At some point in their career, everyone in digital PR has had to work with a niche that they thought would be impossible to build links for. The pandemic also put a strain on ideation in particular niches - especially those in travel, hospitality and the arts, where normal campaign ideas would no longer fly due to travel restrictions, furlough and lockdown.
During my time here at Reboot, I have worked with over 90 clients and, of those, I would class 30 of them as “tricky” (more on how I define this term later on), however, we have managed to complete around 486 core and newsjacking campaigns, building upwards of 5,000 placements for them.
Every single one of those campaigns has taught us something about how to deliver a successful digital PR campaign - no matter what the client’s niche is (sometimes in SPITE of the client’s niche!). Without further ado - here is how we did it.
A “tricky niche” is a business that belongs to a sector that can be difficult to build links for, for a myriad of reasons. I have categorised these reasons in three ways:
The industry is tricky for journalists to trust
The industry is tricky to ideate for
The industry is tricky to work with
There may be other reasons that you might say a client’s niche is difficult to build links for, but from my experience, these three are the most common.
My top three tips to get your campaign published no matter the sector you’re working with:
▪️ Offer the journalist something of value for their readers
▪️ Think outside the box when it comes to your campaign ideas
▪️ Go niche with outreach! Work WITH your industry/client - not against them.
Keep reading to find out more about each category of tricky niches, and my top tip for each.
Niches that fall in this category are usually ones that have a shady past of black-hat SEO and link building practices (such as casino and gambling sites), or the website content itself is explicit or sensitive in nature (such as a business with adult or sexual themes).
I would class the following niches in this category (non-exhaustive!): gambling, adult, VPN, CBD oil, Cryptocurrency, money trading or transfer, and cosmetic surgery.
From experience (and the email responses you can see in the image above) a whiff of this niche is enough to get a flat out “no, we won’t link” or a demand for payment.
However, in the gambling sector alone, we have been able to build over 1,600 placements in the past year - proving that, although difficult, it is not mission impossible. So how did we do it? We offered them stories that they truly WANTED to link to.
With niches that are tricky to get journalists to trust, you have to be creative with your campaign ideas. Journalists need good stories that will interest their readers in order to hit their own KPIs, so if you provide them with that it makes a link so much harder to reject.
Things that are valuable to a journalist:
▪️ Fresh, exclusive content that will delight their readers
▪️ Expert comments on breaking news with a fast turnaround time
▪️ Easily digestible data that compliments an article they are working on
▪️ Various media such as photos, videos and data visualisations to accompany an article
A great tactic for offering something of value to a journalist is to create a compelling story that they could not do themselves. This can be accomplished either by utilising data that isn’t accessible to the journalist (such as in-house data from your client/business, or scraped data from various sources) or by conducting a study that would be too time-consuming for a busy journalist to do themselves.
The team at Reboot did just this when conducting a digital PR campaign for one of our gambling clients where we trawled through thousands of Tweets in order to find out the most trolled NBA player on social media (following some trending news on the issue). It was quite a consuming task that involved a sentiment analysis of all the Tweets pulled from the platform - something perhaps not in easy reach of a journalist on tight deadlines.
From this campaign we managed to get links for a gambling client in NBC sports, Yahoo, Hypebeast, Complex.com and more - it was also tweeted about by the NBA players themselves.
When launching a campaign for a business in a tricky niche like this, it’s always imperative to consider why the journalist should link to you at all. Complex data-led campaigns offer the perfect opportunity for linking by breaking down the methodology on your own site, so a journalist can easily link to you as the source and for their readers to find out how the study was conducted in more detail.
Further to this, creating multi-layered campaigns also offers a great reason for journalists to link back to your site - because there will be more data, more angles, and more information that they do not necessarily have to include in their article, but can offer up to their readers as something of value.
If your campaign discusses the cleanest beaches in the world in time for summer holiday news, why not also divulge the dirtiest beaches in the onsite asset and include statistics on the types of bacteria, levels of pollution and amount of rubbish found?
When creating these types of campaigns, you must also make sure your onsite asset is up to scratch - that it looks credible, easy to understand and all the necessary information is on there. Consider employing an internal content team who will understand the importance of this - it is worth investing in this part of the campaign process as it directly impacts your end goal of obtaining links.
By offering something of value to a journalist, you become a reliable source that they can come back to for future articles they are creating.
Although this category may contain some crossovers (you can argue for example that for VPN clients it can be tough to come up with great campaign ideas), there are definitely some client niches that get our creative juices flowing more than others.
We’ve delivered campaigns for phone case companies, printer cartridge sellers, boiler installers and software testing consultants to name a few of the “nichest niches” we have worked with. Sometimes ideation sessions for clients like these can lead to the most clever types of campaigns as the team has really had to think outside the box.
