TRS 009: Increasing Web Traffic with Online PR with Andrew Burd
Search engines’ focus on high-quality content has shifted the internet, demanding a need for better off-page SEO practices. Today’s marketers need to create compelling content and strategically distribute it among industry-relevant publishers, the basics of public relations. Our Senior SEO Specialist Andrew Burd dives into how agencies are boosting client SEO while increasing traffic conversions through Online PR.
In a world where content is king, businesses can really make big changes to their organic ranking with a proper off-page SEO strategy. Andrew brings real client experience to the forefront and shares the biggest challenges to managing Online PR on today’s episode of The Revenue Stream.
Andrew’s blog article Get Better Search Results with our Google Search Operators Guide for SEOs
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Marcus: Hello, marketers and business leaders. I’m Marcus Grimm, and welcome to The Revenue Stream, the podcast from Web Talent Marketing. Here we discuss everything you need to know to build brands, generate leads, and convert sales from some of the brightest minds in marketing.
Marcus: Hey, marketers and business leaders! Welcome to today’s program. You know the formal history of public relations, it’s actually a relatively short one. Pretty much goes back to about the year 1900 with the establishment of the publicity bureau, according to Wikipedia. Now systematic public relations got started in Great Britain in the 1920s, but back then it was obviously an internal function supporting missions of various religious and political entities. So up through World War II this industry was commonly referred to as propaganda, for better or for worse. And then it was around the middle of the last century that public relations actually became a thing. Well Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers of public relations, wrote that the three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society, and they are informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people.
Marcus: So whether you say public relations goes back to 1900 or even further, as other scholars have said, the fact of the matter is that the mission of public relations hasn’t really changed. However, like everything else, the internet has changed many aspects of public relations, which brings us to today’s program featuring Andrew Burd, an SEO specialist with my company, Web Talent Marketing. Andrew’s going to be here talking about Online PR, one of the many service offerings over at Web Talent Marketing. Andrew, welcome to the program.
Andrew: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Marcus.
Marcus: This is your first time on the show, right?
Andrew: That is correct.
Marcus: Outstanding. Now before we get started, I do want listeners to get a feel for you and your background. Tell us about where you grew up. Where’d you go to school?
Andrew: Yeah, so I was born and raised in Central Pennsylvania– spent most of my life here in PA. I attended Penn State University where I studied communications and business
Marcus: Communication. Main campus?
Andrew: That’s correct. Yeah.
Marcus: We are Penn state, right?
Andrew: That’s right!
Marcus: So communication and business; that makes it almost like you’re in the perfect place– you’re a Web Talent now. Did you always feel like you wanted to work in marketing, or how did you end up a Web Talent?
Andrew: Yeah, so that’s a little bit of a unique story, I think, because, before I joined Web Talent, my background was primarily in business development and sales. But then, I found that I had a fascination with digital marketing, SEO in particular. And I just kind of grew that fascination into some training that I did online, just developing my skills in those areas. And the rest is history.
Marcus: The rest is history, and here you are! So it’s interesting, you said you’re an SEO specialist with Web Talent Marketing. And I think one of the things that people will find interesting is, “Well, okay. How does public relations fit inside SEO at Web Talent Marketing?” I think, to the average person, SEO can be a highly tactical, technical science. It’s aimed at optimizing websites to increase web traffic. Meanwhile, sometimes when we think about public relations, we hear about, “So-and-so got their client on the cover of this magazine or that magazine.” Public relations can be kind of fuzzy, kind of difficult to judge, and yet here you are a tactical, technical SEO guy here to talk about it. So what’s changed?
Andrew: Yeah, so there’s a number of reasons why public relations became so integral to the SEO space. The one of which is just the fact that we can directly measure its impact on our SEO efforts. And I think that really goes back to the changes in the link building practice.
Marcus: Okay, so let’s stop right there. So for the people that are not initiated, let’s talk about what link building was 10 years ago.
Andrew: Right. Right. So back in the “old days” of SEO, it was definitely more of a game of quantity over quality because you could go and get a couple hundred links pointing to either your website or your client’s website and you would have a relatively easy time ranking for the queries that you were targeting. Now, with some more recent updates to Google’s algorithm, they’re looking much more closely at the quality of those links versus just the quantity.
