Tips

1000 666 Robyn Munro

My First Two Months As A Junior Digital PR Executive

If you told me six months ago that I would be learning a new job role from home, during a global pandemic, I would have thought you were bonkers. Less than two weeks into my journey here at JBH, Boris put the UK on lockdown and like many others it was time to adapt to the WFH lifestyle and learn the ropes at the same time.

It will be coming up to five months since I started working at JBH, so I thought I would share you into some tips and insight into starting your first job in Digital PR.

1. Don’t be scared to ask questions – ask away

If it’s your first graduate role, then everything is pretty much new to you! From the clients to jargon, you won’t be familiar with it, and your agency won’t expect you to know it all! It’s really important to not be afraid to ask questions, plus the more questions you ask the more comfortable you’ll become. I must have asked our Senior Digital PR Executive Sophie hundreds of questions, and I always apologised and thought I was incredibly annoying in the process but she always reassured me to ask away and no question is a stupid question.

Top Tip: Ask other members of your team questions (rather than just one person) and you will get a wealth of information and knowledge.

 

2. Absorb everything – be a sponge

There are some amazing blogs, webinars, and newsletters out there that you can read for inspiration and help you understand Digital PR. I have explored different blogs since I started at JBH, particularly Jessica Pardoe’s blog, The Weekly PR Newsletter, and our amazing JBH Jane Hunt’s webinars that include incredible guests from across the industry.

Top Tip: Check out some free courses you can complete, Google Analytics have some good ones

 

3. Adapt quickly – lockdown loomed

I never anticipated that after a week and a half of being in the office, we would go into another lockdown due to coronavirus, which led to us all working from home. Since graduating from university, I completely lost my confidence so the idea of being on my own devices at home after only dipping into a few training sessions dawned on me. But life is all about adapting and I’ve adapted to change my entire life! Our daily meetings have resulted in being on g-meet, to stay socialising with the team we have a fortnightly win and games session, and we have members of our team we are yet to meet, but we are like a little work family (I say little but we are expanding quick!..)

Top Tip: Drop in on other members of your team and check up on them, see how they are! I’m sure they would love to chat about their day. They might even give your work a once over and a fresh pair of eyes.

 

4. Networking is important

The Digital PR industry is really rewarding and everyone is lovely – get yourself a professional Twitter account and build your network on there. Yes, LinkedIn is great for networking, but Twitter is where the fun is! You can follow others and get inspiration from accounts like @DigitalPRInspo and @DigitalPREx. Share your campaigns, praise others, get involved in conversations, and brag about your links!

Top Tip: Don’t be afraid to get involved in conversations, even if you don’t know them


5. Be patient with yourself

Everyone learns differently, some people might get things quicker than others but if you don’t get it straight away then don’t be hard on yourself – hard work takes time and it does pay off eventually! Remember that you’re learning and you are fresh in PR!

Top Tip: Sometimes campaigns don’t land, but don’t stress about it – this is a massive learning curve for future campaigns and you can learn from this.

 

6. Think like a journalist

I’ve figured since starting at JBH that sometimes, despite being in PR, you have to think like a journalist and think what would they want to read? You might think your campaign is amazing and you want to tell the world but be concise and straight to the point especially when you’re outreaching, as you want to draw the journalist in straight away!

Top Tip: When you’re outreaching, draw the journalist in within the first two sentences.

 

7. Practice makes perfect

You might feel like Bart Simpson writing the same thing over and over, and it might become mundane but practice makes perfect! You will eventually nail it and do it without thinking about it when you’re confident in what you’re doing. When you start seeing your work online or journalists email you, it is so satisfying.

Top Tip: Look at previous campaigns for your client and how the tone of voice changes from each client. Some clients you need to read so much information on them to make sure you know them inside and out.

1000 666 JBH - The Digital PR Agency

Digital PR beyond the backlink: Reaching a wider audience on radio and TV

We often hear that the purpose of digital PR is attracting backlinks to a website to improve SEO rankings. But is it really? Maybe we should start looking at the bigger picture.

A good digital PR campaign does not only attract links but increases brand awareness and mostly draws attention. When we speak of media coverage, we look beyond the backlink. Google and Bing have said in the past, that mentions and citations on the web hold value, even if unlinked.

In that sense, digital PR makes a move to get a bit closer to traditional PR. Websites are not the only media that matters; Radio, TV and even print media play a key role in raising brand awareness and in spreading the word to reach a wider audience.

A study by Ofcom confirms that TV is still the most-used platform for news in 2020. The average adult watched 98 hours of TV news in 2019 and more than 80% of UK TV News viewers use BBC TV channels, more than 30% refer to Sky news. Even more interesting is the discovery that the number of UK adults using Social Media for news has dropped from 49% in 2019 to 45% in 2020. It seems that fake news has caused a decrease in trust in social media. BBC One and ITV are the most referred to news sources. Imagine how many people your campaign could reach if it appeared on those channels? And that on the other hand can lead to even more media coverage and links.

Before we go into some case studies, we should mention a few things to keep in mind in the early stages of a backlink campaign.

Considerations in the early stages of a campaign

One of the key elements of any successful marketing campaign is planning. Before even starting, there should not be any doubt about the target audience, the campaign idea and how to promote the content. Already at this stage, it should be considered whether this campaign would be suitable for media channels like TV or radio. With that comes the question whether you want to promote your brand in these channels. If yes, do you have an expert available that could speak for your brand and will not be shy to stand in front of a camera or a microphone? This is a question you should be ready to answer at any stage of the campaign because if a media outlet is interested in an interview, they usually want it quickly. If you start looking for an expert then, you might lose valuable time and risk losing the opportunity.

Tips to pitch a campaign for TV or radio

If the answer to all previous questions is “yes”: The campaign is suitable for TV or radio, the brand should be promoted on those channels and you have an expert at hand that is available for interviews, it is important to include that information in your outreach emails, especially when pitching to broadcast journalists. They will only know that you have an expert at hand if you tell them!

Other markets provide additional opportunity. If a campaign has broad appeal in different markets, even foreign news channels can cover it. Your pitch should be geared to journalists in that market. Especially in TV, foreign media is not shy to draw upon foreign news stories or interview in English because they are already doing that anyways. We will see an example further below in our case studies.

