What is Digital PR? Read Before Starting Your First Campaign


digital pr


As Google continues to tighten the noose on borderline link building tactics with March 2024 Helpful Content updates, building backlinks is more important than ever.

Even some white hat link building strategies rub against Google’s spam guidelines if builders don’t properly check websites for quality signals.

To add insult to injury, looming AI threatens to steal traffic and clicks to key link building content on many sites.

Although it can be tempting to purchase a handful of links from Fiverr for tens of dollars, what if I told you there was a way to create AI-proof, competitor-proof backlinks with a strategy that Google approves of and truly likes?

Enter digital PR.

If properly executed, it’s a knock-out punch.

I’ve spent the last ten years helping companies grow their digital presence with digital PR, and I’ve seen first-hand the impact and value digital PR can drive for a brand’s growth.

This post will help you understand everything you need about digital PR to decide if it’s right for you and your brand.

What is Digital PR?

Digital PR exists somewhere between traditional PR and white hat link building.

But the simplest explanation I’ve ever given is that digital PR is a marketing tactic used to earn high authority links from publications that drive rankings and site traffic.

Digital PR covers many content types and strategies, but its goals align with SEO goals, so they play hand-in-hand.

How?

Campaigns might involve pitching a quote from a thought leader to a journalist writing about a related topic or creating and pitching content highlighting data from a commissioned industry survey.

In both cases, the goal is to drive links to boost rankings and site traffic.

But, where SEO focuses mainly on quantitative metrics, digital PR can push more qualitative goals like brand reputation, which overlaps with traditional PR.

Let’s take a look at this overlap.

Digital PR vs. Traditional PR

Technically, digital PR focuses solely on online media to boost brand awareness, sentiment, and market share on the web.

Traditional PR may encompass online media but mainly focuses on newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV.

While both aim to shape a brand, digital PR pairs with SEO performance—primarily high-authority quality links—as the core metric. In contrast, traditional PR has broader metrics to measure public perception and sentiment.

Ultimately, deciding between digital and traditional PR comes down to goals, audience type, and costs.

Here’s a quick way to visualize the overlap:

digital pr vs traditional pr

So, if digital PR builds backlinks, is all link building digital PR?

Not exactly…

Digital PR vs. Link Building

Digital PR is a tactic for building high-authority links, but not all link building is digital PR.

The tactics may overlap, but the overall strategies are unique.

Although hard to pinpoint, “digital PR” likely spawned after both link builders realized how impactful high authority links were for rankings and journalists’ need for stories to tell.

But, digital PR is a single strategy executed in many different ways, some very similar to “link building” and others very specific to digital PR.

In the next section, we’ll explore the types of digital PR.

Types of Digital PR and Who They Work Best For

Since we’ve mentioned a few types of digital PR at this point and there is some overlap, let’s clarify what each entails.

Hero Content

Hero content, or content-led digital PR, is typically standalone content on a site or blog pitched for coverage.

For example, a survey piece, a data study, or a story with heavy visual elements like an infographic or map could all be considered hero content.

Here are some specific examples of Hero content:

Tip: Brands get creative and overlap hero content types. For instance, a brand may utilize datasets to create a map or infographic and pitch it together.

Beyond just links, these content types can drive real traffic and revenue depending on how well-aligned the hero content is to the bottom of their marketing funnel.

Traditionally, building links to a product page, service page, or any other highly converting money page on a site can be very difficult.

Digital PR provides a creative alternative to bring authoritative links and relevant traffic to a site primed to convert.

For instance, the Homebuyer piece that I worked on focused on affordable cities for buying a home because first-time home buyers are the target audience for Homebuyer.com.

homebuyer digital pr piece

So, people searching for the term or interested enough to click on a link to the post mentioned on another site are more likely to be potential customers.

Newsjacking – Proactive vs Reactive PR

Another type of digital PR is newsjacking, which involves leveraging a trend or current news for coverage.

These campaigns can be Hero, aka content-led campaigns, but don’t necessarily need Hero content.

Based on our newsjacking guide from Will Hobson, there are two main types of newsjacking: proactive (or planned) and reactive.

Proactive

Proactive content is pre-planned based on events, holidays, and other scheduled news.

For example, a fragrance retailer, Aroma Retail, created a Superbowl-scented candle to pitch around the Superbowl.

aroma candle for superbowl - digital pr study

Another typical example is planned company reporting, where a brand analyzes and comments on significant industry reports and then pitches those comments/analyses to journalists in the space.

Reactive

Reactive strategies include responding to breaking news across various sectors and leveraging it however possible.