Marcus: So in the olden days, I would pay a guy like you to get my link listed on 500 other websites. Now what you’re telling me is, it could be more valuable to be on 50, but the quality of those sites is different.
Marcus: To the average person, what does quality of a website even mean? Let’s talk about that for a moment.
Andrew: Sure. So a quality website, as it pertains to some online PR opportunities for our clients, would mean something like the website in question is topically relevant to our client’s own website. They’re addressing relatively the same audience that we’re trying to get in front of with our client’s website. And just overall they are being linked to by trustworthy and credible websites, and they themselves are linking out to trustworthy and credible websites.
Marcus: So it’s not just sticking a link on a website somewhere, but there’s some real overlap. So the average person would say, well it makes sense for your link to be here.
Andrew: Absolutely. Yep.
Marcus: And then of course, now that we’ve moved PR online, suddenly it isn’t fuzzy at all. I mean, you’ve got all kinds of metrics. I mean, everything that you just talked about already can be measured, right? How do people today measure the quality of a website?
Andrew: Sure. So if we’re looking at an online PR opportunity, say we’re looking at trying to get a piece of content from our client published on a different website, we’ll be looking at things like how many monthly visitors are going to that website via organic search. We’ll look at the websites, as I said, that are linking to them just to get a better idea of the quality of their own backlink profile. And then we’re also going to be looking very closely at the type of content that they’re producing. Just making sure that there is a fit between the content that they’re producing and the messaging that we’re trying to get across to our client’s audiences.
Marcus: So that gives us some of the basic premise of the benefits of online PR then.
Marcus: Okay. So basically it sounds like, when you do online PR, essentially what you’re doing is you’re reaching out to a publication and you’re saying, “Hey, listen, I have a client that might be relevant for you.” It seems to me like you’re playing the exact same part that a traditional PR person would be except you’re really concerned about the digital power of that place where you’d be putting the content, right?
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely.
Marcus: Okay, so that gives us a basic, a basic premise of the benefits of online PR.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. You know, with online PR opportunities, some of the goals that we’re striving for are exposure for our client’s brand and with those online PR opportunities mostly comes highly relevant and authoritative backlinks. And with those high-value back links, the direct result of that is greater organic search visibility for our clients. So in layman’s terms, they’ll rank better and for more queries for the keywords that we’re targeting.
Marcus: So it sounds to me you’re trying to directly influence the SEO of a client’s website, but also you’re just influencing the brand because, obviously, if I’m selling running shoes and my brand is referenced on Runner’s World for instance, that’s good for my brand, both directly and indirectly.
Marcus: So let’s dig deeper into how you do this because, one of the things that’s really interesting is, this is not a technical thing. This is a skill piece. So one of the many challenges of the internet is that, let’s be honest, it’s really, really big. I mean– and I don’t know how running shoes just popped into my head, but let’s go with that one. If I have running shoes, literally there are many hundreds if not thousands of websites or blogs that talk about shoes and running shoes. So let’s start at the very beginning. How does a guy like you find those content opportunities in the first place?
Andrew: Yeah, you’re absolutely right Marcus. I mean, there are literally trillions of websites or web pages that are indexed by Google. So it’s a tremendous resource to try and sift through. But I think, one of the more effective tools that we have at our disposal to try and find these opportunities is search operators and utilizing the Google search function itself. So when we are looking for the specific opportunities, just going off of your example of running shoes, I might do a search for “write for us” plus “running shoes.” That’ll give me a more simplified list of publications, blogs, websites, etc. that will be looking for, potentially, new writers to submit content around running shoes.
Marcus: Let’s go back. So that’s interesting. So you would search then, write for us running shoes or trail shoes or would there be other terms you would maybe use?
Andrew: Yeah, I think there is definitely a lot of variety that we’ll use with those search operators–
Marcus: But what you’re trying to do is say these would then be sites that say, “Hey, we welcome content from outsiders.”
Andrew: Exactly. Yes.
Marcus: So that’s the point of doing that. That being said, okay, so now you’ve trimmed billions down to millions. What do you do then when you come up with a list of 20 of them?