Case Studies

At JBH, we have run many successful digital PR campaigns and some of our highlights include coverage on TV and radio for some of our clients. That is what we focus on in the following examples. If you are interested in full case studies about campaigns, please refer to our comprehensive JBH case studies.

A dog sitting on a table with a cocktail in front.

Tails.com

In August 2020 shortly after the UK government had released the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Together with tails.com, we created a list of 14 dog-friendly restaurants in Battersea. The pictures of dogs sipping on cocktails or tasting on a pile of pancakes have brought a lot of media coverage. Mid-August 2020, the Head Veterinarian of Tails.com Sean McCormack appeared on BCC radio to talk about the dog-friendly approach to Eat Out to Help Out:

LuggageHero

LuggageHero published a campaign in October 2020 that focused on leaf foliage in London’s parks. Not only was the campaign picked up by BBC radio with an interview with Simon Sunderbeck, but it also set the trend of leaf peeping. The interview even sparked the idea of a leaf peeping festival that could be spread across 250 London parks in the next year, given that the pandemic will lay behind us by then.

Hero image of the listicle about leaf peeping in London.

Emoov.co.uk

This campaign by emoov.co.uk required some creativity and we came up with an imaginary property listing. What if the queen decided to sell Buckingham Palace? The energy rating came out as quite poor, but what can you expect with 240 bedrooms, 78 bathrooms, a swimming pool and an on-site post office?

We didn’t hide the fact that this is an imaginary listing and turned it into a competition. Readers could guess the price of the property and win a royal hamper.

The campaign brought more than 20 links and was covered by global news sites such as sputniknews.com and German news sites such as merkur.de. We are particularly proud that this PR stunt had been picked up by the French TV station France Télévisions:

1000 666 Rebecca Moss

How E-A-T impacts your link building efforts

For the past two years there has been an acronym that kept SEOs around the world on their toes; SEO and Digital PR agencies are no exception: E-A-T. It has been around since 2014 but it only was towards the end of 2018 that it became more obvious that those three aspects have a direct impact on a websites’ rankings in Google Search. It stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. But what does that mean?

Book with words "From the real experts". Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

Expertise

If we take this whole discussion offline: Would you trust the medical advice your neighbour gives, or would you rather ask somebody with a medical degree? If you have a question on your tax return, would you ask your taxi driver for advice or rather see an accountant? Would you let your roommate take photos of your products or would you rather hire an experienced and skilled photographer? Well, the same applies online. If your business or your website is about a topic that can directly impact somebody’s life (e.g. financial trading, medical or legal advice), contribute to public opinion (journalism for example) or provide a service that requires knowledge, you should inform your readers and clients why you are qualified to do so. It builds trust and shows that you know what you are talking about.

How to show expertise on your website

A clear About Us page and author profiles are the first and foremost thing to do. Tell readers who you are, why you offer the service you offer and what qualifies you to write the things you write. If you have a legal website, tell them where you got your law degree. If you have a medical website, tell them where your authors got their knowledge from and what scientific evidence they can provide. If it is financial trading, list the experience your authors have in trading, financial markets and technical analysis.

Ideally, there is more than an author bio for each person publishing for your business. Social media profiles, activity in specialised forums, an own expert blog or publications (e.g. books, whitepapers), are just a few of those things that can increase credibility. It goes without saying that the information must be correct! If you are lying about education and experience, you will never be able to be trusted as an expert.

Equally beneficial are case studies of previous work where you state what you have done, why you have done it in that particular way and why it was successful.

Expertise in your link building campaigns

The same applies to link building campaigns. Add the information as to who created the content asset, where the information comes from and how you came to your conclusion/the statement you make. If your campaign contains quotes or information from an expert in the field, it can also increase your reach. A true expert usually has quite some following on social media or own platforms. Your campaign could reach that audience too.

Apart from that, it is much more likely to get a link if a respected expert stands behind a campaign.

"Product Review" in scrabble letters.Photo by Shotkit from Pexels.

Photo by Shotkit from Pexels

Authoritativeness

Authority refers directly to reputation and is built over time. If your website is the go-to resource for a certain topic, you are the authority in the field. It is almost impossible to measure authority. However, there are some clear indications. The most important one are links to your websites. All link metrics, DR in Moz, DA in Ahrefs or TF in Majestic refer directly to backlinks coming from authoritative websites.

If you want to get an understanding of your authority, mentions and branding are equally important. How do others talk about your brand? In which context are you mentioned? Who mentions you? Those references do not have to be from another authority in the field, but also your customers or business partners can contribute to your reputation. Positive customer reviews on external resources (e.g. Trustpilot) help building authority.

How to show authoritativeness on your website

Authority is mostly measured externally through links and mentions on third party sites. What you can do is replicate what is being said about your brand on your own website. The positive reviews you get on websites like Trustpilot or Google Reviews can be mentioned on your website with a link to the original source. If you have worked with other reputable companies or brands, you can mention them on a partners page.

Authoritativeness in your link building campaigns

Authority is directly related to link building. If your website has backlinks from other reputable sites in your niche and if your brand is mentioned in a positive way on external websites, it increases authoritativeness. Building authority, just as link building, takes time. It does not come overnight.

What you should not do is try to manipulate it by building PBNs or buying links. At JBH, we strongly advise against these tactics. It might seem as if they can speed up the process, but sooner or later you might lose all credibility. If you are being caught for paid links, also the organic links will lose their impact and you can never become an authority in the field. The same is true for selling links on your website. It might bring you some short-term cash but will hurt your reputation in the long-term.

Two pairs of hands holding each other. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Trustworthiness

Let us perform the same test as for expertise and take the question offline: Would you buy a property that you cannot find on a map because the address is incorrect? Do you buy from a shop on the high street that shows different prices in the shop window than the prices on the shelf? The same is true for your website. If visitors do not trust you, they are not going to buy from you either. If Google does not perceive your website as being trust-worthy, it will not rank your website in search.

Trustworthiness is a very subjective measure and if you are unsure about it, just ask yourself: would you trust your website if you looked at it for the first time?

