How much of the content that you publish is newsworthy enough to earn links? In episode #103, Amanda Milligan explains three ways to create newsworthy content that earns links.
The steps are:
Building Brand Authority with Contextualization
Customize/Personalize Your Pitch with Localization
Backup Your Pitch with Trustworthy Data
Amanda is a karaoke queen. She has a degree in journalism and a decade in content marketing and has been published in Entrepreneur, Forbes, and TechCrunch. And spoken at SMX, MozCon, and Brighton SEO. A warm welcome to the Head of Marketing at Stacker Studio, Amanda Milligan,
Amanda: Thank you so much, David. I like to think of myself as a karaoke queen, but we'll see.
D: Good to have you on. Well, you can find Amanda over at studio.stacker.com. So Amanda, what does newsworthy content actually mean? And why is it important?
What is Newsworthy Content?
A: I love when people start with the fundamental questions because I feel like, in this industry, we don't all even align on what these things mean. To me, newsworthy content is a piece of content you're creating in order to earn press. You're trying to earn third-party coverage. This isn't the content that you're publishing on your site and trying to rank for or inform your customers or clients. This is the stuff that you want to get more widespread brand awareness, because a third-party, most likely a new site, is going to write about it. So that's what we're going to focus on today.
D: Okay. So first off, we're zeroing in on your three ways to create newsworthy content that earns links, starting off with contextualization.
1. Building Brand Authority with Contextualization
A: Yes, I know in the title it says earning links. And you had mentioned why it is important, and we can talk more about that. But press-worthy, newsworthy content is great at building your brand authority, but also earning the link. So of the three different types of ways you can think about this, the first one is contextualizing. This is something that Stacker does really well. It's something I've learned about pretty recently since joining the team about seven months ago. It's a really good perspective shift for brand marketers because we often want to be the center of the story. And we want to make sure that our name is out there. But that's not the purpose of this type of content. The purpose is that we're supposed to be complementing what journalists are already doing. We are not the journalists ourselves, we're trying to provide stories that are complementing what journalists are already writing about. And a great way of doing that is contextualizing topics that are already being spoken or written about.
The way that you can do that is to ask yourself a variety of questions. Say there's a trending topic happening or an event occurs. You're not breaking the news, right? I mean, if you are, that's awesome. So you ask yourself, how does this compare to previous events that are similar? How does this compare to current events that are similar or different? How has this evolved over time? Who does this impact? And why and where? You make a list of questions that you set yourself up with anytime a relevant event happens or a relevant trend happens. And then ask yourself, how can you supply an answer to those questions? It's an interesting way of building out a brainstorming mechanism for how you can provide additional perspectives to a topic that's already relevant. I know that's a big thing but I think it's a good framework for how to think about it.
D: Understood. So essentially, you're hacking the news. You're seeing what news stories happen to be published. And then you're having a think to see if you can put a different perspective on things or add some additional value to the story. Perhaps some kind of personal perspective.
A: I'm actually really glad you brought that up. Because, especially for brands that are trying to get news coverage, we can't get too editorialized. We can't put too much opinion in it. It has to still be objective if we expect news publications to pick it up. And that's why I think we'll talk a little bit about data soon, and how this ties in. For example, when in the States, the question of Roe v. Wade coming up again in the Supreme Court, that's a topical item in the news. We're not political experts who can assess and provide our opinion on that. However, what we could do was say that here are abortion laws all around the world. It adds context to a story that might not have been in those original stories. People are curious about what's happening in the States, but actually have no idea what the laws look like anywhere else. You can provide a piece of content that goes into that other angle. That's what I mean. You're not necessarily getting into the nitty-gritty of this really complex topic that I'm probably not the best person to assess. But there's public data available that you can use to create an analysis that's really interesting and relevant to these crucial hard news topics.
D: So how would an example like that work in practice? Would you ideally contact an individual journalist? Would you publish an article about the abortion laws around the world on your own website and then submit that as some kind of news story? How would you get links back to your site as a result of doing this?