Andrew: Right. So then that kind of becomes a little bit more of an extensive process because then we’ll have to almost go on a case-by-case basis of looking at the website and seeing what type of content they’re producing, what other sites are linking to that website, what are the sites of that publication itself is linking out to. So then it becomes a much more iterative process of just learning just how good of an opportunity is this going to be for my client’s website.
Marcus: Got It. So the first thing you’ll figure out is, “Can I get content there?” It’s kind of a binary decision, yes or no. But now you’re really saying, “Well, it might be better for my client’s content to be here rather than there,” and deciding which one might be might be a better fit. So now you’ve honed in and let’s say you like these three running sites. So now basically you’re going to just do an email cold call and they say “Yes,” and that’s it, right?
Andrew: Yeah, I know it may sound like that at first, but in reality it’s a very thorough process that we go through, especially at Web Talent Marketing. We do spend a lot of time and energy researching that website, making sure that the content that’s published on that website is relevant to our client’s own audience. But then we’re also looking at some more technical metrics as well. So we’ll be looking at the backlink profile, as I said before. We at Web Talent use the Majestic SEO trust and citation flow to get a better idea of the size and quality of a site’s backlink profile, but then we’ll also be looking very closely at the number of visitors that are coming to that site every month.
Marcus: Well, this is super important because this is different than what we talked before about link building. So you, Andrew, are basically saying this one website is more valuable perhaps than me sticking your link on 25 other ones. So this is where you’re really doing the hard work to say, is it really worth the weight of 25 other sites?
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the golden rules of SEO is that links are not all created equal. We could be looking at trying to get a number of links on directories or resources that are targeting our client’s niche, but if we want to get those really high quality links that are also addressing some of the target keywords that we’re going after, online PR and content outreach is just one of the primary ways that we do so.
Marcus: And it also sounds like this is not a technical, tactical thing. So in essence, you are also making the decision that this is worth my client’s time to contribute content to this publication.
Marcus: So you’re really saying to them, “Hey, listen, if it’s going to take you one hour, ten hours to write this article, it’s going to be worth it to you because there’s real value in that link.”
Andrew: Absolutely, yeah, it’s definitely a measure of time spent versus the value gained.
Marcus: Right. So you’ve helped me out here. I’ve narrowed my billion running shoe websites down to five, and now we’ve looked at the backlink profile and I say, “Boy, you know what? I really want my client to have an article on here.” So you found that online publication, you’ve got the confidence it’s going to help the SEO ranking of your client. What happens next?
Andrew: Well then we’d be doing a little bit more digging on the website, looking for the right point of contact, the person who is overseeing the content publication process on that site, which is usually an editor in most cases. Other times it could be a webmaster or an editor in chief, whoever that may be. That information is sometimes easily found on the website, sometimes it’s not and you have to do a little more digging. But then after you do find that person or that email address, then we go through the process of crafting the pitch that we want to send to them, basically saying, “This is who I am, this is why I’m reaching out and I have content that would be relevant to your audience and here’s why.” And then we reach out via email.
Marcus: That does not sound scalable at all.
Andrew: Yeah, you know, it’s not, and to be honest, it’s almost not meant to be. Because with the whole push of trying to get more quality links versus quantity, a beneficial biproduct of that shift is just the fact that we have to establish relationships. Now it’s not just a matter of clicking a button and having a link put on a directory. Now we have to go through the process of reaching out to an actual physical person and saying, “I have something of value to you. So if you want to use this, could you also please give something of value to me.” So it’s really a process of building relationships.
Marcus: And it seems to me, and I don’t, and I don’t know if you’ve naturally fallen into the perfect career for you, but it seems to me that you essentially are becoming a salesperson for that client to reach out to those or is that how you think of yourself?
Andrew: Yeah, it really is a big part of the SEO and Online PR world now. I enjoy communicating with people. I enjoy creating unique, compelling messages, and I found that SEO and Online PR was a great avenue to do that. And then for this content outreach and online PR strategy, we really do have to kind of put on our salesperson hat a little bit. We have to present our clients in the best light and really propose a convincing argument to those publications to say, “Here is some very useful content and these are the reasons why you should publish it.”
