As business owners and organisations increasingly recognise the integral role of SEO in their marketing plan, Digital PR is still often an area that is undervalued and overlooked.  In a recent Twitter discussion, Google’s John Mueller sparked controversy after praising Digital PR, pointing to its growing importance, and even citing it as just as critical, if not more so, than technical SEO

So, in order to break down these perceptions, we’re revealing our guide to link building in 2021: showcasing why Digital PR is such an essential part of a well rounded SEO strategy, and how you can get started on developing your own link building process. 

The increasing importance of SEO in 2021

With lockdowns and social distancing pushing our lives more online than ever, the significance of providing consumers with more ecommerce opportunities and accessibility has increased greatly.  As organisations continue to invest more in their online presence to meet consumer demand, the importance of investing in search engine optimisation and ranking well amongst competitors has grown.   Now that individuals are looking to purchase more items online, businesses should take advantage of this opportunity, while recognising the changing demands of society - ensuring an easy and smooth user experience.  In essence, as competition grows and consumer expectations are lifted, brands need to rank well in order to be visible amongst all the noise, and they need the help of Digital PR to build links and boost rankings.

What exactly is Digital PR and how does it help build relevant high-quality links?

While we touched on what Digital PR is, it’s important to understand why links are important for SEO.  Using Digital PR strategies, businesses are able to gain high quality links across different sites.  A high quality link is when an organisation is linked to from a website with a high domain authority (DA). When a site has a link from a high authority domain, it acts as a vote of confidence to your site, sending a positive signal to Google that your site is also trustworthy.  Moreover, as you build more high quality links, Google recognises your business’ site as an increasingly trustworthy and relevant source for that particular sector. As a result, more high quality links will allow your site to rank higher in their search rankings, and in turn generate more organic traffic to your site. When it comes to link building, there are also different types of links, including natural, manual, acquired and self-created. 

Types of links

Natural Links - A natural link occurs organically, meaning the link does not exist within sponsored or paid content. Rather, a natural link exists as a reference to a piece of content, website, or source. Manual Links - Manual links are a result of outreaching bloggers and websites asking for a link. For example, outreaching information regarding a newsworthy event that you feel they would want to cover.  Acquired Link - Acquired links are received as a result of payment or distribution. These types of links tend to be discouraged and are generally seen as not best practice. Self-created, non-editorial links - These types of links are an example of a ‘bad’ link, meaning your site will be penalised and affected negatively (i.e. embeddable widgets, blog comments that aren’t moderated, and article directories.)

What makes a good link?

While domain authority is an important way to measure a search engine ranking score, there are several other factors that determine what classifies a ‘good’ link.

Spam Score and Domain Authority

Although a website may have a good domain authority, it can be negatively impacted by its spam score.  The spam score refers to the percentage of sites with similar features to the site you’re researching that have been penalised or banned by Google. As a result, a build up of spam links to your site causes losses in rankings, penalisation and deindexing by Google. A score below 30% is what you are aiming for - a score above 30% is considered a medium spam score - and a score above 60% is high.  Overall, a good domain authority AND a good spam score are important factors in making a ‘good’ link.  In order to measure these scores, we recommend downloading Moz. You can check Domain Authorities using Moz's Link Explorer, or in MozBar (Moz's free SEO toolbar). 

Tiered Publications

One of the aims in outreaching is receiving a link from a top-tier publication. In general, a top tier publication refers to well-known publications that has a high readership and a high domain authority. For example, The Guardian, BBC or the Financial Times. These publications therefore pass on more equity to your site, and make excellent links.  However, top-tier can mean different things to different clients, so it’s important to understand what their ‘ultimate’ publication to be featured in is.  Depending on their brand and their target audience, these publications may vary significantly.  For instance, one brand's ‘ultimate’ may be a lifestyle magazine such as Cosmopolitan or Stylist, while a more niche brand, such as a golf travel company, may be more interested in Golf Magic or National Club Golfer.  By making sure you are targeting relevant top-tier publications, you’ll be able to build high-quality links, while seeing more success in your outreach, and increase brand awareness by linking from content that your target audience reads. 

Relevant Publications and Contacts

When creating a Digital PR campaign, outreaching targeted and relevant publications is key. In creating your prospect list it’s important to consider what gaining a link from that particular publication would do for your site, so make sure to explore different tiered publications, their target audience, and who exactly you’re outreaching.  Initially, it may seem tempting to outreach as many top-tier publications as you can, but this is an inefficient and ineffective strategy. For one, journalists receive a lot of pitches every day, so sorting through the noise is something they are familiar with, and don’t greatly appreciate. Subsequently, it’s best to create an outreach list that targets relevant publications, as well as the most relevant contact on their site.  This will save you time, while making sure you are targeting the right audience and journalists. 

