If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’re no stranger to my specific guides for contributing to various sites. For examples:
- So You Want to Submit a Guest Post to Ad Age, Huh?
- The Ultimate Guide to Writing For The Washington Post
- 5 Steps to Submit Your First Blog Post to Gizmodo
- How Difficult Is It to Publish a Guest Post on Reuters.com?
- Is It Possible to Publish a Guest Post on Fox News?
Today we’re looking at another in this loose “series”, USA Today.
What Is USA Today?
USA Today is classified as a “middle market” newspaper. This is a reference to the three-tiered system of journalism that pits news against entertainment. Low market papers are focused entirely on entertainment and tend to feel more like tabloids. Middle market split the difference and have some focus on entertainment and some on news and current events. Upper market are entirely focused on news, so you have papers like Forbes in that role.
Of course, this is all a muddy ground now that the internet has change the paradigm. Web-based newspapers are able to adapt to the pressures of their audience and can do What Works, rather than doing what got them their current demographic. They don’t have to worry about alienating a bunch of subscribers without a replacement, because the internet can supply that replacement in days rather than months.
USA Today is also primarily focused on events in and relevant to the United States, though the paper is distributed internationally. It’s also relatively young for a newspaper, founded in 1982, by contrast to many of the other newpapers founded in the 1800s.
Despite its youth, it is one of the most successful newspapers in the United States, with a circulation of over a million as of 2016. It’s up there with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Of course, we’re not so interested in the newspaper; we’re interested in the website. The USA Today website was launched in 1995. They have been on the forefront of experimenting with internet-based news broadcasting, with a life news station launched in 2000, interactive units in 2001, and modern usage of autoplay video to supplement the content of an article.
To take a glance at the kind of content the site publishes, it only takes a moment. Their homepage is full of politics, sports, and news about the devastating spring weather this country has experienced this year. It also includes articles about an actress’s bikini, a post about a peacock getting stuck in a truck, and a top ten list of beaches to visit in the summer.
The site as a whole has a number of categories. Their primary categories are of course News, Sports, Life, Money, Tech, Travel, and Opinion, with weather, crosswords, and an investigation section also presented up front. Hidden below their “more” button they also have categories like cartoons, job network, newsstand, their Virtual Reality show VRtually There, and so on.
One thing you may not have seen is the subject of this post you’re reading now. What, and where, is the Business Spotlight?
The USA Today Business Spotlight
The USA Today Business Spotlight is a sub-section of a sub-section of a blog, which can be found here. As of this writing, I can see posts on a number of different businesses:
- Blink, a company providing an app for frontline workers to connect with internal communications and engage with fellow employees.
- The Kitchen Magpie, a long-running food website with recipes and stories.
- Nexgen Air Conditioning Heating and Plumbing, a company that provides air conditioning, heating, and plumbing is southern California.
- Sustain Punch, a blog focused on advice and gear reviews for musicians.
- Hotel Metropole, a resort in Avalon, California.
- Ebee HQ, a website dedicated to product reviews and recommendations for beekeeping.
- Footstar, an orthotics company. That’s foot-based support items like insoles, for those who aren’t familiar.
- Best Bike Guide, a website with cycling information and bike reviews.
As you can see, they cover a wide variety of different kinds of businesses. All of these blog posts have a few things in common, though. They all feature a business and that business’s pitch. They all feature website URLs and links back to the site. They all feature a block of contact information, including admin emails, social media links, and a homepage link.
And they all, universally, read like a basic press release.
There are a few clues as to what’s going on here. First of all, if you look all the way at the top in the URL bar, you can see that the URL starts with a subdomain “classifieds”, as in classifieds.usatoday.com. Indeed, if you visit that plain URL, you’re taken to a directory for the classifieds section for USA Today. Here you can see a variety of different broad categories, of which the Business Spotlight is one.
Additionally, down at the bottom, above the USA Today footer but below the end of the article, you see that this entire section is “Powered by MCA”. What does that mean?
MCA/Russell Johns is an advertising agency, in the traditional sense. Beyond mere web advertising, they help provide advertising for a variety of media formats, including digital, radio, television, and print. The MCA portion is My Classified Ads
Indeed, you can see a specific publication profile for USA Today here on MCA/Russell Johns. They showcase the different sorts of advertising you can buy on USA Today, including media inserts in their print circulation, and digital advertising on their website.
None of this looks like a press release, though, so where does the Business Spotlight come into play? Well, you have to read carefully to find that one. Look at the Display Ads portion of the publication profile page. You can see they let you buy advertising by the quarter page, half page, or full page, though they don’t disclose the pricing up front like they do with their print advertising.
