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HARO For SEO – Is It Worth The Effort?

Tom Dempster

Tom Dempster

If you’re a small business, Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is frequently cited as one of the most effective ways to build your backlink profile – a vital component of a successful SEO strategy.

But with an increasing number of SEO agencies now using this as part of strategies for their clients, is there still value in using HARO for SEO? 

If you have aspirations of improving your small business website’s SEO performance, acquiring backlinks from relevant industry websites should form part of your strategy. Google and other search engines consider links from external websites as an important ranking signal – links from authoritative, relevant websites in your niche help to show your website is trustworthy.

There are numerous ways to acquire backlinks. Some of those methods are scrupulous, and others not so much. Strategies which fall into the latter category could land you with a manual penalty which will affect your search engine rankings. The key to any backlink acquisition strategy is to ensure your website’s backlink profile remains ‘natural’ – meaning that you aren’t trying to game the system and that your links are legitimate.

Coverage in local, national or international media is a great way to boost your brand’s profile – and your website’s backlink profile. Many media organizations are often regarded as having high Domain Authority – meaning they are trusted websites. If an article is posted in the online edition of the publication, and your website receives a link, a small portion of this trust will pass on to your website. It can be exceptionally valuable.

However, you might think this strategy has some limitations – and you’d be correct. 

You can reach out to small news outlets in your area for some coverage. Perhaps you can contact industry magazines or blogs, too. But these outlets are often inundated with businesses looking for coverage, and many understandably won’t publish a promotional piece – after all, there would be several advantages for your business in that scenario, but very little for the publisher.

So how can you use backlinks from media publications as part of your SEO strategy if media publications are unwilling to link to you?

That’s where Help A Reporter Out (HARO) enters the fray as a source for potential link building opportunities.

What is Help A Reporter Out (HARO)?

HARO (helpareporter.com) is essentially a middle-man platform. 

On one side of the equation, you have journalists who are working on stories for media publications. These journalists need experts to answer questions or offer opinions on the topic they are writing about.

On the other side of the equation, you have sources who can provide valuable insight on their specialist subjects. These sources can offer the expertise to help the journalists, in addition to increasing their own media profile by appearing in the final article as a voice of authority.

HARO brings the journalists and sources together. 

It’s a simple process. A journalist submits their request for sources. Three emails are sent each day to the sources, detailing the list of journalist requests. A source can choose to ‘pitch’ themselves to a  journalist, explaining why they should be interviewed for the article and the insights they can offer on that topic. The journalist can then follow up with the source and arrange a telephone/Zoom/email interview as necessary.

journalist working on story

Why is HARO useful for sources?

If your pitch is successful and you are used as a source in the published article, there are a few major benefits.

  1. The media exposure will bring you to a new audience. It adds legitimacy to your brand. It casts you as an expert in your field.

  2. By appearing in the article, you (or your business) may receive a backlink. Even if the link is ‘nofollow’, this is likely to carry more weight than a ‘dofollow’ link from an irrelevant or low authority website.

  3. The HARO process offers you a method of acquiring a backlink without having to overtly promote your business. The promotion is achieved through your expertise.

  4. These journalists need your help. The chances of your business appearing in an article are far greater than when the tables are turned, and you are the one reaching out to the journalist to promote your business.

These benefits tend to increase with the size of the media publication. An interview with the New York Times or another sizable organization is going to get your name in front of a larger number of readers, and from an SEO standpoint, the value of the backlink will be substantially increased.

HARO has also been recommended as a useful way to build backlinks by several trusted experts in the SEO field, from Brian Dean at Backlinko to the team at Ahrefs

So if there are so many major benefits, shouldn’t every SEO agency be considering HARO as an essential part of the backlink acquisition strategy for their clients? Why wouldn’t every small business focused on seeing SEO improvements sign up? Well, not so fast.

What are the downsides of HARO?

There are a couple of things to be aware of before you put all your eggs in the HARO basket.

HARO is so widely known now (barely a week goes by on the r/SEO subreddit where someone isn’t asking about it) that it may have reached a saturation point for sources. Whilst it’s hard to know the specifics, you could easily see a situation where a journalist may receive hundreds of responses to one request. 

So even with the perfect pitch, your submission may be overlooked because of the sheer number of responses. This could mean you could spend significant time refining your pitch for nothing in return. 

Additionally, there does seem to have been an uptick in the number of people who are ‘posing’ as journalists on the platform. Usually, they put a request out, and then respond to you with a condition for using you as a source – i.e. a reciprocal backlink, or sign up for their newsletter/service. As far as we’re concerned, this isn’t in the spirit of HARO – and it devalues the process somewhat if anyone can portray themselves as a journalist on the service.

Is HARO still worth the effort?

Despite the potential downsides, in specific circumstances, we do think HARO still has some value for small businesses and SEO agencies. No SEO strategy should be entirely focused on one way of building links, and HARO does present businesses with useful opportunities. 

The odds of appearing in national or international media publications are slim to none for many small businesses. HARO opens up a way for these businesses to gain exposure and improve their backlink profile in the process.

HARO is free, but be aware that it can cost you time. It is obviously important to be diligent when you’re reviewing the list of journalist requests. Pick a topic in your niche, and even drill down your focus to specific areas. Be very, very picky – don’t waste a disproportionate amount of time writing pitch after pitch.

When it comes to the pitch itself, make it convincing without being self-promotional. If you have a natural flair for copywriting then the likelihood of grabbing a journalist’s attention is greater. It takes time and practice to craft emails which strike the right tone and position yourself (or your client) correctly. Once again, don’t spend too long writing and refining your pitch.

In conclusion

There are so many ways to approach link building as part of a broader SEO strategy. With each approach, there is a cost, time and quality trade-off to consider.

With HARO, you won’t have to ‘pay’ anything, but you may invest time in creating a perfect pitch and end up with no journalist responses and no quality backlinks. Use your discretion to identify opportunities, and don’t pin all your hopes on HARO – just as you shouldn’t pin all your hopes on a single, narrow focus for a successful link building strategy.

 

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