What is HARO and How to Land a Successful Pitch

September 13, 2022

Inside this article:

Do you want to be featured in media outlets such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, or Business News Daily?

HARO is a free service and the fastest way for sources to get valuable media coverage. All you have to do is respond to a journalist’s query and you could be featured in a story.

With HARO, journalists can find sources quickly and easily, so you’re more likely to be quoted in a story. Plus, being quoted in the news can help improve your image and credibility. Not to mention those delightful, high-authority backlinks, which are going to be our focus in this guide.

We at Chilli Fruit Web Consulting have been working with Surfer for a while now with some great results, which I’ll show further down.

Would you like to learn more? Read on!

How Does HARO Work?

HARO, or Help A Reporter Out, is Cision's platform made up of journalists and bloggers, as well as their subject matter experts source.

Three times a day, at 5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m., and 5:35 p.m. ET, HARO sends out queries to the registered users. The platform has a wide range of topics, of which Business & Finance is the most popular one. However, they do have some other themes:

  • High Tech
  • General
  • Travel
  • Lifestyle and Fitness
  • Giftbag
  • UK
  • Master List (all of the queries)

Here's what an example query looks like:

All you have to do is pitch the right answer following what the author needs.

Setting up your HARO Account

  • Go to helpareporter.com.
  • Click "Sign Up."
  • Fill in your details.
  • To post queries, you need the "Journalist" option picked. To receive them, you need "Source."
  • Choose your HARO preferences.

And that's it! You'll start receiving HARO emails the following business day.

There's also a premium option but I'm not going to delve into that as it's really not necessary to succeed with HARO.

When sending out messages, it's best to use the email you got in the query. That way, you can format the email the way you want. HARO's system strips the text from all formatting, delivering a mess. Additionally, don't forward any images as they will be removed. The system aims to protect journalists from cyber threats.

The subject line is not rocket science. Simply include the title of the query and the media outlet and that will do the trick.

Another thing you need to do is set up a Google Alerts with your name. Journalists don't always have the time to notify you about your HARO response, but Google does. Another media monitoring tool worth looking into is Brand24, which we’ve been using extensively:

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don't harass the reporters. If they don't respond, leave it at that. 

Choosing the Right HARO Query

Not all HARO queries are fair game. Some of them are incredibly specific and require experience in various industries. For the most part, though, they are achievable, even if they are outside of your area of expertise. Sometimes, a simple Google search is enough to find an answer.

Take the example above. All you need to be is an agency owner, and there are plenty of those. In this case, you'll need to expect heavy competition, as, for one, the publication is a well-known SaaS, and two, digital agencies love HARO.

The most sought-after queries are like this one:

Not much specificity, all you need is to be an entrepreneur. Seems easy enough, right?

Well, not really. And that's because of the competition. Business News Daily is a well-known website and is also very much favoured by link builders. Just take a look at those parameters:

Who wouldn't want to be featured there?

To summarise, choosing the right query boils down to three questions:

  • What are the website's parameters?
  • Is it relevant to your business?
  • Are you qualified to answer?

If the organic traffic is satisfactory, it's relevant to your industry, and you think you're qualified to answer, go for it.

Otherwise, it's a bit of a waste of time both for yourself and for the query's author.

Sometimes, authors post the queries anonymously.

While these are a bit of a shot in the dark (to tell the truth, each query is), they sometimes hide the largest publications behind the veil of anonymity. In my mind, it's still worth it.

Now let's get down to the nitty-gritty of how to land an email pitch.

Securing a Pitch: Speed, Conciseness, Relevance

Once again, there are three rules—speed, conciseness, and relevance. I'll explain each of them in detail.

Speed

Query authors get a lot of pitches. I sometimes used to publish queries in the hunt for partnerships (which I'll get down to later) and the sheer number of responses astounded me.

Even if the query was anonymous, 100+ pitches were the norm. Imagine sifting through all of those looking for the golden nuggets of wisdom that would fit your article. Not to mention that these writers are often on tight deadlines.

I was not on a tight deadline, and, to be frank, I didn't look for expert answers. I was merely seeking somebody to exchange links with.

Since the deadlines are unforgivable and the journos are bombarded with tens or hundreds of pitches, they need to fish out the good ones swiftly. This is the precise reason why speed matters. You want to be there before everyone else.

But, anybody can scribble a couple of sentences and call it a day. That's not the right way to do it. Even though you have to be lightning quick, the quality cannot suffer. This means grammar, logic, style, and tone need to work well together.

Especially grammar. After seeing tons of pitches which were grammatically incorrect, I saw that there's a gap to be filled by quality writing.

For us, the sweet spot was sending out the pitches up to an hour after the initial query.

There's one other method to this madness, though. And this is sending out the pitches right before the query's deadline. See, often these writers like to take one last peek before submitting the draft. This can be your chance if you missed the opening window. You can also take your time to craft the perfect response.

This brings me to the next point.

Conciseness

The number of pitches is often overwhelming. Now imagine trying to read all of them, pick the best ones, and fit them into the article before the deadline. Near impossible.

