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Show Me The Links 2.4: Live Q&A - Your Questions Answered




Julie Joyce: Hi, everybody! Welcome to the next episode of the SEMRush webinar series Show Me The Links. I'm your host, Julie Joyce. I'm happy to be here today with Debra Mastaler who started this show and then handed it off to me, and Kaizen's, Jessica Fairfax. If I could turn it over to you guys, Debra, would you like to introduce yourself? 

Debra Mastaler: Hi, I'm Debra Mastaler. I own Alliance-Link and a new site that I'm pushing out the door called Keytooles. It's an online marketing tool directory I'm having fun with. If you know me, then you know that I'm a directory girl to the core, and it's how I got my start back in 1998. And from the directory, I jumped into SEO in 2001, and I've had a link building agency ever since. That's a little about me.

Julie Joyce: That's awesome. Jess, how about you? 

Jessica Fairfax: I'm Jess Fairfax from Kaizen. I'm the senior PR and outreach manager. I have been here for three years. I started out in a digital marketing agency in Cape Town, South Africa and then moved over for a digital PR internship, one of the first in our internship program. And yeah, for the last three years just been waking up and doing all things link-building, outreach, PR, and strategy as well.

What is the Difference Between Digital PR and Traditional PR?

Julie Joyce: I want to start with a good question that Joe Hall had asked. We'll talk about the difference between digital and traditional PR and what's the difference and how can we leverage their understanding to build links?

Jessica Fairfax: That's a big one that I think a lot of our clients ask us. Either when we're pitching or when they come to us, when they want to look at a new product. Traditional is very much based on brand awareness. It can be offline and online. It doesn't really matter. It is more product-led in some cases. 

And then it also, there's sort of target coverage. There's usually publications that they want their name and they want their product in, or their event or something like that. 

Digital is a bit more focused on metrics for SEO purposes and link building. This can be kind of research led as well, I know and it's more the volume of coverage. 

The more quality links and coverage it gets is a thing called digital PR, where traditional PR is just, we want to be published in Vogue or something like that. And that's kind of more brand awareness where you think your clientele is.

Julie Joyce: That makes sense. Debra, do you have anything to add to that? 

Debra Mastaler: Yeah, I started off before probably the two of you were born, working in the newspaper industry and back before there were computers. I've seen it come and really change along the way. 

To add to what Jess said, which are good points. Digital PR has a tendency to be more immediate. If somebody reaches out, they want something right away, to be published right away. Whereas, the traditional side typically has to go through printing, through getting permissions and that kind of thing before it can be printed. 

Print side, too, tends to be a longer and more series-related where digital stuff is kind of a one-off. 

I've also found that with digital, sometimes it's easier actually to start with traditional to get into those journalists and those publications, mostly for, say, weekend work. Monday through Friday the world operates, business and technology companies, they operate and Wall Street's open, the stock exchanges are open. 

On the weekends those kinds of publications are quiet and so they need filler. In the old days, we used to call that B-roll. They're looking for content. And so establishing relationships with those journalists in traditional methodologies typically gets you into those venues and then you can. When they need an immediate response or something that they're putting on online, that stuff, they can reach out to you. 

There are some differences. I think speed is the biggest one between the two. 

Julie Joyce: All right, one thing I did want to go over too because in the description we talk about content marketing, digital PR. What are the differences between PR, content marketing and link building? 

Jessica Fairfax: To me, PR is the overarching umbrella term. I think PR is constantly changing. I mean there's influence, there are all these sorts of bits of PR that are jumping out of nowhere. 

Content marketing is a section of PR. Content marketing for me it would be that small little subsection and, which can sort of be marketing, it can be brand awareness. It can also be then SEO-related, which is where I think link building comes into it. 

Link building is then a smaller subsection of content marketing as well. Because you know that we have some clients that do content marketing and just for brand awareness. I think it's all in one encompassing elements of PR, but it gets broken down into separate sections as well.

Buying Nofollow Links

Julie Joyce: That helps. Somebody did ask, is it okay to buy nofollow’ed links? Debra, what do you think about that?

Jessica Fairfax: I can see what they're trying.

Julie Joyce: It doesn't violate the guidelines if you nofollow? Does it?

Debra Mastaler: There's a whole discussion out there about buying links, whether they are using a nofollow attribute, not using a nofollow attribute, there's a whole different subset of conversation there that I think kind of falls outside of the scope of what we're trying to talk about today. 

For me, you're not supposed to, that's the given answer. That's the public answer that I guess you're supposed to give so that you don't get yourself into trouble. 

