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5 critical steps to take before launching your first Digital PR campaign

If anyone had any doubts about the effectiveness of digital PR, their scepticism was likely shaken after this tweet from Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller earlier this year:

Because Mueller only validated what most digital marketers already knew – not only does digital PR have enormous potential to amplify a brand’s presence, but it can also have huge positive SEO implications when done right.

Just look at this example highlighted by SEO insight software SEMRush – it generated 125 backlinks from just a single campaign.

But like any component of digital marketing, digital PR success doesn’t happen overnight. There are steps businesses should take before launching a campaign to help ensure that all the good work done by their PR team isn’t wasted. 

Think about it – brand awareness is all well and good, but what’s a good digital PR campaign really worth if it doesn’t actually result in conversions in the long-run? If your site isn’t optimised to support users, what good will that increased traffic as a result of your campaign be? 

That’s why brands should act pre-campaign to minimise this risk. To help, we’ve outlined critical steps you should take before deploying a digital PR campaign so you can make sure you’re in the right spot to maximise success.

What is digital PR and why is it important?

Before we jump into preparation brands need to make for digital PR, it’s worth taking a step back and examining just what the sector entails.

Digital PR is a key part of digital marketing – think of it as a tool within a marketer’s tool belt, though it takes specialist knowledge of its own to master.

Like traditional PR, the primary goal of digital PR is to increase brand awareness and build trust. But the key difference between the two is that digital PR sets out to do this not just through coverage and brand mentions, but also through backlinks, with a view to increasing a site’s position in the SERPs. That means that as well as the press coverage you get in the short term, successful digital PR work ensures you stay visible in other channels long after your campaign has ended.

Digital PR still involves outreach to various journalists, bloggers and even social media influencers via press releases and pitches, but campaigns are typically built around assets that are designed to encourage publishers to link through to their source when covering a story. 

This new breed of PR has become more and more popular as the world continues to shift digital, and presents unique opportunities for businesses to connect with their target audiences. 

What’s the big deal with links?

The main currency digital PR deals in is links, and that’s where traditional PR doesn’t come close. 

Digital PR specialists research and create on-site content that’s designed to command links wherever it goes; when this new content is promoted via press releases, it becomes not only an interesting news story for the publishers receiving it, but also a source that must be cited, or a page the reader needs to visit to get the most from the story.

But why should businesses care about links to their sites from others? There are a few key benefits:

  • Higher search engine rankings – More links back to your site are seen by Google as “votes of confidence,” which then can result in a higher spot on SERPs.
  • More click-through retargeting opportunities – Even though the people that click that link and land on your site might not convert right away, their information will still be made available to you for retargeting, so you can hopefully convert them in the long-run.
  • Better brand awareness and trust – The more your content and links are shared, the more visibility you’ll have in front of your audience, which can translate to more credibility in the eyes of your customers.

This is even more critical for DTC brands. We’ve talked recently about how important review content is in the buying journey, and how reliant customers are on recommendations from friends, family and even anonymous third-party reviewers to feel confident in buying with someone new.

Here, third-party publications serve the same purpose – by linking to you and/or your content, those sources are essentially vouching for your services and providing a unique kind of social proof for your customers.

Let’s look at an example. A while back, we worked on a digital PR campaign for cruise holiday company (now Marella Cruises), in which we revealed it was actually cheaper to take a 120-day around-the-world cruise than live in London for the same amount of time.

The story was covered extensively, appearing in publications like The Daily Mail, AOL Travel and Lonely Planet, and in countries as far as Nigeria, Australia and New Zealand. As a result, the CruiseDeals website saw consistent month-on-month and year-on-year traffic growth by 32.52%. Traffic engagement metrics also showed positive effects from the coverage, from site visit to event and goal completion.

What’s more is, digital PR also offers brands the opportunity to nudge into new territory and attract new audiences. If you’re looking to expand your brand awareness, this presents a great opportunity to get your name where your new target audience gathers information.

Steps to take before launching a digital PR campaign

A few months back, we posted about steps eCommerce businesses should take before implementing an SEO campaign, and the motive behind those steps is largely the same here – there’s no point in directing people to your site if you aren’t ready for them.

So, what can you do to make sure you’re in the best possible position to ride the wave of success with a digital PR campaign? Here are our top tips:

1. Define your brand positioning and ethos

Further to our point above, we’ve discussed in past blogs why brand positioning is so critical to an eCommerce business’s success in terms of launching a successful SEO campaign, and it’s no different in the context of digital PR.

Brand positioning defines for your customers what sets you apart from the competition. It should answer the question of what you can offer customers and how your product can benefit their lives, as well as how that product does it better than anyone else.

We’ve also established that one of the main goals of digital PR is boosting a business’s brand awareness, but if your brand doesn’t have any self-awareness or can’t articulately convey this on its site, there’s little point in directing people to your content.

The same goes for establishing your business’s ethos. When defining your company’s ethos, you’re outlining what matters to your brand and what things you stand for as a company, which works not only as campaign content but opens opportunities for you to get links from quotes and commentary you’ve provided.

