How to Get Links from Big-Fish Publications

If you’ve been in the search marketing game for more than two minutes, you’ll know that getting links from top-tier publications can drastically transform your website’s SEO fortunes.

Getting big publications to mention you is a core component of any holistic linking strategy, yet only a few marketers know how to earn such links reliably.

If you’re looking for practical ways to get coverage on high-profile sites and big media publications, this post is for you! And as a bonus, we’ve included novel ways to boost the odds that a publication will accept your link-building pitch.

But first up, a quick refresher on why you should care about landing high-quality links.

Links (and content) are the lifeblood of SEO.

Google interprets a link from one site to another as a kind of vote of confidence⁠ — a signal that the linked-to site has some value. And the more authority the linking site has, the greater weight Google will assign to the link in question.

In other words, links from high-authority sites pack a much greater punch than those from low-authority sites. When a “big fish” site links to yours, it amplifies your credibility in the eyes of Google, and your reward is increased ranking potential. Of course, the better your website ranks, the more organic traffic you’ll receive and the more leads you’ll be able to generate. 

But the benefits of getting links from big publications don’t stop there. They can also send a ton of referral traffic your way.

Beyond that, you’re building a powerful Surround Sound SEO strategy. When a reader of an industry-leading publication encounters a link to your site, they also perceive it as an endorsement and will often be curious to learn more about you by clicking through. Even a mention without a link can help increase your share of voice, building brand awareness and increasing the chances of a potential customer investigating your brand. 

Links from large reputable publications are harder to get but hold more weight with search engines.

Okay. So high-authority links are a good thing. But how can you find the best opportunities and then get more mentions and links from those sites?

Finding High-Value Mentions in Big Publications

Start with the sites that rank for your top keywords. The easiest to reach out to will be those that already link to your competitors. Think articles such as, “The best french-door refrigerators.” You can do this manually, searching each keyword and then opening the top results to see you best bets for an added mention and link, but it’s time consuming. 

Or you can use Surround Sound by Semrush. Just enter your keywords and competitors and you’ll see an instant selection of top opportunities to pursue. Just export a CSV file and go get those links!

Surround Sound opportunities screenshot
Surround Sound by Semrush makes it easy to find valuable sites and pages for new links.

Understanding What Big-Fish Publications Care About

Firstly, you need to appreciate that writers and journalists at top-level publications operate within a certain set of constraints. Once you understand what these are, the task of convincing them to link to your site becomes that much easier.

The main thing to grasp is that most online publications (that aren’t company blogs) generate revenue from digital ad impressions on their sites. The more visitors they get, the more money they get from those advertisers.

The trouble with this revenue model is that it forces journalists to churn out new articles at breakneck speed. The news and media industry is extremely competitive, so to generate enough clicks to remain profitable, publications need to produce vast amounts of content each day.

This creates a supply issue. Journalists always need new ideas and fresh insights for their articles. They’re constantly looking for interesting stories and eye-opening data to help engage their audiences, hit their click targets, and speed up the research and writing process.

Here’s where you come in.

You can make a time-strapped journalist’s life much easier by handing them a ready-to-go story or piece of research—a link-worthy asset that’s both easy to verify and hyper-relevant to the publication’s readership.

Be a hero to a journalist and you may find they’re happy to return the favor with a high-value link.

So let’s look at some ways to do just that.

What tactics can you use to convince top websites to link to your site?

As we’ve just mentioned, you need to reach out to these publications with something unique and newsworthy. 

Here are the top six Digital PR techniques we recommend:

1. Newsjacking (Reactive PR)

Newsjacking is a reactive PR strategy where you jump on a trending topic in the news cycle and try to place your brand at the heart of the conversation.

Ready to newsjack? There are few more effective methods for getting quality links fast.

Here are some textbook examples of this technique:

  • Creating a piece of thought-leadership content to showcase your company’s immediate, expert take on a breaking industry development
  • Piggybacking on a major current event or news story (election, Superbowl, strike, protest, severe weather, natural disaster, etc.) by contributing some unique piece of data or commentary (always with sensitivity, of course)
  • Suggesting updates that add value to evolving news articles

The cool thing about this technique is its simplicity. One of our favorite approaches to data journalism is using Google Trends to discover recent explosions in specific search terms and then connecting them to a relevant news story.

Fery Kaszoni and his team used this exact approach and landed links for their client from publications like The Independent, The Sun, and Yahoo News. They recognized that many journalists were writing about an ongoing rail strike in the UK and so went to Google Trends to look for any recent upticks in search terms related to the story.

They found that searches for the term ‘join union’ had increased by 184% on the day the rail strike became a major news story. Then they simply took a screenshot of the relevant Google Trends chart, created an email explaining their findings, and contacted any journalists who had recently covered the rail strikes.

The result? Over 50 links back to the client’s website, including a few from top-tier publications.

Here’s how they did it:

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Naturally, you need to move fast to pull off this technique. That means keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest developments in your industry (and popular culture more generally) and being willing to create a worthwhile piece of content before the window of opportunity closes.

Of course, when giving your two cents on a trending topic, you should make sure it has some relevance to your brand. This will give your proposal more clout once you start contacting media outlets.

