The rules of search engine optimization are changing — dramatically. Google’s most recent algorithm update, Penguin 2.0, put the nail in the coffin for many websites that haven’t been preparing for the new search landscape.
Now, more than ever before, winning in search is about earning links and mentions. It’s about being noteworthy, relevant, and useful so that others are compelled to talk about you. And logically, mentions from highly authorative and respected people and sites carry more weight.
Marketers have caught on, and they’re going after those mentions — but oftentimes using techniques that burn bridges and result in the perverbial door being slammed in their face!
I went on a mission to find out exactly what works and what doesn’t when it comes to approaching journalists and bloggers. I asked them bluntly about what really irks them — and what exactly are these people doing right that do get those golden mentions?
Here’s what I found…
#1 – Not Understanding The Publication’s Focus
Publishers focus on certain themes. For example, Cosmopolitan covers relationships, celebrity trends, and style for young women. The Economist publishes articles on current affairs, technology, and finance. And Country Sampler focuses on household décor with a preference toward country collectibles.
The same is true for blogs. BusinessInsider.com focuses on digital, financial, and tech issues. ZenHabits.net concentrates on living with simplicity. The BleacherReport.com is all about sports.
Don’t pitch a publisher without knowing his or her publication’s focus. Doing so guarantees your pitch will be discarded.
#2 – Receiving Promotional Contributions
The point of having your article or blog post published in another publication is to bring valuable information to that audience. As a side benefit, you demonstrate your expertise to a new, hungry audience. It’s not to promote your products or services. Nor is it to link to every page on your site with keyword-focused anchor text. Yet, many pitches take that approach.
No journalist or blogger enjoys being used in this fashion. They want you to provide relevant content their readers will enjoy. In exchange, they’ll put your name in front of their audience. It’s a fair deal. Don’t bungle the relationship before it gets off the ground by treating the publisher like a means to an end.
#3 – Receiving Already-Used Content
Journalists and bloggers are not interested in running content that has already been published elsewhere. They want fresh stories. They want unique ideas that haven’t been beaten to death by other magazines, journals, and blogs. Otherwise, they’re not giving their readers any reason to stick around.
When you pitch publishers, make sure your ideas are new. Your ideas will be more enticing since they promise a breath of fresh air for their readers.
This doesn’t mean you’re unable to recycle ideas you see elsewhere or have published in other places. But if you’re going to recycle something, use a different angle. Deliver a different conclusion. For example, if you wrote “21 Keys To Using Twitter To Sell Your Book” for one publisher, pitch “13 Twitter Mistakes That Will Make Your Book’s Sales Shrivel” to another.
#4 – Ignoring The Publisher’s Guidelines
Nearly every publication worth contributing to has a set of writer guidelines. These guidelines, which vary by publication, explain what the publisher wants to see in each article or guest post. For example, guest posts at HubSpot must be submitted in HTML or Word format, and contain no more than 2 anchor text links to the writer’s website. At Yes! Magazine, feature articles must be between 1,000 and 2,500 words, come with side bars (100 to 250 words), and preferably photos.
Most people ignore publishers’ guidelines when they submit their work. And when they do so, their articles and blog posts, which presumably have taken time to write, are rejected. Worse, it shows the publisher that the writer cannot be expected to follow simple directions. That’s not a great way to start a relationship.
#5 – Receiving Poorly-Edited Content
Submitting a guest blog post or feature article with a single typo is bad. It may be forgivable, but it’s still bad. Submitting work with several typos is inexcusable. Add a few grammatical errors, and you’ll be branded as an incompetent writer. And no publisher wants material from such a writer.
It’s not a mortal sin to write “their” instead of “there” or “your” instead of “you’re.” But the mistakes need to be cleaned up before you send your work to the journalist or blogger. That is, of course, if you want to be perceived as a serious contributor.
#6 – Receiving Non-Personalized Pitches
Have you ever received emails that began “Hello friend” (aside from those you receive occasionally from Nigerian princes waiting to send millions to your bank account)? There’s no connection because the sender has not used your name. And without that connection, you’re likely to delete the message.
Now imagine being a journalist. You have a wide audience, and your name is prominently displayed on your articles and bio page. If someone wants to contact you, they can do so easily. Suppose you receive a pitch from a new source. The person starts the email with “Hello friend” or worse, “Hello esteemed reporter.”
There’s no connection. Worse, given the ease with which the sender could have personalized the email, his or her failure to do so indicates laziness.
Use the publisher’s name when you contact him or her. If you don’t know the individual’s name, and cannot find it online, call the publication and ask.
You need journalists and bloggers. And they need you. But that doesn’t guarantee a perfect relationship. The next time you send a pitch, review the 6 publisher pet peeves above to avoid irritating the professionals who can give you valuable visibility.
The Bottom Line
A campaign of traditional public relations, executed in a way that is designed for the web, is becoming essential to winning in today’s game of search. If you want mentions by credible bloggers and journalists, you’ve got to build genuine two-sided relationships, work hard at creating a business of substance and value, and be willing to share valuable information that helps others.
The concept hasn’t changed since the beginning of time… it’s just that now search engine algorithms have finally evolved to the point where they can use digital cues to make the same types of judgements about qualtiy and authority that we always have in the real world.
Have you ever made a mistake that caused a publisher to give you the cold shoulder? Were you able to set things right, or were you forced to abandon the relationship? Tell us your story by leaving a comment below!
Glad to have the Information thank you for sharing Christine Coombs.
Very good, did not know about this.
Excellent. Very very accurate. Thank you so much.
Great article, Christine! As a journalist and blogger, I receive pitches that contain at least two of those mistakes on a daily basis. I used to respond and give some tips, but I quickly realized that I was wasting time.
Thanks so much Cen — maybe you can point them to this post moving forward! I’m always open to hearing more ideas about what works and what doesn’t — it’s a win/win/win for you, the author, and most importantly, the reader!
Christine, I’ve been hoping for this ever since we evolved from the traditional models of journalism to something quite different. This new preference on Google’s part for original/exclusive or authoritative content has benefited our company, Social Media Today, but I still believe that we are looking at mixed bag as far as real quality is concerned. Moreover, the great public service of creating long-form, investigative content is still begging for a sound and sustainable business model. Good piece.
I agree Robin! I know there is a better way to connect those with genuine quality ideas and knowledge with the platforms that need that content… I think we’ll see something evolving even more over the next few years.
Great insights Christine! The general concepts of writing a pitch haven’t changed, but the keys to writing a SUCCESSFUL, modern pitch make all the difference. I think your point about following guidelines is particularly important. Those guidelines are often carefully crafted for the writer’s benefit, if you ignore them you’re wasting both your time and the time of the publication that worked hard to offer them.
When someone is envious of your work, they can do great harm in real life–and online. All we can do is keep trying and put our best ‘foot forward’. One blogger I had a relationship with told me she wouldn’t use a story I submitted because another writer had written about the same subject. There were NO similarities except for the subject. How can anyone know what subject matter to write about when literally everything has been covered in millions of ways, by millions of writers/artists all over the world???