Journalists typically look for industry experts to comment and support their stories when news breaks. So, the most common form of reactive digital PR is pitching a quote from a knowledge leader.

However, newsjacking can also be bigger than just a quote.

My favorite newsjacking example was when a San Diego moving company called HireAHelper created a microsite called wewontmoveyouchargers.com after the Chargers announced they were leaving San Diego for Los Angeles.

In a matter of days, HireAHelper put out the microsite where they announced they were boycotting the move by saying they wouldn’t help the Chargers move out of San Diego. Then, they enlisted several other San Diego-based moving companies to join the boycott.

hireahelper's digital pr newsjack

This piece went viral, gaining major news coverage in the space due to the timeliness of the campaign and the creative way it came together.

Digital PR should be clear at this point, so let’s examine when a brand might decide to invest in it.

When Does a Brand Need Digital PR?

If a brand cares about SEO and online brand awareness, it can and should invest in digital PR.

But sometimes, selling to stakeholders or clients can be a challenge.

Not to worry, here are some of the reasons a brand might decide to shift to digital PR or hire an agency:

It Wants to Drive High Authority Links

Links are typically the main KPI in a digital PR campaign. Each coverage instance leads to a backlink. One can draw a direct line from a link to a sale. It goes like this:

Quality, relevant links can help boost site authority and increase rankings. Several studies, like this one from Ahrefs, have proven their impact.

Better rankings boost site traffic, which drives leads and sales.

It Wants to Boost Brand Exposure

Not all media “coverage” yields hyperlinks, and that’s not always bad.

Frequently, high-end news coverage may result in an unlinked mention or when a website mentions the brand or site but does not include a backlink. For example, see the unlinked mention of BuzzStream in this list:

we found an unlinked brand mention of buzzstream to use for link building

These mentions can still drive direct traffic to a site.

(Plus, many digital PRs and agencies also provide services for unlinked mention recovery, where they request that journalists add the link to the brand.)

Some coverage can also lead to syndication, where the content gets republished on subsequent sites.

For example, TechCrunch originally published a post and then syndicated it on Yahoo News. It also appears as written here and here.

syndication example - which can come from digital pr

While the extra links from syndication don’t carry SEO value because they are technically duplicate content in Google’s eyes, there is a lot of potential for direct traffic from people clicking on the link.

Establish Thought Leadership

The more a brand is mentioned within a specific niche, the more likely it is to be perceived as an authority.

Google has put much effort into understanding how brands are perceived as topic authority.

topical authority

Although it’s less quantifiable than a metric like Domain Authority, this authority, through links or mentions, can also help better establish topical authority in Google’s eyes, making it easier to rank.

Build Relationships with Journalists

Building relationships with the media is one of the under-appreciated results of a digital PR campaign.

Like traditional PR, having the press on the side of a brand is always a plus.

In digital PR, having the ear of the press makes each subsequent campaign more likely to yield authoritative links. Tenured digital PR experts have a Rolodex of journalists they’ve successfully pitched and established trust with.

Many use BuzzStream to maintain those relationships and repitch new digital PR campaigns to the same journalists over time.

  • Ready to streamline your outreach and link building campaigns? Start free trial
  • I wrote about this benefit and advantage while working with Siege Media.

    Driving Leads and Sales

    Although I talked about this already, it’s worth repeating.

    Of course, leads and sales are the primary purpose of all marketing. Digital PR campaigns can directly and indirectly impact a company’s bottom line.

    Brands can measure the impact of digital PR via referral traffic, determining how many leads and corresponding sales came from that traffic.

    Brands can also measure the lift in organic traffic due to higher domain authority and better rankings. Then, apply this lift to any leads and sales from organic.

    So, with so many potential benefits, how is success measured?

    How is Digital PR Measured?

    To better understand what goes into a campaign and, more importantly, what comes out, let’s look at the different ways digital PR is measured:

    Backlinks

    Backlinks are the most commonly used indicator of a campaign’s influence and a website’s authority.

    Here are some of the metrics brands us to report on links:

    Unique Referring Domains – the number of unique sites linking back to the content or website

    Linked Publications – the number of publications, like DailyMail or NYTimes, that linked to the piece

    Top-tier Links – the number of high authority (DA/DR) links

    Media Placements – The links are placed on media sites. (Though these can sometimes refer to social media placements)

    While it can be tempting to focus on the sheer quantity of links, the best agencies and digital PRs focus on the quality of the backlinks and look at quality signals.

    Our post on quality links covers quality signals at length, but some brands use third-party metrics like Domain Rating (DR) and Domain Authority (DA).

    Domain Rating or Domain Authority

    Metrics like Domain Rating and Domain Authority are proprietary, third-party metrics designed to measure Google’s PageRank (which helps gauge how easily a site can rank for a keyword.)

