A few months ago, I finally signed up to HARO (Help A Reporter Out), after hearing good things about it (e.g. it’s listed in Jon Cooper’s mighty Link Building Tactics post) and getting a glimpse into how it worked during my last agency role (the marketing manager was signed up to it and used to pass SEO-themed requests onto me).
For those of you who aren’t already aware of HARO, it works like this: basically reporters sign up to it and submit request for comments and opinions from experts (more info here). For example, someone from an employment blog may be writing an article on the most embarrassing faux pas recruiters have ever seen on a CV, and they’d like half a dozen recruiters to chip in with their comments. Those who are successful get their comment published in the article, getting a mention and (sometimes) a link, resulting in brand exposure, potential social media exposure (if it’s tweeted, etc.) and – of course – a boost in SEO. So if you’re a freelancer or an agency, you can administer the process between the reporters and your clients (a bit like guest blogging – just replace “guest bloggers” with “reporters”)!
HARO may have gotten a bit of bad press (oh the irony!) in the SEO industry a little while back (although it was pretty much dismissed immediately),* but just like with anything, if you abuse it, you may get in trouble with Google (akin to the whole guest blogging debacle), but if you do things properly and legitimately, you’ll be fine.
* EDIT: The author of the “bad press” link above – Bill Hartzer – has left a comment at the bottom of this post elaborating on what happened…
Oh and obvious disclaimer: I’m in no way affiliated with HARO. In fact, I nearly gave up on it (until I finally started to see results for clients). So there we go.
Don’t be put off by the emails…
When you first sign up to HARO, it can be a little overwhelming and even make you think that it’s a little… spammy (even though you yourself signed up to it). You get three emails a day (morning, afternoon and evening in US time) and sometimes they can be looong…
My advice is to login and change your preferences so that instead of being sent the ‘Master HARO’ list (i.e. everything), you tailor it to only receive the stuff that you’d like to receive.
I only get ‘Business & Finance,’ ‘General’, ‘High Tech’ and ‘UK’ – I currently don’t have any clients in the travel industry, so it doesn’t make sense to receive any ‘Travel’ requests. There tends to be overlap (i.e. a request appearing in two or more sections, e.g. if it’s general and also UK-specific), so don’t worry too much that you’re missing out if you restrict it (if in doubt, keep a few boxes ticked rather than just one or two).
Depending on your industry, it can be cracking…
One of my clients is a recruitment agency. The amount of job/recruitment-related requests that come through HARO is almost ridiculous. It. Is. Incredible. I end up sending them a few a week, and sometimes more than one a day.
However, it’s not the case for every industry. I also have a client who’s an optician, and over the same period of time (a few months), I’ve only come across one relevant request, which unfortunately they couldn’t fulfil in the end.
I often see regular HARO requests related to online marketing (including SEO!), social media, web design, sales, management/leadership, entrepreneurship, IT and finance/accounting, to name just a few. So if one of your clients ticks one of those boxes, I recommend trying it out.
Think outside the category-shaped box
(Sorry for putting a spin on an annoying office jargon phrase…)
Just because my client is a recruitment agency, it doesn’t mean that only job/recruitment-related HAROs apply. Lots of requests are general, simply wanting a small business’ opinion on something. Or you can see if something else that they’re doing as a business also applies…
One of my clients is a B2B reseller of printers – not the most exciting or entertaining industry, and if we waited until we received a printer-related HARO request, we’d be waiting a while…! However they have a strong sales and management team, so I pass them any sales and management HAROs that may present themselves.
Make it as easy as possible for your client
If an ideal HARO request comes in and you’re ready to pass it on to your client, make it easy for them. Don’t pass it on and say “scroll down to number #15” – seeing a long list can be pretty daunting and might put them off…
What I do is copy and paste the relevant HARO request to the top of the email before forwarding it, and also change the email subject line to the HARO request’s name (so that the client can see it at-a-glance and decide whether or not it’s right for them).
