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Using digital PR to earn links and rank for your target keywords

So what comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Links continue to be an important organic search ranking factor. However, Google frowns on “link building” and states that the best way to build links is to create great content.  

If you build it, they will come. But how will they find you if you don’t rank, to begin with?

Ideally, when your site starts gaining authority and ranking well, your pages will start showing up in the SERPs, and you’ll gain links naturally.  

However, you can’t achieve this without some initial outreach and digital PR.

Let’s review the steps to create a digital outreach campaign.


You’ll need to do some prep work before starting outreach.  

Browser extensions

Install the following extensions to your Chrome browser:

Select outreach personas

You’ll need to determine who will be your outreach coordinator and make sure they have a strong social media presence.

From having a good bio and profile image to having active social profiles, it’s important that they are credible and trustworthy to elicit answers.

Make sure your outreach persona has:

  • Credible email (e.g., [email protected])
  • Active social profiles
  • A personal website 
  • Strong LinkedIn profile
  • Examples of published content
  • Company email signature

All of these are signs of authority and will influence whether people open and answer the emails.

Select outreach targets

What pages should be promoted to receive inbound links? What keywords/anchor text should be used for the links?

In the past, it was common to build links using keywords in the anchor text. This can result in link penalties, so it’s important to vary your URL/Anchor text combinations to avoid being on the receiving end of manual action from Google.

It’s important to use a combination of brand terms, noise anchors and miscellaneous words for inbound links.

You should continuously track your pages and keywords using a tool (e.g., Semrush or Google Search Console) to identify potential targets for link building.  

You can select pages that are trending up, keywords that are within striking distance, as well as keywords that are sliding in rankings.

Build your outreach list

The first step is to create a list of potential sites to reach out to.  

Use sites from your content research

During your topic and audience research, you probably came across many sites that discussed relevant topics about your industry. In addition to adding all of these sites to your list of potential target sites, use tools like BuzzSumo to further expand that list.

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Using search operators to find sites on Google

The goal here is to uncover sites that have shared similar content in the past. To do so, you want to use search operators to build queries that will uncover the types of sites you need.

For example, for a site that offers online degrees, you could start off with broad keywords like “education,” “college,” and “online universities.” You’ll then want to qualify those terms by adding search operators, such as “education” + “infographics.”

Knowing how to search will greatly impact the effectiveness of your outreach campaign, so it’s definitely worth spending the time to gain more in-depth knowledge on how to use search operators.

Here are some ways to use search operators to turn up great outreach opportunities:

Quotation marks (”…”) for exact-match searches.  

  • “guest author”
  • “write for us”
  • “submit”

The tilde (~…) before a word to generate similar topics and ideas.  

Inurl:guest-___ tends to yield good results, as many sites put “Guest Post/Blog/Writer/etc” in the title of the post, which ends up appearing in the URL.

The full search terms might come out looking like this:

• “guest post” “real estate”

• “write for us” real estate ~auction

• “foreclosures” inurl:guest-post

• ~home auctions “guest blog”

Now that you know how to find keywords, it’s time to start using them!

Create a spreadsheet with potential link opportunities

By using BuzzSumo and searching Google with search operators, you’ll be able to create a list of potential sites to reach out to and pitch your content. 

Once you have collected and added them all to a spreadsheet, your next step will be to verify the quality of these sites to ensure that they have strong authority metrics. 

You want to look at:

  • Semrush:
    • Authority Score
    • # of Keywords Ranking
    • Organic Traffic  
  • Majestic:
    • Trust Flow: A number predicting how trustworthy a page is
    • Citation Flow: A number predicting how influential a URL might be based on how many sites link to it

If you don’t check these metrics, you may waste valuable time and resources contacting and writing for sites that won’t help your link profile.

This is where your Chrome browser extensions can help by placing this information at your fingertips.

Find contact information

Now that you’ve added the metrics and have modified your list of target sites to make sure they are qualified, you’ll want to look for contact information.

Don’t stop by going to the “Contact Us” page. Look for other contact info such as direct email addresses, social media profiles and possibly even WHOIS info. You have to be thorough in this step.

Sending an email to the main site’s contact form may mean that your request ends up in the customer service department, or worse, their spam folders, where it doesn’t get forwarded to the right people.

Without trying to spend too much time navigating around the site, look carefully for their contributor guidelines and add the URL to your spreadsheet for tracking purposes. For example, there may not be a page for contributors, but perhaps the Twitter profile for the editor may be listed on the site, so you can use Twitter to contact the editor directly.

Writing pitch letters

People receive a lot of junk in their email, and many sites are constantly receiving requests for guest posting from humans and spambots alike. For this reason, it’s crucial that your pitch letters stand out and showcase transparency.

Here are some of the elements that help pitch letters stand out: 

  • Try to keep your letter brief and easy to read/scan
  • Personalize the letter wherever possible
  • Be friendly and approachable – small talk goes a long way. People want to know you’re a real person, not a robot sending auto-generated emails
  • Use perfect grammar – you can’t offer to contribute to other sites and use poor grammar. Double and triple-check your grammar!
  • Link to examples of your work, preferably articles posted on authoritative domains.

Now let’s discuss the letter itself:

FROM: Use a company email address to make your email more credible and trustworthy.

SUBJECT: Short, catchy subjects will draw the “open”

BODY: Now, you need to mix all of the elements discussed above into the email:

It’s important to spend enough time crafting these outreach letters to have a chance to succeed.

Start outreach

Using email marketing tools such as Mailchimp or ActiveCampaign is not an effective way to send outreach emails. Many will go to the spam folder or will cause your email server to be banned.

Instead, use your email server or Gmail to send out your outreach emails. This is why it’s important to be thorough and meticulous in the steps above.