    Some brands report on DA/DR gains to signify digital PR success. As a site accumulates more quality backlinks through digital PR efforts, its DA/DR improves, enhancing its visibility and credibility in search engine results.

    Domain Rating is Ahref’s metric that specifically measures the strength of backlink profiles.

    Domain Authority is Moz’s metric that takes backlinks and a few other metrics.

    For example, agency Kaizen reported a 7-point increase in DR from three campaigns.

    kaizen's dr boost

    Tip: DA and DR are directionally similar but not interchangeable, so brands typically choose one and stick with it for reporting consistency.

    Brand Mentions

    Another success metric is the number of times a brand is mentioned (linked or not.) These mentions are typically found using a tool like Google Alerts or Talkwalker.

    Do they hold SEO value or rankings? No, but they can lead to traffic, which I’ll get into next.

    Traffic

    The most successful campaigns drive links and relevant traffic to a site. Brands see the results in either referral, direct, or indirectly from organic traffic.

    Referral traffic is traffic that comes from external websites. So, if BuzzStream got a link on Forbes and saw traffic from Forbes, we could track it back to the link.

    For example, I can look at BuzzStream’s Referral traffic sources on Google Analytics to see which external links are bringing in the most traffic for us.

    Referral traffic coming from digital pr

    Direct traffic is a little harder to pin down as it refers to traffic from users going directly to a site, usually by typing in the URL.

    However, brands can argue that a rise in brand awareness can cause users to type in their URL—especially if the brand has an easy-to-remember brand name and URL.

    Organic traffic is another measure of success. When a brand sees a boost in organic traffic, it may be due to backlinks from a specific digital PR campaign.

    A healthy, successful site will see links building naturally over time in line with their organic traffic.

    You can see this using a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

    organic traffic + referring links that comes from digital pr

    However, many factors impact organic traffic, and it’s often difficult to attribute just one change to a boost in traffic.

    Measuring the impact of organic traffic on the specific campaign or page tied to a campaign is easier.

    For example, if we wanted our link building tools page to rank better, we could create a digital PR campaign around it.

    Then, when the campaign ends, we could measure the impact of organic traffic on the page itself.

    Organic Traffic Value

    One off-shoot of organic traffic increase is Ahrefs’ Organic Traffic Value metric (though other tools have similar metrics), which some brands and agencies like to report on because it has a dollar value.

    For example, North Star Inbound’s case study shows how they increased the value of a site from $10k to $3.5M.

    traffic value increase

    The value, as explained by Ahrefs, is the “equivalent monthly cost of traffic from all keywords that the target website/URL ranks for organically if that traffic was paid via PPC instead”

    (So brands don’t make the money; they just don’t need to spend it on ads)

    Theoretically, sites with a higher Traffic Value rank for more valuable, higher-converting keywords.

    So, by securing backlinks from highly authoritative sites, digital PR campaigns can indirectly increase a site’s Traffic Value.

    Social Media Mentions

    When the brand has a social presence or is trying to build one, mentions on social platforms may be a big part of a campaign’s results.

    For instance, Rise at Seven’s Bernie Sanders’ Ikea chair campaign generated over 1.2 million image views on LinkedIn and Instagram.

    ikea chair digital pr campaign

    Social media will not drive any direct SEO value, but it can bring traffic to a site, leading to rankings and leads.

    Leads and Revenue

    Lastly, a brand may measure a digital PR campaign’s direct impact on leads and/or revenue. Realistically, leads are harder to measure directly from digital PR.

    But it’s common to see brands get major sales boosts when campaigns are tied directly to products.

    For example, agency Frac.tl discusses how digital PR strategies helped dating app Sapio increase weekly downloads by over 3,000%.

    sapio digital pr campaign

    Another agency, Reboot, talks about how they’ve increased organic revenue for a client by 613%.

    There are many examples of campaigns that impact different business goals. Let’s examine a few.

    Cost Per Link

    Last note here on measurement.

    Some brands and agencies quantify digital PR results using CPL or Cost Per Link. CPL is the campaign cost divided by the number of links achieved.

    So, if a brand invests $10,000 in a campaign that yields 10 links, then the CPL is $1,000.

    Generally speaking, the cost per link from a digital PR campaign that yields high-authority, highly relevant links should be at least $1,000.

    But, costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per link, considering agency fees, content production costs, and the time spent on outreach and follow-up.

    Let’s get into the fun stuff with measurement out of the way.

    Great Digital PR Examples That Have Gotten Major Coverage

    The best part of writing this post is researching and sharing all the outstanding work and examples of digital PR at its best.