Finding the Best Channel to Distribute Your Content
A: I'll give two perspectives on this, one is my current one. Stacker is essentially a news wire so our model is a little bit different from most people's. Stacker was created in 2017. Fundamentally, as a newswire, we've built relationships with publications all over the United States, and we provide content to them for free. About a year and a half ago, we started Stacker studio, which you mentioned at the top of the show, that's our brand partnership arm. So brands work with us, we create content on their behalf, and we distribute it out. So it's less of an active promotions piece because we already established these connections with publishers and already built that trust. So if you don't have that, which most people don't have news wires, or are hiring somebody like us to do that, if you're manually promoting. If you are writing a piece of content, you're probably not going to publish it on your site. You can publish it on your site, but you don't want to immediately link it anywhere or have it in your main navigation because if you're gonna pitch it to the news, they need to think that this is an original piece that hasn't already been "published” yet. So sometimes people password protect it. Sometimes people make it an orphan page where it's not associated with your main navigation so people can’t stumble upon it. So you can publish it, and then you use that link to manually pitch it to reporters.
I don't recommend mass templated emails, that does not work anymore. Reporters are being inundated by all kinds of pitches. Email outreach needs to be personalized and strategic. You need to actually look these writers up, you need to know what they publish on. Anything else you can find out is useful in personalizing as well. But that's what you would do. You would have this piece of content on your site, but not accessible yet until you get it published. Because people want the exclusive. If you're trying to go for a top publisher, they usually want the exclusive, meaning nobody else has read it yet. So at least until they publish, then you can connect it to your main app, have it public on your blog, et cetera, et cetera.
D: I love that tip about making the link accessible, but to have it as an unlisted link not accessible by search engines and not published on your blog so you can actually share the information quite easily. Sure, for the journalists it would look like an end piece. And then ideally, what are you looking for from them? Are you looking for them to take a segment of the story and publish that on their site and then link back to you as the original publisher?
A: In the case of syndication, like we do mass syndication, but if you have a relationship, maybe you're in a niche industry, or someone says that this publication is amazing in our industry, and we want to have an ongoing syndication relationship with them, and you pitch them on that. The way syndication works, it usually just involves the whole piece in full. And then they give you a canonical saying you were the original publisher, but they're running it again. But if you're pitching, you might not necessarily be going that route.
Usually, if you're pitching it’s, "Here’s a study I did, or a report I put together or a data set that I have.” Assuming that it's interesting to them, and then they write a story, either a completely new story, if it's truly newsworthy, or they can incorporate it into a story they've already done if it's really interesting, and they want to add another link to something that has already been published. But usually, you try to pitch to them that this is an exclusive piece of content that I created, based on a study. You're not pitching the piece of content, you're pitching the information, you're pitching the interesting takeaways, the data points, and hoping that they use that and link back to you, the brand, as the source of that information.
Understood. So that was number one, contextualization. Number two is localization.
2. Customize/Personalize Your Pitch with Localization
A: Localizing, I think, is one of the most underutilized approaches. People want, understandably, national papers, and news sites, to cover them. However, there are so many local sites that have high domain ratings that are really trusted in their communities, that are seeking more localized content, they want more content that speaks to the people near them. So if you're able to, even if you have a more national story, and we do this all the time, if you have a more national story, but the data set is robust enough that it breaks it down by region or by city, take those data points, and then center those when pitching more localized publications. You need them to know as quickly as possible that it's of interest to them and their readers. So don't send them the national version, where the headline is look at how this varies between every country or every state or every city. But rather, this is what's happening in your area, this is the step for you. And if you're interested, you can see the stats for everywhere else. It's not even that you'd necessarily have to do a whole separate project or analysis, it's if you start with a comprehensive data set that includes all of that, use that, roll with that. Say, "Oh, we want to pitch in this area, let's pull the interesting data point…” Especially if there are some interesting insights in particular that stand out from all the other insights. Definitely pitch more, highlighting those and any demographic that makes sense that it's relevant to. Usually, we're talking about location, but that could be age, it could be gender. You see millennials pit against Gen X and Gen Z all the time. People are trying to appeal to each individual because we like to see ourselves in content. We like to see a study or a data and say, "Where am I in this?” Location is a great way of doing that. You usually want to click to see how your location, hometown, whatever, ranks in a list, or performs against everybody else. So I highly recommend localization if you haven't tried it yet. I think especially at the beginning, it's a great way of increasing the volume, but at a quality level of the links that you earn from a project.
