Building links in 2018: Think like a PR, act like an SEO

In January 2017, I said link building is getting harder. Well, 12 months later and it’s even more difficult.


Publications are no following links or have a strict policy to not link externally at all. Google is looking for quality links which drive engagement (in other words, links that people actually click on), and there’s simply more competition.

I recently saw a post on LinkedIn by a traditional PR agency saying that 2 years ago, just 10% of their clients KPI’d them on links, and all they wanted was coverage and brand awareness. Well in 2018, 90% of their clients now want links on top of their media coverage, meaning not only are we battling against the many SEO agencies, but traditional PR companies looking to get links, too.

So, how can you successfully build links in 2018? And how do we ensure they are high quality and engaging, so that people actually click on them?

Think like a PR, but act like an SEO

In last year’s post, I quoted our Strategy Director, Stephen Kenwright: “Link earning is the process of adding so much value to a story that journalists and bloggers cannot fail to link to your website when covering it.”

This still remains true!

When thinking of ideas about how to build links, you need to firstly think:

  • How can we earn the coverage?
  • What story or headline is a journalist going to be interested in, and therefore their audience is going to read?
  • What kind of story will their audience share, as ultimately that is how a journalist is KPI’d?

Once you’ve cracked the story, you need to work out how to turn that coverage into a link. If the journalist can cover the story without linking to you (because they don’t need to or it doesn’t add value to their article or readers), then completely start again.

How can you create something that almost guarantees a link?


Create something onsite that journalists can link to which adds value to their story, is engaging, or acts as a resource.

Of course, this is going to cost money, but the content doesn’t have to be all singing and dancing. Static infographics still work! Yes, I said it, they’re back and as long as it’s creative, engaging and resourceful, it will work. Interactive assets, data led reports, or design led visuals are always going to get both quality and quantity links. If you don’t believe me, here are some examples to prove it.

Campaigns that achieved both quality and quantity links

Free data led assets: TomTom build 6,500+ links to a Worldwide Traffic Index

This is one of my favourite and most simplistic campaigns.

TomTom launched a Traffic Index campaign which takes their own ‘extra travel time’ data experienced by motorists to map out congestion in every city and country in the world. Using this information, they created a Traffic Index, revealing where each country ranks for being the most or least congested.

Each year, they re-launch this asset updating the stats to send to press. This simple data led campaign has achieved over 6,500 backlinks across 1,500 domains. Forbes, NYTimes, BBC and The Guardian are just some of the sites that have linked to this, proving that the asset adds so much value that these sites naturally link.

TomTom Worldwide Traffic Index asset

Competing in the motor market is quite difficult when it comes to PR, but TomTom have nailed it with this campaign. It ticks all the boxes of being resourceful, engaging and adds value to journalist’s stories.

To find out how many links a campaign achieved, I highly recommend SEO tool Ahrefs. Paste the URL into the search bar and it not only tells you how many links the domain has, but brings up a full list of URLs so you can read the stories it featured in.

Infographics are back – Online Doctor Superdrug build 800+ links with a static visual

If you have a small budget but still need to build links – static infographics can work you just need to be creative. Online Doctor, Superdrug, created this visual which reveals the perceptions of a perfect woman in every country. By using graphic designers from around the world to Photoshop the ‘ideal woman’, Superdrug created this piece which has achieved 800+ domain backlinks from high authority publications.

Superdrug's 'ideal woman' infographic

You can see the full infographic here.

 Using social media data to build links: Photoworld

Another one of my favourite campaigns is Food Capitals of Instagram by Photoworld. It’s simple: they crawled Instagram looking for food hashtags to find out the food capitals of Instagram. Where in the world is the #Burger capital, and where eats the most #Pizza? They created this interactive asset which displays the data on a world map revealing New York to be the home of bacon and England to be the burger capital!

Photoworld's Food Capitals of Instagram campaign

The campaign achieved a high quantity of links – 211 to be exact – across sites like Mashable and more. These types of campaigns, which have an international angle, seem to work well for building a large volume of links.

Taxi Insurers, Staveley Head, win Content Marketing Campaign of the Year for ‘London Under the Microscope’

Doing something offline and bringing it online is another way of achieving links for your client. Taxi and Uber Insurers, Staveley Head came to us to build up their backlink profile.

We launched London Under the Microscope: a campaign which reveals the levels of bacteria and mold on public transport in London.

London under the microscope campaign

By collaborating with the microbiology team at London Metropolitan University, we were able to gather 80 swab samples from across the capital, including the London Underground, inside London buses, and taxis/Uber cabs, to reveal the how dirty London transport is.

The asset allows users to virtually explore inside the different types of public transport using UV to see what levels of bacteria were present, and find out what harm these bacteria could cause if the user were to come into contact with them.

The campaign achieved 80+ backlinks and 170+ pieces of media coverage from Wired, ITV, and more.

Coverage for London under the microscope campaign

The site saw a huge increase in organic visibility following the launch of this campaign. You can see the full case study here.

Expedia quizzes Brits knowledge of accents and achieves 81 links

Quizzes are often something we see on social media and Buzzfeed articles, but have popped up more and more as a way of building links. Expedia launched an Accent Quiz which tests the user’s ability to recognise accents across the UK. Can you tell the difference between an Irish and Scottish accent?

Expedia's accent map

The quiz featured on national publications including Mashable, the BBC, The Sun and more, achieving a total of 81 backlinks. Not only that, but it is reported that a huge 250,000 people have played the quiz, driving a high number of people to the site, which Google will recognise and reward.

PornHub makes headlines and builds 500+ links

And lastly, a campaign which shocked us all, not only because of the concept, but the results it achieved, too.

PornHub launch a campaign revealing a new and exclusive product: the Wank Band. Basically, the Wank Band produces energy to charge your phones and laptops when you … do your business.

The product was totally fake, but the campaign’s creativity made it go viral. 500+ links were built back to PornHub on sites including Adweek and Huffington Post. These sites would never usually link to PornHub unless it was for a good reason – which the campaign certainly gave them!

Pornhub's Wank Band campaign

Building links within spammy industries

Working in SEO, I hear many clients in what we call ‘difficult’ industries have the impression that high quality links are impossible. When I talk about difficult industries, this includes those in loans, gambling, or similar sectors.

Well, if PornHub can achieve links like this, then any brand can.

A good example of this is Provident’s Unbroken Britain. Provident is one of our clients, and they came to us with problems on link acquisition with the belief that no-one could achieve placements on national press in this sector. But we proved them it’s possible!

Unbroken Britain campaign

Using a quarterly national community survey, the campaign reveals how polite, friendly, safe and welcoming each local area is. They launched an interactive asset where users can explore the survey’s findings, and this has achieved around 150 backlinks on sites like Business Insider, BT, and LadBible.

It’s simple – creativity always works. If you haven’t already tried the Digital PR approach in your SEO strategy, you definitely should be doing so in 2018. This goes for all clients in all industries, whether you’re in the travel, finance, loan, or gambling industry. Digital PR is something you should be doing if you haven’t already!

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