As anyone in the SEO industry knows, gaining links to your website is a key part of improving your website’s rankings, traffic and business as a whole (if you’re looking for business online of course).
The way to do this has changed a lot over the years, from spammy tactics and paid links in the not-too-distant past, to today when links on higher powered, top-tier publications are much more important and influential. To achieve this, a much more tactical and thought-out approach is needed, with the most creative and persistent marketers becoming ever-more successful.
One way of attracting these kind of links is through creating interesting, relevant content and publicising it to the right kind of publications. This has become known as content marketing, though isn’t much different from more traditional PR strategies that have been around from as long ago as the 19th Century.
With the internet at the fingertips of nearly everyone on the planet these days, more and more publications are being created that are desperate for content and this creates a huge opportunity for businesses looking to get featured in those kind of places and to get links from them. Create something good enough, and these people will snap your hand off to use it.
We saw the fruits of this approach with a recent campaign we ran...
We created a piece of content for a travel company which we successfully placed on the LA Times, AllTop, Matador Network and many other top-tier sites with a high domain authority (DA70+) and here I’ll break down exactly how we did it. This works time and time again for the travel companies we work with, but can be applied across all industries to gain similar results.
The first mistake many people make when trying to come up with content for their site is diving straight in to the production of it. Whoa! (That’s English for stop a horse.)
Before you start creating anything you need to decide on who your outreach targets are and create something in tune with the kind of content they feature. You can do this one of two ways.
If you have a particular kind of content in mind you can look for similar things that already exist and have gained some good coverage, then reverse engineer the sites that linked to that to create yourself a list of ready-made targets. If they’ve linked to something in a similar format, there’s a great chance they’ll link to you too if you create something good enough. You can use SEMrush’s Backlinks feature in the Domain Analytics to uncover this information really easily.
If you have a particular site in mind that you want to get coverage on (such as a strong niche industry site) then you have to spend time immersing yourself in that site’s content and see what they love covering, and also which particular journalists are covering things that would be a good fit for you.
Are they featuring lots of infographics? Go and get an interesting infographic created. Do they love featuring the results of studies? Head on over to Survey Monkey and get yourself some data. Loads of video content? You guessed it, time to get the camcorder out (if you’re from the 90s of course).
Once you’ve done this you should have a good idea of the kind of content that’s in demand, and who wants to feature it. Use this to create a list of outreach targets that you’ll have ready to go once your content’s ready. This might differ depending on your goal; if you just want to be featured in one key place then your list might be very short, but if you’re looking for lots of links you’ll need to tailor your content to fit a wider variety of sites and have a longer list to begin with.
In this instance, we wanted to get coverage on top-tier domains but we weren’t too drawn to any one in particular, so we pulled together a list of a wide selection of journalists that we thought would like the different kinds of content we could produce and had covered them in the past.
Once you have your list of targets in place it’s time to start pulling your ideas together. There is a set of things to consider that will give your content the best possible chance of getting featured and catching the eye of journalists when you send it over to them:
- The Hook
The first of these is the hook. Why would someone want to feature your content? Does it sync in with an event or something particularly timely? Does it have a reason for the journalist to feature it now or do they have an excuse to procrastinate? If it’s not timely then you lower your potential to get featured in the near future. We ran a campaign around the TV series Game of Thrones and promoted it around the season finale. Everyone was talking about it and there was a massive buzz, so journalists were looking for any content they could get their hands on to feature as soon as they could to capitalise on that interest.
Next up is reach. Does your content appeal to a wide audience, or is it very specialist? The more specialist your content the less likely it is to get featured in lots of places (but the greater the opportunity to laser-target it to one publication/journalist). Content pieces that often do very well compare items from different countries around the world and therefore have worldwide appeal. This means publications from every corner of the globe might cover it, as there is a hook into their individual audiences. Do something specific to the UK and it’s unlikely you’ll get US or other international websites covering it.
Finally, we have quality. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you create something that isn’t up to scratch then it’s unlikely to do well. There are exceptions to this, where the idea is so good that it overcomes any shortcomings in the content itself, but they’re few and far between. And anyway, if your idea is so good, surely you want to make the most of it?
For our example, we wanted to create something which tied in with Christmas as it was fast-approaching and we knew it was very timely and websites would be on the lookout for good content to use in the run up to Christmas Day.