How to show trustworthiness on your website

As with any human interaction, trust is built as the result of a multitude of things and is destroyed quickly. The most important aspect is truthfulness. Be transparent about who you are and what you do. All information provided on your website must be true. If they catch you with a lie, you will never be trusted.

This refers mostly to your About Us page and the contact information. Provide true information and as much about yourself and your business as you can. Any address or contact information should be correct and if a customer contacts you, make sure you reply. Nothing could hurt your trustworthiness more than a disconnected telephone line or bad customer service.

In the same way that customer reviews can help with authority, user-generated content can help building trust. Make sure you monitor any comments left on your website and respond in due time.

Other important aspects of trust building are brand consistency, professional layout/design and of course proper grammar and language use. Readers will not trust your website if your content is a bad machine translation with obvious spelling mistakes.

We spoke about case studies to show expertise. Part of transparency is to also mention the failures and the things that did not work. Nobody is getting things right all the time. If your success seems to be too perfect, you might also lose trust.

Not to forget are commercial links, pop ups and ads. Use them wisely and only where appropriate. Would you trust a website that is cluttered with ads that distract from the content?

Trustworthiness in your link building campaigns

This aspect can be summarized in a very simple way: If people don’t trust you, they won’t link to you. Simple as that!

It becomes especially important for data-led campaigns for link building. Place a methodology and sources below the content or the infographic where you state clearly where your data came from and how you came to the conclusion you made. If you ran a survey to collect the data, provide the details about where, when, who and how. List the steps you went through when you analysed the data. If you took statistics from third party websites, ensure that those are trustworthy and list every single source you used.

When you contact journalists and distribute your content, mention who you are and how you can be contacted.

E-A-T for link building

If we look at all those recommendations once again, it becomes obvious that those should be part of a good editorial standard. Unfortunately, bad practices on the internet have caused for those to be forgotten over time and many publishers need to be reminded again. If you get your E-A-T right and remember it in everything you do for your business online, it will not only improve your organic rankings. It will also facilitate any link building campaign. The moment you are a trusted expert that is perceived as an authority, others will happily refer to your website with a backlink.

1000 666 JBH - The Digital PR Agency

Digital PR in a Day: Here’s how to fit it all in

Digital PR professionals usually wear many hats. In a brainstorming meeting, you are the creative. When you open your email inbox in the morning, go through those replies you received and update all your contact lists and reports accordingly, you’re the admin. In a client meeting, you are the face of the agency. When preparing data-led campaigns, you are the project manager for researchers, designers and writers. If you are in a managing position, you also want to make sure to have time for a one-to-one-catchup with your team members. If that is not enough, your account manager might swing through the door at any time requesting additional information on the campaigns’ progress to update the client. Time management becomes crucial – even on quiet days in digital PR.

Get the most out of a project management tool

Yes, in the same way that a project manager handles all agency proceedings, you should manage your own time and work. Your team is most likely using a project management tool like Asana, Trello or Monday.com to communicate tasks and deadlines. Make use of it!

Create your own project board

Did you know that all of these tools allow you to create your own boards? You can split tasks into smaller sub-tasks and assign individual deadlines. If a project is due next Friday, you can break it out into smaller steps with a milestone being due every day. That will save you from staying longer on Thursday evening. When creating your own board, you can also add recurring tasks, e.g. reporting every last Friday of the month or an hour daily to reply to emails. The tool will automatically copy those tasks and remind you depending on the frequency you assign.

A handwritten to do list in front of a calendar.

Deadlines, priorities, and reminders

Project management tools also allow you to add priorities to each task and set up email reminders. If there is something due in 3 weeks, maybe set a reminder for the week before. If you plan to pick up a task again in a few days, add the file (or links to the files if they are saved in the cloud) to the task in your project management tool. That way you will not have to spend additional time searching for the file to find out where you had left off.

Plan your week

If you come into the office on a Monday morning, take 15 minutes to plan out your week. Your project management tool tells you what is expected from you every day (including recurring tasks), your online calendar tells you which meetings to account for. Estimate how long each task will take and create a schedule for the week, similar to the class timetable you had in school. You can even put those in your calendar to reserve that time for the particular task. Although, I like to write this down on a piece of paper that goes on the wall next to my desk. That way, it is always visible when my online calendar or project board is hidden behind multiple windows and tabs on my screen.

And now the most important tip of all: If you notice that your week carries too much for one human being to handle, have a chat with your manager. Certain deadlines might be adjustable or there might be another team member to take some of your workload.

An alarm clock in between stationery on a desk

Photo by Jeshoots.com from Pexels

Scheduling calls and meetings

When it comes to meetings and calls – either internal meetings or client-facing ones – try to schedule them in blocks. If you have meetings cluttered all over your day with 30 minutes in between each of them, you lose that entire day to meetings. Small gaps between meetings are not helping with productivity. You need 15 minutes now and then to refill your coffee or go to the bathroom, but 30 minutes are too much for a bathroom break and too little to get any work done. Keep that in mind when scheduling your meetings and calls. That brings me to the next point: breaks! You deserve them!

Don’t skip your lunch break

When you plan your day and estimate how long each task takes, ensure to also leave some room for breaks. Get a refill in your cup, get up and stretch every once in a while. Your back and hips will thank you for that. A little walk to the kitchen to refill your water glass gets you moving, and you make sure that you drink enough throughout the day. If you tend to forget these things, why not set a calendar reminder?

Even on the busiest days, one thing you should never do is skipping your lunch break. You need to eat, and you need a longer screen break. If you are struggling with that, make an appointment. This can be a lunch with your colleagues. If you are using a communications tool like Slack, you can create a channel with your lunch time buddies. Even there, you can set a reminder every day that reminds you of your lunch appointment in the office kitchen.  Another way to do this is to book a sports class in your lunch break. Many gyms offer 30- or 45-minute classes of all kinds of sports starting with a relaxing stretch class up to high intensity training. If you are working from home, you can take an online class. You book them, you pay them and that will be your motivation to not skip your lunchbreak. Plus, you get the additional benefit of a workout.

On a side note: You can also add those to your calendar.

An hourglass filled with red sand.

Focus

Seems like you are all set to make it through the week, meet all deadlines without having to stay longer. There is one thing though to keep in mind: Your estimates about the time a task takes are only working if you focus. You are human! We all lose focus from time to time and procrastinate a little. There are some precautions you can take.

