In this post, I share my top 10 tips on how to do good HARO link building.
I worked professionally as a freelance journalist for almost 3 years, published in global outlets such as Al Jazeera, The Daily Telegraph, and Deutsche Welle.
Pitching to editors was my bread and butter.
But when I started my own online business, I found HARO link building overwhelming at first.
I was about to hire an agency and pay them thousands of dollars to build HARO links for me.
Then I stopped.
I thought to myself: “You’ve been a journalist. You know how journalists think and what they want. Let’s give this another shot.”
The end result?
I built two powerful DR 87 links to my business from just three HARO pitches. That’s a pretty decent success rate.
Here, I’ll walk you through exactly what journalists want and how to give it to them.
What is HARO and how does it help your business?
If you’re not already familiar with HARO link building, let’s start with a brief primer.
HARO stands for “Help a Reporter Out.” It’s an online resource that journalists from a huge range of publications use to request expert commentary for their articles.
As a source, all you have to do is create an account (it’s free) then join the HARO mailing lists that best fit your business niche.
The list topics are fairly broad, so don’t worry if your exact niche is not covered (this put me off at first).
I now use the lists for “Business and Finance”, “Travel”, and (sometimes) “High-Tech”. These niches cover a broad range of queries, so you should be able to find topics that you can answer.
Do you have to be a certified expert to answer HARO queries?
It depends on the topic. For some, such as nutrition, medicine, or law, the journalist will ask for responses from those with specific qualifications.
But in many cases, the main thing you’ll need is a website that showcases your relevant expertise on the topic.
The journalist may also check out your social media, so it’s worth making sure your Twitter bio and LinkedIn header also reflect the expertise on your website.
What sort of links will HARO link building get you?
In most cases, it makes the best sense for the journalists on HARO to link to your homepage.
That’s because they will typically credit you like this: “Samantha North, travel expert and founder of SamanthaNorth.com”. This is the most straightforward way to get that all-important backlink.
In certain cases, it might make sense for the journalist to link out to a specific page on your website.
With that out of the way – let’s jump into the tips.
How To Do HARO Link Building: 10 Tips From A Professional Journalist
#1. Skip the BS, be genuine
Any journalist writing for a worthwhile publication will have a high-level BS detector. I know this for a fact because I’ve done it. What’s more, their editor will usually review the article before publication.
It’s just not worth it for a journalist to take the risk of publicizing a dubious source. A journalist’s byline is important to them, and credibility is key for their reputation (and that of the media outlet).
Here are a few ideas for improving your credibility – both for your website and your HARO link building efforts.
First, put some genuine effort into your website content. Journalists are highly attuned to weeding out low quality websites that simply exist to drive affiliate or display ad traffic.
It’s okay to have affiliates and run display ads (many large media outlets have them too), but you should make sure your site also includes plenty of information content.
Secondly, make sure your website has a thoughtful and well-written about page. This should include a short bio of yourself (and other team members), including real photos.
Avoid stock images like the plague – these can be the kiss of death! Using them for your profile picture instantly makes your site less credible.
Remember, journalists at major outlets have usually been trained in how to spot misinformation online. There’s a ton of tools and tactics devoted to this.
For example, they may do a reverse image search on your bio image to confirm you are who you claim to be.
Also make sure you have a quality contact page on your site, preferably with a proper domain email address (e.g., hello@yourdomain dot com) rather than just an anonymous contact form.
#2. Build your social proof
When I started working as a freelance journalist, editors accepted my pitches much more often once I’d been published in a major outlet (in my case, The Telegraph).
On your website, you should prominently display the logos of any other media outlets that have featured your site (or you as an individual).
If you’re just getting started, you could try including logos from other blogs that you’ve guest posted for (even if they’re small ones), or podcasts you’ve appeared on.
Anything to get that first little bit of social proof to improve your chances of being accepted.
Once you’ve been featured in your first major outlet, slap that logo straight onto your site in a prominent position. You’ll find it helps massively with your future HARO link building efforts.
#3. Write quality HARO pitches
I get it – it’s time-consuming to write loads of HARO responses.
But poor quality, badly researched, and badly organized responses are just a waste of your time. Journalists will delete them without a second thought.
First, choose your topics carefully. It’s fine if they’re tangentially related to your expertise, but there has to be SOME relevance, otherwise your response will likely be ignored.
