What is Digital PR – My No-Bullshit Guide

The Quick Version

Digital PR means persuading online media to publish articles about your business that include links to your website. This has two main benefits:

  1. It raises the public profile of your business, improves your reputation and helps build your brand.
  2. Every time your website gets a ‘good quality’ link from respected media website, that helps improve your site’s performance in search engines, so you get more traffic and sell more stuff.

The Long Version

The term “digital PR” is appearing more frequently these days, but what is digital PR and how is it different from conventional PR? For that matter, WTF even is PR at all?

PR or ‘Public Relations’ is a piece of the marketing mix that focuses on how the public views your business, and protecting its reputation. It’s all part of building a brand.

If your business has a good reputation, people know and trust your brand, then you’re going to sell more, it’s that simple. And the way PR does that is mostly through getting journalists to say nice things about your business in the media – although in practice getting journalists to say anything at all about your business is usually challenging enough.

So, conventional PR is all about getting your business featured in newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, websites, or pretty much any media channel where there’s an audience who might pay attention. It involves building relationships with journalists and coming up with creative ideas to convince them to mention your business.

That could be anything from including a comment from one of your executives in a news report that’s relevant to your industry, to a whole feature reviewing your latest product.

Of course, you can always pay to advertise your business in the media, but that costs a lot of money and people don’t trust adverts. PR is better than advertising because you don’t have to pay for it, and people generally trust independent editorial coverage a lot more than ads; if the editor of Big Fast Cars Monthly magazine tells you that the newest Range Rover is the best car he’s ever driven, that’s a lot more persuasive than a paid advert telling you the same thing.

Remember, the whole point of PR is to increase the visibility of your business in the public eye, and to convince consumers that your brand is trustworthy.

OK, got it, but what is Digital PR?

As the web took off and became the most important channel for many businesses, PR became more valuable in a surprising way.

These days, getting people to visit your website is one of the most important marketing objectives, and the best way to do that is if they can find your site easily when they’re searching on Google for the kind of things you sell. If you sell cat food, and your website is the very first result when somebody searches for “cat food” on Google, you’re going to sell a lot of cat food.

But there are a ton of people who sell cat food, so how does Google decide which website to display at the top of those search results? That’s a big, complicated topic, but all you need to understand right now is that if you have a lot of other websites linking to your site, telling people “hey, these guys make awesome cat food” that’s going to help you a lot.

Even better if those links are coming from highly respected websites, like big media channels with huge audiences. If CNN published an investigation into the best cat foods on the market, and linked to your website, that’s a lot more valuable than a link from your sister-in-law’s cat blog, and not just because more people will read the CNN article (although that’s useful in its own right) but because it’s a trusted, authoritative site, and that link will give Google a clue that your site can also be trusted.

So what is digital PR’s point? The goal is still to secure coverage for your business in the media, but the focus is more specifically on online media, for the purpose of getting them to link to your website to improve your position in the Google search rankings.

If the BBC broadcast a report about how wonderful your business is, that would of course be fantastic, but it doesn’t really help your website perform better in Google searches. It’s much more valuable if the BBC publishes a report on its website, with a link to your website.

Why is Digital PR a big deal?

You’re reading this blog because you’re trying to build a business with zero marketing budget, right? (I hope so, at least, because that’s the whole point of this site.)

Digital PR is one of the most powerful marketing activities you can do with no money.

A good way to think about marketing activity is like a balance sheet; what do you put in, what do you get out? So let’s look at that balance sheet for digital PR:

What you put in: time and creativity, but not money. You need to come up with ideas for how you can convince the media to write about your business (i.e. what’s the story), and then you need to do the leg-work of selling-in that story. That means emailing as many journalists and writers as you can find, or even getting on the phone, tailoring the story for each of them so that it’s specifically relevant to their audience, and doing a good job of explaining why it matters to them.

What you get out: links to your website, better performance in Google, more visitors to your site, more sales. Plus, there’s all the increased visibility of your brand that simply comes from the media talking about it.

Maybe a little bit, but not really. Old school SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) does link-building in a very unsophisticated way, and it’s starting to fail. These guys just try their best to get links to your website wherever and however they can, often by paying people to add links to their sites, going for quantity over quality because for a long time that’s what worked.

With an SEO specialist, you would often find that you get a lot of links to your site from places that make no sense – like a construction company for some reason linking to your cat food site, with no context or explanation.

Google is smarter now, and it can tell when SEO people are trying to fool it into thinking that a website is more popular and trustworthy than it really is. It understands context a lot better. If you’ve got a link pointing to your site from an article that’s talking about stuff that’s relevant to what your business does, that’s more valuable than a random link from a site that has absolutely nothing in common with yours.

With Digital PR, you get that all important context – the link to your site will usually be on a page that contains an article that’s relevant to your business, and often from a reputable, trustworthy website.

Can I do Digital PR myself?

Yes! Big companies with big budgets pay agencies to do this kind of work for them, but if you’re time rich and cash poor there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself. Journalists don’t care if an email comes from a professional PR executive at an expensive consultancy, or just somebody running their own small business – all they care about is a getting a good story that their readers will love.

If you’re a small, brand new business then even one or two pieces of online media coverage linking to your website will make a big difference. But if the stars are aligned, you come up with a great pitch, and everything falls into place, the best case scenario is that a story you sell into the media goes viral, gets picked up by dozens or even hundreds of online media sources, and suddenly you’ve got a huge volume of high quality links pointing to your website.

What you need to get good at is understanding what kind of stories and content media websites want, and figuring out ways to offer them that stuff in a way that includes your brand. I’ve got two pieces of advice to help you with that:

  • Constantly read the media that you want your business to be featured in – this will give you a good feel for the kind of things they publish.
  • Be persistent but polite. Most of the stuff you try to pitch to the media won’t be of interest, that’s just the nature of the game. Be polite, don’t waste their time, and go back a month later with a different pitch. Sooner or later something will hit.