Table of Contents:
Why smart PR pros talk to bloggers
Not all blogs are created equal
Metrics to evaluate blogs
To pay or not to pay
Building relationships with bloggers
Appendix: PR outreach tips
An influential blogger is effectively an independent publisher who writes about a specific niche that they feel passionately about. PR agencies and brands overlook blogs at their peril. The most successful blogs in the UK have readership figures that eclipse many newsstand magazines, and have extremely loyal and engaged readers who trust the information they read on blogs.
Working with an influential blog doesn’t just give brands access to the readers of that blog, it has many benefits for SEO and beyond. Topicality, relevance and link equity are all valuable SEO assets when it comes to your association with a blogger. It also provides a gateway to the blogger’s network. With 90% of bloggers being active on Facebook, and more than 80% also using Twitter (based on the Tots100 Technology Survey of parent blogs in 2011), a post on the right blog at the right time, can have enormous impact on a brand’s reputation.
Identifying influential bloggers is only the first step in successful blogger outreach. Consideration for how to engage bloggers and what techniques are most effective in building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships are key PR facets too.
Get blogger relations right, and you will become a part of authentic, influential conversations that are a cost-effective form of marketing and reap on-going SEO rewards. Get blogger relations wrong, and you might find yourself going viral on social networks for all the wrong reasons.
Whatever campaign you’re working on, adding bloggers to your media mix will probably be a good idea. Here are four great reasons for working with bloggers:
SEO and PR now go hand-in-hand for many brands. Working with the right blogs provides a great platform for link-building and SEO campaigns. As a rule, bloggers are much more willing to link to your client’s website than mainstream media, and they’re more likely to understand the importance of the “right” kind of links.
When a brand engages with an influential blogger, potentially they’re connecting with the blogger’s entire network – that might stretch to many thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, who may share, retweet and comment on the original message.
Research consistently demonstrates that bloggers are more trusted than mainstream media, and popular blogs can easily have upwards of 100,000 readers a month. Can brands afford to ignore that sort of audience?
Bloggers are mostly amateurs and write about subjects they’re genuinely passionate about, whether that’s fashion or baking or vintage crockery. Providing you’re targeting the right blogs, people will be glad to hear from you.
Of course, not all bloggers are well-read, influential and connected. Very many blogs are barely read at all, and engaging with these blogs is unlikely to deliver any significant benefit to a brand.
The key to successful blogger engagement, then, is identifying those blogs that are influential and trusted, and providing interesting and engaging opportunities that will encourage those bloggers to write about a brand.
There are millions of blogs in the world, and while typing “blogs about X” into Google will probably turn up the blogs you need, it will also turn up thousands of results you don’t need. Blogrolls can also be useful, but the problem tends to be that bloggers rarely update their links to other blogs, and blogrolls can quickly become out-of-date, or stuffed with dead links.
There are a range of tools available to help identify blogs that cover specific issues, brands and topics.
It’s hard to find this these days but under the advanced filters in Google News search there’s the option to search blogs, and you can search within the last onth, year or custom date range. Here’s an example for ‘candles’. The results change quite often so it’s a good idea to do this search regularly, audit the results and check for opportunities
This tool allows searches on Twitter bios so you can see who has mentioned ‘CEO’ or whichever other relevant targeting keyword in their profile. https://moz.com/followerwonk/
This 3rd party tool isn’t free but it has a very good ‘discovery engine’ which creates lists based on their own sources and algorithm. Some results need weeding out but mostly there are some interesting sites coming up. http://www.inkybee.com/
A top research tool that helps you see which aspiring/fellow bloggers support your influencers link equity and who their most active supporters and readers are, allowing you to start a relationship with them.
Blog directories can be a useful resource, providing lists of blogs in specific niches. The Tots100 contains details of around 2,500 UK parenting blogs, while the Foodies100 lists over 1,000 food and drink blogs. Media databases, such as DWPub’s FeaturesExec Media Database, often include top blogs in each sector. Other blog directories are:
Blogging forums, networks and communities
Independent blogging communities and forums can provide useful insights into which blogs are active and most read. Useful communities include:
Media request services such as ResponseSource are often used by bloggers looking for information and products to feature.
There are hundreds of free online tools and websites that will allow you to identify blogs writing about specific topics. Some of the most useful:
Delicious is a useful search engine, because it allows users to search blogs by ‘tags’ – descriptive labels that bloggers add to their posts. Checking the number of ‘bookmarks’ against posts provides insight into popularity, too.