Be thoughtful about how you make the connection between the topic of your business and what the journalist wants.
For example, my other blog helps people relocate abroad. I recently got a DR 87 backlink from a major publication, for answering a query on how to build rapport with neighbours in a new country.
When you write your response, make sure you break down the journalist’s query into component parts, so you can answer each of their questions fully.
Avoid waffling or going off on tangents unrelated to their questions. Keep it concise.
I like to copy paste the entire query into a new document, separate out each individual part, then voice dictate my response to each part underneath it.
Try to write with a sense of expertise and confidence in the topic, rather than using hedging and uncertain language. Here are some examples of hedging language to avoid.
I always open my pitch with a brief introduction line that showcases my relevant expertise.
This gets the journalist’s attention and encourages them to read the rest of my response.
For example, for the article about rapport with neighbors abroad, I opened my response with: “I’ve lived in eight countries and founded Digital Émigré to help tech entrepreneurs relocate to Europe”.
That immediately gives a strong sense that I’m an expert in the topic I’m going to talk about. I don’t need a professional qualification in this case – my personal experience would be sufficient.
If you have professional qualifications in the topic you’re responding to, you should include those in your opening line.
For example, I sometimes use my PhD as the expertise hook, e.g., “I’m a PhD researcher at the University of Bath studying online disinformation and conspiracy theories.”
Journalists love academic qualifications, as it brings gravitas to the article. If you have any (and they’re relevant in this case), then be sure to mention them.
#4. You won’t always be notified if you get published
Journalists write loads of articles on a daily basis. They usually don’t have time to notify a source to let them know they’ve been successfully published.
They might do so if you’ve built a relationship with them, for example by exchanging several emails or tweets.
But if you send out blind HARO responses, you’ll most likely find out by seeing your link show up in Ahrefs, or whatever tool you use. This can happen in a matter of days, or a few weeks later. It all depends on the journalist’s deadline.
#5. Respond fast
Most journalists work to tight deadlines, so you’ll have to move fast when responding.
HARO will send emails full of new requests three times a day: morning, afternoon, and evening (US east coast timezone).
If you’re serious about HARO link building, make sure you jump on these emails as soon as they come in. Write and send any relevant responses immediately.
Doing this gets easier and faster the more you practice. I’ve voice dictated responses to HARO queries on my phone while cooling down from my morning run.
#6. Offer a follow up
Sometimes, a journalist may have a further question in response to your pitch.
I always signal my willingness to do this by stating that I’m available for follow-up questions if needed.
I always send out HARO requests from my main business email, which I make sure to check multiple times a day. You can also provide a contact phone number if you feel comfortable doing so.
If a journalist has a further question, make sure you give them the answer promptly. They may be working to a 24-hour deadline and slow responses will just make them look elsewhere.
Offering a follow-up also establishes a good rapport with the journalist, making it more likely they’ll contact you outside of HARO for future relevant articles.
Journalists love to have good quality, reliable sources within easy reach.
This is especially useful if they’re a freelance journalist because they’ll be writing for a wide range of publications.
#7. Leverage Twitter alongside HARO
Twitter is a valuable resource for getting in touch with journalists. In fact, I’ve used it alongside HARO link building to generate some great results.
If the HARO pitch includes the journalist’s name and publication, I always head over to Twitter to check out their timeline.
It’s quite common for them to post their queries on Twitter as well as HARO. Check out the hashtag #JournoRequest to find aggregated lists of queries.
If they’ve done so, then I’ll usually drop a quick reply to the tweet to let them know that I’ve sent a response. That gives an extra human boost to the HARO response I already sent.
Twitter is also a good way to bypass HARO altogether and get directly in contact with journalists. It works best if you have a credible and well fleshed out Twitter profile that clearly showcases relevant expertise in your subject area.
I’ve had great results sending DMs to journalists in response to queries in their timeline. Just last week I got another DR 87 link in this way.
HARO link building is an excellent way to get top quality backlinks for your website, boost your domain rating, and improve your organic traffic.
But professional journalists these days are well-trained in spotting misinformation, poor quality sites and dubious ‘experts’.
You don’t need professional qualifications to answer most HARO queries. But you’ll need to showcase a certain level of expertise in your online presence to stand a chance of being accepted.
I hope the tips in this article will help you improve your HARO link building efforts.