HARO Link Building: How to Get Links from Top Media
With thousands of new websites launched daily, the link-building landscape will grow more competitive in 2022 and beyond. Businesses can’t rely solely on directory sites and low-authority guest posts to beat the competition. You need links from high-authority media sites to build your domain’s authority and diversify your backlink profile.
One of the easiest ways to land big-media links is through HARO (Help A Reporter Out). It’s also one of the most cost-effective, considering the average cost of a link in 2022 is $361.44. Ouch!
In this HARO link-building guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the popular online PR service, including:
- What HARO is and how it works for sources and journalists
- Benefits of link building with HARO
- How to identify the best queries to pitch
- Tips for getting more pitches accepted
- How to track your success on the platform
- Pros and cons of outsourcing your HARO pitches
- How to diversify your link-building strategy
What is HARO?
HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is an online PR service that connects journalists and bloggers with expert sources – for instance, company owners and PR reps – to obtain quotes for upcoming stories.
As a HARO source, you must provide a short email response to a query posed by a journalist. That is – at least in most cases – you won’t have to get on the phone or do any back-and-forth with the journalist. (In some instances, journalists request a phone interview, but this is rare.)
If your response is selected for publication, you’ll usually receive a link to your site from the article, which may be dofollow or nofollow—more on that in a bit.
As of this writing, 1 million sources and 75,000 bloggers and journalists use the HARO platform.
The big media outlets that use HARO are Forbes, Business Insider, The New York Times, WSJ, Mashable, and Time.
How does HARO work for sources?
It’s simple to get started with HARO as a source: Sign up for the free Basic plan, and you’ll receive emails three times a day Monday through Friday, at 5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m., and 5:35 p.m. Eastern Time.
Each email contains a list of around 50-100+ journalist queries sorted by category. The main categories include:
- Biotech and Healthcare
- Business and Finance
- Energy and Green Tech
- Entertainment and Media
- High Tech
- Lifestyle and Fitness
- Public Policy and Government
Optionally, in your HARO dashboard, you can tick the category boxes most relevant to your expertise so that you’ll only receive queries from those categories. Since 50-100 queries three times per day is quite a lot of information to sift through, this can save you a lot of time.
Each query contains the following info:
- Journalist name
- Media outlet (this is listed as “Anonymous” for some queries)
- Deadline for submitting your pitch
- Query summary (questions to answer, required word count, etc.)
- Required credentials and what to include with your pitch (e.g., name and title, company name and URL, 200 x 200 headshot, social media accounts, etc.)
When you’ve selected a query relevant to your expertise, write your pitch and submit it to the journalist using the masked email address included with the query.
You’ll notice that, usually, there’s no required word count provided in summary. In my experience, a short paragraph of 75-150 words is sufficient for most queries. Remember that most journalists are looking for a snappy soundbite they can insert into an article, not a lengthy expose.
FYI: HARO also offers three paid subscription tiers for sources. These include features like keyword alerts and head starts on answering journalist queries. I’ve had great results with the free plan and have never needed to upgrade. Just know that the option is there if you want it.
How does HARO work for journalists?
HARO is free for journalists and media outlets to solicit quotes for upcoming articles. However, the outlet in question must be at least one month old and have a Similarweb rank of at least 1 million to qualify. (Before the spring of 2022, media outlets had an Alexa rank of at least 1 million to qualify, but Alexa has since been discontinued.)
If you’re using HARO as a source, these guidelines ensure you’ll get links from established sites with lots of traffic and high domain authority.
Note that the terms “journalist” and “media outlet” are used loosely on HARO – many company blogs and even independent bloggers use the site to source quotes for upcoming blog posts.
Benefits of using HARO
From an SEO and PR standpoint, HARO offers the following benefits:
- It’s a low-maintenance approach to link building. Compared to other link-building tactics such as guest posting, HARO is a more passive way to build links (if such a thing exists!) because the opportunities are coming directly to you. It only takes a few minutes per day to review HARO queries and write up a short response or two. Compare this with guest posting, which can take many hours of prospecting, pitching, and writing long-form articles to get results.
- You can get traction on a new site reasonably quickly. I generated 20-25 high-quality links to my interview transcription agency website in my first year of using HARO. HARO is a great way to try link building without putting in a colossal effort for new businesses or blogs.
- It’s a great way to generate social proof. Not only are mention from top media sites good for your SEO, but they also boost your brand’s overall credibility. You can link to your media placements from a press page or highlight them in an “As Featured In” section on your website. This social proof can build trust with prospective customers and improve website conversions.
