Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney

Earn High-Quality Backlinks (The Not-So-Easy Way): Host A Presidential Candidate

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A client of ours recently had a rare opportunity that they just couldn’t pass up.  They were contacted by the staff of the presumptive Republican nominee in the US Presidential race, Mitt Romney, and asked if they would be interested in hosting a campaign event.

Sometimes these opportunities just fall in your lap.  For our client, it was a great way to build brand awareness and some serious credibility.  For us, as their SEO consultants, it was an opportunity to obtain some of the highest-quality links there are, links that would have been near-impossible to get otherwise.

With only a two-day lead-time, we had to quickly formulate a plan on how we’d take full advantage of this from an SEO perspective.  We knew that there would be a lot of news coverage and expected that the various news agencies would mention our client.  We wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity, but we also had to be sensitive to the needs of the campaign team and our client.  What followed turned out to be a very exciting few days of SEO.

The Chosen Ones

Exhibit Edge designs and fabricates custom, high-end trade show displays in the Northern Virginia Area.  They also happen to be exactly what the Romney campaign was looking for last week when selecting an event location: a woman-owned, small business in Virginia with enough open space to accommodate a crowd.  Romney hasn’t been polling particularly well with women, so the campaign decided it made sense to combine his strength on business with the woman-owned business community in swing states to help improve his position.

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney at ExhibitEdge

No Time to Plan: A Quick SEO Strategy

There was almost no time to plan for the event, so we had to act really quickly once the news came that our client was indeed hosting.  Our initial ideas on how to capitalize on this were to:

  1. Write a blog post welcoming people who would be in attendance and provide information on how to find the location, parking, where to grab lunch afterwards, etc.  We thought that this would have a high probability of gaining some links.
  2. Offer up interviews with Exhibit Edge staff post-event.
  3. Reach out to anyone writing about the event and ask them to make their ‘Exhibit Edge’ reference a link to the website.

We were confident that ideas #1 and #2 would be great ways to get a number of links from high-quality sources.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to execute these strategies.

Number 1 was ruled out because the Romney campaign wanted to keep word of the event fairly low-key so that just loyal supporters would show up.  Making it very easy to attend by posting directions and parking details on the Exhibit Edge blog would run the risk of making it a bigger event than either the campaign wanted or the location could support.

Number 2 on our list was also ruled out because our client did not feel comfortable conducting interviews after the event.  A few years ago they were interviewed on TV, and their thoughts were misrepresented through clever editing of their words, so they just wanted to avoid that altogether, lest they risk damaging their business.

With our first two ideas ruled out as options for link building, we focused on Number 3 on our list, reaching out to everyone who was writing about the event that wasn’t already linking to our client’s website when they referenced the business name.

The Results and Lessons Learned

The coverage of the event was impressive.  The speech was streamed live on CNN and other news outlet websites, and many local and national papers published stories on it.

We created Google Alerts to catch anything that mentioned “Mitt Romney” and “Exhibit Edge” together, but we quickly found that Alerts just didn’t work fast enough.  What worked the best was performing that same search in Google every 10-15 minutes, since the freshest stories would appear in the results.

We found that writers were much more willing to update their story with the link to Exhibit Edge if you caught them just after the story was published.  At that point ‘Exhibit Edge’ was still a brand present in their mind, and it seemed easier for them to just go in and create the link.

Below is the actual email template we used when we reached out (we modified it slightly for each pitch, and modified it further for ‘post-event’ requests):

Letter Regarding Romney Visit For Linking Purposes

 

You’ll notice that we didn’t come out of the gate asking for a link right away, we first asked if he wanted more information or an interview.  Although our client didn’t want to do live interviews, they did say they’d exchange emails with reporters.  After we softened up our link target, we then hit them with the request for the link.

We also tweeted to reporters that didn’t have an easy-to-find email address.  It was pretty simple actually; here is one of the tweets and his response:

Tweet Regarding Romney Visit For Linking

 The end results were great.  We obtained the strongest links that this client has ever received.  Some of the bigger sites that updated their articles with a link include:

  • WashingtonPost.com (PR8)
  • Slate.com (PR8 – link publish is still pending)
  • PilotOnline.com (PR7)
  • 3 Local Patch.com sites  (PR7)
  • 4president.org (PR5)

If we could have implemented some of the other strategies from our quick brainstorm, we probably would have received even more links.  But, all-in-all, these links are great and add some serious domain authority to ExhibitEdge.com.

What Else Could We Have Done?

Before I get to what else we could have done, one thing that I see now as I reflect upon this, is that a lot of companies might have received very little SEO benefit out of such a large event.  You see, most of the links that Exhibit Edge obtained through this were at our request.  Most news sites and articles didn’t link to Exhibit Edge on their own.  If we weren’t on top of this, they would have only received 1-2 links naturally – ouch!

Looking back on some emails we received, another idea would have been for us to have our own professional photographer there who would have taken pictures and then provided them for free to various news outlets and blogs in exchange for a link.

Several websites asked for original pictures, and while we had some, it would have been better to have a more professional offering for them.

There are probably a lot of other opportunities that were overlooked simply because of the quick turnaround required and the lack of time to prepare properly for the situation.

With that said, given the restraints of the situation, what would you have done to earn more links?  Are there any other thoughts or ideas on how to replicate this success, without actually having to jump through the complex hoops that hosting a presidential candidate required?

About the Author

Brian is an SEO and ORM enthusiast and partner at MangoCo, a Northern-Virginia-based online marketing firm. Brian has worked with both small businesses and government agencies on projects ranging from user-interface design to complex reputation management issues. You can follow Brian on twitter at @brianspatterson.

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5 Comments

  1. Mike

    Great post Brian. What an exciting opportunity for your client and agency. Thanks for sharing your strategy and what you learned afterwards. Very helpful.

  2. Dan

    Wow, sounds like an amazing experience. Nice work on getting links from places like the Washington Post. Too bad you couldn't execute all your ideas, would have loved to see the results on those efforts.

  3. Brian did an amazing job! One week later we are still getting requests for articles and pictures. We are taking advantage of this awesome event and experience.

  4. Wow, nice job getting some nice results in a very short period of time. I especially like the contacting of reporters for the link idea. If I would have done anything else, it would have been to monitor Twitter, G+ and maybe even Facebook for public posts about the event, especially mentioning your client, and seeing if there were some seo opportunities there...

  5. Hey Sagan, good idea on monitoring social media. That isn't something we did, but you are right, we potentially could have found some conversations to join in on that could have led to more links. Thanks!