I recently did some blogger outreach that returned some interesting results.
In this blog I will share my findings and my thoughts on what they mean.
I will also touch upon what we, as digital marketers and PR specialists, can do to improve blogger outreach.
So what does the future hold for link building and blogger relationships?
The State of Play
When building links, it’s important to know the difference between ‘follow’ and ‘no follow’ links.
Getting a ‘follow’ link helps with SEO. This means that equity is passed. Google monitors the number of inbound links a page has, as well as the sites they come from. If there are lots of ‘follow’ links to a certain page, Google will consider it to be good page.
However, a ‘no follow’ link does not count in the page’s favour, and does not help boost the position in search engine results.
The ‘no follow’ tag basically tells search engines to not count this link. But ‘no follow’ links aren’t completely useless, as they still provide referral traffic. Yet, to put it plainly, nobody is going out of their way to obtain ‘no follow’ links.
A New Warning From Google
Google has recently issued a warning to bloggers and marketers about using ‘follow’ links for free or gifted products.
So, if you have a blog and you get a product to review from a brand, it’s now best practice to make sure that you ‘no follow’ any links back to the company that sent you that product.
As Google said:
Bloggers should use the ‘no follow’ tag on all such links because these links didn’t come about organically (i.e., the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link).
It was inevitable that, after the success of the Google Penguin update in making sure that all sites are ranking for the right reasons, Google would turn their attention to bloggers. If there are any bloggers reading this who want to know more, here is a bloggers guide to links.
It’s hugely important to note at this point that Google does not state anywhere that bloggers must ‘no follow’ if they receive guest content to post on their site.
Anyway, just as a heads up: I’m not here to bash bloggers.
I know that the value of a mention from a popular blogger goes beyond the obvious link benefits and referral traffic. I also appreciate that building relationships with bloggers has a greater value in building up the recognition of your brand as an authority and online influence. Not to mention the social media exposure that goes with blogging. Blogger outreach has value.
But like I say, a recent bit of blogger outreach returned some rather interesting results that may provide some insights on the future of link building and relationships with bloggers.
What I Did
In April, I pitched some interesting and relevant content to UK home and lifestyle and parenting bloggers: 15 practical home security tips for summer.
Using a PR media database, I discovered and contacted 299 bloggers and webmasters.
Now, I know that playing a numbers game and hoping some blogger is scratching around for something to write about is not good practice. So I prioritised 60 of the most relevant blogs to target.
I got in touch personally with these before outreaching in mass and in stages to the rest.
In my email, I made no mention of a budget. I pitched the content for its editorial value.
What I Found
I got 106 responses. And out of those, 54 replied asking if I have a budget.
The remainder stated their fee upfront.
How much were they asking for? It varies. I put it in a graph:
Only six blogs replied saying that they didn’t feel the content would fit on their blog. Only two wished to use the content for its editorial value, free of charge. However, they didn’t include a link. What they were offering was purely a brand mention. But at least they still recognised the value of the content.
Here’s a snippet of some of the responses:
So out of 106 responses, 92% wanted money for links and content and only 1.8% would use the content, but without a link.
So the results? No links, even after reaching out to almost 300 bloggers.
It’s also worth noting that I got responses where prices differed: £65 for a ‘no follow’ or £85 for a ‘follow’.
Some blogs only offered me a ‘no follow’ link, for which we can doubtlessly blame Google’s clamp down.
Some even charged for a ‘no follow’ link.
Not many of the bloggers asked to see the copy before putting a price on its editorial value. For most bloggers, this was a straightforward business transaction.
Bloggers are now so aware of the commercial possibilities of working with brands that they’ll seemingly accept any content, so long as it’s reasonably relevant.
What Does This Mean?
- When does quality of content come into play?
- What if a PR has no budget?
- How does a blogger determine how much a link is worth?
- Is this practice sustainable in the long term?
These results raise a lot of questions. But what I do know is that the days of exchanging free products for links are numbered.
Google brought in ‘no follow’ links to prevent spam, and they’ll penalise a site if they don’t use ‘no follow’ links on unnatural (paid) linking.
This is a direct contradiction to what I found with my recent outreach. Bloggers will happily accept money for a ‘follow’ link on their site.
I still value quality, engaging content that can emotionally target a brand and blogger’s audience. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Google still considers guest posting as natural – that is, organic – so a ‘follow’ link is fine.
Bloggers will always have the possibility of earning money through advertising, and I do understand that their model will need to adapt. But it’s interesting the speed at which bloggers are turning link building into a profitable business.
I also understand that bloggers will have spent years building up their blog. It’s a full time job for many, but it’s important to recognise the difference between advertising and the desire to offer quality content:
It is no big deal if a blogger wants to charge for a sponsored post. I’m just surprised at the number of bloggers who now won’t accept any content unless it’s paid for.
In the past I found that building links with bloggers required being nice; making friends and offering something valuable or useful. But these days, selling content for its editorial value alone, and without a budget, just won’t cut it.
What makes a good digital PR practitioner? Research skills, copywriting skills, brand awareness, time management, online communication, and persuasiveness. I do not consider processing invoices a digital PR skill.
Dedicating part of our budget to buying links would certainly make part of our work easier, and I’m sure that many do it. But anyone, in theory, can pay for a link. Even my little brother knows how to process a PayPal payment.
Therefore, does it not lose some credibility if anyone can pay for a link on a blog?
What Can We Do?
Digital marketers and PRs will need to use a much more targeted approach. They’ll need to focus all of their attentions on blogs that have a large readership, or are directly relevant to their brand.
We need to be more specific in the blogs we want to target, and we need to be more personable than ever.
It’s still useful to check the usual indicators of quality: Page Rank, domain authority, amount of posts per week, average comments per post, and the amount of social followers they have. All of these things will help you to determine whether a blog is good enough to target.
It goes without saying that your content must be worth sharing. It must try and evoke an emotional response, and it should always encourage engagement in order to grab the attention of the reader. Make your content the start of a conversation, and make an attempt to reach out to a blogger’s audience.
And don’t get disheartened! You need very thick skin when contacting bloggers who don’t respond, or who aren’t too pleasant in their responses. However, it’s important to remember that they are busy people too. Don’t be defeatist.
A little patience can always help. Not everyone is working to your deadlines.
Your strategy should be to build better relationships, which in turn may build links. You should start a relationship by giving, not taking. Give content, give insight, give opinion, and share your expertise. This may help increase your chances of actually getting somewhere.
Alternatively, you may choose to simply steer clear of blogs completely. Instead, go for business advice sites, or resort to traditional PR methods to increase a client’s online visibility.
Blogger outreach, once considered a legitimate and effective marketing tactic, is now very much on Google’s radar. They’ve warned us about ‘no follow’ links, and they’ve already started penalising websites.
‘No follow’ is Google’s way of enforcing and regulating natural or organic links. Google may, in the future, introduce new updates that could affect all paid links, whether followed or not.
I definitely don’t want my clients to lose out for having previously paid for a link on a blog that’s since been penalised by Google. But this is entirely possible.
The landscape will continue to change, so it’s vital for all of us to keep on top of any developments and trends.
As a matter of priority, we must all make sure we do business ethically.
Join the discussion. Why not tweet me your thoughts on this blog post? What does the future hold? https://t.co/lXv1ryYM1J
— Alex Jones (@alexjonespr) May 11, 2016