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How to Leverage Natural Syndication Networks to Earn More Links

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How to Leverage Natural Syndication Networks to Earn More Links

Domenica D‘Ottavio
How to Leverage Natural Syndication Networks to Earn More Links

As a content marketer, I believe that the best way to improve domain authority—and therefore search engine ranking—is to earn a large number of links from high-authority publishers. To do this successfully, you have to produce top-quality, relevant and interesting content that journalists will want to write about.

In my last post for SEMrush, I talked about how digital PR specialists can improve their outreach emails, citing an internal analysis of my team’s successful pitches as evidence of what works. I talked through a few major points: subject lines, pitch length, closing, and follow up best practices.

If you read that post, you already know how to write a successful email pitch. In this post, we are going to cover who to pitch. That is, which publishers deliver the most bang for your buck (or, the most ROI on your pitch) when it comes to content marketing outreach.

In 2018, our media relations team earned 41,545 press mentions for our client content marketing campaigns. These press mentions appeared on a variety of top-tier, national, international, and local websites across all verticals. Note: 1,135 of those press mentions were the result of direct outreach to a journalist by one of our media relations specialists.

So, where did the other ~40,000 stories come from? Two words: natural syndication.

What Are Publisher Syndication Networks?

My first encounter with a publisher syndication network occurred over three years ago when I earned my first placement on USA Today; a great placement for someone new to media relations. After the initial excitement of seeing the story I pitched come to life wore off, it was business as usual. I continued pitching the content to other publishers. As I was list-building, however, I came across the same USA Today story—by the same author—published on multiple websites with unique domains. How could this be?

USA Today is owned by Gannett Company, an entity that owns over 100 daily newspapers as well as close to 1,000 weekly newspapers. While the article didn’t syndicate to all of Gannet’s properties, it did get published on about 20 separate online newspapers.

So, a single email pitch earned placements on 20 unique domains with distinctive audiences? That is some high ROI if you ask me.

USA Today isn’t alone in this effect. Other publishers act as hubs, or influencers, publishing articles that are either automatically syndicated (like in USA Today’s case) or organically “picked up” by other journalists looking for reputable stories to feature within their beat.

So, which publishers act as the biggest influencers of content distribution?

After three years of pitching content to nearly every online publisher in the United States, I have developed a deep intuition of which domains have the most syndication potential for our clients’ content. But my team wanted to learn more.

Using SEMrush, Fractl co-founder, Kristin Tynski, took a look at the link networks of the top 400 most trafficked American publishers online. She then used Gephi, a powerful network visualization tool to make sense of this enormous web of links. Essentially, the visualization below shows the relationships each unique publisher has with each other.

Publisher Syndication NetworksClick the picture to interact with the visualization

Tools like SEMrush and Gephi allow us to more deeply understand how online news publications and influential niche blogs interact with one another. We were able to gain insight into how content is distributed and syndicated through link networks.

There are some immediate relationships we can recognize just from clicking around on the visualization:

  • Nodes clustered around each other are publishers that link to each other often. A good example is NBC.com, MSNBC.com, and Today.com. They are all owned by the same proprietor. The closeness of these nodes is the result of heavy interlinking and story syndication.

  • Some news publishers grouped near other news publishers have similar political leanings. Liberal-leaning publishers Politico, Salon, The Atlantic, and Washington Post are all grouped together, while more conservative publishers Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and BizPac Review are grouped.

Why Understanding Syndication Networks Will Vastly Increase Campaign Success

If you had the choice of sending a pitch and earning a placement or sending a pitch and earning 20 placements, which would you choose?

When you start to understand which news outlets have the largest syndication networks, you are empowered to prioritize those high-syndication publications over publications with lower reach.

After all, not all placements are created equally.

It all comes down to list-building. While both a travel writer at PopSugar and a travel writer at Reuters might enjoy your data-driven travel content, the Reuters writer has a wider influence, plain and simple.

As a result, the content you are pitching will earn significantly more widespread link pickups.

By using the visualization above, you can clearly identify the top publishers for list-building. They are not surprising: CNN, The New York Times, BBC, & Reuters are immediately obvious. The New York Times enjoys earning the most Pulitzer prizes of all time—and that should give you an indication of why they are a trusted source for other journalists to find authoritative story ideas.

