The following is also my latest MediaPost Spin column…
You’re Nothing Without A Link
My search and customer acquisition manager is very upset with me.
Why? The last several online news stories on my company failed to include a link back to our Web site. Sure, the brand reach from the news coverage is great. The credibility and subtle endorsements are wonderful. But in his eyes, we’re squandering opportunity for search engine optimization, or SEO. And that’s not all!
I always considered myself disciplined when it came to covering all the bases for search-engine optimization and public relations. But the more I thought about Tony’s frustration, the more it made sense.
We invest a lot of time nurturing relationships with reporters, including supplying interviews, insights, opinions and, sometimes, material company assets. If a journalist uses such material directly or indirectly from a company, it’s common practice (and courtesy) to credit the source of that information. In pre-Internet days, sourcing the company name alone was considered fair attribution. However, a decade into the commercial Web, it’s far from it!
Today, where more and more news attention takes place on the Web, the hyperlink is the last mile of attribution. If they use information from a company journalists should not only source the company by name, but also link to it. Bloggers have informally adopted this practice – oft termed the “hat tip” – since the beginning. And now it’s time for journalists to do the same. Is there a journalist today who doesn’t write primarily or secondarily for the Web? Very few.
There are three reasons why link attribution is beneficial for journalists, news publishers and the companies they’re covering.
- Page Rank. For one, a news story linking to a company will boost that company’s search page rank, or SEO, as noted above. While there’s a direct benefit to the company being sourced, there’s an indirect benefit to the news organization. The fact is that news organizations willing to attribute with links are more likely to be linked back to by others, including other news organizations and companies (often in the form of blogging). With search engines significantly influencing brand visibility and reputation, the link is the new currency of information gathering, reporting and sharing.
- User Experience. If a journalist cites a company, there’s a good chance a reader will want to learn more about that source. If you hyperlink the source, you’ll drastically improve the user experience – by eliminating the need for the reader to begin an independent search. Additionally, a journalist’s credibility only goes up when he provides more attribution, particularly links, to sources that anchor the story. Conversely, if a company is cited in a news story, the likelihood of receiving traffic is higher if there’s a link. Links cultivate transparency and breadcrumb trails throughout the news-manufacturing process.
- Analytics. If a link is provided, the company being sourced can better track the source and context of visitors, who were engaged or prompted by a news report. Conversely, publishers can analyze outbound links embedded in stories to better understand which stories and content compelled readers the most – based on where they exited.
How to put public relations and linking into practice? In my case, it would be bad form to go back to all the reporters and editors I worked with in the past and ask them to link to us. However, it’s not unreasonable to request a link upfront, during future interviews and transactions. In fact, starting today, I’m instituting a new press policy in my company: always ask for a link before the interview ends.
To be sure, some reporters may feel they’ve fulfilled their end of the bargain simply by attributing the company name. Others, as a matter of policy, will include hyperlinks to companies mentioned in their stories. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and linking will never become standard procedure unless it’s encouraged from all sides.
Looking after the link should be just as much a part of the interview process as preparing, conducting the interview, following up and ensuring name attribution. Which leads to a key question: Have you ever heard of a public relations agency instituting, supporting or enforcing this policy? I have not, but I assure you my PR firm will adopt this practice immediately.