The most obvious one is to switch off any distractions which includes notifications on Skype or Slack. Close your email programme and switch those notifications off too. Not to forget your phone: put it away.

Getting things done

If you know that your thoughts might drift off, try the pomodoro technique. Set a timer to 20 or 25 minutes. Whilst the timer is running, you keep the focus on the task. When the timer is up, you take a break. A more advanced way of this technique is an accountability buddy. Partner up with a trusted colleague. You meet at the coffee machine 15 minutes before your day starts, have a little chat and you both plan your day. You both write down what you want to get done by lunch time. When you then meet for lunch, you can quiz each other about your progress. That way, somebody – who is not your manager – will hold you accountable in a friendly way for the goals you set in the morning. You can also identify reasons why a plan failed. Maybe you miscalculated the time it would take? Maybe you got distracted and you can now identify exactly how this distraction looked like and discover ways to prevent it tomorrow.

Change of environment

There is another tip that might help if you start to lose focus on your work. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it has certainly worked for me. Changing environment is like resetting your brain. When you are in the office, work from the coffee area, the kitchen or a meeting room. If your manager agrees, you can work from the coffee shop across the road. This will also prevent any colleagues interrupting your thoughts with questions. When you are working from home, maybe try the dining room or even the sofa or the garden for a certain time and go back to your desk for the next task on the list.

End of day

It means exactly that: END of day. Your workday finishes by 5.30 or maybe 6 pm. Get up, leave and do something else. We are all guilty of staying long hours because we just want to get that one, quick thing done. The moment we realize it, it is 8 pm and the quick thing had turned into 2 hours. When working in an office it is a reminder when your colleagues start leaving the office. If you are regularly staying much longer than them, something must change. Have a chat with your manager if your workload is too high for you alone to handle.

A sure way to leave the office on time is to have plans for the evening: another sports class, a dinner with friends or even your weekly grocery shopping.

When working from home in times of lockdown, it is very tempting to just keep on working until you fall asleep or get hungry. The things you used to look forward to at the end of the day are not possible and this means you have to find other things. Have a dinner with your housemates or your partner. Pick up a new hobby that you do in the evenings. The online sports class you could have done in your lunchbreak is possibly scheduled again in the evening. Read a book or take a long bath. Enjoy your evening and be proud of everything you achieved that day!

1024 682 Rebecca Moss

How to generate campaign ideas with topical Trust Flow

So you want links to your websites, but it should not be any link… ideally, backlinks come from authoritative, trust-worthy websites that are topically related to your website.

That is an important bit: topically related. Of course, you would not turn down a link from a high authority website in another niche, but when you invest time in link building, outreach and digital PR, you would want to focus on websites in the same niche as yours. After all, relevancy matters.

Identifying suitable websites to outreach to can be easy for some industries and difficult for others. Sometimes you need to find creative link building ways. This is where topical Trust Flow can help.

What is topical Trust Flow?

Trust Flow is a metric by Majestic and measures how authoritative a website is based on its backlink profile. The higher the TF, the more authority the website has. The BBC for example has a TF of 95, Wikipedia follows with 94.

There is a sub-metric called topical Trust Flow. It assigns a topic to each website and calculates the Trust Flow for all websites within the topic. The below screenshot is for Wikipedia.org:

Screenshot of Majestic showing topical Trustflow for Wikipedia.

For such a website, you would expect a wide range of topics. In this case 14.13% of the backlinks to Wikipedia come from websites within the travel niche, 5.25% are from other encyclopaedias and so on.

Other available topics are for example Business, News, Sports, Health, Home, Shopping and Games. There is a topic for your niche too!

How to identify opportunities with topical TF

Identifying the topic that relates to your business is the easy step. How do you find websites to outreach to that are within the same topic?

Identify competitors

At first, you want to identify competitors for your website – we do not mean the shop across the road that sells the same items as you do, but those websites that compete with you for the space in Google’s SERPs. In some cases, you might have a competitor for your business who is selling the same products or providing the same service as you, but who relies on other channels than SEO. When you are looking at SEO opportunities, you want to look at those competitors that are doing their SEO well. Tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush provide a list of competing domains based on your keyword rankings. If you don’t have those tools available, you can put your most important keywords into a Google search and see who shows up. You should verify though that the website is indeed a competitor in terms of business model and product offering.

The competitor’s backlink profile

Once you have competitors identified, you can put those domains into Majestic to find the one with the best backlink profile. A high TF or a high number of referring domains is always a good point of call.

Let’s say that you have a health-related business. A good website to draw inspiration from is healthline.com. It has a TF of 52, with a topical TF within health and more than 160k referring domains:

Screenshot from Majestic showing the summary of stats for healthline.com

If we want to see where this website is getting backlinks from, the best place is the tab called Ref Domains.

The best opportunities are websites with high authority. We therefore sort the list by Trust Flow and refresh the list:

Screenshot from Majestic showing how to sort referring domains by trust flow

In the last step, we want to filter the list for websites that have a topical Trust Flow within the health topic:

Screenshot from Majestic showing how to sort referring domains by topic.

 

We start selecting those from the top and will receive a list of health-related websites, sorted by authority (TF) that link to a competitor of ours (in this case healthline.com):

Screenshot from Majestic showing how to sort referring domains by topic.

Content ideas and an outreach list

If we click the numbers in the column called Backlinks, we can see the exact URLs of the pages that are linking to healthline.com. This provides a good understanding how the website attracted links from high authority websites and will guide your link building strategy. Once analysed, you will have plenty of ideas for your backlink campaign assets and a list of domains to pitch your content to. Happy link building and don’t forget to get in touch if you need some help.

1024 682 Rebecca Moss

We got a link, what next?

This just made your day: The alert you have created in ahrefs has informed you about a new link to your website and it points to your latest digital PR campaign. Jackpot! But does this automatically make you the employee of the month? No!

There are a few things you would want to check about any new link to understand if it is really the big win or if you have some cleaning up to do. Even with the best preparation and research before you reach out to any journalist, there are still some surprises that a live link can bring.

Which domain is that?

Not only work some journalists and bloggers for multiple websites, they often also publish on sub-domains and that is important when it comes to your link building reports as the metrics for a sub-domain can often vary greatly from those of the main domain.

