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How to Save a Struggling Content-Led Link Building Campaign

Is your content-led link building campaign underperforming? Here are a series of actions you can take to quickly turn things around.

How to Save a Struggling Content-Led Link Building Campaign

Picture this; you’ve just launched your latest content-led link building campaign and have begun pitching to journalists and publishers.

Your entire team have been excited about the campaign since the concept came about and the expectations are set; you’re confident that it’ll exceed all your KPIs and be your next big success.

Only this doesn’t happen. For one reason or another, the results just don’t come.

Weeks after the campaign launched, you’re left feeling disappointed with the results yet deep down you know they should have been better.

Poor link acquisition isn’t always the result of a poor concept; it can be caused by any number of factors ranging from external events in the news to not getting the hook in your outreach email quite right.

Too many campaigns are regarded as a “flop” before every effort has been made to secure links and coverage but what must be remembered is that link building is tough. Link building from top-tier publications is even tougher.

It’s rare that campaigns go viral overnight. Many never do and that’s quite alright.

You’ve just got to be prepared to put in the work; change your strategy and keep pushing for results.

If you’re able to relate to this and are looking for ways to turn a poor performing campaign into a great performing one, it’s time to:

  • Change your focus.
  • Re-evaluate your approach and processes.
  • Map out a strategy to save the campaign.

1. Make It Easy for Journalists to Cover Your Content

One thing you must always remember when taking a PR-led approach to link building is that journalists are busy people.

They’re looking to cover the stories they think their audience will love – but are often pushed for time and aren’t able to spend hours going back and forwards with you for further information.

Take a look at your campaign asset and initial outreach email and ask yourself how easy it would be for a publisher to cover without any further communication with you at all.

There’s a good chance you’ll realize that it would be far harder than you first thought.

It’s easily done, especially when you know your campaign inside out, but you need to make sure that you aren’t putting up barriers which could see a journalist move onto something else.

Think about what’s commonly asked for when writing an article: images, quotes, data sources. The list goes on.

Don’t make it so that journalists have to work hard to get what they need.

If you’ve struggled to gain traction on your campaign and haven’t supplied supporting assets, take the time to gather:

  • A series of quotes from a senior figure in the business.
  • A selection of images (including stills which can be used if you’re promoting an interactive asset).
  • A data sheet containing any calculations and raw data.

In many cases, this won’t all be used. However, the easier you make it for a journalist to cover your campaign, the stronger the results.

This becomes even more important if you’re promoting a campaign across different time zones when it could be the next day before you’re in a position to respond to a journalist’s question but they’re ready to write and publish today.

2. Find New Headlines in Your Campaign

Did you pitch headlines to journalists during your first round of outreach? Or simply share what it was that you’d created?

If not, you’re missing a trick and, likely, a heap of coverage and links.

You see, it’s all too easy to send outreach emails which do nothing other than say, “we’ve launched this campaign… what do you think?”

It’s lazy and it does no one any favors.

It all comes back to making a journalists job as easy as possible, while also getting them excited about your campaign.

As an example, here’s a campaign I launched last year. A simple concept which earned links from more than 100 domains, however, it’s a great example of the use of headlines vs statements.

The campaign looked at the most hashtagged sneakers on Instagram, and could quite easily have been pitched out as:

“The Most Hashtagged Sneakers On Instagram [Infographic]”

Does that get you excited about the campaign and the data? Probably not!

But what about:

“Adidas NMD Revealed As The World’s Most Instagrammable Sneaker…”


“You’ll Be Surprised By The World’s Most Instagrammed Sneakers…”

See the difference?

Journalists don’t care about formats. They, quite honestly, aren’t fussed whether you’ve designed an infographic, developed an interactive asset, or even launched a game.

Journalists cover stories, not content.

When it comes to saving a struggling campaign, you often need to back to the first phase and work out what your headlines are and stick to them.

Don’t be tempted to try and sell in five different stories from a single asset in one go. It’ll get confusing.

Choose your main headline and run with it, understanding what makes it stand out and of interest to a journalist’s audience.

3. Follow Up Your Original Outreach Emails

The industry often seems divided on this, however, you need to ensure you’re always following up on outreach emails where you’ve had no response or coverage.

As already mentioned, journalists are busy people and it’s not uncommon for original pitches to be missed.

If you’re tracking opens and clicks (recommendations here are BuzzStream, Mixmax or Yesware), you’ll already have a good indication regarding the activity.

However, follow-ups are an opportunity for you to give a gentle reminder on the pitch, offer further insight or answer any questions (this is a good time to send additional assets including quotes and the like as mentioned above).

4. Compile a New List of Journalists

How comprehensive was your outreach prospect list when you first pitched out the campaign?

One of the most common mistakes made when pitching stories to journalists is going either too niche or too wide.

The best practice here is to be able to justify exactly why you’re sending to each of the contacts.

Don’t waste time by sending to those who covered a tangentially related topic three years ago. That’s just embarrassing and shows you haven’t done your research.

