020 8402 7360

Outreach tips for when it just isn’t working

Award winning SEO, link building and digital PR freelancer with measurable results

frustrated by outreach

This is always the nightmare scenario. Creative campaigns tend to have a lot riding on them. Usually, you don’t have many going on at once, and for most companies they can be a considerable investment. Therefore, when you’ve got your baby live and it’s not building links – uh oh.

However, all is not lost. Some simple reviews of your process can start to turn the tide and you may soon start finding some light at the end of the tunnel.

Here are the common areas to review when you’re not getting links:

  • Are you using the best angle for journalists?
  • Who have you been targeting?
  • Are you sending enough emails?
  • Is your asset something writers can easily use?
  • Can someone understand your concept in 3 seconds?
  • Is there scope to expand the story using a press release?
  • Does your subject link stand-out?

Building links is one of the hardest parts of what we do as SEO’s and digital PR’s. In my experience running some very large accounts, it’s the key reason why clients renew and often one of the first things they ask for when getting in touch. Therefore, being able to review a campaign when it isn’t working and salvage a decent level of placements and/or links is vital.

Successful creative campaigns with links or brand awareness as a KPI need to have a collection of the above to work. The more you have, the higher the chances you’ll get a snowball effect and pick-up links with no further effort.

So, let’s look at a couple of the most important questions and how you can adapt.


Are you using the best angle for journalists?

When I run a creative campaign, the first and most important part is the hook. I’ve been a big advocate of hooks for a long time. They are always the thing I’m looking for when I come up with a concept. Ultimately, we need a reason for a journalist/blogger/editor to care. You can create a huge flashy campaign on an interesting topic but if it doesn’t have a hook, journalist won’t be able to use it.

If your campaign is struggling, the first area I would always look to review is the hook. Does it give a journalist a headline? Here’s what good looks like.


The hook sells itself. People know the film and you immediately start trying to disprove it, so end up reading the article to be counter-disproved. This is all works for a journalist and what they know their audience are going to be interested in. Here, the hook and headline was the design of the entire piece. If it were Star Wars, it likely wouldn’t have ended up becoming a creative campaign, simply because it isn’t as surprising and therefore, the angle wouldn’t have worked.

Whether you’re working with a data-set, illustrations, influencers, etc. always look for your story. Try to offer journalists a unique insight they wouldn’t have seen elsewhere. Avoid telling journalists what your process was or a description of the piece (e.g. “Here’s some of our funniest customer service stories”). The headline is what they need and what will grab their attention because it translates into what their readers will pick up on. Journalists are an extension of their audience. Consider what will grab their readers attention, and you’ll get theirs.


Who are you targeting?

If I or someone I’ve been working with just isn’t getting any replies or links, it may be that you’ve misunderstood your audience (the journalists) or haven’t vetted them correctly. This also tends to become an issue when link based KPIs are involved.

I was recently doing a piece of outreach for a client with a landlords property story. When I was searching for journalists to get in touch with, I’d searched for those covering landlords recently and this was a typical profile that appeared:



Now, if I were under pressure to hit an outreach target, I may have promptly gone ahead, spent a few minutes finding Joshua’s contact details and then another few minutes emailing him. However, the key information is in the profile and a deeper scan into his recent articles. All of Joshua’s articles cover “…planning and local government”. Therefore, there’s no chance he’s going to cover a story on landlords investing in 2018 because it doesn’t fit with his audience or his remit.

When reviewing your own or someone else’s outreach, make sure you/they are keeping a record of who they’re getting in touch with, including a link to their author profile/social account. This will make it infinitely easier to review how writers are being vetted or if a rethink and some training might be needed.


Is your asset something writers can easily use?

This is a big one. I’ve seen too many good ideas fail or need to be adjusted as we went because the format needed to act as a hero asset and not to actually serve the goals of the campaign.

I’ll use an example from a few years ago on an account I was running. Although we since absolutely nailed the hot topic of bees (see further below), our first approach wasn’t a project for the faint-hearted.

Our ‘hero’ piece was a long-form. At the time, this was the format to use. Although we knew that we needed an element within the long-form to be our key asset and hook, the problem with a long-form is that you’re fighting a losing battle from the off to engage a journalist, who’s already short of time, and, you’ve done most of the journalists job by covering the talking points in your exhaustive copy.



With a key meetings coming up to talk about a new retainer with this client, all eyes were on the performance of this piece in particular. Gulp. After some initially unsuccessful outreach, we put some time into adjusting the asset but keeping the story. We then turned the piece into an infographic, and subsequently got a placement on the Huffington Post as a result.

The asset was the key, not the topic. We didn’t have to change the talking point, we just needed to create an asset that a journalist could easily use within their CMS, and one that adds value to a topic we’ve interested them in covering. Our long-form was just the wrong format to help them do that on this occasion.


Can someone understand your concept in 3 seconds?

For the past few years, this has been a question I constantly come back to and find more use cases to support. Sometimes it’s topic related, sometimes it’s format, sometimes it’s the hook or the copy itself. Whatever it is, your target audience should be able to understand enough in 3 seconds to make them want to read/explore more. As we know from page speed experiments, we have incredibly short fuses when it comes to content. Why would we expect any less when it comes to our creative campaigns?

I mentioned it earlier, but anybody looking at this piece after seeing a subject/headline about bee decline will make an immediate and powerful connection to the campaign:



Not only do you understand the concept, the format has already hit home the impact and affects you directly (if you like…food). Over 50 links. Proper ones.

Now, let’s look at a piece that doesn’t make that connection.



So we quickly get that the piece is about tea etiquette, but how long does it take you to understand what the etiquette is and the difference between the countries? That’s the real hook of the piece but it takes too long to get there. Unfortunately for the piece and the people who created it, there’s no headline there to help engage us, and any key stats that could educate me quickly are lost in paragraphs of text and visuals that don’t communicate the differences fast enough.

The above is a good topic, there are millions of people and thousands of journalists who would read about it, but it really lacked anything to engage readers within a reasonable time-frame. Losing someone’s attention or asking too much for it will lead to no/low link volumes and ultimately unhappy managers or clients.

Hopefully those ideas are able to help, but any questions at all, please do let me know in the comments.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Darren,

    Came here from your Moz piece on if infographics still work. Great stuff. I like how you approach SEO counterintuitively. No need to create ‘hero’ pieces for the sake of it. And even the above case study where you realized that long-form isn’t the way to go with time-starved journalists. Great stuff!

    • Darren Kingman says:

      Hi Chintan,

      Thanks a lot! Really glad you like the ideas. I think it’s certainly best to focus on what’s going to offer the best return for the work I do and what activities have the biggest impact on a domain. There’s a ton of processes and theory that all go within that, which I’m hoping to continue writing more about, but it’s obviously great you’ve found it interesting so far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.