In most cases, the KPIs of a digital PR campaign specify the minimum DA, DR or TF and you want to ensure you are tracking those correctly. The standard example for this used to be blogspot.com. If anybody wanted to create a blog on this platform, that blog would be hosted on a subdomain, e.g. myblog.blogspot.com. When we were trying to find an example, we noticed that most of those blogs are by now hosted on a dedicated domain, but we found some other examples:

It is not just blog hosting platforms, sometimes also authoritative websites create subdomains for certain types of content, e.g. the German magazine focus.de (TF 72) has subdomains for games, product comparisons and vouchers: games.focus.de (TF 32), gutscheine.focus.de (TF 44) and vergleich.focus.de (TF 43).

A language specific subdomain too can make a difference: Wikipedia.org has a TF of 94, the German equivalent de.wikipedia.org has a TF of only 78 and the Portuguese pt.wikipedia.org only a TF of 47.

That is quite a difference in metrics to measure, so before you open the champagne, you want to make sure the link contains what the label says.

Look at the link in its purest form

Apart from the domain, you also want to take a look at the link itself. The most obvious thing to look at is the anchor text which in most cases will probably be your brand name. If you see it being misspelled or the journalist has used an anchor you would not want to be associated with your brand, you should contact them and ask for it to be changed.

You also want to determine whether the link is a follow or nofollow link as this is in most cases something you want to include in your link building report. The easiest way to find this is in the source code of the page which you can access via CTRL+U or right click on your mouse and select “view source”. Via the usual search functionality in the browser (CTRL+F) you can find the anchor text on your link. We can use an example of a recent article published by Forbes that references many authoritative websites.

Code snippet that shows nofollow links.

We can see links to websites like the BBC, New York Times and Boston Globe. A link always has the following format:

<a href=”URL”>anchor text</a>

Everything else that might be added to it provides additional information. In the above example, we can see: target=”_blank” which simply means that this link opens in a new window.

What we want to look at is the rel=”nofollow” as this means that it is a nofollow link. Please note that there is no specific markup for a follow link, the absence of “nofollow” usually means that it is a follow link.

Other things you want to look out for is a rel=”sponsored” or all forms of tracking code on the link as those usually indicate sponsored or paid links and do not provide much value for SEO.

Does Google know about your link?

Another important check to perform is whether the page that links to your website is indexed in Google. If a page is not indexed (even after a few days of it being live) there could be some technical or qualitative issues.

The most obvious would be that the page is orphaned, i.e. not linked to internally on the website. If that is the case, you can bring this up in your communication with the journalist. If it is a legit website, they probably appreciate you informing them about the page being orphaned.

If you want to find out whether a page is indexed or not, you can perform a site search in Google. This is how it would look for the above referenced article in Forbes:

Screenshot of a site search performed in Google.

If the page you are looking for appears as in the above example, everything is fine. The page is indexed. If no results come up, the page is not indexed.

The above are some general health checks that should be performed on any link a digital PR campaign brings, not only for your reporting but also to ensure that the links you attract provide value.

1024 682 Jane Hunt

Writers block: How to find inspiration when you are stuck for content ideas

If we’re being completely honest, we all know these situations. You try to come up with a creative idea but all you end up with is an empty piece of paper. It simply does not flow.

We have all been there and it is part of the creative process to be stuck sometimes. The important thing is knowing how to get out of it and keep the creative juices flowing. What to do? How to spark your creativity when you are feeling uninspired?

Look around you

The easiest way to kickstart the ideation process – and we do that often for creative link building campaigns – is to look at the things others have done. No matter the topic – travel, music, even engineering and mathematics – a lot of content has been created and is just waiting for you to be explored. Google your topic and see what comes up:

Screenshot from Google search for infographics about maths

We bet you did not know that there was a math awareness month. This is where the inspiration starts. Other than a Google search, sources like Pinterest, Instagram and Visually can be used to see what others have done in the past. Now look at this content, identify what resonates with you and why. What have they done that makes the topic work? How could you use it and add a twist?

Asking the right questions

Another way to get content inspiration is to find out what questions your audience is asking. This is also a good marketing technique and you are probably taking this into account already, but we sometimes forget that it can also be used to make your life easier. A good point of call is social media. Check what your audience is talking about. Did your social media team publish anything recently that triggered many comments or questions? Here is your starting point.

You can also use Google Trends to find out what people are talking about this week:

Screenshot from Google Trends early November 2020

Other tools you can draw upon are answerthepublic.com or alsoasked.com. All you must do is enter your topic and see related questions coming up.

Screenshot from answerthepublic.com for the topic Mathematics

What is happening around you?

Another approach that has proven useful this year is reactive PR. Traditionally it was understood as a reaction to negative press, but amidst a global pandemic, reactive strategies have become the new thing in digital PR. You are anyways monitoring your industry and you know what is going on. Is there any inspiration in this? Maybe you published a post a month ago that is no longer relevant. You can pick this topic up again. Did any circumstances for your customers change recently? If we stick to our maths topic, we could think of the way how 2020 has changed the way we teach maths. You could reach out to teachers and interview them about teaching from home. Are there any maths topics that are easier to teach in a classroom? How did remote learning change their way of explaining mathematical concepts? That is how easily you get an idea!

Re-utilize your own content

We already spoke about the content others have published as a source of inspiration, but what about your own content? Is there anything else that you can do with content you previously published? Is there anything else you could do with the original data? Maybe you used it for a blog post, maybe there is a graphic you can create out of it. If you had lots of pictures, maybe you can create a slideshow out of those you did not use for the post. If we look back at our maths example, you might have published the interview with the math teacher. Did he mention any specific calculations you could elaborate on? There might be opportunity for blog posts to explain some of the concepts he mentioned in the interview and so on…

What inspires you?

Creative minds can usually tell you exactly what it is that inspires them. Some go to the bathroom, others take a long walk in the woods, others listen to music. You probably have something as well that sparks your creativity. The common trait of all those techniques is to distract the mind. Stop thinking too hard about being creative! Stop the logic! The best way to do so is to get your mind onto something else.