Marcus: So talk a little bit about some of those strategies that you use. I love the one that, and I don’t want to gloss past it, you mentioned, you’ve talked about it a lot, which is when you write that email, it’s saying, “Here’s how this content will benefit the publication.” You’re not really saying what’s in it for your client. You’re trying to tell them how it’s going to help the website. Talk about that or talk about other strategies that did you believe increase the likelihood of success?
Andrew: Sure. So I think, um, one of the biggest ways to just increase the chances of success is to make that particular email as personal and unique as possible. As you said before, we really need to focus on how it’s going to benefit them because, if I come into an email and say, “This is for me, this is for me, this for me,” they don’t care. They have their own agendas. They have their own goals and their own things that they’re trying to achieve with their publication. So if I’m coming into this saying, “Could you please do this for me?” It doesn’t really matter to them. And so I need to come into this with the idea that what I’m proposing is going to be mutually beneficial.
Andrew: So to try and make that email as personal and unique as possible, I like to do things like using the editor’s name. You know, so many times you get emails that just say hello, sir or madam or to whom it may concern, and a lot of times those emails just get thrown in the trash because they’re just super impersonal. And a lot of times what we’ll do to handcraft that email to the publication is doing the deep dive, as I said, on the content of the publication itself. So we’ll be looking at the articles that they’ve published perhaps in the last ten to twelve months, even taking a look at how that content is arranged, seeing what kind of categories that they’re using to organize this content.
Marcus: So you might even reach out to them and say, I think this will be most appropriate for this section of the website.
Andrew: Absolutely. Because, um, you know, one of the, one of the main goals of this outreach is to make it as easy as possible for the editor to say yes. And one way that I feel I’m able to accomplish that is just providing a clear visual of where this piece of content that I’m proposing could live on the website.
Marcus: I feel like your strategy is a bit unique, and I want to talk about why I feel that. I think lots of times when we think about public relations, the client is a very, very popular person. So for instance, if you are representing Tesla, you’d be able to go to them and say, “I’ve got Elon Musk,” and that would be the end of it. But by and large, we’re building links to companies that are the successful companies, but at $5-15 million dollars in revenue. Your clients are not neighborhood names. They’re not marquee names. And so it seems to me what you’re saying is that you really need to explain to the publication why it will help the publication because you’re not representing the Elon Musk.
Andrew: Absolutely. Yeah. If I was an Online PR representative for Coca Cola, I’m sure I would have no problem finding all of these opportunities and capitalizing on almost all of them. But all of these clients that we work with are unique and special in their own way, and they have great insight that they can provide to their audience just because of their expertise and their experience in the fields that they are in. And so we really need to do the best job from our end to position that insight as being beneficial to the publication’s audience, if that makes sense.
Marcus: Well, it actually goes back to what you said before. If you’ve got a relevant website, they will be interested in that narrow but highly relevant viewpoint from your client.
Marcus: Well, it sounds like you know what you’re doing. You send out one email, and that’s it right? Once and done.
Andrew: Yeah, if only it was that easy. The reality of it though is– there’s been a number of studies done on this particular practice. The sad truth of it is that a lot of these emails don’t even get read.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah, I know…
Marcus: You sound like you felt like all of your– I feel bad if any of your emails not getting read.
Andrew: Right. Yeah, it really just kind of becomes a game of persistence, if you will. There’s been a number of studies done that show that a lot of editors get ten or more of these types of emails per day, and to try and expect them to not only read but respond to those emails on top of their usual workflow, it becomes a bit unrealistic. So it really does kind of have– you have to take a bit of a step back and realize these are people that have busy jobs of their own. And so that just kind of drives more the need that I need to provide something that will really wow them, that’s going to really show them the value of what we have to offer. To combat that lack of open rate or response rate and things like that, I just like to send a little ping a couple of days later just following up. Just a quick one liner saying, “I realize that you’re probably busy and that your inbox probably gets slammed with these types of emails, but I wanted to put this at the top of your inbox. Please let me know if you’d be interested in discussing further.”
