Build a Better Backlink Strategy: 6 Ways to Improve Your SEO Rankings through Content and PR

By Kathryn Hawkins. Content Strategy PR SEO Newsletter
Credit:  lightsource via depositphotos

Learn why HARO, PR campaigns, guest blogging, research reports, expert round-ups, and infographics are some of our favorite strategies for building backlinks—and why “pay to play” backlink strategies often backfire.

When you’re focusing on building a digital presence for your brand without relying heavily on advertising, a strong organic search presence is key.

But to come up near the top of the search rankings for key terms related to your brand, you need to do more than just pump out content. Google’s algorithm favors content that’s been shown to be relevant to others—by way of backlinks from sites that it deems to be “high authority.”

There are a number of software tools that determine their own “site authority” scores for websites, based on how likely they are to come up in prime positions in search rankings for a particular search term. The authority is based on a number of factors, which include the age of the domain; the number of backlinks; and, most importantly, the relevance and authority of those backlinks. 

For instance, let’s say you have a blog that’s all about organic gardening in Florida. If you get a link from another small organic gardening blog, that’s a nice accomplishment, but it may not boost your search rankings. But if you get a backlink from an online article in Better Homes and Gardens, that will likely drive both some referral traffic, and help to boost your domain authority by at least a point or two, since it’s a big, high-traffic site with a lot of domain authority (82 out of 100, based on Moz’s rankings). Domain authority rankings can change frequently, and are subject to changes in Google’s algorithms and other outside factors, so it’s not an exact science—but as a general rule, the more backlinks your content has from larger, reputable sites, the higher your own site will rank in search traffic.

So, of course, that begs the question: How do you get these high-quality backlinks? Developing really great, unique content is part of it, of course, but it doesn’t end there.

Let’s discuss some of the best strategies for generating backlinks on your website.

Responding to Journalist Inquiries

We’ve written before about HARO as a great strategy for getting backlinks, and it still rings true today. With HARO, and similar services like JournoRequest, the journalists come to you—they’re looking for a specific type of expert for a quote, and if you fit the bill and provide them with good content, you may get a great backlink out of it for a minimum of work. (For example, a couple of years ago, I responded to a HARO inquiry and shared my thoughts on the scourge that is MLM marketing with Huffington Post, and got a great backlink both from Huffington Post itself and from other publications that quoted that article.) 

In many cases, you’ll just need to respond with a paragraph or so in response to the journalist’s question, although some may prefer to do a phone interview. In all cases, time is of the essence: Once they get a few good responses, they may not continue reviewing. If you don’t have time to do this yourself, that’s where an agency can come in handy. We work with some of our clients to monitor for relevant opportunities and then respond on their behalf, helping them get quotes from top-tier publications like Entrepreneur and Forbes.

PR Campaigns

A traditional PR campaign can also yield results—if, that is, you have actual news to report. Just closed a Series A round? That’s press-worthy, and likely to get you attention and backlinks from many reputable media sources. Launching a crowdfunding campaign? If your product is unique and innovative, that may yield results, too. But make sure you’re not publicizing news that may only be noteworthy to your own employees, and not to outsiders, or you’re likely to see your press efforts fizzle out. 

In order to see success from a PR campaign, you need to go beyond putting out a press release. In fact, it’s not even necessary in most cases, though it may not hurt to cover your bases. But the bulk of the PR work is done in developing a highly targeted media list that’s relevant to your story, and then sending out customized messages to journalists, bloggers, podcasters, or whoever you’re trying to reach, through the medium they’re most comfortable with. For some, that may be email, for others, Twitter, or even SMS if they’re already in your network. In any case, the goal is to come up with a message that’s going to be relevant to each journalist, so that you can pique their interest—generic PR blasts won’t do that, but personalized content that shows you know each writer or editor’s beat well. 

When we work with a client, we start this process by working out our goals and messaging strategy—we’ll have different target outlets based on each client’s industry and expertise, and some may focus more heavily on TV or podcasting v. written content. By taking the time to understand the different angles we can showcase based on each outlet, and understanding how to engage with each journalist on their own terms, we’ll be able to develop relevant pitches that journalists are likely to respond to positively. 

Guest Blogging

Offering your byline and expertise to other publications is also a great way to build brand credibility and boost your backlink profile. 

When we work on guest blog campaigns with our clients, we customize our strategy based on the client’s goals and expertise. Some may be more focused on industry-specific publications, which might have smaller, but more relevant audiences, whereas others may prefer to develop content for larger sites with a more general audience but a higher domain authority score. There’s no right answer—it’s all based on your preferences and desires. 