If it does not help or if you simply cannot go for a walk in the woods right now, there are some quick exercises that can get you into the right mindset. You could take a random object, e.g. a chair, and give it new meaning. If this was not a chair, what would it be? A clothes hanger? A bookshelf? A ladder? See what you can come up with, but don’t think too much. Just write down a few ideas.

Alternatively, you could take randomly selected images, look at them and create a connection between them.

When we tried it, it created those 4 images:

Baby dressed up in a beach outfit. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/hisins30-3587860/ Skateboard flying through the air, the feet are visible. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/santa3-3503898/
Pink high heels with grass growing in them. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/manfredrichter-4055600/ Water drops in front of a blue background. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/inspiredimages-57296/

How do you make a connection? Maybe the baby is dreaming of riding a skateboard, jumping and flying through the air. But in reality, it looks as if it is trying mum’s heels that are 5 sizes too big walking over the grass that the hoar frost has turned wet.

Are you feeling inspired? Try it yourself. Generate some random images and see what this exercise does to your creative mind.

And if nothing helps, you can still get back to the old technique of drawing a mind map. Put everything in it that comes up when you think about the topic and see what you will end up with.

1000 666 Rebecca Moss

How to clean up a toxic backlink profile

When we speak about link building to build authority online and to get your website ranking in search engines there is one thing we cannot ignore: the existing backlink profile.

We regularly come across websites that have engaged in black hat techniques, namely paid links, in the past or have had negative SEO attacks. The best way to identify those is to do a backlink audit.

Tools to find backlinks

As with anything in SEO, there are plenty of tools out there that you can use for backlink audits, but there is no single tool that can do it for you. Even the best algorithm will miss certain things that require a human eye to look at and every tool gathers data in different ways. If you compare the information you get you will always notice differences because the tools crawl the web differently and therefore have never exactly the same information. For that reason, backlink audit tools such as Link Research Tools combine data from as many sources as possible and that is what you should do too.

Majestic

One of the backlink tools we trust is Majestic. It is a paid tool but totally worth it when you are analysing or building links. All you have to do is enter your domain name, head to the tab “Backlinks” and export the data into Excel.

Majestic screenshot: How to export backlinks

Ahrefs

This is another trusted tool by digital PR and SEO agencies and also a paid tool: Ahrefs. The steps to follow are similar to Majestic. You enter the domain, select “Backlinks” on the left side, choose “One link per domain” and export the data to Excel.

Ahrefs screenshot: how to export backlinks

SEMrush

The steps in SEMrush are very similar to the other tools: enter the domain, select “Backlink analytics”, choose the tab “Backlinks” and export the data.
 

Google Search Console

This tool is available for free and we highly recommend using it as it provides information Google holds about your website and can be used in many ways to improve your SEO. Apart from technical errors, it also reports on backlinks. The data extraction however involves a few more steps than in the other tools. You first select “Links” on the left side, scroll to “Top linking sites” and hit “More”. (Please note that we removed any domain names from the following screenshots to protect the data of our clients.)

Google Search Console screenshot: How to find backlinks

Now you reach the screen where you can export all referring domains. You will notice that the dataset it significantly smaller than your exports from the other tools. The others give you the URL of the exact link, Search Console only lets you export the domain name.

In order to see the page that is linking to your website, you click on the domain that is listed under “Top linking sites”. That will list the pages on your website that have a backlink from the domain. If you now click on that URL, Search Console shows you the exact URLs that contain the links.

Google Search Console Screenshot: Export referring domains

Combine the data

If you have access to any other tool that provides backlink data, we recommend to export that too to get as much information as possible. The data that you have in different Excel sheets, should now be combined into one master file. From tools like Majestic and Ahrefs, we exported backlinks (not referring domains) because we want to see at least one example of a link, the domain name can easily be exported from the URL but not the other way around. We recommend adding the list of referring domains from Google Search Console last and then deduplicate. That way, you will only have the domains from Search Console that the other tools have not picked up which saves you some time analysing them. After all, you will have a lot more data in your Excel sheet from the other tools.

When it comes to the data you want to keep, we recommend keeping the anchor text and information about nofollow and follow as this will help you during the analysis. Metrics such as TF and DR can be useful too.

The good, the ugly and the bad

Now that you have your master file of backlinks, it is time to analyse them in detail. There are tools, e.g. Link Research Tools, that make a pre-evaluation of your links and give you hints as to which links might be harmful. That certainly saves you some time, but you should still look at those links before you take any action. Please ensure that your antivirus software is up to date though!

In all honesty, there is no formula that will tell you whether a link is good or bad and the more experience you get, the easier it will become. Experienced SEOs recognize the bad apples within seconds of looking at a website, but if you are new to this, feel free to dig a bit deeper.

The obviously bad

There are some obvious signs for bad quality or even malicious links. If you see a screen full of images that you would classify as adult content, there’s your sign (unless your website is in that industry.) Another one is a malware warning. It goes without saying that you should not open the site if your antivirus software tells you not to and we recommend clearing your cache and cookies afterwards.

If you see a page that looks like a Japanese manga or a comic book (and your business is not related to that topic in any way), this is another strong signal. In that case, you should verify the stats in a tool of your choice to evaluate if that website could hold any value. We like to look at the number of referring domains in relation to the number of backlinks and the TrustFlow. A low TF and backlinks from only a few domains are an indicator of low quality. In most cases, this is what you will see. You can also get information about IP addresses of those websites and if they all come from the same source, it is a sure sign of a negative SEO attack.

Another strong sign is the anchor text on the link and how it is embedded on the page. If you see a list of links with anchor text that could be classified as adult content or vulgar language, the link was most likely placed with malicious intent.

The less obvious

There are some other links that could hurt your website but are less obvious. Those mostly refer to PBN links or paid links. Unfortunately, there is no clear sign that would tell you that a link has been paid for or placed upon request unless it is marked as a sponsored link in which case you can ignore it as this will not cause any harm.

The best way is to read over the paragraph that contains the link to your website. Does this feel natural? Does it make sense that they are linking to your site on this instance and not to a competitor? You should also check which other links are in the text. Is the link to your site the only external link? Are there even internal links? If you think that it is obvious that a link has been placed, it probably is too obvious and not a natural link.

