How to approach brand communications in unprecedented times
Link learnings: the 10 best news sites to get links from and the content they love
26 Mar 2020 ·
When a website includes a link to another, it acts as a signal of trust - the first site is telling its readers that the second page is worth reading. Google likes links. It likes them because they help the search engine decide which websites are trustworthy and therefore deserving of one of the prestigious spots at the top of its rankings.
Even no-follow links, which have traditionally been ignored by search engines, might soon pass on value to the target domain. Google recently announced that they will act as ‘hints’ for crawling and indexing purposes. Like with any link, they also help to drive referral traffic to your client’s website, which is the ultimate goal of any campaign, as you want people to engage with your content.
But not all links are born equal. Links from authoritative sites (think BBC News, The Guardian etc.) pass on more power than lower-quality sites. This means that campaigns which aim to increase the authority of certain client domains by securing backlinks should target publications which will add the most value.
So how do you get links on these magical wishlist sites? And what type of content is most likely to convince a busy, under-pressure journalist to add your hyperlink to their article?
We’ve analysed ten of the most authoritative news sites and identified those which are most and least likely to include links, plus the type of content that has the best chance of persuading those who are hesitant.
1) BBC News
The Holy Grail for PR professionals. Reaching over 40 million people, the BBC News website holds extraordinary power and brands that feature in its stories are showcased all over the world.
However, coverage and links on the BBC are incredibly rare, largely due to its non-commercial philosophy. The publisher tends to shy away from mentioning brands in order to avoid accusations of bias.
But it’s not impossible. We recently secured BBC coverage for a property client, with its director providing an expert comment for an article.
We also secured coverage for our client Ebuyer, by offering industry insight for a story that had already gone live. The comment was sent to the BBC journalist and the article was updated to include Ebuyer’s comment.
Furthermore, when the BBC covers controversial or public policy matters, it may offer links to external sites which, taken together, represent a reasonable range of views about the subject.
In order to maximise your chance of coverage and links on the BBC, you and your client will need to be reactive. Set up a reactive working practice so that you know how to respond when opportunities arise and keep your finger on the pulse of the news agenda, so you spot stories that you can jump onto. It's essential to know your client’s area of expertise off by heart so you know where you can and can’t add value.
Media insight and analysis of seasonal trends can also be really useful. Using these tactics, you can proactively predict stories that are likely to be popular with publications in the coming months. You can then create content and conduct thorough research in these areas to underpin your campaigns.
In summary, the BBC will include a link or a comment, if you can provide additional relevant information which it believes readers may wish to explore and adds genuine value to the story.
2) The Guardian
One of the most prestigious news sites in the UK and also one of the most notoriously difficult to get coverage in. The publisher tends to use its own expert team of analysts and reporters rather than external sources, so it can be tricky to place your stories.
However, they do occasionally cover surveys and pieces of independent research, providing that the work is unique, relevant and particularly interesting.
Experience suggests that the paper is happy to include links in its articles like in this recent link here. The challenge is getting any mention at all.
3) The Sun
This is one of the most PR-friendly national newspapers in the UK and it regularly covers stories generated by brands.
However, despite traditionally being very open to including links in articles, the paper has recently become more reluctant to do so. Even those who do add them are tending to lean towards the less-valuable no-follow variety.
Followed links are still achievable, but you have to be smart. We’ve found that building relationships with key contacts is the most effective way to secure links, most journalists are more likely to give you a link if they recognise your name and have built up a good relationship and reputation with them, knowing they can trust and rely on you to provide quality content is key.
Top tip: We’ve discovered that The Sun’s linking policy varies by department. For example, while the Motoring team appears to have stopped adding them in, the Money and Property desks are more willing.
This doesn’t excuse lousy onsite content though - a good relationship can be ruined with just one poorly executed piece of content or research, so there still needs to be a decent reason for the journalist to include the link. They tend to favour content like useful tips, guides and product pages (although links to the latter tend to be no-follow or affiliate).
Interactive tools have also worked well for us, with The Sun including a followed link in this article to our client Oxford Home Schooling’s onsite quiz.
4) The Daily Mail
The Daily Mail has an incredibly large audience (nearly four million daily readers) and consequently, any coverage on its site is brilliant for your client’s brand awareness.
