Backlinks are still a key ranking factor in 2021, yet link building and digital PR also remains one of the trickiest areas of the SEO mix when it comes to helping your website to rank effectively. That’s because building quality and relevant backlinks takes time, an excellent nose for a story, perseverance and can be resource intensive. For the most part, achieving these links requires thinking like a journalist, identifying and building editorial stories, often tons of desk research, considered media targeting, strategic timing, tailored and audience-based pitching and normally tenacious follow up. Moreover, if you want to build quality backlinks to key pages, it may also require the creation of bespoke on page content assets which themselves can take considerable effort to create.
The good news however is that pitching to convert unlinked company mentions (in third party articles) into links can often still provide some ‘quick win’ link building opportunities that can be useful to aid your core digital PR campaigns. In this article we look at how you can find unlinked brand mentions and pitch to get them turned into backlinks.
What are backlinks?
It may sound basic, but it is first important to define what a backlink is. Backlinks are links or hyperlinks to your website that sit in third party articles. For example, an online news article might link to your site if they’ve featured one of your products. That’s important because these links are a key SEO ranking factor. Links like these act as signals that tell search engine algorithms that the page being linked to has value. It is often useful to think of backlinks as passing value, or authority, to that page in the eyes of search engines such as Google. As a general rule of thumb the websites/pages that have the most high quality (and high relevancy) backlinks, often also have the best potential to rank highly for key search terms. That’s not always the case as content and technical SEO aspects also have a major impact on rankings. However, quality backlinks remain key when it comes to SEO and helping your brand to rank competitively for key search queries.
Defining an ‘unlinked brand mention’
Just like it says on the tin, an ‘unlinked brand mention’ is SEO speak for a simple mention of your company name, normally on a web page or article, that is unaccompanied by a backlink. There has been some evidence for a while now that unlinked brand mentions themselves can hold some SEO value. However backlinks – and particularly highly relevant, authoritative and often editorial backlinks – are generally accepted as holding significantly more value when it comes to impacting search rankings.
How to find unlinked brand mentions using Ahrefs
There are a number of different tools out there that can be used to help identify unlinked brand mentions, however Ahrefs is perhaps one of the most useful.
To find these opportunities, first log in to Ahrefs and access the ‘Content Explorer’ on the top bar. This will take you to a new page with a search menu which can be used to search for unlinked mentions of your brand. In the below example I have used the term ‘Koozai’ to search for mentions of our brand name within their index of over five billion pages. Using the dropdown menu, you can also search for your brand name only within specific areas of the page, such as the title, within the body text (content) or within the URL structure. In this case, we are searching for the brand name ‘everywhere’ within the article.
Running this search query will serve you a list of articles and web pages that contain a mention of your brand name. To remove all results that already link to your site, you will need to tell Ahrefs to highlight those results that do not currently link to your site. To do this, enter your website’s URL under the box named ‘highlight unlinked domains’. This is located just above the search results.
Once this has been applied, Ahrefs will highlight all of the pages that it can find that mention your brand name and that do not link to your site. However, it is likely that not all of the pages/websites served in the results will be worth getting a link on. You will likely need to manually assess whether you want a link on each site by looking at metrics such as Domain Authority, Trust Flow and how spammy (or not) the site is. It is also possible to filter the results served to you in Ahrefs by Domain Rating, which is a metric from Ahrefs that is not dissimilar in nature to Moz’s Domain Authority. This option can be found under the search bar. Click ‘add filter’ and select ‘referring domains’ from the dropdown list. Then enter in a desired range (e.g. all pages with a domain rating of 40 to 100) and click ‘apply’. This will then filter out any pages with a Domain Rating outside of the range of the values entered. Selecting ‘Export’ will download the results into a spreadsheet.
Other ways to find unlinked brand mentions
Ahrefs is a great tool for sourcing unlinked brand mentions, however there will likely be some results that it does not pick up. To find these, it is possible to use other tools in combination with manual Google searches. For example, BuzzSumo has a similar search function that allows users to search for branded terms on pages in their index. SEMRush also allows users to search for key terms that are ‘unlinked’ to a specified domain within their ‘Brand Monitoring’ tool.
Searching for brand mentions manually involves literally Googling your brand name and searching through web pages to find results that do not contain links. While this can be a time consuming task, it is likely that you will find some valuable results this way if your company has benefited from significant media coverage in recent years. The Moz Toolbar is a really useful tool when searching for links on a page that’s text heavy. Clicking on the pencil icon and selecting ‘follow’ (in green) and ‘no follow’ (in purple) will highlight everything on the page that’s a link. This makes it much easier to quickly spot links and assess whether or not the page is currently linking to your site.
Qualifying unlinked brand mention opportunities
Not every unlinked brand mention is created equal. Securing links on spammy sites could even be harmful to your SEO efforts. So you will obviously want to exclude reaching out to those sites from your outreach efforts. When assessing who you need to outreach to, you will need to consider the site’s relevancy, authority and general look and feel.
Relevancy is key as backlinks that are seen by Google’s algorithms as being more relevant to your website are normally ‘worth’ more in terms of SEO value. That’s not say that backlinks from other sites will have no value, however those that come from totally unrelated sources may seem unnatural, particularly if the content on each site is world’s apart in terms of topic and subject matter. In these cases, Google may choose to discount the link. It also important to consider whether you want a link from a site that’s unrelated to yours for other reasons. For example, if a person clicks through form an unrelated, it is likely that your content won’t interest that user. This is likely to increase your overall bounce rate.
Conventional wisdom is that sites with higher scores in metrics such as Domain Authority, Domain Rating and Trust Flow will have more SEO value for your site. For example, links places on national sites such as the BBC, Sky News or the Guardian are more likely to carry more weight than links from lower authority sites. This is often because these sites are hard to get links on, and this high barrier to entry means that any external links from these sites are likely to be seen as very positive in the eyes of search engines. For this reason you will likely want to prioritise higher authority sites in your outreach. However, as these sites are quite hard to secure placements on, your best bet will usually be to create a compelling digital PR story if you want top tier placements. It is also worth mentioning that middleweight websites still have SEO value, particularly if they are highly relevant. While not as coveted as top tier placements, they are still worth following up on.
How to turn brand mentions into backlinks
Finding relevant and worthwhile sites with unlinked brand mentions can be a time consuming task, however outreaching to these sites and securing the links is actually the hardest part! Firstly you’ll need to identify the editor of the site or article in which you want to place a backlink. Do your research on them, source their email address and find out more about the publication and the sort of content they cover. Consider approaching both the author and the site editor.
In your email to them, don’t just ask for a link. Be friendly and to the point, but also try and illustrate why a backlink to your site would be relevant for their readers. Ask yourself, why would they want to link to my site and why might their readers want to click through? Find the best reason you can and make a case for it.
In some cases, you may also want to consider creating content that helps to create a reason why they should link. For example, if your brand mention is within the context of an article on a new survey, perhaps consider creating a wider report that’s relevant to that topic. You may also want to make your life easier by prioritising those sites that regularly link out and pages that are relatively new. If the site virtually never links out to third parties, the chance of you securing a link there is smaller. We have also found it to be true that the older the article, the less likely they are to update it. Ask yourself, would you (as a journalist or site editor) see value in editing an article from 7 years ago about a topic that’s no longer relevant to peoples’ lives? Once you’ve sent your first email, wait at least a week to follow up.
Unfortunately, following up on unlinked brand mentions can be a bit of a hit or miss task and success will hugely depend on how many unlinked brand mentions your company has and where they are placed. While a worthwhile task, if your main aim is to generate links quickly, then running a digital PR campaign will normally be your best bet.