    There are countless examples of the power of digital PR that have been publicly shared.

    For in-depth reading, I recommend checking out case studies from these well-known agencies that specialize in digital PR:

    I also subscribe to newsletters like WeAreHeroine’s TheGrapevine.

    Here are a few of my favorites to highlight:

    Beer Around The World

    beer around the world

    This example from the personal finance site Expensivity examined the price of beer worldwide.

    The data was cleverly compiled using the prices of a 330ml (~11 oz) bottle of beer in supermarkets worldwide. Then, they found average alcohol consumption based on World Health Organization statistics.

    They focused on developing great map visualizations and many other lists and charts that journalists and sites could utilize when sharing.

    By encompassing countries worldwide, the piece widens the net of people they can reach out to.

    This post has a clear connection to its audience, ensuring that when pitched, they get relevant links.

    • Coverage: Vice, Food & Wine, The Scotsman, Paste Magazine, Business Insider, The Daily Meal, Conde Nast’s Traveler, and many more.
    • Backlinks: 265 Referring Domains (RD), according to Ahrefs.

    Perceptions of Perfection

    perceptions of perfection digital pr campaign

    This piece from UK drug retailer Online Doctor (similar to Hims or Roman in the US) breaks down the perception of female beauty worldwide. Since Online Doctor sells prescription drugs for health concerns like weight loss, this campaign ties into their audience and industry.

    The campaign compiled its data by hiring female designers across the globe and tasking them with altering an original image to better fit their country’s perception of beauty.

    Then, the post compared the photos with a fascinating analysis.

    Anytime a campaign can elicit an emotional response to a campaign, it has the potential to go viral, and this one saw a significant response.

    • Coverage: DailyMail, Business Insider, The Telegraph, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and many more.
    • Backlinks: 389 RD, according to Ahrefs.

    Drones in Construction

    drones in construction digital pr campaign

    Not all industries can appeal to the mass audience. The construction industry comes to mind.

    This drones in construction post was a piece that I worked on while at Siege Media for a construction rental site called BigRentz.

    The strategy was to leverage a trending topic with high search volume and create interesting visuals that would stand out when pitched to journalists at industry new sites.

    It currently ranks in the top 5 for “drones in construction,” so it has been attracting consistently high-authority, relevant links from construction industry news sites like For Construction Pros and Constructive Dive.

    It has a clear connection to the construction brand and features high-quality graphics.

    • Coverage: ForConstructionPros, Teledyne, ConstructionDive, Civil and Structural Engineering Mag
    • Backlinks: 93 Referring Domains (RD), according to Ahrefs.

    The Ultimate Spotify Playlist For People Living With Dementia

    dementia digital pr campaign

    This creative asset by UK retirement home site Lottie examines songs that improve the mood of those battling dementia. From the name, there is a clear, relevant tie for their brand.

    Again, this has a strong emotion tied immediately, continuously improving a campaign’s performance.

    To create the piece, the team ranked songs from Spotify based on positivity, tempo, and mood to produce an overall score for the tune. Then, they created their ultimate playlist.

    The presentation provides a brilliantly designed infographic and then, obviously, the actual Spotify playlist.

    • Coverage: New York Post, The Scotsman, National World, The Star, London World, and many regional UK newspapers.
    • Backlinks: 66 RD, according to Ahrefs.

    The 10 Most Dangerous Roads in the U.S.

    most dangerous roads

    This piece, created by auto insurance comparison site The Zebra, analyzes the most dangerous roads in the U.S. based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, specifically the fatality analysis reporting system.

    There is an obvious tie to their core offering, and the subject matter made it perfect for pitching to relevant sites.

    Simple, easy-to-understand graphics make it easy to share, and the fact that this is location-based gives lots of angles to pitch a post like this.

    • Coverage: CBS News, Moneywise, ABC7, My SanAntonio, Deseret News, and more.
    • Backlinks: 208 RD, according to Ahrefs.

    What Digital PR Tools Do Brands Need to Get Started?

    Each company and agency typically has a digital PR stack. I’ve compiled an extensive list of 25+ essential tools for digital PR teams, so below is a sense of the tools used to run a successful PR campaign.

    Tools for Content Ideation and Brainstorming:

    The best campaigns start with strong ideas. (I wrote a whole post about the importance of survey campaign ideation, one of the stronger digital PR types.)

    Although ideas can come from anywhere, most marketers utilize several tools to help with ideation, from social listening tools to more SEO-driven research tools.