Marcus: And I think your process is really strong, and I’ve seen it work well for people. But there’s a whole piece this that we really do need to talk about, which is what happens when Andrew is successful and somebody says, “You know what? Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s get it. Let’s get a piece of content in there. Let’s have the CEO from Joe’s Shoes write an article.” How’s content handled?
Andrew: Yeah. So I think that can be handled a couple of different ways, and it really depends on the relationship that we have with our client. Because, you know, we have clients that really do prefer to write the content themselves, which makes sense. You know, they want to control the messaging. They want to produce the insight that comes straight from their mouth. Otherwise, depending on how closely we understand and know their industry, we could take a crack at writing the content. We can make sure that it’s optimized for the correct audience. It’s targeting the right keywords that we’re trying to address. And then going through the process of sending that to the client, making sure that everything looks good on their end, and then sending it to the editor.
Marcus: Now you said something that was really, really interesting there, and I’ve seen you guys do this many, many times. But even if the client is a great writer and even if the client knows the industry– you glossed over something there. And I really want to unpack it which is optimizing the content. In this context, let’s say I’m an award winning writer and I’ve written an article and I know my industry flat out. What does optimizing the copy even mean in this context?
Andrew: Right. So it’s as you said; a person could be an expert in a certain field and they could write novels about a certain topic in the industry, what have you. But this is really where the tactical part of SEO comes into play because we want to provide content that’s both interesting and useful for the target audience, but we also need to make sure that we’re including important longtail keywords that will be visible to Google when it comes time that it crawls that page and adds it to its index. So it’s really a balancing act between providing content, as I said, that’s relevant to the audience but also ready and useful for search engines as well.
Marcus: And this is a super point that I don’t think people realize. We’ve got to go back to why in the world is online PR even exist within SEO. We’re trying to increase website traffic. Therefore, what you’re telling me is you want to write that content in such a way that that shoe blog is going to have content on there that somebody would actually search for in the first place.
Andrew: Absolutely, Yep.
Marcus: And that’s what optimizing looks like. You know, one of the things that I think we can agree on, which is really interesting as it relates to SEO, we talk about service offerings. PPC’s not right for everybody. SEO is not right for everybody, but what you’re telling me is SEO is really, really only a good strategy for me if I’m willing to invest either my time or my money in content.
Andrew: Yeah. I think content really does play a sizable part in a successful SEO campaign. SEO can really take on a number of different forms, whether that be looking at optimizing technical elements of their website, looking to strengthen their backlink profile, but especially, you know, addressing not only the content that is on their site currently, but looking at producing content elsewhere. It all works together to really just strengthen the client’s SEO and really just improve that organic visibility.
Marcus: So tell me, from your perspective, what type of organization is a great client from an online PR standpoint? I’m guessing the first thing is, like any sales guy– and I’m using the term sales here when you talk about pitching these articles– you want a client who’s going to be responsive.
Andrew: Absolutely, yeah.
Marcus: What are some of the other things that, that you look at somebody and go, this is, this is a great client for Online PR.
Andrew: Yeah, so I think every client, regardless of the industry that they’re in, is a good fit for content. The only thing that differs is the types of publications that we’re going after. Because we could go after home improvement publications, we could go after sporting equipment publications. It really is just about explaining the value of that external content to the client and just really showcasing how it can help their online PR efforts.
Marcus: We’ll let’s talk about that as we get here toward my final question. What are those benefits? So, you’ve done it. We started with a billion shoe blogs. We narrowed it down to several dozen. You reached out to three. One of them came back and said, “Give me a story or let me see what your client wrote.” You optimize it. It got placed. It works. How, and boy this is a great question as it relates to SEO, how do I know it works? What are some of the ways you measure the effectiveness of this?
Andrew: Right, so this is gonna sound like a cop out, but it takes time to really see the full benefit of that particular placement. I think one of the more immediate benefits is any referral traffic that comes through that link that’s placed on that piece of content.
Marcus: You would expect that to happen, assuming there’s traffic there? But to your point, if it’s on a relevant website, I’m going to get that.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve seen instances where clients do get some referral traffic from those links, from that placed content, and in a lot of cases, some of that traffic also converts because it’s highly relevant and, if it’s addressing the right question that that audience has, then they’ll be coming into the website with the right intent to convert.
