Link building remains one of the most challenging aspects of SEO, as it gets harder and harder to attain the links that matter and Google gets better at discounting the ones that shouldn’t.

We continue to see an increasing impact from links that appear on the top sites on the web, and decreasing influence from smaller sites and those that are there purely for SEO benefit.

To be successful, you need to gain coverage and links from these kind of sites, especially if you are in a competitive industry.

This is fine if you work for a big brand that also has a PR firm, in-house publicist and content capacity coming out of your ears. But what if you’re a smaller company and need to make every penny count?

Fortunately, there is a way to compete with the big boys that will enable you to get featured on the sites that matter. And I’m going to break it down step by step for you below.

Overview

The crux of this approach is creating new research which you can promote to gain coverage on third party sites. Sound simple? Well, it is when you know how, and that’s what we’re going to show you below.

We’re going to follow the steps below:

  • Find your targets
  • Do some new research
  • Identify the hook
  • Create something beautiful
  • Make contact
  • Promote like crazy
  • Take it to the finish line

Find Your Targets

This is where 99% of people go wrong. They charge into their new idea without considering how they are going to promote it. Hold your horses.

The best thing you can possibly do before going head first into your research and producing assets is to find other successful pieces of content that have attracted lots of links and gained great coverage.

Even if you just find one, you can then use that to reverse engineer your idea to fit a similar angle, so you will then have a highly targeted outreach list by simply reaching out to everyone who covered the piece of successful content.

However, if you take a bit more time to find lots of examples you can start to take the trends in which pieces are most successful, and also build out an even more comprehensive list of outreach targets.

Once you have your examples of previously successful pieces you can the move on to your own project, safe in the knowledge that what you’re creating has a selection of highly targeted journalists that have written stories recently about very similar things.

Do Your Research

The key to your success lies in carrying out some new research that you can use as the bedrock of your piece.

Top news sites love news. Shock horror. So you need to create something new for them to report on.

But don’t think this needs to be some huge, all-encompassing and costly activity. As long as what you deliver is new, you will be in with a chance of getting featured.

Think of places you can get new information, or take existing information and combine it together to make something new. For new data you could carry out a survey which doesn’t have to break the bank if you ask the right questions, or you could run polls

It might be social networks (Instagram anyone?), statistics websites, or even just other studies people have done that you combine together.

We have recently run projects that ranked walking routes based on Instagram hashtags, ordered the best countries for wildlife based on public data from a statistics website, and highlighted the best holiday destination for over 50s which mainly combined other historical studies that have been done.

Lonely Planet featured them all. And they all got more than 20 other links, including the Times, CNN, Travel + Leisure and other top-tier publications.

The Hook

When you’re coming up with your idea think about what ‘the hook’ will be for journalists. What will their headline be? You’ll need that later when we come to pitching.

If you can do your research around a topic that’s popular in the news already you’ll give yourself a better chance of success. For example, popular TV shows and films are great hooks, especially if you pitch around key points in the series or in the run up to a release. We did this with Game of Thrones and gained more than 100 pieces of coverage (here’s how).

Alternatively, think of popular dates through the year that journalists will be writing about, such as Valentines Day or Christmas. Some new research about how people say Merry Christmas around the world in the run up to the 25th – that would have a good chance of being a hit wouldn’t it? Yes it would. And it did.

Create Something Beautiful

Once you’ve done your research and compiled the data you’re using the next stage is to make something that looks great. This isn’t a necessity, but good design gives things authority and makes it more likely that journalists will take your piece seriously.

You could make an infographic, create a good-looking table and header, or build a special landing page to host your results with some interactive touches.

Whatever your approach, focus on making something that looks great and highlights the key findings from your research.

Find More Targets

In the very first stage of this process you found a good list of journalists to reach out to when your content is ready. It’s time to beef that list up with even more targets.

Do some searches in Google for stories on similar topics to your own. For example, if you’re writing a piece about the most spiritual countries around the world then find journalists that have written about spiritual travel before who are highly likely to be interested (that one netted more than 40 pieces of coverage).

You can also search for niche publications that would be interested in the story as opposed to specific journalists. With our spiritual countries example, there are loads of wellness blogs and magazines out there so we also reached out to those to see if they were interested.

The Pitch

Once you have your list of contacts you need to pitch the story. And your pitch is important. It should quickly highlight why the journalist would be interested in the story and what the key hook(s) is.

This requires some testing and playing with depending on who and what you’re pitching, but I’ve put one of the templates we use below to get you started:

Hi NAME

Hope you’re well and having a happy Tuesday! – informal, polite intro

We’ve just launched some new research which shows the top destinations around the world for over 50s. I saw you wrote about XXX and thought this might be of interest? – personalised so they know they’re not just getting a blanket email

The new Silver Years Travel Index looked [insert things looked at] and found that Japan came out on top, followed by Germany and Italy. – highlight key findings

Surprisingly, the US and Australia failed to make the top 20 along with some other popular holiday destinations. – highlight surprising findings/angle

You can view the full results and further information about the research here – INSERT URL

I hope this is of interest and please let me know if you need anything else at all.

Thanks

Tom – keep it personal

Grease the Wheels

As and when you gain your first coverage, it’s important you keep pushing hard to make the piece seem appealing to more people.

If you get coverage on a top-tier site, promote that piece like crazy (rather than on your own site). If you can get that piece trending it might lead to more people seeing it and other publications picking it up naturally.

You can also bring this into your pitch for later publications, where you highlight the early coverage you have had and point out how successful it has ben. This sub-consciously makes the writer think this would work well for them too as they have social proof to show it. See below:

Hi NAME

Hope you’re well and having a happy Tuesday!

We’ve just launched some new research which shows the top destinations around the world for over 50s. I saw you wrote about XXX and thought this might be of interest?

The new Silver Years Travel Index looked [insert things looked at] and found that Japan came out on top, followed by Germany and Italy.

Surprisingly, the US and Australia failed to make the top 20 along with some other popular holiday destinations.

The piece was recently featured on Lonely Planet and has been getting a lot of love as one of their trending stories – INSERT URL – social proof and the temptation of lots of engagement should they publish it

You can view the full results and further information about the research here – INSERT URL

I hope this is of interest and please let me know if you need anything else at all.

Thanks

Tom

This is much stronger than just sending a journalist to the content on your site and asking if they’d like to write about it. In that case, it’s just a preference decision on their part. But if they’re directed to something already published by a fellow writer, that’s also proving successful, they will be much more intrigued and tempted to write about it themselves.

Keep Pushing

Not every piece you create and promote will be a winner. That’s just how it goes when you’re working on creative projects. But if you follow the process above we’re found you will consistently get results at least every 2 to 3 projects, and when you do you need to double down on your efforts.

Finding something that hits the mark is the hardest job, so when you land on a winner, search far and wide for more potential targets and keep the outreach train rolling.

Do that and you’ll end up with a host of fantastic top-tier links for your site that will drive your SEO performance forward long into the future.