Promoting content and building links is a crucial part of any digital marketing strategy that aims to improve rankings. However, it isn’t always the easiest thing in the world to do successfully unless you have access to great media contacts, a killer story and some fantastic tools to help you along the way.
There are a huge number of great tools out there that will help you to identify contacts, pitch, find link building opportunities and measure success – however not all of them are made equal! I’ve been in the PR game for over 10 years now, and when it comes to building links, here are my top 7 (or 10) that I’d really struggle to do without (bare in mind, there are plenty more fantastic tools out there!). I’ve found all these tools super useful in supporting wider digital PR and content marketing campaigns, and here I’ll also very briefly explore how each can be best leveraged to get results and insights.
Being able to attribute some sort of value to a page/link is really important – not just to keep tabs on your own website, but also to prioritise the sites you’re targeting for backlinks.
Moz’s domain authority is the most well-known and one of the most useful metrics to use for this. It essentially indexes and ranks websites by ‘authority’ – or a prediction of how well it might rank in Google – on a scale of 1 to 100. Moz’s Link Explorer allows you to search any domain, and will give you its domain authority as well as some useful insights about its backlink profile – such as the number of linking domains, number of new and lost links over time, the top backlinks pointing to that domain and a graph that plots how domain authority rises and falls over time. As an example, you can see below how the BBC’s domain authority has remained consistently at the very top end of the scale for the last year.
Ahrefs has similar functions, however this is based on a ‘Domain Rating’ which is arguably less well known or established.
However, when assessing domain authority, it is always useful to do so in combination with metrics such as Trust Flow. This is a similar metric by Majestic, but focuses more on the quality of backlinks pointing to a site rather than quantity. It can be found by simply running a search on the domain with the tool Majestic.
2) Best for building media lists: Cision or BuzzStream
You’ve got your killer story, you’re ready to get pitching and now you need access to great media contacts to sell in your story. You can of course rely on existing relationships and doing research manually (calling round, Google searches), but this is very time consuming and you’ll rarely find enough contacts with the time you have available. This means you’ll also need access to a subscription-based media database, and there a ton of them – the likes of Cision, Roxhill, Agility Ninja Outreach and BuzzStream being among the best know.
All of these are great in their own way and have their own niche, however my preferred combination is Cision and BuzzStream. Cision, purely because of the quality of the journalist data. Media move around jobs a lot, and as a result some media databases can’t keep up. By and large, Cision tends to have good data quality as well as some useful functions to narrow down and build media lists by a large array of different niches, interests, locations, job titles and even what they’re talking about in published work and on social media.
However, building links isn’t just about contacting journalists, which is where platforms such as BuzzStream come into their own. They also offer different types of contacts, such as influencers and website owners. The tool makes it easy to narrow down results by domain authority and interest within the tool itself, which can really speed up the process of building media lists.
3) Best for sourcing hard to find contacts: Hunter.io
While your full suite media databases are great resources, there will also be times when you need to go ‘off list’ to research other new websites to target on Google. However, few things are as disappointing as when you discover a gem of an opportunity which your client fits perfectly, only to find that the site doesn’t list contact details. If you can’t find them anywhere on Google, tools such as Hunter.io can be really useful.
Hunter.io simply allows you to search a website by its domain, and will normally produce a good range of contacts for you to approach at that outlet.
4) Best for prioritising link prospects: URL Profiler
Once you’ve built your media lists, you’ll need to check your targets by the quality of the domains you’re targeting. The best way of doing this is normally by checking that the target website doesn’t feel ‘spammy’ and using the Moz Toolbar to assess Domain Authority and Page Authority. However, this can be a very time-consuming process to do manually, which is where URL Profiler comes in. This nifty tool pulls in data from a number of other tools including Moz and Majestic, meaning that you can quickly download important metrics for a large lists of URLs, such as Domain Authority, Trust Flow and Citation Flow.
This one may seem a bit basic or even a little controversial, but let me explain. There are some great outreach tools out there, and many of the media database will also allow you to send out emails to journalists en masse, with some capability to personalise them. Outreaching using these tools also provides interesting insights, such as who has opened your email and when.
However good outreach is all about tailoring your pitch not just by name, but also reworking your whole story for the outlet you’re pitching to. This normally means targeting your pitch to their audience and the person you’re pitching to. Not only is that nearly impossible to achieve with a mass mailing, but these systems also have to use templates and boilerplates, which gives your email the look and feel of a newsletter. Nothing says to a contact that you consider them just a number in a spreadsheet more than sending them and automated newsletter!
So my best friend when it comes to pitching via email is the humble Microsoft Office, purely because it’s still one of the most intimate and personal means of outreaching. There will of course be times when it is necessary and appropriate to mail out one story to a well-researched media list, but for this a simple mail merge often works best and looks much more natural.
6) Best for finding other link building opportunities: Ahrefs
Ahrefs gets the number one spot for researching link building opportunities as it has a number of really useful functions that you rarely see with other tools.
One such function is its content explorer, which is great for identifying ‘broken link’ opportunities. These are essentially 404 (dead) pages within your industry niche that still have a number of good backlinks pointing to them.
For example, if we search for a topic relevant to a niche (in the example below “mental health), we have the option to filter by broken pages only.
There are also options to narrow down search results by the pages’ language, time of publication, domain authority and backlinks. Then comes the hard graft of creating alternative content to that dead page, researching contact details and pitching for authors/journos to replace the link with yours.
The ‘highlight unlinked domains’ function is also really useful when it comes to tasks such as ‘link reclamation’, which is essentially about finding pages in which your brand is mentioned but is not linked to. If you search your brand name (as long as its unique) and add your domain into this box, you should be able to pull a list of websites that you can approach to request a link.
Ahrefs also has another cool function under ‘link intersect’, and here you can search for all of the links pointing to your search competitors, but which don’t currently point to your domain. Its a manual job, but this analysis normally provides a good overview of how your competitors are gaining links and some potential sites you can approach too.
Another great way to discover media opportunities is via alert systems such as Haro, Response Source and Gorkana. When journalists need to connect with PRs for a specific feature – often to find comment, access to experts or to review certain kids of services/ products – many will use these services to push out an alert. If you’re subscribed to them, you’ll get these alerts sent to your inbox. Often they’re highly specific, however depending on the clients you work for and the media assets you have access to, this can be a really useful tool for gaining coverage and links. There are many media alert services, however I personally find that offered by Gorkana alongside Twitter as the most useful.
Many journalists also push out enquiries for PRs on Twitter using the hashtag #JournoRequest. So as per the example below, it can be useful to regularly run a search on this hashtag alongside your clients niche to see if there are any relevant opportunities.