8 Lessons for SEOs from Muck Rack’s “Today’s Journalist” Survey

(This article was originally published in my regular column on SearchEngineWatch.com)

One of the things that SEO and PR have in common is that many practitioners in both industries are self-taught. People in them tend to learn by doing — just jump in and learn from experience and by sharing with colleagues.

Media coverage can boost search rankings through brand mentions, authoritative editorial links and a cascade effect as stories spread — see 10 Reasons Why Public Relations is a Must-do for SEO in 2013.

To help understand what journalists want from a pitch, Muck Rack recently conducted a survey of journalists on its database, “Meet today’s journalist.”

Muck Rack is a database of journalists and bloggers on social media. According to Greg Galant, CEO of Muck Rack, “As Google constantly updates their algorithm, it’s clear that one of the best surefire way to improve SEO is very old fashioned: to get editorial mentions from major media outlets and blogs. Because of that, it’s extra important to know how to find the right journalists and bloggers and pitch and build relationships with them in a helpful way.”

Here are eight lessons that SEOs can draw from the report’s findings.

1. Don’t worry if you know ZERO journalists.

One of the biggest myths about PR is that you must have good contacts. Having contacts will of course make your life easier and your pitches more successful. But that doesn’t mean that you must have media contacts to be successful.

What you really need is a good story, pitched in the right way — having no media contacts should never be a reason for ignoring PR.

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91 percent of journalists responded to people they didn’t know, according to the Muck Rack survey.

But of course a relationship helps — so your first PR efforts may not be very successful, but they will start the process of building your contact list and over time that will bring you more success.

2. Pitch by email first.

Almost 93 percent of journalists prefer to receive pitches by email. That’s a huge percentage that you should not ignore.

But once you establish a relationship you might find that some journalists like to be pitched on Twitter or even by phone — so find out their preferences and adjust your pitches accordingly.

3. Keep pitches to 2 to 3 paragraphs maximum.

The writer Mark Twain reportedly once said, “If I’d had more time, it would have been shorter.” And in public relations it is important to take that advice. Spending time editing your pitch to the barest minimum is an essential task.

The Muck Rack survey showed that pitches must be brief. 60 percent of journalists wanted the story in just 2 to 3 paragraphs. A further 37 percent wanted even less — just 2 to 3 sentences.

That leaves just 3 percent of journalists who will appreciate anything longer.

So keep your pitches brief and provide a link where interested journalists can get more details if they wish.

4. Make sure you’ve got real, relevant news.

Irrelevant pitches are the biggest grumble that journalists have – but after that it’s lack of personalization and pitches that are too long or badly timed. One of the hangovers of the ways SEOs used press releases in the past, just to get links, is that there was little focus on what was really newsworthy.

As Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal says in the survey report, “Pitch me a real story, I’m not here to write free ads for your client.”

5. Get your timing right.

Journalists like getting their pitches early in the day — that means their day, not yours. So take account of time zones if you’re looking for international coverage and time your pitch accordingly.

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43 percent of journalists wanted pitches to arrive between 9am and 11am. A further 27 percent wanted pitches even earlier — between 6am and 9am.

Only 16 percent wanted pitches to arrive between 2pm and 6am the following day.

So it’s worth working out what time your pitch email will arrive in your target journalist’s inbox.

6. Don’t be afraid to follow up (appropriately).

Should you follow up? This is probably one of the most common questions that the inexperienced PR might ask.

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The answer is a resounding, “YES,” but with some caveats.

The main caveat is not to make a nuisance of yourself and follow up only once. Journalists are busy people and can forget about that press release they meant to do something with.

So one follow up call is appropriate — but anything more is risky — only 5 percent of journalists are happy with multiple follow-ups.

7. Follow target journalists on social media.

Social media makes journalists easily accessible as never before, so the report advises, “Be sure to follow the journalists you plan on reaching out to with a story idea. Understand what they are tweeting, their beats and preferences before you contact them.”

• 88 percent of journalists look at how many times their articles have been shared.
• 93 percent said they appreciate it when communications professionals follow them on social media.

8. Make sure you do your own SEO job.

Journalists spend a lot of their time on Google working under the pressure of deadlines — and want to be able to get information or have their queries answered as quickly as possible.

So, as the Muck Rack survey says, “Make sure your company’s website has good SEO and that the representatives at your company who communicate with the press can easily be found on the website.”

And if you really want to maximize your chances of an editorial link, be sure to publish some additional information that is worthy of a link — as Muck Rack has done with its own survey at “Meet today’s journalist.”

Finally

Journalists who sign up to Muck Rack are likely to among the most tech-savvy journalists on any media outlet — but the appeal is spreading. According to Galant, “We do have a broad community of journalists on our platform. We work with social media editors at many publications where they encourage all of their journalists to join Muck Rack.”

In addition, Galant adds, “Muck Rack’s a great entry point for journalists just getting on social media, since it gives them more visibility with their colleagues even if they haven’t built their own following yet. We’re constantly seeing journalists join who are so new to social media they have under 100 followers.”

By signing up for Muck Rack, journalists are making themselves available — and explaininh the stories in which they are interested – and, just as importantly, the stories in which they are not interested.

You can get a copy of the research at “Meet today’s journalist” here.

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