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Relevance continues to be a hot topic in search, especially since John Mueller broke the internet last year by saying that the “number of links doesn’t matter at all”, and that relevant content trumps the quantity of content.
I head up the team at JBH the Digital PR Agency, and whilst growing the team and working with a huge range of brands over the last four years, I’ve realized that we wear many, many different hats.
For some of our clients, we are their link building agency. We achieve specific links that adhere to specific criteria to support SEO objectives. For other clients, we’re there to help build their brand, create thought leaders, and develop beautiful, shareable content. For those clients, SEO is secondary.
And for other brands, we’re somewhere in the middle.
What has become overwhelmingly clear is that the relevance of the links we build sits under each of these hats, and it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time working on at JBH, in order to improve our delivery all around.
Who cares about relevance anyway?
If you’ve ever had your content outranked by a tiny, hyper-niche site, then you’ll definitely care about relevance. Even Google prioritizes relevance when deciding where to rank pages.
The good news is that we can learn from this, and apply certain processes to our own activity. In this post, you’ll see how the team here at JBH bakes the principles of topical relevance into our content, outreach, and link building strategies.
I ran a (very scientific) poll on Twitter earlier in the year — presenting my network with four different options, and asking them to select which one they cared most about when it comes to linked coverage. And the results were super interesting
Out of these four options, what do you care about the most when it comes to linked coverage for your clients/brands/sites? (I know it is all of them! But what’s the most important for ✨YOU✨)
Turns out we ALL care about relevance — more than the topic being newsworthy, and interestingly, more than keywords!
It was a trick question, really, as these are the four factors that we benchmark our content and ideas against. Nonetheless, it was quite telling that keywords were (ironically) bottom of the rankings.
What does relevance really mean in the context of digital PR?
Relevance means different things to different people. So, I decided to create a framework through which to run every single idea — with the aim of ensuring said idea sits somewhere on the spectrum of relevance for our clients.
Above, you’ll see the graphic we created to check our ideas against what we believe to be the four key pillars of relevance. As long as our ideas fit into one of the quarters, and as close to the middle as possible, we know we’re on the right track.
The key pillars of the JBH Relevance Spectrum
1. Audience — would my client or brand’s audience be interested in this content?
2. Authority — is my client or brand an authority on the subject? Could they be interviewed about it?
3. Keywords — does it contain keywords that we want to rank for, and do we have a page on the site that makes sense to link to?
4. Newsworthiness — will journalists care about what we are saying? What are we adding to the conversation?
Relevant content drives links to key commercial pages
When done right, digital PR work that focuses on relevance can deliver so much more than just links — and brands are catching on to its commercial impact.
In the last 12 months, I’ve been inundated with requests from brands looking for links to their commercial pages, compared to links from larger creative content campaigns. The digital PR industry has come full circle, and we’re going back to the basics of content marketing.
But don’t get me wrong, building links to commercial content is really hard. Now, we dig deep into the business, the sector, and the website itself to understand how to develop our link acquisition strategy to get the best results for the brand. Instead of having a link-first mindset, we challenged ourselves to have a research-first mindset.
Relevance sits at the heart of this effort, and the impact of this work drives true commercial value — but how do we make this work for brands in different industries and sectors?
Step 1: We ask the right questions
From the second we sign a contract with a new brand, we’re on a journey of discovery. We need to know about the business, their goals, and what success looks like for them through the medium of digital PR. We stop being link builders and become intrinsically involved with the business we’re representing.
Step 2: We give ourselves clear boundaries before tackling ideation
Ideation can sometimes be a free-for-all, but setting boundaries around what topics and themes we can ideate around can be so helpful in guiding the way to a truly relevant idea that can be angled towards a prioritized landing page.
Step 3: We forget formats and let the idea guide us to a creative solution
Our creative solutions are always backed by data, but we let the idea guide us as to how the data will be presented. We never have a “type” of campaign in mind when we approach ideation.