    For example, many successful digital PR campaigns leverage trending topics on Exploding Topics or Google Trends, like the HireaHelper microsite I mentioned above.

    exploding topics home

    Others use a competitive analysis tool like Ahrefs to look for successes from other sites and then try to create similar, better content. They can also use Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer to lean into topics with high search volume, as I did with the “Drones in Construction” post.

    Digital PRs can use a tool like BuzzSumo to find trending social topics to leverage for content ideas. Then, they can take advantage of the news for reactive campaigns, like the Bernie Sanders Ikea chair from Rise at Seven.

    Tool for Building Media Lists or Prospects:

    Although targeted journalist discovery can be incredibly beneficial, many teams find it valuable to leverage a media database to quickly source journalists for their campaigns.

    Common database tools are Cision, MuckRack, or Roxhill.

    Good databases will have an up-to-date list of journalists, contact details, and information about articles they’ve written.

    BuzzStream is for those teams that prefer to build and maintain an up-to-date media list on their own, leveraging their own research and/or combining contacts from third-party media lists.

    BuzzStream has helpful importing and manual research features that I use for every campaign.

    import tool on buzzstream
  • Ready to streamline your outreach and link building campaigns? Start free trial
  • Some teams use a hybrid approach and use a media list in conjunction with an outreach tool like BuzzStream.

    Tool for Content Creation and Visualization:

    When pitching content, design, and presentation can help cover the story. Data studies need data visualization. Travel-related studies may need custom photography. And, of course, the words on the page must be convincing.

    For instance, I use Grammarly to quickly edit all of my written content for grammar, flow, and consistency of voice.

    Even some of the largest brands use third-party tools for data visualization. For example, Bankrate displays data using the data visualization tool Infogram.

    infogram example

    Tools like Canva and Pixlr can help create a great-looking product.

    Content Distribution Tool:

    Content rarely gets coverage without pitching, so a distribution tool is important.

    Digital PRs typically do a mix of emailing journalists and utilizing press release newswires, typically both.

    In my time with Siege Media, we used BuzzStream because it allows users to create or import a list of journalists, vet the list, email them, and maintain relationships, all within the same app.

    outreach example on buzzstream

    Some media list-building tools mentioned previously have built-in press release distribution, but brands also use standalone services like Newswire.

    These distribution networks are then seen by journalists and sometimes utilized for stories.

    Analytics Tools:

    Lastly, analytics tools are required to track the success of digital PR campaigns. Different tools are usually employed since different goals are tracked for each campaign.

    Tools like Talkwalker or Google Alerts can help track brand mentions. Ahrefs, Majestic, Semrush, and good old-fashioned Googling can help find backlinks.

    Social mentions can be tracked using tools like Mention or BrandMentions.

    Most digital PRs use multiple tools to track backlinks and mention since the need to report on links is so critical.

    Then, a tool like Google Analytics tracks conversions and revenue based on traffic from referrals, direct, and organic sources.

    What Do Digital PR Campaigns Cost?

    Unfortunately, there is no quick answer to this question because campaigns have so many factors that influence the cost.

    Digital PR campaigns can range from a few thousand dollars for essential services to tens of thousands for comprehensive campaigns executed by top-tier agencies.

    Some reactive campaigns are cheaper and quicker — especially if pitching thought leadership quotes for coverage. Quote pitching for backlinks requires an ear for trending topics and a pitching platform like BuzzStream.

    So overhead costs can be as little as $24 per month for a starter BuzzStream plan.

    Hero-led campaigns are more extensive and expensive—especially when a developer or high-quality graphic designer is involved.

    Siege Media, the agency I used to work for, has a great post explaining the cost of digital PR.

    The Future of Digital PR is Bright

    As Google becomes more sophisticated in recognizing backlinks, digital PR will become even more important (and popular).

    Digital PR is very popular in the UK but hasn’t yet been fully adopted in the US. Most experts agree that the US is a few years behind when it comes to utilizing the strategy of digital PR to its fullest potential.

    I talked about the impact of Helpful Content Update on link builders, and one of them is that link builders, SEOs, and digital PRs alike need to start considering how they build links and from where.

    When you consider how many backlinks you need to rank or outdo competitors, it’s not necessarily the quantity of links; it’s the quality of links. High-authority, relevant links will really move the needle going forward.

    And digital PR is the most consistent and effective way to do this.

    Vince Nero

    Vince Nero

    Vince is the Director of Content Marketing at Buzzstream. He thinks content marketers should solve for users, not just Google. He also loves finding creative content online. His previous work includes content marketing agency Siege Media for six years, Homebuyer.com, and The Grit Group. Outside of work, you can catch Vince running, playing with his 2 kids, enjoying some video games, or watching Phillies baseball.
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    Website: https://buzzstream.com

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