Link Building with Media RelationsBy Tommy O’Shaughnessy

Link building in 2015 is tough.

Gone are the days of buying a handful of exact match anchor text links and ranking for whatever terms you pleased.

Unfortunately for digital marketers, the effect links have on your rankings hasn’t changed much. In fact, the general consensus from SEO experts is that domain-level and page-level link features are the most important ranking factors, according to the most recent industry survey from Moz.

The SEO Geist has shifted from get-rich-quick style schemes to traditional marketing. Following this trend, (most) link building tactics have shifted to more traditional media outreach. While clever strategies such as broken link building exist, most involves pitching an excellent story or piece of content to various publications and blogs.

As a result, modern link building is more about relationship building than anything else.

Relationship building isn’t easy—especially if you’re an agency attempting to build relationships with influencers and publications for a client. That’s why identifying specific niches in your client base can help your link building efforts. Building and maintaining relationships in a few specific niches is much easier than spreading your agency thin over dozens of markets.

Advantages of Identifying Niches in Your Client Base

There are three ways you can identify niches in your client base. Let’s go through them now.

  1. You can show off your expertiseThere are thousands of media relations agencies with varying specialties and capabilities. If you’re being vetted by a potential client, you better believe they’re exploring other options. Being able to label yourself as an expert in a potential client’s field gives you an edge over the competition.Take for instance my agency, Gorilla 76. We’re an industrial marketing agency. That means we mostly work with companies in the B2B industrial space—think manufacturing, construction, oil & gas, and distribution. Prospective clients vetting our agency quickly understand we have experience working with companies like theirs, from reading our industrial marketing strategy blog to our testimonials. Of course, we’re an extreme example of a company that has specialized, but many agencies showcase the industries they serve. It’s a way to validate your company’s experience. Being an expert is great, but how does developing a niche client base actually help with the rigmarole of link building and media relations?
  2. Less work prospecting media outlets. Prospecting potential media opportunities is one of the most tedious parts of modern link building. Identifying and building a niche client base allows you to pitch multiple clients’ content to one publication, saving time and sanity. Let me show how this looks in action.Let’s say your agency has a large amount of clientele in the tech industry. You work for Samsung and Cisco—I dream big in these examples—and your team develops an infographic about how cellphones have evolved over time for Samsung. After building a substantial outreach list, you decide to pitch the infographic to a TechCrunch editor, who loves it and decides to run it.Now you have the opportunity to pitch an article about network security from Cisco to that same editor, as well as any other tech publications that pick up the article. You’re no longer “cold-calling” because you’ve already made the connection for a previous client. Editors get dozens of emails a day and PR reps outweigh journalists four to one in the United States, so establishing rapport means there’s a greater chance your content gets picked up. Knowing the competitive environment, it’s a great feeling when publishers actually reach out to you for content.   
  3. Your editorial connections are incentives for potential clients. Once you’ve built a network of publisher contacts in your industry, you can leverage that network in new business pitches. Being able to reasonably guarantee placement on industry publications means better results for your clients, and it doesn’t hurt to drop those big publication names when your services are being evaluated. Your publisher network becomes a bargaining chip, and it just might win you some new business.

Building Your Niche Publisher Network

The first step to building your publisher network is to identify the overlapping market verticals between your clients.

Using a few of our clients as an example (see the Venn diagram below), we identified the common audience between a power unit manufacturer, a coatings supplier, and a construction company in the manufacturing industry.

Commercial marine, oil & gas, distribution, and construction are other examples of shared market verticals our clients want to reach.

By reaching out to these industry publications, you’re creating an intricate network of industry connections, and each connection has access to a unique audience for your clients.


Once you’ve nailed down your market verticals and collected a substantial contact list, you’ll need a way to organize your contacts.

Personally, I use Buzzstream to tag all my contacts by market and store them in one location.

This tagging process can be done using Excel, but you’ll ultimately want a large list of contacts that can be filtered by market.

Remember, you’re building and maintaining relationships, so you’ll also want to store useful notes about your contacts as well.

Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Professional Twitter handle
  • Guest blogging guidelines (if applicable)
  • Whether or not they’ve responded to your pitches
  • Types of content they like
  • Content they’ve picked up from you
  • Links you’ve received

(Editor’s Note: We recommend Iris for this. It does all of this and is built specifically for communicators.)

Make a column for each piece of information you’re collecting.

The key is to have valuable information for your outreach efforts in one location where you can easily reference and update it as necessary.

You’ll be constantly adding and updating this data as your contact list grows and your relationships flourish.

Bonus: Cross-pollinating Between Clients

A problem for any marketer is showing ROI. This problem gets particularly difficult for link builders and media relations specialists.

Obstacles such as getting exact/partial match anchor text and pesky nofollow links can harm the measurable return-on-investment of your link building efforts. The relationship building strategy works over time, but how do you get some immediate results for your clients?

That’s where the beauty of cross-pollinating between clients comes into play.

You can get your exact match anchor text by publishing guest blog content on your clients’ sites and linking between clients. I’ve had a few clients where this just happened naturally; one client was a painting contractor and the other a paint supplier, so guest content just made sense. And that’s the beauty of this tactic—it’s completely natural to link between clients once you’ve identified common threads between your clients.

That said, don’t spam anchor text links across your clients’ blogs and cross your fingers.

Use common sense and pepper in links where they make sense.

Note: I recommend getting approval from your clients before implementing this tactic, since they are essentially “endorsing” another company in the eyes of Google, and this can get hairy in terms of other partnerships and agreements the client has in place.

The pay-off is great, but not worth offending clients.

What’s Your Niche?

I’ve seen great results with the niche approach to media relations and link building, but does it work for larger agencies with huge diversity between clients?

With the high level of competition among media relation specialists, how do you cut through the clutter?

Tommy O'Shaughnessy

Tommy capitalized on being a digital native by diving into the SEO world in college. Realizing get-rich-quick style SEO died long ago, he decided to round himself out by learning the ins and outs of online marketing. Tommy maintains a digital strategist role at Gorilla 76, a B2B industrial marketing agency.

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