A HARO Case Study:
The “Average Joe Pitch Method” For Ultimate Link Acquisition
Everyone knows that Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a goldmine when it comes to free, white-hat editorial link acquisition. The quality of backlinks that you can drive juice from to your site is undeniable. In fact, in the time we have been using HARO for link building, we have acquired hundreds of DR 70+ links for our own sites and clients from huge name sites such as Medium, Forbes, CEO Blog Nation, and more.
The problem is, within the past six months, more and more people have not only realized the potential of HARO as a link-building method but, many agencies like ourselves have begun using it as a service for clients meaning, the pool of pitches is more saturated than ever.
HARO as a Service
When we started working on HARO for clients around 18 months ago, it wasn’t something that many service providers were offering. In fact, the only reason we started at all was with the idea that essentially, our clients were too busy to make the most of the three-times-per-day pitch opportunities HARO presented and it would be helpful if we could offer a VA-type service that could manage it for clients on their behalf.
This is exactly what we did, except, we trained a team in-house so that although they would work as essentially VAs, they would be specifically trained to work on HARO pitches and have access to training and tools used by our writing team. This was incredibly helpful to our existing clients, which is why we started offering it as a service to new and potential clients too.
However, like most things, as soon as word spread of HARO being a viable client service, many link building companies developed their own version, most of which are priced per link.
Understandably, with a price tag of $400+ per link acquired, these companies are able to employ top-level, US niche expert writers to produce pitches on behalf of their clients, meaning that getting published, for a little team of VAs in the middle of the desert, was starting to become more difficult. It quickly became clear that many companies were fighting for the spotlight, with hundreds of pitches being submitted per inquiry.
But, here’s the thing:
Agencies weren’t the only ones to cotton onto this idea of HARO as a service.
Journalists also quickly realized that many people were using agencies and freelancers to produce and submit pitches on their behalf, and they didn’t like it.
Journalists Want Real Sources
You may be wondering what my point is. But, journalistic integrity would suggest that a source should be authentic. Realistically, a journalist who submits inquiries is looking for real people to respond to them, otherwise, essentially their content is not factual and they risk their reputation as a journalist.
With this in mind, HARO has tried to filter responses as much as possible. Most recently, with “Your Money, Your Life” (YMYL) niches, HARO inquiries insist that the source be qualified to submit a pitch. For example, fitness inquiries should be answered only by certified personal trainers and so on.
Realizing that journalists were trying to weed out the ghostwriters, we decided to do a little experiment.
Now, as well as our 30+ client accounts that we work on, we also manage HARO for 30+ accounts of our own as we nurture sites as part of The Affiliate Marketing Experts and build a link profile for the ready-made sites we sell. Not to mention our own company sites. Therefore, we have a good range of websites with a cross-section of niches that we can test to get tangible results.
So here’s what we did:
We figured that a major red flag to a journalist looking for an authentic pitch was one that appeared to be written by William Wordsworth himself. Perfect punctuation, alluring alliteration and NSA-level research being a dead giveaway. As, let’s face it, someone can be highly successful in business and a fountain of knowledge within their niche without necessarily being a skilled wordsmith.
So what would be a good way to appear authentic? Write like the average person. Grammatical errors and all.
The Average Joe Pitch Method
We decided to take a cross-section of our own sites including our main service site, Clever Touch Marketing, and trial a method we code-named “Average Joe”.
We decided to try it for three months, bearing in mind that when tracking links with tools like Ahrefs, links most often take 30-45 days to show between the website’s editorial calendar and Google indexing the post. This would give us enough time to monitor:
- How many of our pitches were successful over a set period of time
- How many links were acquired and their metrics (no-follow vs do-follow, DR, etc)
- How they impacted the DR of our websites
Although DR is only a metric used by Ahrefs, we thought this would be a good general indicator in terms of how much the links we were acquiring were impacting our site authority.
What We Did
The idea behind the Average Joe Method was simply to include normal human error into the writing of the pitches themselves. Realistically, most general business owners who are not involved with content and/or SEO aren’t using tools like Grammarly to check their emails.
Also, a quick scan of any Facebook newsfeed will enlighten you to just how many native English speakers make a multitude of spelling and grammar mistakes that they believe not to be mistakes at all (the ongoing trends of “sossig” and “carnt” being my personal ultimate favorites!)
So, for the personas we chose for the trial we did a couple of things:
- Added general occasional errors that would be considered solely down to carelessness
- Included set errors that would be repeatedly used as if the person writing the pitches believed they were correct.
What were these exactly? Well, it could have been inserting a space before and after a comma, or using multiple periods at the end of a sentence. Also, writing something that didn’t necessarily flow well or appeared not to have been proofread.
This was a particular tactic we used for personas of people with non-native sounding names (like myself) where it would be believable to assume that if the person sending the pitch was not a native English speaker, their pitches would likely not be written like a Dickens novel.
I should clarify at this point that this experiment was done solely out of curiosity. With the nature of working in SEO, I am always testing new things. As we have an in-house team and a number of our own sites, it seemed like a good idea considering the fact that if we didn’t get any links, we weren’t really losing anything.
But here’s the funny part…
It actually worked!
We started implementing this tactic into pitches for our sites, some to the point they were cringeworthy. Considering that as someone who is a native English speaker with a professional background in content production, writing a pitch that was less than perfect is not my ideal idea for building a personal brand. But, we made the decision to try it and I was sticking with it.
To my amazement, we started getting published. A lot.
We followed a number of specifics when considering inquiries to pitch to:
- Minimum DR 30+ sites
- No sites looking for link exchanges or any other scheme
- Niche-specific queries only (in our service site case, this also included queries around business and entrepreneurship)
Over the three month period, we submitted an average of 27 pitches per month and had 87 percent of our pitches successfully published. This was a huge increase from the previous 90 days.
Here’s an example of a successfully published pitch on a DR 71 website:
Now, as you can see, this is not the best-written paragraph known to man. However, this was, in fact, written by one of our most senior agents who is a native English speaker himself. However, we used the fact that my last name doesn’t tend to scream “born in Newcastle in the UK” to try our theory.
But here’s the best part:
That particular publication reached out to me on the back of that and offered me an interview on their podcast. So, not only was it successfully published, it allowed us to get further PR opportunities.
Not only did we gain a whole host of high-quality backlinks, but these also had a visible effect on our site with our DR rising from 30 to 48 over the three month period. Now, full disclosure, this was not our only link acquisition method during this time, we did also have a press release as well as being featured on sites like Semrush as part of my recent webinar with Craig Campbell, however, it was definitely a major part of it.
Obviously, it is not going to be the best practice for every single person out there to follow. Especially for those looking to build a personal brand, it may not be the best idea to intentionally write pitches with below-average writing ability.
However, what it does show is that writing a pitch that matches the persona (or is perceived to match the persona) can lend to the authenticity of the pitch and in turn, lead to a higher success rate. Of course, in real life, I am a through and through broad Geordie who despite all attempts to tone down my accent on podcasts, does so without success. But, for someone who has no idea who I am and solely bases their impression of me on a photo and my name, it is often unexpected for me to be so obviously British.
So again, although this may not be the perfect strategy, from a curiosity-first perspective, it is interesting to see how perceived authenticity wins the day.
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