With a list of target sites and email templates, start sending out emails and marking the date that you sent the emails in a spreadsheet so you can keep track of what sites were contacted and when.

Once you start receiving responses to your emails, it’s easy for your inbox to become absolute chaos.  

Methodical organization is key at this stage to keep all conversations moving forward.

Label emails

When you receive a response, go ahead and label your emails. Here are examples of labels you could use:

  • Interested 
  • Not Interested 
  • Pay to Post 

This way, you can separate emails that require responses and move the ones that don’t need responses to a different folder.

Categorize positive responses

Create a folder and/or label for all of the positive responses. Some of the folders can be:

  • Send Topic Ideas
  • Accepted Topic
  • Ready for Content
  • Submitted
  • Published

Now that everything is labeled and organized, you can actually take the actions required for each conversation. These will require sending topic ideas to people who accepted your request, ordering content with your writers, and sending follow-up emails.

Topic ideas

From the first email response, you need to cultivate a relationship with other website owners.  

When they respond and agree to accept an article, the first step is to spend some time on their site, becoming familiar with the type of content they share. What is the site’s theme? Who is their target audience?

You’ll need to spend some time researching so that the title you pitch will be relevant, interesting and appealing to their audience.

The ideas you pitch should also include something thematically relevant to your target landing page and keywords so that the link placement to your site is natural.

If you use BuzzSumo, you can try searching multiple relevant keywords, and BuzzSumo will sort the articles by total shares, which can help you surface the content that resonates with their audience.

Deliver content

As soon as the target site approves your topic, it’s time to get your article written. You may have a dozen open conversations taking place simultaneously; it’s important that you get your content written and sent to the site in a timely manner, or you may lose the chance of getting published.

Ideally, your articles should be at least 750 words long, include a link to your site and to other relevant authoritative sites, and contains a couple of links to other relevant pages of the target’s site.

Add optimized images and cite their source!

Following up

When you send articles to be published to other websites, you may need to send a few follow-ups to make sure the target sites received and has all the information they need. You may want to create a task or reminder for yourself to follow up a few times until the article goes live.

Sometimes, you may not hear from the site owner, but if you review the site, your article may already be published.  

If you don’t hear back from them, it could be that the article wasn’t relevant, and they preferred to drop the communication. Or it could be they went on vacation or got busy, and your emails drowned in their inbox.

Send out 2-3 follow-ups, and if you don’t hear back after that, you can mark your article as available and pitch it to a different site.

Promoting your published content

Getting content published on other sites can be an arduous process, but gaining editorial placements in targeted, authoritative is worth it!

Now, you’ll want to promote your published article.

Share the article in your social media profiles and tag the site where your article was published.  

If you have a budget for content promotion, consider boosting the post with Facebook ads to increase the readership and traffic to your article.  

You can also use each published content piece as “social proof” when pitching other sites.

Influences have two things that every brand needs:

  • An audience
  • Credibility

Consumers have learned to trust influencers and follow their recommendations, and guess what? So does Google.

Working with influencers can be a powerful way to gain authoritative links and citations, as well as gain social proof and increase brand awareness. These links and mentions will diversify your link profile and improve your site’s authority score. 

Let’s go through the steps toward creating and implementing an influencer marketing strategy:

Identify relevant influencers

  • Investigate the metrics of each influencer
  • Study their profiles for relevance to your brand identity

Develop your influencer marketing strategy

  • Determine your budget and potential incentives
  • Develop campaign KPIs
  • Create a campaign brief, including any relevant assets such as social media images and sample posts

Pitch influencers

  • Reach out to influencers with an effective pitch letter
  • Track conversations with your influencers (make sure you respond in a timely manner)

Track the results of your campaign

  • Potential KPIs to track include impressions, clicks, transactions, audience growth and newsletter signups.

Now that you have the inside scoop on influencer marketing, it’s time to get researching!  

Finding influencers and media contacts

  1. Research: You can use tools (e.g., BuzzSumo, Traackr, Izea) to create a database of possible influencers to contact.
  2. Create a connection: Before sending them a pitch, you should consider following them on social media and liking or commenting on their content. This way, your name will become visible in their feed before you contact them
  3. Personalize your pitch:  When you do reach out, make sure you send them a personal email, so it’s obvious you’re not sending an automated email to a million people.
  4. Agreement: Once you’ve talked to the influencer and negotiated an agreement, we highly recommend getting the details and deliverables signed to create accountability.  Some influencers may ask for a payment, others for product and others can become affiliates.  

Adding authoritative links and citations to your backlink profile can have a substantial impact on your site’s visibility.  

Digital PR

You should always be thinking about producing unique content that will be of genuine benefit to your audience and industry.

Some ways of producing this content include:

  • Conducting surveys: You can use SurveyMonkey or Google Surveys to run surveys and share your findings with graphs and metrics and share these with the media.
  • Sharing industry research: Track patents being published in your industry and share them and discuss the potential benefits and impact.
  • White papers and e-books: Write comprehensive white papers or e-books delving into specific topics in your niche.

Once you produce these assets, you can promote them using outreach and work with influencers to help you extend the reach of these assets.

It’s a powerful way to earn media mentions and coveted links.

Track your progress

Track your outreach efforts by looking at your backlink profile periodically and seeing how your authority score changes over time.

What links have had a significant positive impact on your score? What is your link velocity? Are you continuously earning more links than you’re losing?

It’s important to keep a close eye so you can amplify your strengths and overcome weaknesses in your link profile.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Marcela De Vivo is an industry veteran with more than 20 years of digital marketing experience, Marcela travels the world speaking about SEO, data-driven marketing strategies, and workflow automation and optimization. Marcela owns a digital marketing agency called Gryffin based in California.