The ugly

When you do a backlink audit, you will also come across links that are not great, but they are not harming you either. It is normal for a natural backlink profile to have backlinks of mixed quality. If a backlink profile only contains high quality, it screams manipulation and paid links. Anything that is not harmful should just be left untouched. You simply have to accept that there are links that are not great.

Depending on how long your website has been around, you might see lots of directory or forum links. Those techniques are by now frowned upon, but they were once valid techniques. If you had those links for a long time, there is no need to worry about them. They will not harm you, but they will not have any positive impact either.

The good links

This is an easy one: We are talking about the links that your website received because you engaged in digital PR and created great content that other websites want to point their audiences to. You might want to highlight those in your audit to show your stake holders the good work that has been done in the past. Maybe you will even get more budget for digital PR in the next quarter to do some more exciting campaigns.

Actions to take

Once your backlink audit is done, you would want to disavow the bad links. This means that you are informing Google about those backlinks that the crawlers should ignore. Everything you have classified as malicious should be disavowed. Google has stated multiple times that their algorithm detects negative SEO and would ignore those links anyways, but you are better safe than sorry. Disavow them.

Where things become tricky are the PBN and paid links. Google has recommended to disavow links if you have bought them in the past, but we recommend checking for how long your website has had that link (the tools can tell you when they first detected the link) and if there was any impact on your rankings around that time. If you can correlate a paid link to a drop in rankings, we recommend disavowing that link. If your rankings have improved or if there was no impact whatsoever, chances are that Google does not detect this link as a paid link. No algorithm is perfect!

When you decide to disavow a link, you should keep in mind that you cannot reverse that action. Once disavowed, links from that domain cannot give your website any value anymore. You should therefore be very careful with your disavows. If you had links that you are not proud of for a while and they did not cause any harm, disavowing them could have a rather negative effect on your rankings. If the reason for your backlink audit is a drop in rankings and you suspect a penguin penalty, you can be more generous with what you disavow. We cannot give you a one-size-fits-all-recommendation as the circumstances should be taken into account and it rather is a question of common sense than a strict formula.

One thing though we can tell you for sure is that after the backlink audit, you will have a better understanding of the gaps in your backlink profile. You will know which efforts have been made in the past, what to do more of in the future and what to avoid from now on. Most likely, you want to do more digital PR and link building and you know how to get in touch with us at JBH.

1024 682 Rebecca Moss

Top 5 Free SEO tools

We frequently speak about backlinks and how to measure the quality of a link with the right metrics, how to detect a PBN and SEO audits, but in order to find all the related information we have to rely on tools.

Those that any digital PR and SEO agency extensively uses are MOZ, Ahrefs, SEMrush and Majestic; for website audits there are crawlers like Sistrix, DeepCrawl, Searchmetrics and Botify. Keywords can be tracked in tools like Linkdex or Accuranker. If you are doing digital PR, you need a media database to store all your contacts and to track emails and communication. If you are using only one of those tools, you are aware of the price that comes with such names and you probably have an idea of how expensive your SEO venture can become. What we often forget though is that we have free tools at our hands that provide a wealth of useful information.

1.    Google Search Console

It almost seems too obvious, but it is often overlooked. If you have Google Analytics installed for tracking, it only takes a few clicks to get access to search data in Google Search Console. It is important though to understand that it will only start data collection after it has been set up, but once it does, the data is extremely valuable. There are two types of information we would like to point out here (there is of course more but this is not meant to be a post about Search Console only).

Ranking data

Search Console provides information on search queries, how your website ranks for those queries, how many impressions it triggered in Google and how many clicks. You can trace your rankings back in time and compare certain periods to each other. Export that data and knock yourself out in a rank analysis. What is your best performing keyword?

Screenshot from Search Console ranking data

Technical errors

In the section “Coverage” Google conveniently tells you about those things that are wrong on your website. If the Googlebot has encountered a 404, it will inform you about it. If a URL has a noindex tag or is blocked by robots.txt, it will inform you; redirect issues, duplicate content, indexation issues – that and more will be reported in Search Console.

Screenshot of technical errors in Google Search Console

2.    Bing Webmaster Tools

This next tool might seem less obvious at first – who is using Bing anyways? But all jokes aside, Bing Webmaster Tools is the equivalent of Search Console for Bing and it also provides useful insights. It almost looks like a fancy paid crawling tool and it is even easier to download different types of technical reports about your website than it is in Google Search Console. You can auto-verify a website if you have Search Console set up and you will see that it looks all very similar.

SEO audit data

You can manually start crawls, or scans how Bing calls it, for up to 10.000 URLs per day. It then provides similar insights as an audit crawler, e.g. it flags title tags and meta descriptions that are too long, missing alt text on your images and assigns a priority to those.

Screenshot from Bing Webmaster tools that shows errors

In the Site Explorer, you can easily see the whole website architecture and it even suggests keywords for you. What more could you possibly want?

3.    Google Trends

Yes, we know what you want: keyword data and trends. If the year 2020 has taught us one thing, it is how quickly things can change. A year ago, nobody would have searched for “online networking”, “covid free hotels”, “travel with social distancing”, “how often should you wash your face mask” etc. This makes it ever more important to watch trends. Tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush, do not even have enough data on those new types of search queries to provide good search volumes, but we have Google Trends and it is free!

Without even feeding any information, we get a suggestion of what the world is interested in:

Screenshot of suggestions in Google Trends

You can use this as inspiration for your next blogpost. All of a sudden you know what the world is talking about that week.

If you are interested in a specific topic or keyword, you can see how interest evolved over time:

Screenshot of the graph in Google Trends for the term "lockdown"

It is no surprise that there was no search interest in the term “lockdown” before February 2020. This graph helps you discover spikes in interest or seasonality.

Google Trends also suggests additional keywords:

Screenshots of Google trends related queries for the term "lockdown"

That is already a wealth of ideas for your next pieces of content.

4.    Alsoasked.com

If you want to add some spice to your new content, approach some popular questions people ask. You might end up appearing in the “People also ask” section in Google. Which better tool to use than AlsoAsked? All you have to do is enter a search query, choose a location and let the magic work:

Image of alsoasked.com for the term "travel destination"

All we did was enter the search term “travel destination” and we end up with at least 10 content ideas for pages and blog posts we could create. It is fascinating which connections this tool is able to make: The question “Where can I avoid crowds?” leads to the busiest cities and the least travelled countries. The question for the most beautiful country in the worlds brings us to the cleanest and dirtiest places to visit. It is a treasure chest of content ideas. Why haven’t you tried it yet?

