This approach to digital PR and online content marketing carries two significant benefits:
1. It gives you great brand exposure, highlighting your industry knowledge, engaging with your customers and potentially driving sales;
2. You’ll gain authoritative backlinks to your site, boosting search engine performance and giving you an edge in the rankings.
This guide to breaks down our process, explaining how to research and approach the very best prospective publishers, and how to get the most out of your outreach activity.
What is Prospecting?
Prospecting is the task of finding websites and online publications that share your target audience. Primarily you’re looking for sites with editorial content, and the vast majority will be online magazines and blogs.
During this process, you’ll be paying close attention to the quality and relevance of the site. Questions to ask yourself include: Is it a nice looking, well-designed site offering a good user experience? Does it have a clear target audience/readership? Do they accept guest posts from experts in the industry?
You should also consider the social visibility of the website, such as the amount of Twitter followers they have, as this gives you an indication of the popularity of the site, and its potential readership.
By studying these factors, you’ll gradually build a picture of the prospective title and its audience and what the likelihood is of your writing being published.
What is Outreach?
Outreach is the act of contacting the sites you found while prospecting. By engaging in a thorough and detailed prospecting campaign, you should have a pool of sites, contacts and research materials to inform your outreach strategy.
It is important to email/call the correct contact and follow up within a few days if you haven’t had a response. Editorial departments are often very busy, so don’t be put off if it takes a few attempts to get a response – perseverance will be rewarded.
When contacting sites, you’ll need to make the email clear, honest and succinct. Let the contact know who you are, what areas/topics you have expertise in and why you feel their audience would appreciate what you have to say. It’s important to stress that you’re looking to offer non-promotional content and actionable advice rather than advertorial content – if your primary goal is to tell the world how great you are, you’re likely to face rejection, but if you can actually offer something useful, interesting and insightful, your chances of getting published will be greatly enhanced.
Once you‘ve built up a portfolio of published work, perhaps from your own blog, you can also include links to samples of your previous writing, proving your credibility.
Preparation and understanding your audience
Before diving head first into the ever-expanding universe of the Web, you must first understand your audience. Market research is the key to any successful content marketing campaign, so you should always study your customer base.
Are you looking to target people within your industry niche, or to promote yourself within your client’s vertical markets? There are benefits to both approaches, and we’ve found great success by mixing the two.
You must always consider who might read your article. Relevance is a key word to reflect on. How relevant is the publication? Does your current or potential client base engage with it? There is always a greater SEO value for UK businesses to publish on UK sites that closely relate to their industry.
For example, if you’re a telecoms firm, then publishing on industry-specific news sites will help position you as an expert, building your profile as a thought leader. You may not be directly talking to potential customers but, in the eyes of Google (and the other search engines) gaining a link from the industry-leading ‘www.telecomsexperts.co.uk’ (not a real website) would act as something of a recommendation – if the best telecoms website in the country is linking to your telecoms website, you must be good! Let’s bump you up the rankings.
Staying with the telco example, if your company specialises in providing communication systems for estate agents, then approaching titles within this industry will allow you to speak directly to potential customers. Offering impartial advice on why ‘X’ can benefit business operations is an excellent way of building a dialogue with prospective clients, putting you at the forefront of their mind.
Remember, just in the same way that you’ll be researching sites to publish on, publishers may also research you, so having a strong portfolio of content on your own blog will go a long way to convincing them that you’re a voice of authority.
Tools of the Trade
In the articles associated with this chapter, we will be taking a closer look at the techniques that we favour and which we believe will help your prospecting and outreach efficiency.
For now, here’s an overview of six tools and approaches to get you started.
1. Google Search Operators
A simple search for Italian Beach Holidays brings up 77,600,000 results, which is nothing less than overwhelming. But finding sites doesn’t have to feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. The hidden functions beneath the surface of Google are a powerful way to refine and target the sites you’re looking to publish on. These hidden functions are called Search Operators.
Two useful Search Operators that will get you started are the “Quotes Search” and “Site: Search”.
a) The Quotes (” “) Search
The “quotes” search, often referred to as the Boolean Search, uses quotation marks to limit and target the results that Google will return. A Quotes Search forces Google to only return results that contain the exact phrase written within the quotation marks. The keywords (the variables) that form the result (the conjunction) must not just appear in the page, but must also appear in the same order on the page.
If you try searching “Italian Beach Holidays” in quotation marks, the overwhelming number of sites is narrowed down to a much more manageable 1,880 results, all of which contain an exact match phrase somewhere within the content.
Boolean algebra, or Boolean Logic, is a way of combining or excluding certain variables from a search result. This logic is used in a number of Google search operators. ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘not’ are the basic operations, which are at their simplest symbolised by ‘+’, ‘or’ and ‘-‘ in Google.
This is a great start to refining your search, but you may want to narrow this number down still further, so let’s dig deeper.
b) Site Colon (site:) Search
Looking for a geographically relevant (local to your business) domain is a great way to target your audience. If your business provides services to UK clients then combining a Quotes Search and site:.co.uk is good practice for limiting the results to UK only sites.
For example, by searching “Italian Beach Holidays” site:.co.uk Google narrows down the search results to an even more digestible 395 websites ending in the .co.uk ccTLD (country code top level domain). Remember that many UK based sites use .com domains, so keep in mind that whilst this filter is helpful it’s not the perfect solution.
As you become more familiar with the hidden depths of Google search, you will learn to experiment with and refine your combination of keywords and search operators so that the search results returned are very focused on your target niche or audience.