How to identify the best queries to pitch
The first step to maximising your results with HARO is clarifying your marketing priorities. This will determine how you select which queries to pitch. Example priorities include:
- Generating referral traffic or leads
- Increasing brand awareness
- Boosting your website’s search engine rankings
Here it’s important to note that HARO has limited effectiveness as a traffic and lead generation tool – at least in the immediate sense. That is to say, in most cases, you won’t get a lot of referral traffic from media placements. Many roundup-type posts and news articles just aren’t very well optimised for search, or they aren’t evergreen.
Another point to consider is that 49% of businesses agree that organic search brings them the best ROI out of all marketing channels.
For these reasons, consider taking an SEO-first approach and prioritising queries from blogs and media outlets that give dofollow links – i.e., links that pass link equity or “link juice.” As you land more dofollow links from high-authority sites, your website’s domain authority will grow, and your site will increase in rank. A boost in organic traffic and leads will follow as a byproduct of these efforts.
(Note: In some instances, such as with highly high-traffic sites like Forbes, a nofollowed mention can still offer some benefit, so keep that in mind when choosing queries to pitch.)
So if a query doesn’t say whether a link is followed or not, how can you find out? Hint: If you ask the journalist, they’ll just ignore you. Instead, try the following:
Step 1: Visit the blog to locate any expert roundup posts. You can also use the Google search operator “site:” plus relevant keywords (or phrases encased in quotes). For instance, site:forbes.com “expert roundup” or site:forbes.com experts.
Step 2: In Chrome, right-click on one of the hyperlinked mentions in the article and click “Inspect.” A panel will open up on the right showing the webpage’s source code. In the highlighted <a> tag, look for rel=”nofollow” (example: <a href=”domain.com” rel=”nofollow”>). You’re good to go if you don’t see the nofollow value anywhere in the code.
If you don’t want to mess around with code, just install the Chrome addon called “Strike Out Nofollow Links.” If any link on a webpage is nofollowed, it will display with a strikethrough, as shown in the screenshot below from a roundup on Forbes.
Besides whether a link is dofollow or nofollow, here are a few other factors to consider when choosing which queries to pitch:
- Domain Rating (Ahrefs) or Domain Authority (Moz). These third-party metrics can help you gauge how authoritative a website is based on the strength of its backlink profile and other factors. Focus on acquiring links from sites with a stronger DR or DA than yours. In general, the higher, the better.
- Traffic. Sites with a lot of traffic can produce additional benefits besides SEO, such as increased brand awareness, steady referral traffic, or leads.
- Overall site quality. Eyeball the site and decide whether it’s a site you’d be comfortable having your name associated with. If the site links out to a lot of spam or publishes controversial content, it’s better to avoid it.
- Relevance. From a link-building perspective, topical relevance matters – how closely another site matches your own in terms of its industry or subject matter. A highly relevant link from a lower-authority website can be equally as, if not more, valuable than a somewhat relevant link from a higher-authority site.
- Whether or not you’ve landed a mention on the site before. Multiple links from a single domain don’t do much for your SEO. Prioritise links from sites you’ve never been published on before.
Tips for landing more pitches
The following checklist will help you significantly increase your success rate on HARO:
Reply to queries quickly.
Emails go out Monday through Friday at 5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m., and 5:35 p.m. Eastern Time. Although journalists provide a deadline that may be as generous as a few days later, remember that you compete with hundreds of other sources on the platform. Most journalists don’t have time to read through a hundred or more pitches, so the sooner you reply, the better the odds of your pitch being seen.
I had the best results when I set a target of responding to a query within 30-60 minutes of the HARO email going out. Of course, this isn’t realistic for everyone. Note that the Advanced plan gives you a head start on queries for $49 per month. This may be useful if you usually engage with other activities when the HARO emails go out.
Pitch from the CEO’s email address
Most journalists prefer the pitch directly from the business owner or CEO rather than a PR person.
If you have a PR person, HARO link-building service, or someone on your team pitching on your behalf, consider signing off on any pitches and sending them from your email address.
Avoid having your PR person respond to queries with, “My client can speak to you about this. Here’s their contact info.”
Hook them with your subject line
To boost open rates and ensure your pitch stands out from possibly hundreds of others, pay special attention to email subject line best practices, including:
- Be specific. If you have exact numbers or other data relevant to the query, use them.
- Spark curiosity with a promise. For instance, “This mobile app saves users $1,000 per year.” But don’t bait and switch. Make sure your email delivers on the promise.
- Don’t use all caps. This is rude and unprofessional unless you’re new to the Internet.
Use an email tracking app to keep track of open rates for different types of headlines so you can do more of what works.
Write with the publisher’s audience in mind.
According to the latest PR statistics reported by Prowly, the most critical aspect of a pitch is its relevance. So before you craft your pitch, visit the media outlet or blog and learn more about the organisation and its objectives. Find out the company’s products or services if it’s a business blog.
Once you have this information, you can construct a pitch that aligns with the publisher’s goals and target audience. Plus, you’ll know which competing brands to avoid mentioning in your pitch.
