Updated August 17, 2021 to feature new information and best practices.
The days when PR was a handshake and a well-placed logo on a celebrity are gone. Now that we are all slaves to the search engines that run our world (mostly kidding), our brands compete in a digital landscape that is constantly changing. Sometimes it feels like going into a sword fight blindfolded.
How do you outsmart your competitors on a battlefield that Google arbitrarily controls and slants when it sees fit? The answer is with a ninja.
Off-page SEO is the mercenary of the PR world: it’s stealthy, it’s quiet, and it’s powerful.
Whatever the reason you want to build your business’s authority on search engines—whether you’re a startup just entering the market, hitting a plateau in your SEO results, or you’re launching a new product— expanding your off-page SEO (think of it as digital PR) can get you seen. Even if you’re already ranking on page one for key terms in the SERPs, off-page factors are a critical part of keeping you there. Moz even came out and said that off-page factors make up more than 50% of Google’s algorithm, so it’s important to pay attention. Digital PR and link building are some of the best tools to proactively drive both organic and referral traffic to your site, build domain authority, and meet your audience where they are living and engaging on the web, building brand awareness in the right places at the right time.
Digital PR is not easy, though. The landscape is always changing —it takes a lot of strategy and quite a bit of chutzpah to get your foot in the door anymore. And the search engines are watching.
When off-page SEO is done wrong, penalties can cost your site dearly.
Here’s one ninja’s summary of what it takes to master your digital PR strategy:
The Four-Pronged Attack
While it is not necessary to engage in all four of these strategies, they are all powerful solutions for different reasons. Things to consider when deciding on your approach are:
- Time investment (how soon do you want results)
- Your company’s goals and needs (i.e., product launches, site rebuilds, overall authority growth, etc.)
WHAT: Your off-page SEO specialist would promote your product or website launch to relevant media outlets and journalists across the globe, or just your backyard (depending on your goals), aiming for coverage of your site or product landing page. They may also answer HAROs on behalf of the brand to gain coverage, including mentions of your brand and links back to your site.
WHY: This can potentially drive traffic to your site in a short amount of time, gain awareness for your brand in relevant spaces across the web, and quickly grab the attention of a wide audience, increasing your domain authority (and therefore, your organic visibility) as media outlets link to your content.
WHAT: This is a large-scale team effort. Your off-page SEO specialist ideates and produces data-driven or evergreen content (like a tool), the page is designed, copy is written, and then published by a developer on your site. The off-page SEO specialist then promotes the piece of content to journalists and media outlets, in hopes of gaining media attention, coverage, and relevant backlinks to your site.
WHY: Much like digital PR, this tactic can result in referral traffic to your site in a short amount of time. Evergreen content (like a calculator or tool) can be promoted indefinitely, and content like this builds your authority as a thought leader in your industry, providing useful content for your site visitors. These pieces are also highly shareable. Newsworthy, data-driven content is more commonly a one-off, meant to get the media’s attention for coverage across several verticals at once. Both types of promotable content build authority and increase your site’s organic search traffic.
Local Link Building
WHAT: Building links to the local pages on your site on other URLs can be time-consuming and arduous. Searching the web for target directories, resource pages, listings, etc., and reaching out to them requesting a citation, is a good way to build links to local pages. This is the bread and butter of off-page SEO. Your strategist would write articles for media outlets and publications on tangential topics to your industry, and link to your site content as a resource in a contextually relevant, keyword-rich article.
WHY: If your site has location-based pages, this is a must. Building links to these pages increases visibility to users searching the web. This is a natural way of earning backlinks to your site (when it’s done right). Relevant, well-written articles that link to your site as a source boost your authority in your industry. When a relevant site with a high domain authority links to you, some of their link equity is passed on to you, slowly increasing your site’s ability to rank in organic search.
WHAT: Most sites that have been around for a while have links pointing to them that no longer work. Whether you’ve gone through something as big as a migration, or just taken down a blog post, links pointing to your site can get lost in translation and end up returning a 404 error. You can solve this quickly by redirecting the page, but you lose some valuable link equity in doing so. Another solution is to reach out to the referring site and let them know the link is broken, and offer a replacement link, asking them to fix it. It is time-consuming and a bit arduous, but restoring link equity and fixing links can be a productive use of time if you have the right kind of brand.
