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Earning Backlinks through Media-Driven Content [GUIDE]

Halie Vining
Earning Backlinks through Media-Driven Content [GUIDE]

In the year since the death of guest blogging, SEOs have made a mass exodus out of link building and into content marketing. Don’t worry: I’m not knocking content marketing – my team has embraced it too. However, content strategy and creation isn’t always enough.

I can’t tell you the amount of SEO-turned-content-marketing articles I’ve read simplifying the issue of link acquisition. Does content need to be high quality to attract backlinks, media coverage, citations, etc.? Yes – of course it does! But great content doesn’t inherently earn links, particularly, if no one notices it.

This is where digital PR and media relations come into play. Far too often, I see content distribution strategy as an afterthought. “We’ll just throw some money at Taboola and Twitter to get some eyes on it” isn’t a strategy – it’s a default. Building a promotion strategy from the outset guides your topic selection and prepares you to earn some quality media coverage (read: backlinks]) and social engagement. Both of which lead to a successful piece of content as well as long-term search authority.

The problem: a lot of SEOs and digital marketers aren’t PR experts. So how do you pull in media research and tactics to make sure your content is getting found, covered and linked to?

This methodology to building a promotion strategy will get you incorporating PR research and tactics into your content marketing strategy.


Purpose: Like all content strategies, you need to start with your audience. While the media research will help you build a strategy for proactively getting noticed and linked to, audience research will guide content creation and media research.

You don’t need full-blown personas (particularly for B2B). Start by building audience segments, including job titles, pain points, keywords and common buying behaviors.


Where do you find this information?

Audience Interviews: Talk to your customers. Ask about the buying process they went through:

  • What were your main motivations for seeking out our product/service?
  • What needs did you have that led to seeking external products or services?
  • How did you evaluate vendors?
  • Where did you seek information?
  • What factors led to your decision?
  • Who was involved in your purchasing process and decision?

Google-webmaster-tools What words and phrases are your customers using to find your products or services? Don’t over think this. If you’re doing PPC, check your search terms report to see which keyword perform best. Look in Google Webmaster Tools to find search queries driving traffic to your site.

Once you’ve got a starter list, build out your keyword list with keyword discovery tools:

  • Google Adwords – Keyword Tool
  • Ubersuggest
  • HitTail

User Generated Content: Look at what your audience is saying online. Search through hashtags, LinkedIn groups, product review sites, niche social communities, forums, etc. Find where your audience is interacting online and track what they’re saying to pull out patterns and trends applicable to your audience segments – and ultimately, the content you need create.

Once you’ve honed in on your audience’s pain points and behaviors, it’s time to start digging into the media.

2. Media research

Purpose: Media research elevates your content strategy to the next level. Your audience is using third-party content to find you. A recent Nielson study commissioned by inPowered found that “85 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally seek out expert, trusted content – credible, third-party articles [and] reviews – when considering a purchase.”

Thus, media coverage and third-party content syndication are key in reaching your audience – no matter how targeted your content. So in a cyberworld of trillions of webpages, how do you audit the all-powerful “media" and track it? With a handful of highly useful tools and some good-old-fashioned brain power, getting to media insights is simpler than you might think.

Quantitative analysis

Most first-timers want to start with top tier publications. I hear clients drop names like Forbes, New York Times, Time and the The Post daily. Yes – they get lots of traffic and likely some part of your audience is reading them for some reason or another. But combing through their content (even with scrapers) can be cumbersome. My team has found that starting with keywords related to audience pain points is much more efficient and leads to the discovery of niche publications perfect for content promotion.

Based on your audience research, narrow down high priority keywords and pain points. We use search volume and relevancy to narrow the phrases we start with. Use these keywords to fuel article discovery on social and around the web.

Social Discovery: Populate advanced search fields with trending hashtags and keywords. The advanced search tools will help you hone in on specific pain points and remove topics that aren’t relevant to particular searches.

Advanced Search

Pull out top shared articles and begin compiling a list. This list will be used for qualitative analysis I’ll cover in the next section.

Find popular content

Content Discovery Tools: BuzzSumo has quickly evolved into a tool my team can’t live without. We use it in the research phase of every campaign we run. Using the same methodology as with social, we use keywords and pain points discovered in the audience research to drive our search process.

Popular On Social

When creating your list for the qualitative phase of analysis, start with 10-15 articles per topic. The sample set is small, but trends will quickly emerge. The keywords and social data ensure the content is both relevant and use full to your audience.

Qualitative analysis

Once you’ve got your list of articles, it’s time to get your hands dirty. There are a handful of tools that claim to perform sentiment analysis on web content. We’ve tested them. They are neither accurate nor thorough enough to really glean media and further audience insights. Plus, the context you’ll gain from the manual audit will better prepare you for all areas of marketing your brand.