If I could get onto a site that uses a nofollow attribute but would send tremendous traffic and, or visibility to me, I'd have to think really hard about that. And the answer would be, I probably would as a link building hat.

Julie Joyce: But you're not recommending it, you're just saying in certain situations?

Debra Mastaler: I wouldn't recommend. I never recommend trying to get yourself into hot water. Situations come up sometimes where you have to look at the big picture and make a common-sense decision about your client or your site, to what you're going to benefit. 

Sometimes, like I said, a lot of traffic and a lot of exposure trump any kind of link popularity that you might get out of the link. Privately, I might give you a different or I might say something different depending on the site. 

A lot of times too, you're in very competitive niches, you have to take advantage of situations as they come up. 

What to Look for When Outsourcing Link Building

Julie Joyce: What should you look for in a link provider? We get that question a lot from people just like, "What are some things you would look for if you need to outsource your link building or get somebody to help you?"

Debra Mastaler: We're talking about PR right now. And what we're really talking about is media relations. It's not public relations. Public relations tends to be the practice of dealing with the public or addressing something publicly, putting out fires, reporting the news and so forth.

Really what we're trying to do in this case is link builders and as SEOs is engage in media relations. You can also substitute media relations for influencers or relationship building, whatever term you want to use at the moment.

But the reality is, that as link builders when you're looking to hire someone, you really have to know a little bit about your industry and about what is generating waves in your industry and what's generating traffic. 

Like accounting software, versus selling running shoes, two totally different types of sites would require two totally different focuses and campaigns. And so not all one site, not all one size fits all sites. It just doesn't work that way. 

I would find out if I was in retail or actually if I was kind of link building company, who has a background in media relations and public relations. Today with the web the way it is, and the algorithms the way they are, I think that's a huge part of your outreach, especially with so much emphasis on content marketing now. 

If you have people who have had experience with or who come from a background of journalism in some form, I think you're going to find that they're going to be much more successful than those folks that don't. Whether it be your writing staff, your outreach staff, the person who puts the plans together, staff, whatever. 

Julie Joyce: Jess, anything for that?

Jessica Fairfax: I think like Debra said, you do need to know the people that are going to be doing the day to day work. They do need to have experience on it. Actually getting into the role and knowing the UK sphere and news publications, all that, was a major thing for me. 

How to Build Relationships in PR

Debra Mastaler: “What are your tips to start building relationships in the PR/media realm?”

For me, it was always hiring people who used to work there. Ever since I started link building back in the early 2000s, I hired journalists that were moonlighting or that were part-time... with the Washington Post, that's our big paper. Or the Roanoke times or the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I always hired people that have worked there because they already knew that people with the paper, and that was easy to get content into those sites.

If you see people on the television that are reporting about a subject, you write their name down, especially if you're local. If you're not, then hiring people from the major publications that go worldwide... What's the one that gets published every day? USA Today, and places like that. That's how you get your foot in the door if you want to do it quick and easy.

Jessica Fairfax: I think with us, a lot of our clients because they range on different topics, we also like to just do almost like an introduction email. I'll kind of draw a little prospect list of contacts that would be like my dream publication as well as the clients’ dream publications. Introduce yourself and say you work on behalf of what they do, what they specialize in. Just a little overview. 

And with that, before I've had journalists message me and say, "We need your comment on x, y, z." They are strapped for time as well. Any way that we can help them and kind of nurture that relationship a bit, is something that I think really helps. Half a page, not even half, a little email block, just explaining who you are, what you do, "And this is my contact details if you ever need anything around this subject topic." It really goes a long way.

When I first was told this, I thought journalists don't have time, they'll never save it. And even, I think last week, I had a journalist come back to me that I think hasn't contacted me in years and literally came back and said, "Oh, I remember you worked with this client. Do you have x, y and z comment?" And that was great to see. 

Julie Joyce: I like that. I think it was Rebecca that was asking about like the digital... the PR content, marketing, all that. You can kind of do PR when you don't even have the content. 

Jessica Fairfax: Definitely. I would say, always have an always-on approach for PR. Because, obviously to create content, you then have this few months of nothing happening. 

You want to get the ground running, so start with PR first and do the content at the same time. It all kind of comes together quite nicely. Also gives you an easy prospect list when it comes down to your content pieces.

Debra Mastaler: That's a good comment about prospect lists. Are you familiar with that site? HARO, Help A Reporter Out. It's a service, the journalist service, most of us in the business are familiar with it. 

