How to avoid the mention trap: creating campaigns that build links

Robyn Gravestock

It can be frustrating when you invest in a campaign with the primary aim of building high-quality backlinks to find that it generates a lot of coverage – but no links.

There’s normally a reason why this happens, and it’s definitely something you can avoid by incorporating a few simple steps into your process.

In this post, I’ll explain five ways in which we validate whether or not a campaign will build links from ideation through to outreach.

1. Make sure it’s useful

This might seem obvious, but the relevancy and usefulness of a digital PR campaign is something that can get ignored in a quest to create something ‘newsworthy’. What this generally means is that the reason to link is lost.

If a campaign isn’t genuinely useful to a target audience there will be very little reason to link back, and, if you do secure a link, and therefore be less impactful. Before you even start thinking about campaign concepts, make sure you have a thorough understanding of your target audience and what they want.

When kickstarting an ideation, bring this understanding to the table and ask yourself whether the campaign ideas you’re generating are:

  1. Something your target audience will care about
  2. Something they’ll find useful
  3. Something that would make sense for your client or brand to produce

We build this step into our ideation process as part of what we call the ‘validation stage’, which is discussed in detail by our Head of Digital PR, Olivia’s, blog posts.

Usefulness can of course be subjective so it’s important to understand the target audience as well as possible and put yourself in their shoes.

Useful content is generally something that solves a problem your target audience faces. For example, this small business toolkit, including a business plan and cash flow template, that Sage produced helps new business owners secure funding and outlines a successful first two years of operating. A business plan is often necessary to securing funding, but unless you’ve created one before you might not know where to start. What could be more useful to small business owners than a template to do just that?

You can read more on identifying your target audience and finding out what they want, need and care about in a recent post by Carla, who’s part of our content strategy team.

2. Make it unique

There are two great ways we’ve seen uniqueness encourage links.

The first is making something completely different that can only be explained in one way, by linking to it. It’s not a copy and paste job, but something that’s new, interesting and is only housed on your website or that of your clients.

An example of this is a campaign that we did for Icelandair. The piece is an interactive that explains the three components making up the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) and allows a user to ‘create their own’ Aurora by adding different quantities of each component. Check it out for yourself, here.

The second way is to use your own data. For example, if you’re a large travel company that allows users to book hotels across the world – why not use your booking data as part of a ranking factor in a piece on ‘the top ten destinations in 2020’?

Doing so will make sure your campaign is something you have complete ownership of, reducing the risk of a link going to a third-party data source and increasing the likelihood of a link to you. Keep it simple, though, datasets that are too complicated can be inaccessible and discourage further distribution.

A word of caution: don’t make it too branded! This can be off-putting, particularly for a publication that has rules against linking to commercial sites.

3. Have somewhere relevant to link to on site

While all websites will benefit from homepage links for domain strengthening, for links to be most effective, you need to know where on a website those links are needed most. This is known as a target URL.

If a target URL is a product page, it can be difficult to directly build links to (although not impossible!) due to most websites and publications having strict external linking policies to commercial pages . However, in general, it helps when building links to have somewhere relevant on site to link back to. This page can then be used to channel link equity to the target URL via an internal link.

For example, we created a ranking UK’s friendliest cities for those renting with pets for insurance provider Towergate. To host the ranking, we created a new page that showcased the content and gave journalists somewhere to link to. The page included an internal link back to our target URL, ensuing that the link equity secured was channeled through to where it was needed most.

Or, if you’re jumping on the back of a recent announcement with a tip comment from your brand or client, create a biography on site of the spokesperson the quote is attributed to. This is also a great way to build credibility for that spokesperson through thought leadership within your industry or niche.

This is by far the most-straightforward tip, but it’s something we see that’s missing from a lot of campaigns.

4. Create an asset genuinely worth linking to

Once you’ve got your digital PR campaign idea or core theme, the strategy for securing a link doesn’t stop there. You’ll still need to think about that compelling reason to link back. For some ideas, while they may generate newsworthy information or data that gains an unlinked mention, they won’t secure a link.

For example, you might be about to use a survey or scrape a website for some data that will create research editors dream of covering, and probably will, but they won’t link back. However, what about if you create a suplimentary asset that adds to the story and couldn’t possibly not be linked to? Particularly if it serves a problem highlighted by your research, or allows users to gain their own bespoke results.

For example, we worked with a professional chef to create a bespoke, downloadable cookbook for Towergate to promote their caravan insurance full of recipe ideas to create on your next caravan trip. Our research showed that caravan enthusiasts struggled to find recipes that they could create with limited space, equipment and incredients. So, not only is it useful to the target audience, but it has its own URL, which can be linked to by another site pointing users to where it can be downloaded.

When people think of creating assets on site in this sense, they assume a big budget is needed, but that’s not always the case. While some interactives are great and do build links, you don’t need one. It could be a gallery, static table listing the full results that a journalist wouldn’t want on their site as they might not all be relevant (but they’ll link anyway to show readers where they can see the full list).

If you do have a bit more budget, then creating something on site like a resource hub, or kickstarting an annual report or, yes, building an interactive will help encourage a link. Additionally, journalists or publications are often limited by CMS capability, meaning they aren’t able to embed an interactive or far-reaching dataset into the content. Instead, they’ll link back to whatever you have produced.

5. Curate the perfect outreach target list

This is important – there’s no point investing time in a campaign to then let the ball drop when it comes to sharing it. We have a robust outreach process, which means that by the time we’re outreaching a campaign, we’re talking to the right journalists.

Now, it’s common for journalists to write for both print and online for their publication. However, as getting that link is one of the main aims of a digital PR campaign, make sure this extends to your outreach list.

Most publications will have journalists who solely write online; they’re pretty easy to spot as they’ll usually have ‘digital’ in their title. If not, then a bit of research into the publication will help you locate a contact who regularly publishes online.

Make sure you’ve curated a tailored list for each campaign, where every target on there has a valid reason to be. If you’re new to outreach, Oliva’s whitepaper on all things outreach will be a massive help, so be sure to check it out.

The perfect campaign exists

Having done all of the above, you should have created a solid campaign that has the capacity to build high-quality, relevant links back to your site or that of your client’s.

Now all you need to do is track those links, and report on the impact of your work.

If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

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