How to Build Media Backlinks (The Easy Way)

how to build media backlinks for SEO

Welcome back to Smash Digital’s weekly content series, where we give you actionable SEO strategies and tips that you can implement today and start seeing results.

Some of the most authoritative websites in the world are media sites like Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur and so on.

We’ve all heard of them and unsurprisingly, they are just as powerful when it comes to increasing your search engine rankings.

However, anyone who has tried to get their business featured on one of these outlets, whether in hope of sales or being able to claim “As seen on…”, will know that it isn’t an easy feat.

Until now.

While I’m not going to show you how to get badass media coverage that will bring your product to the masses, I am going to show you how to score some of that sweet link juice from these media giants and boost your rankings and trust.

Time to learn: 10 minutes

Impact (1-10): 9

Tools required: None

Tools suggested: None

Now, let’s get to it…

Why Do Media Sites Link Out?

Like we discussed in our recent guide to linkable assets, one of the best ways to increase the efficiency of your link building is to understand why the potential prospect would link out to you.

With media sites, there’s one major reason for this.

The reporters and journalists are not subject-matter experts but need to cover a variety of topics and do so on tight deadlines.

This means that instead of learning about a complicated topic, they will reach out to people in the industry and other knowledgeable sources to gather information – content, quotes, feedback, etc.

Do readers just take their word for this? Of course not, journalists have to give credit to their sources and back up their claims.

Not only that, when you’re a subject matter expert contributing your valuable time and putting this together for them, it’s reasonable for you to expect some sort of credit for this…

That’s exactly how we’re going to get you your media links…

Enter HARO

Help a Reporter Out aka HARO is the biggest platform for connecting sources with journalists.

The way it works is simple.

  1. A reporter signs up and submits their request to Haro.
  2. Three times a day HARO emails their database of sources and experts (that’s you!) with the details and requirements
  3. Everyone submits their answers via email
  4. The best answers are chosen by the journalist and added to the article

example of a haro query

That’s literally it.

You could take those four bullet points, sign up to HARO, and probably land your first media link within the next two weeks.

They’re not all giants like Forbes or National Geographic. but the vast majority of them are powerful websites and it won’t take you long to land a “giant” either.

However, before you head off…

I want to share some of my best HARO link building tips to maximize your return on this and increase the chances of getting featured.

Make It Effortless

Just like any other person in the world, the average journalist is lazy trying to be as efficient as possible.

They’re generally quite underpaid and work under super strict deadlines. This means that if they have a choice between an answer that’s good enough, but can be copy pasted without any edits… Or a really good answer that has to be rewritten, modified or reformatted – they’re going to go with the former.

The best way you can do this is by writing in the third person as it’ll be most likely to fit in with the format of the rest of the article. This is exactly what you want – the fact that the journalist can literally copy and paste your answer in.

So instead of saying “I like to maximize my HARO success rate by doing X, Y, and Z” I would write it as “To maximize your HARO success rate, you need to stand out.”

If the query you’re responding to has listed the media outlet it’s going to be published on, you can check out a few of their articles in your category and see how they do it.

What tone of voice do they have – academic or casual? How do they usually quote sources? How long are they? Do they usually go with personal stories or cold facts?

Be Fast

Like I mentioned before, journalists are usually on super tight deadlines and that means they’re not going to wait around for the absolute best replies to come in.

Besides, HARO is the best way to score media links so there’s a miniature army of SEO agency employees answering these queries all over the world… Fast.

If growing your site’s organic traffic is important to you and backlinks the main thing holding you back, make it a priority to answer HARO queries as fast as possible. It has a high success rate, the links come in fast, and beyond your (or your teams’) time, they are free.

HARO makes this easy for you because they always send the emails at the same time.

There’s three emails every single working day at 5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m. and 5:35 p.m. EST.

If you want to take it to the next level (after scoring your first links) they also offer paid plans where you can get text alerts for the new opportunities (or maybe just set an alarm on your phone?) or even better, a head start that gives you all the opportunities right when they get approved on the platform.

Try to Be Unique

As you’ve already noticed in this newsletter, I don’t exactly excel when it comes to putting words on paper.

That’s why I’m going to encourage you to avoid the most obvious and generic answers to the requests, even if they’re true.

If it’s the first thing that pops into your head, it’ll likely be the same for dozens if not hundreds of other people. And if you’re anything like me, these people will whoop you when it comes to writing it better.

Let’s pretend there’s a query in the “Business” section about entrepreneurs you look up to.

Instead of going with the usual Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Zuckerberg, I would come up with a successful entrepreneur from centuries before, like Johns Hopkins.

The odds that some Shakespeare-wannabe will choose the same character and outwrite me just got cut by like 90%.

Not only that, having some contrast and diversity will make the journalists article better.

Maximize Effort Into Each Query

The success rate of HARO is quite high to begin with.

Someone just starting out can expect around 10% of the responses to actually go live and by following the tips in this article, we land about 25% of the queries we send out.

The number one thing that’ll boost that number? Put in some more effort.

There’s a lot of different queries daily and a lot of people pitching for them but the vast majority are quite mediocre.

Instead of replying to every single query you might be a fit for – stick to the ones that you’re actually most qualified to answer and give it your best shot.

