Building high quality backlinks is a major component of any SEO strategy, and over the last two years, we incorporated a new approach to acquire those backlinks: Digital public relations. Our process is simple: We leverage faculty members’ expertise and research to create media opportunities with the goal of getting a program link included. Our goal is to land placements in some of the best publications in the country (and the UK [Not an easy task]) in order to create a branding opportunity for our professors as well as build quality links to our programs targeted page to influence rankings and organic traffic. We created a visualization of our successes for nine master’s degree programs (some of which weren’t running the full year) and whether or not the publication added a link. We wanted to compile a list for other individuals running digital public relations for SEO purposes to have a guide on what publications add links — and those that don’t — as well as share other valuable information. Following the visualization, we have jotted down seven conclusions we drew from this analysis.
1. General Insights from our Digital Public Relations Strategy
For the media placements we landed in 2015, the average Domain Authority (DA) was 72.42. During the year, the total potential reach of each publication resulted in a net of 919,690,441 unique monthly visits. (We actually only saw a small percentage of that traffic.) Our goal was to align DA and unique visitors per month and analyze any correlations. Our probability of acquiring a link after publication was 66%.
2. Best Sites for Landing a Link with a DA over 90
Landing an opportunity with a link for a publication over a DA of 90 is incredibly difficult, but we have found that the best site to accomplish this goal, so far, is the Huffington Post. It’s also great because once accepted as a blogger, you can create and post as many articles as you want. This is a great strategy when you incorporate some growth hacking principles that can build more traffic to those individual pages. We have also realized that Scientific American and Elsevier Connect are excellent opportunities to land a DA link of over 90 if you can supply high quality content. This is where a true PR professional needs to come in and pitch an editor on an idea that will provide value to such a high caliber audience.
3. The Higher the DA, the Harder to Acquire a Link
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any SEO specialist, but what we have seen through our data is that it’s very difficult to land a PR opportunity in a publication with a DA over 90, but it’s even harder to acquire a link. We have found that bylines are the best way to guarantee a link, whereas expert commentary–lining up interviews with journalists–has a smaller chance of landing a link but is a much more scalable process, because it takes more time to write an article than it does for a professor to speak with a journalist.
4. More than a Link: Branding Opportunity
While we primarily leverage digital pubic relations for SEO purposes, it’s also about brand recognition and potential reach. It’s also very important to understand that digital PR for professors accomplishes more than just acquiring high quality backlinks. Professors will become more excited with digital PR, because we’re helping tell their stories and put their research in front of a larger audience, which further establishes them as thought leaders.
5. A Need for a Certain Type of Story?
Certain programs did better than others. For instance, our computer science program had a total of 21 placements and the athletics program had 17 links generated from our PR efforts in 2015. Some of our other programs had less. What is hard to define from our analysis is whether or not a program’s subject matter relates to the ability to attain high quality links, because each of our programs have different budgets and varying numbers of participating professors. I can say that computer science, with the amount of tech blogs and the interest in new innovative technologies, is a fertile ground for higher education marketers because our professors are on the cutting edge of an extremely popular narrative. There is no doubt that reporters and journalists would like to speak with these individuals.
6. To Link, or Not to Link
Another key takeaway from our analysis is that it’s difficult to know whether or not a publication will link or not. Sometimes we’ll ask for a link to be added to the article featuring one of our professors, and the reporter has no problem hyperlinking to our landing pages. Other times we’ve had reporters get upset we even asked or afraid that it will make them look poorly to their editor. We have also heard from reporters that certain publications have policies against adding links. For instance, an editor at MediaPost insisted they had a policy against adding links. That one is easy to cross off the list for adding links, but take note of Inside Higher Ed in the visualization. They have included a link for our program, and in other posts, they have not included a link. So our conclusions: Unless directly stated that there is a policy against adding external links, assume it’s possible. Just track your progress and update as you go.
7. Probability of Success
Digital pubic relations takes work and creativity, but over the course of 2015, we saw positive results. Our probability of adding a link was 66%, and our goal is to get that closer to 75%. Through building relationships with journalists and editors, we’re confident we can make that change.
If you have any comments or questions about our analysis, then please feel free to comment below. Feel free to also share the graphic of our analysis using the embed code below.
Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.