Let’s get one thing straight; links remain one of Google’s main ranking factors. That is not going to change any time soon.
What has changed, quite significantly, over the past 6 or 7 years, however, is the type of links which make a difference to your organic visibility.
Remember Penguin? Google’s first major round of manual link-based penalties? Believe it or not, we are now more than six years past this, and things have changed...for the better.
While SEOs could once rank a website using little but a few keyword-stuffed title tags and a handful of exact match anchor text links bought from an overseas PBN, today things are very different.
Understanding Authority Links
There is of course, still numerous different types of links which contribute towards a great link profile, but the real authority links in 2018 are those which are editorially given by top-tier publications.
What makes these such powerful links?
The obvious one is the fact that such publications hold a great DA or Trust Score (or whatever metrics you are tracking link quality with) but aside from this, it is the fact that they are hard to come by.
Any competitor (or their agency) can relatively easily grab the same directory or resource page links as you can, and without too much effort they can likely land guest posts on the same industry blogs as you.
What isn’t quite as simple for competitors to replicate is grabbing too-tier editorially given links. Digital PR is getting harder and journalists aren’t covering in the same volumes some of the content formats they once were (i.e., s**t infographics which aren’t actionable or bring nothing new to the table).
Editorially Earned Links Are Getting Harder To Land
To put it simply, editorial links are getting increasingly difficult to land, which in turn means less of your competitors are earning such links. This is great for those who can devise a way to land links from top-tier publishers as it is a great way to gain a competitive advantage; especially if you can gather momentum and earn these links on a regular basis.
The good news is that top-tier links aren’t as hard to land as some may have you believe. You have just got to change your train of thought and your focus.
Stop thinking like an SEO. Think like a PR.
Knowing how to do this, thankfully, can be broken down to a simple formula...
Big Links = A Great Story Told To The Right People
It is that simple.
It is all about understanding the role of journalists in digital publishing and stepping aside from what many SEOs tell you.
If you want to earn links, create content. Research and produce 5,000 word guides which cover a topic in more depth than anything else on the web, which can be regarded as the best result for a search query.
You have probably heard this advice hundreds of times.
It works... when you are wanting to rank a page for a search term. Produce the best piece of content for that query (think skyscraper technique, 10x content, etc.) and push it out to industry influencers. Then, write a few guest posts and try to land a few links which cite the content as a great resource.
But will this ever land you links from journalists writing for top-tier publishers? Those which increase your domain’s overall authority?
Why? It is simple...
Journalists cover stories, not content!
It might be hard to hear but, in most cases, journalists couldn’t care less about that shiny interactive you have just produced or even your pixel perfect infographic; all they are interested in is the story.
Making a shift to story-led link building, however, doesn’t always come naturally to SEOs; but luckily there are a few simple tips to follow to ensure your content ideas are backed by stories.
During ideation sessions, while coming up with concepts, evaluate every idea by asking 3 simple questions:
1. What is the hook?
The absolute basics of PR are ensuring that there is a hook to the journalist; a reason why they should cover a story and why it will be of interest to their audience.
In many ways, it is common sense. Ask yourself whether your content concept sits inline with what is regularly covered by journalists at top-tier publications. Is it newsworthy or is the idea simply something which may educate but not be of interest to wider audiences?
Finding a hook can be an art in itself, even for a seasoned PR. However, there is plenty of great resources (check out this post from Builtvisible and this from ActivePR as starters) to help you gain some skills on the practice.
If you can find a hook, there is a good chance that a story sits alongside it. Score!
Going one step beyond this, too few marketers fail to establish whether or not there is a hook between the brand producing the content and the concept.Ask yourself whether it makes sense for your brand to be producing content on a specific topic. Are you in a position to be an authority on the subject? Is there any relevancy at all?
Always be prepared for a journalist to push back and ask why you are the one telling a story if it is not obvious.
If you are a travel brand, it makes absolute sense for you to be creating content and telling stories relating to destinations, cultures, attractions, food and similar, but would it make sense if you suddenly began talking about pop culture? Unless it is hooked to travel in an obvious way, no it wouldn't.
Don't be tempted to produce the content and tell the stories you think might be covered unless there is a hook to your brand; journalists will see through your attempts to land coverage.
2. What do potential headlines look like?
Spend ten minutes writing down potential headlines for your top concepts.
These certainly don't have to be accurate in terms of final data; they are just being used to test the interest potential of a campaign idea, but are intended to allow you to see how journalists could cover your content.
The goal here is to end up with 5 - 10 headlines which pique interest when tested out upon others.
Let's take an example from a campaign ran last year - You vs. The Kardashians - an interactive salary calculator which let you compare your salary to that of the Kardashians.
This campaign started life as a series of potential headlines such as:
- It takes Kim Kardashian just 6 hours to earn the average UK salary.
- Kim Kardashians earns the equivalent of YOUR yearly salary in just a few hours...
- Interactive tool lets you compare your annual earnings to the Kardashian family.
Each one evokes thought and emotion, right? Love them or hate them, you will struggle to find someone who doesn't have an opinion on the Kardashians earnings and how that relates to each of us.
Once you have collected a series of potential headlines for your concept, go ahead and try the headlines out on others people such as those who work in a completely different department in the office, your partner at home or even your grandma! If the headlines evoke some sort of a reaction, there is an indication that there is a real story behind the idea and that it is worth developing further as a concept.
Testing headlines out on those not directly connected with campaigns gives you some degree of testing from a wider audience; so don't be afraid to assess ideas in this way.
3. Does anyone give a s**t?
Especially if you are working in-house, this can be a difficult one to grasp. It is so easy to get caught up in ideas and concepts, however its vital that you ask yourself, truthfully, whether anyone actually cares about the topic.
Of course, this isn't to say that the ideas are poor, far from it, just that not everything works to push out to press.
If what you are coming up with is more of an educational nature, it may be that it is an excellent piece of cornerstone content which can rank highly on the SERPs and help to educate users through your sales funnel, but it may never land links. Why? Because there is no real story and nothing of a newsworthy nature.
The Journalist Mindset
Don't forget that journalists are looking for stories and not every idea you have will result in a story. That is totally fine; it is all about understanding the purpose of each piece of content you create.
Take the time to establish whether journalists either at top-tier national and international publications or those at niche publications are at least talking about the topic you are considering hooking a story to. If they are, you are likely going down the right lines. If not, ask yourself whether anyone will want to engage with the content and the reality of journalists covering, and linking, to it.
To Wrap Up
There is no denying the value of editorially driven links to support an SEO strategy, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to rank in competitive industries without these kinds of links.
Think like a PR, execute like an SEO (always looking for links; ethically, at scale) and you will start to evaluate your content concepts differently and, ultimately, increase the success of campaigns and be in a far better position to discount at an early stage those which just don't stand a chance of landing coverage.