Even if I'm not looking for anything, I get it every day and I send it over to the VA, the virtual assistant, I send it over and she copies out, who was asking, who the journalist is that's asking for something and we qualify it by industry and by topic. And that way, come back with the date that it was requested and what they were looking for. 

They like that because newspapers are just like us. They like to link back into their old stories, so they can run a new story and then link back into an old story, that keeps people on their site just like we're trying to do. 

Content Creation Process: Using Data and Research

Julie Joyce: Okay. Well, do you want to go back and talk about like just content creation? Because I know that was a lot of the beginning focus of this. I wanted to ask you, Jess, if you want to take this, how do you get a campaign started and what would be like; the process with the new client?

Jessica Fairfax: With our new clients, we sort of do an onboarding session where we will sit down in a room with a client and sort of see how they like to work. Their process of approval, what they would like to see and all of that. And maybe sometimes see what data they have available that we can use.

And then we go from there and we kind of do a way of working. We're going to do a more weekly call, what kind of content ideas we've come up with. And yeah, so we could start with kind of the onboarding and then we start with sort of doing the campaign brief once they've signed off on an idea and start from there. And then it's research, design, outreach, assets and then hopefully live. 

Julie Joyce: How do you come up with the ideas for all of this, for the new content? That can be... I mean, anybody can answer that, but how do you figure out what you're going to do for content?

Jessica Fairfax: Sometimes clients want to speak about certain products or certain elements within their company. Maybe they have a car insurance branch or they have an internet branch; then we will look at ideas around that. 

And we like to do a bit of research as well, see what people are searching for in terms of those kinds of content ideas apply to that product. And so, our content, we like to make sure that it is usable, it is useful to the user. 

Julie Joyce: Debra, you have anything to add to that?

Debra Mastaler: I'm a little different, simply because my whole focus is about the promotion of the content, which is really the end of it. But 99% of the time while I'm building links and I'm out there, most of my job initially is research. And so I have to know, I have to find and search and look for, and I'll come back and I'll say, "You know? This is a great angle and let's run with this piece. The follow-up piece, this is what's resonating, this is what I'm seeing." 

That said, part of the research that I do and once you get into it, is most people think it's just kind of topical research. You really have to get into it. There's just so many layers and elements when you're trying to do outreach and promotion that you come back and you'll say, "Did you think about this aspect?" "Well, no." 

A lot of people depend on Google trends, what they see on social media or that comes back in one of these tools.

If I do a campaign that's 80 hours, which is most of the time for a client, and I do them by campaign, I would say 60 hours of that is done in research. 

What to Do with Content That Fails to Get Many Links

Julie Joyce: I had a question about how long does a campaign usually take to show results? And how do you know if you have something that's just not really going to work? How long do you give it? 

I mean if you have an article, and you're pushing it for eight weeks, you get three links, would you think, "Maybe my time's better spent creating something else? What's your point of breaking? I guess, where you stop.

Debra Mastaler: I guess if your guideline is strictly links, if you're not seeing if it's generating any traffic or any visibility through social as well. Sometimes people don't link to something, but they do pass it around. It's kind of weird. It's like what goes viral and what doesn't, you never really know how that's going to work. 

After eight weeks in three links, I would probably say that's a dog. And I would look to see if there's a way to clean it up, fix it, come at it from another angle. Or it sounds to me like your outreach was not on target. Sometimes it's not the content, it's where you send it to or where you expose it to.

Julie Joyce: That's a good point because as a link builder I would be like, "Oh, the content's bad," it's not me, even though that's not true at all. 

Jessica Fairfax: I think for us, we like to kind of do many checks every few weeks. Before it gets to that eight-week stage, we like to have already have gone through probably four crisis chats if it hasn't been working out. 

My suggestion would be before you even reach that eight-week mark, I'd probably three weeks into it if you've still got nothing or it's been very slow, get someone else to have a look at it and see from an outside perspective if they can help out. 

Press Releases and Duplicate Content

Julie Joyce: Well, we have two questions that are similar. Is it okay to submit the same press release to several websites or is that considered duplicate content? I mean, obviously, that's what a lot of people are doing with content marketing. You've got the same piece of content, and you're contacting loads of people to cover it. Do you worry about duplicate content or anything?

Debra Mastaler: No. Because most people will ask you before they run it, "Is this unique? Do I have exclusive rights to this? Am I the only one that's going to host it?" 

A lot of that you get... for me anyway, it gets shut down immediately in the beginning because the host site is saying, "Am I the only one that's going to... Is this special for me?" 