D: Localization certainly makes sense. I love the example of finding a piece of data that's hyper-relevant to a particular region and finding a journalist that is specifically focused on that region, and using that as the region to outreach to them. Does that mean that ideally to be as effective as possible, all the outreach that you do in this context should be personalized and done on a one-to-one basis? Or is there still a place for automation here as well?
A: For pitching it’s tough to be automated. A lot of these programs now that people use for pitching you're able to input maybe different versions of the description of the project. So maybe you came up with three and depending on how you're pitching it. So maybe for some publications, this is an interesting insight, but for other publications, this is an interesting insight. I think at that level, you're able to have maybe only two or three options. But I still think that the personalization, just off the top, why are you pitching this person? They want to know why did you reach out to me aside from just wanting this coverage? Did you do the legwork of understanding who I am, what I write about, and what my and who my audience is? And again, that's different from syndication because in syndication you have already established that trust. So there's less of a hurdle, you're not sending manual pitches. Once you've established that, and they like your content, it becomes much easier in the future. They’re like here you go, you get to have it now. Which is the benefit of trying to achieve that. But if you're manually pitching, personalization does go a long way.
D: Absolutely. But it's incredible the number of pitches that many people get. Obviously, I haven't even read your stuff. A big frustration for me is getting pitched for a podcast that I've maybe hosted up to a year ago or six months ago, and I haven't hosted it since and people are still reaching out to me to say that I'd love to be a guest. Have you actually listened to the fact that I'm not hosting it anymore? But that's another story.
A: I completely understand because I used to have a podcast too. And I haven't been doing it for seven months. And I'm still getting pitches to be on the show. And I was like, "Did you not see that I said that I was leaving? And anywhere you look, you could find that I have a different job now?” They did not do the bare minimum of researching. That's a great example. And there's so much of that still.
D: Absolutely. And that's how you can position yourself head and shoulders above other people by actually demonstrating that you've researched the person, by including something personal in the top of your emails. Which takes us to number three which is to dive into data.
3. Backup Your Pitch with Trustworthy Data
A: Yes, so I mentioned this briefly before. Data, especially when you're dealing with news, you want to have evidence for anything that you’re saying. You see a lot of sites have relied more on opinions, not hard news sites, but more like feature new sites like 10 movies that you should watch or whatever. But they're not based on anything. They're kind of just based on maybe two people's opinions of those movies. Which is fine, but that is what it is. But it's much more interesting with your pitching it and much more accurate if you have a data source. So instead of 10 movies we think you should watch this summer, it's here are the 10 best movies of last summer based on Rotten Tomatoes scores that if you missed them, you should watch. It's based on a data set that's more objective than a couple of people making a decision. So even for more feature/more fun type stuff data is extremely useful in that way. There's a ton of public data out there. A ton. And a lot of the finessing comes with understanding what are the stories in there, and that's a whole other podcast episode. But if you're able to use a dataset, and tell a story with that, and cite that as the source of what you're saying, especially if you're a brand that people haven't heard of, and that's a lot of people trying to do this work. With a reporter, you have to establish trust with them very quickly. You literally have two sentences in order to capture their attention and build their trust. So if you're not inherently earning that with the brands, because they don't know who you are, your methodology has to be completely sound. You have to have used a trustworthy data set and you have to have done a great analysis of that, in order for them to even consider what you're pitching them. Because otherwise, they will be asking, "Who are you? And how do I trust that anything you've written is accurate?” You could tell the whole story about why that's the case, but do you think they're going to read it? Probably not. Data is just a much better way in so many regards of earning their trust quickly, of making sure that what you're putting together is even accurate or insightful in the first place, and just increasing the chances of getting picked up at all
D: Is there the possibility of or is it a good idea to do a joint venture with another company? I'm thinking that perhaps you as an organization don't produce much of your own original data, but you know of some kind of data provider, maybe a B2B SaaS provider or something like that, that actually creates their own data. And they don't do a great job of maybe creating newsworthy content. So maybe you could create newsworthy content using their data, and then promote both brands as part of the content piece? Is that acceptable to a journalist?
