Lessons from a PR/ guest blogging outreach campaign

Over the 13 years that we have been in the online marketing business, we have evolved from being purely focused on SEO to be a content marketing company. This evolution is mainly the result of two key realisations: a) content is often the biggest contributor to SEO success b) good content presents the greatest chance of obtaining high-quality links, which still matter for SEO, while also improving overall human visibility.

As we gain experience in the entire content marketing cycle- from strategy & planning to content creation to content distribution- we continue to learn interesting lessons in the do’s and don’ts of this marketing strategy.

Recently, we carried out a fairly successful content marketing campaign for a start-up entrepreneur in the health & wellness sector in India. Being very new in the market, the primary objective of the campaign was to create as much visibility for the entrepreneur as possible in relevant channels, while at the same time, maximise opportunities for getting organic search engine (SEO) traffic.

While the results from the campaign more than fulfilled the objectives we set out to achieve, there were quite a few takeaways from the hassles and challenges we faced during the entire process. We list below some of these takeaways for the benefit of anyone who is considering a PR/ guest blogging outreach campaign.

Define and agree on the process to be followed

This may seem obvious but better to state it than not: it is good to define the process to be followed for the campaign with the different stakeholders. Whether you first create pieces of content and then find the right channel to get it published on, or you approach a few publishing platforms first and then create custom content for them— these are decisions that you can agree on upfront. Both of these approaches work and we’ve realised that there are advantages and disadvantages, efficiencies and inefficiencies.

If I were to stick my neck out and indicate a personal preference, it is for the latter approach: identify potential publishing platforms, engage with them and then create something useful and valuable specifically for that platform.

Remember that a PR/guest blogging outreach campaign is fairly labour intensive. While you can create a standard process to follow, it really works optimally in the pre-reachout stage. Beyond that, you will often have to alter approaches on the fly and take actions depending on the responses that you receive. Build in some degree of flexibility into the process.

Another aspect you should define and agree early in the process is related to communication with the target publishers. This is particularly true when you are doing such a content distribution/ outreach campaign for an ‘external’ client. Some clients can be unnecessarily fastidious about every tiny detail.

The client I mentioned above was one such ‘control freak’, which we thought significantly slowed down the process and success rate without adding any additional value. In hindsight, we would have done better to set in stone the entire process, communication details and the boundaries of ‘interference’ before we commenced the campaign.

Get a realistic assessment of the content creation capabilities
After we embarked on this content marketing initiative, we were soon faced with a different problem. The response rate was better than anticipated, so it meant that the number of publishers who were willing to accept contributions from our client was higher than the volume of content that we could expect our client to generate within the stipulated time frame.

This is not a bad problem to have, but it meant one of two things: either scale up content generation capabilities or slow down and delay some of the pieces that were to be submitted. Scaling up the volume becomes a serious problem when the subject matter is very niche and it does require a specialist to offer knowledgeable insights. In the case we are discussing, it did require the specialist who had some strong views to create the content, and so we had to drop off a few publishers who had agreed to publish our content.

The lesson we took away from this experience is that we needed to have a better sense of how much content could be created in what time frame, and the need to better regulate the outreach effort.

Agree on the websites you are going to target for outreach

Set up some broad criteria on the type and “nature” of websites you want to approach for potential content contribution and publication opportunities. The holy grail is, obviously, channels that have a high volume of relevant audience reach/ traffic and also willing to link to you. However, these are also not easy-wins, so make sure that you have alternatives too. For example, you might find sites that aren’t top-draw, but are reasonably relevant and there is an easier opportunity to get a link. In terms of effort-to-return, this tier 2 site could yield a better return in the short term.

In the selection of the site, evaluate whether the content is good in general. Will it be appropriate for the author/ expert to have his/her name there? Review some of the other articles covered by the media to determine the overall quality of the site.

Some of the yardsticks or factors we have used to identify potential websites for outreach are given below.

  • Good domain authority (Yes- we understand that the validity of this Moz-created metric is debatable, but we do use it as a reasonable indicator along with other subjective factors)
  • Topical relevance: Is the website focused on the topic that you will be creating content on.
  • Good social media presence – do they share contributed content on their social media
  • Do they give links?
  • Do they accept multiple articles, or should it be one-off contribution: If the site has a high user base comprising relevant audience, then it will make sense to contribute more frequently. Otherwise, invest your efforts in getting links for more diverse sources for more SEO benefit.
  • Get complete clarity from the content platform on what you will get
    Once you start approaching the websites/blogs for publication of your content, it is very important to get full visibility on what you can expect from contributing your original content to that channel. The sooner you have clarity, the easier it is for you to bail out in case you feel that the benefit you will get is not commensurate with the effort you have to put in.

    Some of the aspects to get clarity on are:

  • Content guidelines: This should include things like word count, image requirements, style or tone to be followed, any specific angle or theme to be focused on, etc.
  • What you will get: Will the author get a detailed by-line, or just a mention of the name and title? Will it include a photograph of the author and/or a logo of the company? Will they provide back link(s) to your website? Will the links be “follow” or “no follow”? (It is perfectly fine to go ahead with publishing content on a site that offers a no-follow link, if other attributes of the site such as the size and relevance of the audience seem favourable.
  • What are their expectations: Are they glad to just have your content on their website? Do they want exclusivity for the content? Can you offer it to other publishers? Can you re-publish it on your own website? Do they expect a link back to their site? Or, are they looking for some form of monetary compensation as sponsored content or advertising?

    Paying for content publication is fine, as long as you recognise that you should be expecting a no-follow link and a clear indication on the site that your content is “sponsored content”. Don’t go for “buying links” with a paid-for content piece, unless of course you are comfortable with the risk of a Google-penalty. We know that a lot of mainstream and top publishers include do-follow links in content that in that essentially “placed for payment, directly or indirectly”, but this is a grey area that comes with a certain element of risk.

  • Content distribution: Where on the site will the content be placed? Will it be given any special visibility on the home page or on the landing page of a particular section? Will they post links on their social media handles? Will they include links in their newsletter?
  • Ensure you get due credit for your content

    There is nothing worse in content marketing than seeing somebody else take full credit for a piece of work that you have crafted assiduously. Mind you — we are not talking about some obscure blogger or web publisher aggregating content from multiple sources without permission. We were surprised to find that websites operated by some well-known media houses did this!

    For example, a couple of large publishers used almost everything almost verbatim, bar one or two edits, from a piece that was written by our client. The by-line for the article was given to some writer from the publication, and they converted a couple of sentences in the article inot quotes from our client- a recognised expert in that field- thus trying to give the impression that the entire piece was researched and written by the staff writer. Worse, in attempting to make the minor edits to give that perception, the rather incompetent editorial team left behind a trail of spelling and grammatical errors!

    We realised that not getting a confirmation from the publication that the article would be published with a by-line for our client was a mistake.

    To conclude, some of the specifics of each content marketing or guest blog outreach campaign could vary, but we feel many of the bigger lessons we learnt here could be applied to all campaigns.

    - By Manoj Aravindakshan
    Manoj Aravindakshan is a search marketing consultant and content strategist. He is the founder of Singapore SEO agency & digital media company, On Target Media.

    This article was originally published on the On Target Media website.