If digital PR is something you are new to or redefining for your company, having a strategic action plan is critical and is why we wrote this guide.
Digital PR has been called various different names over the years – my personal favourite ‘link bait’ – but it’s now a much more encompassing discipline that coincides mostly with driving organic growth via rankings.
One of the core functions of digital PR is to achieve brand mentions and links in prominent and relevant media publications, which then has a knock-on effect for a domain’s ability to rank for specific and more generalised keyword queries in search engines. At least, that’s the core outcome we strive for at Root, but others may be conducting digital PR in order to track and shift the sentiment of their brand or working with an influencer to push sales via social channels.
All of the above require strategic planning to get right but how you implement depends on your goals.
What is your aim?
The starting point with any strategy is determining your goals and outcomes. What do you want to achieve? The strategy then becomes a reverse-engineering exercise, working backwards from the outcome(s) you want.
At Root, we focus primarily on the impact our digital PR has on a website’s SEO performance, so I’ll use that as our basis for discussion through this part of the guide.
For us, our goal depends on the client we’re working with and what they want to achieve, but it is often:
To improve organic revenue and traffic through building highly authoritative and relevant external links and brand mentions.
Although we as an agency offer technical SEO and Content Marketing, the outcomes of our digital PR work in isolation are usually tied to the coverage we generate and the impact that coverage has on the keywords our clients want to improve rankings for. This can help make the goal and aim of the digital PR work more specific.
For example, a client we work with may already have a large brand, competing in a space which has multiple household names involved, each with huge link profiles and ranking signals. Although building links from major publications is still going to have a positive impact, their goals may be more specific. Instead, they may want to improve organic sales performance for a specific product line, brand they work with, category of the website, etc.
This is where the goal needs to be more focused and could be updated to (for example):
To improve organic revenue for our London hotels by gaining relevant external links and funnelling equity equally
The breakdown of this goal starts to get really interesting and you can reverse-engineer the outcomes more clearly because you know exactly what you are tasked with achieving.
Regardless of if your goals are SEO orientated or about pushing social performance, really consider what it is you are hoping to achieve from digital PR as it’ll dictate your next steps.
How do you get there?
Now we have our goal, we can start dissecting it to work out how we’re going to get there. The answer is ‘data’. This will form the foundation of your strategy and how you are going to focus your digital PR efforts.
Fortunately, search engines use algorithms which are all powered by different sources of data. Unfortunately, we don’t know how the computations work but we do know that link metrics play a huge role in organic search listings, so we can isolate links as a starting metric to work with.
I’ve written about how to know if you need links before on Buzzstream, offering a step-by-step process for reviewing your own domain against your competitors. This part of the process is going to be similar but I won’t go as in depth here, instead, I’ll do a top level review of data and how your strategy can start to take shape.
The aim here is to discover where the opportunities are to achieve your goal. This is done by focusing on the keywords the domain competes for and which you have the ability to impact through the use of your digital PR efforts.
Firstly, even at the most basic level, you need to know how far away you are from competing for your goal and if it’s achievable for the resources you have available.
Digital PR, as we’ve touched on before, is primarily used as a means of building links and brand mentions. This in turn improves ranking performance for keywords and keyword groups in organic search listings (as well as building brand recognition).
Therefore, to create an effective digital PR strategy, you must understand the impact digital PR has on SEO performance and discover where links can help your website’s performance the most.
For this section, I’m going to use an example, which helps highlight how to view different keywords to determine how you should focus your efforts
If you are launching a ‘hotel in London’ or offer a hotel booking service in London and want to rank for that term, you’re competing with some huge companies and the amount of digital PR involved could be pretty large. Therefore, working towards the goal has to be realistic, so we need to work out the most achievable way of pushing towards it.
Using a tool like Ahrefs Chrome Extension, we can easily see just how competitive the SERP for ‘hotel in london’ is:
If we’re starting from 0 Root Domains (RD in the image above) on our website, we now know we’re competing with Booking.com and Expedia.co.uk who have 312k and 9.3k linking root domains (LRDs) respectively. From a standing start, it’s a long way away.
However, it all depends on where you are to begin with and if competing in this ball-park of links is an achievable objective. There are many other factors at play to ranking competitively in a search result like this, but at this level the quantity, quality and relevance of your backlink profile is going to play a huge role.
