Is it ever OK to ask a journalist to backlink?

1st March 2019

Backlinks are an important tool in the SEO armoury, no question.

Getting a link to your brand’s website on a major media outlet has material impact on search performance.

Despite weaving URLs into news releases, links sometimes won’t make the final cut.

So, some brands or their PR and SEO agencies will reach-out and ask journalists to go-back and add them.

But this doesn’t always go down well, particularly with those at the most sought-after titles like national newspapers.

Don’t forget the value of media relations

Agencies and journalists alike watched (and piled into) this thread on Twitter started by Deirdre Hipwell, retail and M&A editor at The Times, after getting bugged by two agencies asking for backlinks.

Her argument, and those of many of journos, is that it’s not their job to drive traffic to a brand’s website.

If the brand or one of its experts happens to feature positively in the story, then getting the advocacy of one of the world’s longest-running and best-known newspapers is a good thing, surely?

Deirdre’s colleague, energy editor Emily Gosden, stoked the fires again in February this year after a particularly egregious request to add backlinks to a story she’d written three years ago, when she worked at a different newspaper.

The opposing cry was that surely any reader interested in finding out more about the brand would benefit from a clickable link, so what’s the harm?

Where you sit in the debate is likely to reflect what discipline you practice in the main. But whatever your view, getting an influential journalist annoyed is probably a bad idea for your brand.

And don’t lose sight of your objectives

So, what should B2B brands do?

Leaving aside the fact that media prefer people remaining on their site to keep eyeballs locked and support their own revenue models (more the concern of publishers and their commercial teams than journalists, in fairness), positive coverage in a major title is independent advocacy of your brand’s credibility and maybe even the claims you make on your website, if it’s really good.

Consider where your customers are in their journey, too.

Those researching are likely to stumble across media reports on the subject matter they’re exploring, given how well newspaper or trade magazine websites tend to rank and because of the ever-increasing importance of semantic and voice search.

If your brand features, it means you’re someone they should be looking into a little more. If they know how to use Google, you should be ok.

For those further down the consideration route doing due diligence on your brand, when they stick your name into the search bar they are likely to see the media coverage, as well as your own site.

While this is sometimes seen as the media ‘stealing’ your ranking, they’ll more than make up for it in the volume of traffic they’ll inspire to go to your site.

There’s a tonne of monitoring tools out there — like TrendKite — that will help track whether people go to you having read about you on a media website first so the impact on traffic can still be measured and captured in dashboards.

The exceptions

If an article includes a review of a product and service or a list of recommended suppliers, for example, then one might expect a media outlet to provide a link for readers.

Or if their article is based on the findings of a report, for instance, they might agree that their readers might want to connect to it and read in more detail. In which case, it might not always be so cheeky to ask.

And not all journalists will have the same view.

Some media sites work almost like aggregators linking to and from content and brand websites so will be happy to carry links. Others have cottoned onto the fact that it’s a decent money spinner so will gladly sell them to you.

Knowing when to ask relies on a good understanding of media relations from a PR specialist.

They’ll be able to tell you whether the journalist is likely to take you to task on social media or happily oblige.

Ultimately, there’s no need to be in conflict.

There’s lots of other elements to SEO that, when deployed successfully alongside media relations, paid social and brand publishing, will drive the right people to your door.

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