Press releases now are a different animal. Press releases, that's kind of a typical thing where it gets sent out in mass to a new source, and new sources pick them up. Most of the time now, new sources pick them up and tweak them a little bit. 

Is it enough to stay out of filters? I don't know. I don't think so. I've never had an issue with the press release that goes out onto news sites being pinched by Google.

Only send a press release if you really actually have something worth sharing. Otherwise, people, they just stopped picking them up, and you're wasting your time. 

Jessica Fairfax: When I first started there was a few people that would just copy and paste the press release and stick it on their website. And that was that. Obviously, as I've grown in my role, I've realized that that actually is a metric in itself. That journalists aren't really understanding the content. They're just copying and pasting, "Seems like a fun story." They haven't really engaged with it. 

I would prefer to have a piece where the journalist has taken the press release, maybe found a few facts that they've enjoyed that we've put in there, and created a whole new article, put in the embed code for, the tools that people can use it or all of that, that they've kind of engaged with the content as well, not just the press release. 

Links, Mentions, and Citations as Metrics

Julie Joyce: Oh that's very good. What would you guys think is a typical goal for the number of unique linking domains that a piece of content should generate? What would you be happy with?

Jessica Fairfax: I think that's very kind dependent. I think for an interactive, it would probably be around 15, I'd say, follow links, but I feel like it's also client dependent. 

Julie Joyce: Okay. Some people say they're satisfied with a social mention or a citation. Are you Debra? Are you satisfied with just a mention? What would you go after them and ask for a link? 

Debra Mastaler: Yeah. I am a link builder. That's my goal. If I couldn't get the link, and I could get the mention, citation, mentioned, same thing. Okay? It's just an unlinked mention of your business. Then I'm happy with that. A social share is good too because social shares' kind of carry, and that's super. 

And some of them on, especially on Twitter can make it into the index. Those things are good. They do help in the bigger picture of things. 

Jessica Fairfax: I have to agree. I think for us we do report on everything. So no-follows, mentions, follows. For me, it's kind of showing the client or if you're in-house showing any sort of board or anything, is that the content is working, there is interest in the story.

Link Building Tips for B2B

Julie Joyce: Excellent. I have a submitted question that somebody had sent in a few days ago. I wanted to make sure I got to this because I thought it was very interesting. They were asking for new ways to get links in the B2B finance area. Anybody have any tips on that? 

Debra Mastaler: In B2B, people are looking for a response and for an answer to a question or a problem. And so in that regard, the content and the focus on where you can find that information, it's much narrower. And so it's easier. That's what makes it over-saturated because there's only so many places. 

To that, I come back to my one greatest tip that I always share with folks. And that's your association. Okay? Every single business belongs to or has an association behind it, national association. The Direct Marketing Association or the American Marketing Association, those agencies exist to promote businesses within an industry. That's what they do. That's all they do day in and day out. That's their job. And they were kind of like SEOs before SEO was even a thing. 

They have PR people, media outreach, people that are on staff that you can contact and say, "Look, who can I go to? Who can you give me to contact at these places because I need help getting my content circulated, read and published," and so forth. Your association has so many opportunities there for help. And also with the in-house things as well.

Second part of it is, your association has the members. There's a flip side. You want to get an idea of where those members are publishing. People say, "Well, follow your competitors." Well, a competitor honestly can be someone in your industry or out of it. And so you need to go to the association and say, "Who else belongs... " and find out where those people are being published. That is the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to find sources and to get sources listed, frankly, that are good sources. 

And they might not all be online sources. They could be newsletters, published print or online, they can be magazines, online or offline, but it doesn't matter because you're really trying to get your foot in the door. 

Link building and SEO is like life. It's not what you do so much. It's more about who you know. And so you need to get that out there and your association is really the place to start for that. 

Julie Joyce: Oh good. That's a great answer. Jess, do you have anything to add to that?

Jessica Fairfax: You want to start doing a content in-house and stuff like that. I think sort of white paper research-led pieces do quite well, especially if it's a lot of, it's your own unique data. That's usually, we find quite a nice linkable asset that journalists are very much open to you. 

But then again also just the normal traditional PR tactics. Introducing yourselves for commentary, and those sorts of things. 

Debra Mastaler: Just to add to what Jess said about data points, 90% of the clients that I deal with are B2B. And most of them are in some interesting niches, a lot of software and technology, robotic industries. And what I find is that they don't like sharing a lot of data points. 