To help work it out, let’s consider the average cost per link to be in the $150 – $1000 range – likely on the higher end for a competitive environment like this. That’s between $9.3m and over $300m to achieve a comparable quantity of links if starting from 0.
If you don’t have the resources available here to either build in-house or work with an agency to produce them, you need to find the lower level opportunities before you ramp up to the higher level targets.
Your goal may still be to improve organic revenue for our London hotels. However, you may no longer be targeting ‘hotel in London’. In situations like this, we need to find other ways of improving the revenue.
Like I discussed in that Buzzstream article, a piece of keyword research here benchmarking your domain against the top ranking competitors for thousands of keywords is the best way to do this. This combines traditional SEO practises, like keyword research, with digital PR and link building opportunity analysis. This produces the foundation of your digital PR strategy.
By doing this, you’ll steer away from keywords like ‘hotel in london’ and may find something like ‘budget boutique hotel london’ which has search volume but the competition is considerably less daunting (see below – ignoring the Telegraph because it’s serving an information query rather than transactional):
Although potentially still a competitive environment for some, you would know now you have to generate approximately 1k of links in order to compete in this environment. Using the same figures above, we know now you’re looking at $150,000+ as an investment.
Obviously, you’ll need to apply this thinking and analysis to you and your marketplace, but the data is uncovering the targets you can more realistically go after. With greater resources, you can cast your net wider, but in all cases, by first looking at and using data, you can start to determine how your strategy can take shape and what you’ll need to do in order to get there.
What you need to do
This is the best part of a digital PR strategy. We get to create!
To recap from above, you should now be working with a specific goal and have a steer on how you’re going to achieve it. The last part of crafting your strategy is what you’ll need to do as an action.
In order for your digital PR efforts to have an impact on your strategic goals, there are two key outcomes you’re looking for; link volume and relevance.
Using your data, you will hopefully now know what’s achievable for you as a result of your digital PR work and how you’re going to move towards your goals. Although link volume in itself isn’t a hugely important metric (more a guide), for any digital PR activity you undertake, generating more coverage gives you the opportunity to land higher quality coverage (called a snowball effect) and also provides search engines with more paths to your website from across the web. Needless to say, they like this.
The ‘volume’ you are able to achieve is going to be dependent on the tactics you use and the quality of that work. For any digital PR campaign you run, you want it to appear in top tier publications, but you also want it to spread further afield than that at the same time.
We dive into a list of digital PR tactics in this part of the guide, but that list includes:
- Illustrations & infographics
- Interactive assets (like maps)
- Industry analysis
- PR requests
These are different types of campaigns you can run as part of your digital PR efforts in order to gain links and brand mentions online.
In another upcoming chapter of this guide we look at how to come up with digital pr campaign ideas, which is a key part of having success with these tactics.
An increasingly important part of search engine algorithms (which makes total sense) is how relevant the website and content is that features a mention of your brand or link back to your website.
There’s a knock-on effect here to the keywords and where search engines will rank you for related queries. This is an element of your campaign which you can control from the get-go, by focusing your campaigns on the topics (and keywords) that underpin your strategy.
In general, websites with little existing authority/links will gain most from any type of campaign that is topically relevant to them as a business. A plumbing company should look at topics related to plumbing, bathrooms, etc. and a legal practise looking at laws, commenting on the impact of a fine to a large corporation, etc.
However, larger websites typically have various categories and compete in spaces where there are specialist websites operating or other large corporations just like them. For example, Lastminute.com (confession – an old client of mine) not only specialise in travel, but they offer event tickets, they have locations they are trying to rank for (London, Manchester, etc.), they offer spa packages and even car hiring.
To rank competitively in each one of those areas, their backlink profile cannot only be from travel publications and focus on travel content. Instead, they need to make the content relevant.
To improve ranking performance for their ‘theatre ticket’ category, they need to generate content websites and journalists who often write about the West End, Wicked, or ‘events’ would be interested in. This, in turn, earns them a spot in those publications and search engines can start to see the relevance between Lastminute.com and this niche. Ranking improvements for their ‘theatre’ category then follow.
This is how your digital PR strategy needs to work. Ultimately, for this activity we are governed by search engines, but search engines are also governed by common sense. Understanding how the engine works can help you construct your strategy and how you are going to impact performance.