However, if it does include links, they tend to be no-follow. For example, one of our recent campaigns for Pink Boutique was covered by lots of big titles and achieved lots of followed links, but not on the Daily Mail.
Furthermore, if the publication does include a link, of any kind, it is often placed at the bottom of articles, where it is less visible. This still has value, but people are less likely to see it and go through to the client’s site, so the impact is lower. Google’s ‘Reasonable Surfer Model’ suggests that the amount of value that is passed on through a link is dependent on the likelihood of a person clicking it. If a link is high up on a page, there is a better chance of people seeing it, helping to drive referral traffic and improving rankings.
We love the Metro. Not only is it open to receiving and publishing branded stories (as long as they are genuinely interesting or quirky), but it is also generally happy to include links.
As always, the onsite content does need to be related to the topic of the story. One of our good contacts recently added a link to our client’s blog, but said that this wasn’t normal.
However, Metro journalists are typically more likely than those at other national papers to add in a link. As an added bonus, they also tend to be followed, just like in this piece of coverage for our client Bed SOS.
6 and 7) Yahoo and MSN
Although it is tricky to secure coverage on Yahoo and MSN directly, they commonly syndicate content from other sites, such as House Beautiful and Cosmopolitan.
This means that if you get a story on one of these titles, it is worth asking for a link immediately so that if the article is later picked up by Yahoo or MSN, the derivative piece will also have it included (providing you get the link added in time). Two for the price of one!
The downside, however, is that most links on Yahoo or MSN are no-follow. They are still authoritative titles though, with large readerships that could lead to referral traffic, so coverage remains valuable.
Our client Oxford Home Schooling, for example, saw a rise in site visits after its research was covered by Country Living and then syndicated to Yahoo.
8) House Beautiful
House Beautiful used to be ever-present in our lifestyle site wishlists, both for its large, engaged audience and for the fact that it was a reliable source of followed links.
However, it has recently changed its policy so that no-follow links are standard.
Our interiors clients are regularly covered by House Beautiful, with the publication particularly interested in detailed research, trend pieces and expert comments. One of its Digital Reporters told us that the team is very open to receiving content from PRs as it helps them to meet their quota of stories per day.
Coverage in House Beautiful is great for both product placement and referral traffic, which is really useful for brand building and conversions.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, if no-follow links do start to pass on value and act as ‘hints’ for Google, then coverage on House Beautiful, like this piece for ScS, will be even more beneficial to clients.
9) Ideal Home
Unlike House Beautiful, Ideal Home is a goldmine for our interiors and property clients. With a high DA and a big, relevant audience, coverage on the site is really valuable, and they usually include followed links too.
Ideal Home is constantly looking for new trends and expert comments, and usually asks for high-quality images to accompany them. Tips and research pieces also work well.
Its journalists are usually happy to work with PR companies and provide feedback. They generally prefer to link to specific pages but the home domain will do if that isn’t possible, like here for our client Space Station.
10) The Daily Telegraph
We’ve had mixed experiences with The Daily Telegraph regarding links. A piece of coverage on its site is highly valuable due to the authority and relevance, depending on your client and subject matter, but if they do link, it varies between followed and no-follow.
We recently reached out to a journalist with whom we have a strong relationship and she offered us some useful feedback. She said that they rarely include links to onsite content unless it genuinely provides a lot of value to a reader. The journalist gave the example of graphs and extra bits of research, which add something to the story, but can’t be included in the copy.
The Daily Telegraph likes expert comments, detailed research and authoritative data. It’s also occasionally possible to jump onto their stories if you have incredibly relevant statistics, like we did here for Oxford Home Schooling.
So there we have it! A comprehensive guide on which authoritative news sites include links and how you can increase the likelihood of them being added.
The secret is having quality onsite content that really adds to your story. Journalists are far more likely to include a link if your client’s website offers something extra, something relevant, and most importantly, something they think will be useful to or interesting for their readers.
To further increase your chance of getting a link added, you need to build and nurture relationships with journalists, establishing trust and perhaps making them more likely to do you a favour.
One final thing to add, Google’s latest update also introduced two new types of tags for links - sponsored and UGC. Sponsored links are created as part of adverts, sponsorships or other paid-for agreements, while UGC links are found in user-generated content, such as forums. Not many journalists have started using these distinctions yet, but it’s best to get clued up on them in case they incorrectly tag one of your links, which could lead to penalties.