Why Your Public Relations Strategy Shouldn’t Be Measured On Backlinks
Understanding why you’re hiring a PR agency to advance your company’s goals is essential. So is making sure you agree on those goals at the relationship’s inception. Successful client-PR partnerships begin with pinpointing what success looks like and agreeing on effective ways to measure it. Each client campaign is different, so those measurements will likewise need to be customized every time.
But a company that expects to measure PR’s impact primarily through backlinks is sorely misguided. Public relations professionals know that earning coverage for a client in an online publication is no guarantee the resulting story will include links back to company or product websites. And it’s folly to promise clients that it will.
In fact, many websites’ editorial guidelines forbid such links, deeming them a form of promotion that conflicts with objective journalism. That’s something PR pros often have to explain to clients, especially to startups. If a particular publisher appears inclined to include backlinks, it’s something a PR pro might inquire about, although editors aren’t likely to include them just because they were asked to. I, myself, over the years have once or twice asked a journalist I knew well, “Hey, would you mind adding a link, as I see you’ve done that before?” But it’s not the norm, and outlets are increasingly saying no.
Making such a request can often backfire, as it sends the wrong message. It could suggest your company is mainly interested in the link, not the journalistic coverage itself. It might alienate the writer, who may see the query as intrusive — akin to asking her to doctor a direct quote — jeopardizing the potential for a beneficial media relationship down the line.
Without question, backlinks are a measurable element of digital marketing. They provide third-party validation that helps search engines verify that a particular website is credible, possibly boosting its SEO. It’s a great way for companies to accrue search engine optimization value over time. But asking for backlinks upfront is a tactical error. Instead of looking to them as a magic bullet to build brand equity online, it’s smarter to have your PR partner build and execute an integrated communications strategy that identifies target audiences and the daily struggles they face. Then focus on creating content that authoritatively speaks to those issues.
As you do this, it’s crucial to make sure your PR and digital marketing teams are talking to each other. Your PR partner knows your industry and employs writers who know how to create thought leadership content. Digital partners know how to serve up that content through paid channels, which then creates backlinks.
Despite the growing fusion of marketing and PR, backlinks are still digital marketing’s domain, and it is digital marketing’s meteoric rise in recent years that deters many journalists from including backlinks in their coverage. PR pros might work with digital marketers to find less promotional ways to generate backlinks (such as guest-contributed content).
When working with a PR agency for content development, it’s best to hire one that’s embedded in your industry and thinks like a journalist. In a perfect world, your PR partner will feed editorial-style content into the digital marketing engine, which then focuses on tactical, audience-based content like SEO, relevant keyword identification and backlink creation, maximizing the content’s value and placement.
For the most part, a PR professional’s power over a media story about a client stops at the beginning of the interview. From there, it’s up to the writer and editor to determine what’s included. PR’s job is to find the angle that will appeal to the writer and his readers in the first place, to pitch that story, secure the interview, prep the client, be available for fact-checking afterward and make sure the journalist has all the information she needs to write the piece.
If the narrative is compelling and conveys the company’s offerings in a way that speaks to a reader, that reader will save the story, share it and find the company online. It may not be a one-word click-through, but website traffic after positive press coverage is easy for PR professionals to measure and track. From there, the company’s sales team can use that coverage for marketing, also measuring inbound leads by asking customers how they learned about the client.
Brand equity is not built on backlinks. It’s created by communicating a clear understanding of what a company stands for and how the company is differentiated. Staying focused on that goal will yield the best measurements of success.