2. Data Journalism

Data journalism is all about bringing a few pieces of data together to reveal an interesting insight, story, or trend.

Journalists love a good data study, especially when it tells a compelling story.

When deciding what research, Ross Tavendale of Type A Media suggests picking something journalists can interpret from multiple angles. 

For example, he and his team conducted a piece of research on the Gender Pay Gap in the UK. They correctly predicted that different publications would lead with different angles based on their political leanings.

They then created an interactive tool which the publications could embed or link to, allowing readers to filter the data to find out how their own employers fared in the data.


What’s more, since this research looked at gender pay differences within specific industries (like law, medicine, sports, etc.), the team was able to reach out to industry-specific publications for additional coverage.

3. Original & Exclusive Research

As we’ve just seen, big publications love unique and original data. 

That’s why in-depth and original research studies are one of the best link-building and digital PR tactics out there.

We used this strategy by partnering with Brian Dean at Backlinko to publish insights from our Pitchbox big data study on link building outreach


Brian was more than happy to publish it. The result? More than 1,500 backlinks and a million visits per month. 


It also earned hundreds of mentions on Twitter from people working for brands like Klaviyo—and Semrush! 


4. Hero Content Campaigns

A hero content campaign involves creating a highly shareable asset that introduces a brand to a wider online audience.

The beauty of these creative campaigns is that the content has mass appeal, reaching far beyond the brand’s traditional target audience. As a result, a broad range of media outlets tends to pick up on the content.

Here’s a perfect example of a piece of hero content that landed hundreds of links. It’s a map showing the oldest company in every country, created by Business Financing (a UK-based business financing blog).

A preview of the "Oldest company in every country" map
Creative campaigns take some imagination but are practically irresistible. (click to see the entire image) 

Although creating hero campaigns can be incredibly effective at generating links, you’ll need a skilled team of creatives to build something that engages a wider audience while also staying true to your brand.

5. Coined Terms

A coined term is a label you give a unique concept or process you’ve come up with (think Brian Dean’s “Skyscraper technique”).

Suppose the term is memorable enough and the concept it refers to is genuinely useful to people. In that case, you can expect it to gain traction and find its way into relevant publications. The more popular your coined term becomes, the more people will seek out its original source.

As you might expect, popularizing a coined term is no cakewalk, but the potential upside is huge.

Loom, a fast-growing Async Video Messaging platform for business, used this tactic with amazing success.

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One way to improve the chances your term will catch on is to contact publications that already cover a related concept or process and then reach out to them with your unique approach. 

6. Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

Our final recommendation is to get set up as a “source” on HARO.

HARO is a platform that lets journalists request insights for a particular industry or niche to help them in their research and writing. You’ll get a notification whenever a relevant request is submitted, and if the journalist likes your input, you might score a backlink.

Having said that, HARO has become quite saturated with people trying to get publicity, so your success rates will vary with this tactic.

When journalists ask for input, if you can help, you may be rewarded with a link you might otherwise need to pursue on your own.

Sadly, creating an amazing piece of research or an entertaining news story isn’t enough in itself to secure a backlink from a top publication. 

You also need to entice the gatekeepers of these sites to read your pitch in the first place. This can be tricky when most journalists’ inboxes are overflowing with PR requests.

Here are three simple tricks for ensuring your pitch doesn’t fall on deaf ears (or straight into an inbox trash bin, as the case may be).

Identify Specific Journalists, Not Just Publications

Your odds of a successful pitch will be greatly enhanced if you target individual writers with a track record of covering topics specific to your field. 

By identifying journalists who share your area of focus, you’ll be able to craft personalized messages that are far more likely to strike the right chord.

The “Related Story” Pitch

The idea here is simple: connect your proposal to a story the journalist has previously covered.

Mention the related story in your subject line and provide some positive feedback in your opening sentence that demonstrates you actually read it!

Then introduce your business and tease the fact you’ve recently conducted a piece of research/ created a piece of content related to their story and that you’d like to share more info with them if they’re interested.

The Strategic Name-Drop

Another powerful tactic that can help you hold the attention of journalists is to mention a mutual friend or contact in your opening sentence.

This can generate an instant degree of trust, making the journalist less skeptical about what you go on to say in your proposal.

(Obviously, you should only do this if you actually know the person you’re name-dropping!)

Stay On Top of Your Contacts

Finally, it’s essential to follow up with journalists if they don’t get back to you within a few days. The trick here is not to come across as pushy or desperate. Your follow up messages should be polite, professional, and personalized. 

Sophisticated outreach platforms like Pitchbox help boost your response rates by giving you the tools you need to manage individual relationships. The platform’s specialist outreach CRM brings together prospect details, notes, tasks, communications, and team actions all in one centralized hub — ensuring no prospect falls off your radar.

Let the Linking Begin!

Securing high-profile media placements is one of the surest ways to boost your website’s rankings and referral traffic.

But to maximize your chances of getting this kind of coverage, you need to cater your proposals to what big publications care about and craft your pitch emails to entice the journalists receiving them. 

Now it’s time to incorporate the techniques we’ve covered here into your own digital PR strategy and rejoice as the links come rolling in!

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