Facebook is increasingly useful as many blogs have created pages that give an insight into how large and engaged that blog’s community might be. Openbook can also help identify mentions of a brand within status updates on Facebook.
For some PR agencies, the research stage of blogger outreach starts and ends with building a list of blogs in a specific niche or sector. It is certainly inexpensive and fast to distribute a press release to 250 bloggers but this is rarely an effective approach, or one that will help you to build successful relationships with influential bloggers.
Most bloggers are not professional journalists, and have no interest in receiving press releases. Sending a blogger a press release is akin to knocking on someone’s door with a sales pitch about double glazing – it’s intrusive and most likely irrelevant.
Instead, PR agencies should engage in additional research to identify the most influential bloggers in a community, and then develop personalised, individual approaches to those people.
As with any media campaign, blogger outreach shouldn’t be about only ever pitching to the biggest and most well-known blogs in a given niche. Often ‘top’ bloggers will be inundated with PR pitches, and building a relationship with lower ranked blogs with a fractionally smaller audience can be a far more successful strategy, particularly for smaller brands or smaller budgets.
There is a wide variety of tools available to help PR agencies to evaluate the influence of blogs and individuals, ranging from free websites and ranking tools to commercial social media monitoring services and platforms that are widely used by large brands and agencies.
Most social media evaluation will consider a blog’s influence using similar metrics to the following:
1) Domain Authority and home Page Authority: Moz’s Open Site Explorer gives you a number of invaluable statistics for assessment. At a glance these are probably the most important one. Domain Authority is a measure of overall influence of a website. With a high authority it’s quite likely that wherever your link is placed within the site you will reap the benefits of a high DA website. Page Authority is a measure of any page, but most usefully of the home page. If you get a link to your article from there and then a link from your article to you this Page Authority will cascade through it.
2) Link equity: A blog that has a high number of inbound links is considered more influential because this suggests many people have chosen to share that blog’s content with their own readers and network. You can easily see the number of inbound links to a blog or website using Open Site Explorer or by typing link: followed by the blog’s URL into Google. Google Page Rank (PR) is a rough and ready guide to the quality of links into a blog – most influential blogs will have a PR score of at least four – but Google has now stopped publishing this.
3) Relevance & Topicality: A blog can be engaged, influential and popular – but that doesn’t mean the author will be interested in writing about swimwear, if their blog is a guide to boots and shoes. There are tools that will allow you to search for keywords and tags, but there really is no substitute for looking at a blog – post categories will provide a reasonable insight into the kind of content the blog covers, and spending a week reading the blogger’s most recent posts is always a good use of time.
4) Social Media influence: Many bloggers are active on social media and there are a range of tools that will ‘score’ bloggers based on factors including the number of followers they have, how often their updates are shared, favourited and replied to, and how active they are. The most commonly used include Klout, PeerIndex (now part of Brandwatch), Tweetlevel (now part of Edelman), Kred. Tweetreach & Buzzsumo are great tools for tracking how many people are talking about a particular topic or analysing someone’s audience.
5) Audience: One of the biggest challenges in engaging with blogs is that there is no way for anyone other than the blog’s owner to truly know how many people are reading. PR executives can (and should) ask bloggers for traffic stats before providing any samples or gifts. Additionally RSS readers track the number of subscribers to a blog’s RSS feed. Additional 3rd party tools like Inkybee report this statistic as well as…
4) Engagement: The most influential blogs are those that engage with their readers, through comments, social bookmarks and mentions across multiple networks. Engagement can be harder to quantify, since most measurement tools are paid-for, but free sites such as Social Mention can be useful. Alternatively, once you have identified likely blogs, visit them to see whether posts receive comments, and whether the blogger responds to those comments.
Unlike top level magazine and/or broadsheet PR targeting bloggers, influencers and websites at this level publication frequency will be lower. This can have a very positive effect on your SEO. Bigger, more frequently published websites tend to archive their content more quickly and the half-life of an article published there can be of less value. Even though the Domain Authority may be higher the benefit may be less due to more speedy archiving of the article deep into the websites lower levels.
Indeed it can often be a trade off on relevancy & topicality in this regards. Sometimes the benefit of higher authority can off-set a lack of topicality and still boost SEO.
It’s important to remember that while journalists are paid, the vast majority of bloggers are unpaid, or only earn a small income from their blogs.