To make the work for the author a bit easier, you have to be straight to the point. You shouldn't just ramble about something to no end. Nobody is going to read that. Most commonly, writers take but a snippet of your original comment.

Even when there are a couple of questions in a given query, it's best to focus on just one which you feel the most comfortable with. See this:

To answer all of those you'd need more than a couple of hundred words. The query author even mentioned answering any or all of them. Even HARO guidelines provided by Cision note that you shouldn't send more than 300 words per query.

I believe that it's too much; imagine if a writer received 100 pitches, each 300 words long. That's 30,000!

I found that even a well-placed relevant sentence or two works the best. I try my best to keep it under 150 words, which is about 6 sentences. That is if I want to be exhaustive.

Relevance

Finally, there's relevance. If the author of the query asks for a CMO to answer, it'd better be the CMO that's answering. They will just glance at the pitch and delete it from their inbox because it's not relevant.

This is arguably the most important aspect of pitching. If the reporter is clear about what they're asking for, they won't take a pitch from someone who doesn't meet their conditions. Again, waste of time, both for you and the writer.

I've received tens of irrelevant comments which were immediately discarded.

The Difference Between Regular Outreach and HARO

HARO is much more specific than normal outreach. When doing digital PR, you're trying your chances with hundreds of journalists but you pitch only one story or press release.

With HARO, you have multiple possibilities of scoring a website link or mention but each one with a different reporter. On top of that, these authors are asking you to contribute. It's not like you're sending out unsolicited messages, which is what most digital PR often is in its essence.

In HARO's case, you get a clearly defined question and you need to provide a comprehensive answer. In normal outreach, you need to find a particular type of journalist, find an interesting question, and answer it.

Link Partnerships

One time I experimented and I tried to look for link exchange partnerships on HARO. Since there are plenty of SaaS companies, I figured some link builders might be dwelling there as well.

The process was simple. First, I posted a query for an article that would be posted on one of my resources. Then, I checked out the responses, looking for sites that might want to exchange links with me. After I messaged them with my idea and the response was positive, I'd choose their quote for the article.

Needless to say, there were lots of candidates which I thoroughly vetted. I managed to score some partnerships and some high-quality backlinks in return for posting their quote.

You have to be careful, though. In the query, you can't mention anything about link exchange. I know that from personal experience:

That was completely my fault as I didn't read the fine print properly. HARO outright mentions that requesting an exchange is forbidden. But, there's not much about emailing the pitcher after their message.

One more thing regarding link partnerships; make sure that you're in contact with the company itself instead of a third-party provider.

I had some unpleasant cases where I was cheated out of a link. When I inquired about it, it took a couple of months for them to respond only for me to find out that they don't have websites of such a calibre anymore. They sent me some worthless ones with less than 1,000 organic traffic. Their response?

What followed was a process of explaining ourselves to the partner from whom we've acquired the link for the exchange. I've also tried reaching out to the company, and here's their reply:

Perfectly fine with me. It's their site and their content audit.

Still, it's just a word of caution about dealing with partners not associated with the company you're aiming to get a link from.

HARO Pitch Examples

Now let me show you some HARO pitches that landed along with site metrics from Semrush.

This one was used on databox.com in their abandoned cart article. All I did was I looked for exceptional abandoned cart messages, found Vans, and created a little story around it.

Another HARO pitch appeared on breadcrumbs.io.

In this case, I sent out a quick email to Michał and asked about his best case study. I described the study based on an article on Surfer's blog and asked Michał about the results. Again, this was enough to land in a beautifully composed article.

Not to mention this piece of wisdom from Michał in the same article!

This article was written for referralrock.com and is all about affiliate marketing metrics. Again, a quick Google search and a comprehensive answer were more than enough to secure the spot.

Another one, this time from a sourcing company for dropshipping, leelinesourcing.com. 

Finally, a case where we only found out about the link a couple of days ago, even though it was live for about a year.

At the time, we only had the Brand24 alert set up for Michał Suski so it didn’t catch the comment by Luiza Strach. Since it was a query about customer support, Luiza seemed like the better option.

If you’d like to read some more on the topic, we have a guide for HARO as well with even more examples!

Tracking HARO

For tracking, it's best to use a Google Spreadsheet. I like to have these columns:

  • Query
  • Contact Name
  • Media Outlet
  • Query time published
  • Date
  • Response day log
  • Response time
  • Status

Since we're an agency, we also have a column for the client and the domain. This allows us to keep track of everything and occasionally boast about the numbers.

Is HARO Even Worth it?

Digital marketing comes in many forms, and HARO is one of the purest out there. You're sharing your expertise on a particular topic and get rewarded for it. It's a win-win situation.

While it does take some getting used to, HARO can and will bring results as long as you keep at it. An hour a day of pitching journalists can bring huge benefits - create recognisability, power your link-building efforts, cement you as an authority, establish credibility, and build your personal brand.

Milosz Krasinski is the owner of Chilli Fruit Web Consulting, a boutique outreach & digital PR agency, specializing in link partnerships for SaaS companies.


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