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13 min read

A Beginner’s Guide to Digital PR

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Whether you’ve just graduated or are moving into a career in digital marketing, this guide is for you. It’s aimed at beginners who want to understand more about the industry, how it’s changed over the years and how to plan a successful digital PR campaign that will help your clients meet their key performance indicators (KPIs).

You may want to read this all from start to finish or, depending on where you are on your journey, you may want to dip in and out of the sections that interest you the most. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is digital PR?

Traditional PR is (generally speaking) all about creating brand awareness for clients through the production and distribution of press releases, usually intended for the print media.

Brand awareness is still at the heart of digital PR, but it goes a lot further than that – it’s all about helping companies to become more visible online and tends to work in tandem with other digital marketing services (search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC)) in order to achieve a client’s KPIs.

All will become much more clear later on!

The evolution of digital PR

Times are changing and as the internet evolves so does the media and so does our industry.

Five to ten years ago, you may well have purchased a physical newspaper to read, but thanks to the web – and the rise in community journalism – we’re now able to access news and information 24/7. It’s the whole notion of ‘why wait when you can have it now?’, which has ultimately led to the decline of certain print media.

This has a knock-on effect on those in the PR industry because – again generally speaking – clients tend to place more emphasis on increasing their visibility online than being seen in their local paper.

Of course, it’s true that there are still so many traditional PR agencies out there which show there’s still a need for their services, but there’s been a sharp rise in digital PR agencies, or digital marketing agencies that encompass digital PR (like Impression), where their sole focus is all about online results, which they achieve through a range of strategies which we’ll come on to later in this guide.

It makes a lot of sense when you consider the fact Google now processes more than 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to 3.5 billion searches per day worldwide! And 15% of all new searches have never been seen by Google before. Why wouldn’t companies want to be better seen on the first page of the SERPS (search engine results pages)? There’s so much potential to attract more customers which ultimately results in more sales and higher revenue.

How digital PR and SEO work together

As discussed earlier, digital PR often works hand in hand with other services such search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC). For the purpose of this guide we will discuss the relationship between digital PR and SEO.

Firstly, what is SEO? SEO covers a range of strategies that all aim to maximise a website’s exposure on search engines (for the purpose of this guide we’ll refer to Google, but this also includes Bing, Yahoo and more niche platforms, too). Broadly speaking, those strategies can be classed as ‘on-page’ and ‘off page’, with digital PR -and its varied spectrum – falling under the latter.

Upon implementing a range of strategies, SEOs track keywords that their clients want to rank for in a bid to improve their rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPS). Ultimately, they want their clients to be in position 1, but Google makes this difficult with its regular algorithm changes. No-one really knows the secret to this success, but we have a good idea through trial and error and experience, and there are believed to be more than 200 components to Google’s ranking algorithm!

This article by Search Engine Land highlights backlinks as the strongest indication of authority to Google. The more authority a website has in the form of quality and quantity of websites linking back to theirs, the more of a chance the client has of ranking higher.

This is where digital PRs come in; they work with the SEO team to put together strategies which will help build a client’s ‘backlink profile’. A good backlink profile should be made up of relevant, reputable publications where the link has been naturally placed (i.e. not paid for).

This is the primary reason we conduct digital PR at Impression – to support our client’s SEO rankings. However, we are aware that not all publications link out and some charge for links/coverage.

Most of the national and local newspapers don’t link out but that doesn’t mean we’d pass up the opportunity for our client to feature in The Guardian, for example. The national papers still retain large readerships and can provide a boost to a client’s brand awareness/traffic/sales.

**We have a Beginner’s Guide to SEO coming soon, for those who want to learn more about that area in particular. 

The digital PR spectrum

At Impression, we’re big fans of the ‘Hero, Hub and Hygiene Content Pyramid’ (below), which explains the different elements that should make up any digital PR/content marketing strategy.

It’s open to interpretation but here’s the way we see it:

  • Hygiene is your ‘bread and butter’ content i.e. any on-site copy including blogs (which should be well optimised in order to see the SEO benefits). You can also class infographics as part of this section too, as well as social media posts, which can drive engagement and traffic back to your website.
  • Hub content relates to anything which goes beyond your own site, i.e.thought leadership/guest posts, press releases and influencer marketing.
  • Hero is where the big content marketing campaigns lie. These are generally very visual and/or interactive pieces which have the capability of going viral – or at least gaining a good amount of traction – and have probably taken a decent chunk of money, time and effort to create (although not all hero campaigns have to be expensive!).

You should have a mix of all three elements in order for your strategy to be effective. Our blog post Becoming the ‘Hero’: Elements of a successful content marketing campaign is recommended for further reading on this topic.

By the same token, your strategy should comprise a mix of reactive PR and proactive PR. Here’s the difference:

  • Reactive PR is pretty much what it says on the tin, being reactive to opportunities. This could mean:
    • Responding to journalist requests through the Twitter hashtags “PRrequest” and “journorequest”, or through tools like ResponseSource, HARO and Source Bottle.
    • Promoting your client’s own news
    • Commenting on news that affects your client’s industry or location where their business is based.
  • Proactive PR is usually associated with:
    • Big creative content campaigns which fit into the ‘hero’ section of the pyramid.
    • Creating ‘news from nothing’ (note that this does not mean fake news!)

You can read about these two approaches in more depth here.