Be ready to edit/polish a comment before passing it on
Two of my clients have admitted to me that they’re not experts at writing, so they take no offence if I tweak what they’ve written to be a bit more grammatically friendly and such.
So you may need to make a little tweak here or there, especially if it will enhance the chance of success, but be careful not to rewrite massive chunks, as then your client may become a little gutted if you’ve completely changed what they’ve written once if they end up reading the finished published article.
If you don’t get a link…
This is a bit of a funny one, as HARO offers no guarantee that a link will be included. After all, it’s up to the linking author/website at the end of the day, and in fact, in my experience, journalists are notorious for avoiding linking out if they can.
When the Fresh Web Explorer alert came in saying that my recruitment client’s first HARO had gone live, I was delighted! But when I clicked onto it and saw that it didn’t contain a link, I was a little gutted… I mean hey, I am an SEO after all!
Some theorise that even business name citations can still offer minimal SEO value (in places where you don’t have a link), and I guess you can try asking the journalist to include a link (there’s no harm in asking, right?) but it may be that that’s simply their style, that they just don’t link out.
If this happens (and it’s only happened to me once – that one time), then it is a bit of a bummer, but move on and keep trying.
Speaking of which…
Perservere! Perservere! Perservere!!!
Even with lots of recruitment-related HARO requests, it took a while for the first one to go live, and my client was losing patience and hope. After all, his time is busy and time is money – I’m telling him that answering HAROs can benefit his SEO, but if none were going live, then what’s the point?
He was just about ready to throw in the towel when the link-less article (mentioned above) went live. Even without the link, he was delighted with it. More importantly – it showed that it worked. At that point, he was sold – he was happy to do as many requests as possible. The next two that went live appeared on big websites (with Domain Authority scores of 83 and 91) and both of them included a link as well as a brand mention, so our perseverance paid off.
Besides, sometimes it’s a luck thing… One of my latest clients had his first HARO answer attempt published. Suffice to say that he’s sold on the concept too.
Even if you’re not US-based, you can fulfil some HAROs
As a non-US based SEO, the first thing I noticed about HARO is that a lot of the focus seems to be on generating US-based responses. “Seems” is the key word here though – it may seem like it (especially with the fact that there’s a separate ‘UK’ category and that sometimes reporters will say that they only want a NY-based or Philly-based response, for example), but it’s simply not the case. If your comment is good enough, it should get published, regardless of where you’re based (unless they specifically need a location/region for the purpose of the story, of course).
All of my current clients are UK-based, and for those where I’ve pursued HARO – even passing on requests from obviously US-based websites – we’ve not once been dismissed entirely based on our location. So even if it seems to have a US flavour to it, if you think you have a good enough comment then go for it anyway.
It may not be for everyone (but try it anyway)!
You may love HARO. You may loathe HARO. My advice is to give it a try and see if it works for you and your clients. It works for me and mine.
- Login and configure your email preferences to only receive the requests relevant to you and your clients.
- It suits some industries better than others. If you’re completely new to HARO, give it a try – it might be worth your while…
- Your client may be a web designer, but they do sales, marketing, etc. and can comment on general small business-related requests – in other words, just because your client does one thing in particular, it doesn’t mean that they can’t answer other related or semi-relevant HARO requests.
- Make it as easy and convenient as possible for your clients to read, understand and respond to the requests.
- Be prepared to give your clients’ responses a tidy-up before sending them onto the reporter – don’t send them as-is if they contain spelling and grammar errors, as it may reduce your chance of the comment being published.
- Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a link. Keep at it!
- Even if you’re not US-based, you can still find HARO success.
[Image credits – HARO logo lovingly borrowed from their Twitter page: @helpareporter; reporter with “polar bear”: ItzaFineDay; business structure drawing: Dave Gray; Union Jack heart: @Doug88888; Family Guy reporter figure: Aaron Edwards]