If you are working on a campaign where everyone from the designer to the junior account executive is being paid, many bloggers will consider it unfair that a PR agency expects them to provide coverage on their blogs for free. Do not be surprised if you ask a blogger to write about a product and they ask, “Do you have budget to support this campaign?”
If possible, allocate some of your campaign budget to compensating bloggers in one of the following ways:
Whatever commercial arrangement is agreed with a blogger, transparency is absolutely essential. Under no circumstances should a PR agency ever ask a blogger not to disclose a commercial relationship – to do so is a breach of OFT regulations and compromises the integrity of both the blogger and the client.
Bloggers and reviews
As a general rule, bloggers will not be expected to be paid for reviews on their website, but will expect to keep the item being reviewed (except for very high-value items).
If a PR agency offers to send an item to a blogger for a review and asks for the item to be returned, the PR agency should state this upfront and provide a return envelope, or arrange for a courier to collect larger items.
It should go without saying that agencies should not demand positive reviews from bloggers, and nor should they ask for negative reviews to be removed. Instead, engage with the blogger constructively and see if a problem can be resolved, or if useful feedback can be gathered.
If a review is being run as a sponsored post the PR agency is free to request that specific links, keywords and images are included in the review. These requirements must be explicit and agreed upfront with the blogger.
A pet hate among bloggers is when PR agencies offer items for review and then either withdraw the offer, or simply disappear without trace. This is especially disappointing if the blogger subsequently realises that same item was given to another blogger in their place. To avoid souring long-term relationships, don’t invite more bloggers to review any item than there are samples available, and always let bloggers know if a review item is no longer available for any reason.
Some bloggers will expect a payment in exchange for running a competition, while other bloggers will be happy to run a competition for a brand in exchange for an extra prize that they get to keep themselves. If a prize is particularly desirable, a blogger may run the competition for free, because of the increased traffic their blog will receive because of the competition.
When engaging with a blogger to run a competition, PR agencies should consider:
Smart PR professionals understand the value of building long-term relationships with key bloggers. However, blogger outreach should also involve building new relationships. A successful blog can simply stop if a blogger’s personal circumstances change, and it’s important to maintain a good ‘mix’ in blogger outreach.
Useful tips to remember in building relationships with bloggers:
Use Twitter: It sounds trite but the best way to build a relationship with a blogger on Twitter is to be helpful. Answer questions – whether it’s about blogging, or just what time a TV show starts on Saturday night. Selectively retweeting someone’s blog posts will usually be appreciated too.
Follow up: Most PR agencies don’t bother thanking bloggers after a post has been published, or a review written. A quick “thank you” email, tweet or comment on the post is hugely appreciated by bloggers.
Take it offline: Take any and all opportunities to meet bloggers in real life. If a blogger is in town, drop them a line to see if they have time for a coffee. Offer to buy them lunch if they live locally. If meeting up isn’t an option, make it a point to pick up the phone from time to time, and offer them access to samples on a regular basis.
Promotional support: Look for ways to promote your favourite bloggers and send them new readers – invite them to write a short article for a customer newsletter, or a guest post on a client’s blog. Link to one of their posts on a popular Facebook page, or tweet their link to your network.
Connect bloggers with other people: Look for opportunities to introduce your favourite bloggers to colleagues, and other clients within the agency. If you have a working relationship with the agency handling a brand’s online advertising, recommend your key bloggers to them.
Foster communities: Recruiting teams of bloggers as brand ambassadors or building a community of trusted bloggers allows PR executives to build trusted relationships, while fostering a community among the bloggers themselves.
Blogging is a largely virtual activity, and arranging events where bloggers can meet each other, and brands, is a great way to build relationships.
Bloggers will always appreciate it if a PR agency is able to reimburse travel expenses, or arrange transport to the event. If budget does not allow for this, then invite local bloggers to the event venue, to minimise the cost to bloggers attending the event.
When inviting bloggers to any event, consider that they will want to share the event with their network – the best blogging event venues have open, fast WiFi and a good mobile phone signal.
The vast majority of blogging events take place in London even though bloggers are distributed all over the country. Consider holding events in other UK cities where possible.
It’s also important to think about timings – events starting at 9am may be difficult for out-of-towners to get to, while evening events may finish too late for them to get home by public transport. Similarly, trains into the capital on weekends can be extremely limited. Check timetables before committing to event details.