How to plan and execute a successful campaign

Before you start planning your first digital PR campaign, you need to be able to answer the following about your client(s):

  • What do they do? 
    • What do they sell?
    • How did their business start?
    • How has their business grown?
    • Why do they do what they do?
    • How does what they do help/benefit/serve their customers?
    • Why do people buy from them over their competitors?
  • What do they want to be known for? 
    • What are their core values?
    • What are they experts in?
    • What topics do they want to be associated with?
    • What causes to they represent?
    • What do they not want to be known for?
  • Who do they aspire to be like?
    • What brands or people do they look up to?
    • What techniques have they been impressed by?
    • What publications/websites would they be proud to feature in?
  • Who do they sell to? 
    • Who is the target audience?
    • What do the client’s customers look for in a provider?
    • What interests do the client’s customers have beyond what the client sells?
    • Where is this audience active online?
  • Where do they make their money?
    • Is there a particular product that sells more?
    • Where does the client intend to grow the business in the future?
    • Where does the client focus their internal marketing time/budget?
    • What are the most profitable part of the client’s business?

It sounds like a lot of information to know before you get started, but you should treat this as a checklist. More than often clients will be willing to help you with this – after all they’re paying you money to do the best job you can and the most you know about their business the more you can target your digital PR efforts! You can always start with the basics (just one or two-word answers per question) and develop them over time.

It’s equally important to ask them what their main KPIs are and what they’ll be measuring you on. You’ll more often than not work with an SEO account manager on this, as you’ll need to make sure your strategies are aligned to achieve the overall goal(s).

A typical digital PR goal may include building links to X page so that the client sees a ranking improvement for X keyword.

Backlinks also help towards increasing a Domain Authority (DA), a search engine ranking score by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on the search engine results pages (SERPS). A score is given from 0-100, with 100 being the most authoritative of sites – we also use Ahrefs’ ‘DR (domain rating)’ metric.

Once you’ve established the KPIs, it’s time to look at what the client’s competitors are doing. We use Ahrefs for this, to see what a competitor’s backlink profile looks like. We can use this information to build target publication lists, based on where those competitors are featured (but your client isn’t).

Now it’s time to work out what type of content to create and promote. Use examples listed in the digital PR spectrum section as inspiration – remember that some mediums travel better than others, according to topic, industry, and publication.

The relationship between PRs and journalists

It wouldn’t be a beginner’s guide to digital PR without briefly exploring the relationship between PRs and journalists.

It’s well-known that the two get frustrated with each other, but at the same time they need each other in order to their job.

It’s true that newsrooms have got smaller and smaller over the years and journalists are unable to get out and ‘find stories’ as much as they used to. And it’s also true that they rely on PRs more and more – but that doesn’t mean quality has to suffer and PRs should see it as part of their role to help journalists maintain high levels of standard.

This blog explores a hacks vs flacks survey that was done by PRWeek and Press Gazette last year. There is also some advice on how PRs can get on a journalist’s good side.

How to measure the results of your work

It can be difficult to attribute traditional PR efforts to any tangible results, and the same can be said for digital PR to an extent. At Impression we use the following methods to measure the success of our digital campaigns:

  • Whether we’ve got the client into a relevant, authoritative publication with a good Domain Authority (see how to plan and execute a successful campaign).
  • Whether the coverage has resulted in a backlink to the client’s site (homepage or deeper page as set out in the strategy). Ideally the backlink should be a ‘do follow’, which allow search engines to follow them and reach our client’s site. This is good for SEO and is more valuable than ‘no follow’ links.
  • Whether the link has resulted in any referral traffic, or ‘goal completions’ (i.e. contact form completions or sales). Both of these things can be seen in Google Analytics.
  • Whether the link has helped to increase a client’s brand mentions or ranking position for a specific keyword. At Impression we use STAT to measure this.
  • Whether the link has helped to increase our client’s own Domain Authority.
  • Whether the coverage can be attributed to a goal completion through an assisted conversion.

You don’t need to achieve all of these things in order for a campaign to be successful, and in many cases rankings and Domain Authority scores don’t change as a result of a single link – though it can certainly help to move the needle in the right direction!

A continuous, well-executed strategy which aligns with the work of your SEO team will ensure maximum success.

Examples of great digital PR campaigns

We love being creative here at Impression and are always trying to think of new innovative way to do digital PR in a way that supports the efforts of our search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) teams.

You’ll find various examples of campaigns we’ve done and been inspired by throughout our blog. Here are two noteworthy campaigns produced over the last year:

  • Emoov’s Game of Thrones Season 7: Property Market Overview – this piece hooked into popular culture by looking at the cost of getting on the ladder across some of Game of Throne’s most iconic areas featured in the show. The campaign got picked up across national, local and trade publications which will no doubt help raise Emoov’s Domain Authority and rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPS).

  • Sainbury’s United Kingdom of Cats and Dogs – this campaign was furthered by social advertising, which allows you to target very specific audiences on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. After putting in your postcode it lets you see whether there are more dog or cat owners in your area, as well as top breeds by region and other useless (but interesting) information! The project resulted in 18 backlinks from unique domains and more than 1,200 social engagements, helping to raise the profile of Sainsbury’s Pet Insurance.

Top tools to support your career in digital PR

There are so many tools that can help support your digital PR campaigns. Here are three that’s worth considering:

  • Instapaper – by downloading the Chrome extension you can save any article with the click of a button, ready to read whenever you have a spare five minutes. You can divide articles into different sections, archive, ‘like’ or share them via email.
  • Mail Track / Gmelius – two different tools that do a very similar thing. They both have free, and paid for versions, which allow you to track when someone has opened your email or clicked on a link within that email. Very helpful when ‘outreaching’ to journalists.
  • Buzzsumo – a great all rounder! Allows you to find the most popular articles by topic or domain (according to the amount of social engagements they’ve received) and check for news and mentions/links back to a client’s site.

Many more can be found over on our yearly digital PR tool roundup. This is updated every January.