When I posed the question to the digital PR industry (“What is the nichest niche you’ve had to work with?”), many agreed that actually, they were often the most fun to work with - we digital PRs seem to love a challenge!
When you have a client that is difficult to think of creative campaigns that will have wide pick-up potential, you’ll more than likely need to think outside the box to hit those all-important KPIs.
A great way to do this is by thinking of all the easier themes that are topically relevant to your difficult niche. This can be done through ideation games such as word association - where you map out all sorts of keywords that are tangentially related.
A case in point - we were working with an energy comparison site and had been for a few years. We really wanted to push the envelope with a campaign and decided to pitch one on cities most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse. This was one of the team’s favourite digital PR campaigns to work on and was a great success for the client. The relevance was made through the creation of a self-sustainability index for each city - ranking them on factors such as the number of farmers, solar energy production and wind farm numbers.
Equally, this tactic can also be used for niches that are tricky to get a journalist’s trust - create topically relevant campaigns that are perhaps more palatable.
You can argue that the gambling sector actually offers up a whole host of campaign possibilities when you do this. To be creative with your campaign idea, you need to create a list of words or even other niches that are associated with your industry.
For instance, gambling is heavily associated with sports and gaming - both of these areas offer up a wealth of ideas and also have many journalists that write about them, making your outreach a lot easier.
The question does arise, however, of just how far you can push the boundaries. For a link builder getting the green light for a more adventurous or ‘creative’ campaign idea is always desirable - journalists want good stories after all, so it makes our job easier as digital PRs.
“Brands can be built anywhere people pay attention, and Google's far more likely to care about the quality of the source than the raw relevance of the domain's audience or content."
- Rand Fishkin, Moz.com
So if your KPIs are purely ranking improvements or backlink quantity, then leaning towards more tangentially related campaign ideas will definitely move the needle. However, for those with considerations outside this - i.e. brand messaging, converting traffic etc - then you might want to stick closer to your industry’s topics, but that’s not to say you can’t be creative.
Building domain authority, especially at the start, takes a lot of variation in the referring domains you get to your site, and therefore variation in the types of campaigns you do. Once you have built a solid backlink profile, then honing in on relevance is perfect for building your brand, positioning yourself as an expert in your field and putting you above your competitors.
A whole other host of issues can sometimes be presented when you are working with a client in an industry that is ‘tricky to work with’. By this, I mean that often it is a so-called “red tape sector” that requires a lot of jumping through hoops (and branding guidelines) before you get sign-off for a campaign.
Niches I would consider putting in this category might include finance, law or even any brand that is a big household name, as they often have lots of restrictions on any message they put out into the public eye.
Again there will of course be a crossover with some of the other categories. You could, for example, argue that a gambling client is not only tricky to build links for because of a lack of trust but there are also many regulations that could place restrictions on ideation too, making them a tough nut to crack.
Following on from the tip above - there is one category of tricky niches where you inevitably have to stay within the box in order to get buy-in - the “tricky to work with” category.
The trick to getting published in this industry is to get the client to sign off to begin with - therefore you’ll have to work with your niche rather than going against it. To do that you’ll need to:
▪️ Stay ultra-relevant and use your brand’s in house data
▪️ Manage expectations
▪️ Consider customer touchpoints
▪️ Rely on in-house expertise for commentary
▪️ Outreach to publications with high relevance to your brand
For niches in “red tape” sectors, you’ll probably need to stay ultra-close to your niche’s topic - and therefore brainstorming for tangentially related campaign ideas may not be on the table.
This can cause an issue as it means your creative team must become fairly familiar with the niche in order to know the types of campaigns that will gain traction with relevant outlets.
A good way around this is to talk to your in-house experts or get hold of some in-house data that can be turned into a story. The digital PR agency should also stay on top of any reports or statistical releases within the sector, so comments or tips from an in-house expert can be prepared beforehand, ready to send out upon release.
Managing your client or team’s expectations should also be a priority when a brand sits in this category. It is unrealistic to set outreach targets for national papers when your campaigns are limited to a discussion around 3D printing technology (true story…). Ensuring transparency around deliverables will ensure you are able to focus your outreach and build links that sit in the sweet spot between the high authority of a national and high relevance of an industry-specific outlet.
When planning a campaign for a niche that can be tough to work with, another tip would be to consider the customer touchpoints of that brand - where potential leads could be expected to interact with the brand. Try and work backwards by creating campaigns that will appeal directly to those platforms, again staying hyper-relevant and on-brand will assist with this.
As tough as it may be to build links for tricky niches, the rewards are even greater when you overcome the initial obstacles. Being able to be creative, offer actual value to journalists and understand the importance of relevance are all skills every digital PR should have.