Step 4: We use the relevance spectrum to stress test our ideas
Before sharing ideas with the client or brand, we’ll stress-test our ideas against the relevance spectrum to ensure we’re content that our ideas truly match the client and how they want to be presented.
Case study: How this process drove traffic and increased visibility for a private medical center in the UK
By following the framework outlined above, we were able to increase visibility for a healthcare brand in a very competitive market by over 300%. Here’s how we hit all of the key elements of the relevance spectrum, plus the impact and outcomes of following this approach:
Authority — is my client or brand an authority on the subject? Could they be interviewed about it?
We met with the founders of the facility to discuss their key campaign objectives. Much like our Twitter poll, relevance was top priority — along with showcasing the expertise of the team and their innovative approach to recovery.
We left the meeting understanding what they were willing to talk about, in addition to the topics they were not so comfortable with — helping us to keep our ideas within their boundaries.
Audience — would my client or brand’s audience be interested in this content?
We also spoke with their admissions team, who were able to tell us more about the most common or frequent questions they are asked by service users. We then used this insight to help us develop campaigns or pitch ideas that answered said queries.
In addition to this, we looked more broadly at the publications the service users and their families were likely to read, and analyzed topics that might fit those outlets.
Keywords — does it contain keywords that we want to rank for, and do we have a page on the site that makes sense to link to?
We then met with their SEO team, who were able to give us an onsite content roadmap, target keywords, och a prioritized list of landing pages mapped to those keywords, as well as a timeline for those pages to be published, so we could plan our digital PR stories in advance.
They also gave us information on the competition, including how aggressive they were being with link acquisition across the board. This helped us with benchmarking, providing us with a really solid base for our activity.
Newsworthiness — will journalists care about what we are saying? What are we adding to the conversation?
With all of this information at our disposal, we were in a great place to start thinking about campaign ideas, but we needed to absorb plenty of information about the sector first so we understood what we were dealing with.
We set up media alerts for key phrases, and brand alerts for the competition, so we could see exactly what was being published. Looking closely at the competition, we learned what was working well for them — and crucially, what wasn’t working quite so well.
We set up RSS feeds to deliver news relating to the priority keywords and read it each day, helping us become attuned to the newsworthy topics relating to addiction recovery.
From this, we watched out for which journalists were covering topically relevant stories, and added them to our prospecting list. We then set to work coming up with ideas that aligned with all of the above information.
The impact — high authority links to commercial pages
By following this approach, we found that we were able to secure highly relevant links and coverage — all while remaining in sync with the SEO team working on the site.
As the content we produced was so relevant to the brand, it made sense for the journalists to link to key service pages. This is how we achieved the following commercial gains as a result of pitching topically relevant content for the brand:
Traffic was up more than 200% year-on-year
Over half (56%) of the links built pointed to a key service page
Organic traffic to their commercial pages increased by 500%
167% more keywords were on the first page of Google
This five-step checklist ensures relevance is prioritized in every digital PR campaign
In order to make this work cross-industry, we’ve developed a five-point checklist to ensure that relevance is prioritized at every stage. Depending on the brand and the sector, we’ll follow some or all of the points below to ensure that we’re considering the relevance of our digital PR campaign ideas above all else.
1. Research the industry in which your brand operates
How well-established is the industry?
Who are the key players you’ll be competing against?
How competitive are the keywords that you need to rank for the brand?
What PR and SEO activity are the key players doing? And how much?
2. Understand the business you’ve been tasked to build links to
How well-established is the brand in relation to the competition?
What products or services do they want to push?
What is working well, and what isn’t working quite so well?
Where are their overall marketing efforts being concentrated?
What markets and/or territories are important to them?
3. Understand the website you’ve been tasked to build links to
How well-established is the website?
How many links or referring domains do your commercial pages have right now?
How does that compare to the key players outlined above?
Are there any content gaps that need to be filled?
4. Analyze the competition
Identify competing pages and analyze how they are working well
What links do the competition have that you don’t?
How aggressive is their link acquisition?
What content topics are your competitors covering?
5. Keywords and landing pages
What are they? Do they have a corresponding landing page?