If your content gets picked up by any of these sites, it is almost guaranteed that you will earn dozens—if not hundreds—of press mentions from other websites without any additional outreach on your part.

How to Leverage Natural Syndication Networks to Expand Your Reach  

Step 1: Create Newsworthy, Relevant, Unique, and Share-worthy Content

There is a reason that earning a placement on the New York Times is such a big deal—it is notoriously difficult to do. If you are trying to organically earn exposure on influential content hubs like the NYT, the Washington Post, or CNN, you can’t start with a drab piece of content.

So what makes newsworthy, relevant, unique, and share-worthy content? According to SEMrush, "quality content relies on precise analytics and trustworthy data. When content is not supported by data, one can never be sure that it will directly hit the audience’s pain points."

After years of experience, I confidently agree that "data-driven content marketing is what produces the most high-quality backlinks we receive for our clients. Here are some ideas for finding the data sources that can become the basis of your content strategy: 

Once you have your data, learn what makes content worthy of high-authority placements by including these three characteristics of high-quality content.

Step 2: Identify High-Authority Publishers with Large Natural Syndication Networks

Build out a list of dream publishers for your content.

When evaluating whether to select a publisher or a journalist for outreach, there are four main qualifiers you should be thinking about. 

1. Topical Relevance 

Identify a few choice writers or editors that cover the specific beat that your content is relevant to.

It might seem obvious, but this key qualifier is often neglected by PR practitioners that care more about pitch volume than their reputation. Irrelevant pitches are very high on the journalist pet peeves list and will land your email in the trash folder 99% of the time. 

prfail

2. Domain Authority 

Domain Authority (DA) is “a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.” — Moz

Domain Authority is a third-party metric developed by Moz to help marketers identify the strength of their website. While Google isn't completely transparent about their ranking algorithm, DA is a scoring system that you could use to compare websites against each other. Domain Authority is a good qualifying metric to use when building an outreach list. Generally, the higher the DA of a website, the wider their audience, and the more likely that they have broad natural syndication networks. 

A good rule of thumb is to select publishers for your outreach list with a Domain Authority of 60 or higher, depending on the content you're promoting. Moz created a free Google Chrome extension called the MozBar that you can use to check the DA of the news publishers on your list. 

3. Social Engagement

The goal of any good outreach activity should be to get whatever you are pitching in front of as many eyes as possible, within your target audience. For example, if you are representing a fitness brand and promoting jogging-related content, who would be better to pitch than a health and fitness journalist at a lifestyle publication with an active social media presence and a broad reach? And, how might you find this journalist? 

Buzzsumo is one tool that every marketer should have in their arsenal — I use every day to help find the most powerful influencers within any given niche. Here's how a quick Buzzsumo search can help you identify who to pitch in a matter of minutes. 

Buzzsumo

First, head over to Buzzsumo.com and select the Influencers tab at the top. Then, type in your search query.

For this example, I wrote "fitness writer". Buzzsumo allows you to filter results, and for this query, I selected Bloggers, Influencers, Companies, and Journalists (I deselected "Regular people"). I also selected "Active Influencers" to ensure that this person actively engages on social media and "Verified Influencers" to weed out unverified Twitter users. After you have typed in your query and selected your filters, click "Search".

Here is one of the first results I see from my "fitness writer" query: 

buzzsumoresultamanda.png

When you check out Amanda Loudin's Twitter profile, it is plain to see that she would be an excellent outreach target for a running campaign. Not only is her featured image a picture of her running, but her Twitter bio clearly shows her authority as a fitness writer for the Washington Post, Outside Online, Runner's World, and ESPN Woman. She also has 11,000 followers and has tweeted in the last 3 hours. Who better to pitch than her for your jogging campaign? It is that easy. 

amandatwitter.png

4. The Potential for a Broad-Reaching Syndication Network

Unfortunately, not every target on your list can have broad-sweeping syndication networks. But you can be sure to at least include a few targets that have the potential to naturally syndicate content across the Internet. 

By using the one-of-a-kind interactive visualization our co-founder created using Gephi and SEMrush, you can easily identify top publishers with massive link networks to include on your outreach list. 