Details of more Google search operators can be found here.
2. The power of Twitter
Twitter has become a first-stop shop for news and views on subjects of all interests. The great thing about Twitter is the user has the power to follow people and companies that are relevant to their interests. Social networking is a useful way to build contacts, develop relationships and engage with your audience, it’s also a great medium to find new publishing opportunities.
By maintaining your social networking, following interesting publications and your competitors, you will build a well-rounded view of your industry. You will also begin to identify trends and topics that are being discussed that will aid your content marketing strategy.
Also, by following your competitors, you will learn about articles they are writing or re-posting to their audience. Think about it, if a website is re-posting and publishing guest posts by your competitors, there is every chance that they’ll accept content written by you.
Even a simple keyword or hashtag search on Twitter will keep you abreast of the industry and potentially provide new leads and prospects to outreach to. Although not as powerful as Google, Twitter does offer an advanced search function, which allows you to narrow your search via words, people and places and dates.
3. Search Google as if you are your customer
This is a great way to get into the mind-set of your customer base and relates back to your market research and understanding of your business sector.
Think about what kind of questions your customers are looking to answer? What is the intention of their search; what advice are they seeking or what problem are they looking to solve?
Going back to the scenario that a telecoms business wants to target estate agents, think about what issues the estate agent managers are looking to overcome. It could be ‘is a hosted telephone system cost efficient?’ or ‘what is the best VoIP Phone Systems for Estate Agents’. By thinking this way you are likely to find articles and publications that are addressing similar issues, which you can then reach out to and offer your expert contribution.
We’ve recently discovered a great tool for getting insight into how people search. Answer The Public visualises multiple longer tail variations of your keyphrase by returning the phrases as questions or appending the search term with prepositions. The results are quite amazing.
4. Research your competitors
Just as Twitter is a great resource to review your competitor’s interests and the publications they follow, you can use the same technique when searching Google.
Often a business’s Managing Director will write the articles that are to be published, and their name will appear in the author bio or article title. So why not see if your competitors’ MD’s are doing the same? Google’s Search Operators will assist this approach.
5. News and Google Alerts
When you search in Google, it is easy to forget the tabs that organise the type of content that is returned into verticals. Just above the Google search bar, you can pinpoint your search to ‘images’, ‘Books’ and of particular interest ‘news’.
The ‘news’ search is a great way to return up-to-date content about your industry. This research increases your knowledge of the current trends and topics being discussed and will help you when developing article ideas for publication that are newsworthy. Also, a ‘news’ search is more likely to return publications instead of links to competitors in your industry. Combine this with your competitor research, searching as if you are a customer and filtering the results using search operators, and your outreach efficiency will improve dramatically.
Using Gmail or another email account, you can set up Google Alerts to keep on top of trends being discussed in your sector, with notifications delivered straight to your inbox. It’s an excellent way to receive regular updates on the newsworthy topics being published online and provides you with links to sites that are talking about your chosen industry keywords.
6. Other Great Tools
Finally, there are a variety of external tools and resources that can help you maximise your efficiency in prospecting and outreach. Here’s a quick look:
BuzzStream is web-based software that helps you find sites, manage the sites you find and track your outreach activity. The platform is an excellent way to manage and organise your prospecting and outreach campaign as it allows you to save contact details and categorise site types. As you progress, you can highlight which sites are interested, what stage you are at in the outreach process, and mark irrelevant and rejected attempts to avoid duplicating work.
b) Browser Extensions, Add-ons & Plug-ins
Plug-ins add new features to your web browser and the two specific plug-ins below will aid the way you analyse the SEO value of the sites you find.
Moz’s SEO Toolbar works seamlessly with Google to analyse the SEO metrics of a site including Domain Authority (DA), one of the most popular site analysis metrics today.
The higher the DA of a site the more likely it is to be seen as authoritative domain in the eyes of Google and therefore any links you acquire from it will theoretically carry more SEO value.
More authoritative sites will also generally appear higher up in the search engine results pages, though of course this is also dependant on many other relevance factors. The higher up a site ranks, the more likely that people are finding and visiting it. And that means you are more likely to engage with your audience and acquire new customers from your campaign on sites with better DA.
Once installed, the toolbar will overlay the DA and other metrics next to the listed site in Google’s search results pages, or offer a simple browser toolbar button, providing a great way to weed out the good from the bad and speed up your research process.
Majestic Backlink Analyzer
Working in a similar way to the Moz Bar, the Majestic plugin helps you analyse a site’s citation and trust flows.
Citation Flow predicts how influential a link from a page might be, based on the amount of sites already linking to it.
Trust Flow predicts how trustworthy a page might be based on how closely linked the site is to other trusted domains. In essence, trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites, so these are important figures to take note of.
Over and Out
As Google is often one step ahead of SEO marketeers, it’s important to appreciate the value of producing legitimate, professional content which offers a real value to the consumer rather than keyword-heavy clickbait. This will help you develop your authority and avoid Google penalties, which will ultimately undermine the value of your efforts.
Keep an eye on our blog for a more in-depth look at each of the areas discussed in this article. If you have any questions or would like advice and guidance on your content marketing strategy, we would be more than happy to talk shop. Get in touch at any time.
Image Credits: “R. M. Stigersand in the Mens High Diving competition, Olympic Games, London, 1948” by National Media Museum from UK via Wikimedia Commons And “Campagnolo 1968 Tool Kit Wooden Box” by Italian_Bicycles [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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