Ideation

Now that we’ve covered some of our favourite Digital PR strategies, it’s essential to understand how practitioners generate a variety of ideas for a vast range of clients.  The biggest challenge when creating a Digital PR campaign is coming up with an idea that fits your client and is newsworthy. Most brands don’t have an obviously ‘exciting’ story all of the time, so it’s up to Digital PR practitioners to create the story and the campaign around it.  So, where do you start?  Search Twitter - Twitter is an amazing starting point. Journalists are your biggest resource and are constantly on the lookout for new stories, so use this to your advantage. Search under the hashtag #journorequest to find ideas and opportunities, or sign up to JournoRequests to receive PR opportunities, organised by topic, delivered to your email inbox everyday.   Set Alerts - Setting up alerts is the best way to stay on top of news and spot any potential PR opportunities. Using platforms such as Google Alerts, Buzzsumo, or Meltwater, you can monitor and identify relevant topics and keywords. In doing so, practitioners can be prepared for reactive campaigns - identifying what will get pick-up and how you can create a story around buzzworthy topics and events.  Utilise Reddit - Despite being a popular social media platform, Reddit is often overlooked as a resource. When it comes to monitoring conversations, trends, and finding data, Reddit can actually be a great and underrated asset. For interesting data stories and angles, check out the Data is Beautiful page.  Audiense Intelligence - Using programs such as Audiense and Pulsar you can identify relevant audiences, stay on top of the real-time conversations, and discover insights to inform campaigns and generate ideas.  For example, using Audiense and Pulsar we were able to develop a campaign around the rise of alternative milks. With a quarter of Brits trading cow’s milk for alternative milks, we wanted to see which brands were leading the way, and the conversation around it. In doing so, we were able to gain links in publications like Vegconomist, and uncover the topics and brands in the alternative milk conversation. 

Strategies and Types of Campaigns

In creating a Digital PR campaign, there are a variety of strategies and types of campaigns that generate links. Here are some of our favourites:  Newsjacking  As a Digital PR practitioner, it’s important to continuously keep your finger on the pulse of news, current events, and social media trends.  Newsjacking refers to the process of monitoring live news and spotting opportunities to put clients at the centre of those conversations. This could be by creating a campaign relevant to the conversation, or providing commentary as an industry expert. As a result, you’re able to establish the brand as an industry leader, as well as gain valuable links and coverage. For example, when the government roadmap was set out for lockdown being lifted we asked ourselves: do we have any clients that can add value to this conversation? And in fact, we did! With so many journalists discussing the influx in holiday bookings, we reached out with commentary from one of our travel brands, and landed them a brand mention in the Guardian. By reaching out with commentary, we were able to provide value to the journalist and to our client, without spending valuable resource on developing a new campaign.  Data Stories  Data storytelling is one of the most effective ways to gain a number of links. By providing a story based on a new dataset, your brand has a unique selling point and a fresh angle.  These findings can provide journalists with new insights on trends, perspectives, and consumer preferences. In order to make the most of this data, present it in a way that would be interesting and easily digestible to the journalist and the reader (i.e. an infographic).  In a recent campaign for our client Golf Travel Centre, we wanted to create a data story relevant to golf travel, while taking into consideration seasonal topics that would expand our outreach list.  Towards the end of last year, with Dry January approaching, we decided to collect data revealing ‘how much the average Brit saves during Dry January’. In conducting our analysis, we were able to overlay data on  Golf Travel Centre holidays you would be able to afford with your savings, as well as a list of interesting and widely appealing golf items.  As a result, this data story was able to land us links in relevant publications such as Golf Magic and Bunkered. 

Sourcing Data  Once you have a great idea, it can often be challenging sourcing fresh and highly relevant data. Not every PR practitioner or agency has a group of data scientists behind them, so here’s our data source recommendations to get you over this hurdle:  Office for National Statistics (ONS) - The ONS provides statistics on the UK's economy, society and population, making it an excellent resource for data. Tip: if a report is not up to date or is something you will likely use again, sign up to be notified and sent when the latest update is published.  Google Data Search - Google has its own data search engine, that helps researchers locate online data that is freely available for use. Dataset Search can filter results based on the desired type of data. YouGov - If you’re looking for survey information, YouGov is a great resource. Through market research, YouGov supplies a stream of data and insight into what the world thinks, spanning topics from politics to culture, and covering conversations around beliefs, behaviours and brands.

