PR vs Traditional Link Building

Note: This post was originally published at NakedPR.com / SocialRealist.com and was moved to BizAmmo upon that blog’s retirement.

There was a question on a webmasters’ forum that I came across this morning, asking which was better: public relations or link-building? Of course, I’d say PR. If anything, strong PR efforts can lead to better backlinks than many more traditional backlink-generating methods. Here’s why:

Some Traditional Link-Building Methods:

  • Submitting links to Web directories
  • Social media outlets (social bookmarking, social content sites, social networking sites, etc.)
  • Sig links in forum posting
  • Submitting articles with their URL to article directories
  • Submitting press releases with a live URL to press release distribution sites
  • Link exchanges
  • Buying text or banner links on other sites

Traditional backlink-generating methods do have benefits:

  • They’re quick.
  • They’re often easy to get.
  • You can often hand-pick your backlink locations to a degree.

Those methods also have their downsides:

  • They can get expensive if you need to build a large quantity of links.
  • Many times the links require a reciprocal link, so they’re not one-way.
  • The links are very often found on irrelevant sites to your site’s content.
  • The links aren’t always permanent.
  • It can be difficult getting links on authority websites using those methods.
  • Many of those links don’t drive much direct traffic.
  • The value of the links (often low for the reasons I’ve stated) isn’t always worth the time and/or money you sink in to get them in an SEO sense.

So even though you can see some of my problems with traditional link-building methods, where does PR come in, and how can it get better results?

First of all let me say: I’m not an SEO expert. But I’ve definitely picked up on a pretty basic concept: The most valuable links (especially in terms of influencing the Google Pagerank of your site) are one-way, relevant links coming from highly ranked authority websites. With that as our premise, here’s how public relations can help you reach those goals, and some of the benefits of using PR:

  • PR is cheap if you learn how to do it yourself.
  • Even if you hire a PR professional (a good idea if you have serious media aspirations), they often pay for themselves pretty quickly. The exposure from one or two good media pickups can lead to more traffic and natural backlinks than just about any traditional link-building method.
  • PR efforts allow you to reach a wider audience, and actually increase your visibility, as opposed to simply stuffing a directory people rarely use for browsing with your links.
  • PR efforts help to position you (as the company or site owner) as an authority figure and go-to source for background information in your niche – build your media contacts, and put out good opinions and news, and after a while, journalists will come directly to you for information and opinions on related stories.

So how can you specifically get one-way, relevant, permanent backlinks to your website using PR? Here are some specific tools, and how they can work for you in your link-building efforts:

  • Press Releases – I’m not talking about writing a lousy article stuffed with keywords, throwing it into a press release template, and paying to have it submitted to a distribution site like PRweb. That’s traditional link-building, and can’t compare to real media relations. Instead, write a quality press release with a real news angle with broad enough appeal to spark interest in a story. Then choose a few (specifically online) niche media outlets. Find the appropriate editor or beat writer related to your particular news angle. Pitch the story to them (all of that is free, assuming you do it yourself, or you can pay someone to write a press release for you). One or two decent pickups will get you authority links off the bat. On top of that, when a large outlet picks up your story, it usually has a trickle-down effect over smaller niche sites (more permanent, relevant backlinks), and then to niche blogs (still more permanent, relevant backlinks).
  • Pitch Letters – Similarly to a press release, a pitch letter is asking a journalist to cover your story. In this case however, you’ll often ask them to cover a specific product or feature. You might also offer to send them a review copy, free access to a download for review, etc. The piece would then be product- or review-oriented rather than news-based.
  • Features – A feature is an article written and distributed to the media, with the intention of it being published as-is (as opposed to press releases, which are supposed to be inspiration for a larger story). The story would be more general (and perhaps evergreen or seasonal in nature), and be about something much broader than you, your site, or what you’re trying to promote. Your name, company/site, and URL would be worked in through something like a relevant quote from you, which cites you as the source, and mentions your company/site as a credential – you should use the same tactic often in press release writing.
  • Op-Eds – Op-ed stands for “opposite editorial.” It’s an opinion piece submitted to a paper or website that you hope will be printed. Again, the piece shouldn’t be specifically about your site, service, product, or company, but rather a related issue, and you would include your name, title, and company information with the piece when you submit it. You shouldn’t be mass-submitting op-ed pieces. Choose a highly-targeted outlet, where you’d like to see your URL mentioned. If they reject it, you can always pitch it somewhere else. If it’s a well-read site in your niche, chances are that it will be mentioned elsewhere, such as in industry-related blogs.

One of the biggest uses of public relations is raising awareness. It’s been in use far longer than traditional link-building methods, and the methods are tried and true. The trick is knowing how to adapt them to the online world to get live links in authority publications, and to raise awareness of your site so it generates its own natural backlinks more easily. It might not happen as quickly as something like directory submissions or buying links, but the effects can be long-lasting, lead to a greater amount of natural incoming links, and can give you added exposure and name recognition in the process.


Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, business writer, indie author, and the owner of 3 Beat Media -- the company that operates BizAmmo.com. In addition to blogging about small business issues she also frequently writes about freelance writing, indie publishing, and blogging, as well as social media and marketing. Before becoming a full-time writer and publisher, Jenn ran a PR firm where she specialized in online PR and social media marketing.

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