Quick survey: how many publicists out there have had a client ask for the ROI on a piece of media coverage? Everyone? Okay great. Not too long ago, this question didn’t have a definitive answer. But within the last fifteen years an entirely new field called Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) has erupted onto the marketing scene, bringing with it a bevy of SEO wizards and online tools aimed at strengthening and elevating brands’ presence online to ultimately increase awareness, sales, and revenue. If you read that sentence and thought to yourself, wow, PR and SEO really should go hand-in-hand, you are absolutely right. Gold star!


In an ideal world, every publicist would have an in-house team of SEO experts to coordinate campaigns with, but in many cases there just aren’t enough marketing dollars to go around. Until that day comes, here are some of our favorite (and free!) online SEO tools that will allow you to leverage the power and analytics of the SEO world to set your media relations campaign up for success.


Tools for media research

Before we get into coverage ROI, let’s start with the age-old problem of tracking down media contacts. As much as a lifesaver as our beloved Cision can be, the platform puts a strain on many marketing budgets. Plus, who hasn’t experienced that devastating moment when the ONE media contact we need isn’t in the database? For a nifty SEO hack, start with using free online tool WhoIs, that allows you to learn a media outlet’s email format by entering its URL and revealing the email address for the person who registered the domain. Follow that up with some strategic troubleshooting by using an email tracking Google Chrome extension offered by Hubspot (formerly known as Sidekick) to track when, where, and on what device your emails are opened. Not only does this allow you to make sure your emails are reaching their intended recipients, but it opens the door for all kinds of subject line and content testing to make sure those email opens are having the desired effect.


Tools for media list building

If you’re not already jazzed up about SEO, there are tools that can help guide which media outlets are worth pitching to generate the most impactful storytelling. Although earned coverage on its own is the greatest generator of quality content and backlinks (which are links to your brand’s website from an external third-party website), it’s all for naught if you’re landing coverage on a site that lowkey carries zero clout. SEO experts categorize websites by Domain Authority (DA), and websites can have low or high scores in the eyes of search engines. For example, the New York Times has a very high DA because it’s a trusted source with plenty of timely content and high-quality links, whereas your friend’s blog probably has a pretty low DA score. Moz is a great tool for determining Domain Authority. It assigns a score from zero to 100 to every domain based on how credible the site is, which you can easily reference in the MozBar Google Chrome extension you’re probably downloading right now. This gives you a numerical basis for pushing back on your client or C-suite who are pushing for coverage on a site with a Domain Authority score under 25 (general rule of thumb) for the sake of your brand’s website’s link value.


Tools for content optimization

No matter how well you think you know your audience, you can always get to know them a little bit better. There are a series of online platforms that allow you to customize your press releases and pitches to the point where it’s creepy in a good way, by allowing you to answer questions your customers are literally asking online. SEMrush is a great place to start, offering an ideal tool for researching popular, industry-relevant keywords that will more easily allow your customers to find your content online. If you have authority over your brand’s page and access to its Google Analytics, you can enable Google Search Console, which tracks keywords your customers are using to reach your site, thus allowing you to tweak your pitch angles to cater directly to your audience. For the more visually inclined publicist, a nifty service called Answer The Public provides a visual representation of every question customers have searched related to your product or category, enabling you to directly and proactively address those queries with your content.


Tools for ROI tracking

Now here comes the big payload: tracking ROI. Even though measuring results typically comes at the end of a campaign, the key is to strategize before your coverage even goes live by adding a UTM parameter to any link shared with media to integrate into their story. A UTM parameter is a code similar to a bit.ly link that allows Google Analytics to track the source and demographics of clicks to your website. This can be accomplished quickly through Google Analytics’ URL Builder, which is a user-friendly Chrome extension that lets you add a UTM parameter to any URL/webpage that you open the tool on. Our friends at Moz also offer a service called Open Site Explorer that allows you to monitor the backlinks you generated from your pitching efforts, and ultimately deliver valuable analytics to your client proving the fruits of your labor!