Key takeaways:

  • Help A Reporter Out is a free way to land links from major media publications. But this does not take into account the time you spend in responding to expert commentary call-outs.
  • It is a time-consuming task that has a very low success rate.
  • The ROI does not justify the cost of paying for HARO link-building.
  • HARO is suitable for new brands but has zero impact on rankings for established websites.

In a previous post, I’ve covered how you can approach HARO to reduce wasting your time. I highly recommend that you read it first (opens in a new tab).

What is HARO?

HARO was developed by CISION to help journalists and freelance writers find expert sources for their articles. When journalists use your expert commentary, they may link to your website.

Journalists submit their requests and HARO sends out daily emails with these requests for expert commentary.

Anyone with an email account can sign up for to HARO with a free account. There are premium accounts but for most business owners, marketing executives, or freelance SEO professionals, a free account is all you will need to earn backlink wins via HARO.

Why is HARO popular?

It’s completely free to use.

Help A Reporter Out (HARO) can be a great and ‘free’ way to earn hard-to-get backlinks from established and authoritative websites such as Mashable, The New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, American Express, and Bustle.

The advantages.

HARO is a great way to supplement your existing link acquisition strategy. Strictly speaking, when you’re responding to journalist queries, you are not actively link-building, but rather, sharing opinions from a position of experience. Therefore, links from HARO can appear natural and should not trigger any spam warnings.

Backlinks often come from well-known websites which would normally be very difficult to get a backlink from. For example, pitching a content idea to a writer at American Express or CNBC is difficult unless you’re a PR professional with extensive contacts.

For the average business owner or freelance SEO, getting in front of editorial decision-makers is not easy and this is what makes HARO so attractive.

The disadvantages of relying on HARO.

1. Some publications have a zero link-out policy.

Often you will not find out until you’ve already sunk considerable time into responding to the callout. Instead of a link, you’ll end up with an unlinked mention.

2. Backlinks tend to be homepage links.

Your homepage will typically have the most inbound links anyway. For most link building campaigns, you want to links to inner pages.

3. Link wins are difficult to track.

Most journalists do not let you know that they have used your submission. This makes it hard to know if your efforts have been rewarded. However, Semrush has a new feature that is able to pick up new links faster than any other backlink tool.

4. Referring domains may not be industry relevant to your business or brand.
5. Really short deadlines.

Many of the big media publications have very tight deadlines.

By the time you open the email, you may have only a matter of hours to craft a response.

FYI, when you respond to a journalist past their deadline, you will be notified via email that your response was not successful.

To avoid wasting your time, check the deadline before responding to a callout.

6. Inability to choose your desired anchor text.

Journalists usually link with branded anchor text (e.g., Kmart).

Some people in SEO believe that the wording of and around the link matters.

7. Some earned links may have a nofollow metatag.

99% of the time this is beyond the control of the journalist – it is usually a decision made by the editor or the Head of SEO at the publication.

8. Your link may be one of many outgoing links.

This is especially the case for roundup style content pieces where a page may have 30+ outbound links.

Why HARO for SEO doesn’t make sense.

It is difficult to know what the journalist is looking for.

Many HARO queries come with specific questions for you to answer. However, no matter how detailed or interesting you make your response, there is no telling whether your efforts will be rewarded.

It is a volume game.

The more requests you answer, the higher the probability you can earn an online mention.

But responding to individual HARO requests is time-consuming.

There’s no room for personalization.

According to 33 percent of journalists, lack of personalization is the #1 reasons why they reject pitches (even relevant ones).

Bad timing comes in at a close second (32 percent).

Ironically, when it comes to responding to HARO queries, personalization is a complete waste of time. This is because you’re not pitching a journalist with a new idea, but rather, answering their questions.

Journalists want the answer quick and fast without any fluff – which sucks because you end up being a nameless commodity to them.

Some of the biggest link wins come from unsuspecting requests.

This is perhaps my biggest frustration with HARO.

When submitting a request for comments, a journalist does not have to disclose where their content is going to be published. That is, they have an option to mark their publication as ‘anonymous’. This is a double-edge sword as many freelance writers who are contracting for the biggest publishing giants do this to ensure only passionate experts respond. If they were to disclose that they are writing for a Forbes feature piece, they will get inundated by every SEO and their dog.

At the same time, some less-than-desirable websites mark their requests as ‘anonymous’ and this can be frustrating if you happen to put in a lot of effort in crafting a detailed response in hope of being featured on a popular website.

And even if you have the budget to get it done for you ..

You’re looking at $500+ per link placement.

Verdict

I’ve spent hours looking through HARO emails. I’ve spent even more time responding to HARO opportunities. Based on my own experience doing this for myself and for clients, here are my thoughts.

Is HARO a viable source for backlinks?
Yes.

Will a single link from Business Insider boost your rankings?
Unlikely, even with the syndication of links that BI comes with.

Will a single link from Forbes boost your rankings?
Probably not.

Will a single link from Huffpost boost your rankings?
Nope.

Therefore, is HARO a sustainable source for backlinks?
No.

Are there better ways to get high quality links from media publications?
Yes.

What’s the alternative to HARO?

Monitor #journorequest on Twitter.

I like this alternative because you can start to build your own list of journalists, the publications they write for, and the topics they care about.

This leads me to the next solution (digital PR + newsjacking).

Come up with your own unique angle and data to pitch to journalists.

One of the main limitations of Help A Reporter Out is that journalists are seeking a very specific thing and they want it in a hurry.

What if you could give journalists what they want even before they ask for it?

What if you produced such a compelling content asset that even your competitors link to you?

What if the one campaign brought in a bucket load of links?

This is exactly what digital PR and newsjacking does.

Want to learn how to apply SEO like this?

For years I have recommended clients to invest in customer education to showcase their expertise. So watch me practice what I preach by showing you the exact process I deploy for my clients.

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