5.    Screaming Frog

We have already touched on the crawling tools to audit your website. Bing Webmaster Tools does this job and there are crawlers like DeepCrawl or Botify that you can use. But there is one that every SEO uses and no matter how fancy and shiny other tools are, we always fall back onto this one: the beloved Screaming Frog. It is the stethoscope of the SEO analyst and you can use it for free for up to 500 URLs. Isn’t that amazing?

The little frog provides similar insights like Bing Webmaster Tools and tells you if your title tags and meta descriptions are too long or too short or missing. Apart from that, you can analyse all your internal and external links, get information on response codes and redirect chains, noindex and canonicals tags and it even informs you about pages on your website having the same or very little content. API integrations such as the one with Google Page Speed Insights, analyses performance data of every single URL on your website and there is so much more. It always amazes what such a small, green animal can do.

Screenshot of a screaming frog crawl

With Screaming Frog, you can export all data and all types of issues into Excel, rearrange the data the way you want it and create your own reports. This is very useful if you encounter issues that you cannot fix on your own and that a web developer should look into.

And if your website is bigger than 500 URLs and you only have budget for one SEO tool, Screaming Frog is the one to go with!

Bonus: Yoast SEO plugin

We have a little bonus tool for the WordPress users in the room: Yoast SEO plugin. It lets you handle the most important SEO specifications for your website, e.g. the robots.txt file, the XML-sitemap, title tags and meta descriptions, noindex tags – all of those things that you would otherwise ask a developer for help, you can now handle on your own.

1024 682 Rebecca Moss

Why links aren’t all that matters for SEO

Links are our bread and butter: We create backlink campaigns, reach out to journalists to get coverage and more visibility for your brand. But as a digital PR and SEO agency, we are also aware of the other bits that matter to get your website where you want it to be. It is no secret that your SEO needs backlinks, but your backlinks need some decent SEO too because if Google’s crawlers cannot read the content on your website, even the best links will not get it ranking. These are some important things to look out for on your website.

Robots.txt

This happens often when a new website is launched. During the development phase of the site, there are usually many flaws. At that stage it is a good idea to “hide” the website from Google until it is ready to be shared with the world. You could compare it to the “closed for refurbishment” sign in a shop window. There are two common ways to put up that sign on your website: you can either protect the website with a password or alternatively add a disallow directive in robots.txt for search engine crawlers. This is what it looks like:

Robots.txt file showing disallow

That is not a lot of code, but it can do a lot of damage. The above robots.txt file will indicate to any crawler, not just Google’s, that this whole website should not be crawled. The crawler is not allowed to go there. In the above case, that is intended because that website is under development, it is a staging site.

A few weeks might pass, the website takes shape and everybody who is involved in the process is getting excited. Launch day! The website is pushed live and the whole world can see it – the whole world but Google. With all that excitement, you forgot to remove the disallow line in the robots.txt file and your beautiful new website is still hidden. It is as if you opened the doors to your shop, but the window still shows “closed for refurbishment”.

If that has happened, you should remove the disallow line in your robots.txt file as soon as possible and we would also recommend submitting your homepage URL and XML-sitemap in Google Search Console. Google can now see your website and your backlinks!

No-index tags

This is a different technical setup and circumstance, but the impact can be the same as the disallow directive in the robots.txt file. The difference though is that this piece of code is added to individual pages rather than the whole website and Google is still able to crawl the content but is told to not index it. The result is the same: This content will not appear in Google search.

This is how it looks in the html code:

Piece of website code showing a no index tag

We imagine the following scenario:

Mary wants to publish content about travelling to cities in Italy. There are already similar pages for Spain on the website with URLs like that: /spain/madrid/, /spain/seville/ etc. For Italy, Mary has ordered and received content for pages about Rome and Florence. She wants to publish it with the following URLs /italy/rome/ and /italy/florence/. That is when she notices that she does not have content to fill the page about Italy with. She asks her manager John for additional budget to order content about Italy. John tells her that there is no content budget left for this month, but that she would be able to order it next month. Mary though does not want to delay the publication of the content about Rome and Florence. She decides to publish a placeholder page /italy/ in order to get the URL structure she wants. That placeholder page will be empty until she receives the content – next month. Because she does not want Google to waste any crawl budget on an empty page, she adds a no-index tag to the page.

A month later, Mary finally receives the content for the general page about Italy. She adds it to the page which is now no longer empty. She is proud of that content with beautiful images from all corners of Italy. Because she knows about SEO and wants Google to index that content, she removes the no-index tag and submits the page in Google Search Console. Mary has done a good job, but you can see how easily she could have forgotten that seemingly small technicality, especially when she dreams of a trip to Italy.

Lake Como in Italy

Lake Como. Photo by Mariya Georgieva on Unsplash

Crawl budget

Mary has taken crawl budget into account and that is important, especially if you have quite a big website. Even Google has a budget when it comes to crawling resources, it is a big effort to keep its index up to date. The budget that Google allocates to your website should be used for the pages that matter, instead of crawling empty pages. Another way to waste crawl budget is to redirect crawlers many times. If a URL redirects once, that is not an issue, but if it redirects multiple times or if every single internal link on your site redirects, that could become a problem. At some point, the crawlers will stop following your links. That is something to keep an eye on. (Besides, redirects also have a negative impact on your page load times – another SEO ranking factor.)

If you want to use your crawl budget wisely, you can do that by ensuring a good internal linking strategy and site architecture. Every page on your website should be linked to internally and the pages that hold most value should receive the highest number of internal links.

Getting your technical SEO right

This was just a glimpse of the things that could go wrong when it comes to technical SEO, but it should have given you a good overview of its impact. If you reach out to an agency like JBH for link building, it is important to look at the overall health of your website. And if you are already engaged in digital PR, you get media coverage, but your rankings are not improving, it is time to audit your whole website. It could be a small technical detail that prevents Google from seeing all the work you do.