Digital PR

Making Headlines: Using Data to Supercharge Link Building

5 years ago

Gut instinct is defined as:

An immediate basic feeling or reaction without logical rationale.

According to my recent Twitter poll, more than 75% of digital PRs in our industry are using this instinctive feeling to make important decisions when it comes to launches, including myself...

Relying on gut feel alone is risky when you’re planning a launch because you’re dependant on so many moving parts coming together at once, from approvals to uploads and journalists being in the office.

Sometimes our gut feels when it comes to outreach have worked, we’ve secured thousands of links over the past few years using intuition and other times, they haven’t. Last year, Paddy spoke at Learn Inbound revealing some of our processes and shared insights on how we can use use data to improve link building, and this got me thinking.

Why aren’t we using data from the sites that are giving us the links to make better-informed decisions when it comes to launching campaigns? It’s time we started.

With a lot of help from Paddy and the lovely lot at Screaming Frog, we set up a scrape of 35,000 articles across six national news sites that were most important to our clients: Express, MailOnline, The Sun, The Independent and The Daily Star - to try and understand three things:

  • When is the best day to launch your campaign?
  • Which publications give the most links?
  • What language should we be using when pitching to journalists?

Now, I have three caveats at this point:

  1. 35,000 features are only a fraction of the articles the publishers actually produce
  2. We were selective over the six sites we scraped because they’re most relevant to clients and we can’t go behind paywalls for the likes of the FT
  3. These results are open to interpretation


What to scrape?

Here are the exact data points you should look to scrape when setting this kind of research piece up:

Data point Example
Site URL
Site section
Article URL
External links 5
Journalist name ‘Joe Bloggs’
Publish date 14/05/2019
Headline ‘REVEALED…”


The findings

We can break the key findings down into launches, links and subject lines.


When is the best day to launch a campaign?

The inner traditional PR in me says avoid Mondays and Fridays at all costs; ‘Trust your gut and go midweek Shannon’.  However, the data actually says something a little different across sectors according to the number of articles published.

For example, Friday comes out on top as the day that gets the most features published across all six new sites for the travel press, therefore, it could be argued that journalists are looking for more stories towards the end of the week and it’s the best time to speak to the press.

Sector Best day to launch
Travel Friday
Automotive Friday
Science Monday
Tech Wednesday
Finance Thursday


So, that shows that 3/5 sectors show a Monday or Friday is better according to the amount of articles produced. Maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about days and in fact, it all comes down to the time we’re launching.


Which new sites give the most links?

We were also able to look at which site, on average, gives the most external links out per feature they write and surprisingly, The Telegraph came out on top giving eight links per feature.

New site Average # of links
Telegraph 8
Mail Online 2
The Sun 2
The Daily Star 2
Independent 1
Daily Express 0


Gut feel asks: why didn’t The Sun online come out higher?

We’ve had some great successes with The Sun before, so thought it was really interesting that The Telegraph took the top spot. In addition, the table below shows the highest number of links given out per article, per sector:

Industry New site Average # of links
Travel Telegraph 8
Technology Daily Star 7
Money MailOnline 6
Automotive The Daily Star 5


This should help guide your prospecting and media list creation so that you target the sites giving out the most links per industry.

Subject lines

From the gargantuan data sheet, we can also take the language used in the headlines for different sectors to help inform us of the best words to use within subject lines. There were some surprising consistencies across each sector:




We can also do this for specific journalists to see what lexicon they’re using within their headlines. Here are the words that a leading automotive writer most frequently uses:

Looking at these, we’re able to deduce the most commonly used words in headlines and can make assumptions about which words we should be using whilst pitching to journalists in our email subject lines. Here are the words you should be using:

  1. Best
  2. Revealed
  3. New
  4. Data
  5. Study


Aira took this forward and got a 48% open rate when pitching a recent story into the press. It actually works!


The data proves that we don’t need to rely on gut feels alone when it comes to outreach as we can use insights from the scrape to guide our decision-making process.

If you take one thing away from this, it’s to go away and set up your own scrape across a relevant industry (travel, engineering, tech) and then get insights that will be specific and relevant to you and your clients.

The findings you’re reading today are just a snapshot of what we actually uncovered with the data pull itself. You can see the full presentation for Search Leeds here.

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