Author: Aaron Anderson
When site owners think about link building, they typically associate it with outreach—getting in touch with other site owners and politely convincing them that your content is relevant for their audience. While this can be an effective way to gain backlinks, it can also be a time-consuming process, making it difficult to prioritize.
A more ideal approach would be to showcase what you have to offer and allow site owners to come to you. HARO (which stands for Help A Reporter Out) link building is akin to this, except that you’re allowing reporters to come to you and you’re providing them with something you likely have tons of—expert insights about your industry, service, or product.
But, if it’s so effective, why isn’t everyone building links with HARO? That’s because the sheer volume of queries from reporters can be overwhelming. Fortunately, all it takes to sort through these requests and make link building with HARO more manageable is a clever system of Gmail labels and filters.
Here’s everything you need to know to get started with HARO link building, including:
Why link building is important for SEO
Backlinks are a key aspect of any site’s SEO. They work as letters of recommendation—both the number and the quality of the links that point to your site play an important role in how Google determines your site’s rankings.
Links to your site could come naturally, but proactive steps to increase the number of high-quality backlinks that point to your site can only further your SEO efforts. Link building helps you do just that.
“Even if you’re not in a competitive niche and have been publishing good content consistently, if you find that your site only shows up on the second or third page of search results, you can benefit from getting more backlinks (so long as your site doesn’t have any major technical issues).” — Debbie Chew, global SEO manager at Dialpad
This is particularly important for SMBs that haven’t built much brand exposure yet and will therefore have more trouble getting natural links from other sites.
But, link building is (generally) hard to outsource and execute
So, you’ve determined you want to improve your site’s SEO through link building. But, where do you start?
You could try to build links yourself. But, determining which link-building strategies work best for you and your business and learning how to implement them can involve a steep learning curve. It takes time and a lot of trial and error, especially if you have no prior link-building experience.
You might also think about hiring someone else to build links for you. However, this can be a risky move. You could end up paying for poor links and notice no benefits to your site’s organic visibility. What’s even worse, these low-quality links can negatively impact your backlink profile and overall SEO.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There is a link-building strategy that you can execute on your own and without any prior link-building experience: HARO link building.
How to get started with HARO link building
HARO is an online platform that journalists and bloggers use to find knowledgeable sources for articles they are working on. Reporters ask questions about specific topics they want to cover and receive expert answers that they can quote in their stories.
The platform compiles reporters’ requests and sends them out via email to subscribed sources (i.e., experts like you) three times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening, Monday through Friday).
When signing up as a source, you can select the topics you want to receive requests for. The requests include:
A summary of the query
The name of the reporter
The media outlet/blog the article will be published on
An anonymous email address to send pitches to
A detailed description of the query
Any additional requirements/restrictions the reporter may have
Here’s a sample request:
When journalists select a response for their article, they will often include the source’s name, the name of their company, and a link to their company website in return.
Below is an example of an article from Hive that was likely written using HARO sources. The article gathers productivity tips from several business leaders and includes some quotes from them. As you can see, a link to their business has been included:
Before moving on to the system you should create to make the most out of HARO for your link building, let’s take a look at why the HARO approach is a uniquely accessible strategy in the first place.
Just about any business or site owner can build links using HARO
Unlike other link-building strategies, HARO allows you to leverage an existing asset that you likely have an abundance of: expertise. When you’re experienced in a certain field, you’re qualified to answer questions about it. Knowledge about your niche, how your industry works, and how to run a business are all things you can bring to the table with HARO to earn you links.
As I’ve mentioned before, reporters usually link to their sources’ sites when including their quotes in an article. That makes HARO a perfect way for SMBs to offer valuable insight and get high-quality links in return. Plus, it helps you build credibility as a source in your field of expertise and can increase your brand exposure by being featured in relevant industry publications.
However, in order to scale this strategy and make it more manageable, you need to create a system to identify the most relevant requests and filter out the rest.
You’ll need to manage HARO requests—a system can help
When you sign up as a HARO source, you’ll start receiving emails with reporter requests for each category that you’ve signed up for three times a day. That’s three daily emails per category. This means a lot of emails (and a lot of requests within each email).
Without a proper system in place, building links with HARO can be daunting and get out of hand quickly. You might end up spending a lot of time going through all of the requests and miss out on good opportunities or fail to meet deadlines.
A system that simplifies this process will make the strategy more manageable and effective. And, once you’ve put your system in place, you can turn this strategy into something you can do on an ongoing basis.
Below, I’ve explained the system I created within Gmail to identify relevant HARO requests. Let’s take a step-by-step look at how it works so you can replicate it for your site or business.
How to identify relevant HARO requests using Gmail filters
The main goal of setting up a system to answer HARO queries is to filter out irrelevant requests so that you can focus on the ones that you can potentially answer and get attribution for (i.e., gain a backlink).
These are the steps you need to follow:
01. Sign Up For HARO
Head over to HARO and read the rules. Then, click on the sign-up button at the top and fill out the form. In the next steps, I walk through how to set up labels and filters to organize emails on Gmail, so make sure you use a personal Gmail account or a business email that you can access on Gmail when registering for HARO.