Before you begin reading and auditing, setup a spreadsheet to track findings. Here’s what you’re looking for:

  • Article title: How is the media titling articles to entice readers to click? Identify patterns to help guide with content creation. Are tips articles popular? What about numbered articles?
  • Publication / outlet title: Begin gathering sites to jumpstart your media list. In addition to creating media-driven content, you’re going to need to actively pitch. This can come in the form of earned coverage, contributed or bylined articles and even sponsored content engagement. Begin building the media list from the outset, so you’ll be ready to pitch as soon as your content is live on your site.
  • Author: Track contributors to identify industry experts and editors you need to be working with. Is there an opportunity to partner with expert writers on the content for your site? Getting influencers involved builds trust with your audience and ensures you’re getting your content shared by experts with built-in readers.
  • For editors at publications, add these names to your media list. Even if they can’t partner with you on content, you can pitch them the resources you’ve made because share an audience and have vetted their work to drive your strategy.
  • Author affiliation: Are articles being written by publication editors, guest authors or sponsored by brands? If you notice most or many of the articles are written by contributors, you’ll need to consider bylined articles and sponsored content as part of your promotional strategy.
  • Angle: What’s the media’s angle for writing the piece? How are they connecting to the readers? Tying your content to media angles will make it more appealing when you pitch to the writers already covering these angles.
  • Format: Text, charts, videos, infographics, etc. This helps you identify types of content that connect with your audience and assets you may need to pitch the media. If a particular publication frequently publishes charts, you can create an image/chart based on the content of your campaign to share with the editors in addition to the link of your helpful content.
  • Main topic: What is the main gist, the pain point being addressed? Tracking topics will give you more ammo when ideating content.
  • Secondary topic: Are there subtopics that can be spun into other content? Blowing out topics the media is touching on ensures you’re creating content you KNOW is interesting to the editors and the audience. You can even reference the original article in your pitch!
  • Questions left unanswered: is the media posing a question? Are compelling audience questions left unanswered? Is there any opportunity to make more actionable content on the same topic?
  • Citations and backlinks: Ultimately, you want them to link to you. What are the topics and formats of the sources they’re linking to?
  • Social shares: Which networks receive the most engagement? Are there particular patterns the audience is more compelled to share on? If so, they’re probably finding content here, too. Use this data to drive social amplification strategies, and to prioritize which social buttons to embed in the content you create.

Identifying link-worthy topics from the media audit

Once you’ve pulled insights out of the audit, turn them into data. Track which topics are most covered, which questions still need to be answered, what types of content were most frequently linked to, etc. Use these trends to drive ideation.

For example, when we’re auditing content marketing, here are some example insights we could pull out (don’t forget your audience behavior insights, too!):

  • 75% of articles covered content marketing measurement in some capacity
  • 56% of articles directly discussed the issue of content not reaching the audience
  • 45% of articles discussed a lack of documented strategy as a driving cause behind the failure of content marketing efforts
  • 66% of articles linked to in-depth, downloadable guides and ebooks
  • 55% of marketing decision makers are struggling with measuring content success
  • 60% of marketing decision makers downloaded at least three guides or ebooks during their purchasing process
  • 100% of marketing decision makers and influencers seek industry knowledge via niche digital marketing and branded publications

We use this data to prioritize which topics to cover and how to present the content.

Content needed to address audience pain points, drive new visitors through search and social and earn media coverage and backlinks:

  • Advanced content > downloadable ebook with actionable steps and definitions to goal setting and measurement of content marketing
  • Support content > blog series focusing on key areas of measurement – break out ebook chapters into blog posts
  • Support content > Infographic with overview of different content distribution and promotion tactics + individual blog posts with in-depth guides to executing each
  • Interlinking from support content to downloadable (i.e. lead gen) asset

We’ve covered the most searched and shared topics in a way that’s more actionable and in-depth than we found covered. We’ve answered a question many articles were raising. We’ve addressed formats favorable to both decision makers and influencers. And most importantly, we’re touching on topics AND angles the media are actively covering.

Building a proactive promotion strategy

Lastly, use media insights to drive a promotion strategy. Here’s some example insights from the audit:

  • 58% of media articles were written by contributors – not publication editors
  • Niche media articles got 2X the engagement of mainstream media
  • Twitter received 3X the shares than all other platforms
  • 42% of articles were sponsored by a brand
  • 50% of articles contained screenshots and images of tools and tactics used

Now build your strategy:

Earned media:

  • Media insights revealed that niche media is more impactful for our audience. Media list should consist of niche digital marketing publications. Additionally, publications provided substantial visual support alongside text, with heavy emphasis on charts and screenshots. We’ll create a chart detailing goal setting and provide screenshots of measurement setup to support pitching of the advanced asset.

Action items:

  • Build media list with emphasis on niche publications
  • Build pitch angles focused on measurement and success
  • Create chart with details from full guide
  • Provide screenshots in the media kit for editors to use in articles

Paid Media:

Contributed articles consisted largely of sponsored content on niche sites and Twitter received more engagement than all other platforms.

Action items:

  • Identify 3-5 sponsored articles opportunities
  • Set aside X budget for targeted Twitter campaign

Prepping your promotion strategy before creating content will ensure you’re ready to promote as soon as content goes live. You’ll be able to prep sponsored content and editorial outreach during the creation phase.

Overall, the leg work of media analysis gives you more data points for ideation and creation and sets you up to proactively get your content to your audience. In a world where quality backlinks and virality are few and far between, media insights identify opportunities for coverage and promotion, setting you for success across search and social. To learn more about how media insights and content strategy can help get your audience’s eyes on your content, check out DigitalRelevance’s Content Distribution and Promotion Cheat Sheet.

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Halie Vining is a Client Success Director at Relevance. For three and half years she’s been building SEO & content strategies for enterprise tech clients. She spends her weekends entertaining two highly energetic Labradors, practicing yoga and discovering new craft beers.
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Gracious Store
I like the idea of "identifying link worthy topics" to address. It is hard work for research and find out what topics people are interested in or what questions they are searching answers for, but it is at the end of day it's worth the hard work
Kathleen Garvin
Hi Halie! Thanks for sharing examples of buyer personas. And is there anyone who DOESN'T love BuzzSumo? I rely on their daily notifications, myself.
Great article and valuable tips to implement into my content marketing strategies.

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