More importantly, though, look just above that display. “Every display ad receives a FREE 30-day online marketplace listing!” Bingo. The classifieds section is the marketplace, and you can buy placement on USA Today in general and get a press release listing on the marketplace as an additional bonus.
How to Post on USA Today’s Business Spotlight
We’ve successfully drilled down to find the mystery behind the business spotlight, but the real question still remains: how can you do it yourself?
Perhaps fortunately, perhaps unfortunately, the answer is pretty simple. All you need to do is pay for it. This isn’t a guest posting opportunity. There’s no editor to contact and no relationship to build. In fact, you pretty much won’t be dealing with USA Today at all.
Instead, you’ll be contacting the company that manages classified advertising for USA Today, which is MCA/Russell Johns. This link, which I posted above, has a contact form to the side. You can fill out your name, phone number, email, and request in the box and send a message to the company. All you need to do is inquire about getting your press release published on USA Today, and you’ll have an email or call in return in the next few days. I imagine that the more you’re willing to spend and the more markets you’re willing to target, the more priority they will give you when handling your inquiry.
On a more personally analytical note, I would say that it shouldn’t be too difficult to produce something good for USA Today. If you look at the existing Business Spotlight posts, all of them are under 500 words and they’re all basically low-hanging press releases. If you write even a decently crafted press release, you’ll stand out from the rest.
Here’s the thing; this is, again, not a guest post. You aren’t doing topic research here. You aren’t sending in a pitch, because the “pitch” already exists; it’s just a rundown of what your business is and what it does. You don’t have to be a major company or a huge brand to be in the Business Spotlight, either. You can simply write a basic press release, pay to have it posted, and let it go.
So what do you get out of posting in the USA Today Business Spotlight? Unfortunately, probably not a lot.
There are a few quirks that makes this less of an effective marketing strategy than it may appear.
First of all, most of the links are nofollowed. You can verify this yourself just by looking at any of the links in the Business Spotlight press releases yourself. They all have the rel=”nofollow” that kills the SEO value you would be getting from USA Today. I’m not surprised, of course; any sort of classified ad is going to have nofollowed links. The nice thing about USA Today’s Business Spotlight is it seems they keep one of the links to your website as a dofollow link, so there is some value with these.
Secondly, the Business Spotlight is relegated to a subdomain blog. Instead of a usatoday.com/story/news/your-article-title URL, you’re dealing with a URL like classifieds.usatoday.com/blog/business-spotlight/your-business-name/ URL. You’re buried in a subdomain and a subfolder category; this isn’t prime real estate, even if you’re on a domain that has millions of daily readers.
Third, you’re not going to appear in the main USA Today page outside of your ads at all. Go to the main USA Today site and search for “business spotlight” and you’re not going to find anything from the classifieds section. It’s basically a separate site, and as such, is going to give you much lower visibility than you would want.
The only potential benefit I can think of for posting on the USA Toady Business Spotlight is, well, the paid ads you’re getting in front of their audience otherwise. There’s a reason the press release post is incidental and a free upgrade; because it’s just not valuable enough on its own to sell.
An Alternative to the Business Spotlight
The Business Spotlight isn’t really a great place to get your content, because it’s hardly content and it’s hardly a place. Instead, why not contribute to USA Today directly?
USA Today accepts unsolicited opinion pieces from pretty much anywhere, and their guidelines aren’t as strict as you might think.
- Word count somewhere around 600-1,000.
- Topics dealing with issues at the top of the news, or introducing a new newsworthy topic of interest to their audience.
- Voice and focus should be incisive and narrow, cutting to the meat of the issue quickly.
Submissions to the USA Today opinion section can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. They want you to send in your submission as text in the email body, not an attachment and not a pitch. They also will likely take upwards of a week to reply due to the volume of submissions they receive.
You can also submit a column. Columns are also published in the opinion section, but have a broader focus. They can be persuasive, reveal new information on an ongoing topic of discussion, include first person experience, or otherwise bring original reporting to the table. They prefer content ranging from about 500-750 words for columns. You can include links – which will be nofollowed, naturally – and you should include a short 1-2 sentence biography. No open letters, class projects, or content that has been submitted to or published on other sites.
This is more like a standard contribution, and all of the top content tips apply. Make sure you’re writing something great. Really good content may also make it into the print editions of USA Today, so you stand to gain a lot of visibility if you do it right.