To figure out which sites enjoy the most links from the widest variety of sites, look to the most central nodes on the visualization. You will immediately identify Reuters, CNN, and the NYTimes are located at the center, with large volumes of links incoming from all over; this basically means that these sites get linked to the most often from other sites, often as sources. If CNN covers something, other journalists might pick up the same story and write it for their own publication. 

You also may realize that the tighter the cluster of nodes are together, the more interlinking happens between them. Publishers that appear closer together are often either owned by the same company (like Gannett) or have built-in automatic link syndication relationships. A good example is the Gizmodo Media Group. Gizmodo owns Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, and Lifehacker. The closeness of nodes in this group is the result of heavy interlinking and story syndication.

After you have identified which publishers with large linking networks you would like to target, you can search for individual journalists at those publications using Google search operators. For example, say I want to include CNN on my outreach list for the jogging content. I might enter "site:cnn.com exercise" and filter results from the last year. 

On the first page of results, this article comes up: "Three benefits of (and three precautions about) outdoor winter exercise". The author of the article, Dr. Melina Jampolis, writes a column for CNN and might be a good fit for your data-driven jogging content. A placement with CNN could be the first of many as a result of CNN's broad natural syndication network. 

Step 3: Send a Killer Pitch

More on this What 150 Successful PR Pitches Can Teach You About Securing Top-Tier Press Post Domenica D‘Ottavio

If you have great content, and you have built a list of influential journalists and publishers in your topic vertical, the only thing standing between you and a massive, diverse backlink portfolio is your pitch.

Between the subject line, the introduction, the pitch body and the close, that is a lot of pressure on a single email! Learn how to optimize your media pitch in my previous SEMrush post.

Not All Placements Are Considered Equal

Taking advantage of natural publisher syndication networks can mean the difference between generating less than a handful of links or hundreds of press mentions for your content.

I encourage you to test this strategy out with your next content marketing campaign. If you do, let me know how it went in the comments below!

The link graphs of news syndication networks were built using backlink exports from SEMrush. The visualization we created is free for you to use to optimize your own content outreach practices.

Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Domenica D'Ottavio is the Brand Relationship Manager at Fractl, a boutique growth agency based in Delray Beach, FL. When she’s not musing over the latest developments in content and PR, you can find her planning her next international trip, likely over a bowl of risotto.
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Comments

2000
John Rampton
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Pick syndication networks after seeing what they deliver and the type of traffic they drive to you.
Marco Diversi
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

I tripped for a while on the gephi graph!
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Marco Diversi
Yes, its really amazing work done by Kristin Tynski!
Terry Van Horne
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

I am a little skeptical since many of the PR syndicators were hit heavily by Panda and again when Penguin was released so I'd say there should be a HUGE caveat put on this technique. it was really useful up until about 2011 after that I've avoided this technique like the virtual plague... risk far outweighs advantages and most of the mentions are on sites that receive little if any traffic and the links likely have a high risk of being toxic at some point. I know for a fact at least one major syndicator has had manual penalties they have 100's of these syndication sites which when you look at the BL profile it looks more like a PBN than a syndication!

It's all about which syndication you choose thinking they are all created equally would be a huge mistake!
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Terry Van Horne
Lots of publishing networks use canonical tags to prevent duplicate content issues or indicate the original post. The real benefit in the example in my article is content exposure.

We often find that we'll earn a placement, at, for example, CNN or USA Today. The next day we wake up to unique coverage of the content on a few other major publishers — all unique posts by individual journalists.

The benefit of these natural syndication networks is that the power of one placement can be huge. Sites with large networks will syndicate, increasing the content exposure. Then other online writers will read the coverage and want to cover it individually for their own audience.

