We all know that Google frowns upon trying — in any way, shape or form — to get links (they’re serious, guys). Yet, links still play a very large role in determining SERP rankings. If you can’t ask for or chase down high-quality, authoritative links, what’s a marketer to do?
You have to earn them.
In this case study, I’ll share with you the spectacular story of how I earned a ton of fantastic press coverage and links from massive publications — and got the CEO of Groupon fired in the process (ok, perhaps I can’t take all the credit, but…).
Last year, I was doing some client work in the AdWords interface when I noticed a new button — one I hadn’t seen before. It was for an offer extension. I went to Google’s Help Desk to see if there was any documentation about this new feature, but it didn’t seem to have been released yet. But there it was, right in front of me!
Google does this all the time; they quietly release thousands of features and updates every year, and only a tiny fraction of these are ever officially announced.
I dug in and tried using the offers feature. It was actually a pretty cool idea and not totally unexpected, given that Google had tried to buy Groupon for as much as $6 billion. I realized this could be a pretty big story: Google hadn’t been able to buy Groupon, so here they were, once again attempting to break into the coupons, offers and rebates craze with a product to rival Groupon.
Takeaway: Keep your eyes open. You’re constantly reading and participating in social, and you have your finger on the pulse of your industry — right? Great! That’s exactly how you see things changing before you read about an interview with your competitor where he jumped on it first.
Don’t forget pop culture, either. SEL’s Danny Sullivan got lots of laughs — and legitimate attention — at SMX West recently, when he suggested a maker of rubber molding replicate Ellen DeGeneris’ famous Oscar selfie in rubber molding as a publicity stunt to get links. Wacky occurrences like that make news.
What’s your angle? What do you have to say that other people (and audiences) are going to care about?
In this case, I wrote a column for MarketingProfs with five tips for marketers to make the new offers extension work for them. That’s a great fit for their audience. I’m a columnist at MP, so I didn’t have to pitch them; but, if you find something new and exciting, most publications are happy to hear from you.
There was another angle to this story, though: Google had been trying to kill off Groupon. Daily deals were so hot, yet Groupon’s revenue had been sliding for the last four quarters. Going at it from this angle, my “Who cares?” question was answered by: major business publications. They care. Their audiences care. This was the doorway to a story I could use to approach the WSJ, Business Insider and others.
I wrote this blog post about the AdWords Offers Extension and started emailing journalists that cover both Groupon and Google for their publications. I simply sent them a link to my post, asked if they had seen the feature yet and explained why it was important.
Now, who doesn’t love to have a story served up on a silver platter like that?
Takeaway: Most pitches to media are dead before they even hit your target’s inbox because marketers don’t take the time to figure out: WHO CARES? Before you write a single sentence, understand your hook and why the specific publications you’re pitching absolutely have to have your story.
Now, here’s the thing: if these journalists have never heard from you before, your email may not even be opened.
I spend time each week sharing high quality, interesting stories with specific contacts when I know they’ll find it useful — and 95% of the time, those are not stories I’ve created. When I do have something of my own to share, they already know who I am and are more likely to read it.
The thing is, you can’t fake this stuff. If you’re truly passionate about and involved in your industry, these people aren’t just media targets for you. They’re valuable sources of information.
They have insights you appreciate, and they come to appreciate yours. Treat them with respect, which means nurturing your online relationship and not just bugging them when you want something.
Takeaway: Don’t ask strangers for favors. Get to the know the influencers and media in your industry. If you only contact them when you’re looking for coverage, you’ll be ignored.
It never hurts to say thanks to the journalists who covered your story, but that’s not what I’m talking about — that’s just good manners. I’m talking about engaging readers in comments on the various outlets that carried your story, as well as monitoring social mentions to join the conversations happening around it.
Just imagine if you got all this coverage and just threw it into the ether, hoping for the best — what a waste!
Use tools like Mention or Topsy to tune in where and whenever people on Twitter, publicly on Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere are chatting about your story. Answer their questions, point them to other resources — be the helpful, awesome person you are.
Takeaway: Getting your story out there is only half the battle. Make the most of coverage by getting involved in the conversation.
Sure enough, that one finding and blog post ended up getting us a ton of press and high value links from the WSJ, Business Insider, Venture Beat, MediaPost, The Drum, WebProNews and dozens of other influential publications.
A week later, Groupon’s founder and CEO, Andrew Mason, was fired. In a message to his employees, Mason wrote, “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention.”
Did I really cause Mason’s firing? Of course not. In fact, it was a long time coming, thanks to faltering revenue and a string of questionable business decisions.
What I did do, however, was take an unannounced Google feature and figure out its relevance to a group of people reaching further than PPC marketers. If you want to get the big stories, you have to be able to connect the dots. This was a story with far wider appeal because it signaled an attempt by Google to kill off the service they’d tried unsuccessfully in the past to acquire.
Even the smallest company can pull off big content marketing projects without a ton of research and data collection. You need to keep your eyes open, use your imagination and always, always, ask yourself: Who Cares? The answer might be a lot more impactful than you think.