Rank higher in Google by getting backlinks by responding to HARO (Help A Reporter Out), and getting featured in high DA publications.
Backlinks are good for helping your website rank higher in the front page of Google (the SERP - the Search Engine Results Page). Once your website gains notoriety, people will start linking to it naturally. But before then, you need to actively build links by guest posting, networking, and being featured in major media. For early-stage entrepreneurs and bloggers who don't have many contacts, HARO is one of your best options.
But it's hard to know how to pitch to get a high response rate from busy reporters. That's what I'm going to write about here.
In this guide...
- Why get backlinks
- Why use HARO
- Subscribe to HARO in topics of interest to you
- Screen the publication — would you want to be published there? Think they'll feature you? Do they link?
- Respond immediately — within 30 minutes, or don't bother
- Be interesting, an expert, and different
- Give a complete pitch and answer
- Know your audience — mostly freelance writers, churning our articles for a living
- Be quotable, with soundbites the recipient can copy-paste
- Expect a 1 in 5-10 response rate (or you're doing something wrong)
- Give a complete reference
Here's the process in more detail.
A bit about us (for context)
I'm mostly getting backlinks for our travel and culture blog, Discover Discomfort. It's not a fancy app, or something revolutionary, or a thing in which we have particular expertise. It's just a humble blog documenting our experiments in rapid learning and cultural immersion in difficult places.
We designed our blog from the outset to be a little different to most blogs out there. We're not purely a travel blog, which are mostly boring lists like "top 10 things to do in Stockholm in 72 hours or less" (I'm falling asleep). We're also not purely a language blog, because we blog about learning new skills (like Latin dancing, or exercise/diet), and about immersion in cultures (like Egypt's .
Why get backlinks
In a nutshell, links get you traffic — indirectly.
The more links to your website, the more Google will think "hey, people seem to trust these MOFOs. Let's send them more traffic." Bam, you start ranking higher.
It actually takes time to work. If you get a link, you might get some direct traffic from whatever article it was posted in. But really you need to collect hundreds or thousands of links for your website's general reputability to slowly increase.
If you want to know more about backlinks, check out Moz's guide.
Why use HARO for Backlinks
It's somewhat easy to get links from other bloggers by doing link swap schemes (you link me, I link that guy, that guy links you).
But blogs are generally not the most reputed sources of links. They tend to link to anyone willy-nilly, and Google knows this. Plus, their "Domain Authority" is generally low - between 20-40. Some are in the 40-50, and very few in the 50+ range, and this is better, but still a good link from a massive website will always do better.
HARO is really great for getting links from authoritative, high-traffic publications. You can frequently see publications on there with a Domain Authority (DA) of over 60, and sometimes much higher, like Business Insider or even major outlets like the Wall Street Journal.
Those high-quality backlinks are, anecdotally, worth many backlinks from low-quality publications like random other blogs. I haven't done the quantitative analysis (I don't have the resources), but this is the consensus of the internet. Yes, it can be a bit of an echo chamber. But even aside from SEO juice, it's noteworthy to be quoted in a publication like the WSJ or Business Insider.
Subscribe to HARO, and choose the right feeds
First, head over to HelpAReporter.com and sign up.
You have to choose what feeds you want. Unfortunately it doesn't get too granular, and there's even overlap in these categories (sometimes I see the same request come in two feeds).
You'll then start getting three emails a day for each feed, each with 5-20 pitches in them. The pitches range VASTLY in quality.
Pitches in HARO look like this:
What's going on here? A journalist, who either works for a website called YourTango or is a freelancer writing for them, is writing an article about some obscure topic and wants you to be a source in her research.
There's no guarantee
- You'll be cited
- You'll get a link
- You'll even be published
Basically, she wants help with research. You don't know anything more, and you don't have to do anything to help. So — you have to screen her.
Check out the website. What are they about? Would you be proud to be featured or quoted in there? Is it relevant to your business?
Many HARO requests are from websites that just produce meaningless listicles. It's of no value to be cited in them. Further, once you check out their website, you might realise they never link to authors, or never give a full back-link (they might put a
rel="nofollow" in there).
And if so, check their Domain Authority using the MOZ Link Explorer. Pretty much discard anything below 50 — you can do better, with HARO.
Check out the writer. Is the writer someone you trust to produce an article in which you'd like to be cited?
The above pitch is not written professionally. It ends in "etc.". This doesn't bode well for the writer, but it could be they are so successful and busy they just don't have time to invest in HARO pitches because a million people respond anyway.