In some cases, your company may already have connections with publications, and may simply need support developing the content on their internal subject-matter expert’s behalf. In others, we might be involved in soup-to-nuts guest blog strategy: Deciding which publications to target, conducting outreach, and tracking placements. Without a prior relationship, keep in mind that it may take months for a guest blog to go from draft to publication, and it may not be accepted by the first publication you target. Although some agencies will guarantee a certain number of monthly links, we prefer to aim high, helping you get the best possible links that will support your brand reputation and your link building strategy. In some cases, it can take time, but it can yield far better results than going for low-hanging fruit or engaging in shady link-trading or “pay to play” strategies.

Data-Driven Research Reports

Journalists and bloggers are always hungry for new original data to use in their articles. If you can provide them with some fresh stats, you’re golden.

When we’ve developed original research reports for clients and launched an associated PR campaign, we’ve seen upwards of 50+ new links from a report within the space of a few months, including major newspapers and other high-authority publications. 

To do this effectively, however, your data has to be reputable and well-sourced. 

Sometimes, you may have data at your fingertips: Brands like Credit Karma, for instance, are able to draw from their millions of customer profiles to identify interesting data trends that they can anonymously share with an audience, as they did in their 2021 State of Credit and Debt Report.

Other times, you may not have data to draw from, but you may have access to a large audience through your customer list. In this case, you can send a survey to ask them questions that you can use to gather insights that you can use in a report. 

Keep in mind that to use this strategy, you’ll want to have a mailing list of at least several thousand to ensure you get a statistically significant number of results. If not, you may want to use a polling company to locate people within your target market to take the survey.

We’ve worked with clients to develop survey questions through a simple survey tool like Survey Monkey, which we can then develop into a detailed report to provide a new perspective for your industry that will be news-worthy to reporters and bloggers, and likely generate a lot of backlinks to the original report.

Expert Round-Up Blog Posts

Expert round-up blog posts are articles that incorporate commentary from many different sources, all sharing their response to a particular question or series of questions.

These articles can be very easy to put together, especially if you already have a website with relatively high monthly views. In this case, you’ll be able to post your query directly on HARO and cherry-pick the responses that are relevant for your article, helping the respondents out by giving them a backlink to their own sites. If your site isn’t high-traffic enough to be considered by HARO, you can use Twitter, LinkedIn, or personal outreach to find experts to contribute to your article.

This type of content is ideal because it’s likely to be shared by many, if not all, of the experts quoted on their own profiles, helping you generate additional traffic to the piece. It’s also likely to be backlinked either on their sites or on other blogs that quote from your piece in the future. 

For example, within 30 days of posting a “50 SEO Experts” roundup, MediaDigi got over 3500 visitors; 300 new Twitter followers; 500 social media shares; 20 email subscribers; and 14 new backlinks. Building expert roundup content for your site is a good way to generate unique content for your site, build relationships with industry experts, and increase your search and social visibility all at once.


Infographics and data visualizations are also a great way to build new backlinks, by incorporating either unique data (potentially repurposed from a research report) or aggregating different data sets together in a unique way. 

When considering your infographic strategy, choose a concept that’s relevant to your industry, but interesting to a broader audience—you want to build an infographic that will be highly shareable on social media. For example, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) created an infographic that’s all about the electrical components of self-driving cars. The infographic spotlights ASME’s expertise, but makes it accessible and relevant to a general news audience by focusing on a topic that consumers care about. 

A major benefit of infographics is that other site owners can embed the infographic directly on their own site, providing a backlink to your site when they do. You can even include an embed link that displays with the infographic, encouraging anyone who wants to use the infographic to share it on their own site. 

Infographics can take more initial legwork than blog posts because of the design needs, but the payoff may be worth it. When designing your infographic, you can use a custom designer or use an infographic maker tool, such as Canva’s

Finally, What Not to Do

These are all solid strategies that will help you gain backlinks and grow your audience through content marketing and PR.

However, you’ll find many agencies that focus on link building en masse—essentially, they’ll have a list of sites that have agreed to provide backlinks in exchange for payment. Sometimes, they’ll even have individual authors who have platforms on reputable sites who are willing to promote your company for a fee.

Although the links may appear faster in these cases than using content marketing or PR, they’re not good for your business. If Google recognizes that you’ve used “black-hat” SEO tactics for building links, they can impose a penalty on your site, so that you’ll appear lower in search rankings or even be de-indexed altogether. 


By developing a solid link building strategy that relies on producing high-quality content and delivering it effectively to your audience, whether that audience is directly to website viewers or to journalists/bloggers, you’ll be able to create a sustainable path that will help you generate backlinks from high-quality, trusted sites. 

As a result, you’ll see your search engine rankings rise over time, and be able to build an audience of your own. Backlinks also represent trust in your brand, and by seeking out organic connections from sites that actually see the value in your content, you’ll be able to showcase your brand as a valuable and trustworthy voice in your industry and beyond. 

Interested in learning more about building strong backlinks through content and PR? Get in touch for an introductory call.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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