It’s also a bad idea to simply pull down contacts from a media database without manually verifying the topics they cover on a daily basis. That can leave you with contacts who wouldn’t be interested in the content you’re sending.

If you’re struggling to gain traction on a campaign, go back and revisit your outreach list.

If you originally pitched the campaign largely to top-tier media, consider stepping back a little and compile a list of contacts from second-tier publications or niche sites within your industry.

Take a wider approach, yet one where the prospects are all still highly targeted in so much as you’re able to justify why each is being pitched.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to pitch a campaign to multiple journalists at a publication. Different journalists will have different daily agenda’s and content schedules and pitching only to a single one from each can result in missed opportunities.

If you’ve been manually compiling outreach lists, consider investing in a media database such as Anewstip or Gorkana.

This can save time by providing you with a searchable database. Just make sure you manually verify contacts for relevancy.

5. Find a Fresh Hook

In some instances, a campaign underperforms simply because the timing was wrong.

It’s easy to launch a campaign without truly considering the timing and when you relaunch at a later date, you see the results you’re looking for.

Launched a travel campaign in the winter months? Ask yourself whether it was really the right time or whether there would have been a better hook as the summer approaches.

While it’s always a good idea to avoid campaigns which are hooked to a very small period of time (a sporting event, a music festival, Christmas or the like), what can work brilliantly is hooking in wider evergreen campaigns to specific events.

Spend some time checking out Days of the Year or Awareness Days to find potential events and hooks and use these to justify why you’re sending to a journalist now.

6. Rewrite Your Outreach Email

Did your original outreach email really engage journalists and sell the story?

Hopefully, you’re tracking clicks to your asset; and if you are, pay close attention to the click-through rate.

If you’re seeing worryingly low figures, there’s a good chance that your email simply didn’t capture the attention of the recipients and get them excited about your campaign.

As strange as it sounds, this isn’t always the worst scenario to be in.

If recipients have opened your email but haven’t clicked, in theory, they haven’t seen your campaign asset which gives an opportunity to totally rewrite your outreach email and re-pitch as if it were a new campaign.

Did you send a short email originally with the main concept highlighted? Try going far more in-depth and offering further details and hooks.

On the other hand, if you went in depth the first time around, there’s a chance that the main headlines and hooks got lost amongst too much information. Try a simple and to the point pitch which highlights the main single point you’re pushing.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with attaching press releases, sending a short introduction and a link to your asset, and embedding images.

There’s no one right way to conduct outreach but the more testing you can do on your own campaigns, the better your results will be.

7. Try a Different Platform

This is a simple one. If you usually only promote campaigns via email, try a new platform.

Drop a link to your campaign to targeted journalists on Twitter or pick up the phone.

No two journalists are the same. And don’t forget how many emails they’re likely receiving.

Remember the importance of following up on emails? Using a different platform is a similar concept.

You simply need to look at how you can cut through a busy inbox in many cases and get a journalist’s eyes on your campaign.

8. Test New Subject Lines

Did your original outreach emails even get opened?

Again, it’s so important that you’re tracking activity (at least opens and clicks) to inform your outreach strategy.

If you’re seeing poor open rates, there’s a good chance that your subject line simply isn’t catching the attention of a journalist.

(From our own data, a first send typically sees an open rate of around 40 percent, up from around 30 percent following six month’s worth of rigorous testing and refinement.)

Don’t be afraid to experiment here and one of the best pieces of advice is to take the headline of an early piece of coverage (assuming at least something came in) and use it as a fresh subject line.

This isn’t about tricking a journalist to open something other than what it really is. Rather, it’s about presenting your subject line in a way which makes them want to find out more.

Aside from using the headlines from other pieces of coverage, consider using key statements from your campaign rather than simply the campaign name.

Using phrases such as “Exclusive Research Reveals:” or “New Data:” can often work well, as can including shocking statistics upfront.

9. Offer an Exclusive

Journalists love to have something that others don’t; and offering an exclusive (either on the campaign or a specific dataset from within) can be a great way to kickstart traction on a poorly performing campaign.

Consider reaching out with a highly personalized approach to a small set of journalists who you’ve worked with in the past and offer an exclusive for a period, with the assurance that you’ll pause outreach until this ends.

When you’ve got a strong hook and a great campaign, it can start further links and land you that all-important first piece of top-tier coverage.

Don’t be afraid to take this route and really highlight why it’s a good fit and of potential interest to a publication’s readers.


At the end of the day, campaigns underperform for a number of different reasons. However, it’s often not because of a poor story or concept.

It takes time to build links and it’s hard work. But by taking the time to re-evaluate processes and approaches, poorly campaigns can be turned around and KPIs achieved.

You often just need to change your tactics, try something different, or re-think your approach.

More Resources:

James Brockbank Managing Director & Founder at Digitaloft

James Brockbank is an experienced UK based SEO and content marketer and the Managing Director and Founder of award-winning Digitaloft, ...

How to Save a Struggling Content-Led Link Building Campaign

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