Perhaps it's just confidential information or they feel it's proprietary or competitive. And so instead, if that's the case for you, if you're in that kind of niche, take a step out and look at the industry as a whole and report on it as an industry as a whole because that information then benefits them, which they might not link to, but they would share or they'll at least start talking about it.

The media will share that because industry trends, especially in today's economy, that's important. 

Data visualization right now is probably the biggest ticket that I use to get a link. And that's different than an infographic. You need to do a little research on what that is. And that is one area I think in SEO tools where we really lack, there isn't a tool that really does a lot of data visualization, spectrographs and things. It's pretty fascinating really, part of it, if you can get the made, the content, I generally get picked up pretty easily with a lot of data visualization. 

Think about it from an industry as a whole. And from my perspective when I work for B2B, that usually works. 

Useful Tools for Link Building and PR

Julie Joyce: We were talking about tools and I had had a question asking what tools you guys use. Do you guys want to talk about a few of those? Not just newswires but anything to use for research, content creation. Just the right out there.

Jessica Fairfax: Yeah. I'm a huge fan of BuzzStream as well, it's just a nice little black book of keeping everything quite organized and clean. And you can put things into different niches, you can add notes about what journalists have previously covered for you. 

I think if you are going to be, whether it's internal or with an agency, I think definitely also having sort of some sort of coverage book. We've just created our own one, Clipper, which pulls through metrics for you. You're not sitting there trying to find out how many social shares, all of that. It just does it all for you.

I think BuzzStream and a good old Google doc is also fantastic for me in creating the lists. I am a huge fan of Google Sheets and Google Docs.

Julie Joyce: Debra, what about you? What are your big tools?

Debra Mastaler: I'm going to put just, this is my plug for my new site. This is keytooles.com. This is my tool directory. It's not finished. I will say because this session is sponsored by SEMrush that they have a terrific, what I call search and find tool. It's kind of like, Talkwalker or a Google Alerts, which, I don't know if any of you have used Google Alerts recently or anybody in the chat; it stinks.

For me, from a building standpoint, I love Ahrefs, I like BuzzStream as well. Raven Tools I think does a great job with the audit part of SEO, I think probably the best. I think overall form a campaign aspect, use the free trials before you plunk any money down. 

Julie Joyce: Yeah, I agree. And I know this isn't true for everybody, but I have had a couple of tools that I've had the trial and it might've been like a few days, it wasn't enough. And I've actually asked, "Can I have another 48 hours?" And they'd given it to me.

Debra Mastaler: Jess, and I'm sure you guys are reading along, but for those that are not in the chat, the good folks at SEMrush just plugged in and said that their tool also integrates with Majestic. That's a plus as well. This is just a huge... Majestic is just a super tool. 

Successful Link Building on a Small Budget

Julie Joyce: If you are handling links on your own and you don't have a big budget. If there was only maybe one thing a week that you could do to help your site in terms of content or link building, what would you do? 

Debra Mastaler: What would I do? That's a hard one. I guess if I'm new and I'm starting out, I would probably look to develop a relationship with someone that has a bigger audience than I do, and go to them and see if you can guest post, and get it started there. 

At the same time, I would also be putting content on my site. I always think it's good to attach your wagon to someone that's bigger than you initially and go from there. And just write the heck out of your subject matter, regardless of what it is. Just make sure it's good and you're not regurgitating what everybody else says, that's based on experience. 

Julie Joyce: What about you, Jess?

Jessica Fairfax: Introducing yourself to journalists again, it doesn't take very long. Like I said, you're just doing a short email, or if you find... getting on the phone with them. I think a lot of our smaller clients haven't ever had issues with getting published in big publications. I think it's very much dependent on the content that you produce

I would work with traditional aspects of introducing, like you said as well, guest posting and kind of start building a profile for yourself as a business owner. 

And also, if you guys are in industry and you are going against some of the big corporate companies, it is a lot easier to get a comment with a quick turnaround time if you are a small business owner, because obviously with big corporates they have to go through certain processes and have to be signed off. I'd say don't feel scared to approach those situations because you might actually get somewhere with it as well.

Julie Joyce: I want to thank you both very, very much. This was super informative. And I felt like this time I actually could listen to what you were saying. Normally I'm like looking for questions and figuring out what to do next. I really enjoyed it. 

And Jessica, maybe we'll have you back. You were awesome. 

Jessica Fairfax: Thank you so much. It'd be great to be back. Thank you. 

Julie Joyce: Yeah, we'll talk to you guys later. Thank you, everybody.


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