So you work with an amazing brand, you’ve come up with the perfect story idea and everything is ready. Or maybe not?

  • Where is your content going to live and breathe?
  • What piece of internet land will accommodate your next IP?

Why bother so much on the qualification of the websites to work with?

You are sure that you drafted a campaign so good, that will “sell” by itself, will go viral, and people will long talk about it online. Or maybe not.. Chances are that not all of the campaigns we put out there will create the buzz and craze we would really like.

Selecting the best website to host your story is crucial for the success of a campaign. Qualify good websites that your target audience reads and follows and you have a win. Select low quality websites that are way off target and “dump” your content just to tick target boxes, and you can make sure that your campaign is well buried and unreachable.

Every time someone new joins our digital PR team we spend the first days/weeks training them on how to qualify and identify prospects for placements. Here are the main points of what we mostly talk about in 5 steps.  

Step 1: Go manual

I know it is tempting to use a tool to aggregate all the websites that are writing about your target industry, but trust me, that’s not the way to go. At least not if you are after high quality placements that real people will read, love, and share. Instead, try to broaden your topic and start searching for websites that have already covered something similar.

Let’s say that you are running a campaign on the smallest apartment in London. If you select this exact query to start your search: “smallest apartment”, you will soon end up with a bunch of websites that have already covered your story. Those websites might not want to publish the same article again.

Get creative and find a relevant topic that’s not exactly the same as what’s already been covered. How about the “narrowest house in London”? This will give you many results with websites that will be interested in covering your story, given the fact that in the past they have written about something similar but not identical.

Still not sure what and where to look for? Use advanced search queries, to narrow down your search results further. Start opening hundreds of tabs and let’s move to step number 2, qualifying websites for your campaign.

Step 2: Forget who you are and what you do!

Let me expand on this. The possibilities are that you have been in the digital marketing industry for a while now. This has made you another person, altered you in ways that cannot be undone. The minute you visit a website you see CTAs, you try to calculate CTRs and your eyes are looking for outbound links.

If you want to spot the perfect website for your content I’m afraid you’ll have to leave that self to the side for a while. You will have to start thinking as user Dave. People visiting a website do not care about the above mentioned things, for now you should not either.

How do you do this?

A good start would be to turn off adblock! You’ll be surprised to know that more than 40% of internet users are using it. If your niche is technology or similar then the percentage is significantly higher. So you’ll have to look at the websites the way an average user does. Try to avoid websites with heavy ads, especially above the fold.

Too many ads on a website will bury your content, make users unwilling to navigate to it/ read it and of course is a great indicator of a low quality website. Something that Google really frowns upon  (ahem penalty).

ad heavyA website can look like this if you turn adblock off.

Step 3: Inspect carefully

This is maybe the step that requires the most work. Try to get the general feel of the quality of the website. Have handy Google revised quality guidelines and try to tick as many boxes as you can. An excellent rule of thumb in webmaster guidelines is: “Does this (content) help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?” Ask yourself these questions.

Next, try to see if the website is a good fit for your specific content. Are the tone and wording in line with your campaign? Are there similar articles, or will your content stand out in a bad way and scream “advertisement”? Take a look at the post dates. Is the website regularly updated? Check the dates of the posts. Is there a pattern? Maybe there is not, meaning that new content is posted in an “as needed” basis.

For some topics it is ok to have large pauses between new posts (eg a personal travel blog) but you’ll have to make sure that the website has been updated in the last couple of months, or you’ll end up spending time and effort to contact a website that nobody updates anymore.

If there is a specific pattern of the posts, then check the date and make sure that this pattern works with your deadline. Read a couple of posts. Look again for quality signals. Are all the posts short (less than 500 words) with excessive brand mentions and full of links? Then possibly you are looking at an “article dumping” website and that’s definitely not what you are after. 

Step 4: Watch for guest blog signals.

You may love a website and think that this is a perfect fit for your content, but the webmaster might think otherwise. You can be proactive and not risk getting an angry email back. Watch for “collaboration signals”. Start by doing the obvious: pay a visit to the about us / contact us page. Usually that’s where you will see if the webmaster is willing to collaborate with external bloggers or not.

You will also find out the way that they are willing to do so. Many webmasters state if your article will be marked as a guest or promoted post. If your campaign guidelines are ok with that, you may proceed. In the past, I have seen people attacking pr guys in the contact page saying to stay away and not to contact them. Be extra cautious with who you decide to work with!

There are specific words in the about us page that should ring alarm bells. Phrases like: product testing, free meals, obvious media packages etc, mean that the webmaster is very familiar with content placement so proceed only if you are ok to pay for your content to appear there.

If you require a follow link to be placed in your content, you can search if the website is ok with that before even contacting them. Open a couple of articles and look for commercial links. Is the website prone to linking? If yes, you will easily spot this. If not, bear in mind that the website might not make an exception just for you thus you’ll be wasting your time trying to convince them otherwise. 

Step 5: Fire up your favourite metric tools.

By now you should have ended up with a handful of websites that you like, with a high possibility to get your content placed. Now’s the time to check under the hood so you don’t get any hidden surprises with the sites you are about to approach. Use your favourite tools to seal your decision.

Personally, I use Majestic to get an indication of trust. I always have a base Trust Flow in mind for each of the campaigns that we are running. I also use Semrush to check the keywords that a website is ranking for. In the past, I’ve decided to work with websites that looked ok, passed all the above mentioned checks until I checked them with Semrush to see that they are ranking for “toxic” keywords. I guess you would not like your content to appear next to searches for questionable medication.

exmp1     Semrush keyword report for a fashion blog (!)


As a conclusion always use common sense. Forget that you are qualifying a website for PR or SEO purposes and try to act as generic as you can when you are browsing. Feel free to navigate from a website to another as a user would do. Pay close attention to quality signals and qualify websites accordingly. If you have any other tips or ideas feel free to tweet them to me @ElefLefteris

Lefteris Eleftheriou

Lefteris Eleftheriou

With a background in technology, sales and the arts, Lefteris manages numerous Digital PR projects for our clients. He particularly enjoys working on campaigns in the real estate industry and experimenting with new ways of working.

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