A: Yes. And I'm glad you brought this up. Because few people ever talk about this. I've done it before, personally. When I've marketed an agency in the past, I've worked with SEMrush, and partnered with them. Basically, the deal you can set up is that we don't have this data, but we have an idea that we think is really good. We can use your data if you provide it to us, and then we'll create it and promote it, and co-brand it with you. They're basically getting all these benefits just by handing over their data to you while you have to do some of the legwork. But it does give you a data set that probably not many people have access to in order to tell an interesting story. So yes, I think that's a great point. If you're a brand marketer, and you feel like you have good complementary synergy with another company that does something similar to you, but not exactly the same when you can tell a similar story, then yes, why not? If you are capable of creating a piece of content, and they don't have the time or the resources or whatever. And vice versa, if you have a cool dataset, you can hire somebody to help you do it or you can partner and see if that's a thing. That is a little harder to do the other way around, or hooting in the dark by asking, "Hey, are you interested in this?” All of it starts with an idea. You ask yourselves these questions like we talked about in the contextualized part. And then ask yourself how you can answer them and be creative with that. You might say to yourself, "I can't answer that. But that company probably could. I bet they have the data to be able to write our point.” By all means, reach out to them. There was a project I did where I used two other sets of data. It was a three-way brand partnership for a piece of content. Because at the bare minimum, all three brands will now get more brand awareness now that we're actively pitching it. So it certainly can and has been done, and I think it is a completely viable strategy.
D: And from a link perspective, though, I guess that one piece of content still resides just in the one domain name and you'd have to decide beforehand who gets the link juice from the campaign?
A: Yes, exactly. And usually, because you are the one doing all the actual work, it could be that it's on your site and you just need to be transparent about that from the beginning. You don't want to be tricking people and saying, "Yeah, we're going to build links.” For them, it's more, "Hey, we're going to get press. We're going to help you with your PR, and also, we will link to you from our page. So some of that equity will move to you, it's just going to be primarily us. We're going to be pitching the report that's on our site, we're going to host it there, but we will cite you in all of our images, for example. We'll have your logos and all the images that we create if they run them. You're going to be cited at the top so your name will still be there, you'll still get a brand mention, but the links are kind of out of our control outside of that. But we will link to you from our page and make sure that on social media we're tagging you.”
I'm really glad you mentioned that because it's very good to have all that outlined upfront if you do decide to pitch something like this because people are going to have questions as the process is going on. Just make sure everyone has the right expectations and is on the same page.
Pareto Pickle - Networking you Enjoy!
D: Great advice. Let's finish off with the Pareto Pickle. Pareto says you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What's one SEO activity you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?
A: I do think that it's something that is really hard to quantify, and that is literally just meeting other people in your space. I know that sounds super obvious. And whether you're on Twitter, LinkedIn, in person, or in Slack communities, you need to find where you are going to enjoy talking with other people. Don't force it and join a group, get on LinkedIn, or whatever, if it's not what you are actually going to spend your time doing. I have made so many connections at SEO conferences, on Twitter, just following different types of people that have led to co-branded partnerships, they've led to guest posts, they've led to all kinds of collaborations where I've traced it back to just somebody I met and we had an honest, earnest, fun conversation.
It doesn't all come down to being super strategic and pitching. It's about who do I actually like in this industry and how can we work together? It's the low-hanging fruit that nobody really talks about. Because it's qualified as networking or all of those ugh connotations of networking that everybody hates. But find what you like. There are some Slack groups that I love that people would just get a lot of enjoyment out of, and actually spend a little bit of time in there. It doesn't have to be a lot of time. Maybe the first hour of your day, the first 15 minutes of your day you're spending on this one place. I think it can be really valuable.
D: And it's yet another topic that I'd like to dive into in much greater depth, but there ain't enough time for that in this particular episode. Hopefully, we can have you on in the future. Superb stuff. I've been your host David Bain. Amanda, thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.