But anyway, look at the publication and see other articles that person has written. Do they link out to other blogs? If so, it might be worth a shot.
Go for "value" opportunities. Applying to be featured in a publication is a competitive process. But so is putting a call-out in HARO.
If you're a journalist for the WSJ, it's very easy to get people to write in. But if you're writing for a niche publication for a niche topic, then few people will write back.
The reasons for this are simply that HARO is like a firehose. Hundreds of requests go out everyday. Most of them get lost in the noise. So if an author who is writing for a tiny website that reviews stationery is looking for poets' experiences with Moleskine journals, and you're a poet who uses Moleskine journals, then you should absolutely write back (if you think their website is good).
Give a Great, Fast, and Complete Response
You should respond to HARO pitches immediately, and it should be a high-quality response that the journalist can use right away.
Be Interesting, Unique, and an Expert: This is the most important point. Are you someone worth citing, and have you said something worth saying?
Everyone has an opinion. But is yours authoritative? If a writer is asking for sports doctors' opinions on something, then you better be a sports doctor (and a fairly well-known one — at least online).
Even that's not enough. You have to give an answer that's interesting and unique. Think "newsworthy". Is what you're saying newsworthy, or just commonsense knowledge?'
Authors of articles online aren't often looking for the "correct" point of view. They're just looking for a point of view to cite from an authoritative source.
For example, someone asked for opinions from people who had taken a sabbatical. Rather than give some drivel about sabbaticals being great for refreshing and thinking about your career, I responded with a pitch beginning with "Travel is the New MBA". It's pithy, and it got me a call-back (and an interview). I'm not an expert on MBAs. But I got cited anyway.
Give a Complete Answer. Write a paragraph-long answer for your pitch that is completely grammatically correct, and where every sentence stands alone.
Imagine the author just wants to grab a sentence or two and cite you for it. Don't leave questions unanswered or say "call me for more information". Don't make the author work more!
Be quotable. This is hard — particularly when you have to do it live, but it's critical to getting cited.
You have to think very actively about the author's style, the subject matter, and the target audience, and try to speak in pithy sound-bites that the author will be able to jot down and use verbatim.
It helps to communicate in structures, to use sign-posting, and to be very, very concise.
Say you're answering the question "Do we underestimate the impact of salt in our diets?" and you happen to be an expert in the field. When having a casual conversation with a friend, your tendency might be to say "Yeah I think we do. We have too much salt in our diets and we don't really know how it's going to hurt us. I'm really worried we'll look back and..." and so on. It's meandering and conversational.
A much more quotable answer would be a complete sentence that's pithy and strong, like: "Salt is killing us. There's no part of our diet that's as important, as misunderstood, or as deadly as salt. In ten years, the healthcare cost of excess salt in American diets will be $17B. And salt-related health issues are all avoidable — but we have to change a lot, and fast, and it won't be easy."
(That's so strong that I have to point out I just made it all up. I have no idea about salt.)
Know Your Audience: This is as important a point as the first. The author of articles that's using HARO is probably a lot like you — usually independent writers, doing contract pieces for big publications.
They're often working hard and have a "system" for generating articles. With every HARO pitch they might get dozens to hundreds of responses ranging from spammy to high-quality, well-targeted pitches. Your competition is everything from bots to people just like you.
Write with your target audience in mind. Be helpful and treat them like a friend, and don't be upset if you don't get a response. You can praise them for their work. It goes a long way.
Set yourself up for success... but expect a low response rate.
Working with HARO is like working with any marketing funnel. You have to play to win, but you can't bet that every pitch will succeed. So many things can go wrong, including things you're totally unaware of.
Expect a 10-20% response rate. No matter how many I do, I never expect a response any more. If I do get a response, I work the lead until I'm sure I'll get a citation. But I've learned that to get a response, it has to be a perfect nexus of a great answer that meets a very organised writer, and my answer happens to meet all the criteria they forgot to mention.
Give a Complete Reference. Make sure you mention your name, role, and the website you want linked. You can say "Please link to this URL". There's no harm in asking for something, as long as you do it nicely. But you can't expect them to.
Be prepared for the unexpected wins. Sometimes you can win pitches you had no expectations of winning. Once I wrote a story for a very competitive topic and was surprised that one of the unwritten criteria was that they wanted responses from people of non-caucasian backgrounds. I didn't know this. But it meant I had a leg up on the majority of other authors.
In general, HARO can be a gruelling and at-times unproductive-feeling game. But it's rewarding when it works. Especially to see your name and business cited in a major publication.