We thought a video of people saying Merry Christmas in their own language from around the world would work well, and we’d seen a similar concept around Valentines Day which we could use to research further outreach targets.
This satisfied the timeliness for the hook, as well as having a wide reach as it covered a wide variety of countries around the world so warranted international interest. All we needed now was to produce something of a good enough quality…
As I highlighted above, you can do all the planning in the world, but if you produce something that isn’t good enough you’re unlikely to see much success.
We decided that the best way to present our information would be to find people in the actual locations we wanted to feature, and ask them to say Merry Christmas in the local language. We had found lots of content that listed how to say Merry Christmas around the world, or infographics with worldwide Christmas information, but nothing that featured actual people on location which we thought would add a real authenticity to the piece.
This didn’t need to be hugely expensive either. We rallied round friends and relatives from the team who could speak different languages, contacts the client had in the locations they cover, and used forums like Fiverr and Upwork to find people in other places to produce a comprehensive enough selection of languages to create the video we wanted of around 60 to 90 seconds.
Once we had all the clips we needed we edited it in-house and added the relevant branding to the piece so it was ready to go!
Once you have your content ready to go it’s time to start your outreach! You can do this in a couple of ways.
Offer an Exclusive
If you have one particular publication in mind then it can be very effective to offer your content to that journalist as an exclusive. This is a nice way of making that journalist feel special and like the content is really created with them in mind, as well as prompting them to actually look at it which might not happen with everything as their inbox gets flooded with suggestions.
If you do go with the exclusive approach, be sure to get the content up on your site as soon as possible afterwards (according to what you’ve agreed with the journalist) so that when people do see it and come to your site they can find it there too. This means if anyone picks the content up from your original coverage, they are more likely to link back to your page than the website you gave the exclusive to.
Get It Out There
The other option is to take a blanket approach to your outreach and send it far and wide as quickly as possible. This is a good way to do it if your content has mass appeal, and also if you’re on a tight deadline leading up to a particular event or date.
This was the case for us, so when the video was ready we started reaching out in early December to give journalists plenty of time to plan it into their editorial calendar if they wished to use it.
Now, the way you reach out to people is very important in the success you get from it. As with the quality of the content, a crappy templated outreach email will likely leave you consigned to the special filing cabinet (read spam!) never to be seen again. Don’t be one of those people!
There have been lots of fantastic posts written about outreach and it is an individual topic all of its own, so I won’t try and dumb it down into a few sentences here. Instead check out these two fantastic resources from Sujan Patel and Tim Soulo:
We saw some fantastic results from the piece, with the video being featured on the LA Times and 6 other sites with a domain authority above 70, as well as numerous other smaller sites.
We also reached out to a variety of people with good social media followings who shared the video, giving us some great visibility for the brand. The highlight of this was the Distractify page, which has more than 3 million Likes, where the video was viewed more than 38k times.
All this coverage resulted in some really nice spikes in referral traffic through December, showing the relevance of the piece as people who were finding the video where it was featured wanted to click through and find out more about who created it.
The great thing about this piece as well is that we can take it again in the run up to next Christmas and do further outreach to try and gain more coverage and get more value for money for the client from the project.
I wanted to share this example to illustrate that this kind of approach can work for anyone if you spend time coming up with a good idea and put in some elbow grease to find the right people to send it to.
The results here aren’t outrageous. The total number of links currently sits at less than 20, but the sites which have featured it are incredibly powerful and links from these kind of top-tier sites are becoming ever more important in ranking well. We’ve worked with sites that have ranked well for some of the most competitive phrases in the travel industry with less than 20 links, but they were all from this kind of site, showing that fewer links from top sites can be extremely influential, making content marketing and PR more important than ever as part of your marketing activity.
We’ve run campaigns in the past that have achieved exceptional, unprecedented results, but I felt this example illustrated something more achievable. It’s the kind of example that people could take away and feel is possible, rather than feeling fazed by another one of those case studies that tells you what the biggest companies on the web are doing that you will never be able to replicate yourself. If you follow the steps above, then I’ve no doubt this is something anyone reading this could put into action themselves and see fantastic results.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments and anyone else’s experiences with content marketing projects. And let me know if you put the process into action and see results and I'll be happy to share them far and wide!