Send a complete answer
Most journalists are on tight deadlines, so always write your complete response. Regarding length, 75-150 words is a good baseline starting point unless a specific word count is requested.
If the journalist needs further details, they’ll reach out and ask you to elaborate. I often close my emails with the following prompt: “Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need more info. I respond to emails quickly.”
Avoid promotional language
In general, HARO is not a platform for plugging your products and services – and in fact, using promotional language is against HARO’s rules for sources. Provide value first and foremost. Remember, generating leads and referral traffic from your media placements shouldn’t be your focus if you’re taking an SEO-first approach on the platform.
There are some exceptions to the promotional rule. Sometimes journalists are looking to review books or other products. If you’re an author or e-commerce business owner, for instance, this can be an opportunity to showcase your product and potentially make sales directly through the article.
Don’t send email attachments
HARO automatically removes email attachments to protect journalists from viruses. If you need to send any assets, such as images, case studies, or a professional headshot, upload them to Google Drive and copy/paste the sharing link into your pitch.
Proofread your pitch
Journalists and editors simply don’t have the time or patience to revise poorly written pitches. If English class was always a challenge for you, have someone on your team review your pitches before they go out, or use a free Chrome add-on like ProWritingAid to check for spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues.
Double check the query
Before you hit send, re-read the entire query to ensure you’ve supplied everything the journalist has asked for. For example, some publications require a 200 x 200 headshot (always link to Google Drive rather than sending it as an attachment!) or specific social media handles.
One way to ensure you don’t forget anything is using a tool like WiseStamp to create a custom signature for your HARO emails (example below). The tool works well with most email services, including G Suite, Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, iPhone, and Apple Mail.
Make sure to include the following details in your signature:
- Phone number
- Job title
- Company name
- Company URL
- 200 x 200 professional headshot (Google Drive link)
- Short author bio
- Social media profiles (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter)
The above list should cover you for pretty much anything a journalist might ask for.
Tracking your media mentions
When you log into your HARO dashboard and click on “My Pitches,” you’ll find a dashboard that shows the status of your pitches (i.e., accepted, declined, or unknown). This would be a useful feature if it weren’t because most journalists don’t bother marking pitches as accepted or declined. In addition, many journalists won’t notify you even if they use your pitch. So you’ll need to track your mentions manually.
Often, there’s a delay of a few weeks or months before approved pitches are published. So be patient. Monitor your news mentions by setting a Google Alert or searching your company name in quotes.
Once your HARO efforts kick in, and you land a few placements in expert roundup posts, the HARO link-building services will start coming out of the woodwork. You’ll get messages in your inbox and LinkedIn from freelancers and agencies offering to write your pitches for you at a few bucks a pop.
Though it may be a tempting proposition, here are two reasons why you might want to rethink outsourcing your HARO link building to a random freelancer:
- Low acceptance rates. I recently heard someone using a freelancer to send pitches on their behalf. The freelancer charged a few dollars a pitch and stated they have a 3% acceptance rate, which indicates the quality of the pitches was low. If you’re writing from a level of expertise on a subject, you shouldn’t have to send nearly as many as 100 pitches to get three mentions.
- Low-quality responses. In many cases, your headshot will be attached to your media mention. Hiring somebody who doesn’t know your industry well and you don’t sign off on their pitches can reflect poorly on you. In addition, they might waste time and money replying to irrelevant queries – for example, a query about the best dog food brands on behalf of your financial services company.
If you hire a freelancer, set some standards to maximise your budget. For instance, you might request that your freelancer only replies to websites in your industry with an Ahrefs Domain Rating of 50 or higher.
HARO links are almost always homepage links. As an SEO best practice, it’s essential to diversify your link profile with a mixture of dofollow and nofollow links pointing to different pages on your site using varied anchor text.
Here are a few ways you can achieve this:
- Guest posting. This is still the best way to build dofollow links to your money pages. Use link-building best practices, such as not overusing exact-match anchor text.
- Pinterest marketing. Pinterest functions more like a search engine than a typical social media site. Although links from pins are nofollowed, Pinterest marketing can be an easy way to generate some initial traffic, especially for affiliate sites in Pinterest-friendly niches.
- Build citations. Businesses targeting a specific geographic area can benefit from local SEO techniques such as building citations (i.e., company name, address, phone number) from high-quality local or niche directories.
While HARO links are great for building raw domain authority, they should be a supplement to other link-building efforts.
An experienced digital marketing service can help you rank for specific keywords to get traction faster than you would with HARO alone.
I hope this post encourages you to sign up for HARO and have some fun building high-authority links. Here’s to your success!
Author Bio: Chloe Brittain is the owner of Opal Transcription Services, an agency that provides professional interview transcription for businesses, media professionals, and academic institutions.