Consider what format your event will take. Bloggers tend to have their own agenda, and round-tables or panel Q&As will work better than traditional press-conference style presentations. Always build in time for bloggers to talk to each other as well as the client, and if at all possible, give bloggers the opportunity to have hands-on experience with something (ideally the client’s product) since bloggers are far more likely to write about something they have experienced personally.
If budget is available, it can be useful to offer bloggers access to professional photography and video of an event. In this case, be sure to distribute edited materials promptly, since bloggers will usually write about events within a day or two of attending.
There are 2 critical factors to consider link building: anchor text and linked page.
Using search terms in the actual linked text is still a bonus for SEO in that it’s perhaps the most obvious signal of the relevance of the page being linked to. The algorithm perceives that contextual links are potentially the most valuable and least likely to manipulation (due to editorial constraints if nothing else) so it’s a good goal to aim for (although you may end up compromising).
Linking to a deep content page is also a relevance signal and if it makes sense to do so you certainly should.
Whilst it’s of course beneficial to optimise both Google’s algorithm is very good at spotting unnatural linking activity so you want to be really careful with both. As a rule of thumb optimise one in every 4 anchor text link, and perhaps only deep link 50% of the time. The rest should be brand or URL links to the homepage.
There are many benefits to SEO/PR as has been mentioned before, but it’s importantly to rather crudely remember that the single text link that you are after is the core metric to measure. Seeing link equity increase over time (and particularly root domain links) is the bottom line Key Performance Indicator. Increased links will benefit the whole website wherever they come into so the bell should ring when they come in. However also important to measure are the following additional benefits.
Overall you should see the search term rankings that you monitor the website for increasing, and therefore of course ultimately traffic & conversions as a result.
Working with bloggers can present PR professionals with new challenges – measuring and quantifying blog campaigns can be notoriously difficult, and the relationship between brands and bloggers is completely different to the relationship with traditional media. Bloggers are often fiercely independent, and the rules of engagement between blogs and brands are new, and still shifting in many cases.
However, with good research and open, honest communication, PR agencies can build highly successful relationships with influential bloggers, and deliver enormous value for their clients.
The most important thing to remember at this stage is that BLOGGERS ARE NOT JOURNALISTS.
Most journalists represent a publication, website or programme. The content they produce reflects on their employer, and when things go wrong, the journalist is not usually held personally responsible by the audience. For bloggers, the reverse is true. Successful bloggers have often become a ‘brand’ and everything on their blog represents and reflects on them personally. For this reason, bloggers will often be reluctant to write about anything they have not seen or experienced personally.
Some observers have accused bloggers of being “blaggers” for asking for review samples when journalists are happy to accept press releases and photos, but this is not necessarily true. Successful bloggers care about their credibility and many will not recommend something on their blog unless they feel they can personally vouch for a product, service or destination.
If a blogger is writing in their spare time, then it is important to remember that they will not necessarily “work” the same hours as a PR agency. Many bloggers receive hundreds of emails a week, and will need to reply to these messages during weekends and evenings – so allow plenty of time to build up blogger campaigns.
Personalise your pitch
Once a PR agency has compiled a list of suitable blogs for a campaign, then it is time to pitch the blogger. Do not simply send press releases to a blogger and expect them to write about it (an alarming number of PR agencies have adopted this as a comprehensive blogger outreach strategy). The vast majority of bloggers will delete press releases because they simply don’t think they are useful or relevant to them.
Blogs are an intensely personal platform for their writers, so PR agencies should make every effort to personalise pitches and explain why a particular product, service or promotion is relevant to a specific blog.
For example, a blogger might have recently written about a particular brand, destination or type of food – and this could be mentioned in a PR pitch. Alternatively, bloggers will appreciate if you recommend events that are local to them, or relevant to their job, or family circumstances.
Some comments on this topic from bloggers include:
“I love when PR people read my blog and add a personal touch. One company read that I loved chai, and sent me a box. Really inexpensive, but I loved it.”
“I always appreciate when someone has read my About page, and sends me something because they know I’ll be interested in it.”
“Nothing turns me off faster than getting something addressed to Dear Blogger, or Dear… followed by my blog name. Seriously, it’s not hard to find out my name.”
When pitching to a blogger, your pitch should be friendly, and informal – but polite.
It’s great to show that you have read a blogger’s recent posts before contacting them, but avoid sending emails that say, “I loved your recent post on [insert last blog title here]”. Bloggers tend to find these approaches insincere, and off-putting.
Other quick golden rules of pitching to bloggers: