Digital PR is awesome.

OK, so I’m a little biased on this. But genuinely, there are very few other disciplines which can claim to help alter perceptions in quite such a tangible (and therefore valuable) way.

And hey, that’s probably what makes it so popular! Digital PR is cool. It’s sexy. It’s that perfect combination of creativity and data-driven results that has even the most sceptical of marketer or business director looking up from their morning Starbucks and asking ‘hey, shouldn’t we be doing this too?’.

I’d love to say ‘yes, everyone should be doing it!’. But the reality is that actually, in order to make the most of any digital PR investment, there are a few questions that need to be answered first.

First things first… why digital PR?

We get lots of requests for digital PR. Businesses of all shapes and sizes approach us to work with our digital PR team, which is really exciting because we love to work on digital PR campaigns.

But before we do, we always start with this question: why?

Why do you want/need digital PR?

In the majority of cases, your business will be trying to fulfil an SEO need. You’ve noted that your website lacks authority, especially when compared to its competitors in the SERPs, and therefore, you’re looking for links. Which is great, because one of the major benefits of a digital approach to PR is that you can use it as a tactic to build links. Hurray, then! (Or not, as I’ll address next…).

In some cases, you’ll be looking to use digital PR as an alternative or a supplement to traditional PR – in which case, your end goal is likely to be a placement in a specific publication/set of publications, or it’ll be able audience development, perhaps as a support to building remarketing audiences in PPC, or to drive referral traffic to a specific page or offer. This, of course, comes with its own set of questions…

Digital PR for SEO purposes

So you’ve chosen option A – you want digital PR to help you fulfil your SEO goals.

But wait.

Is your business ready to start using PR as a link acquisition tool? Has it already exhausted the plethora of other link building techniques available to it?

Using digital PR to build links before exhausting other link building tactics would be like hiring a helicopter to get you to your destination when a simple bicycle would have achieved the same goal. Yes, the helicopter is really cool and you’ll definitely impress your colleagues when you land it in the car park at work. But was it really worth the thousands of pounds you spent on it when you could have just as easily pedalled your way through your 10 mile commute?

It’s important that you – and your SEO team – have made use of other link acquisition tactics before you even consider investing in a digital PR campaign. Things like the following will help you on your way:

  • Broken link building – the process of reclaiming link value by fixing any pages to which links have been built but which now result in a 404
  • Unlinked mentions – the process of finding mentions of your brand where a link hasn’t been included, and asking that publication to add a link in
  • Citations – the process of building NAP (name, address, phone) consistency through niche, quality citation placements
  • Deserved link building – the process of identifying pages where you deserved a link but didn’t yet get one, e.g. Impression might look out for lists of top digital marketing agencies and seek inclusion on the basis that we have won numerous awards in this category

You can also earn links more naturally by simply investing in high quality content that taps into a niche, where lots of people talk about it but few create content on it. For example, this blog post on dwell time has received a number of links with no outreach at all, solely on the basis of it ranking in position 1 for a niche keyword that people like to write about in their own broader guides.

Darren Kingman wrote a really good point over on the Buzzstream blog on the topic of ‘do you need to build links‘, which is worth checking out.

Digital PR for PR purposes

This is where it gets a little more complex. Traditional PR, as most people will agree, is much more difficult to measure – though this shouldn’t take away from its perceived value.

If you were working with a traditional PR agency, you might be talking about goals around ‘increased brand awareness’ or ‘visibility’. Typically, that PR agency would quantify those goals using metrics such as AVE (advertising value equivalent) or circulation figures. Though valid in many cases, those metrics unfortunately lack insight into the resulting activity of an audience – such as whether they actually went on to buy, or whether they even engaged with your brand in any way.

In digital PR, we can quantify these metrics much more in terms of referral traffic or increased SERPs rankings and the subsequent traffic increases there. We can also measure the engagement of audiences with the content we produce for PR, thus helping us to identify the best content formats and topics for our specific audience.

Savvy marketers will also recognise the value of PR overlaid with other channels. The connection to SEO is clear – build links, get better rankings – but have you considered how you can use digital PR to build and develop new audiences for PPC purposes? It’s something we’ve done to great effect for our clients, and a tactic we envisage growing in popularity as we move into 2019.

If you’re investing in digital PR for PR purposes, ask yourself:

  • What is my goal, and how can I make it quantifiable?
  • If my goal isn’t quantifiable in a digital way (i.e. related to PPC or SEO) do I need a digital PR or do I actually need a traditional PR?

Are you clear about what you’re promoting through digital PR?

At this point, you’ve reviewed your digital PR requirement and have communicated that with your wider team – it’s either an SEO or a PR requirement and either way, you’ve got clarity around goals and a vision on what you’re trying to achieve overall.

Now’s the time to get more specific.

Whether you’re coming at this from an SEO or a PR perspective, it’s likely you’re looking to use digital PR to better align your brand with something – be that visibility for a specific search query or overall authority amongst your marketplace.

What do you want to promote?

What do you want to be known for? Is it a specific story that you want to get out there, such as a new product or a project you’ve been working on? Is it about building authority in a certain topic or set of topics for which you’re not already known? Perhaps yours is a product or service with little existing search volume and you’re trying to generate demand.

Whatever it is you’re promoting, you should be clear about this and align that goal, where possible, with your wider search marketing strategy. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have an immediate story to promote?
  • What do I want my brand to be known for?
  • Are there any specific publications I want to feature in?
  • Am I trying to build links to a specific page and if not, do I have a good reason?

Can you justify the time investment in digital PR vs other channels?

It’s no secret that digital PR takes time. It’s a long term strategy, not a quick win. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is probably not doing it right.

It’s important that you weigh up the time investment required to make digital PR work, against the other tactics you could be using to achieve your goals. It’s worth noting that, even if you use an agency to handle your digital PR, it’s still likely you’ll need to put at least some time to it to provide expert comment or resources for your PR team to promote.

Even if you’re putting a good chunk of time into a digital marketing agency, it might not make sense for you to allocate ‘digital PR’ time by default. In fact, in many cases, you might prefer to allocate your time to the technical and on page elements of SEO first to get them done and to later make space for bigger digital PR campaigns.

We often talk about the ‘three pillars of SEO’ being technical, content and links. But for me, that’s better visualised as two pillars of content and links, built on a foundation of technical excellence. Far better to get those foundations in place first than to attempt to build either links or content on a shaky base.

Once you are ready to invest in digital PR, we’d love to hear from you.

Laura Hampton

Head of Marketing & PR

Head of Marketing at @impressiontalk specialising in user-centred SEO, PR, content marketing and digital strategy. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

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