Does your client agree with your priorities?
What is the intent of the keywords?
How competitive are those keywords?
This framework can be followed to achieve results for brands in most sectors — but the setup is key
It is so easy to get relevance wrong in the context of digital PR. Branded campaigns aren’t needed in order to be relevant. We now need to look more closely at target audiences and produce content that appeals both to them AND the publications that they read.
By stepping away from the link-first mindset and applying some research-led common sense we can produce more relevant campaigns that achieve measurable results against SEO metrics.
This afternoon, HubSpot announced it would be making cuts in its workforce during Q1 2023. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing it put the scale of the cuts at 7%. This would mean losing around 500 employees from its workforce of over 7,000.
The reasons cited were a downward trend in business and a “faster deceleration” than expected following positive growth during the pandemic.
Layoffs follow swift growth. Indeed, the layoffs need to be seen against the background of very rapid growth at the company. The size of the workforce at HubSpot grew over 40% between the end of 2020 and today.
In 2022 it announced a major expansion of its international presence with new operations in Spain and the Netherlands and a plan to expand its Canadian presence in 2023.
Why we care. The current cool down in the martech space, and in tech generally, does need to be seen in the context of startling leaps forward made under pandemic conditions. As the importance of digital marketing and the digital environment in general grew at an unprecedented rate, vendors saw opportunities for growth.
The world is re-adjusting. We may not be seeing a bubble burst, but we are seeing a bubble undergoing some slight but predictable deflation.
Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.
He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.
Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.
Happy customers love to share their experience, but sometimes they need some encouragement to do so. The cool thing is, once they do, they become even more loyal to your brand.
So, at this stage of the Customer Value Journey, ask people to share their positive experience with your brand by writing a review or sharing a social media post.
Once you get to stage seven, the Customer Value Journey is going to get a whole lot easier for you. This stage is all about learning your customer’s experience, and building up your testimonial database.
The most important part of this step is asking these four questions.
What Was Your Life Like Before Finding Our Solutions? What Challenges Were You Facing That Caused You to Consider Us?
These questions are great not only because it gives you some really good stories, but because it gives you some insight on how you can provide similar prospects with that AHA moment. Understanding the average day of your clients is important in reflecting on your Customer Value Journey, and helps you understand what really set you apart from your competitors.
What Key Features Had the Biggest and/or Fastest Impact?
Not only is this going to get you to really specific stories, you will understand the specific things you provided that gave the biggest impact. The answers to these questions will not only give you great insight and testimonials, it will provide you with ideas for new lead magnets. This part is a new Entry Point Offer goldmine!
What Has Been the Impact or Results in Your Life or Business Since Using Our Product or Service?
This is a fairly broad question, and that’s why we put it after the others. You will have already gotten all of the specifics out of the way with #1 & #2. But when you ask this question, this is where you get the most valuable stories. You can use this part as testimonials, as an order form, as a sales page, this part is testimonial gold.
If You Were Asked to Justify this Purchase to Your Boss or a Friend, What Would You Say?
This is our favorite question by far. If you had to go back in time and justify this purchase, what would you say? I promise you what we’re going to find is a lot of great ideas for the jobs that your product or service has done. You’ll get a lot of great ideas for your core message canvas. This question is about backfilling all of the assets that you may not have. Here you’re going directly to the customer who are already happy, and using their justifications to help you sell to new customers.
Hopefully you now understand just how valuable the Advocate stage could be, as well as the key questions you need to ask to get your customers talking. Here’s how it works for our example companies.
When it comes to fashion we all love to show off our outfits. So a good example for Hazel & Hems would be to have customers write reviews for a discount code or points towards their next purchase.
Better yet, follow up with the customers to ask them to share and tag themselves wearing the items in a social media post and providing them with something valuable as a reward.
For Cyrus & Clark Media, hopping on zoom meetings or a streaming service for live talks about them and their business could generate valuable awareness for them, and a live case study for the agency. They can use the questions Ryan provided during this lesson to conduct the interview.