Press coverage on a high-traffic, mainstream blog is often all it takes to catapult your website into the public eye. The power of the tech press has grown so massive that a lot of startup founders think that getting into TechCrunch is all it takes to make it.
Over the last couple of years I’ve launched several websites, ranging from humorous and amusing online games to glitter shipping services, and managed to attract press attention from publications like Fast Company, The Guardian, Time and hundreds of other high-traffic websites.
The strategy I used wasn’t the traditional mass sending of press releases or stalking journalists on Twitter, but understanding how and where tech journalists find their stories, then using this information to put my content in front of them.
If you have an interesting product, a unique service or a website that stands out, it’s surprisingly easy to achieve the same results. Here’s how:
The traditional path to media coverage doesn’t work unless you’re big
For decades, the path to media coverage for a company – whether online or offline – was simple: send out press release after press release, hoping that journalists would eventually pay attention.
Thanks to cheap press release distribution services and the fast page of online news, this strategy simply doesn’t work any more.
Unless you’re Apple, Facebook or another huge company with an audience reaching into the millions and an innovative product to market, most journalists will pay no attention to your press releases and simply ignore you.
This doesn’t mean your website isn’t worth writing about. What it means is that you need a different approach that elevates your website above its competition and cuts through the noise that’s endemic to online news.
It’s better to be discovered than to reach out directly, whether through a cold email or a press release. Journalists treat outreach with suspicion but love to write about websites they’ve “discovered,” even if you engineered the discovery process.
If you’re interesting, journalists and bloggers want to write about you
The key to getting press coverage is understanding how online news works. Most journalists don’t have the luxury of writing only about things they’re interested in on their own.
Journalists, at least for the major tech websites, have one goal: publish any content that will attract attention. Anything interesting enough to generate pageviews is a blessing for them – any quirky news story is something they want to write about.
They have quotas to fulfill and goals to achieve. If you have an interesting website that people will pay attention to, they want to write about you. It’s just a matter of getting them to find you.
Most journalists use the same sources. Find them and they’ll find you
One of the most effective ways to get journalists to notice you is to find two or three journalists that are likely to pay attention to your story, then find out how they find stories to write about.
The easiest way to do this is to search your target publications for articles and posts about your competitors. Find two or three journalists that pay attention to your field and scan their Twitter accounts to find out which sites they browse and link to.
The dirty little secret of digital journalism is that most journalists source all of their stories from a couple of sources. Journalists are pressed for time, and it they can find multiple story ideas on one or two websites, they’ll do it.
When I was creating Ship Your Enemies Glitter, I worked out that most tech writers sourced almost all of their stories from Product Hunt. Get to the top of Product Hunt and your site would be noticed, and probably written about, by the tech community.
Once my site hit the top of Product Hunt – which itself is easy to engineer without any manipulation of the site’s voting system, just by designing something unique and quirky – it was only a matter of time before the press wrote about it.
The end result was coverage in Time, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Fast Company, The Daily Dot, Slate, The Verge, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Venture Beat, International Business Times and the New York Daily News.
Add to that list a couple of hundred small websites that picked up the story after the bigger websites covered it. A day or two of planning and some funny copy attracted more attention than a $20,000 public relations campaign could ever buy.
Product Hunt is one of the best sources for tech journalists, but it’s not the only site that’s used as a source by the mainstream media:
- Future tech websites like Motherboard find stories on subreddits like Futurology, Bitcoin and Technology.
- Regional or national news websites – for example, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia – find content from local and national subreddits.
- Men’s interest sites like The Lad Bible source content from subreddits like Videos and Interesting as Fuck.
- Gaming websites like Kotaku and Engadget Gaming source content from subreddits like Games.
As you’ve probably noticed, the path to a lot of these high-traffic websites is through communities like Reddit and Product Hunt. Get in front of the right audience and it’s only a matter of time before a journalist notices you.
If you’re starting out, design your site to be as shareable as possible
Journalists are only interested in writing about stuff that’s unique and interesting. A website that’s obviously commercial, like a credit card or debt refinancing website, isn’t going to attract their attention.
The solution to this, if you want to run a commercial website, is to design your site to be deliberately unique and non-commercial while you’re looking for press. Once you’ve got the attention, you can always change its design and copy later.
Remember that the goal of press coverage is to get attention (and links, if you look at this from an SEO perspective) and not necessarily to make instant sales. Aim for attention instead of sales at first, then optimize your website at a later date.
Journalists copy each other. Get one to write about you and they all will
Most of the time, large-scale press coverage begins with a single article in a fairly well known blog. This is then followed by a flood of coverage from every website you can think of, all of which are racing to get a piece of the traffic pie.
The reason for this is simple: journalists copy each other, really often. Often, all it takes to generate massive amounts of coverage for your website is a post on a site that other journalists pay attention to.
Once they see it, they’ll write about it too. A lot of the time, they won’t even contact you to fact check or learn more – they will lift details word for word from the post they noticed first in order to get their article out before their competitors can.
Who do you want to notice you? Where do they find things to write about?
Once you understand how the press works, getting coverage in mainstream blogs isn’t just easy – it’s also fun. Finding out where journalists get their ideas becomes an interesting rabbit hole with a potentially big reward at the other end.
If you have a unique idea for a website that could potentially go viral or a business you want to promote, set the traditional PR approach aside and try the strategy I’ve outlined above.
With the right concept, the right level of basic promotion on websites like Reddit or Product Hunt, and the right journalist to notice you, you could end up with a flood of media coverage that puts your website in front of millions of people, all for free.