Prospecting and Outreaching

Once you’ve completed the ideation phase and chosen a great idea, it’s time to start prospecting. The prospect list refers to the list of journalists you will be outreaching with your campaign. In order to create a good outreach list, it needs to be highly targeted and specific to your campaign.  As we discussed earlier, tier 1 publications make good high-quality links and should be heavily featured on your prospect list, but there are also other types of publications that should be prospected for.  How do you create the perfect prospect list? The first step is to identify the relevant stakeholders and who you’re trying to target. From there, gather publications that would be relevant to your brands target audience.  Take our client Crown Pavilions, a company creating beautiful living spaces for gardens. With an aim of targeting a luxury demographic, it’s important to target tier 1 publications, but it’s also extremely important to target lifestyle and home & garden publications that cater to this demographic. In targeting these publications, we can expand our outreach list and reach more relevant stakeholders.  Finding Prospects When it comes to finding prospects, there are several effective ways to source publications and journalists.  Firstly, create a list of relevant publications by searching for articles that relate to your subject or pitch. From there, look for articles that relate to your campaign topic and contact the journalist who wrote that article. By doing this, you’re making sure you’re targeting a relevant publication and the journalist that will likely be the most receptive to your outreach email.  Secondly, take advantage of any tools you have access to. One way to see what publications competitors are receiving features in is by searching on Ahrefs. This tool will allow you to monitor competitor coverage and gather relevant publications. In addition, Buzzsumo, Buzzstream, and Meltwater are great sources to look for influencers, track relevant articles and find publications.  Outreach Email Once prospecting is completed, it’s time to craft your outreach email. The outreach email is essentially your pitch to journalists, persuading them to write about your campaign idea. In order to create an effective email, here are our tips:  
  • Personalise your email. Journalists receive dozens of emails a day, meaning they sort through a lot of generic messages. By personalising your outreach email, whether it’s by simply addressing them by name, or mentioning a recent article they wrote, your email will stand out and show you put thought into it. 
 
  • Tailor your pitch. As a form of personalisation, tailoring your pitch to the type of publication or specific journalist is incredibly important. No two publications cover a story in the same way, so pay attention to the types of headlines they use and the tone they write in. For example, if you are outreaching a publication like the Daily Mail or Sun, tailor your subject line to imitate their distinctive style so it sounds like a headline they would write themselves. 
 
  • Keep it to the point. With journalists receiving so many emails, your pitch needs to be straight to the point. Using bullet points, or using bold, underline or italics, to emphasise strong statistics, can make it easier for journalists to decipher your story, and decide if they are interested in covering it. 
 
  • Decide if a press release will add more value. A press release is included in a lot of outreach emails to provide more detail on the story. Typically, the press release includes who, what, why, where, when, and how. Whether you want to include one or not is up to you. I would ask yourself: is there too much information to include solely in an email? And will including a press release provide additional value? The answer will vary depending on the type of campaign you are running. 

How to monitor campaigns and measure success

Finally, after all of this, how do you monitor and measure the success of your campaign?   The success of your campaign ultimately depends on the KPIs you set. KPIs refer to your key performance indicators, and in digital PR, the most prominent KPI is typically the number of links you gained. Subsequently, it’s important to have a clear idea of your target number of links.  From there, there are several other measures of success: 
  • Website traffic
  • Website conversions
  • Social engagement
  • Use of content 
  • Email opens 
While there are a number of tools to monitor and measure campaigns, Meltwater is one we highly recommend. Through Meltwater you can monitor emails sent, open rate, and click to open rate. From there, use any of the alert tools we discussed earlier to see if your story was picked up and if your brand received a mention / link.


Key Takeaways

As increasing search visibility continues to be a priority for companies and organisations, the integral role Digital PR plays should also be recognised. As an often misunderstood channel, Digital PR can be overlooked, meaning companies miss out on huge opportunities to gain coverage, links, and boost their overall rankings.  One of the main elements of having great SEO performance is having a strong backlink profile, so make sure you set KPIs, gain high quality and good authority links, and understand the type of publications and prospects you should be targeting.  Overall, it’s essential to understand the various parts of SEO, implementing a bespoke strategy that utilises a variety of impactful methods, including Digital PR.  If you’d like some advice regarding your Digital PR strategy, do not hesitate to get in touch with us