Reporter Evie Barrett at PR Week has, after this tweet from journalist Nicholas Fearn, put together a fantastic and comprehensive look at a potential ‘cash for coverage’ problem.
— Nicholas Fearn (@nicholasgfearn) July 14, 2022
Read her article here – it’s weighty, and tackles an important topic probingly.
As part of it, and as I’d replied to Nic’s initial tweet talking about our experiences with the topic, Evie messaged to ask me to elaborate.
TLDR: 1) I’ve seen it from journos too and 2) I don’t buy that most are ‘PR’ agencies.
Here’s what I sent in full:
I don’t think it’s about pointing the finger of blame either way [at PR people or journalists], I think it’s right though to point out that not only is it bad moral practise, it’s bad editorial and link-building practise too, given that Google penalises sites it believes to do anything nefarious to game SERPs – including the purchasing of links in coverage.
The influx of SEO-first agencies into the rich pool of link acquisition through editorial coverage in recent years isn’t a surprise, but they’re bringing with them a race-to-the-bottom mentality, and failing to recognise just how earned coverage works. It’s not owed, for one. Journalists are the gatekeepers to their audience, and rightly so.
As reported on by the Guardian in 2016, I’ve seen it more than once from both journalists and contributors over the years. I don’t think it’s about pointing the finger of blame either way.
I think it’s right though to point out that not only is it bad moral practise, it’s bad editorial and link-building practise too, given that Google penalises sites it believes to do anything nefarious to game SERPs – including the purchasing of links in coverage.
There are marketplaces where business owners and link building agencies buy ‘guest posts’… read: links through to target sites.
These marketplaces tell you the domain authority of the sites you can pay to place content and links on, and people use them like a shopping list, with often decent-sized budgets.
The problem, as with any inventory, is that they soon run out of links to buy, especially as the quality of the sites they can buy links on – and again, you should NOT be buying links – isn’t anything like the quality of the domains we can achieve coverage and links through PR on. So, more traditional news sites and publishers are attractive from a link priority perspective.
The problem is, these people don’t know or necessarily care about newsworthiness, or quality content – they just care about the link. And they’ll offer money to pay for it, just like every other link they’ve ever bought.
We’ve had clients that have done this in the past, come to us and said ‘right, we’ve run out of links to buy on X marketplace’, having spent tens of thousands usually, ‘can you get us links on X, Y and Z news site?’. We’ll always then educate as to how and why it HAS to start with something worth publishing.
So, while Nic’s tweet is right to point this practise out, I think we need to be careful about saying this is a PR industry problem.
It’s a bad practise problem, definitely, and it’s all to do with people that see what has always been a relationship between us PRs and journalists as something that can be bought.