Marcus: Right, right. So I can see that happen right away. What are some of the things that might take a while for me to see?
Andrew: Right. So I think one of the things that is really more of a longterm play is the effect that it has on the client’s backlink profile because link building, as it pertains to Google’s overall ranking algorithm, it’s a long-game play. It can take days, sometimes weeks for Google to find new web pages and add it to its index, but then also understand that there’s a link here pointing to this website. And so this website has more ranking signals now from not only having a placement on an authoritative publication, but also that link is in direct relation or addition to some of these keywords that are place in the content itself. Which is going back, as I said, to optimizing to address some of those valuable longtail keywords.
Marcus: Outstanding. So at the end of the day, and I know we talk about this all the time, when we are selling our services, Online PR really is one of those things that we try to tell customers you should be looking at a minimum several-month-long engagement because that’s just what’s required to get benefits from this space.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Just from the process of not only finding these opportunities, but then initiating the relationship with these editors and with these publications to creating the content, and then seeing the benefit. It really does take time.
Marcus: But the benefit, as you’ve seen from some of your customers is tremendous, right?
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the results that we’ve seen from content outreach and online IPR has just done tremendous things for our clients’ SEO. I’ve seen, for one client that their number of keywords and their average positions have reached an all time high, mostly because of online PR.
Marcus: Mostly because of online PR. So, Andrew, I want you to pull out your Google Crystal Ball. Ten years ago we were all building quantities of links. Now, as you’re sharing with us, quality of link matters just as much, if not more. If you think about the next few years, how do you think this is going to change, if at all?
Andrew: Yeah, so I think in the next couple of years, I really don’t foresee online PR and content outreach going anywhere, mostly just because links still matter to Google’s ranking algorithm. And so as long as they matter to Google, they have to matter to us, and content outreach is a fantastic way of obtaining those high value, very relevant links for our clients. And then another thing that I think is important to address is that, in recent years, there have been a number of very niche specific publications and blogs that have just come out of people–
Marcus: It’s seems like, whatever I’m looking for today, there’s a site!
Andrew: Absolutely, yeah, and there’s no shortage of that type of information or those types of publications. What’s important to remember is that for some of these blogs, they might not have the budget to hire a bunch of writers or people to produce content for their website. So they might welcome content from people like me reaching out and saying, “I have something that would be very relevant to your audience.” They might say, “Come on board!” And so I think overall those types of websites just becoming more prevalent and then just the fact that quality of links still matters, and I think it’s going to matter even more as time moves along and Google becomes smarter with how they evaluate links. I think all of those things considered: Online PR is not going anywhere soon.
Marcus: Hey, marketers and business leaders! Well, that sound means, Andrew, we have reached my favorite part of the program. It is time for the notorious Marketing Minute. Are you ready, sir, for several rapid fire questions?
Andrew: Let’s do it.
Marcus: Okay. First question: Apple or Android?
Marcus: Second question: when you’re surfing the web, ad blocker or no?
Andrew: No ad blocker.
Marcus: No ad blocker? You’re adamant. Tell me about that one.
Andrew: I think working in digital marketing, I see and appreciate the work that’s done to create those ads. So I see those ads, and I say, “You know, somebody has worked very hard to put that ad in front of me, so I’ll at least take a look at it.”
Marcus: My kind of guy! When the ear buds are in, do we have music, audio books, or podcasts?
Marcus: All right. How about Don Draper, Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs?
Andrew: Steve Jobs.
Marcus: Steve Jobs, confidently! And our final one, sir: according to your television watching habits, are you in fact a cord cutter or a cable-holic?
Andrew: Cord cutter.
Marcus: Cord cutter all the way! Confidence all the way! Hey folks, we’ve been joined by Andrew Burd today. Andrew’s an SEO Specialist with me over Web Talent Marketing. We have been learning about the wild, wild world of online PR. Andrew, thank you for joining me.
Andrew: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.
Marcus: People can learn more about you at webtalentmarketing.com. For The Revenue Stream, I’m Marcus Grimm.