotionally attached to, to gain perspective on whether the idea is topically relevant, or indeed right for your client and where they are in their business at that moment, and this will depend on a client by client basis.

If you take all of these things into consideration, then your content marketing or campaign will have a much larger chance of building those links and coverage at scale. 

5. It’s all about the asset

The last misconception I wanted to discuss was that it’s all about the asset when it comes to building links via digital PR strategies. However, I believe that we should always be thinking story first. 

An asset, whether that’s an infographic, a full page takeover interactive piece, should be the anchor for journalists to link back to. The asset should also act as an anchor to draw readers and audiences back to the client’s site, and help potential customers on their journey once they’ve reached the site. 

However, to land links or coverage in the first place, you don’t need to spend loads of money on fancy designs or interactives if a strong, topically relevant story is there. I think we’ve all seen a massive shift in the way that digital PR is moving, where actually these quick turnaround comments with no assets are landing links more than ever before – so don’t worry about spending thousands of pounds on a big interactive piece – and instead spend time on creating stories and insights that your client is proud to share.

Chapter 3. Digital PR Irrespective of Industry

I have three top tips aimed at anyone looking to get into digital PR, mainly from a client or brand perspective. However it also works if you are looking to get into the industry as a PR professional.

1. Identify campaign goals

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creating a strategy for digital PR, therefore my first tip is to identify your campaign goals and work backwards from there. You need to identify your goals and be clear on  what you are trying to achieve from having PR in general as a service, or how you’re trying to generate results for your client.

If you’re looking to drive traffic to a particular product page, you want to think about content which is loosely related to that product. If you want to establish authority, then it might be that newsjacking or reactive PR and thought leadership will be more beneficial because you will demonstrate expertise that way. Or if you want to raise brand awareness, then something more PR centered, more creative, bigger and bold, especially across content marketing, might work better for you. If the objective is that you want to rank for a certain keyword, then typing that keyword into BuzzSumo will show you what kind of PR campaigns already exist around that, and you can assess what seems to have worked well or not and go from there.

2. Know your audience and your competition

My second tip is to know your audience and to know your competition. From a content and SEO background plus PR you need to always think about your audience and the user intent behind everything you’re creating. As good as it is to have a really creative idea, you have to think about who is on the end of that and what you want to achieve from the idea. Therefore you need to have a clear idea  about who you’re creating that content for.

The best way to do this is to look at the kind of content that your target audience or your target publications are consuming themselves. What do they engage with? What kind of articles are the journalists that your targeting writing about? If you want to get in a particular publication, what kind of stories are they covering? Always look at that and see where you are idea fits so that your content will have a better chance of being seen by this audience. Good user intent and audience awareness will always deliver.

Keep an eye on your competitors and what they’re doing as well, because this way you find out ways to bridge the gap. Are they offering something to your audience that you currently don’t? What have you got that is different? What’s your USP – Unique Selling Proposition? How can you make sure that you’re not only competing, but going above and beyond to put yourself at the forefront? 

3. Think like there is no box

My third tip is to don’t think outside the box, but think as if there isn’t one. Obviously you must do so with your users in mind and ensure the content is relevant.

The best way is to think as if there is no box is to go back to your strategy which should allow you to be reactive, be bold, take risks, give you the space to create and have lots of fresh ideas. You should not be afraid to try new initiatives, but you should learn from ideas that haven’t worked so well. Therefore when creating the strategy, think of other ideas outside of the product or service that you’re directly trying to market. Don’t limit yourself by thinking too closely to your product or your service otherwise you run out of ideas very quickly. Follow brands and businesses, people within the industry who are experts, people that you look up to, people who are sharing ideas all the time, competitors, pay attention to what they’re doing and pay attention to the kind of things that they consume.

Look at trending topics (use Google Trends) and think about important dates and news and events, so there’s always something that you can make PR-able around that. Drawing inspiration from the product/service itself, the events, consumers because there is a lot of content out there to compete with, so you want to make sure that you’re doing something different, or if it already exists, you want to make sure that you’re doing it better.

Takeaways

Try and monitor something like #JournoRequest on Twitter. This is a good way to kind of see what’s happening in the news and it gives you an opportunity to be reactive and to use newsjacking to jump on opportunities. You want to follow brands that you love, so even if they’re not relevant to the brand or the client that you’re marketing for, you can draw inspiration from them too, it doesn’t have to be directly related, as well as PR professionals and other places for campaign inspiration.

I like to follow these on Twitter,  @Campaignmag, @DigitalPREx and @famouscampaigns. Whenever you create a campaign you want to make sure that there is a hook, because sometimes great ideas need a bit of substance.

You need to make sure that when you’re going out to journalists that they know that they can cover it straight away, it’s something that appeals to them. Try and write your headline as if it is something that they would already cover. Always think about the news angle right at the ideation start of your campaign, not after you’ve finished. And always look for ways to keep your campaign going for longer to keep it fresh, so it might be that you re-angle it according to something that’s come up in the news, it might be that you create supporting content or unicorn content, it might be that you can create cluster content or a series of content around it, but make sure that it’s not just a one campaign that you’ll push once, it’s something you can return to and that will keep on giving. 

Next Steps

Take your Digital PR to the next level with advice from industry experts on our blog.

Try Authoritas for free today and build an outreach strategy for your Digital PR.

Or, get in touch with our team and see how our tools can meet your needs!

About the Co-Authors

abi_bennetts_digital_loft

Abi Bennetts

Digital PR manager at Digitaloft

Abi Bennetts is the digital PR manager at Digitaloft, and has worked at various digital PR agencies for over two years now. Abi has spent the last nine months since joining Digitaloft (on the same day that the UK’s lockdown was announced) on a lot of video calls, pivoting our digital PR strategies to continue to provide relevant content for journalists and helping to grow the digital PR team!

Amie_Sparrow

Amie Sparrow

Digital PR Manager at Blue Array

Amie Sparrow heads up Digital PR at Blue Array. She has worked in both digital and traditional PR and marketing roles for a diverse mix of industries in a career spanning more than 15 years. In the past five years she has built a digitally-focused PR department for a company in-house as well as shaping and leading the Digital PR offering at Blue Array SEO.

Jess Peace

Jess Peace

Content and PR Specialist

Jess is an experienced copywriter with a passion for all things content, social media, SEO and digital PR. After completing a degree in Journalism, landing her first job as a reporter and risking it all to seize a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to move to Barcelona, she fell into the world of marketing. She has held various roles within the industry from account management to managing an SEO and content team, and have worked both in-house and agency side.