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Why poor backlink requests are like bad PR Pitches

The SEO vs PR debate continues to rumble on. However, on a very tactical level, it occurred to me that certain SEO practitioners are starting to emulate some of PR’s worst habits – specifically, the bad pitch. Or at least it’s SEO equivalent – the poor Backlink Request.

The key qualities they share are irrelevance and lack of personalisation.

Journalists hate getting mass-mailed irrelevant junk. And in a similar way, if you run a website or a blog (and let’s face it, that’s a lot of us these days), it is just as annoying to get spammy link requests.

I’ve yet to receive a carefully crafted and personalised request for a backlink that shows the person making the request understands what my blog or sites are all about. Or what real benefit might accrue.

It was thus interesting to see Stefan Hull from top SEO firm PropellerNet at the Social Media Marketing event back in June present a case study on the work they’d done to support the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush. A key part of the project was getting quality backlinks. And how did they go about this? By properly researching appropriate backlink properties and then making personalised approaches to try and get the link.

In other words, the kind of work that PRs have been doing for decades with journalists. Substitute editorial coverage for backlink and you get the idea.

This seems to me an eminently transferable skill – and at least for once this is something where PR can bring something new to the SEO party rather than the other way round. I realise some people might think getting a backlink doesn’t have same appeal as getting editorial coverage – but given that SEO firms seem to be better at making money than PR agencies, perhaps one can’t be too sniffy these days.

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