Do some research, follow the rest of the tips in this guide, and triple-check everything before firing off your response.

These are powerful links and they’re worth landing.

Stay Connected

While this is more relevant for SEOs that need to build links for dozens of different websites and businesses, it could help you in ways you’d never imagine.

When you successfully land a quote, try and get your foot in the door with the journalist for future articles.

Reach out and thank them, follow them on social media, and maybe a few weeks (or months) later – send in a story pitch of your own.

Media contacts go a long way in marketing.

Tips for Writing Your Response

Enough about the big picture, let’s get into writing your actual responses.

Have a Descriptive Subject Line That Stands Out

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a memo most of us never actually received.

In this case, the subject line is the book cover.

The truth is that these journalists aren’t going to read the vast majority of the replies they’re getting. They’re getting hundreds of them for every single request.

The first thing you’re going to want to make clear in your subject line is that you’re answering a particular query. Journalists often have several articles in the works at the same time and they’re not going to sift through the replies to figure out which one you’re replying to.

I like to use a part of their own title for the query and then combine it with something unique.

That brings me to the second point – you need to stand out. As a journalist, I’m going to wonder how good your actual response is going to be, if the subject line itself is already boring.

There’s a lot of different ways you can do this. Use tried-and-tested copywriting strategies. Try to predict what others might do and do something completely different.

My favorite way is trying to connect with the journalist and put myself in their shoes.

“If I was a journalist for X magazine, writing an article on Y topic, what type of person would be my perfect source?” 

If there’s a clear answer to that, I’ll try to make myself fit that profile, and include that in the subject line.

Let’s pretend the query is about entrepreneurial burnout… I might go with something like “3 Actionable Lessons on Burnout (From a Recovered Workaholic)”

It’s a made up example but you can see how that might stand out a bit from every other “HARO – How to avoid entrepreneurial burnout” email they are getting.

It also hints at the fact that I’ve put effort into writing three practical tips, in case they don’t like one of my approaches or they aren’t a fit for this particular piece.

Establish Yourself

Journalists don’t just quote anyone – otherwise they’d just Google the topic and write something themselves.

The first thing they’re going to look for in your pitch is credentials and a reason they should listen to you over anyone else on this particular matter.

You’ll want to keep this part short and use any kind of easy to check social proof and additional resources.

Instead of giving them your life story, sum up your experience in a sentence or two and then include a link to your LinkedIn or company “About” page where they could get more information if needed.

Sticking with our entrepreneurial burnout example, I might go with.

“My name is Travis Jamison and I’ve operated close to a dozen businesses in the last 15 years. Many of these involved dozens of employees and 60+ hour weekends so burnout is something I’ve had to deal with several times in the past.”

After that, I would get into the actual answer and at the end of the email, I might leave a few more credentials. If I’ve ever shared similar advice in an article or been quoted elsewhere on this topic, I’ll add those links to the end – especially if they are on high-profile sites.

Read the damn brief

Unless you’re a seasoned writer, it’s easy to get off track and start rambling about other things as you’re trying to make your point.

The articles you’re going to be featured on however, usually have strict word counts and any kind of fluff will make your answer unacceptable.

At the same time, journalists aren’t perfect either. In a lot of queries you’ll see several questions packed into one or oddly phrased sentences.

Really try to understand what the writer is trying to achieve here and make sure you hit every single point they’ve mentioned.

If the question is about productivity apps and you talk about a really useful strategy but never mention an actual app to use – you probably won’t get featured.

Often we’ll also see questions with two parts in them – e.g. what’s your favorite and why. Miss one of them and you may lose out on a nice juicy link.

Include a bio

Let’s pretend the writer has a 48 hour window to finish the article and get it published.

You had an amazing answer but they don’t know how to credit you, because you didn’t include your company name, website, or any other information.

Are they going to put everything on hold and pray you’re going to answer in time?

Hell no.

They’re going to choose another answer that might not be as good, but where they can already grab the source’s headshot, company link, and copy-paste their bio into the article.

Anything they might need – you’ll want to have ready:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Company name
  • Website
  • Bio
  • Headshot
  • Social profiles

I’ll usually also add a paragraph or two at the end of the email, addressing them by name and thanking them for their time. I’ll then mention that if they have any follow-up questions, they can reach me on this email or that phone number and get a reply within the same day.

I’ve scored quite a few extra links where journalists actually did like my answers but wanted me to cover a different angle.

Check out HARO alternatives

HARO is by far the best solution for getting this type of links but there are other similar platforms worth checking out as well.

For example, the hashtag #journorequest serves the same purpose and as I am writing this, the latest requests were published a minute, five minutes, and seven minutes ago. Plenty of volume!

SourceBottle is another one I’ve personally had good experiences with and I’m sure you’ll find a myriad more of them if you Google for “haro alternatives”.

If you find something good – let me know! 🙂

Wrapping Up

That’s pretty much all you need to know about scoring badass links from HARO.

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any specific questions and we’ll jump in to help you.

I’ll see you next week with yet another actionable SEO tip.

Let’s Smash it!

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Karl Kangur

When being a chess prodigy turned out to be too demanding, Karl converted to being a marketing nerd. He loves to theorycraft and when he starts talking about SEO, he can't stop.
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