40 | The Value of Links with Ross Tavendale


Speaking to Ross Tavendale, managing director of Type A Media, who specialises in data journalism and programmatic PR was very enjoyable and so I hope you enjoy the episode.

Firstly, Ross spent the first year of his life doing blog comments and all sorts of dead-beat SEO stuff. He believes he was at the right place at the right time and was exposed to big projects and clients. Ross went on to start on his own 6 years later and won a contract with premier league football club as a freelancer. 

I’ve listened to Ross speak to Jason on the SEOisAEO series about brand being the only ranking factor, check it out if you haven’t already. 

Outreach is Outreach

Digital PR and link building space has changed. SEO people are waking up to the fact that outreach is outreach no matter who you’re pitching to. “So why not go for the best and biggest.” says Ross.

The quality you produce therefore needs to be higher. This means you need higher quality topics.  

PR agencies tend to measure success on ridiculous metrics or “inflated nonsense” said in Ross’s Scottish accent. Analytics abilities puts SEOs in a good place to ‘eat their lunch’. Would you agree?

In my experience, as an in-house SEO, PR and SEO team always found friction. In some brands more than others. SEOs tend to be more technical, which either scares them off or frustrates them because we ask for more. Arguably SEOs are better at validating the worth of the digital PR tasks undertaken. Sometimes in a different way too, not only brand awareness but value in other areas (ranking uplifts and authority.)

Defining the value of link building has always been tricky. Ross is currently working on attributing cash value to every link they acquire. There is no real way to measure this but it does estimate the value of a link, especially if there is a lack of understanding of PR and links. Ross is doing this on an algorithmic scale, looking at domain rating, trust flow, dofollow and nofollow links, where on page the link is, clicks away from the navigation, anchor text, content of article, topical trust flow…. All for the valuation of a link. Also depends on the industry too as customers or clients may be of different value to the client.

Before Ross had a scalable way of showing link value they took the traditional approach. If, for example, they work with a smaller brand then they would do it directly and go back to basic metrics like visibility changes.   

Side note: a comment on the ‘little black book’, Ross says that if another PR comes in and says they have a contact list, it’s nonsense. He hires ex-journalists as they know what it’s like to be on the other side. 

Media Databases

Ross says he’s making their own competitive product: the hard bit is PR gets irate because they might have written about a topic once and then everyone contacts them about it. So, using external source APIs, Ross looks at natural language processing to create an aggregated view of every topic a journalist may have written about. They then match it to the piece with a degree of confidence that they’ll be interested in covering it. Ross is automating a part of link building that usually takes a long time.

Lisa Myers from Verve – their work is great and high quality. 

Creative Content for Link Building

Having data and data sources is about looking at partnering up data. First party data is important, then mix it with third party data (government resources / university studies.) and create new data out of that. 

“Create stories that have never existed before” says Ross.  

Asset stays the same but has plenty of stories to outreach with. 

Interactive Content

“Interactive content performs 7% better than static” says James Brockbank.

Ross says there’s no outreach without some sort of interactive content. Static content gets citations mostly. It won’t get links unless there’s a reason because if it’s static there’s no reason for them to link back. It provides no added benefit to the reader to see a data source so therefore they don’t link. They’re not an education sites so don’t need to cite their sources either. 

Interactive content helps them get their own thing out of it. Whilst social media hooks are great because it’s shareable and helps tag others to read the content. Also, if it’s viral on social first then selling the story to PR is much easier afterwards. 

Link Types

  • Tier 1: National
  • Tier 2: Regional (state paper in the US for example)
  • Tier 3: Local (Borough in an area)
  • Tier 4: Bloggers

Ethics of Link Building

There are obviously many ways of getting links that we all know of and plenty of ways for manipulation. If you’re heard of perverse incentives, this is what Ross talks about. He knows that inside of media, there’s plenty of this. For example, if you want to write for Vogue, you’ll be asked to intern for free (or nearly free) which is in itself, a perverse incentive. Therefore people have turned to offering cash deals to insert links to these interns! It’s not illegal but unethical. 

Google also says you can’t manipulate the search by paying your way to the top. But at the end of the day we’re optimising content for link purposes… where does that line get crossed? Tell us on social media. 

Catch me on Twitter via @mrsalinaghost and chat to Ross using @rtavs.  

Ross also recommends Pitchbox.com as a resource and more information.

Related Episodes

Music credit: I Dunno (Grapes of Wrath Mix) by spinningmerkaba (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/56346 Ft: Jlang, 4nsic, grapes.

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