We ran a webinar earlier this week (catch the full video here!), during the course of which I highlighted the importance of gaining links to your website in order to build its perceived authority and relevance on the web.

In short, links can be considered like votes for your site, where the sites with the most ‘votes’ win. But, not all votes and equal, and a focus on quality, relevant linking websites will be of the most benefit to your search visibility.

One of the most exciting ways to earn links is through digital PR (OK, so I might be a little biased here, but who doesn’t love a good creative campaign?!). But while the creation of newsworthy content for the purpose of earning coverage is a lot of fun, encouraging the journalists who use your content to link to your website can be difficult.

Following this week’s webinar, I received a few questions asking for tips on how to encourage journalists to link back to your website. The purpose of this post is to answer that question – and hopefully help you to make even more measurable gains through your PR investment.

Why don’t journalists link?

To answer this, let’s take a brief step back in time…

In the very early days of Google, the premise on which the search engine was built was inspired by academia, whereby the very best content/journals/reports/studies are typically the most referenced and cited. Essentially, the better the quality of the content, the more likely that content is to be used as inspiration, insight and information in other publications.

In SEO, then, the idea of links is the same; the websites that link to us are indicators of our own website’s quality and tells Google what and if we deserve to rank.

And that is the crux of the rationale behind not linking. Journalists (and other webmasters) understand that linking to a site passes value to that site, so they seek to limit the number of sites to which they are willing to pass that value. It’s also why practices around buying links were born – leading to Google’s introduction of the ‘nofollow’ tag.

All of this means that the reason journalists don’t link comes from a good place; they don’t want to show favour to any brands in order to avoid bias, so many publications apply a blanket ‘no linking’ rule as standard. So don’t be hatin’ on them for this. It comes from good intentions.

What this means for SEO

No-linking practices of journalists have a number of implications, for us as SEO practicioners and for the online experience of users, too.

For SEO practicioners, it’s a challenge because we need high quality links in order to drive ranking improvements. I’ll come back to that.

From an online experience perspective, I would argue that failing to link actually has a detrimental effect for users. This is because, though Google doesn’t want to pass value through links which have been obtained through unethical practices or paid means, the very premise of the search engine as described above is that of a citation library, where a reference of a website should pass value.

We can see this in Google’s own actions. Recognising that websites linking to other sites is a valid practice, Google provided the nofollow tag, which, when applied, indicates that links have been placed through methods that mean they shouldn’t pass value, and that’s fine. Google’s March update which decreased the power of the nofollow tag is a clear response to the incorrect application of that tag – showing that the intention was never to blanket ‘nofollow’ everything.

If journalists are willing to reference a site, they should be willing to link. If they don’t, the system is effectively being ‘played’ but to the detriment of the user. Technically speaking, those sites regularly landing high quality coverage will lose out to those which gain links from lower quality sites because often those lower quality sites are willing to link.

In my opinion, anyway. But I disgress. Back to the question.

How to encourage links in your campaigns

As noted already, links are an important part of your search marketing efforts so you’ll want to gain as many high quality, relevant links as possible from the campaigns you run.

One of the most simple ways to do this through digital PR is to include links in your press releases. If you’re sending a press release to a journalist to outline your story, there is a chance the journalist will use the release verbatim, or at least take information from it to inform their article.

A good tip for this is that if you can naturally include the link in your press release, the journalist is far more likely to include the link, too. And that’ll only work if you’re linking to something which genuinely adds to or enhances the story.

Creating link-worthy content

Creating something that is worthy of links is the key to earning links at all. That’s because, while we might argue that journalists should credit their source, that credit is technically as valid in the form as an unlinked mention as it would be in a link. So, if we want journalists to link, they have to have good reason to do so.

Link-worthy content is anything that adds to the story you’re pitching and might include:

  • Extended data or research
  • Methodology behind a study
  • Terms and conditions for a competition
  • Additional examples e.g. press release is ‘top 10’ but campaign page is all 100
  • Campaign page includes an interactive asset that is only represented as a static in your release

When creating your campaign, think about what reason the journalist would have to link through.

Creating visit-worthy content

One thing I argued in our webinar is that we shouldn’t be chasing links for links’ sake. Rather, we should be considering how our content speaks to our target audience (I spoke in the webinar about using PR to initiate journeys).

Given that, by linking out, journalists are giving their own visitors a reason to leave their site, you’re going to have to give them a really good reason to do that – which means creating something worthy of a visit. Which means that, as well as thinking about why the journalist should link, you also need to be thinking about why the user should want to visit your content.

Getting as much value from every link

None of this advice is intended to provide a ‘silver bullet’. Gaining links is always going to be difficult because it should be difficult! If it were easy to gain links, every link would be worth less. So yeah, celebrate the challenge!

At the same time, by noting that gaining links is hard, strategic link builders will be thinking about how to get the most value from every hard-earned link.

For us at Impression, that means recognising what we call the owned and the shared goals (something I talked about on the webinar). In short, it’s about defining what success looks like in terms of immediate gains – number of links, quality of links and so on – but also talking about the wider goals that impact the broader marketing and business wide aspirations, things like who are we trying to reach, what are we trying to sell and how can we allow the search landscape to inform what links are most likely to move the needle when it comes to our SEO goals.

Hopefully that gives an answer to the question of how to encourage journalists to link. For more, check out our webinar and feel free to drop me a comment in the box below or find me on Twitter – I’m @lauralhampton.

You can also find loads of amazing advice from my colleagues on techniques to build and earn links in the digital PR section of our blog.

Laura Hampton

Head of Digital PR

Head of Digital PR at Impression working with colleagues and clients to deliver link acquisition campaigns that support SEO visibility and wider marketing goals. Regular speaker at industry conferences and contributor to industry publications. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

Laura has specialist knowledge in Digital PR and Content Marketing.

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