Let me start with an honest (maybe too honest) statement regarding digital PR and link building:
Digital PR is now a hot topic across social channels, with different personalities and companies shouting and sharing every time they build a link.
The truth, however, is that most agencies and teams can build links. Most agencies and teams can get national placements, and anyone half-decent will be able to showcase a campaign which gained 100+ links from a single piece of content.
Too many people look at total link numbers as a benchmark for the competition.
When comparing your link profile against a competitor make sure you take more than just the number of domains into account.
Often a competitor will have more links, but worse quality.
— David White (@david_white90) May 19, 2020
ROI is a term which is often lost in the world of digital PR, as people focus more on the number of links rather than results. It’s time to change our mindsets from focusing purely on link numbers, and to start thinking instead about what those links delivered.
Links can deliver brand value. Links can deliver a change in consumer perceptions, and links can even deliver sales.
Let me explain…
connective3 is only eight months old at the time of writing, and in that time we have had multiple campaigns gaining 100, 150 and even 200 links in some instances. The issue is that link numbers are only one metric!
I’ll let you into a little secret… not every campaign hits the 100+ numbers (even though Twitter may lead you to believe that they do), and the fact is this: even if they do hit big numbers, if they don’t deliver anything other than just the links, was it worth it in the first place?
It is this drive for link numbers that has made our industry lose sight of what matters – tangible results!
Sales can be (not always, but occasionally) achieved via link building. Links can help with branding and share of voice, and they can even change the public’s perception of you as brand. It is these metrics we should consider as digital PR continues to evolve.
Putting this into practice
I have worked with Blacktower Financial Management for eight months across the US and Europe. During this time, we’ve had campaigns achieve national TV coverage, and 100+ links. We’ve built relevant links surrounding key product areas of the business, and even built links that generate leads and increase brand awareness (two key outputs the management of the business will care about more than just the volume of links).
The two graphs below show the share of voice Blacktower had against their main competitor before working with connective3 and, then six months after working with us:
The red is Blacktower and was taken via social listening across media titles *
Before connective3, Blacktower had around 15% of the share of voice. Now, it has over 60%. It is the above I am most proud of, it is the above I am most likely to share, and it is the above that has delivered the most results for Blacktower’s bottom line.
How did we achieve this?
Firstly, and most importantly, we focused on relevance and we stayed ‘on brand’. Being ‘on brand’ has often been pushed back within the digital PR community as we choose to stay away from promotional content. You can, however, stay away from promotional content and still be ‘on brand’ – trust me, it’s possible.
We worked with internal stakeholders at Blacktower to discover what key products they offer as a business, what their USP is and (importantly) what their brand positioning is.
Using this data, we found that the topic of pensions was highly relevant for Blacktower as a brand (as they offer retirement financial advice). We then analysed the search queries surrounding the topic, to reveal that people were naturally questioning their finances when engaging with this topic. Following this we created a financial related pension campaign which delivered across links, leads, visibility and brand awareness.
This campaign has now put Blacktower at front of mind for pending customers, and had a huge impact on their brand search. These are two metrics that many digital PR’s don’t measure, but are arguably more important.
How links can (sometimes) drive sales
Links, believe it or not, can deliver direct sales. It’s not always possible, but for some brands this can be a metric to chase alongside others. If you or your client sells a large purchase item such as houses, cars or kitchens, then maybe this is one to consider, but not focus on with 100% of your efforts. However, if you or your client sell smaller, low cost items, then this could be one for you.
Over the past eight months I have worked with thortful cards. In that time, we’ve run several campaigns, been reactive and jumped on newsjacking opportunities, and have helped them turn traditional PR opportunities into digital through our unique approach.
We’ve worked with national papers during the run up to thortful’s key commercial events to offer card round-ups articles, such as; ‘Best Father’s Day Cards’, or ‘Best Mother’s Day Cards’ etc. Since we have been pushing products with this approach (and therefore getting product links), we have managed to drive substantial sales from many of the links, with some direct sales even exceeding £800.
We captured this data by looking at assisted conversions within Google Analytics based on the traffic sent from any links gained. Make sure you are checking this for all of your activity, no matter what the brand, as you may be surprised at the results.
Links can change brand perception
Why should link campaigns just be for links? Why should the content just be in-line with journalist trends? The short answer is that it doesn’t need to be.
We are guilty (or I know I certainly am at times) of forgetting that the content we land in the media is read by thousands of people. Getting content in front of large audiences opens a huge opportunity to change and shape the perceptions of the brand. A great example of this is Unbroken Britain by Provident Personal Credit.
Provident Personal Credit are a doorstep loan company. The nature of the business means that it carries negative stigma, particularly in the media. The ‘Unbroken Britain’ campaign was created to try and move Provident away from this negative stigma, by instead, highlighting the happiest and safest areas of the UK, and getting links in the process. The campaign was updated on a bi-annual basis and managed to secure links from incredible sites such as the NHS, The Telegraph and even universities.
What’s more important though, is that it generated positive press for Provident and even got support from local parliamentarians, pushing the brand into an area trusted by the public and surrounding it with a positive sentiment. Overall, the campaign built 180 links, but the impact on the brand was much bigger.
Links are still important, but they are not worth creating irrelevant content for
Although the above has detailed my thoughts on why links should work harder, I am aware that some brands just need links to increase organic visibility and are less likely to care about brand or direct sales. This kind of activity is fine, and does work for some people, but my point is that even if you are just after links alone, it’s not worth creating ‘content for links sake’. Instead, as PRs, we should be looking to create relevant content.
When I started my career in 2012, we used to think of any random story just so we could pay a blogger to build a link. Whether it related to the brand or not was irrelevant. Fast forward to 2020 and people are doing the same, but just without paying for the links this time. Is this any better than those black hat days? Arguably not.
Digital PR’s, it’s time to get to know your brands and their customers. Get to know their likes and dislikes and create content that your audience want to read, rather than creating content that only journalists want.
It’s time to start thinking like marketers, and to stop thinking solely as link builders. By creating on-brand, relevant content, you are much more likely to be able to build links that impact other metrics such as brand, sentiment and customer perceptions. In doing so you are delivering results that have a business wide impact, which ultimately makes PR activity a far more effective part of the marketing mix.