Once you’ve submitted the form, you’ll receive an email with a link to activate your account. After you’ve activated your account, you’ll be able to access your account details and select the categories/topics you want to receive requests for:
02. Create a Gmail label for HARO emails
Next, you’ll move into Gmail to set up the rest of your system.
Within Gmail, click on the + sign next to Labels on the sidebar to create a new label.
Enter a name for your label and click on Create.
03. Set a filter for your HARO emails
Next, you’ll need to set a filter so that HARO emails bypass your inbox and go straight to the label you’ve just created.
To do this, click on the filter icon in the search bar and paste the following email address into the “From” field: firstname.lastname@example.org. Then click on Create filter.
A new menu will appear, prompting you to select what Gmail should do when a message matches the search criteria you just entered. Here, you want to check the “Skip the Inbox” and “Apply the label” options, choosing the label you created for HARO queries. Then, click on Create filter.
04. Start receiving HARO emails and check for relevant queries
HARO emails will now bypass your inbox and land straight into the HARO label you created in the step above.
Wait until you’ve received several batches of HARO queries and review these emails to get familiar with the types of questions in each topic. Identify any requests that you can answer and any keywords within the query or the summary of these requests that you could use to locate similar queries in the future.
I also recommend that you use the Gmail search bar to search for different keywords and see whether any HARO emails show up in the results.
05. Compile a list of keywords to find relevant queries
Compile a list with the keywords you identified in the previous step, plus any others that may be relevant to your niche or your expertise.
If, for example, you work at a recruiting agency, relevant keywords for your list might include:
06. Create a second label and a new filter for your keywords
Repeat step two to create a second label—this time, for queries that are a better fit for your niche/expertise. You can call this label “Relevant HARO Queries” or something along those lines. Then, set up a new filter that sends HARO emails that contain any of the keywords on your list to this new label.
Alternatively, if you’d rather receive relevant HARO queries in your main inbox and just filter out the emails that don’t contain any of the keywords on your list, you can edit the first label that you created. To do so, click on the gear icon next to the search bar, and click on See all settings.
Then, click on Filters and Blocked Addresses.
Here, you’ll see any filters that you’ve created. The filter (and label) for the HARO email address that you’ve created should appear here. Click on Edit to change the settings of the filter.
Use the “Doesn’t have” field to add the keywords on your list and click on Continue.
And, check the same two options that you used when you initially created the HARO label.
With this method, the emails that don’t contain any of the keywords will bypass the inbox and land in the HARO label, while those containing at least one of the keywords will appear in your inbox.
07. Evaluate the emails in the new label and start pitching
Now that you have a filtered list of HARO requests, you can more easily identify relevant queries to respond to. Check this filtered list regularly (I check mine once per day) to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines or good opportunities. You can also edit the filters to add or remove keywords to better refine the emails that you’re checking.
Here are a few additional tips to increase the likelihood that your pitches will get published:
Provide concise, easy-to-quote answers. Answer exactly what the query is asking and avoid going on tangents or including irrelevant information. Essentially, what you’re providing to reporters is the equivalent of a written sound bite.
Be creative. The more unique your insight is, the higher the likelihood that it stands out to reporters among all answers they receive, thus improving your odds at getting published and earning a backlink.
Avoid being promotional. Provide informational answers that actually help the reporters and their readers, not answers that promote a product or a business (especially your own) unless directly requested by the reporter.
08. Earn backlinks
Once you’ve started answering questions on a consistent basis, the final step of the process is to evaluate your results. If you’re providing unique insights into topics you’re already well-versed in, you’ll probably start earning high-quality backlinks for your site. Some journalists will let you know when they’ve included your pitch in their article, but this is not always the case. You can track the backlinks you earn by using a tool (such as Ahrefs) or you can search for the name of your business (in quotation marks) on Google. It may take a few weeks for queries to be published as articles, so I recommend that you check for new links once or twice per month, depending on the volume of pitches you’ve sent.
Another aspect you’re probably thinking of is whether the links you’ll earn will be follow or nofollow: Some queries will tell you this up front, but many queries don’t mention it.
If the query includes the name of the media outlet, you can search for articles from that media outlet that gather expert information from HARO sources to identify how they link to other sites on similar articles. You should keep in mind that, although follow links are generally more desirable for SEO because they pass link equity, nofollow links from high-quality sites can still be very valuable since they can drive high-intent traffic and are a necessary part of a healthy backlink profile.
Turn your expertise into high-quality links for your business with HARO
While link building should be a core part of every business’s SEO strategy, figuring out where to start or how to do it can require a lot of trial and error. HARO offers everyone—especially SMBs—an excellent opportunity to earn backlinks in exchange for knowledge about topics that reporters and bloggers are writing about.
A key aspect of implementing HARO link building efficiently is to have a system that filters emails so that only relevant queries are constantly evaluated and answered. By following the steps I’ve laid out in this guide, you’ll be able to build such a system, and you’ll be one step closer to earning backlinks for your business with your knowledge and expertise.
Aaron Anderson is the founder and lead link builder at Linkpitch.io, an outreach-driven link building agency. He's also the host of the "Let's Talk Link Building” podcast. When not building backlinks, he enjoys traveling the world with his family. Linkedin