Over the years, we’ve found, in general, that product pages don’t really work well for this, and charitable causes and nonprofits do extremely well. We like to evaluate each scenario case by case and only engage in this tactic when we feel it’s productive.
WHY: Broken links are not helping your site. You’ve lost all equity from the original referring link. This is bad when you are looking at hundreds and thousands of broken links. Redirecting still loses link equity. Fixing these links at the source is ideal.
A Note About Guest Posting
Back in the day, guest posting moved mountains. Even in 2019, this was the case. But Google’s algorithm has caught up to this tactic, and it’s giving less and less authority to guest posting links. We’ve found that the needle barely moves anymore, and the effort isn’t really worth it (it’s incredibly time-consuming, involving multiple parties, and can take months to land live links). In our experience, there are tactics that are much more effective and less risky (when done wrong, guest posting can result in penalties).
The Skills that Pay the Bills
Like any good ninja, there is a special set of traits that every good off-page SEO specialist has in their arsenal. They are…
A Natural Salesperson. Your off-page SEO specialist has mastered the elevator speech. From promoting newsworthy content to pitching tangential content linking to your company’s site to discriminating editors, they’re convincing. Let’s just say they could sell a ketchup popsicle to a lady wearing white gloves.
Resilient. Your off-page SEO specialist is tough as nails. Digitally knocking on doors all day, getting rejected, failing, and picking up the pieces, going back to the drawing board, repurposing dry content, and starting over again. Your ninja lets failure be their fuel for greatness.
Researcher. Your off-page SEO specialist does their homework. They’ve researched your competitors, analyzed where they’re getting coverage, and gone after it themselves. They’ve found all the journalists that are covering your industry and have dug until they found every single one of their emails. They know your site and know how to pitch it. They are able to dive deep into data sets and create additional content that they can promote for you.
Persistent. Your off-page SEO specialist doesn’t give up. Ever. If someone mentions your company, They’ll pursue a link. If one editor turns them down, they find another. They follow up religiously on every email they send.
Well-written. Since the majority of your off-page SEO specialist’s communication is by email, they must know how to craft the perfect one. They have mastered the subject line. Their grammar and writing skills are top-notch. In the digital battle, the email, after all, is mightier than the sword.
The Battle They Must Face
Digital PR is challenging—your off-page SEO specialist has Their work cut out for them. These are just some of the issues they face:
Burnout. Being rejected for a living is not easy. The wins make it worth it, and the resilience of the off-page SEO specialist is key. They need to be able to get back on the horse over and over again, while continuing to be innovative and responsive.
Lack of Control. The media can be fickle and unpredictable. You may have the perfect piece scheduled to launch, and a storm wipes out all the power in Texas, or the princess of Wales announces triplets, and you’re sunk trying to compete with that. The good news is that resilience and persistence pay off, and over time, you will have more wins than losses if you keep at it.
Lack of Linkable Content. Some websites are flat-out easier to link to than others. When content is thin, overly promotional (salesy), or doesn’t provide clear value and authority on your given subject, trying to promote it and building links to it can be dicey. The media simply doesn’t like linking to overtly promotional content. So if your website is thin on content, content strategy should come before any link-building efforts (like local link building or link reclamation) are pursued. Luckily, content promotion can stand on its own because you’re creating great content that won’t be thin.
Time. Digital PR is a major time investment. It usually takes an average of six to twelve weeks of hard work to see significant improvements in organic search traffic and keyword rankings, although, with bigger, large-scale, and consistent content promotion, your site can potentially see gains more quickly. As a rule, you should invest in digital PR for at least six months to a year to create the momentum necessary for success and to allow the links your off-page SEO specialist builds to positively impact your site. As a wise ninja might say: It is a slow, but fruitful (and necessary) endeavor.
When You Should Consider Digital PR for Your Business, a Summary
Digital PR is a powerful marketing tool. Again, whether you’re a startup facing down well-known competitors, a veteran in the market who is starting to see a plateau in your SEO results, or somewhere in between, digital PR can take you further.
But it’s not easy. Be sure you have a team that:
- Has mastered the art of the pitch
- Has the tools to be successful
- Has the time, energy, and resiliency to go to battle for your brand —hard, every day.
A final caution: Google is always watching, and when off-page SEO is done wrong, penalties can be costly.
Go into battle well-armed, my friends.