While defining this as a company might seem arbitrary – surely all your customers care about are the products themselves, right? – studies show this isn’t the case. According to Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer, 60% of respondents stated that a company’s reputation might get them to try a product, but they’ll eventually stop if they don’t trust the company.

Doing the above will also influence where you pitch your digital PR campaigns. If your brand boasts an eco-friendly ethos, you’ll ideally want to get your name on sources that support this, as this is where you’ll likely find your target audience.

2. Research your audience

It’s likely you’ll have researched your target audience in terms of who they are specifically when defining your brand’s positioning, but now you need to figure out where they hang out online.

By getting your name and content published on a site your target audience respects, you’re showing them that the site they trust also trusts you and therefore they should too. Getting your content linked to from an irrelevant source or, even worse, a spammy source, can have the opposite effect.

Plus, knowing your audience will allow you to narrow your scope of sources to target for publication. Because let’s be honest, nobody’s target audience is “everyone,” and depending on your audience, not every source is created equal.

A good place to start is by analysing your competitors and seeing which sites are linking to them, and assess their potential to link to you too. We’ll go into more detail on this below.

3. Review the link gap between your site and your competitors

There’s a good chance your competitors are receiving backlinks in some capacity. Knowing which sources are linking to them presents a great opportunity for you to not only identify sites who aren’t yet linking to you and can be targeted with digital PR, but also to review the types of content from which your competitors are getting their links.

But how can you go about conducting this research? Through in-depth backlink analysis.

For our clients, we typically use Ahrefs Domain Comparison and Link Intersect tools, along with individual backlink deep dives. Conducting a quick backlink analysis in Ahrefs looks a little something like this:

Domain Comparison: Is there a correlation between rankings and referring domains? If sites are in positions 1-3 with few links at all, it suggests that on-page factors are more important than external backlinks in getting to the top spot. But for highly competitive terms, you’ll often see that it’s the sites who have the most backlinks who are holding those prized SERP positions. Look up a few of your key terms, see who is currently on top, and then compare your link profile to theirs:

At this point, it’s advisable to look at the domain overview of each site one by one as well, to see what % of their links and linking domains are high quality. It can feel like a mammoth task to compete against sites with vast link profiles, but if 99% of their links are low-quality or outright spam, you won’t have such a fight on your hands.

Next up, Link Intersect: Within the Link Intersect tool, you can see all the domains who are linking to competitors but not to you, and you can organise them either by Domain Rating (to see the highest authority sites competitors have captured links from) or by how many competitors they link to (to establish those which may be the easiest wins).

If you’ve established that all of your key competitors are getting links from the national press and other major publications, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to need to do digital PR to compete with them.

From here, you can look at individual linking URLs to see what type of content and what type of link was included. Are publishers exclusively linking from product reviews and roundups, or are they also linking from expert advice posts and survey-based features, or covering tools and infographics competing sites have made? 

It may be that before diving into a typical content-led or data-led campaign, you establish that product features are where 99% of links are coming from, and can tweak your plans accordingly.

4. Fix any big SEO and UX issues

This goes back to what we said about nailing your brand positioning before launching a digital PR campaign – similar to if your site’s brand positioning is off, if your site is riddled with SEO or UX issues, there’s little point in directing people to it.

That said, there will be the odd case where sites have too many SEO issues to tackle all at once, and will risk falling too far behind by delaying their digital PR campaigns. In these instances, focus on these aspects first:

  • Web design – Is your website’s design and layout meeting your customers’ needs? Are they able to navigate your site smoothly and easily? Most importantly, is the checkout process simple and intuitive? Conduct user testing to find out for sure and adjust where necessary.
  • Content – Make sure your content is well-written and well-informed, and that it accurately depicts your brand voice and positioning. There’s no faster way to get a user off your site than by directing them to unhelpful content.
  • Optimisation – You’ll want to ensure your homepage and most important landing pages are optimised for relevant target terms (for DTC brands, this will likely be bestsellers or the products you most want to push). A digital PR campaign could generate 100 great links to your best espresso machine, but if that page isn’t optimised for the term “espresso machine”, it isn’t going to make it to page one in the SERPs for the term.

5. Have your experts on hand

Like any PR campaign worth its salt, digital PR campaigns benefit from having spokespeople close by whom publications can quote or reach out to for more information.

Before you launch a campaign, it’s a good idea to start thinking about who within your organisation can act as a potential spokesperson and whether or not you may need a third-party expert to support them in the future.

For example, as a mattress seller you’re well placed to offer expert commentary on things specifically about mattresses, but might need a sleep-science expert or someone similar to comment on your campaigns moving forward to validate them.

Taking this step might come later down the line in your digital PR planning, but it’s worth considering early on.

Digital PR can feel like a monumental task, and one that’s pretty all-or-nothing. But a little research goes a long way here, and will help your overall brand in the long-run.

Once you’ve got the fundamentals down, it’s then time to get started with your first digital PR campaign. To get you feeling confident, we’re hosting our very first #Blinktank webinar on 13th May at 1pm, where our in-house digital PR and link-building expert Tabby Farrar will dive deep into successful digital PR campaigns for DTC businesses, and will take a look not just at real life examples but how you can implement similar strategies into your own campaigns.

Find out more about the event and register here.

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