Because those syndication networks give the content so much exposure, more writers, editors, & journalists are likely to see the content and cover it for their own columns (with links) & those stories would be unique, not duplicate content.
neetha_qb
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

I have a doubt how we can find the trending topics from Buzzumo? So based on that we can create Facebook posts?? how we can make use of it for promotion? Can you please suggest me other social media promotional methods so that we can increase the interaction with the customers.
Scott Rumsey
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Really insightful piece, thanks for sharing. The recent EAT update from Google further strengthens the need to write content that the reader actually wants and that is helpful.
It'll be interesting to see how many businesses adopt some of the tactics listed above as trust plays an increasingly important role.
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Scott Rumsey
Thanks for the comment, Scott. Totally agree—high-quality content that is unique, surprising, or adds to the conversation is what will earn links naturally, and improve your website for Google rank.
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Domenica, your strategy for earning more links through syndication networks is good but the process is bound to take a lot of time, and that's what people need to understand. You may create a killer pitch, but you will still have to wait before you get a response. You may fail once or twice but not many times in the long run.
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Sahil Kakkar
Yes, this is a long term strategy. Thanks for the comment Sahil.
Ivana Kinsley
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

I want to learn more about the email outreach process for link building. I think your content really helpful for me and improve my link building knowledge. someone said that it was a long process and most of the time it fails. Is it true?
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Ivana Kinsley
If the content is below par, it will always fail. If you have amazing content and you take the steps to do email outreach right, you'll find success!
Nikola Roza
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Thanks, Domenica.

I read your previous post and it intrigued me then. Now, I'm convinced this is something I need to do and keep doing until I learn it. After all, it's a way to stand out because the process of creating, researching, pitching, and (consistently) earning links from big outlets seems excruciatingly difficult. That why I want to master it- think of the advantage:)
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Nikola Roza
Thanks for reading Nikola!
Amit Ghosh
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

This is where the juice is. Thanks for such a welcoming nutritious content .
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Amit Ghosh
Thanks for reading, Amit!
Pavel Naydenov
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

I never thought of link building in this way.
But it seems like an effective approach.
The thing is that even with a killer pitch and amazing content it is kind of hard to grab the attention of these top publishers.

But it is worth trying it.
Cheers.
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Pavel Naydenov
Pavel,
It's definitely one of the tactics that take the most upfront time and resources, but once you see the success you wouldn't do it any other way! Thanks for reading!
Surendra Dhote
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

It helped me really!
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Surendra Dhote
Thanks for reading Surendra!
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Awesome post . great ideas to follow.Thank you
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

lyric
Thanks for the comment Lyric!
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

This is such a great post. Honestly, I have been curious as to how many companies do this and now I finally understand it.
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Kristina
Glad you liked it Kristina!
C. Alex Velazquez
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Awesome post! I believe in leveraging PR companies for SEO / earned media... we actually publish (only internally) a set of 'linking guidelines' for our PR companies to use, so that no stone goes un-turned when they reach out, even on traditional PR placements. We also have the advantage of being a very large, well-resourced travel group (meaning, we have what everyone wants... hotel rooms and getaways!) ... so often times, it's less data driven when seeking earned media, and more about if a contributing or senior editor would like a free weekend stay somewhere, etc. - the short of it is, always finding what people want, and that's how we tend to work with our PR companies. Although,... lol... with FRACTL's sexy homepage, I'm beginning to wonder if we should reach out and see what's under the hood with them,... ;) Great piece! Very engaging...
Anastasiia Nesterova
SEMrush

SEMrush employee.

C. Alex Velazquez
Hey Alex, long time no see! Nice to see you on the blog commenting again 👋
C. Alex Velazquez
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Anastasiia Nesterova
It's nice to be back... ;)
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

C. Alex Velazquez
Thanks for the kind words! Oooh, if I were an editor, I'd LOVE a nice weekend getaway somewhere!

Heading to Colombia next week and already booked accommodation, but if I hadn't, I'd ask you for advice on where to stay!

We're always open to talk earned media, so feel free to get in touch with me anytime to start the conversation!
Andrew N.J.
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Thank you for the article, Domenica. I totally agree on "support your content by data".

Also, Buzzsumo looks like a nice tool to use 🤔 Is there any other tools which can help find the influencers or Buzzsumo is the best option you've tried?
Domenica D‘Ottavio
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Andrew N.J.
Thanks for the comment! BuzzSumo is my favorite for finding contacts, but BuzzStream is what our team uses to manage all of the relationships we've built with contacts through outreach. :)
C. Alex Velazquez
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Domenica D‘Ottavio
Ticking a little box next to 'Demo BuzzStream' in my OneNote now... lol

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